Ticket to Ride

I will often plan trips around an event. I have traveled to many places around the country where I’ve had tickets to concerts or sporting events. One funny side effect of this is that I get emails every week from places I’ve been to, advertising new events.

I don’t have immediate plans to get back to any of those places but I haven’t yet brought myself to unsubscribe from the emails. I get a smile on my face when I think about the places I’ve been to and the events I’ve seen. I get an email from a place in Denver and I remember going to see B.B. King at Red Rocks after hiking in the mountains. I get an email from Soldier Field and I remember seeing the New Zealand All Blacks and visiting my friends Alex and Rachel in Chicago.

It’s almost as if this email spam is a form of postcard sent to myself to remind me about the places I’ve been, and how fortunate I have been. I think I’ll stay on the mailing lists for now.

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King of the Blues

B.B. King passed away last night. As I’ve mentioned before, I have seen literally hundreds of concerts. B.B. King was one of the ones I got to see a couple of times, and I have never seen a more gracious performer.

He was already about 80 years old when I first saw him. Definitely not a young guy anymore, but he still played over 200 shows a year. When I saw him, the band would start playing and after a few minutes he would ride a Jazzy to the edge of the stage, then slowly walk out and sit down before letting his guitar Lucille join in with the band. At the first opportunity, he would apologize for sitting during the show, since diabetes made it difficult for him to stand for very long. The shows were short, and it seemed that half of the show was B.B. telling stories in between the songs.

Had almost anyone else done a show that way, I’d feel ripped off. Not so with B.B. King. His stories were as captivating as his music, and I felt as though I were listening to a Grandfather I never had. Each time I saw him I knew that I was looking at a living legend, but it always seemed like HE was the most grateful person in the room just because people came to see him. When he walked off of the stage he seemed to have been energized by the experience. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing the same job for 66 years and still being so deeply in love with it.

The last time I saw B.B. was in 2007. A friend had toured Red Rocks in Colorado and taken some pictures there. I got it into my head that I wanted to see a show there so I kept my eye on the concert schedule. When I saw a show on Labor Day weekend with B.B. King, Etta James, and Al Green, I snapped up tickets right away.

Now all I had to do was figure out how to get to Colorado.

If you ever get a chance to go to Red Rocks, do it. It’s still the best concert venue I’ve ever been to. Al Green rocked the place. Etta James is a legend in her own right, and someone I’ve been fortunate to see a couple of times. Then came B.B.

Understand, 2007 was not a very happy time in the USA. There was a lot of negativity and cynicism. We were stuck in a war in Iraq that seemed to be getting worse, the economy was going downhill, and every piece of news seemed worse than the last. At least we had a clear, cool September night watching B.B. King on the most beautiful stage I’ve ever seen. At some point during the show, he started to tell a story.

He talked about being a little kid in Mississippi in the 1930’s. He talked about segregation, and how the black and white people of the town never really mixed. The one place where they would gather together was at the town park on Sunday’s after church. He told us about the time that he snuck a drink from the water fountain that was for white people, and then he knew the secret that the white people were being conned, because he knew that their water wasn’t any better than his.

B.B. Paused. He looked out over the crowd, and he finally said: “Thank you all for making this a better place.”

It was a dose of perspective. As bad as things seemed at the time, this man had seen worse, and was grateful to have witnessed the change. As stupid and as petty as we can be, we can still move forward, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

I suppose that’s the heart of the Blues. Young, old, rich, or poor, we all have to pay our dues at some point. That doesn’t mean we can’t keep moving forward.

I’ll miss you B.B. I wish you could know how much this song helped me out when I was paying my own dues.

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“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

We had plans for this year. They never happened. In one respect I can look back on the year and think that we accomplished little of what we set out to do. Then I think about what actually happened this year and I don't know how we could have asked for much better.

None of our travel plans came through, but we still ended up with a couple of great trips. We were in Miami in June and Chicago in November. Not the best timing for either one of those, but in each case the timing was not of our choosing.

Miami came about from a work conference that Sue had. We spent a few days at the Biltmore in Coral Gables. Sue spent her day in meetings while I alternated between the pool, watching World Cup matches at the clubhouse, and watching the filming of a commercial with Gisele Bündchen. After the conference was over we shifted over to South Beach and spent a couple of days and nights enjoying that area.


Miami Beach

The trip to Chicago was to take advantage of probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team play against the US Eagles. The All Blacks are probably the most successful sports team of all time. They had only played in the USA three times before in their 110+ year history, and the chances of me getting to New Zealand to see them play are pretty slim. When I heard that they were playing in Chicago, I jumped at the chance to go see them. The All Blacks beat the Eagles 74-6 (Ouch) but like I said, they are probably the most dominant team in the history of sport. Seeing them do the Haka in front of a sold out Soldier Field is a memory for the ages. After that we explored downtown Chicago, ate fantastic food, and got to have a great night out with my friends Alex and Rachel, including a show at the Second City comedy club.

All Blacks vs Eagles at Soldier Field

Cloud Gate

Chicago Night

Chicago Streets 2014

I got to see my good friend Jennifer get married. She wanted to combine a beach wedding with a family vacation, so for the first time ever I got to see her and all of her kids here in Florida. I usually have to go to Tennessee to see them all. It’s always a lot of fun to visit Tennessee, but it was nice to be able to show them what it’s like where I live.

As far as shows go, I got to see some great music, including a few bands I always seemed to miss before. After two failed attempts in years past I finally got to see an entire set from Trombone Shorty. Other highlights include the Soul Rebels, Winery Dogs, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Bad Religion, Offspring, Xandria, a few Orchestra shows, and a few dozen other bands.


I also got to have one of my photos hanging in the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts for a month. You may have seen it if you’re on my Christmas card list.

The trips and the shows were good, but the real highlights for me this year were the people that I spent my time with. It was great to see Alex & Rachel. I really enjoyed seeing Jenn and her family. I got to see Geo, Rod, Perry, and Bill all together at the Winery Dogs show. Sue and I took her Mom out to a really good dinner at Berns. I can finally say that I went there and I got to share it with two of my favorite people.

Rude Boys

The simplest pleasure of the year was sitting down with Sue during the occasional free evening over the course of a few months and reading Neil Gaimans' Sandman series together. I'd been meaning to re-read it for a while. I never read it until the series was complete and in graphic novel form. When I finally read it a few years back it was the best thing I'd read all year. It's probably the best thing I've read this year also, so sharing it with Sue was pretty cool.

Here's to the hopes for a better 2015, especially for the people I know who are having rough times lately.

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Best setlist of your life

I’m a sucker for “Top x” lists. I thought I would make one of my own that I haven’t seen before.

I like live music. From my first concert (Iron Maiden in 1986) I was hooked. I have seen literally hundreds of bands in my life, and I do mean literally. I had seen over 300 bands when I moved to Florida 23 years ago and stopped counting. What I’ve compiled here is the best setlist taken from all of those shows. If I could make one concert out of the best songs I’ve seen, this would be it.

These aren’t necessarily my favorite songs, or even the best that these bands have to offer. All that they have in common is that I’ve seen these songs played live, and the band KILLED it that night. Usually it had something to do with the way I felt about the song or how the crowd reacted to it, but that’s all part of the fun of live music.

I’ve tried to keep this list reasonable in length. Under 20 songs. I’d love to hear from you and know what your picks would be. Oh, and this show takes place at Red Rocks, where I also had the pleasure of seeing a show a few years ago.

Slayer – Reigning Blood – The best opening song in the history of ever. The crowd explodes with energy when this song gets going.

Offspring – Staring at the Sun – High energy fun that keeps speeding up. There’s more to living than only surviving. Maybe I’m not there, but I’m still trying.

Ramones – Pinhead – I could list a half-dozen Ramones songs. I could list a half-dozen that are essentially the same same song, but what fun it was.

Dream Theater – Finally Free – The closing song from the best concert I’ve ever seen. I still get chills to hear the last line: “We’ll meet again my friend, someday soon.” Ministry of Lost Souls takes a close second here.

Iron Maiden – Hallowed Be Thy Name – Many different songs in one. Maiden is one of the best live bands ever. I was spoiled that they were my first. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Flaming Lips – She Don’t Use Jelly – The Lips are a spectacle to behold. Pure goofy fun and the crowd is half the show.

Stevie Ray Vaughn – Tightrope – Guitars look like they were born to be in this mans’ hands. Only the luckiest ones were.

Jeff Beck – Where Were You – Probably the only person who could bring tears to my eyes with nothing but a guitar.

Snow Patrol – The Life-ning – “Waking up in your arms, a place to call my own, This is all I ever wanted from life.”

Ani Difranco – Shameless – A girl, a guitar, and utter fearlessness.

Rush – Turn The Page – A Taoist manifesto from one of the best live bands.

U2 – City of Blinding Lights – Not many bands can really pull off a show in a football stadium, but when they do, WOW.

Guns n Roses – November Rain – The highlight of a great night with great friends, when GnR was at the top of their game. The play of tension in this is superb. Just when you think it’s over, it gets even better.

Regina Spektor – On The Radio – There is more wisdom packed into this song than there was in my college philosophy classes.

Intermission with a story told by B.B. King. The man is a living legend and a joy to see live.

Al Green – Here I Am (Come and Take me) – Even into his 60’s this man could put on a show. The fact that I saw him at Red Rocks in Colorado made it unforgettable.

Peter Murphy – Ziggy Stardust – I’ve never seen Bowie, but Peter Murphy ends his set with this. It’s such a good song, and a great way to close out the show.

Assemblage 23 – Alive – “Here comes that old familiar pain, Like a long lost friend’s return”

VNV Nation – Perpetual – The show closer for me. May you all be never-ending light.

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Tempting the Fates

I think that in most cases I am able to do a decent job of enjoying the moment. I have my down times, but I have a deep appreciation for the moments where things are going well.

What I am less likely to do is actually acknowledge when things are going well. I may recognize it but I practically never state it. On the flip side I don’t always let on when things are going poorly either, but this is not one of those times.

Let me take a moment to express that life has been good lately. I am thankful for that fact, and deeply grateful for the good times that I have had.

I hope that such good fortune occurs for each and every one of you, and that you will be able to recognize it and appreciate it when it does.

1 Comment Posted in Florida Life, thoughts
Observations on Sports Commentary

I enjoy watching some sports, either live or on TV. What I have no patience for is all of the circus that surrounds it. Sports talk radio, rumours, off-field drama, “sports yelling shows” where hosts argue over sports, whatever. I don’t care. Just tell me when the game or the race is on. It has been years since I’ve watched anything on ESPN that wasn’t a game that accidentally made it onto their broadcast schedule. I’m convinced that in the eyes of ESPN and many other sportscasters, they ARE the content that we all want to see.

If you watch the actual games on TV it’s a little better, but not much. At least you have the game to watch. Over time you will start to notice that most sporstscasters convey very little information. If you took out all of the pointless clichés and superlatives you’d be left with nothing but the noise of the crowd, occasionally interrupted by a few stories that may be interesting, and maybe even a little actual information about the game. I’m probably in the minority but I think that would VASTLY improve the broadcasts.

A good example of that played out today at work. We turned on the TV in the breakroom to watch the USA – Germany match in the World Cup. Not having cable, we watched the game on Univision, so all of the commentary was in Spanish. Someone would come into the room and see the game on, then come over to watch. They would be into the game, following the action and reacting to it for about ten minutes before they would look at the rest of us and ask “Are they speaking Spanish?” This happened several times. Yes there were sportscasters, but the fact that almost nobody in the room knew what they were saying didn’t diminish the enjoyment of the game.

Many people like sports. Practically none of us participate in them at the level seen on TV. Sportscasters get better access to the games and the players than the rest of us do, and too often they act as though that makes them a critical part of the action. I wish every sportscaster could have this experience of seeing people enjoy a game for a good amount of time without even noticing that the sportscasters were not a part of it.

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Spring Crazy

What a month and a half.

Seasons in Florida are a little backwards. In most of the country, people hide inside during the winter, and come out to play in the summer. Winters in Florida are limited to a handful of cold snaps. Summers consist of 95 degree weather with 90% humidity and afternoon thunderstorms for about 5 months solid. As a consequence, we do most of our outdoor play during the winter and spring, while our outdoor time in the summer is generally limited to the warm nights. March always seems to have the most going on as far as outdoor festivals go, and this year was no different.

From March until now, this is a partial list of the events we’ve attended:

  • Gasparilla Arts Fest
  • Gasparilla Music Fest
  • Alton Brown
  • Cigar City Hunahpu Day
  • Tapas & Wine Tasting
  • Carmen
  • VNV Nation
  • MacDill Airfest
  • 3 days at the St. Pete Grand Prix
  • National Geographic Live
  • 2 Lightning Games
  • Festival of Speed
  • Dinner at Berns
  • A class on making sushi

Sue skipped the Hunahpu day, but she went to everything else. Many of these events were back-to-back, so for example a concert one night was followed by getting up at dawn the next morning for the airshow.

There are still some things coming up, but it’s calming down a bit as summer draws near.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

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2013 was more or less a continuation of 2012. A few small trips instead of a big one, and after going to the 2012 DragonCon we followed through with two more SF/Fantasy conferences in 2013.

First up was the ICFA conference in Orlando, followed by the WorldCon in San Antonio. At DragonCon last year, we wondered why there were so few writers attending the conference. We found out that it was because it’s the same weekend as WorldCon, where they give out the Hugo awards every year. DragonCon is in Atlanta every year, but WorldCon moves to a different location each year, as voted on by the members. This year’s WorldCon was in San Antonio which had the benefit of being relatively close as well as being a place I always wanted to see, so we made that trip over the Labor Day weekend.

If the 2012 DragonCon had very few writers, we more than made up for it this year. Between ICFA and WorldCon we got to meet dozens of writers, including Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, John Scalzi, Joe Haldeman, Kij Johnson, Paolo Bacigalupi, and many others. San Antonio was fun, and I think we managed our time there well. We had just enough time to see everything we wanted to without being rushed. I’m all conventioned out now.

Other highlights of the year include seeing Sue win a couple of awards, seeing my friend Jenn graduate from college, and seeing Sue’s Brother graduate as well. I also managed to get 4 pictures published in an insert for the Tampa Bay Times. Between Sue winning awards and the conferences, I’ve lost track of all of the awards banquets I’ve been to this year.

Two small stories from the year, both from the ICFA conference in Orlando:

I met a guy from Sweden. The conference was his first trip to the USA. He said: “All that I know of America comes from TV and movies. I’ve always wanted to come to America, to see what it’s really like. Now that I’m here it all just seems so, well, fake.”
Someone answered: “You’re in Orlando.”

On Maybe the 2nd day of the conference, Sue and I are getting ready to meet Neil Gaiman, who is a massively popular writer in geek circles. He is surrounded with people everywhere he goes at the conference. Sue walks up to Neil Gaiman, he looks at her, and his eyes light up. He smiles and says “Oh, it’s you! I love your hair.” How frickin’ cool is that?

Here’s to a great 2014!

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Keep Going

This is a Document

I went through three divorces by the time I had turned 15. I watched my Mom go through a lot of hell with some crappy guys. I watched my Dad become a very bitter person.

In what I suppose is cliché in the stories of fathers and sons, I did not want to be like my father. If there was one thing in the world I really wanted to be, it was a good husband, something that he never was. Ten years ago today I received this piece of paper telling me that I wasn’t. I have to live with that.

I thought I had done a good job of it. I certainly wanted to. Funny thing about this piece of paper though; everything you thought, felt, believed, or wanted regarding your relationship becomes irrelevant.

When my Dad heard I was married (him and I had not spoken for years when I married) he said “you’ll be sorry.” The first time I saw him after my divorce he poured out two glasses of whiskey, and after we drank them in silence he simply said “I told you so.” Like I said, bitter, but I had no response. The “fuck you” I wanted to give him seemed really empty under those circumstances.

The divorce was not my choice. All I could do was try not to become the bitter old man that my father did. Ten years later, I still have my optimism. I’m not sorry at all that I did it. I took a chance on something I really wanted. I sit here today, and although I remember the tough times, I am not thinking about what might have been. I am instead thinking about all of the possibilities for the next ten years. I feel like the luckiest guy on the planet right now.

Like the saying goes: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Things do get better.

Thank you, to all of my friends that stuck with me through those times.

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“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh

Growing up as I did, I never got to know much about my family history. An uncle once told me that there wasn’t anything to know and that I came from a long line of murderers and horse thieves. He had an odd concept of “nothing to know.” Maybe that was just the romantic in him that was talking.

This has been a year of reflection in some ways. Along those lines, since both of my parents are gone I’ve done some thinking about them and the fact that I will be the end of that line. I’ve always said that I’m a walking contradiction and I think the reasons for that become clear when I contrast my parents. A few times this year I’ve tried to write something about that but I haven’t found a way to do it that doesn’t come off as cliché and melodramatic. Suffice to say I was lucky enough to have two parents who loved me even if I was never very close to either of them since the age of 13.

I think the strangest thing about them being gone is that I no longer have the thought that someone might be proud of me. I lived my own life, but as distant as we were at times, I still wanted them to be proud of the person that I was.

Like the quote above, I see both of my parents reflected in myself. There’s both good and bad in that. Strained relationships aside, I would not be here without my Mom or Dad. To them I owe everything. It’s up to me to separate the good from the bad and move on.

Back to the quote. In it I see a lesson about loss, and missing those that are gone. It is a lesson that I can relate to. I miss my Dad, but then I suppose I’ve missed him most of my life. No big change there other than the loss of any possibility of things getting better. I wish that my Mom hadn’t died when I was at a low point which seemed to break her heart as much as it did mine. I was able to see better days. She wasn’t. I’ve wondered about missing her though. I’ve wished over the years that I could introduce a few people to my Mom. I still do, but when I think about missing her, all I can think of is this:

I don’t have to miss her. She is a part of me.

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