Sep 23

Went to a variety show and a concert broke out

Did some work this morning, enjoyed a lovely mild afternoon outside. This evening we crossed the river once more, this time, on a different bridge.

For on the other side of the river, was a big pop music show. Brandi Carlile, who can musically do no wrong, opened the show at the baseball park.

We’re sitting over third base, watching a musician with 25 Grammy nominations and nine Grammy awards, talk about how they’re just a bar band, and they can’t believe their in this great big place. And then, for about 45 minutes, she changed the name of Citizen’s Bank Park to Whatever Brandi Wants To Call It.

That’s “The Story,” from her second album, the one that broke her into a wide audience in a rather storybook sort of way. And she’s somehow better live than she is recorded-in-studio.

Then Pink came on, and promptly renamed the place again. She’s the headliner, and she’s every bit a star, of course. And this was a good show, as you’d imagine. There was also a little Sinead O’Connor interlude.

I wondered how this inevitable duet would come off. Nate Reuss isn’t just following Pink around, of course. But through the miracles of modern technology …

That song sat atop four American Billboard charts, and sat atop 19 other charts, international. It finished in the top seven of four domestic charts for 2013.

How is it a decade old, already, though?

This was a fun show, even though it isn’t one I would have picked for myself. But this whole circus is touring North American through mid-November. If you like Pink, you’ll love it.

Late night, longish, lovely, day. More tomorrow, when we’ll see two more videos from the concert.

Sep 23

The day that I enjoyed

There’s a little security guard hut between the road and the building I’m teaching in. A human sits in there, checks everyone’s parking pass and raises and lowers the arm. The gentleman that was there last night, as I made my way in for my evening class, was the talkative sort. Asked me where I was headed. I pointed to the right. Going to teach, I said.

What class?

“Journalism. Introduction to New Media, specifically,” I said, unsure if we were chatting or if he was challenging me.

Journalism is old media, he said.

“Yes it is …”

And I want to hold it in my hand!

So we were chatting.

He had a solid 45 seconds ready to go on the subject, and he delivered it in a steady way full of calm, fun conviction, the sort that lets you know he could do two, three, maybe five minutes on this if you wanted and didn’t mind a little roughness around some of his witticisms.

He was right about what he said. You couldn’t help but agree and laugh at his larger point. But, sir, I really need to get parked and go in and log into the 19 services I need to teach this class and …

Have a good one he said, as he pointed roughly in the way I was expected to go.

It’s a night class, so parking was a breeze. We were in the gloaming, but the building was still bustling with activity. I walked into the room and two students were already there. The rest flowed in over the course of the next 20 minutes or so. Owing to the holiday last Monday, and the late start hour of this class, this is the last first class of the semester. They knew it, too, and, by then, students are usually over all of the first day class experiences. Let’s get into this.

So we did. Course outline. Syllabus. The many policies. An icebreaker. Some jokes. A conversation about how we want this class to go — and they got a say in some of the key elements of that. And then I launched into a presentation about new media … I started with some works archeologists have uncovered that date back about 3,500 years. I like doing the history for context. I’m not sure if you need three-plus millennia of context, but it’s so interesting. Here is an Egyptian medical scroll, it isn’t even the oldest medical document we have. Let me tell you what this 65-foot document covered. And occasionally you flash forward. Maybe not to WebMD.com, but you bring it around. And then you jump to another part of the world, another period, and you talk about the story these cave walls told, or the meaning behind this Japanese tale, or the functionality of Ghana’s talking drums.

Then there are the various cultures that used knot-tying systems for record keeping, if not for storytelling. We know of four of them, at least, in various parts of the world, and they all seem unrelated. And so isn’t it interesting how people from different places and times, with different resources and problems, and different needs and degrees of ingenuity solve their problems. I mean, these drums talk. And certain varieties can be heard miles and miles away.

And then you get to a certain point in history, and some of these older technologies give way. Some stick around. Their uses entrenched traditionally, or just important cultural artifacts, or their purposes modified, but people in what we arrogantly think of as modern cultures all start gravitating to the same tech.

It’s a big lecture, and it all winds up with the Lutherans, somehow, because I found a great cartoon image to end the slideshow, making the point that, at least in the western sense, everything we know stems from this moment.

I think the biggest takeaway, though, is they probably won’t want me to lecture them late into the evenings. It’s going to be a group class, and it could be a good one. Thirty or forty percent of them were leaning into it on the first night. I’ll get the rest in due time.

Today, I worked on part of another lecture, which I will give twice on Thursday. And this is the rhythm of things through the end of the semester in mid-December.

I also went for a bike ride because I needed a break and folding laundry didn’t sound fun, comparatively speaking. I was going to do a quick square pattern, a route that I’ve established on four of the closest roads. It’s about nine miles. Do it twice, you can get in a good hour and then get back into whatever. I have a feeling I’m going to do that a lot, which is fine. They’re good roads.

But one of the things that should never be taken for granted about having your feet on two pedals on either side of two wheels is the ability to be spontaneous. Before I’d done the first mile I had a new idea. What about this other road? Where does it go?

It’s a road that we drive for some of our routine trips. Thing is, if it is part of the routine you only your part of the road. And, sure, I could look at that on a map later — and I do for some roads, but the real joy is in simply finding out first hand. So, I figured, I’ll go down that road until my bike computer says I’ve done 10 miles, then I’ll turn around.

When I’d gone three miles I had to amend the idea, because the road ended in a T-intersection. See? I didn’t know the road. Hadn’t consulted a map. If I turned left, I’d go down a hill pretty quickly, which just means riding up it later. But if I turned to the right, it was a gradual thing. So I turned right and found myself racing over some nice false flats, only to run out of that road pretty soon. OK then, I’m going to have to remember landmarks and such. Another right turn, and then another. I stayed on that road until I got to 10 miles — though even though it seemed like it took a lot longer than normal — and then turned around, retracing my route.

I had a brief conversation with a friend the other day about seeing things by bike. The speeds are different, of course, so you can see and appreciate more. For instance, I’ve driven on this stretch of road now maybe four or five times. I’ve never noticed this sign.

I shot this on the way back. I’ve also never seen this one, which is great, because how can I top the serendipity of the sun setting over the shoulder of the sun?

Near the very end of my little 20 mile ride I got behind a tractor. And the tractor got behind another tractor, this one which was hauling a trailer of fresh crops away from the fields. The second tractor passed the first. And then I passed him, too.

The first tractor had not been going particularly fast, but it disappeared somewhere, and I’ll probably think about that every time I’m on this road I explored today.

I just created three new segments on Strava for various parts of that road, meaning I’ll have to try to go faster next time I come through there. I also added a segment that is a commonly ridden road on the way back home. I could add segments for every stretch of every road that is becoming a part of the new habit, but I’d never know which ones to give a big effort, and where to recover. Segments are usually done going uphill, but I am, of course, much faster going downhill. All of the ones I’ve created, the Strava website tells me, are flat or downhill.

Go figure.

Tonight it was cleaning up a bit outside, watering a few plants, catching up on the Vuelta, writing this, plotting out the next few classes and … that’s enough, really. Oh, and listening to the rain tap on the walls, and the wind howling over everything. That really should be enough. After all, I’ll be writing more lectures tomorrow, and thinking up a good newspaper joke for that guy working the security hut.

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.

Aug 23


Light day here, as most of my hours were spent on preparing coursework. Canvas! Where all the fun is had! It’ll probably be a light week all the way around because I’m not hardly done with all of this prep work. Classes start next week, though, so there’s some stress and relief in that. Will I hit the deadlines I’ve imposed upon myself? And if I don’t, somehow, hit those deadlines, will I have a backup plan?

There’s always a plan. Thankfully, though, they don’t get used a lot. Nothing a good solid 96 hours of concentrated attention and angst can’t address.

This evening, though, we went to Philadelphia. It was $20 ticket night at Citizen’s Bank Park and The Yankee is demonstrating her secondary fandom. Her beloved Yankees aren’t very beloved at the moment, so there’s the wildcard chasing Phillies.

The home team is hosting the Angels, and perhaps the greatest player of any generation, Shohei Ohtani. This is what you need to know. At Phillies games they pipe in bell noises when the good guys hit a home run. There were five tonight — Harper in the 2nd, Schwarber in the 3rd, Bohm in the 6th, Stott in the 7th and Turner in the 8th — so there was a lot of bell ringing. An almost standard night for a team that leads all of baseball in August home runs.

We also saw a successful squeeze play, a triple and watched the great Ohtani go 3-5, and get thrown out trying to steal third base.

It was a lovely night at the old ballgame as the home standing Phillies beat the #Angels 12-7.

We didn’t think the first thing about dinner. It was about 10 p.m. when all of the runs were put on the scoreboard and we made a shortcut out of the parking lot. Through the power of the Internet and cell signals I found the one restaurant between here and there that was still open at that hour on a Tuesday night. It was a sleepy little, brightly lit restaurant and bar with Formica countertops and giant flat screen TVs.

Outside were a man and woman and, though we didn’t hear it, one of them was apparently trying to get the other to do something that was no good. Of course this woman came in for a beer in her pajamas, which she pointed out to us all. The young bartender took our order since no one else was working in the front of the house. They offered sandwiches and a burger, so we got steak sandwiches. They hit the spot. The other four or five people that came in all knew him and one another. Truly a neighborhood joint. Just as we were leaving — cash only, and now I have three dimes and that felt weird.

What do you even do with these things anymore?

Some other baseball fans came in for their late dinner. The only restaurant open for miles around.

And most importantly, I guess, the Phillies are 2-0 when we’re in the stadium. There’s another $20 game opportunity coming up next month. Because it is easy to get in and out of there, we’ll probably go back again. And now we know when the kitchen closes, and just how casual the dress code can be.

Aug 23

Fraught of feather, talk of talons, enchant of eyes

The mascot at Rowan is The Prof. He comes to life in the form of an owl named Whoo RU … because owls say “Who” and RU are the initials. Imagined in 1957, brought to life in 1959, and not made official until the 1990s — the idea of an underground mascot encouraging and antagonizing people for almost 30 years is hilarious — he is, like all costumed mascots, as dynamic or mediocre as the people involved with the project make him. But this, the first line about the mascot from the athletic department’s page, seems like a missed opportunity.

The Rowan University “Professorial Owl” has been a misunderstood yet deeply dynamic figure for 50 years. Not only does Rowan’s Prof promote the sports teams, but he has also, over the years, become a proud endorser of the student publications, campus events and all-around Rowan pride.

The biggest question from people, linked academically to Rowan or not, would have to be “What is a Prof?”

I’m not sure who named the character, or when, but I assume they were big fans of The Who.

(I really wanna know.)

Anyway, I decided today, on day two of orientation, that I would ask some big questions about this. Whoo RU, where are you?

That one was on a little handbill with useful contact information we received in one of the many sessions. This version was on, well, you can tell what he was on.

Whoo RU, where are you?

What’s going to happen a lot is that we’ll see a bunch of different owl logos meant to be evocative of Whoo RU, but only specific instances of the actual character because he’s limited to athletics. There are reasons for that, but I wonder if it diffuses, or reinforces, the brand in the long run.

Do you see a lot of alternate versions of Georgia’s Hairy Dawg or Florida’s Albert, or Puddles, the duck at Oregon? I don’t think so, but I could be wrong. Maybe you see them, but the costumed mascots are so iconic that your brain makes the leap without thinking about it. Call it “The mental shortcuts of things that don’t matter overmuch, not really.”

So I guess the question is, does the mascot have to be iconic to overcome that? Or is it enough that a mascot that is locally iconic? Or can a mascot that’s long been deeply misunderstood do it, too?

For what it’s worth, having not met Whoo RU yet, the cartoon owl holding a stack of books is pretty great. Is that meant to be Whoo RU, or an owl cousin with a backstory we just aren’t supposed to question? Whooever — see what I did there? –that library-going owl is, he looks ready to be the lead in a classic kids book.

Anyway, more orienting today. Full of truths, allusions to truths, helpful information and stuff that blows right by you. The thing is, if you gather a group of 50-some incredibly well trained people in disciplines representing all different disciplines that a college campus can offer, and those people are also at different stages in their careers, you’re going to find that they need different information. It’s a difficult event to program, but the programmers did a pretty nice job with it.

I didn’t have a welcome packet for some reason yesterday. The lady who does this sort of thing was a bit upset, concerned that I would be upset. I was deeply, passionately moved by this first impression. And I let her have it.

I said, “This is not my first impression, but I really must tell you, this leaves an impression. And the impression that it leaves is, I am not … ”

I didn’t say any of that, of course. It’s an easy oversight. There are a lot of moving parts. You don’t know how much goes into programming a three-day event that involves seven rooms in three-to-five buildings a day across a campus, involving dozens of people who watch their schedules like a hawk an owl, to say nothing of the catering and technology until you’ve done something remotely similar.

Several times, because it happens in medium-sized group dynamics, I ran into this nice lady. Each time she was apologetic. Finally, I made a joke that it was OK; I don’t need a name tag because I am working undercover.

She came up to me at lunch today with my gift bag and name tag. Inside the bag — a quality reusable bag which will haul groceries for me soon — was a water bottle, a folder with the schedule of events, a pen and a cool lapel pin. The name tag was blank. This, I thought, was a terrific joke in reply. I wore it with pride, that blank name tag.

Another good day, a long day. But the people were nice, the catered food was perfectly passable and the sessions were useful.

It brings the start of the fall semester another day closer, but this is the thing I’ve learned: I need more sleep. So, seeing that it is late, I’m going to give that a try.