August 21st, 2020

Just things, Music, Uncategorized

My first taste of Scotch was in the early 1980s when I was a stagehand at the Uptown Theatre in Kansas City.

The Uptown was (and still is as far as I know) a beautiful old theatre. It was built in the 1920s and opened in 1928. It is adorned with balconies, columns, and a black ceiling with “stars” (lights) to emulate an outdoor nighttime setting. It was a movie house in the grand tradition and had a proscenium stage with big maroon velvet curtains. It was like many other theaters back then; some, like the many Fox Theatre venues still left in the country, were owned by the studios. It is a special place and holds a spot in my heart.

Back in those days the Uptown was a very busy place and was staging several shows a week. I had started there without any experience after losing my job in 1980 (given a job out of compassion by a big burly guy named Jimbo). I had earned my place as a regular on the crew through hard work and perseverance and worked many shows through both of my stints there (second run was in the late 80s in charge of the lighting rig and as house electrician).

The shows ran the spectrum – Toots and the Maytals, Johnny Rivers, Men at Work, A Flock of Seagulls, Nick Lowe, Steppenwolf, Jean Luc Ponty…and so many, many more. It was also the place I met and hung out briefly with Robin Williams. It was a great, intimate venue for a show.

One show in particular in the early 80s I got to have a conversation with a guy in one of the bands that came through. He was one of the nicest people I ever met when I was doing stage work. Between the years that have passed and, well, it WAS the 80s, I cannot remember the date or the two or maybe three acts that night; I narrowed it down to these bands: it could have been Dokken, Streets (Steve Walsh’s band after he left the band Kansas), or Strange Daze (a great Doors tribute band who I was asked to tour with in Europe but the tour unfortunately fell through), but I am thinking that it was Dio on his first solo tour after leaving Black Sabbath. Thinking back a little more in depth I think the other bands I mentioned were all together on another show there.

At sound check, the drummer for the opening act came up to me as I was standing off stage left near the monitor console and we started talking. Not like rock star talking, but as two guys just talking about topics now long forgotten (again, the 80s). I know from being around this type of work for several years and being on the road it’s nice to just have a conversation without the star struck condescension, and that’s what this was. Human interaction.

As a stagehand you pretty much know to be a wallflower. It’s unprofessional to be star struck; your job is to make the show happen and stay in the shadows. You would get a “how’s it going?” or an unsaid “thanks” sometimes via a nod or smile, but you don’t approach people. To have someone come up to you and strike up a conversation was very out of the norm. If you think about it they are surrounded by fame, drugs and people kissing their asses constantly – all leeches and posers. I would think just having a normal conversation with someone was not very common and something longed for those in the entertainment lifestyle.

He went onstage to do his sound check and came back by. We chatted a bit more and he asked me if I liked Chivas Regal. I said I don’t even know what that is. He said to me “It’s Scotch and when I come back for the show I’ll bring a bottle and we’ll have a toast!”. I said “Okay”, thinking it was “rock star talk”.

The doors open for the show and we are all putting on the final touches dressing the stage. I get back in position by the monitor console again, ready to run onstage during the concert to fix something if need be (as I had to do about 90 minutes later in the middle of the Dio show and during other shows).

The guy I was talking with earlier walks up to me, and sure as hell he had an unopened bottle of Chivas in hand. He cracks the seal and hands it to me. I give him a toast and a nod and take a big hit off of it. I hand it back to him. He gives me a toast and a nod and takes a big hit off of it, we smile and shake hands and he hits the stage with that bottle. They were on fire that night and had the crowd in their palms. They left and we passed each other, nodded and smiled and I told him “Great show!”. Since I was getting the stage ready for Dio I did not have time to talk.

The band was Quiet Riot. The guy’s name was Frankie Banali.

I write this story because Frankie lost his battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday. I had read articles lately about him being sick and it made me think about that special moment all those years ago.

I have read many tributes to him and everyone says he was such a nice guy. He really was a nice guy that night to some lowly stagehand.

Rest peacefully, Frankie, and thanks for the Chivas and the memory.

February 17th, 2020 – Day 9: Amsterdam, The Netherlands to Kansas City, MO USA

Adventure, food, Just things, Outdoors, pictures, Travel, Uncategorized

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On the way to Schiphol Airport from Amsterdam Centraal Station

I woke up at 4:30, an hour before our alarm was supposed to go off. I laid there in the darkness, contemplating our trip during that time; all the things we saw and did and the fun we had. We have a 9-hour flight to ATL then a couple more hours to MCI.

It was such a great trip and after getting back home I am still thinking about it all. For me returning from this trip was much different than the first time over; having been there I already had that initial excitement of being in Europe. I also knew what to expect for not just going to Europe, but parts of the trip (Köln and Amsterdam, and a little bit in Dublin). I really had no idea what to expect about being all over Ireland and that’s the part I am still having trouble processing. The people were so wonderful and friendly. Everywhere we went in Europe everyone was friendly and helpful but Ireland has the overwhelming feeling of belonging. Galway (and the areas around it) was an even more comfortable place to be…not surprisingly, a feel of home given the centuries-long family history in the area.

The adventure of travel – domestic or international, be it by foot, transit, air, sea, or land –  is so fun and amazing. It is also what you make of it and to be self-reliant in a country where you are a visitor/outsider gives one pause to think about that a little deeper (at least it should) when they return home.

You must get out of your comfort zone to actually learn things and have great experiences when and where you travel; it’s not just about taking pictures of the same famous things like everyone else has posted online. Get in the alleys, go in a coffeeshop or a smart shop, do something you wouldn’t normally do, go someplace where your language is not spoken primarily, eat foods you cannot pronounce, try to have conversations with a local. I guarantee you will have some amazing life-changing experiences and countless stories and memories that last a lifetime.

This trip also included my first stay in an Airbnb property (Landsmeer) and I think that its a great way to travel now that I have done it. I will be looking into doing that more on my own – it’s a great way to get the local flavor of where you are and a great alternative to the same old boring chain hotels here in the States. Being retired, most of my travel will probably be with the trailer but there will one times I need to fly someplace and need a place to stay.

A few thoughts about Amsterdam – it’s a fun, easy city to be in but it is so overrun with cannabis tourists and all of the businesses play it up pretty well – to me it is really overblown and gaudy. I can stay home for that without the commerciality but Washington is overrun with people as well, especially the Seattle area.

I do feel really bad for the residents of Amsterdam; it is tough enough just living in a tourist area but what they deal with is pretty bad. Many tourists don’t care about or respect the locals and that is bad – trust me I know firsthand, having lived in touristy areas since 1996. We avoided being in the city on Friday and Saturday night and waited until Sunday to walk around at night.

I will probably be back, but will stay in the outskirts since I not only want to minimize my impact on the city but I also have other places I want to see in The Netherlands. I really do like Amsterdam’s progressiveness (which some call “freedom”…but only if it fits into their own morals). If you have a closed mind Amsterdam is just not for you.

…and some more thoughts about Ireland – I will definitely be going back to visit this beautiful place, full of some of the friendliest people I have ever met in my life. Dublin is fun and there’s a lot of history there that I still want to explore. There is so much more of the island I want to see. I had a lot of fun driving the car and really enjoyed the challenges and the differences (but not the Dublin traffic madness) and I will definitely get a car every time I go there. There is so much more to see and do in Ireland and I have to see and do it. For me, Galway has that indescribable special magic I feel when I am in the mountains.

In all we walked a total of about 58 miles in 8 days; not counting the day we left that’s an average of 7.25 miles a day. Some days were more – I know one or two were 10 miles a day! Pretty good amount of exercise! The girls did great figuring out the public transit and they fit right in. The only issues we had were the mapping apps not updating like they should (slow data speeds on our free international plans) and sending us in the wrong direction for a bit almost every time we wanted directions.

It was their first trip abroad and their first trip carrying everything around on their backs in a backpack and they did fantastic. They really adapted to this new style of travel really quick and they looked like experienced travel pros from the moment we left. To share travel with someone else makes it even better. When it is with someone you care about it is even better yet. I am so glad we got to go.

Thanks for a great trip, girls. I am looking forward to our next adventure!

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The End!!

February 16th, 2020 – Day 8: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Adventure, food, Just things, Outdoors, pictures, Travel, Uncategorized

Today we got out of our rental in Landsmeer and moved into Centrum near Centraal Station. Our room happened to be overlooking a canal and the station along with buildings in the other side of the canal. From here we go back and catch a train to Schiphol Airport for the trip home.

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Our final hotel room is the second row from the bottom (the First Floor in Europe) and the two windows on the left. Not a bad location!

We got into our room and hit the streets again to find food and souvenirs. One thing on my list was to hit a place called FEBO. Much like the old Automats in NY City, FEBO has two options – you can order from the counter or you can drop a coin in a slot and pick out tasty morsels for €2-4 each. Kroketten, bami, kasssouffle – mostly it is deep-fried deliciousness but there were burger options as well. We went there three different times today!

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FEBO – Goes great with a “coffee”!

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The weather was a bit blustery for our last night. We went different directions for a while and then it started to rain. And then it rained even harder. My pants got soaked so it was back to the hotel to warm up. First, though, there was time for a lamb kebab wrap and it was delicious. This looks to be a second storm that came across the UK that was like the first one we got caught up in while in Ireland. We are leaving at a good time.

We went back out to stroll around some more and take one last look at the city as the rain finally slowed to a few sprinkles. The crowds were thinning since it was Sunday night. But still many people are milling about.

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Back to the hotel one last time for the evening. We put the final touches on our packing for tomorrow.

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The view from our hotel window on our last night in Europe

February 15th, 2020 – Day 7: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Adventure, food, Just things, Outdoors, pictures, Travel, Uncategorized

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Sure coulda used these earlier!

This morning we got up early to get into the city from our house in Landsmeer. We had tickets to tour the Anne Frank House – one of the few touristy things we scheduled and planned.

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I was a bit apprehensive about it but I’m glad we went. There are many lessons in what happened to that family and history damn well should not be repeating itself. It’s a very informative, emotional exhibit and well worth visiting. The Jews could not ride bikes, swim…a countless list of ever-growing restrictions on a particular race of people. And it was absolutely heartbreaking to hear. One of the videos they showed of Otto Frank talking about losing his family – especially his daughters –  I had a real hard time watching and had to leave the room with tears streaming down my cheeks.

After that we went to find some food and just wandered aimlessly around the city during the day, experiencing the city and checking out shops and the sites. It was a decent day to be out walking and there is so much to see and do here.

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We decided to try to get back to our rental late afternoon and kick back a bit after getting some groceries and eating at home. It’s a comfortable place to be so we were able to rest up. We ended up on a ferry across the water to North Amsterdam where we then had to find our way the rest of the way. There was a lot to see from the water and it was a while new perspective.

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North Amsterdam is an artist community with a lot of interesting stuff going on.

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It was also good to be away from city center (Centrum). That’s where we’ll be staying tomorrow.

February 14th, 2020 – Day 6: Dublin to The European Continent

Adventure, food, Just things, Outdoors, pictures, Travel, Uncategorized

COFFEE!!! We need coffee.

It’s up well before the chickens and off to the airport. Destination: Germany. One more trip (for me) to Köln (Cologne) to see that huge cathedral. We didn’t sleep much last night.

We are flying the ultra-budget carrier Ryanair over as I got a screaming deal on the flights and it was cheap enough to put up with the no-frills BS – a savings of $200 a seat. Unfortunately it comes with another price for us – getting out of bed at 3:30 in the morning. Honestly, the price of the flights makes it easy to say “yes” if you can travel with a small carry-on bag. For example, I saw flights from DUB to London for 12 euro. That is amazingly cheap.

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On the tarmac at Dublin airport and up the stairs! Boarding like this is very common in Europe.

Over here, airplanes are looked upon as a bus with wings and that’s what helps Ryanair succeed. Public transportation is what makes Europe run pretty efficiently. It’s too bad we don’t have more of it in the States. In fact, Ireland is going to ban petrol fuel vehicles in 12 years. That is forward thinking.

We landed at Cologne-Bonn airport and got our train tickets to the city.

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Train station in the airport – Bonn, Germany

We got to Köln Hbf and went in to leave our bags. At the train station there is an automated baggage storage- put in €3.00 and your bags whisk away to parts unknown and are stored for two hours so you can walk around unencumbered by luggage.

We stepped outside there was that huge, imposing behemoth in all its dark-stained gothic glory – Cologne Cathedral. I think the girls were quite surprised just how big the building actually is and the look on their faces when we stepped outside said it all.

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The cathedral is still mesmerizing to me. I can’t stop looking at it in amazement and wonder. I just cannot fathom how this was built so long ago without modern methods and tools.

We went into the old market area and I bought frites and a curry wurst for the girls to try. Like the girls said – it’s good but they wouldn’t eat it regularly.

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Köln, Germany

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Old Market area – Köln, Germany

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Old Market area – Köln, Germany

Köln was our entry into the European Continent. After our visit we needed to get train tickets for the next leg of our journey. It was a bit of a challenge but with the help of a nice lady we got it done finally and went to the train platform.

This is probably my final trip to Köln as a destination. I have been here twice now and if I am this way again with someone who wants to see it I would stop again for a quick visit but not on my own. Nothing wrong g with the city – I just want to see other places.

We got on the train and headed north toward our next destination- Amsterdam. It was a 2.5 hour or so ride, with the girls on their own in one car and I was in another due to reserved seating. Once we arrived we took a quick lap a few blocks from Amsterdam Centraal Station to see some sites.

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Goes great with a visit to the coffeeshop!

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For the meat-loving traveler – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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For another kind of meat-loving traveler – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We then figured out getting transit to our place in the ‘burbs.

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It was such an early morning and busy travel day we were tired so we relaxed for another early morning tomorrow.

Check back!