Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Signs of Life

“Travel and a change of place impart a new vigor to the mind,” Seneca

Our table at San Chez, two views

Toni and I enjoyed a Michigan adventure in Grand Rapids, celebrating our birthdays with Phil’s family.  We stayed at the downtown Holiday Inn, located across Pearl Street from the Gerald R. Ford Museum.  Alissa had made an afternoon reservation for ten at a nearby tapas bistro, San Chez.  In addition to Phil and Delia, Alissa and Josh, and Miranda and Sean, Anthony came despite an intramural soccer match that evening and Tori in spite of suffering in the aftermath of her four wisdom teeth having been extracted.  We ordered paella for the table and a couple of pitchers each of sangria and beer, then picked out many entries from the tapa menu, which Alissa wrote down on the butcher paper that doubled as a table cloth.  My choices included Bistec con Pimiento (peppered steak, tortellini, and Manchego mustard cream sauce) and Seta Rellena (crimini mushrooms stuffed with spinach, roasted red peppers, garlic, Manchebo cheese, and tomato vinaigrette).  We feasted for hours and then picked out more items from the dessert menu. Finally, out came two with candles for Toni and me, and Miranda took several group selfies. 

Back at the Holiday Inn, I made use of the pool and hot tub and found a John Jakes novel, The Rebels, on shelves that served as a repository for books left behind by guests.  Billed as part of a Bicentennial series known as the “Kent Family Chronicles,” it opened with Continental soldiers facing British “Redcoats” on Breed’s Hill and described the death of famed Patriot agitator James Warren. Then the locale shifted to tidewater Virginia and scenes of a rake seducing a neighbor’s wife and berating an overseer for whipping a female slave who had given birth to twins just three days previously. I was content not finish it.
Toni and Miranda; below, Well Design Studio conference room
On Monday Alissa joined us for breakfast.  She and her dad had taken the day off, so we picked Phil up and visited Miranda at her workplace before visiting Josh at his office downtown. He is a partner at Well Design Studio, which on Linkedin is described aa "a community-minded design and communications agency that partners with non-profits and businesses to conceive and implement branding and communications solutions that speak to their constituents and customers.”  The impressive studio, once a hotel suite, is located in one of the oldest buildings in Grand Rapids.  We met Josh’s four associates and then had lunch (sans drinks) at Bull’s Head Tavern, where the house specialty is a burger made of buffalo meat.  I’d planned to save half my BLT for later, but it was so good I ate the entire thing, along with homemade chips and a pickle.

Toni spent the afternoon at Alissa’s, who served lasagna and salad for dinner, while I rested up for The Head and the Heart concert at 20 Monroe Live, a brand-new, 2,500-capacity venue.  Its debut week last month featured appearances by Trombone Shorty, Umphrey’s McGee, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  We thought Whitney, opening for The Head and the Heart, would come on at 7 until Josh found out that the doors opened then and Whitney would take the stage at 8.  On the way to pick me up, Phil saw people lined up all around the block.  We had premium reserve seats, so waited till about 7:15 and went right up to the Will Call window and got inside within minutes.  On the walls were posters for such impressive upcoming attractions as Peter Frampton, Lil Wayne, Korn, and Jimmy Eat World.  Our seats in the mezzanine gave us a perfect view of the stage.  I wore my Seattle shirt (where the band originated), a present from daughter-in-law Beth Satkoski, who had given me The Head and the Heart’s “Signs of Life” CD this past Christmas.

Chicago band Whitney featured former Smith Western members Julien Ehrlich (on drums and vocals) and guitarist Max Kakacek. Robert Blaszkiewicz included their song “Golden Days” on his “Best of 2016” CD.  Describing Whitney’s blend of indie rock and psychedelic pop, critic Paul Lester wrote: “Think Bon Iver, with elements of folk and country, only given a Chicago makeover.” Familiar with Grand Rapids, Ehrlich mentioned performing at the Pyramid Scheme and claimed he’d be at the Tin Car bar after the show.  The crowd especially liked Will Miller’s trumpet solos.  Ehrlich gave guitar player Josiah Marshall a long kiss, then introduced him as his cousin. The last number, “No Woman,” contained these lines:
I've been sleeping alone
I've been going through a change
I might never be sure
I'm just walking in a haze
I'm not ready to turn

After intermission, The Head and the Heart opened with a magnificent version of their smash hit “All We Ever Knew.”  I knew virtually all the songs in the 90-minute set since Jimmy Satkoski had burned me four CDs of previous concerts, including an appearance on “Austin City Limits.”  While one critic summarized their style as “Avett Brothers meets Fleet Foxes,” the band rocked out more often than not.  Since I love fiddle player Charity Rose Thielen’s voice, I appreciated the quieter songs. At one point a backup singer shouted out, “Hello, Ann Arbor” (their next destination) before Charity corrected him, adding that he lives in a clam shell.  The crowd forgave him, but it was fortunate, I told Alissa, that they weren’t in East Lansing playing for a Michigan State crowd.  Hearing me softly singing the chorus to “Library Magic,” Alissa squeezed my hand.  The words go:
I can see the sunshine’s ray gleaming through the clear waters
Telling me you gotta bop in for this chapter’ ride
There will always be better days
There will always be better days
Nobody in our entourage had been to 20 Monroe Live, and all were impressed.  The Head and the Heart did four encores, ending with “Lost in My Mind,” Sean’s favorite Head and the Heart song.  I suggested we return in April for Flaming Lips or in May for Jimmy Eat World.  We all agreed that would be cool.  My favorite Jimmy Eat World hit, “The Middle (of the ride),” came out in 2001, when Sean was in elementary school. Miranda had planned on taking a group selfie below the marquee, but, instead of The Head and the Heart, it was already advertising next day’s appearance by Steve Hackett, formerly with Genesis.
after the show

Phil joined us for breakfast before we headed home.  I had planned to get on Route 131 North near the hotel, but Phil said I’d have to cross 5 lanes in less than a quarter-mile and guided me to a better ramp entrance.  Home two hours later, we learned that Becca won an award performing with Chesterton’s Drifters and that James got the part of Uncle Fester in a Portage production of “The Addams Family” (the director wants him to shave his head).  On the 4 o’clock news came dire warnings of tornadoes and hail the size of ping pong balls; all we got in Chesterton was lightning and a heavy but brief downpour.  Rather than watch IU get beat by Purdue or Trump addressing Congress, I listened to CDs Josh and Alissa gave me, “Separation Sunday” by Hold Steady (I’m a big fan) and “Reunion Tour” by The Weakerthans, a Canadian band I’d never heard of but whose “Civil Twilight” (2007) I recognized.  It’s about a bus driver ruminating about an old acquaintance:
My chance to say something seemed so brief, but it wasn't.
Now I know I had plenty of time
Between the sunset and certified darkness
Dusk comes on and I follow the exhaust from memory up to the end
The civil twilight

Here’s Ray Smock’s assessment of Trump addressing Congress:
      Our president has been unpredictable in so many of his appearances, but tonight in his first address before Congress, he followed the format, the cadence, and the style of this formal event quite well. He was not overly bellicose. He was not disrespectful of Congress. He read from the Teleprompter better than I have seen him do it in past performances. He seemed comfortable in the role. He did no damage to his image; in fact, he enhanced it with his overall performance for which I give him excellent style points. 
      Substance was another matter. He called on Democrats to work with him to unite the country. This was a good message. But style can only take this speech so far; it is much stronger when backed up with an equally important vision of how to obtain it and how to pay for it without bankrupting the nation. He called for a trillion-dollar infrastructure program to rebuild our roads, tunnels, and bridges. We need such a program, but to get it requires a budget and a way to pay for it. The devil is always in the details of the annual budget of the United States.
      Trump’s speech writers chose to stick with broad generalities. He offered no specific details of his budget with its drastic proposals for military increases while slashing all other programs. He talked of building his Wall but did not say who would pay for it. He called for repeal and replacement of the Affordable Healthcare Act, which everyone continues to call Obamacare, and said the new plan would be better but offered no timetable and no clear vision of how it would be different or better. 
      This was a speech that met the requirement of demonstrating that President Trump could come before Congress and not make a fool of himself. A lot of people, including me, thought he would blow it. But he didn’t.
With the bar set so low, I’m not surprised that fair-minded critics gave him passing style points.  An entertainer like Ronald Reagan, he is an effective communicator.
Jesse Gomez (right) in 1987

Jeff Manes wrote about Jesse Gomez, 60, an East Chicago school board member and former Inland Steel comrade.  Gomez told Jeff:
  For the majority of my childhood, I grew up at the corner of Fir and Broadway in the Harbor (neighborhood of East Chicago).   I manually set pins at Leo Peter's bowling alley on Broadway. I also was a paperboy for Harbor News Agency, owned by Chili Moss. Chili sold newspapers, comic books and candy. I also delivered The Latin Times on Fridays. They went for a nickel a copy.

I helped Toni with the answer to a crossword clue about an NFL coach with four Superbowl rings.  Answer: Chuck Noll, whose Pittsburgh Steelers were champions in 1975, 1976, 1979, and 1980.  Only Bill Belichick of the Patriots has more than Noll.

At IUN after 5 days I erased 552 junk emails and found a few important ones, including an interview request from producer Aja Harris.  She works for Mic, a company that, according to its website, helps our generation understand what’s happening in the world, why it matters, and how it impacts them.”  It will take place Friday at the Archives.  I told her not to concentrate too much on the “Gary Ruins” theme and suggested she check out Blandine Huk and Frederic Cousseau’s brilliant and balanced film “My Name Is Gary.” As they discovered, with all its problems, Gary is a character-building environment.

Hollis Donald dropped off a eulogy to Librarian Tim Sutherland who retired the day before.  Donald called him a humble man who nonetheless is unwavering in doing the right thing and “depends on a quiet strength to keep his integrity intact.”  Steve McShane will take over for Sutherland until a replacement is hired.  
Steve McShane; photo by Samuel A. Love
Ed Kenar left me a note saying he’d left Paczkis in the adjunct office, as is his custom on Fat Tuesday, but they’d all been gobbled up by the time I arrived.  Passing David Parnell’s office, I told him that I enjoyed the first two chapters of “Justinian’s Men: Careers and Relationships of Byzantine Army Officers” and was pleased to discover that, like me, he is values social history, as well as institutional history.  He wrote: “The study of social networks, or the relationship between individuals, is still relatively new in the field of Late Antique studies.”

1 comment:

  1. What a great weekend J-Bo! Glad we got to celebrate with you <3 Alissa