Saturday, October 31, 2009

Deborah Voigt: From Wagner to Irving Berlin

Decisions, decisions. Friday afternoon found me with the possibility of attending two outstanding recitals featuring two of the world's most renowned sopranos. Since both were at the same time, I could do only one. Deborah Voigt was presenting a varied program of German and Italian arias plus American and European art songs; across town Dame Emma Kirkby was performing a program of songs by Dowland and Purcell accompanied by lute. The closer venue and company going with me led me to the Voigt recital.

Voigt is making a name for herself by taking challenging and varied roles in some of the world's leading opera houses. A Met Ring Cycle in 2012 will feature her as Brunnhilde and she is easily at home in Puccini, Richard Strauss and even Broadway.

Voigt showed that her big, Wagnerian voice could also tackle the intimacies of art songs. Opening the program were 3 Robert Browning songs op 44 by Amy Beach. Voigt sweetly yet clearly communicated these intimate texts, her big voice well controlled, never overwhelming. Following these were 3 songs by Respighi, "Contrasts", "Night" and "Mists", all three sung with precise Italian diction and superb vocal tone painting, deftly communicating the impressionistic texts and music. As Voigt announced her selection of "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca, a few claps dotted the auditorium, she remarked with a smile "don't get excited, I haven't sung it yet!'. But it was an exciting rendition of this popular aria, as were the two Wagner selections on the first half "Dich, teure Halle" from Tannhäuser and "Du bist der Lenz" from "Walküre".

The second half was just as thoughtfully planned, 5 Richard Strauss songs, all allowing Voigt to showcase her soaring, yet somewhat dark, soprano. These songs could have been written with her in mind, so well did her interpretation and voice match the texts. Accompanist Brian Zeger, got quite a work out in these demanding settings.

Voigt and Zeger moved effortlessly from Strauss' "Frülingsfeier"op 56 # 5 to the uniquely American works of Benjamin Moore and Leonard Bernstein, culminating in Bernstein's masterpiece "Somewhere" from "West Side Story". Unfortunately, "Somewhere" was a bit of a letdown; Voigt certainly loved and knew the piece, but just didn't communicate the wistful melancholy of the song.

The appreciative audience demanded some encores, and were granted three.

In addition to her stellar voice, Voigt has a wonderful relaxed yet always in command stage presence. She immediately relates to her audience and makes them feel a part of the performance. The highlight of the whole evening was her vampy, campy encore romp through Irving Berlin's rag "I Love the Piano". Voigt ambled over to the piano, bumped Zeger over and proceeded to improvise a honky tonk descant along with him. The immediate standing ovation garnered us "just one more", a soulful and tender "Can't Help Loving that Man of Mine".

Those hearing Dame Emma Kirkby probably heard a more "important" and unique musical event, but I bet they didn't have nearly as much fun.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dunbar: At Home

Most people are not excited about owning a 20 year old car, but I am not "most people". I kind of enjoy cars of the recent past; usually bone simple, comfy and deliciously covered in fake wood, stripes and vinyl. In real terms, a 20 year old car is in that gray middle ground; too old to be current but not old enough to qualify for antique. Some of Dunbar the Buick's older siblings are considered antiques, they being the introductory 1982 models introduced in late 1981. But a car as ubiquitous as a 1990's Buick Century is not a sure shot for antique collectability. Of course some said the same about the Edsel or the 57 Chevrolet at one time.

I look upon 20 year old daily driver cars as survivors; some lovingly cared for, some benignly neglected, all lucky. Dunbar fits all three categories.

All of Dunbar's past owners have cared for him well with regular maintenance, kept clean and not raced or abused. My aunt bought Dunbar used in January 1996 from the Buick dealer in Clinton, IL with 66, 431 miles. As of today (after a quick run in the rain to check) Dunbar has clocked 76,452 miles. So in a bit less than 14 years, Dunbar has traveled just 10,021 miles. Most cars do that in a year. Thus Dunbar was one that was cared for and lucky to have been owned by older adults who drove him gently and sparingly.

Sadly as she got older, my aunt could not care for Dunbar as much. I did not see it, but I guess when she gave the car to my uncle a few years ago, Dunbar looked like hell. As was common of cars of that era, sun, snow and chemicals ate away at the clearcoat that made the paint appear so wet and shiny. He ran ok, just looked like a clunker. One notch in the benign neglect category.

My uncle, being a prim and proper English type gentleman, could not be seen in such a mess, especially at the Country Club. You see, Dunbar had now been relegated to golf duty. As some men buy old wagons and cars as "fishing cars", my uncle used Dunbar solely to go to the golf course and back. Again a bit of luck.

A new paint job was in order, so Howard scouted around for some bids on a paint job. One shop told him $800. Seeking a second bid, Howard took it somewhere else where they told him "I can do it for four". They got the job. Four THOUSAND dollars later (yes, $4,000 not $400), Dunbar looks fabulous. Howard learned a lesson as well, he told me. "From now on, I will be sure to ask "four what'?" Once again Dunbar gets another point in the "Lucky" column. Instead of an overspray of the existing paint, the old paint was removed, the car sanded, primed, two coats of correct color lacquer applied, a final shot of clearcoat and then restoration of the factory applied pin stripes. Probably a better paint job than when new.

Since arriving in Kansas City, Dunbar now has another lease on life; new tires and new brakes were just installed and some new hoses and such are in his future. I bought a cover to protect that $4,000 paint job from those wintry, salty days and the searing rays of hot summer sun. Just as important, Dunbar has someone who appreciates that he is a survivor. He may get to run on the road a bit more than in the past few years as I plan on taking him back to Illinois for Thanksgiving. But for the most part he goes back and forth just here in Midtown, not venturing too far from the Palace.

Dunbar, the 1990 Buick Century Limited, one of 35,248 made, hopefully will continue his string of luck for a long time to come.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What I am Listening to Today: Kansas City Symphony New Recording

The new recording of Britten Orchestral works is about to be released NOVEMBER 10th watch for it.

Reference Recordings RR120

I got an advance copy and upon first hearing it is quite impressive, especially the demo quality sound. Even on my crappy system, it sounds marvelous.

I'll post a more complete review closer to release time. Meanwhile check out your favorite retailer or Reference Recordings and get your copy reserved!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

KC Symphony: Bach, Mendelssohn and Haydn Lord Nelson Mass

Part of the art of programming a symphony concert is choosing complimentary works, making the whole program a satisfying whole. On the surface, this weekend's Kansas City Symphony concert had 3 works unified only by their common origin from the Germanic musical tradition. The concert opened with the Bach Brandenburg Concerto # 3, followed by the popular Mendelssohn E minor Violin Concerto and for the last half, the Haydn D minor Mass (Lord Nelson). Music Director Michael Stern conducted.

But craftily organized was this program. If it were not for Mendelssohn championing his works in the early 1800's, would we regard Bach as just another prolific baroque composer or worse consigned his oeuvre to oblivion? It is thus fitting that a Mendelssohn masterpiece follow one by Bach to remind us to be eternally grateful.

So what of Haydn and Mendelssohn? The year 2009 links them together, 200 years since Mendelssohn was born on Feb 3rd and Haydn's death the following May. Plus, it was interesting to watch the number of performers grow from the 10 strings and harpsichord of the Bach, to the classical size orchestra of the Mendelssohn to the strings, organ, brass and chorus and soloists of the Haydn.

The Bach was well done, precise and full of energy. The 10 strings stood in a semi circle at the front of the stage with the harpsichord off to the right. The intimate scoring worked well in the theatre for the most part. Possibly due to where I was sitting, the harpsichord was sweetly inaudible, which frankly is better than some harpsichord heavy recordings and performances I have experienced.

KC Symphony Concertmistress Kanako Ito was the soloist for the Mendelssohn. Ito is an accomplished violinist, demonstrating her prowess in a sublime Scheherazade a couple of seasons back and a polished Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto last season as well. Hers was an elegant and well-crafted performance, aided by Stern's deft and perfectly balanced orchestra. Special mention to the particularly fleet woodwinds, so vital to Mendelssohn's requirements. The second movement was singing and melodic, never cloying and so sickening sweet. Ito's energy and attention to musical line and detail never faltered throughout the concerto, earning her a rare (for me) standing ovation for her sensitive, even exciting performance.

Haydn's D minor Mass from 1798 is inexorably linked to Lord Horatio Nelson, looked upon as a hero in Austria for defeat of Napoleon's navy in Egypt. Inspired by the tense times of the late 1700's (the mass is also known as "Missa in Angustiis" or "Mass in Troubled Times"), the Lord Nelson Mass is one of Haydn's most inspiring and exciting works. In this case, Stern eschewed the more elaborate later orchestration and went with the original concept of strings, organ, 3 trumpets and chorus with soloists. The big chorus looked able to overpower the smaller orchestral forces, but never carried out the threat.

I rarely read the KC Star KC Symphony review but in this case I did. The reviewer mentioned the organ "stuck out like a sore thumb". Must have been where he was sitting, for as with the harpsichord in the Bach, I could rarely hear the organ which took the parts more commonly played by winds.

The Symphony Chorus has benefited from its new leadership, Grammy award winning conductor Charles Bruffy. Diction was clearer, entrances precise and balance, as mentioned, excellent. The soloists were a mixed bag. Soprano Mary Wilson was a bit strained, but not annoyingly so. Mezzo Sasha Cook was excellent and did a fine job in the big mezzo solo in the Agnus Dei. Tenor Thomas Cooley was a bit subdued but otherwise in fine voice. Baritone Nathaniel Webster simply did not have the depths for the demanding part, probably more suited for a bass than a baritone.

Stern and the orchestra have turned in a number of excellent Haydn performances over the past few years and this one could easily be added to the list.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Coupl'a Things XXV

1) It appears that the Britten KC Symphony recording of music by Benjamin Britten has been released on Reference Recordings. When I get a copy to audition, I will post a review. The concert preceding the recording was quite good and with Reference Recordings' audiophile sound, it should be a treat!

2) My new church Country Club Congregational had a pastoral blow up, just a year after I left my old church after a pastor conflict. Sadly, the man I admired and liked as a pastor and friend is leaving. This time I was on the pastor's side, and like last time, I seem to be on the losing side. Church conflicts are some of the nastiest around. This one seems to be too, but information is sketchy.

3) Halloween is approaching, and I will this year continue my long tradition of staying inside, locking my door and ignoring the mayhem. Halloween means only one thing to me, it is that much closer to Mardi Gras!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Use It

While enjoying a vodka tonic with some of my drinking friends, I asked Rick, who owns an antique mall, if anyone was buying depression glass. He immediately dashed my hopes of making a killing by shaking his head no and basically telling me one can not give it away.

"Use it", he suggested, "at the prices it commands now, if you break a piece, a replacement is easy to find and is cheaper than buying new at Target."

Thus some of the hundred pieces of Queen Mary depression glass I got from family, bought at malls or on Ebay is seeing the light of day, freed from its wrappers and boxes after being stored in various places since 2004.

Depression glass was made in huge quantities during the 1930's and early 40's. Cheaply pressed rather than hand cut, it was literally given away in soap and cereal boxes or sold for a few cents at the local 5 and dime. It was that generation's Corelle. If you had better china or glass, the glass that came in a bag of cornmeal was rarely used for holidays or family gatherings. Some, who suffered a loss or reduction of income, were embarrassed to have the stuff, not being able to cope with the reality of buying their dishware at Woolworth's instead of Macy's. The Depression Generation is well known for keeping everything as you never knew when you were not going to have the money for new, thus surviving depression glass is relatively plentiful.

Queen Mary 6in Bowl:

In the 1990's, at the height of the collector's boom, the stuff was selling like hotcakes. I paid thousands for what I bought and also made some by reselling some I got as bargains. I bought a mint condition, pink Queen Mary butter dish for $10 and sold it a week later on Ebay for $250. I sold it as I had two already. I sold the others off when I needed money back in my dark days. But most I kept, once displayed when I had space and then consigned to boxes when I didn't.

At noon today, I ate my soup and salad from a recently unpacked pink Queen Mary bowl and a small crystal plate. I marveled at the elegance of it; the glass is delicate pink or clear, bright crystal. As you can see, Queen Mary is a ribbed, prismatic pattern, austere but sleekly stylish, very art deco. Well made, the glass is thick and sturdy, with few flaws. A few years ago, I served a dinner for 8 people using my Queen Mary, the pink and crystal glass on a black table cloth. It was hard to believe that this was once cheap, everyday tableware. It was the most spectacular table I have ever set.

As I sipped my soup (ok, slurped it) I wondered where that bowl had been. Was it bought at Woolworth's or S.S. Kresge? Was it a prize at the bottom of a bag of flour? Was it a fixture at a Christmas dinner? Was it a present? Where did it come from? Why has it survived in pristine shape since at least 1937?

Whatever its story, it must feel good to be useful again; that is if one truly believes that a glass bowl can have feelings. A relic from a hardscrabble time that a couple of generations later is an elegant reminder of when even cheap things were made to last and made with pride.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Marvin Parker Memorial Garden X

The elemental cycle of seasonal growth, death and then spring regeneration is nowhere more apparent than in a vegetable garden. The once flourishing Marvin Parker Memorial Garden is now fading and dying. It has been cool and frosty, but no freeze yet, so the garden is still alive, but just barely. The tomatoes are forlorn and full of small, green fruits that will likely not ripen. My romas produce small fruits that quickly drop to the ground still green. There are buds on the plants and some small peppers, but they will not grow much. Same with the eggplants, there are a couple forming, but likely will not grow to maturity. I got a few beans, but they were down low and inside the little trellis, protected from the cold. The string beans and their poles are gone.

We'll have a fall clean up day, take the brush to the compost pile, rake and pull until the plot is cleared. Then the long winter wait do it all again.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

American Heartland Theatre: "I'll be Back Before Midnight"

Yawn... "who done it" murder mysteries... one of my least favorite theatre or movie genres. I guess it is my impatience or maybe the knowledge that I am being manipulated that makes these shows a tedium for me.

But, the American Heartland Theatre's (why does Blogger spell check think "theatre" is wrong, I happen to like that way of spelling it) production of "I'll be Back Before Midnight" actually was humorous, fast paced and featured a fine cast and effective sets and lighting.

There was a bit of psychodrama and twisted, sick relationships to keep one involved, but not so much as to repulse and block the forward motion of the plot. The plot is pretty simple, as most of these things tend to be, Jan is a young woman who apparently has just been released from a long stay in a mental hospital. Her husband, Greg, who studies rocks and ancient stone tools at a college under the direction of Jan's father, has rented a farmhouse so that he and Jan can resume their lives. George, the landlord, introduces himself and despite being a simple looking bumpkin, begins to plant the seeds of murderous mayhem by telling tales of murders in the farmhouse, buried bodies and ghosts. Adding to Jan's growing dread, Greg announces his sister Laura will be coming to help out as she travels to a new life out west. Jan and Laura are not the best of friends, to put it mildly.

As the play progresses, the twisted relationships and menacing personalities emerge. George has a lot of secrets to keep, there is a hint that manipulative, cold Laura and very submissive Greg were more than just brother and sister. Jan sends cassettes to her therapist fearing she is about to lose it all again.

The two short acts come to a climax early as the secrets are revealed, motives become clear and the body count rises. The excellent cast (Vanessa Severo as Jan, Darren Kennedy as Greg, James Wright as George and Jan Chapman as Laura) are brilliant as their initial personas fade and their true selves emerge. At the end no one is as they initially seemed, making "I'll be Back Before Midnight" more of a "who are they" rather than a simple "who done it".

The show continues through October 25th.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fall Colors

The Heating and AC people were at the Palace this AM doing their fall servicing. Since a couple of the units are on the roof, we had to venture up there for a while. Taking my trusty old Kodak EasyShare with me, I snapped a couple shots of the fall colors finally beginning to peak.

On the eastern horizon, you can see the colors dotting the canopy:

Looking south on Baltimore:

Just out front:

Amazingly green for mid October in KC. Been a cool, wet summer and fall is the same.

I dread winter's arrival.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Comedy at its Best

Last Saturday, the Kinsey Sicks, a self styled "Dragapella Beautyshop" quartet of drag performers, performed their show "Wake the Fuck up America" at my church, which is a story in and of itself.

Their performance did make me laugh and more often made me wince and shake my head. Let us just say the word "fuck" flowed freely and they had no shame.

Which contrasts to this gem

Now this is pure comedy. Sid Caesar and Nanette Fabray from the 1950's, probably from Caesar's own show. Pure improv, no teleprompters and 100% live. In this thankfully preserved clip, Caesar and Fabray mime a married couple arguing to the first movement of Beethoven's famous 5th symphony.

This sketch is absolutely a masterpiece of subtle humor and flawless acting; the timing and action are impeccable.
I have watched this a hundred times and still find it fresh and hilarious.

Probably can't say the same about the Kinsey Sicks.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Kansas City Symphony: Dvorak, Kodaly and Rachmaninoff

The fare for this weekend's Kansas City Symphony concerts, Music Director Michael Stern conducting, has a decidedly Eastern European bent; 3 masterpieces from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia.

Kodaly's Dances of Galánta, inspired by his youthful exposure to and his life long study of Hungarian folk traditions, is a colorful, energetic yet sophisticated romp through some delicious folk melodies and rhythms. Well thought out, inventive and always energetic, Galánta makes a perfect curtain raiser.

The Symphony's ensemble, intonation and precision were spot on and a pleasure to hear. Entrances were tight, and the piece was propelled forward with graceful enthusiasm. The many solos (including Clarinet Raymond Santos' warm, soulful contribution and horn Alberto Suarez's impeccable performance) blended into the colorful fabric of this most enjoyable work. I am sure it is a challenge to play and bring off, but Stern and the Orchestra made easy work of it (or at least made it seem easy work) with this exciting, bouncy performance.

The Dvorak B minor Cello Concerto is the crown jewel of cello concerti and one of the jewels of the whole concerto repertoire. Soaring melodies, dramatic cadenzas, a Slavic tinged, soulful slow movement and a propulsive, thoroughly satisfying finale contribute to the sheer perfection of this magnum opus.

Sadly, Cellist Alban Gerhardt turned in a rather bland, thin toned and hardly soaring performance. Others I talked to disagreed and the audience seemed to enjoy it, but to me Gerhardt's performance just seemed to be a competent run through. High register passages were especially thin, somewhat strident and suspect in intonation. The passion ran cold in this performance; some wonderful contributions from the orchestra (Raymond Santos again in the lovely clarinet figures in the slow movement) and well paced, never rushed tempi could not prod Gerhardt to a more intense, maybe even nostalgic performance. Maybe this is how Dvorak is performed these days, but I will always turn to the warm, soulful and thrilling Piatigorsky/Munch BSO performance.

Rachmaninoff's valedictory orchestral work, the marvelous "Symphonic Dances", comprised the second half of the program. The new arrangement of the orchestra (Stern re-arranged the seating of the ensemble to help alleviate the rather flat sound of the hall) contributed to the clear, bright and detailed sound. The basses provided a more solid foundation and the inner strings were clear. The usual fine winds and strings were combined with solid and never overwhelming brass (not a major bobble was noted all evening, thank you folks) and precise and colorful percussion. Going on a different night than usual necessitated a change in seat, sadly placing me further right and thus obscuring the important contributions of the piano and harp in the Rachmaninoff. Stern pulled one of the more focused and energetic performances from the orchestra, relishing in the many tempo changes, snappy rhythms and colorfully scored passages.

I admit to being a Symphonic Dances snob, I adore the piece and find it the one Rachmaninoff piece I turn to most often. Thus I waited throughout the performance for the one moment that, for this warped mind, makes or breaks the performance. I insist that the conductor follow the directions in the score and the "LV" (let vibrate) notation for final stroke of the gong. It should reverberate for a few seconds after the orchestra stops and allowed to fade, not just be a loud cymbal crash. Oh please, do it right.... and it was, thank you maestro. I went home happy, the perfect moment satisfying me, the energetic Galánta still resonating and the bland Dvorak not an issue anymore.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Coupl'a Things XXIV

1) I have ESP, or if nothing else an uncanny knack of fantasizing the future. After reading an article yesterday about the impending Nobel Peace Prize announcement, I thought to myself "I bet they give it to Obama...nah... but wouldn't that set the Obama haters on fire." I imagined Rush, Faux News, and all the right wing loons just imploding. It was a momentary chuckle and fantasy as my mind went on to absorb other stimuli.

And I'll be damned it happened.

Now, tell me, why can't my fantasies of winning the mega lottery, finding a rich, handsome boyfriend that adores the ground I walk on or an end to silliness and hate come true?

Oh well, Congrats Mr. President

2) It does not take a Nobel Prize winning scientific mind to note that having a car makes you fat and lazy. The bike sits unused, the walking is less. Trips to Gayfresh are more frequent and those to the Poor People's Market have dwindled. I even took the car to Gomer's for a vodka run (well, it was raining...).

I must do better.

3) Looks like Facebook has had a meltdown this AM.

4) I am cleaning out again. Yesterday I went to my storage unit up the street. In order to have a bit of space to store junk, seasonal items and mementos, I rent a large closet at a storage facility for an increasingly large sum of money each month. Although it is close and convenient, I visit the place only a couple times a year.

Upon entering the facility, I wound my way to my assigned space only to find the lock changed. I went to the lady at the desk who appeared baffled by the whole thing too. She opened it for me and I proceeded to get what I needed. She said she would look into the thing. As I rummaged, a rustle and noise directed my attention to a suitcase, whereupon I discovered Mickey Mouse had set up housekeeping.


The lady at the office was now a bit more sullen when I arrived. She gleefully pointed out that in April I had paid my bill 7 days late and that necessitated them securing the unit. Questioning why they had to destroy my lock and just not put a second lock on the unit (there is a place to do so) led to the usual "it is policy" answer.

So, one customer lost. Outside of that one indiscretion, I had paid on time for 3 years.

Stuff is being tossed, given away on Freecycle and stuffed into corners. Even I, who prides himself on downsizing, still has more crap than one should have.

5) The pickled okra is looking good in its tight jar. I am resisting temptation.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Slimy, Spicy Stalks of Goodness

Sitting in the "cool, dry place" that is the corner of my little underground kitchen for the next two weeks are three freshly packed jars of spicy, garlicy, vinegary, crunchy-slimy spears of good eats called pickled okra.

No one is ambivalent about okra; you'd either murder nuns and orphans for the stuff or you place it in the same category as boils on your ass or maybe Hitler. As for me?... "take that, Sister Mary."

I never made the stuff before, but sure have eaten a ton. So with the garden still producing a bumper crop, I decided to try it. I scoured the net and found what looked like a recipe I would like, with lots of spice, vinegar and chile.

What I did not count on was that you had to have laboratory sterile conditions to make the stuff. I know grandma never used clean sterile towels, fresh laundered and not used for other purposes, hand sanitizer, sterilized tongs, rubber gloves and new, never used jars. She probably boiled the jars, but that was about it. I used most of the above, but the towels were not fresh from the drier and the rubber gloves were no where in sight, so I hope I am making a delicacy, not botulism.

It said if you follow the instructions to the T, you can safely can foods for long periods without fear of bacteria or contamination. I don't think I can wait that long. The minimum for sufficient pickling was two weeks and I am sure I will not resist temptation to try my creation.

But damn it, the three jars are already bothering me. I can hear the one lone bacterium spreading its doom, multiplying with no help from any of its friends..taking over..

Ah, fear not. There is enough garlic, vinegar, mustard seed and chile in the concoction to kill anything. At least I hope. If this is my last post, you will know the outcome.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Dunbar: Heading Home

Reluctantly, I took my leave of Howard and Louise around 4;30 or so; if I had more energy I would have kept it up all night. But I had been up since 4AM, still needed to drive the 2 hours to Decatur, and it had began to rain. I left with a couple of souvenirs; a picture of dad's family taken in 1942 and Howard's autobiography of his WWII adventures and career as a biology teacher. Along with my Grandfather's Illinois Central Railroad watch that I got many years ago, I have a few things to hold on to from a vanishing generation.

Getting behind the wheel of a car again felt strange a bit, yet at the same time comforting. Mobility and freedom were mine again. Although I know now I have to play the game and have Dunbar licensed in Missouri to please the authorities bent on wringing every penny out of us they can.

Dunbar took me south on the somewhat familiar roads, past Peoria, down to Lincoln and then on to Decatur on the more familiar Route 121. It had become even more chilly from the steady fall rain and I had not brought a jacket it still being hung in my storage unit. Thus I infiltrated the blinding bright world of the Lincoln Wal-Mart, bustling at the dinner hour, to buy a cheap "Made in Indonesia" jacket for all of $10. Sadly, I think it is the only place on can buy a jacket in Lincoln, IL at that time of day.

My sister did not have to work Friday night, so immediately upon my arrival, I ordained a trip to "Los Matadores" in the once state of the art Fairview Plaza Shopping Center. What is now "Los Matadores" used to be part of the big Goldblatt's Department Store, closed many ages ago. Always good food, lots of it, good margaritas and sort of a tradition for me.

I stayed little in Decatur, needing to get back to KC, so I left Saturday AM after doing a few errands with my sister. The trip here was totally uneventful and Dunbar proved reliable and comfortable. HM Puggles was thrilled to see me home and enjoyed her first ride in her new limo on Sunday. She thinks it is fabulous, actually. She was out with me when I unloaded a bag of Purina from the trunk, purchased in Decatur when I found it on sale. She is convinced that her limo comes with food as standard equipment.

As I type this, I really wonder why I have taken the time. If you are reading, admit it, you really do not find this totally mundane story fascinating at all. I could be describing a trip to the gas station for all that matters. But it serves a purpose for me. Maybe someday, if all this gets preserved, a member of a future generation of the Clark family will find it and as it was with my Uncle's stories and a gold pocket watch, a bond of understanding will be forged between estranged generations.

Thus I go on.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Fetching Dunbar

Amtrak's "Southwest Chief" train is a bit of a different animal than the local service train I usually take from KC to St Louis or Springfield. Two powerful diesel locomotives power the train, this time consisting of a baggage car, a dining car and 5-6 big, double deck passenger cars. A couple of the cars were the sleeper cars, in reality rolling mini hotels. Since I was a short hop (the Chief starts in LA and goes to Chicago) I got one of the recliner regular seats. Long and comfy, fully reclinable and on the upper deck. For $52 and a quick trip, it could not be beat.

The Chief is the successor to the fabled Santa Fe Super Chief which ruled the LA to Chicago route during the peak of passenger rail service. Leaving KC in the AM, the Chief rolls through north central MO, stops in the hamlet of La Plata, MO serving Kirksville to the north, the river town of Fort Madison, IA and then on to Galesburg and Chicago. As the last time, Amtrak got me there on time and in comfort.

I immediately recognized my Uncle Howard, despite not having seen him in a while. Without going into a long psychological discussion, my dad's family is pretty much a mystery to me. We didn't do much with them and with the exception of my late Aunt Pauline, they were scattered here and there. Howard is the intellectual among the siblings and the most traveled and worldly. At 90, he still golfs, bicycles and is active in church and volunteerism. Tall, lots of white hair (where did mine go??, but his sons look much like me in the hair department) and sure footed and quick witted, he certainly looked less than his 90 years. Along with him was his long time friend Louise, his constant friend and companion, filling the void after his beloved wife Helen died 4 years ago.

We walked to the parking lot, like all of Illinois in the summer, undergoing construction, and there was Dunbar. I had little info on the car so I did not know what to expect. But there was a dark gray Century, resplendent in the 2 year old paint job (a story for later) despite the chilly, threatening weather. Instantaneous relief was felt when I saw the "Century Limited" badge on the back quarter panel. This meant Dunbar was of the rarer upper class, not just a lowly and ubiquitous "Custom". True to form, Dunbar is graced with power everything, the V6 instead of the underpowered I4 and a more cushy interior. I mean really, if you are replacing a Lincoln with a Buick, it should at least have some comfort!

Howard offered me to drive so off we went the few miles to his home in Knoxville. Dunbar seemed to drive fair for a 19 year old piece of machinery, but the brakes and front alignment are a bit suspect.

Lunch was in order, so we stopped at the newest incarnation of the Family Restaurant in Downtown Knoxville.

Over a fine walleye fish sandwich and two orders of beef tips and noodles (no, I did not have the beef tips) three people of two generations were to connect and re-connect. Stories told, catching up, realizing we had lots in common and a shared outlook on life.

I know better where I came from.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Dunbar: The Advent

The experiment is about over, or so I hope. Tomorrow I am off again on the choo choo train, this time the Amtrak "Southwest Chief" from Kansas City to lovely Galesburg, Il. And unlike the last trip, I have only a one way ticket.

No I am not moving to the home of Carl Sandburg. You see, the experiment of living without an automobile is about to end. It lasted 4 days short of two months. Our society is so damn dependent on the auto, I guess we just need to accept that. I tried, and enjoyed it, but when mass transit, at least in KC, MO is so time consuming and we are so spread out, a set of wheels is almost a necessity.

Last night for example. Greg was going to go to choir practice and take me, but he called about 4PM and said he had a fever, sniffles and such and thought it best to stay in. No problem, Bruce was going too as he is playing on Sunday. At 7:10pm, just as I was expecting him to show up, he called to say he had a sudden nosebleed. Thankfully, I could steal a car from a neighbor for a few minutes and got there, albeit late. A few weeks ago, I had to arrange getting Puggles to the vet for her allergy shots around the availability of a car. It makes one weak.

So I am depriving a 90 year old man of his car.

Not exactly, but sort of. You see, my Uncle Howard took my Aunt Pauline's (his sister) car a few years ago when she gave up driving. He has another one, but this one was his country club car; he took it to the golf course and kept his clubs in it. When Pauline died, the car became my sister's and Howard told her she could have it. I glommed on it to it, PDQ.

It runs.

It is free.

It is free, did I mention it is costing me nothing?

A 1990 Buick Century. Not the most exciting thing on 4 wheels, but I care not. (Unless, of course it has the 4 cyl and has no power options, then it is going to be sold if I can get some $$ out of it). As it now resides in Galesburg, Il, I am heading there to pick it up tomorrow. By this time on Oct 2nd, I should be wheeled again.

But I have learned a valuable lesson. You can get around walking and biking. It is good for you too, I have lost weight, seen new things, learned to use the reusable grocery bags and come to appreciate the joy of the "poor people's market". Thus, while the weather holds, I will do some walking, biking and bussing locally. Quick trips to the market will be walking to the Thriftway. The bike knows the way to the garden and to GayFresh. My vodka is a short two blocks away at Gomer's. Hamburger night is doable on foot.

But the joy (and pain in the ass) of owning a set of wheels will be relief when the going gets tough.

Oh, yeah.. the deal behind "Dunbar"... well, every car needs a name, and sight unseen, this one is dubbed "Dunbar" in honor of David Dunbar Buick, who founded the eponymous auto manufacturer (and perfected the white porcelain bathtub common to this day) in 1903 and has so far survived the holocaust of the GM meltdown.

Watch this space to welcome Dunbar to KC!