Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Travel Tale of Two Cities

Turn this plane around or I'll shoot a hat trick on your instrument panel!So dart league is over for the year, and once again I closed the season without that elusive "ton-fifty-ONE." No six-dart-out for me for the second straight year. Maybe I'm getting old. I used to notch one or two a season.

That's not really the direction in which this post is going, however. I got to thinking this week about my favorite dart story, seeing as how I didn't have to go out and actually shoot any, or drink any beer, or eat any chicken wings. (oh, how I miss dart night.)

My favorite dart story doesn't involve hat tricks or triples or perfect games. It involves two airports. Last April I went to New York City to visit a friend, and had strict orders to bring my darts, thinking that during our long weekend we might go in search of a Manhattan bar with a dartboard, on which I could show off my finely tuned skill in how not to shoot a perfect game.

We filled our weekend with many touristy-type activities and never gave darts a second thought. Turns out there's a lot of stuff to see in New York City. Who knew?

The tale begins at the security checkpoint at Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee. Not wanting to hassle with checking luggage, I had a backpack and a big duffel with me as carry-ons. My duffel went through the X-ray machine, and a woman watching the screen stopped it to take a closer look, and called another security person over. She pointed to something on the screen, and he nodded and whispered, and then he pointed to something also, and I heard the woman say, "Oh, those are just darts."

So apparently the darts were fine. I had forgotten that I had a scissors in my shaving kit, though, and that's what caught her eye. She told me she had to open it up and check it, and got nothing but cooperation from me. Once she found the scissors, she measured its length and found it to be within the acceptable limit. And she never even thought twice about checking out my darts. So my shaving kit, my scissors, my darts and I all got on the plane together.

Fast-forward through the four-day weekend, to me standing in the security line at LaGuardia Airport, shoes and belt off, pockets emptied, duffel going through the X-ray machine. The scissors had been deposited in the wastebasket of my hotel room before I checked out. I had no interest in giving the aiport people a reason to go shuffling through my duffel.

Deja vu: the woman standing at the X-ray screen stops it to stare a bit, and motions for another security person to come take a look. They both stare, confused, and the woman asks, "Sir, what are these?" She points at the screen as I see my darts among all the other non-terrorist items I have packed in my bag.

"They're darts," I answer.

"...what?" is her reply.

(I begin to think that we may not have found a bar with a dartboard if we had decided to go bar-hopping.)

"Darts," I repeat. "English darts."

"I'm going to have to take these out and see them," she says with authority.

"That's fine," I say, as I watch her take out the dart case and open it...upside down...sending a spare dart tip or two scattering to the floor.

After a bit of examination and discussion, and an inspection by their immediate supervisor as well, I'm told that I can't take my darts on the plane, and that I'll have to either put them in a bag to be checked, or else go to the post office located within the airport and mail them to myself.

I ask both the man and the woman if I can throw everything else away and keep only the barrels of the darts, because those are what cost the most money. The flights, shafts and tips can all be replaced for a total of five bucks. I was willing to disassemble them and leave the pointy tips behind.

Once again, they go over to discuss it with their supervisor, and come back with a big fat, "No." At this point I'm considering just surrendering the darts and getting on the plane, and buying a new set when I get home. But...see those little ridges and curves on the gray barrel of the dart in the photo above? Those are called knurls, and my fingers know those knurls sooooo well, and they like them very much. Those knurls and my fingers have combined to throw more triples and bullseyes than I can even begin to count, and being more than a few years old, I wasn't sure if I'd find a set exactly like that one.

So the kind people at the security station led me to the line to check my bag, and once my bag was safely on the right flight (I hoped), I went back through the security checkpoint...sans weapons.

It was shortly after I got through security for the second time that I realized I'd left my camera in one of the end pockets of my duffel when I checked it. Wonderful. Crush a $400 camera to save a $50 set of darts.

The story has a happy ending. Everything made it back to Wisconsin in one piece. Well...except the scissors. They got to live out their existence rusting away in a landfill somewhere in Midtown Manhattan. (note: there's no roooom for a landfill in Midtown Manhattan.)

Next time I travel with my darts, I'll separate them into as many pieces and corners of my luggage as I'm able.

And before I get any hate mail from people who read the wrong tone into the words of this post...I may poke a bit of fun, but I have absolutely no problem with the very minor inconvenience I was caused at the airport in NYC. The people there were just doing their jobs, and doing them well. The fun part of the story comes in comparing the "oh, those are just darts" attitude in Milwaukee to not even being able to bring the barrels back with me from LaGuardia without checking them.

Lesson learned.

"Our only security is our ability to change."
—John Lilly

Sunday, March 25, 2007

I Give You...A Squib.

It's Sunday...time for a squib.Welcome to the first installment of what I hope might become a regular feature on this blog.

I learned a new word the other day, which immediately triggered this idea. It even inspired me to create the corny little graphic you see above. If all goes according to plan, that should appear just about every Sunday, followed by something resembling a short blog entry. (it would look a little out of place on a Wednesday, for obvious reasons.)

The word came from one of those word-a-day, page-a-day calendars. And so did my first entry, incidentally, as a little trivial fact at the bottom of the page of another page-a-day calendar. I thought it was interesting enough to share.

— • — • —

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote nine books in 1939, and was paid a total of $33 for them.

I don't know if this is true or not, because I can't find anything online to support it. But...there it is, black on white, on March 25 of Uncle John's Unstoppable Bathroom Reader page-a-day calendar (which I don't keep in the bathroom, by the way. I keep it at work). Maybe he sold them, but they were never published, I dunno. He died in 1940.

Anyway...Thirty. Three. Dollars. For nine books! (and how do you write nine books in one year? that's a lot of words.) This is the author responsible for The Great Gatsby, one of the great classics of American literature. (Gatsby didn't become popular until after Fitzgerald's death, however.)

Stephen King probably tips more than thirty-three bucks when he goes to get his morning bagel and cappuccino!

Remind me again why I've got such a desire to be a writer?? Oh yeah...poverty, loneliness, despair, alcoholism, rejection, depression, insanity, a disorganized brain overcrowded with characters and ideas and plot points. Never mind. Those are all the reasons I need.

The average annual salary in Major League Baseball is about $2.9 million. That's...average! Why couldn't I have had a serviceable hanging curve ball instead of a knack for spotting a dangling participle?

"No man can be happy
without a friend,
nor be sure of his friend
till he is unhappy."
—F. Scott Fitzgerald

Thursday, March 22, 2007

PVC: For Plumbing or Percussion?

Sunday night, as I rolled over many miles of pavement, I pondered what words to put here. Not “what words” in the writer’s block sense, where I’ve got nothing to say. But instead how I could describe what I saw last weekend.

I was in Chicago to attend a show by the cult phenomenon known as Blue Man Group. And when people ask me how I liked the show, I don’t know what I’ll say. Because, “ was really, really good,” doesn’t even begin to shed the right light on it.

How do you explain a group that runs an LED single-line scroll bar on the sides of the stage before the show, announcing that there will be no intermission, so to avoid inconveniencing other audience members, it would be best to make a trip to the “comfort stations” before the show begins?

What do you say about a group that also forces you to take a “no-photos pledge,” threatening the use of ejector-seat mechanisms in your chair should you break that pledge? (my camera was around my neck, but the lens cap never came off.)

How do you explain a show in which arm-length strands of white crepe paper are handed out to all audience members before the show without instructions, and 85 percent of the crowd instinctively wraps them around their heads as headbands. Makes for a pretty cool-looking group when the black lights are turned on.

How do yoWhat are YOU lookin' at?u explain a trio of bald men dressed in loose-fitting black sweatshirts and sweatpants, their heads covered in blue latex paint...wide-eyed, silent yet expressive, quizzical...banging on PVC pipes and paint-splattering drums to create some of the most infectious rhythms around?

How do you explain an audience-participation skit in which a teenage boy is nabbed from the audience, dressed in white coveralls and a black snowmobile helmet, led backstage and strung up by his ankles, his front side slathered in blue paint with rollers and brushes, and then swung against an empty white canvas to make abstract body art?

How do you explain the Blue Men attempting to woo another audience member by impressing her with gifts such as romantic candlelight, fine art, flowers, Twinkies and...Jell-O. (Speaking of which, how do you explain a group that has on its staff an actual Jell-O consultant?)

And how do you explain getting a glimpse of the jealous side of the Blue Men, and their actions when they turn against each other in their fight for the young lady’s affections?

How do you explain a skit featuring almost exclusively the amplified crunching sounds of Cap’n Crunch cereal?

How do you explain a 40-tube pipe organ/xylophone-type thing named simply, “the PVC instrument,” which mysteriously changes from white to pink and orange and lime green and blue under the black lights, and when struck with foam rubber paddles can play tunes from the likes of Ozzy Ozbourne, Madonna and Lynrd Skynrd?

How do you explain a thundering bass from an instrument that is just as simply named, “the Big Drum”? It’s description in the CD liner notes reads: “...a really big drum that is hit with a really big mallet.” How big is the mallet, you ask? In response to the clich├ęd question, “Is it bigger than a bread box?”, the answer would be, “ohhhh yes it is!!”

How do you explain roll after roll and stream after stream of white crepe paper being unrolled and passed from the back row of the 650-person audience all the way up to the stage, row by row, while being bombarded with strobe lights and more booming bass and PVC rhythms?

How, I wondered, as I replayed the concert over and over in my mind. How do you explain all of this, and so...much...more?

You don’t.

You simply tell people to go buy a ticket, and prepare themselves for the oddest, most entertaining, most uniquely percussive assault on their senses they’ve ever received.

(Please share any and all accounts of firsthand sightings of the Blue Men in the comments section. I'm anxious to hear about what other people have seen.)

Random final thought: Do the members of Blue Man Group have Blue Man Groupies?

[By the way, two of the photos in this entry were taken by me. And two...were not. I'll let you decide which are which.]

“Blueness doth express trueness.”
—Ben Johnson

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Grammar Lesson With Dan Patrick and Me.

The other day, I was listening to The Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio, as I am wont to do on a Wednesday afternoon drive to get our paper printed. Best sports talk show on the airwaves (with Colin Cowherd running a close second). A-list guests, great back-and-forth exchanges, informed opinions. A very, very comfortable listen.

Patrick's former Sportscenter co-anchor, Keith Olbermann, who moved on to MSNBC several years ago after a battle of egos with ESPN, is now joining him for an hour each day, and Patrick has taken to calling that hour, "The Big Show With Dan and Keith."

On Wednesday, Patrick commented on something during the first hour about a guest that was appearing, and he said, "That's all coming up on The Big Show with Keith and me."

Ten or fifteen minutes later, he read an e-mail from someone who wrote in to chastise him for using bad grammar on the air, saying, "C'mon,'s Keith and I." Patrick half-heartedly apologized for upsetting English teachers everywhere, and went on about his business.

Meanwhile, I sat and stared at the radio (shoulda been staring at the road instead, seeing as how I was, um, driving, I know. But this was a grammar issue. Serious business!), wondering if Patrick or anyone on his staff would catch the fact that the e-mailer who took the time to correct Mr. Smooooth Sportscaster was actually wrong!

Dan Patrick was correct all along, when he said, "...coming up with Keith and me." You know how to test this? Remove "Keith and" from that sentence to simplify it, and see which one sounds correct. That's the one to use.

For example:

Correct: "Barry Bonds spent an hour making excuses for his extraordinarily large cap and shoe size while talking with Keith and me, denying any steroid use."

Correct (simplified): "Barry Bonds let it slip while talking with me off the air that he loooves the juice!"

Incorrect: "Brett Favre told John Clayton, Chris Mortensen, Keith Olbermann and I that he might play for another seven to ten years."

Incorrect (simplified): "Brett Favre also told I that he hopes Randy Moss will lead them to three more Super Bowls before they both retire on top."

See how that works, Mr. "I Before Me" E-Mailer Dude? The following examples also hold true:

Correct: "Keith and I often argue over who the best radio show host is during The Big Show hour."

Correct (simplified): "I know what the answer is, because the show's named after me, and I've got the best hair."

Incorrect: "The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, the Oakland Raiderettes, the Seattle Sea Gals and me took a week-long bus tour of several NFL stadiums."

Incorrect (simplified): "Me didn't care where we were going, me didn't want that week to end!"

I just sent an e-mail to Dan Patrick, correcting the grade-school grammarian who wrote in to correct him. I doubt I'll get a reply, because Dan's got better things to do with his time than drag out an "I vs. Me" battle over two or three days. But it made me feel better.

Sad, isn't it? On the day of the year when I should be listening attentively for insider tips on which sleeper teams to send deep in my NCAA bracket, I spend my time yelling at the radio over a grammar issue.

Me think me have I priorities a bit bass-ackwards.

"I never made a mistake in grammar
but one in my life and
as soon as I done it I seen it."
—Carl Sandburg

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Rhymes with "Rogue"

So my buddy Adam turns to me last Friday night, and says in my ear over the blare of the music, “I remember when bands used to play good music...(long dramatic pause inserted here) this.”

We were in a small, intimate concert venue in Milwaukee called Shank Hall that had a capacity of about 300 but was barely half full, being treated to some good ol’ southern rock by The Bottle Rockets, a group well past their prime that I knew and had actually purchased one of their CDs in the mid-90s.

Adam hadn't heard of them before and didn't know what to expect. I'd listened to their disc, The Brooklyn Side, plenty of times and hoped that they still had it in 'em to sound the way they did a decade and a half ago. And they did.

Three guitars, one drummer. Rock. And. Roll. Hard-driven rhythms and smart lyrics. They didn’t do anything flashy up on the tiny stage, and their drummer looked more apt to be a middle school science teacher than the pulse of a rock band (bottom left in the photo), but he could keep a beat, and the other guys in the band knew their way around their six-strings and mics, too.

They were playing for the love of being musicians, and, I suspect, because they had bills to pay. The tour bus parked outside was their only mode of transportation. There was no limousine ready to whisk them away to a private jet after the show.

The lead singer served as his own roadie, plugging in cords, testing foot pedals and bringing out his own guitars.

And I bet the last time they played a 10,000-seat arena was right around the same time I bought that CD. And the arena just might have been half empty.

But you can’t deny an hour and a half of good music when you hear it. That’s what we heard, and I was more than a little thrilled to be able to add them to my list of concert “have-seens”.

In between songs, they’d hawk their CDs and T-shirts and direct members of the audience over to the merchandise table “so we can keep playing small shows like this and keep our crowd sizes down, and don’t have to go back to playing big stadiums.”

Uh-huh. Right. I heard the sarcasm dripping off the mic as he said that. More like, “Please buy our stuff because there are only 200 people here tonight, and sales of that merch helps us afford to keep on rockin’.” I bought a live disc.

That concluded the first half of the night. What was to come was the real reason Adam wanted to attend, and I'd listened to this new guy's CD a time or two, as well, and was interested to see him live.

If The Bottle Rockets show was a glimpse of a hard-rockin’ band on the downside of its career, then the headliner was a complete one-eighty, a singer/songwriter trying to establish himself and catch a lucky break on his way to fame and fortune.

And from what we heard out of him and his band, he’ll get that break sooner or later, and quite a few more people will have heard of Will Hoge (rhymes with “rogue”). My goal going in was to find out how he pronounced his last name, whether it was Will "Hogue" or Will "Hodge" or...whatever. So after his opening song when he stepped up to the mic and said, "Good evening, everyone, my name is Will "Hogue,"...I turned to Adam and said, "Well, that's good enough for me. I'm outta here." But of course...I stayed. And was handsomely rewarded with one of the greatest shows I've seen in quite some time. And I've seen my share.

Adam was more familiar with this guy than I was, finding his music online and reading a few reviews that said he puts on a pretty good live show. The phrase “pretty good” does not do justice to what we saw and heard. “Blown away” might be more accurate, or possibly “jaw-dropped awe.”

He had kind of an Edwin McCain sound and style to him, but perhaps even better.

Anybody in that room that night who wasn’t a fan when they walked in…had to be a fan when they walked out. Hoge and his bandmates gave it their all, and then about 20 percent more. Rock-and-rollers doing what they so apparently love to do. Rockin’. And rollin’.

Midway through the show, Adam went over and bought Hoge's new disc, and then after it was over and the lights were turned up, Will came over to the merchandise table to pose for pictures with his groupies and sign autographs. We hung around the bar area until the line of google-eyed girls dwindled to nearly nothing, and then got to shake hands with the future rock superstar and got an autograph for Adam's CD.

Earlier (much earlier) in the evening, Adam mentioned that if he was able to get an autograph, he had a profound thought about life that he wanted Will to write when he signed his name. But as we were chatting with him for a while, it became clear to Will that he knew what to write, and the CD came back: "Adam is NOT drunk!" followed by a squiggle/scribble thingie that was his autograph, I suppose.

Very astute observer, that Will Hoge. I might have to take a bit of the blame for that one, though, because I was probably the pace-setter early in the evening.

After Will went back to schmoozing with some of his other fans, we were graced with the presence of Erica, the band's promotional spokesperson/publicist/merchandise overseer/all-around hottie. While Adam pulled out the plastic to buy a couple more Hoge discs, she giggled at our levels of inebriation, regaled us with a few tales of life on the road with seven guys, and informed us that the very next night they were performing again in Chicago, a mere hour(ish) drive away.

While we strongly considered going the two-shows-in-two-nights route, in the end it didn't happen. But if you ever have the chance, I urge to you run…not walk…to see a live Will Hoge show. Simply one of the best sixteen-dollar adrenaline rushes you'll ever find.

Bottle Rockets.
Will Hoge.
Shank Hall.
Yeah, I can say it was a pretty good Friday night.

"Rock and roll: Music for
the neck downwards."
—Keith Richards