Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gotta' Love The Airlines...

My Wednesday began as most any other Wednesday, or any other day, would. I wake up, put a pot of coffee on, and head to the back deck for a morning smoke and some backgammon on my EVO phone (which, by the way, is completely bitchin’).

After turning my phone on, I see that I have a voicemail. Now, it’s 5:30 in the morning, and I went to bed at 11:00pm. Who the hell would be calling me and leaving a voicemail?

United Airlines, that’s who.

“Mr. Parr, for your loyal patronage, we’d like to bestow upon you lifetime Executive Status. Enjoy your seat in First Class on your upcoming trip”.

Would’ve been nice, huh? But, alas, no such luck.

It seems they’ve seen fit to cancel my 10:35pm flight out of San Diego tonight. “Don’t worry, we’ve rebooked you on the next available flight. You’ll depart San Diego on flight number umptyscratch, arriving in Jacksonville at 4:35pm on Thursday.

Huh?

No, this would not do. I have every intention of being in Florida before the Today Show is over.

I have no idea why they cancelled the flight. It was too early to do it because of weather in Washington DC (I was to have a layover at Dulles), and weather certainly isn’t an issue in the idyllic city in which I choose to reside, San Diego. All I can think of is that not enough people wanted to fly from San Diego to International to Dulles on a red-eye.

To their credit, the Customer Service guy I spoke with was pretty damn helpful. I told him that the rebooked flight would be fine, provided I wanted to get there tomorrow night. As we’ve established, I want to be there in the morning. He was able to rebook me on a flight from San Diego to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Chicago, and then Chicago to Jacksonville. I’ll actually get to Jacksonville an hour earlier than originally planned (although I have to leave three hours earlier).

I have a three hour layover in Los Angeles, so maybe I’ll post an update.

Hell, I’m gonna’ need something to do…

Smoke With No Smoke?

I'm a smoker.

I've smoked for a really long time. I'm 48 now, and I think I started when I was about 15 or so. If I remember correctly, I started smoking because a girl I liked in school smoked. Back then, the cool kids still smoked, you know. Yep, Salem Light 100's in the box. The thought of those turns my stomach now, but I was willing to bite the bullet back then. Hey, there was a girl involved.

Well, suffice it to say, it's a habit I've tried many times to quit, but to no avail.

I really should quit. Aside from the obvious health benefits, thereare the cost benefits, as well. A carton of cigarettes costs about $51.00. I probably go through three and a half cartons a month.

Do the math. That's right, I'm dropping roughly $175.00 a month on cigarettes. That's $2,100.00 a year which is, quite literally, going up in smoke. Given my "watch addiction" and my photography gig, that's two grand that could certainly be better well spent.

So today, my darling, loving daughter; the apple of my eye, the joy of my life, surprised me with an electronic cigarette. Now, I haven't talked about quitting lately. I'm trying to shed a few pounds, and trying to that and quit smoking at the same time is, I suspect, a nightmare that I'd want no part of. A step at a time, I think, is the way to go.

But I gave this thing a shot and, I gotta' tell ya', I think it may be the ticket.

I listened to the President's State Of The Union Speech tonight and, while I won't discuss the politics of it all, I will say that I was puffing away on my electronic cigarette through the whole thing. The speech was roughly an hour long, and I wasn't jonesin' for a cigarette.

I can remember saying "When cigarettes hit a buck a pack, I'm going to quit". Well, cigarettes hit a buck a pack, and I kept going. Then it was two bucks. Then three. I don't know how I justified not quitting, but I know I did. I know I did because, hey, I'm still smoking.

When I joined the Navy in 1981, I got stationed on a ship out of San Diego. When we'd go out to sea, and we passed the "sea buoy" (the last one a ship passes on its' way out to sea), the ship's store would open for business, and we could buy cigarettes at non-tax prices. What I pay $51.00 for now I was paying $4.00 for then. If you buy cigarettes a pack at a time these days, you can pay up to $7.00 a pack. I was paying forty cents a pack in 1981.

But I'm giving this new-fangled smokey-thing a whirl. It tastes a little odd, but not offensively so. I guess it'll be no different than when I got used to the taste of, oh, I dunno', cigarettes. It "charges" up by plugging into one of the USB ports on my laptop. Man, you gots ta' love technology.

Like I said, I haven't really given much thought to quitting lately. But, since my daughter gave me this, the least I can do is give it a shot...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Daytona - Prologue...

I enjoy all different kinds of photography. Primarily, I dig concert photography. If I had to choose, it's the one kind of photography I would probably do above all others. But, as luck would have it, I don't have to choose. Aside from concerts, wildlife, landscapes, portraits, and macro are some other areas I enjoy.

One area I don't shoot a lot of is motorsports. I've done a couple shoots here and there, but I don't really focus on it.

Get it? I don't "focus" on it?

Hehehe... I kill me.

Anyway, my first foray into motorsports shooting was at the Barona Dragstrip just east of San Diego. It's a short, 1/8 mile track where mostly locals come out with their dreams of asphalt glory. It's a good time, it's cheap and, as a photographer, you can pretty much go anywhere you want. I came away with some nice enough shots, and was generally happy with the outing:



Not my best work, but certainly acceptable. I can't say I got the motorsports "bug" after that, but it did convince me that, given the opportunity, I'd like to shoot motorsports again.

My next chance to shoot racing was at Mosport International Raceway in Bowmanville, Ontario Canada. A friend of mine is a Flagman in the F2000 Series which races there, and he got me a trackside pass. I jumped at the chance and, once again, found myself shooting motorsports:




It was after this outing to Mosport that I'd decided I really liked this kind of shooting. It's certainly fast-paced (hey, they're race cars), and anything can happen, anytime.

Like I said, I really enjoy concert photography, but the opportunities to shoot concerts are usually pretty few and far between. Well, the sad reality is that the chances to shoot motorsports are even more scarce. In San Diego, there's only the Barona Speeway. The Cajon Speedway, which used to be just down the street from my house (and, thus, ridiculously convenient) was torn down and paved over long before I really got into photography. So, I have to accept the fact that unless I travel, I probably won't get to shoot auto racing too often.

C'est la vie, huh?

Well, not long ago, a passing comment my brother made during a phone call opened up another opportunity.

Greg is big into photography; probably more than me. He's always been "the photographer" of the family. He was the one who borrowed $460.00 from our Grandfather back in the 70's to buy a Canon F-1 which, at the time, was the epitome of a professional camera. He set up a darkroom in our basement. He works on photo equipment for a living. You could say he's kinda' into it.

Anyway, we were talking on the phone a couple weeks ago, and he mentioned something about going to Daytona International Speedway at the end of January, to shoot the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

My brain went into overdrive.

How cool would that be? While I've been to Daytona, Florida, I've never been to the Speedway (I think I drove past it once). I'd love to go to a race there, and shooting there would be, I surmised, epic. I checked my miles account and, whaddya' know? Plenty of miles for a round-trip, coast to coast flight from San Diego to Jacksonville (my brother lives just south of there, in St. Augustine).

So, on Wednesday night, I'll board a red-eye out of San Diego and, with any luck and good weather (I have a layover at Dulles), Greg will pick me up in Jacksonville Thursday morning. We'll probably spend the day just hanging out and telling war stories, and then it'll be "baked-ziti time" at Mom's that night. Then, Friday morning, it'll be off to Daytona.

I don't expect that we're going to shoot an entire 24 hours. frankly, that would be insane. I need my sleep. But we're going to spend the vast majority of Friday and Saturday shooting in one of the most storied racing venues on the planet, and I simply can't wait. I always enjoy seeing my brother, and I really dig whenever we can get together and go out shooting.

But I'm pretty sure this is going to be on an entirely different level...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

And So It Begins...

Although I love traveling to Canada, I don't like traveling to Canada when it's cold. I don't do cold. I did cold once, but I didn't like it. So, unless it's something special, southern California looks damn good to me when it's cold in Canada.

As a result, I'm usually in southern California between November and February. The only travel I really do is to the annual winter NAMM Show, which is held in Anaheim, California every January. I've been to this show in various roles, and it's always an absolute blast.

This year, like last, my buddy Mike Gladstone flew out for the show. I've known Mike since I was five years old, and he's a monster guitarist with the Rochester, New York based Uncle Plum. It's always good to see him:


Me and Mike in my kitchen the night before leaving for the winter NAMM Show


So we drove up to Anaheim on Wednesday, January 12. We always go up the day before the show starts to finalize everything we want to do at the show, as well as get together for some monster eating. This year would be no different, as we took a large group of European folks to dinner with us. They're a pretty eclectic bunch, but a lot of fun. It's become a tradition for us to converge on Buca Di Beppo in Anaheim:


"The crew" at Buca Di Beppo in Anaheim

On Thursday, the fun starts. The doors to the Anaheim Convention Center swing open, and the madness begins.

Some of the characters who show up at NAMM are pretty priceless. It's as if this is the one time during the year theyget to cut loose and lose all sense of decorum. While most see fit to dress as they do every other day of the year, others decide to, well, let's just say they kick it up a notch:



Classy, yet very pink
 
While some pull out their "NAMM best" for the show, some others decide to just go off the deep end altogether:


I bet his Mom is proud


Throughout the course of the show, various celebrities and rock stars either simply attend the show, or they're on hand to make appearances for various exhibitors. In the past, I've seen Keanu Reeves, Bootsy Collins, Eric Johnson, David Crosby, Ted Nugent, Steven Seagal, John Entwistle (of The Who), Goo Goo Dolls, Eric Johnson, and Carlos Santana. You never know who's going to show up, and you never know what they're gonna' do.

This year, I was fortunate enough to be backstage at a performance featuring Kevin Hearn and Ed Robertson of the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies. I shot BNL back in July, and was able to spend the day with them. This time, however, after shooting them, I got an invite to dinner and, I have to say, Ed Robertson is simply the funniest guy I have ever met. We were doubled over laughing in the middle of McCormick & Schmick's, surely pestering those dining at neighboring tables.

Not that we cared.


Hangin' with Ed Robertson backstage



Ed Robertson backstage at NAMM

Aside from hanging with celebrities of various form, it's most fun seeing good friends. Sometimes, the only time I get to see some of these folks is when NAMM comes to town. Some are from the music industry, but some are just those people you wish you could see more often:


Me and John Geiger poolside at the Marriott. It's become an annual tradition.



Brent Moss and Dave Lauzon partying at the Hilton after-show party


Regardless of how many old friends I get to see, though, I enjoyed this year's show most of all because, for the first time, I got to hang with my daughter. The last time she came to this show, she was... well, a lot younger than she is now. She'll be 25 soon, and the dynamic is very different now. She's not a kid anymore, and it's kinda' cool:


Me and my daughter at NAMM


After four days, the show wraps up. The stages are torn down, the guitars are packed away, and we begin the 90 minute drive back to San Diego. As fast as it started, it's over, and we've got a year to recuperate.

I can't wait for next year...

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Way Home...

After a great week in the Bay Area, it was time to head south to San Diego. Vacation was over, it was time to go back to work, and the "Semi-Annual Steve Gets His Ya-Yas Out Tour" was coming to a close. I decided to leave early in the morning, just as I did when I drove north. Honestly, 3:30am isn't a bad time to leave, especially when you rock three and a half hours sleep before the drive.

The weather of the previous week had followed me onto the road, and much of the drive; the early portion, anyway, was rainy. I really hate driving in the rain, but it was nothing but rain on both I-680 and I-580. When the rain had let up, I flipped on the cruise control to 80mph and pointed the car south on I-5. I was motorin', and wanted to break the eight hour mark (stops included, of course) for the drive back to San Diego.

Yep, eight hours. I could do it. I knew I could. I could feel it in my bones. I knew, with every fiber of my being, that I would be in San Diego by 11:00am.

So you can only imagine my dismay when, 2-1/2 hours into the drive, the cruise control light shut off, the check-engine light came on, and the car started slowing down.

I don't know what happened. I'm not a "car guy", so all I could consider was the fact that I was in the middle of nowhere.

It was a sobering thought. If I was forced to pull over, I'd have sat there, helpless, for who knows how long. Odds are, they would have found my body only after Avis reported their bitchin' red Mustang GT missing. I had to think of something, because I really didn't want my body to be found only after Avis reported their bitchin' red Mustang GT missing.

I tried to re-engage the cruise control, but that was a no-go. I stepped on the gas, and the car was still running, so I scored that in the win column. The odd thing was, though, that this car that would do 140mph on the way up to the Bay (um, well, I suspect it would've... yeah) would barely get above 80mph headed south. That was okay, though. At least it would still drive.

At some point, I decided I needed coffee. I didn't have any before leaving Chris' house, and I was three hours on the road. As if the "Your-Car-Is-Going-To-Explode-Soon-Gods" were answering some unspoken prayer, I see lights in the distance. I see that all too familiar sign, the "Golden Arches". Sure, there were probably better places to eat, but I was a breath away from panic, so I figured I'd stop here. I went in, got my breakfast, came back out to the car, rolled my eyes, and turned the key.

The engine roared.

And the check engine light didn't come on.

I ate my breakfast, put the car in Drive, and drove back out to the freeway. As I got to the on-ramp, I figured I'd better find out now if the car was going to die on me, so I stood on the gas. As worried as I was when the check-engine light came on, I was equally relieved when the car quickly climbed over 80mph. As I pulled onto the freeway, I can only imagine the size of the smile on my face as the cruise control decided to work.

I was on my way.

The drive south, aside from the earlier festivities, was pretty uneventful. I made it to the Grapevine at about 7:45am. Right on schedule. I found the left lane and found my way past the truckers and the wood-paneled station wagons filled with families on their way home from Tahoe. The altitude climbed pretty quickly and, if you're at all familiar with the Grapevine, you know that weather can wreak havoc there. When I got to the top; the Tejon Pass, the outside temperature was 31 degrees.



You gotta' love Southern California...

The weather here, aside from the temperature, could've been a little better. To go along with the cold was the fog. There wasn't a lot of it consistently, but there was plenty of it sporadically.




Before heading up the Grapevine, I took the time to stop off and get yet another cup of coffee. I honestly believe that for a drive like this, you can't have enough coffee. I could use a coffee I.V. Keep your "Mr. Coffee". Give me a needle and a "Mr. Drippy".



At 7:00 in the morning, nectar of the Gods...

I would find out the next morning, after I was safely back in San Diego, that the Grapevine would close less than 24 hours later due to snow, and it would remain closed for some time. I'm glad I didn't extend my vacation by one day like I'd considered doing.

After cruising over the Grapevine, it took almost no time at all to find my way into Los Angeles County. Once I could see the city, I knew it would only be a matter of a couple hours before I was home.


Downtown Los Angeles. Almost home...

Overall, the drive wasn't bad at all. Sure, there were the automotive histrionics to deal with early on in the trip, but my car's decision to play nice ensured that I was able to not only make it home, but to make it home inside, yes, of that eight hour window.

It was a great trip, and I'm already looking to my summer trip north. My buddy Chris is one Helluva' host and, while I know he knows I appreciate the hospitality, I feel compelled to say "Thanks, Chris. I had a blast!"

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year's Eve - Part Deux...

After the fun at Hangar 1, we had to get ready for our gig at 1515 in Walnut Creek. A two floor, upscale club, we decided we wanted to play upstairs, as the downstairs bar was likely to just be too crowded. Well, upstairs was pretty crowded, too. We had a crowd of about 250 revelers through midnights.


Chris Estes and me at 1515 before the gig...


Now, I hadn't played a New Year's Eve gig in years. I thought I might be nervous but, thankfully, that wasn't the case. I sat out the first set, and Chris did what Chris does. I was set up and dialed in for the second set, and we kicked off about 11:10pm.

The crowd was loud. Then again, I guess it's probably a pipe dream to hope that 250 people will be quiet on New Year's Eve. It was all good, though. We had a steady stream of people coming up and requesting songs, and we did a pretty good job of meeting those requests. We probably would've done a better job had those requests been written on the backs of twenty dollar bills. Hehehehe... But I digress.


Me and Chris Estes at 1515...

Performing at 1515 with Chris Estes...


The thing about New Year's Eve, whether you're a reveler or the entertainment, is that you must don a festive holiday lid at some point in the evening. I'm pretty sure it's a requirement, even if it's on for only a few seconds. I wore two throughout the evening. I liked one of them:


Unhappy with our festive holiday lids...


It wasn't much better, but it was better...


Of course, it's always being the performer at midnight on New Year's Eve. The only issue is whose watch you use to countdown to midnight. Well, if you're in the audience, your watch doesn't count, because you don't have a microphone. So, it was between Chris and me. Chris had a Droid, and I had an Omega. We compromised and counted down to one minute on the phone, and then the last 60 seconds was counted down on my watch.


Me and Chris trying to syncronize our timepieces...

After the midnight festivities, the club decided to close the upstairs bar, so that meant we were, pretty much, out of a job. I sat out while Chris did one more song:


Enjoying the final song of the evening...

I don't remember what the final song was, but
it was probably a Dave Matthews song...


It was a great, great time. Like I said, it was my first New Year's Eve gig in some time, and it was a blast. I really have to thank Chris for letting me be a part of it...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Eve...

I can't remember the last time I played guitar on New Year's Eve; a different century, certainly. But that's how my New Year's Eve would end up, and I was looking forward to it.

Before heading to the big gig, though, we had some time to kill. And, when you're in the East bay, there are few ways to kill that are better than heading over to the St. George's Spirits Hangar 1 Distillery in Alameda.

Hangar 1 is located on the now-defunct Alameda Naval Air Station across the bay from downtown San Francisco. I remember being here back in 1983, when I was only two years into my Naval career. A lot has changed since then. The base closed in 1997, and has since gone through some re-utilization. I'd have a hard time finding a better use for the old Attack Squadron 304 hangar than turning it into a distillery!



Hangar 1

We arrived and met Sascha Wen, Hangar 1's "Absinthe Ambassador". Sascha seems to know just about everything about booze, and it's pretty evident she digs her job a lot. Chris and I paid her a visit over the summer, and it was nice to see that there were some new selections on their tasting room list this time around. What we tried in July was certainly pretty outstanding, but why not something new?

While everything they make seems to be pretty damn tasty, there's one spirit they make which, visually, is unmatched. I'm speaking, of course, of Absinthe. What happens to Absinthe when water is introduced to it is difficult to explain, so I'll just include a picture:



A very cool Absinthe reaction with water


Take note of the tasting glass

Sascha took Chris and me through a tasting of some of their various spirits, and there were several that I really enjoyed, including a Mandarin Blossom Vodka and a Kaffir Lime Vodka. I ended up, though, buying a bottle of their Absinthe (recently made legal in the United States) and a Raspberry Liqeuer that's just insane.



With Sascha Wen in front of one of the stills at Hangar 1


After we got done with our tasting, Sascha showed us a new addition to the Hangar 1 facility: The Pilot's Lounge. A very cool, upstairs private room, the lounge can be rented for private parties and tastings, and the per-person charge includes a menu of seven or so Hangar 1 cocktails.



Sascha Wen, of Hangar 1, and Chris Estes in the Pilot's Lounge


As we had a gig on New Year's Eve, we really needed to get going, although I could've easily been convinced to stay. This was my second visit to Hangar 1 and, I can assure you, it's not going to be my last. It's turning into a semi-annual Easy Bay pilgrimage that I'm sure to look forward to during every visit.

If you find yourself anywhere near Alameda on a weekday, I highly recommend stopping into Hangar 1 and letting Sascha, or any of the other fine folks you'll find there, show you what they're up to.



In the Hangar 1 parking lot, with downtown San Francisco in the background


Let's Talk Apps...

From time to time, I'll be talking about cell phone apps as I find good ones. Let's face it, it's almost impossible to get thro...