Thursday, December 30, 2010

Down Time...

We've had some down-time from gigs for the last two days, which was good, as it gave us time to do other things.

Now, when I come up here, if nothing else, I know I'm going to eat well. There are plenty of great restaurants in the East Bay, and we always seem to find at least one. Now, anyone who knows me is aware that I'm a big breakfast fan. Gimme' a good breakfast, and that can hold me until the late hours of the evening. Yesterday, Chris and I went to this little cash-only joint in Lafayette known as Millie's. They open at 5:00am and close at 2:30pm, so it's not a dinner place. Breakfast and lunch are their specialties. The place is a real hole-in-the-wall and, if you blink, you'll miss it as you drive by. Of course, you could always just look for the line of people standing outside waiting for a table. We rolled up at 10:15am, and there were about a dozen people in line. I'm glad we waited:


The line outside Millie's in Lafayette, California...

Breakfast didn't disappoint. It wasn't cheap, but it was damn good, and the pancakes were just ridiculous. Easily some of the best I've ever had.


This breakfast was crazy tasty...

After breakfast, we went back to Chris' to hang out for a littl while before he had to take his folks to the airport. While he did that, I went shopping up in Pleasant Hill. I really didn't want to make the ride to San Francisco Int'l.

On his was back to the house, Chris stopped and picked up the fixin's for dinner. Chris is Hell On Wheels in the kitchen, and he would prove it. Not sure what the dish was actually called, but it was noodles and veal and it was really, really good. I'm not normally a veal fan, but I could've done seconds. Here's a shot of Chef Chris flexing his culinary muscle in the kitchen:


And not a fire extinguisher to be found...

So, after two days of not being musicians, we're back at it tonight, with a gig at Maria Maria, which is a restaurant that Carlos Santana has an interest in. It's a nice 7-10PM gig, so it won't be a late night, which is good, because we've had a few of those already.

Guess I should tune my guitars...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Bay...

I don't play guitar too often these days. Every once in a while I'll pick one up, but those times are few and far between.

Twice a year, though, I make a pilgrimage to the Bay Area to sit in with a musician buddy of mine, Chris Estes. Music is what Chris does, and he's pretty good. It's great to be able to play a few gigs twice a year with him. Once I get back to San Diego, I can start the process of being "over" playing guitar for about five months, and then I'll start gettin' the jones to play again.

And then I'll come back to The Bay.

I left San Diego at about 3:00am this past Monday morning. My plan was that I be north of Los Angeles by 6:00am to avoid the Monday morning traffic. Well, I overshot that goal a little, because I was north of Los Angeles by 5:00am. By 6:00am, Los Angeles was a distant memory.

I attribute this to two things. First, I left San Diego at an insanely early hour. The second thing, and probably the one which shoulders the greatest responsibility for the pace of my trip, was my rental car. When I come up here, I'll rent a car so I don't put the miles on my 1999 Ford Explorer. Well, when I was at the Avis counter on Sunday, I asked the woman what kind of car I was getting. "A Chevy Impala" was her reply. Oh yeah, that's sporty. I made a comment about a complimentary Corvette upgrade, and she countered that with a "Mustang hardtop". It was only a total of fifteen bucks more for the duration of the rental, so I said "Oh, gimme' the Mustang".

I walked into the parking garage and hitting the "UNLOCK" button on the key, and the headlights of a 2010 Ford Mustang GT with a 5.0 came to life. "Mother of God" I thought. And I was right. What an amazing car. It wasn't enough that this is a fast car, it's also Fire Engine Red:



The Beast
See, when cops are looking for people who are speeding, they're never looking for sleek sports cars that are red; never happens. The truth of the matter, though, is that I only saw two Highway Patrol during my entire trip up here Monday, and they were both seen at the tail end of the drive, so it was all good.

We played a gig at a local club last night called Meenar. It's a cool little place, and Andy, the bartender, seemed to be on a mission to make sure I was not short on bourbon all night. Kudos, Andy, mission accomplished.

I'm still trying to figure out how to embed the video from my drive into my blog, so I don't have that ready yet. My Canon G12 was mounted on the dashboard, and I shot nine short, separate segments. I want to edit them all together as one video before posting it here. Big fun and many laughs await you, trust me.

We're going to have a "lay low" day tomorrow; I might even go try to find a jacket I've been wanting. Hey, I got eighty bucks in "Kohl's Cash" just burning a hole in my pocket!

And, remember, you can always find me on Facebook, too!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Already???

As I sit here, I wonder where the time went.

My last entry was a lot longer ago than I thought, and certainly more time has elapsed than I'd wanted. 'Tis all good, though, as I intend to make up for it.

Tomorrow is Christmas, and there will be the obligatory "What did Santa bring you?" moments with family and friends. There will be presents in the morning, followed by a breakfast which will contain far more calories than is healthy, driving to be with family for dinner, driving home, and going to bed. A full day, to be sure.

Looking back on the last couple of weeks, I must admit, I'm proud of myself. Contrary to some pretty clear instructions contained in the Official Guy Handbook, I didn't wait until the last minute to start my Christmas shopping. I know, I know. A faux pas, to be sure, but it certainly helped to maintain my sanity. Second, I didn't step foot in a shopping mall. Don't get me wrong, I like people. I'm a people person. But I'm not a fan of them when they turn into the walking dead. Maybe it's because, when I go shopping, I usually know what I'm buying. I go from "Point A" (my truck) to "Point B" (whatever store is selling whatever I'm buying). I find what I want to buy, I pay for it, and I leave. I don't browse. I don't "get" browsing in malls during the holidays. Know what you want, go get it, and go home. It's a pretty simple formula.

Another small victory for me was ensuring that my Dad's Christmas present would be under his tree Christmas morning. This is a rarity. There's a running joke with my Dad that nothing is ever on time, to wit: I was born on July 16. Dad still mentions that he needs to mail out my birthday card.

It gets like that.

But "J.P." will enjoy his gift.

Years ago, Dad lost an album by a group known as The Australian Jazz Quartet. From what I can tell through some research, it only had one pressing on Bethlehem Records back in 1956 or 1957. I finally found one for him (well, two, actually: I'll keep one) with the help of a friend in Portland, Oregon. I bought it, but then I had to contend with the fact that my Dad has finally jumped feet first into the 1990's, and bought himself a CD player while, at the same time, getting rid of his turntable. A co-worker transferred the album to CD for me, so Dad will be getting the actual album as well as a CD.

I know he'll dig it.

I'm actually looking forward to after Christmas. Twice a year, I go up to the Bay Area to play gigs with my buddy Chris Estes. He's an ex-sales professional who now plays music full-time. Not bad work if you can get it. My San Diego-based band, Zendog, disbanded long ago, and my interests have morphed into other things, primarily photography. But, to be completely honest, every so often, I miss it. So, having a buddy who doesn't mind if I sit in, I do. Granted, I gotta' drive eight hours to get there, but it's a lot of fun, so I think it's worth it. I call it "The Semi-Annual Steve Gets His Ya-Yas Out Tour".

During the trip, I'm going to try a couple of different things. First, I've got an "air card", which means I can get online from just about anywhere that has cell service. I could blog from the road. I probably won't, but it's in the plans so, hey, at least give me some credit for that. Second, I'm going to shoot video with a dash-mounted Canon G12, equipped with a remote release. Hopefully, I can figure out how to embed video into my blog. I can include tragically boring snippets of me on the road, drinking coffee, havin' a smoke, and maybe even doing my best Tom Cruise singing Tom Petty from "Jerry Maguire".

Hey, it could happen.

I hope everyone has a great Christmas!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pain... Embrace It...

This entry is going to be Toronto, days three through 3 through 5.

Why, you ask?

Well, because I don't remember enough of days 3 and 4 to make decent blog entries, that's why. Day three was spent in bed, and day four should've been spent in bed.

In my last entry, I'd mentioned getting some aspirin from my pal Ryan. I had a toothache, and figured that some aspirin would do the trick. I got back to my hotel that day, got some dinner, and went to bed.

On Friday, I woke up and felt miserable. I had planned a day of visiting clients, but was lucky enough to leave the room long enough to get some aspirin and some Anbesol. I came back to the hotel and went to bed about two o'clock in the afternoon. I felt pretty bad.

On Saturday (day 4), my friend Andy Lund and I were doing a big event at a guitar store just west of Toronto. I woke up, and my tooth still hurt quite a bit. I walked into the bathroom, and looked into the mirror. I noticed that the right side of my face was slightly swollen. I figured I had a small infection, and was mildly concerned.



This isn't normal

 My buddy Brent has kids, and kids are always getting sick; ear aches, strep throat; stuff like that. "Surely", I figured, "he's got some lerftover antibiotics kickin' around the medicine chest".

I gave him a call and, unfortunately, he didn't. What he did have, though, was a friend who's a dentist: "Dr. John". I spoke with John, explained to him what was going on, and he said he would send a perscription to a local pharmacy for me. I got the prescription for antibiotics, and started taking them. And the aspirin. I took lots of aspirin. The event was a huge success, and I wanted to take the guys from the store to Barberian's, which has been voted the finest steakhouse in Canada. It ain't cheap, but the crew earned it.

The problem was, though, that I was feeling like Hell. Whatever those antibiotics were doing, they weren't helping me feel any better. Andy had flown in late the night before, so he was fine with my not wanting to go out to dinner (I told the guys the next time I was up, we were going). Andy was beat and wanted more sleep than he'd gotten, and I wasn't feeling well. Add to that the fact that we had to drive to Buffalo on Sunday, and it made sense that we make it an early night.

I woke up Sunday morning feeling better; I got out of bed encouraged, assuming that my antibiotic magic bullet had done its' job. I was horrified, though, when I walked to the mirror to see this:


This definitely isn't normal

Had I been in a fight? Was I hit by a car? I was definitely not diggin' it.

The antibiotics, clearly, hadn't done what I'd asked of them, and I was worried. I was more than worried. I was scared. I considered going to a local hospital, but thought it best to first give "Dr. John" a call and let him know what was going on.

He was not at all surprised that the swelling had gotten worse, and he wasn't concerned with it. I remember wishing I could share in his indifference. But then he asked me if it hurt as much. When I told him it didn't, he said something that I'd not heard before, yet it makes absolutely perfect sense: "The swelling will follow the pain".

I hoped he was right because, at this point, I was ready to pay Mafia-doctor prices to get this taken care of. John offered to see me in his office before we left for Buffalo, but the last thing I wanted to do was undergo any level of oral surgery and then have to get on a plane the next day.

Andy and I left Toronto about 2:00pm, and we stopped at the duty-free shop at the Lewiston border crossing at about 3:05pm. The swelling had, in fact, gone down quite a bit. Don't get me wrong; it was still swollen. But I was no longer sportin' the "Hey, did you get your ass kicked in a bar last night?" look, so I figured I was heading in the right direction.

At dinner last night, it had gone down even more and, this morning, it actually started looking, dare I say it, "normal". John had expressed concerns about my flying (I didn't really have a choice), but it didn't affect me at all.

My point is this: Had I paid closer attention to the pain on Thursday, I might've avoided this; at least to the extent that I've had to deal with it. Essentially, I put it off two days, and who knows what I could've avoided had I been on antibiotics two days earlier than I was. So, when you feel pain, check it out. Get it looked at. It might be nothing. Or it might be.

Yeah, it probably is...

Toronto - Day 2

My second day in Toronto started early. I woke up about 5:00am, and double-checked all of my photo gear. I was headed out with my buddy Ryan Courson to shoot some horses.

We met up and went to breakfast. It was one of those good, greasy, tastes-so-good-you-want-to-eat-it-forever-breakfasts. In all honesty, it was in the top five breakfasts I've ever had.

We finally got out to the first of two farms. As prepared as I was; plenty of battery power and memory, I was quite ill-prepared for what the weather had left behind. While it wasn't raining, it had rained. Ergo, everywhere I turned, I found mud. It was everywhere.

And I had one pair of shoes.

Once I'd resigned myself that, in fact, I would leave with muddy shoes, I was ready to shoot. Let's face it, there was no way I was getting away with clean shoes. I consider myself fortunate, however, that the shoes I had were equipped with a bajillion little rubber nubs on the soles, which allowed me to avert disaster. Had I been wearing treadless shoes, this skid never would've stopped:

Aside from the shoes, it was all good. We gathered our gear and went on our way.

As far as "excitement", well, there wasn't much of it. Unless a horse is coming around the clubhouse turn at Del Mar, they're pretty docile. That notwithstanding, though, they still offer some unique photo opportunities. And, because they don't come up to the fence too often (they've learned the fence is electrified), they lend themselves well to some long-lens work which I really enjoy:





I don't want to make it seem as if they're these enormous, yet skittish, animals that have no interest in interacting with we bipeds, but it takes a while. Once they do, though, they're sure to let you know that they're right there:



My buddy Ryan and Lucifer. Or Satan. Or something else which demonic in nature.



We spent a while shooting at one farm, and then drove over to another to do more shooting. The morning was getting late, though, so we opted to go ahead and call it a day. I dropped Ryan off at his place, got some aspirin (more on that in the next entry), and headed back to Toronto. Overall, it was a good time. Maybe, next time, we can do it when there's a little less mud. I mean, everyone was laughing at me:





Friday, November 19, 2010

Canadian Cuisine

I have a great deal of affection for Canadians.

Generally speaking, they are friendly, good people. My recent trip to Newfoundland only amplified this belief. I could not begin to overstate how friendly those people are out there. And, to be honest, I find it's that way, pretty much throughout the entire country. I've been as far east as Cape Spear, and as far west as Nanaimo. Friendly folks abound in between.

But, as with anything, there is always something to take exception to, and my Canadian friends are no different.

I am, of course, talking about "Canadian cuisine".

I've run into more than a few people who will aver that fish & chips is, wholeheartedly, Canadian. And, while it's true that you can get some excellent fish & chips in Canada, the places that serve it tend to be located on the coasts, say, in Halifax or Vancouver. I wouldn't expect to get fresh fish & chips in Winnipeg. Also, there are a number of places in the States to get outstanding fish & chips, so to call it "Canadian cuisine" wouldn't be entirely accurate.

When I was in Quebec City, my good friend Richard Gagne took me out for something called "poutine". Not only had I never tried it, I didn't even really know what it was. I knew it had something to do with french fries.

Well, poutine does contain french fries, and that's fine. But it also contains so much more. For an American, the go-to condiment for fries is ketchup. Period. I know some Americans who use mayonnaise, and that's just too disgusting to discuss. So, for the purposes of this entry, we'll go with ketchup. Or, for those of you who prefer, catsup.

In short, this is what belongs on fries:


That's it. That's all that any reasonable person would agree should go on a french fry. But Canadians just can't leave well enough alone.

As I said, poutine is, indeed, french fries. But that's where any similarity between America's version and Canada's version ends. Instead of ketchup, some Canadian, likely from some bygone era which precludes him from knowing the affront to humanity he sparked, decided to put gravy on them. Plain old brown gravy. Now, to be completely honest with you, gravy on french fries isn't that bad. After all, we put gravy on potatoes, so putting it on french fries is no tremendous stretch.

And I'd be able to live with that, if that's all that poutine had to offer. But the aforementioned Canadian wasn't done.

It would've been nice had he opted for something like, oh, I dunno', let's say cheese, to adorn his dish. That, however, would've been to easy. Instead of cheese, he opted for cheese curd

Mmmmmmm... That just sounds yummy, doesn't it?

Well, if you don't know what a "curd" is, let me help you out. If you pour orange juice into milk, the milk "curdles". It renders the milk (and, presumably, the orange juice) unpalatable. You see, a "curd" is the solid portion of spoiled milk.

I know. My mouth is watering, too.

What you have, when you put the fries and the brown gravy and the solid portion of spoiled milk together is this:



Please believe me when I say you don't want this. Ever. The first time I tried it, it was, well, "interesting". The second time I tried it, I was convinced that I have no need to try it a third time.

Now, despite the nature of poutine, there are scores of Canadians who will proclaim it "Canadian cuisine". In fact, this isn't quite on point. It's difficult to find poutine outside the province of Quebec and, even if you could, why would you want to? So, Canadian? Only insofar as it does come from one portion of Canada.

If you think about American cuisine, you'll undoubtedly think about things like hot dogs, corn on the cob, hamburgers, ribs, etc. You know, good 4th-of-July-damn-proud-to-be-an-American food. These are things you can find in Spokane, Miami, New York, Detroit, Dallas or California.These things permeate our country, and with good reason. Everyone loves them. Well, Canada has something which fits such a description for them, too.

If we, or more precisely, my Canadian friends, are to be completely honest about it, there really is only one thing which truly qualifies as "Canadian cuisine". Of course, I can only be referring to the Canadian national treasure that is Tim Horton's.



Tim Horton was a hockey player. Canadians love hockey. They love curling (which I refer to as "ice bowling"), too, but hockey is to a Canadian what baseball is to an American. Tim Horton played for a few different hockey teams, but was most famous for his tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He opened his first restaurant in 1964 (I've visitied it several times), and there are now over 2,700 locations throughout Canada. Think of it as a Canadian version of Starbucks, but without the $6.00 cups of coffee (an extra large cup of coffee is $1.59) and better food.

I'm not entirely sure of what the point of all of this has been. I guess it's just something that I've been pondering since hearing someone utter the phrase "fine Canadian cuisine", and I wondered just exactly what that might be.

Now, I think we know...




Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Toronto - Day 1

Today was as uneventful as the previous few days have been eventful.

I didn't sleep Tuesday night. That happens sometimes when I have an early flight; I'd rather stay up and know I'll make the flight than take a chance on missing my wake-up call. I know; weird.

I landed in Toronto at about 9:30am, and found my way to the ridiculously ineptly-staffed Hertz counter at Pearson International. It took a full half hour for them to bring me my car. I was tired, and I didn't need this. As it was, a woman there sensed my mood, and knocked a day's charge off the rental. I was loading my bags into the trunk when I should've been brewing a pot of coffee in my room, and I told her that.

I took a much needed nap, watched some television, and got my photo gear ready for tomorrow morning. I'm meeting my good buddy Ryan Courson at a horse farm he manages, and we're going to spend the early morning hours with the horses.

I'm up at four in the morning tomorrow, and that bed is lookin' pretty good right about now...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Newfoundland - Day 3

I started my third and final day in Newfoundland early. Stupid early. I had a 6:00am flight out to Corner Brook, which is on the west coast of Newfoundland. Had I elected to drive it, the trip would've taken about ten hours. The flight was about 50 minutes.

Yeah, good roads up here.

So this is what I was staring at around five o'clock this morning: St. John's International Airport:



St. John's International - Just this side of a "ghost town" at five in the morning.


The flight to Deer Lake, which is about thirty miles north of Corner Brook, was uneventful. I find that "uneventful" is a plus when discussing the attributes of air travel. And, before you start thinking that I'm jet-setting throughout Atlantic Canada, consider what my transportation was. I give you the Beechcraft 1900D:



Beechcraft 1900D

It was not, to say the least, anything like the last trip I took. I fly a lot, and I've never been on a plane which had seats that didn't recline, and no overhead bins. And heat? Oh, don't tease me. Then again, I never had the pleasure of enjoying the luxurious stylings of the Beechcraft 1900D. It was bumpy and noisy and everything else bad you would expect from a prop-job puddle jumper.

But the upside is that it got us to Deer Lake:



Deer Lake Regional Airport. It's an event when a jet lands here.

Given that the flight was so short, and left St. John's at the ridiculously unholy hour of six in the morning, I was in Corner Brook long before my client was, in all probability, even awake. I grabbed my rental car and decided to drive around a little and check things out.



Only one way to go...

The west coast of Newfoundland, if my abbreviated experience with it is any indication, is very different than the east coast. The east coast is a lot more rugged, more rocks, and nowehere near as many trees. The west coast was far more moutainous, and was covered in forest.


Corner Brook, Newfoundland

Now, driving around, I try to take in as much as possible. You never know what you're going to see around the next bend or over the next hill. Or even in the next car:



I spent the day in Corner Brook, and had lunch with my client and met with him and his manager. It seemed like the day flew by and, before I knew it, it was time to drive back to Deer Lake to catch my flight back to St. John's.

In the same plane.

After some dinner and some packing, I got into some photo editing. Man, I take a lot of pictures.

I have a flight to Toronto in the morning (on an actual jet this time), and will spend the rest of this week doing some business in the "Queen City". Newfoundland has been an absolute blast, but it's time to head west from the coast.

This was a good time...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Newfoundland - Day2

I met Bob and Kurt in the hotel restaurant for breakfast this morning, and then we headed out to visit one of my clients. It was a big deal for the staff, as they never even get visits from Reps much less the owners of companies. Even guys who had the day off, like Acoustic Guitar Manager Rick Lambe, came in early (we met at 8:45am) to meet us:



Rick Lambe poses for a photo with Bob Taylor at Long & McQuade in St. John's. Rick's son, left, seems wildly unimpressed.
 
We had a good visit at the store, which included the fifty-cent tour from Manager Bob Davis. We were closing in on Bob and Kurt's departure, though, so we said our good byes to the staff at the store.

Before heading to the airport, though, Bob wanted to visit Cabot Tower, which is, in allprobability, the highest point in all of St. John's. The views were pretty incredible:


Bob Taylor walking the wall at Cabot Tower.

St. John's Harbor

Newfoundland Coast


We finished up at Cabot Tower, and had to get to the airport. Bob and Kurt were flying to England today. Their scheduled "wheels-up" time was 11:00am, and we nailed it. We bid them farewell, and I took Bob Davis back to his store.

I spent a good part of the afternoon at a place I've wanted to go since I started traveling up here: Cape Spear. Cape Spear is the eastern-most point in North America, and is known for some rugged coastline and unpredicatble surf. It was, in a word, awesome. Everything I've read about Cape Spear pales in comparison to walking along the rocks, listening to waves crash against the craggy shore, and feeling the wind. If you look east, you don't hit another piece of land for a long, long time.



The coastline at Cape Spear.

Lighthouse at Cape Spear.



An Inukshuk overlooking the North Atlantic.


One of two lighthouses at Cape Spear.





After spending a while walking around Cape Spear, I decided to head over to a place called Petty Cove. I'd seen a sign for it on the way to Cape Spear, and wanted to check it out. After driving the 15 or so kilometers, I found myself in the quintessential "tiny Canadian fishing village". A small inlet, peppered with boats moored dockside and boats on skids on shore was pretty inviting.



Petty Cove, Newfoundland


Petty Cove, Newfoundland

 The sun was finding its' way down over the horizon as I was meandering through Petty Cove, so I decided to call it a day and head back into St. John's for some dinner. An early flight in the morning will take me to the west coast of Newfoundland, as I fly to Deer Lake and drive down to Corner Brook.

I'm looking forward to the photo ops...


Newfoundland - Day 1

The Newfoundland trip has, thus far, has been very good.

The trip started out in El Cajon, California, at Gillespie Field. Our ride was a Hawker 850XP business jet. I'll just say this: It beats the Hell outta' flying Coach. We met at the airport at 7:30am, and we were due to be wheels-up at 8:00am. I couldn't help but get a photo snapped in front of the plane:



On the ground at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, California, just east of San Diego.

On a good day, you can seat eight on this plane but, for this flight, there would only be three of us. Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug, the owners of Taylor Guitars, were giving me a ride to St. John's on their way to England.

Now, if you're like me, one of the first things you do when you board a plane is check to see how far back the seat will recline. Hey, at some point, everyone kicks the seat back. Well, I didn't really have that concern. As I said, this plane seats eight people. However, three of those seats are a couch. And, if there aren't people sitting there, the couch is free:



Catching a nap on the way to St. John's.
 
We flew from El Cajon (which is about 20 miles east of San Diego) to Salina, Kansas, to refuel. In all honesty, it's got to be the flattest place I've ever been. You can see for miles. You could watch your dog run away for days out there. We were scheduled to be on the ground for about an hour, but 35 minutes after we touched down, we were rolling down the runway and taking off for St. John's, Newfoundland.

We arrived in St. John's around 8:00pm, collected our bags, got our rental car, and we were on our way to the Sheraton. We were being met at the hotel by Bob Davis, who manages a local music store in St. John's. His mission? To take us out for "the best" fish & chips in St. John's. After having my ass kicked by dinner (it was a lot of food), I'll agree with the descriptive "the best". After dinner, we hopped into Bob's car and headed on down to George Street. George Street has more bars and pubs per square foot than any city in North America. It was awesome. We went to the Shamrock City Pub, where I enjoyed a Guinness while the Bobs and Kurt enjoyed drinks you could see through. After our beer at Shamrock City, we headed over to Christian's Pub, where we would be taking part in the solemn ceremony of "Screeching In", which is where first-time visitors to Newfoundland become honorary Newfoundlanders. My friend Ed Robertson, of the band Barenaked Ladies, told me that he'd been "Screeched" at Christian's, and that it was definitely the place to go.

The ceremony is actually a very tongue-in-cheek, very fun ceremony where our Master Of Ceremonies, Keith Vokey, has his charges singing songs and trying to keep up with his heavily-accented vernacular. The crowd erupted into laughter countless times, and there were smiles spread around the room. But, then it was time to get down to business.

The ceremony starts with all participants on their "nucks", or knees. I don't know why they just don't say "knees", but "nucks" it is. The ceremony begins: The participants drink a shot of Screech (a Newfoundland rum), and then kiss a fish. I was at one end of the line and, just my luck, the kissing started at the other end. I kissed it last and, as a result, am preparing for a myriad of untold diseases to befall me. After everyone kisses the fish, we have to answer the question "Are ye an honorary Newfoundlander?" with "Indeed I is, me old 'cock, and long may your big jib draw". At that point, the MC drop a "sou'wester" onto the head of his charge, and performs an Arthur-esque touching of the shoulders with an oar while proclaiming that person an honorary Newfoundlander.



The "Screeching In" ceremony at Christian's Pub in St. John's, Newfoundland. Everyone's drinking a shot of "Screech".
 

Yours truly being dubbed an honorary Newfoundlander. A special moment. I'm just glad Keith decided it would be a good idea for me to wear the sou'wester backwards.
 
The bartender was using my camera, and he didn't get any photos of me kissing the fish. You can see Bob taking a picture of me in the above photo; if he has a "Steve kisses fish" shot, I'll post it.

After the ceremony was completed, everyone wanted their photo taken with Keith, and I was no different:



Keith Vokey and me following the "Screeching In" ceremony. I decided to wear the hat correctly.


Talking to him before the ceremony, he told us that he's performed over 2,200 of these "Screeching In" ceremonies, and it shows. He went through the entire evening, with about a dozen participants, like a seasoned pro.

It was pushing 12:30am by the time we were finished at Christian's Pub, and we would be up early Monday, so we decided to call it a night. We returned to our hotel, said goodnight, and rested up for the next day...


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Screech?

48 hours from now, I will have already been in Newfoundland for about three hours. I will have settled into my hotel room, and I will have already had dinner.

And I will have been "Screeched In".

Yes, 'tis true. I will be a Newfoundlander. It's a long story to get into, so I'll try to hit the highlights.

There's a rum in Newfoundland known as "Screech". It's something which isn't widely available, and something which plays a vital roll in the "Screeching in" ceremony. It's a ceremony which is held for (willing) first time visitors to Newfoundland. One must don a "Sou'wester" (which, if you don't know what that is, is the hat worn by the Gorton's fisherman guy), drink a shot of Screech, kiss a cod on the lips and then, when asked "Are ye an honorary Newfoundlander?" must respond "Aye, and may your big jib hang long". There's also another version in which the reply is "Indeed I is me ol' cock, and long may your big jib draw".

At that point, I suppose, much frivolity ensues and, really, why wouldn't it?

There are two pubs in St. John's which are well known for their ceremonies: Christian's Pub and Trapper Johns. My friend Ed Robertson, of the band Barenaked Ladies, recommended we go to Christian's, as that's where he and the rest of the band were "Screeched in". Well, Hell, that's good enough for me. I called the bar yesterday to make sure I had the correct address, and was informed that the ceremonies aren't held on Sunday and Monday nights.

Denied.

Or so I thought.

Since we're coming in from San Diego, and two of our trio will only be there overnight, they said they'll make an exception for us. We shall, indeed, be "Screeched".

If things go as planned, there could even be pictures...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veteran's Day

Someone asked me today if I was going to celebrate Veteran's Day. That seemed odd to me.

I retired almost ten years ago; January 31, 2001. It was the end of a long Naval career, during which there were incredible highs and devestating lows. It was a career that saw me partying in the bars of Perth, Australia and one which found me on an M-60 onboard a minesweeper in the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm. It was a career where, if you ask my Mom, I went in as a kid, six months out of high school, but came out a man. Whatever it was, it was what shaped me as a person. Of that I have little doubt, and I would not change a single thing that occurred during those twenty years.

To be honest, I don't think about Veteran's Day too much. People will offer me their thanks for having served, and I accept those thanks gracefully and sincerely. If I encounter another Vet, especially one who's retired, no words need be spoken. I know he knows, and vice versa.

But, and I have to be honest, as much as I don't wear my service on my sleeve, it heartens me to see people reaching out and doing things for our Vets. This wasn't always the case, of course, and our recent history holds examples of Vets who came home from overseas to nothing but scorn and derision. I'm glad that doesn't happen now. Our people in uniform deserve better, simply because they ask for nothing for doing a job most people would never willingly choose to do.

It seems to have become vogue for businesses to offer discounts to Vets and active duty personnel. If you've ever tried to live on a military paycheck, then you might have some idea of just how these simple gestures can impact a Vet. Sure, it's usually a small thing, but small things matter.

When I returned from the Persian Gulf in november of 1991, we flew in a charter from Al Dhafra to Sigonella, and on to Bangor, Maine. As the plane taxied along the runway, I looked out the window to see about a dozen people on an observation deck. They were flying their American flags and had draped yellow ribbons along the wall. The flight attendant told me that they were part of a group which montiored the military flights returning from the Gulf.

"That's nice", I thought. "Some friends got together to welcome us home."

When the plane finally pulled to the jetway, we deplaned and walked into the terminal. As we entered the terminal, we were greeted  by about 1,500 people who had come to the airport to welcome us home. There were high school kids and retirees, black and white, white collar folks and day laborers. They all put the business of their day aside to come out and welcome us home. Our money, to say the least, was no good there. We were given small gifts, Christmas tree ornaments, and more hugs and handshakes than most people will see in a year. It was humbling.

And I never forgot it.

About a month or so ago, I was in the Aviator Club in Denver International Airport. I was surfing the web and enjoying a cup of coffee while waiting for my flight to San Diego. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a guy in cammies walk in and sit down at a table. It took a few minutes, but I finally got the waitress's attention.

"I'd like to pay for whatever he's ordering" I said, intent on buying the guy a beer or a burger or whatever as my small way of saying "thank you".

The waitress replied "Well, a bunch of people have beaten you to it".

While I was a little disappointed, it also quickly dawned on me that I wasn't alone. This guy, carrying a full pack, walked into the bar; probably either coming from or going to someplace that none of us would go to on a bet, and people noticed. Not only did they notice, they appreciated him. To whoever picked up his tab, it was probably a small thing. But to that young Corporal, that small gesture meant the world.

It didn't need to be Veteran's Day. There didn't need to be a "reason" for someone to pick up the soldier's tab, beyond appreciation. I was still seated at the bar when the Corporal picked up his pack and, if he knew who picked up his tab, he sure didn't show it. He looked around the room, as if searching for someone looking at him. After what could've been 30 seconds, he walked to the door and left. In all likelihood, he walked out wishing he knew who to thank and, in all likelihood, the person who paid the soldeir's check had probably already left.

I don't know why I say all of this. Maybe it's because I served, but I don't think that's it. Maybe it's because my nephew just attained "Vet status", having finished up a five year tour in the Navy. It could be those things, but I think, just as much, it's because I honestly believe we owe a debt to those who serve. We can do what we do because they do what they do. They ask not for thanks or admiration, which is why I think they're so richly deserving of both.

So, the next time you see a soldier or a sailor in a bar, buy him a beer. Don't wait for a certain date on a calendar. The monetary cost to you will be minimal. But the effect of that gesture will be priceless...

Standing outside my trailer on the Mine Warfare Base in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 1991

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

T-Minus Four And Counting...

I'm four days out from my trip.

Since I'm traveling via corporate jet, luggage size is something to be mindful of. Usually, I'd just dump all my stuff into one suitcase and call it a day. No such luck this time around. I'm looking at one roll-aboard, backpack, and my camera bag.

Ah, yes, my camera bag. Let's talk about that for a moment, shall we?

First off, let me just say that I think all of us, regardless of what business we're in, are in the wrong business. We should all make camera bags. "Pricey" is a word not to be used loosely when discussing camera bags, and this one was no exception. After tax, this Tamrac CyberPro Express was in the neighborhood of $350.00. It's what I wanted, though. In truth, it's what I needed. The bag I'd been using had a shoulder strap, but no wheels. I suppose I could've dragged it through airports but, really, that's a little tacky. So I bought this new one.

My first use of it, interestingly enough, was not as a camera bag, but as a suitcase. I took all of the dividers out before traveling to a guitar show in Texas last month. It worked really well for that and, admittedly, I was somewhat smug in my quick admiration of myself for having purchased a dual-purpose bag. What I failed to consider, however, was that I must now convert it back to a camera bag for this trip, and that will be no small feat.

Now, such a task would probably seem simple enough, at least to the layman, or to anyone who has never removed the dividers from inside a new camera bag and then tried to replace them. You see, the dividers are held in with velcro, and a lot of it. And it's strong. This isn't your garden-variety "got it down at Wal-Mart" velcro. This is, like, aerospace velcro. I've always heard that, after a nuclear war, only cockroaches and Twinkies will survive. Well, add another item to the list: the industrial strength aerospace velcro found in camera bags.

So began the task of configuring the NASA-approved velcro dividers into something that would work for me. I need to be able to carry not only camera gear, but computer gear, as well. It took some time, but I actually got a very usable configuration in place. Below are two pictures. The first photo is with all of the dividers removed; that smugness-inducing brainstorm I had a few weeks ago. The second photo is with some of the dividers put back into the bag, and some gear put into it:




It now holds the following:
  • Canon 40D (with BG-E2N battery grip)
  • Sigma 17-70mm
  • Sigma 50-500mm
  • Magellan GPS
  • Tripod ring for 50-500mm
  • Travel tripod
  • Red "POD" (essentially a bean bag tripod)
  • Energy bar for when I have to lift the Sigma 50-500mm
  • Laptop
  • Wireless mouse
  • Power cords for laptop
  • Canon G12
  • Memory card reader
Now, even with all of that, I still have some room left over. I figure I may do a little shopping in St. John's, considering that I've not been there before and, let's be honest here, I don't know when I'm going back. Since I may need a little extra room, this configuration should work pretty well.
I'm all smiles right now...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

T-Minus Seven...

Exactly one week from right now, I'll be in St. John's, Newfoundland. I'll start my November 14 in San Diego, and then spend about an hour in Salina, Kansas for refueling and leg-stretching before reaching the frigid destination of the day.

I shouldn't complain, really. I looked at the 10-day forecast for St. John's, and it didn't look bad. Mind you, "good" would've been preferable, but I think I'll be able to handle the expected sunshine with the high-30's predicted temperatures. I've been colder. I didn't like it, but it wasn't exactly cryogenic, either. It was tolerable. I can do it again.

I'll spend this week getting things ready. Because the trip is on a business jet, luggage size is a consideration. For a week-long trip, I'll normally pack a veritable wardrobe. I'll bring four, maybe five pairs of jeans, plenty of shirts, not to mention more socks, underwear and t-shirts than I'll actually ever wear in five or six days. But this trip will challenge my packing skills, and I need to step up. If nothing else, I can always avail myself of the hotel laundry.

Also a consideration this week is getting the camera gear together. I'd love to take everything I have, but that could be overkill. I'll bring the Canon 40D, the Sigma 17-70mm, and the Sigma 50-500mm. That's right, I said it. Read it. 500 millimeters of ridiculously tack-sharp reach-out-and-touch-somebody feel-good focal length. Will I get to use it? Maybe, maybe not. But, as any photographer will tell you, it's better to bring it and not need it than need it and not have it. I'll also have the new Canon G12 which I plan to put through its' paces.

My trip will be eight days, and will return me to San Diego on Monday, November 22. Between now and my departure, though, I need to figure out how to bring plenty without bringing too much.

I'm open to suggestions...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Newfoundland? In November? Sign me up...

I've traveled all over Canada.

The first time I visited Canada, it was 1982, and I was a Third Class Petty Officer in the Navy, stationed aboard the USS Pigeon (hey, would I make that up?). The Pigeon was a submarine rescue ship that was featured in the movie "Gray Lady Down". Now, while we never actually rescued any submarines, we did pull into some pretty cool ports. It was on this ship that I enjoyed my first trip to Canada, pulling into Victoria, British Columbia.

Since then, because of what I do for a living, I've had the opportunity to visit other parts of British Columbia, such as Jasper and Banff National Parks in the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary, Alberta, the Old Port in Montreal, Quebec, and the harbor of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Every time, I've had my camera in my hand.

A week from tomorrow, though, I'm heading someplace new: Newfoundland.

Officially known as Newfoundland & Labrador (not a bad place to start, I guess, if you're puppy shopping), it's the eastern-most part of Canada. While British Columbia is in the Pacific Time Zone, and a place like Nova Scotia is in the Atlantic Time Zone, Newfoundland does not follow that same convention. If it's noon in San Diego, it's four in the afternoon in Halifax. Newfoundland, I suppose, has a need to be different. You see, if it's noon in San Diego, it's 4:30pm in the afternoon in St. John's. It's as if we're stopping at the exact halfway mark between time zones. We're not, of course, but it seems that way.

I dunno'.

I leave for St. John's, Newfoundland, a week from tomorrow. We'll fly, on a Hawker 850XP, from Gillespie Field in El Cajon, CA to Salina, Kansas. We'll kill about an hour on the ground to refuel and stretch our legs before heading off for the frigid climes of St. John's, Newfoundland. I'll do some business while I'm there and, if my luck holds, I'll get in some quality photo time. Normally, I don't take the "big rig" with me, opting, instead, for my trusty Canon G10. But, having never been to Newfoundland before, I don't want to be in a position where the weather cooperates and I find myself without the Canon 40D. I'm crossing my fingers.

There's more to prepare for than just the "photo ops" aspect of this trip, though. This is, after all, Newfoundland in November. We're not exactly talking about the tropics here. Temperatures will hover in the high 20's.

I live in southern California.

I remember, the last time I walked through Sears, seeing "cold weather working long underwear". Now, in the past, I may not have even noticed it. It's funny how your perception changes when faced with a trip like this.

So, I'll be spending the next week preparing not only my camera gear, but also preparing my suitcase contents. Because we're traveling on a business jet, I need to be mindful of the size of my suitcase. Functionality, with regards to being able to what I pack being able to keep me warm, will have to rule the day. I just won't be able to pack a lot of it.

I can only imagine the chuckles from those is colder climates laughing right about now. Yeah, I get it. If you're in Michigan or Montana, temperatures in the mid-twenties would, I suspect, feel like a warming trend to you in the dead of winter. But, then again, you're in Michigan or Montana. I'm 20 miles east of San Diego.

And I'm here for a reason...
I suppose I should lay some groundwork.

I travel for a living. My day gig is as an outside sales rep for a large musical instrument manufacturer; a very cool company. I like it. It pays my bills. But I, like most people, I would imagine, enjoy traveling for pleasure, as well. My job affords me an opportunity to photograph things and places I might not otherwise get to shoot.

And I dig that,

As much as I love my job, my passion is photography. After playing in a band in San Diego for the better part of ten years, I stepped away from it after it started turning into a job. As I've mentioned, I have a job. I don't want a second one. I decided, without possession of the slightest clue of what I was in for, to become a concert photographer. How hard could it be?

I thought back to my earliest foray into the realm of concert photography. It was 1978, and I was a 16 year old junior at Hauppauge High School on Long Island. I was going to write a review of, and photograph, the band Styx at the Commack Arena. It was the Grand Illusion tour, and that was my favorite album. I was an insane fan. I made my own shirts; Hell, I even made a Styx belt buckle in metal shop. My fanaticism bordered on the deranged, and I knew it. I just didn't care.

So there I was, in my $6.00 seat (hey, it was 1978), my Canon TLb in hand. The band hits the stage, and I start shooting. I don't remember how many rolls of film I shot that night, but I do remember that not a single frame came out. The results were absolutely horrible. I should've been cited for littering.

Some 30-plus years later, though, things are somewhat different. I've learned a few things. I take better pictures now.

What I found, though, was that I wasn't shooting enough to satisfy me. I wanted to shoot all the time. Well, with concert photography, that just doesn't happen. Back in the 70's, nobody cared about someone walking into a concert venue with a camera. Now, it's a completely different story. You need to be credentialed. To get credentialed, you either need to know somebody, or you need to be affiliated, usually, with a publication. I still shoot a lot, but I was wanting to shoot a lot more.

So, I branched out a little. I decided to use the fact that I get to travel to my advantage with regards to my photography.

I hope you like it...

And it begins...


You know, I'm one of those people who will start something, always with the best intentions of following through. On occasion, though, I find that "life happens", and things fall by the wayside.

I had a blog for a while which I tried to maintain. Truth be told, I did pretty good for a while. Photos, witty prose; I worked it.

And then I stopped.

The last post I made on that blog was July of 2009. It seems kind of pointless to suddenly jump back into that one as if I've just been going along my merry way. So, with that in mind, I'll put that one to rest. It's still there, but I'll move on. I'll have a little literary funeral for it and get another puppy to replace it.

And then the hate-mail started. Bullies on the interwebs are real, my friends, and they found me. They berated me. They chided me. They missed the pretty pictures. I was forced to ask myself: "How can I let these fine chiding interwebs bullies down?".

So here I am.

Again.

This will be yet another attempt at doing that same thing again. While not one for "resolutions", last New Year's I promised myself I would keep up with my blog. It went well, for a while, anyway. And then it faded into the ether. The best reason I can come up with is that I simply lost interest. C'est la vie, am I right?

So, enjoy. I'll try not to let you down.

Cheers...









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