Jun 24

A mechanic, two hours of exercise, and music that still holds up

Took my lovely bride’s car to the shop yesterday and got it back the same afternoon. Regular maintenance sort of stuff. But things are better, she said.

The guy has a shop in the middle of a neighborhood. It’s a two-bay shop, with a slab that’s not big enough for the cars he has on the property. His office is all the way in the back, it’s a … careworn sort of place. That isn’t ordinarily the right word for this sort of thing, but it fits. No one is especially happy when they have to see their mechanic. You take a little angst and stress and — depending on your pocketbook or what’s going on — maybe a little anxiety to your mechanic. People bring in the things that make something careworn.

The couple of times we’ve been there, I’ve seen a few fishing poles in the front room. They’re just sitting there, on a pile of stuff that looks like it hasn’t been moved in a long time. Two rooms back, there’s the guy. A bit on the tall side, thick all the way around. Always wears a bandana. He strikes you as a time-is-money guy. He’s economical with his words, because if he’s talking with you he isn’t making money elsewhere.

I’m not even sure what the guy did to her car given the small amount of money he charged. I asked him to look into something about my car, too. And maybe he will. If he does, maybe he’ll charge me a low, low price, too.

It’ll cost more.

Monday was a beautiful, mild, sunny day. Today was perpetually overcast, but Monday was just lovely. The sort of day where you could unassumingly spend too much time indoors. The sort of day where you wouldn’t even notice it. I spent too much of it inside.

I did go for a little 30-mile bike ride, my first in eight days. I felt like I needed a few days after my last one, and then other things come along and fill your days and before you know it, you wonder if you’ll remember how to balance the thing. It’s embarrassing.

They closed a road while I wasn’t riding. The first sign I saw said the bridge was out. It’s an overpass over the freeway, and I figured it couldn’t be really out, because that would have inconvenienced the motorists below and surely I would have learned about this. So I ignored the signs and the barrels, rode right around them and up to the bridge. And only when I was on the thing did I worry, but the bridge is an engineering marvel and, halfway over, I rationalized that if it could hold itself up then whatever was going on wouldn’t be challenged too much by one guy and a bike.

Only nothing was going on with the bridge. The issue was a little further down the road. This was the issue.

Once I got around that I had, of course, another little stretch of road that was closed from the other direction for the same reason. Almost a mile guaranteed with no traffic. It was lovely! I should just go back and ride that over and over and over again, for as long as it lasts.

Meanwhile, last night was the night the local volunteer fire department … practices driving their trucks around? They actually closed down one road, and a volunteer who takes his traffic directing duties very seriously waved me onto this road.

I’ve never been on this road before! A new road! This particular area is laid out in a wide country grid, so I knew exactly where it would go. It was almost like being lost, but not nearly as fun. Being lost when your legs feel good is just about the most fun thing you can do on a bike. The other day The Yankee was telling me about a ride she had without me where she got turned around for a while and I said, “Really!?” a little excited, and a little jealous. So when I’m not haunting that closed road I need to find more new roads. (I have one in mind just now.)

I saw some beautiful cattle enjoying their evening graze.

Soon after, a fire truck passed me. And I met that rig two more times. I’m not at all certain what they were practicing. (And I know for certain it was VFD practice because they’d deployed signs in some of the areas that were impacted.) Maybe they have new drivers.

Early this afternoon I went for a swim. I put my camera on the bottom of the pool to document the experience.

The experience was laps. I swam, slowly, 1,250 yards. All part of the build up. The build up to swimming more, later. As usual, it took a while for my arms to feel like doing laps. The first 50 yards or so felt great. The next 600 and change felt sluggish. Somewhere between 700 and 735 yards, though, I felt like a champion swimmer. Long build ups, short peaks. Typical.

Actually it felt like a nice swim from about 700 yards through to the end, though I was ready to be done at the end.

Ever since I was a little boy, I said in my best Robert Redford voice, I’ve always gotten hungry around the water. Playing in it, splashing around in a lake, wading in a pool or swimming medium distances, they would all create the same deep hunger. It’s a familiar feeling that a lot of little boys and girls get. Only it never left me. I came to think of it as a physical and a mental need. I can just look at the water and get hungry, was a joke I told my friends. And so I had a second lunch today.

Which was great because, in the later afternoon, and into the early evening, I went out for a casual little 25-mile bike ride. I saw this tractor, which, if you look carefully, is dripping something on the road.

And I set three PRs this evening, all on (little) hills. I am not at all sure how that came to be, but I’ll take it.

Let us return, once more, to the Re-Listening project. As you may know, I’ve been listening to all of my old CDs in the order of their acquisition. I’m also writing a bit about them here, just to pad the site, share some good music and maybe stir up a memory or two.

And today we reach back to 2005, to listen to a CD that was released in 1995, Son Volt’s debut, “Trace.” Uncle Tupelo’s Jay Farrar left the band and that lead to the creation of Son Volt and Wilco (Uncle Tupelo sans Farrar). Wilco’s debut was released first, by a few months, but Son Volt’s debut, in September of 1995, was a bigger hit. Either way, listeners one. (Both bands were, and are, terrific. Two alt-rock, alt-country bands are better than one.)

“Trace” was a reasonable commercial hit, peaking at number 166 on the Billboard 200 chart and soaring to number 7 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart. Perhaps even more importantly, it was a critical success.

“Windfall” was the first single, and the first track. This was the first Son Volt sound most of us heard.

Something about Farrar’s voice that conveys a desperate, lonely, honky tonk feel that you didn’t get a lot of at that time. It was the nineties! And this, for me, was a library pickup to help fill an important gap in the collection.

Here’s the thing, though. These guys could absolutely rock.

The first time I saw them live was at Midtown Music Festival, in Atlanta, in 1998. It was a three-day, seven-stage show. There were more than 100 bands there, absurdly good acts, and you could see the whole weekend’s worth of music — if you were willing to sweat and stand for the whole thing — for just $30 bucks. Son Volt played early Friday. Just after that we saw the Indigo Girls and in between songs Amy Ray said they’d been over to see Son Volt, too. “God bless those guys,” she said.

I saw them once more, the next year. On Valentine’s Day, in fact. I took a girl to a first date to see them. I’d met her in a record store — and somehow it seemed that we knew each other, or the same people, or people thought we knew one another — and music was important to her. Soon after, we worked together. I got tickets to the show and she decided to call it a date, which was unexpected, at least by me. We had a nice time, and I am came to find out later that I passed many tests that night. We dated for four months after that.

She’s manages a big construction company and is married to a realtor. They live close to the beaches where she grew up, close to her family. It looks pretty perfect for her. I wonder what sort of music she’s listening to these days.

If Son Volt is somehow on the list, she’ll have to travel to see them this summer. They are playing a few festivals. Still rocking.

Jun 24

The Smith Zoo and Nature Center

We had three-plus inches of rain last night. Everything stayed dried that needed to, I think. I still try to walk around and check most things after the big rains. This was, I think, our third overenthusiastic participation.

This afternoon I had yet another adventure in the 21st century’s second most annoying innovation: planned obsolescence. The details do not matter. You, too, know how these stories go. This is my third such instance in the last few weeks. It’s tiring and bothersome.

Here’s the fun part, the experience today took me to somewhere I hadn’t been. When I left I had nine percent of my phone battery and I needed to use that for the map. Also, I was running low on gas.

I worried about a scenario where my phone died, and then I had to improvise a fueling strategy. I bet you can’t even buy a paper map anymore. Lewis and Clark explored the continent with more resources than I had today. They’d be proud of how I overcome the adversity. It involved getting to the interstate, choosing the correct direction, avoid the interchanges to other highways, and then guess where my station of choice is located, which is one or two exits down from the house.

I made it to the station with 50-some miles in the tank. I got home with two percent of my phone’s battery.

The Smith Zoo and Nature Center got a member today, this cute little box turtle.

Last month this frog, a big chonky specimen, stopped by for a while.

Before the frog, we heard from a noisy fox for a few nights in a row.

In between the frog and the turtle, the reptile wing was completed by two visits from a 4- or 5-foot rat snake, twice. (Not pictured, for snake reasons.)

The frog I escorted to some woods. The turtle moseyed it’s way off all by itself. I took the snake away the first time, and then two or three days later it came back. I annoyed and startled it off. If it comes back again I’m going to herd it into a bin and drive it to the woods, some miles from the house. Maybe I’ll drive him around in a circle for a while first, to dissssssorient him.

Splashed around in the pool today, and then I did some swimming. It was another day of 1,000 yards. Three of those in the last week. So I’m going to up the distance next time. Because, I thought, when I’d finished, That was easy.

And later in the evening I thought, Maybe it wasn’t.

Of course, the only thing I’ve eaten today was a bowl of granola this morning.

Now I just have to remember how to use the underwater camera again. Not every button’s purpose has been memorized by my thumb and forefinger. I guess I should use it more.

Jun 24

Separation of powers

I had a nice little swim this afternoon. It was little, just 1,000 yards. I am not a wise swimmer, but I am trying to be wise here. It’s early yet, I’m still building up distance or endurance or patience. I swam 1,000 the last time I was in the pool, and so my instinct today was to swim more. I thought I’d do 1,250 yards, but then I thought, no, the sensible thing to do would be to ease into things. And so I did that.

Dove in, the water was warm. Stepped on the strap of a kid’s goggles, and startled myself. A sea creature had gotten me! Laughed at myself. Started swimming. And swam and swam. This takes me a long time, because I am a slow swimmer.

But I found a random chart, with no attribution, on a random site that says my average 100 yard swim times are on par with people 15 and 20 years younger than me. So this chart is, obviously, incredibly accurate.

Of course, the times are for normal people, not fish, nor other species of superhumans or athletes. For all we know, they could be times of people who have never swam from one end of a pool to the other. It could be some ChatGPT chart that was really about cotton candy consumption times that got mislabeled, for all I know, but it suggests I’m swimming faster than young people, and I’ll take it.

We are installing a new closet system — and, Lord do I hate anything that uses the word “system” as a piece of unnecessary marketing. This is an installation for our guest bedroom. For the previous owners, this was a teenager’s room. The closet had the cheap, ubiquitous wire rack shelves. There were sliding glass doors. They’re coming out, too.

It was my lovely bride’s job to decide to upgrade the closet. It was also her job to pick the closet system. It was my job to remove the doors.

The secret to these projects is simple for us. She can build a thing. I can build a thing. We can’t build it together. So I left her alone, right there, to assemble the system. It became my job, after that, to make it actually fit.

The system has three clothes rods. Two at the traditional height and one that is lower. One side of each rod is anchored into the walls, and the other side of each rod will be attached to this MDF shelving unit. Each of these has two rods, one telescoping inside the other. And they’re all too large to work in tandem, and two short to work alone.

So it was my job to solve this problem. To the garage! And the hacksaw! The job was to slice through six medium grade hollow tubes of aluminum.

And then I sanded the burrs away.

She’ll install them tomorrow. I’ll let her put them into place. She likes to build things. It’s the sense of control and progress, I think. On these projects, I just say, I’ll be in my office if you need me. After some muttering, she’ll have made a nice little upgrade.

A now custom-built closet system.

Let us return to the Re-Listening project, where I am writing about all of my old CDs, which I am listening to in my car, in the order of their acquisition. This is just a nice pad, a good excuse to listen to some music, and a trip down memory lane.

And we are still a few decades in the past. (Which is funny because I have new music burning a metaphorical hole in my pocket that I’d really like to get to while I still, loosely, remember their order.

Anyway, the next disc up was something a friend and co-worker burned for me. It was 2004, and I was at al.com and it was late in the year, so I was no longer new there. My buddy made this mix of remixes. It was primarily Beatles, which we had debated at length, mixed with the Beastie Boys, who I never really appreciated. It’s possible he might have been trolling me, come to think of it. But at the end of the disc, he included this track, which still holds up incredibly, incredibly well.

The rest of the remixes weren’t really my thing, but as I was listening to this on a recent night I was struck by the production values. The quality of the mixes was phenomenal, even for the early oughts.

That guy, and his wife, are still dear friends. Tonight, on Facebook, I saw photos of their son graduating high school. I held that boy in my arms when he was a newborn, and now he has a high school diploma.

And now I have to find a way to send those songs back to him. A project for next week.

But, since that mix disc doesn’t really count, we move on. I bought this next disc on January 6, 2005. It had a bonus CD. It didn’t change everything, they’d already changed everything. But, for $8.48 it proved a point I’d already realized about the importance of The Jayhawks.

“Rainy Day Music” was their seventh studio album. It debuted at number 51 on the Billboard 200 in April of 2003. They moved 19,000 copies that week. It was critically well received. Here’s a Wiki summary

Rainy Day Music received generally positive reviews from critics. Dirty Linen described the album as “a low-key effort that features delicate harmonies, recalling California relatives such as Poco and the post-Gram Parsons Burrito Brothers”. Uncut called the album “all acoustic guitars, rich jangling melodies and heavenly harmonies” and wrote that Gary Louris “has come up with some of his most memorable compositions.” Will Hermes of Entertainment Weekly described it as “folk-rock laced with banjos, accordions, and pedal steel” and “the roots move one suspects fans have wanted for years, its classic rock flavor echoing the Byrds, CSNY, and Poco”. Mojo wrote that “their new-found economy makes for some pretty lovely highpoints” and that “Louris is unquestionably a virtuoso, playing his parts with a decorous restraint, and contributing cooing, affectingly human vocals.”

… but no one raved about it enough, for it is a nearly perfect record, even two decades later.

This was the first track, where Gary Louris and Tim O’Reagan put these beautiful, delicate little harmonies together that so typify the sound.

The (almost) title track, which comes along as the fourth track, where, even if you were new to this, you knew you had some stripped down jangly pop genius and singalongs on your hands.

This is the song that The Yankee and I sing together. She, who often mishears lyrics and sings her own, sometimes even more compelling renditions, has a nice spin on this one. For her, it becomes a song about pancakes.

I think it was a deliberate mis-hearing in this case, but we’ve done it this way for 18 or 19 years now, and I don’t want to ask.

The Jayhawks, incidentally, were the first band we went to see together. Mark Olson was back with the band for a time, and so we drove over to Atlanta to watch them in March 2005. This CD was probably the first deep batch of their songs she’d heard.

It was a solid show.

There are 13 songs on the CD, and 10 of them are stand-outs, but this has to be my favorite. Between the bus driver smiling with every passing mile, and the song’s bridge. It’s hard, I think, to feel the same visceral way about a song, after hearing it hundreds and hundreds of times over the years, but not so difficult with this song.

The bonus CD included six additional tracks. Two demos, two alternate versions of songs found here, and a classic live track and between them, I’ve gotten my $8.48 worth and then some.

One of the alternates was an acoustic version of “Tampa to Tulsa.” Yeah.

Rainy day, sunny day, every day in between. This is the record for it.

Put another way, I bought this on Amazon in 2005, which is how I could recall the date and the price. And, of course, there’s a button there, just in case I would like to purchase it again. And I thought, Yeah, OK, until I realized the CD is right next to my elbow right now.

The Jayhawks are on tour — their in Spain right now — and will soon return to the U.S., to visit the Midwest and west coast. Maybe they’ll add some fall dates a little closer to me. I’d definitely go.

And, with that, we are now only five records behind in the Re-Listening project. So we’re right on time.

May 24

Medium ride day

Today was the day. I did my first swim of the year. It was just 500 yards, which is not even a warmup. It was simply a test to see what part of me would complain first. And the answer was: everything.

Then we pulled up some flowerbed liner and installed some new one. An experiment! A no-going-back experiment!

There’s no going back because I took the old liners to the inconvenience center with a few bags of garbage, a couple of boxes and a giant tub full of recycling. That, somehow, takes about an hour, from start to finish. But it was a warm and beautiful and sunny afternoon.

When I got back home I discovered an iris I didn’t know we had.

It’s flourishing next to this peony.

And not far away from this beautiful little rose bush.

All of which live under the peach tree.

And that looks like another great crop coming later this summer. Which only serves to make me want some peaches, which is good, because we have a lot still in the freezer from last summer!

It is a lot of fun to watch all of these things grow and flourish.

In the early evening I set out for a bike ride, all on familiar roads, but some of them in an unusual order. I love this little tree tunnel.

You only go about three-tenths of a mile under this verdant canopy, but it is a magical stretch of road nonetheless. It is the stuff of childhood fantasy, idle imagination and endless wonder. You just go faster and faster in there.

Also it has to be three or four degrees cooler in there than a stretch of road exposed to the sun. It was a mild 84 today, though, so that wasn’t the biggest concern.

I met some nice horses near the end of my ride.

This pair live nearby, but they were a bit more shy and I had no sugar cubes with which to win them over.

It was intended to be a 40-mile ride, but the map said it’d be 42 miles by the time I got home. In actuality, it was 45 miles when I got back. It was a fine ride.

After dinner, I went out to water some plants, and check on this little light. We have a tiny little structure that holds a few gardening tools next to the greenhouse, and I am enamored with the light fixture on top of it. It feels like a full size miniature, if there’s such a thing.

Plus, it comes in handy for late night summertime projects. So I just need to come up with some late night summertime projects.

Sep 23

Some things were accomplished

This is how the day went —

You shouldn’t begin a daily post generally grounded in the day-to-day events and notes of interest to the author; it is implied.

You’re right. Should I try again?

I think you should. No one has started a post like that since the days of the burrrrrr-krrrrrr-beeeeep—whiiiiii modems.

You’re probably right.

I think that I am, yes.

This is how the day went. I got a later start than I wanted, but that was fine. I did a little prep work for this week’s classes. Then I took a trip to the convenience center to drop off a good 10 days worth of garbage and recycling. Eventually, the novelty of that little chore will wear off and we’re going to want some actual curbside service, like most people from the later part of the 20th century.

The garbage haul was two bags from the house. I also moved four bags of weeds and one tub full of recycling. This took, I dunno, three minutes to load up, probably less time to unload and 25 minutes of driving, round trip.

Which meant it was lunch time, and so I had a nice bowl of chicken noodle soup on a day when the heat index will hit 100 degrees. After that, I did a a bit more work, and then set out for a haircut. The place I visited offered me a 145 minute wait. Not two hours and 25 minutes, but 145 minutes. There was a small circus worth of children in there, so I shared my thanks and departed. There was another place not too far away, I went there. Equally crowded. Did not go in. I’ll try again tomorrow. Maybe I’ll make an appointment, which carries the hefty cost of, for some reason, having to share my cell phone number with a company.

With my still shaggy and unkempt hair, I went to the grocery store. Potatoes for dinner, check. Soups for lunch, check. Cheez It because we eat it, check. Grapes as an impulse purchase’s sake, no dice.

Back in the home office, another few hours of prep work and it’s possible that I’m over-prepared. The spontaneity, I fear, is going from my best speeches and jokes. Or, I could be kidding myself about my level of preparation. The good news: I have all day tomorrow. So I’ll re-read this stuff for the 15th or 16th time in the last week.

So I called it and went for a swim.

And, this evening, I set a personal best. Longest swim of all time, 3,520 yards. I do not know what is happening. My lovely bride went for a run and caught the last of my swim, or the part near the end, the part where I was tired. I could feel it, of course. From about 2,700 to 3,000 felt different. Not desperate, but not good. Not haunting, but a distracted. My good shoulder was a bit achy, but I figured it would pass and it didn’t seem like something to stop over, so I kept on.

Then it all got better for most of the last 500 yards. And for the last 100 or so I sprinted it out, because that always seems like a good thing to do.

After I got my breath, she gave me a few pointers about what was going on with my form during that struggling portion. It seems my usual poor form deteriorated for a while, and that’s bad and can lead to injury. I’m not injured, but I am sore. I also swam two miles, so that stands to reason.

She said I should break up my swim into smaller segments if I was getting tired. And I was getting tired. This weekend I swam 3,080 yards and so I know about the point where I’d get tired. She said, with the wisdom of a real swimmer, that she’d rather see me swim 35 100s, with some rest breaks in there, so that I don’t get so tired that me and my sloppy form don’t swim myself into an injury.

I said that sounds like a good idea, and really good advice. But I had to find out if I could swim two miles.

You know, for shipwreck purposes.

And then I went to upload my swim into Strava, and found that the highest data point they allow for a swim is …

So I have a new goal. I just have to prove I can swim 100,000 yards. (I’ll take breaks.)

That’s 56.8 miles, almost three trips across the English Channel. (I’m never doing this, of course.)

Let’s wrap this up with a bit of the Re-Listening project. Though it hasn’t appeared here in a few weeks now, you’re accustomed to the concept: I’m listening to all of my old CDs in the car, and in the order in which I acquired them. These aren’t music reviews, just good music, occasionally a fun memory and, mostly, a bit of whimsy, which is always important in music.

And we’re up to late 2003 here, when Robinella and the CCstringband released the self-titled major label debut with this single.

They’d been a huge regional bluegrass sensation, which eventually brought them to the attention of the Columbia label. They’d released two smaller CDs, but this one, which included a bit of that earlier work, also got them some mainstream airplay.

You could best call the group progressive bluegrass and jazz blues. Which is great, because before I saw someone shoehorn the band into those genres, I thought, while listening to this record again, “This is one of the things bluegrass could have become.” You can hear some of that here, I think.

The musical version of that argument is sprinkled all over the record. It was one of those things that bluegrass could have become, but it wasn’t too be, for whatever reason. The next album had some pop and funk. Maybe that’s why.

I didn’t listen to this much in 2003 when it came out, for whatever reason. I liked the single, which was enough of a reason to pick this up, but it took me a while for the rest to grow on me, which is more about my musical shortcomings than anything to do with this band, which could put 12 good tracks on you and make you listen to all of them — if you’re ready for it.

Robinella and the CCstringband was Robin Ella Bailey and her then-husband, Cruz Contreras. They met in college, and shorted the band name to simply Robinella after this record. Somewhere after that the couple divorced and the band was dissolved.

While that song plays us out, let’s see if we can find out where everyone wound up. Robin Bailey is still playing locally, in Tennessee, as Robinella, having put out records in 2010, 2013 and 2018. She also makes art. Her Instagram suggests she plays a lot of unconventional, interesting places, which looks fun. Contreras is touring as well. I listened to the sample song on his site. I liked it. Cruz’s brother Billy Contreras played the fiddle on that record. When he was 12 years old he won the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest and has played with everyone and everywhere since then. Everyone: Lionel Hampton, George Jones, Doc Severinsen, Crystal Gayle, Charlie Louvin, Ray Price, Ricky Skaggs and more. He also taught at Belmont for a time. Steve Kovalcheck has also played with many of the greats, he’s the guitarist on this record and he’s an associate professor of jazz guitar at the University of Northern Colorado. Taylor Coker plays the upright, and he toured with Cruz for what looks like most of the teens. He’s still plucking strings, now with the biggest jazz band in eastern Tennessee.

Twenty years later, everybody is still playing. Doing what you love all that time, it’s a great thing.

The liner notes on this CD had some extra content on it. The instructions:

With this CD and a connection to the internet, you will have access to special “Behind The Scenes” footage and more:

1. Inset this disc into a computer connected to the internet
2. Log onto http://www.robinella.com/
3. Click Sign In

— ConnecteD May Not Work With All Computers —

Two decades ago, things really did seem limitless. You just had to remember to connect your dial up modem.