Friday, December 27, 2013

Sky Ferreria's "Night Time, My Time" ... Mind Blowing!

I didn't see this one coming...

I've been listening to Consequence of Sound's Top 50 Albums of 2013 and the one that's caught me off-guard is Sky Ferreria's "Night Time, My Time." (Ranked #49 by CoS)

It's loud, thick, catchy and luscious. Damn. It's not normally my preferred genre, but I can't stop listening to it. Check out "Ain't Your Right" or "Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Music Overload

It seems like every December I say, "Man. I can't believe it's Christmas season already. I'm totally unready
for this." Last-minute shopping notwithstanding, the other thing that I don't do until too late is listen to Christmas music.

This year, however, was the exact opposite.

I think I was spinning Christmas tunes about one week before Thanksgiving. Unprecedented for me.

So by now, as I write this, let me tell you: I have had my fill of Christmas music in 2013! I've listened to it all this year: classics, rockabilly, country, contemporary and polka. All, and unequivocally, no matter the style, I'm done. No more Christmas music! If I don't hear it again for another 11 months, that will be just fine by me.

Now it's time for some Def Leppard or something. Anything to get these ringing bells out of my head...

Metallica in Antarctica ought to do the trick. It's about as far away from the North Pole as one can get. Plus it's only the second concert to have ever been played on the polar continent!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Thank You, RadioMilwaukee

There was a time when I swore I'd leave the city of Milwaukee. Not because of our brutal winters. Not because of our lousy teams (looking at you, '90s Brewers). Not because of a terrible inner city violent crime rate (hey, all cities have this; we gotta figure this one out together). But because the radio stations populating our airwaves in the final decade of last century catered to the dependable but unadventurous masses.

The stations didn't reflect me or my interests. They didn't reflect risk-taking. They didn't reflect the city Milwaukee was to blossom into -- a progressive city willing to step out of the shadow of Chicago and become its own thing (again).

Then along came 88Nine RadioMilwaukee and saved the day. Just take a look at their 25 most spun songs of 2013. It's great. Oh sure, I don't love every song listed here, but Little Green Cars, McCartney, Jake Bugg, The National, Beck, and City and Colour are some of my favorites. It's not always about liking every song -- it's about being exposed to something new. Also, though only one local band made this list (Volcano Choir), they play "Milwaukee Music" like Vic and Gab's fun new album. Stuff you wouldn't hear anywhere else.

I am very grateful RadioMilwaukee is now on my FM dial, 'cause I really didn't feel like moving anyways.

And don't get me wrong, there's wrong with belting out "Don't Stop Believin' " or snake-dancing to "Welcome to the Jungle" every now and then, but after 20 years, that stuff can get a bit tiring.

Rock on, RadioMilwaukee, and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fire Packers Coach Mike McCarthy? That's Crazy Talk.

I love sports ... but hate sports fans.

Under Mike McCarthy, the Packers are 81-45-1 with five playoff appearances and a Super Bowl win. Yet I hear (see) Packers fans clamoring "FIRE McCARTHY!"

Are they nuts? The biggest problem is, as Packers fans, we've become so accustomed to success that an injury-plagued, .500 season is deemed a failure and we demand someone be held accountable.
That's just dumb. McCarthy has earned the right to have a mediocre season for a change. The four years prior to this season all ended with double-digit victory totals.

I'll stick with Mike, thank you very much.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hans Solo or Chewbacca? You Decide, Kid.

I heard the best example of teaching kids the value of money tonight. It was told to me by Gene, who was seated immediately to my right at Barley's Taproom in Asheville, North Carolina.

The story, as told by Gene...

"I was 1978. I had been saving up my coins for months to buy a Star Wars figurine. When we finally went to the store to pick 'em out, Mom looked at my savings and said, 'You only have enough money to buy Hans Solo or Chewbacca--you don't have enough money to buy them both.'"

"But, but, but, Mom," I said. "Hans and Chewbacca have to stay together. They belong together. They're partners!"

Mom, relentless, replied, "I'm sorry, Gene. It's either one or the other. You have to choose. If you want the other, you'll have to save up your allowance and come back in a few months to complete the set."

"Aww, Mom. I thought you could pick up what I'm short!"

"No, Gene. I'll clothe you. I'll feed you. I'll provide you shelter and love you, but if it's something you want, you'll have to save up for it yourself."

Total daggers to the chest, right? Was Gene's mom cruel? Was she cheap? Was she strapped? Or was she just teaching her child, Gene, a valuable life lesson of work and reward? (It was a good lesson--35 years later, Gene still remembers!)

Based on the quality guy Gene seemed to be, I'd say the latter.

Anyway, Gene's mom's plans worked. He went with the Chewbacca and returned about two months later and purchased Chewbacca's sidekick, Hans Solo.

Lesson learned. Gene kept working through his 40s and now owns the whole set--Jar Jar Binks included!

And now, because it's Christmas season, here's something completely annoying ...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

You Better Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

I was only a Photoshop beginner when I crafted this homage of my pal, Bruce, imposed upon the late, great Bob Ross -- the creator and host of "The Joy of Painting." Being the last day of Movember -- a month dedicated to the growth of facial hair to raise awareness of men's health issues -- it was only fitting to post it before month's end. After all, Mr. Ross. passed from Lymphoma, a type of cancer that, while deadly, can have its effects mitigated if detected early.

Fellows, in good health and friendship, let's pledge to get regular checkups and indulge robustly, but smartly. It shouldn't take furry faces to make us aware of the risks that challenge our health and spirit.

For more information, visit the Movember website, whether it be the 11th month of the year or any other day, let's keep healthy.

In good health and in beer, your pal,


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sara Santiago is Not a Dick

The last day of 2009 was supposed to be a great one. Instead it went horribly wrong.

To ring in the New Year, my wife, Kay, and I arranged to see Spoon in concert at Milwaukee's Riverside Theater. The night started out great. We had a few drinks in Wauwatosa before taking the bus downtown. We planned ahead -- there would be no driving; however much we chose to celebrate, we would be taking a taxi home.

Not too long after our arrival at the theater, Kay's asthma flared up. Now I've known Kay a long time, 25 years approximately, and I've seen her exhibit the symptoms of asthma that I knew were devastating to her as a child. But for the most part, I considered her flare-ups no more of a setback than a runny nose or scratchy throat. Since I don't suffer from asthma, I'm sure I'm selling her suffering short, but Kay's episodes prior to this evening were usually pretty minimal.

We rocked through the opening set by garage rocker Jay Reatard (who would untimely perish only 14 days later) and most of Spoon's set. Late in the show, Kay's attack was severe, though, to the extent I was not fully aware. She excused herself to the restroom.

As the show rollicked along with balloon drops and toasts to the New Year, I began to get frantic. Where was Kay? Why hasn't she returned? Why won't she answer her phone? Why can't I get a mobile call through? (Turns out, everybody calls everybody at midnight as the year turns and mobile networks crumble under the weight.)

I left my seat to find her, but unfortunately, the show ends and the masses head for the exits. I finally spy Kay, she's semi-slumped over in corner in the lobby. She's not well and struggling for every breath. I run outside to look for a cab, but there's not a cab to be had. The few that Milwaukee has are being filled with New Year's Eve revelers. I am left with no choice but to call an ambulance.

Within minutes we're in an ambulance in front of the theater. Kay gets hooked up to oxygen while paramedics check her vitals. Seconds later we're whisked off to Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa.

Talk about an expensive ride back home. I left the hospital in the bitter cold and walk to tosa's village where I left my car. I return home for an hour to get some stuff, but return to the hospital to bring Kay home at about 5 a.m.

What a way to welcome 2010.

But of all that bad, there was some good.

As I posted an update or two about the trauma my little family was experiencing, it was caught by our friend, Sara Santiago. Sara knows a lot about asthma and has suffered from it for decades too. She called and volunteered assistance: medication, a nebulizer, friendship, whatever. She wanted to help. I told her that we could certainly use the nebulizer, and that Kay was familiar with the device from when she was a child, but didn't own one as an adult. I said I'd be on my way to pick up the device shortly.

Sara flatly refused. "I'm on my way, Mike. Don't you dare leave Kay's side."

So on a bitterly cold January 1, 2010, when families are together and enjoying each other's warm company, Sara journeyed out alone from her Bay View home to bring us this most helpful and potentially life-saving device. I won't ever forget that. I'm sure Kay won't either.

Now that's friendship.

Thank you, Sara, for all that you are. I was happy to read the OnMilwaukee spotlight article this morning and see a fitting tribute to your everlasting awesomeness. We are happy to call you friend, and if you ever need ANYTHING that we can help you with, please don't hesitate to ask.

So you see, Sara Santiago is definitely not a dick, but her husband, Augie, on the other hand ... ;)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mike Meets WordGirl and The Gruffalo

Halloween in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Despite the inclement weather, we had a pretty good turnout of ghouls, goblins, fireman, ball players, witches, princesses and PBS Kids characters that I've never heard of.

One such costumed character was WordGirl -- a superhero that vanquishes foes with her superhuman strength and colossal vocabulary. Her trick-or-treat partner was the not-so-feared mythical beast, The Gruffalo.

These two were about 3-years old, cute as buttons and were bred from the heartiest of stock -- they were trick-or-treating in the rain when kids twice their age fled the streets for the comfortable dry climes of their living rooms.

While The Gruffalo remained on the sidewalk, WordGirl approached our front door. Shyly she said, "Trick or Treat."

Loudly I said, "Welcome WordGirl and Happy Halloween!" I lowered the bowl filled with fun-size Snickers and little packages of Skittles and told her, "You're out here when all the other kids have gone home. I'm very impressed. Take two."
The Gruffalo

As she perused her selections, quietly I whispered, "Just kidding. Take 3."

WordGirl whispered back, "Thank you!" and looked at me with a sly smile.

As she made her way off our front stoop, the quiet and shy WordGirl hollered to The Gruffalo, "Hey, Gruffalo. You have to come to this house -- they let me take 3!!"

So funny. I'm just glad she didn't yell this out loud when the streets were full -- I would have had to run to the store to replenish our rapidly dwindling supply!

Happy Halloween, 2013!!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Keeping the Festival Season Alive with Spicy Thai Noodles

Capellini instead of Linguine - My Recommendation
If we ever invite you over for Spicy Thai Noodles, be prepared to excuse yourself from the table at least 3 times. Why? Because you're certain to need to visit our guest bathroom at least that many times to clear your suddenly unclogged sinuses. See, we likes 'em spicy, and spicy is the way my wife and I prepared tonight's version of this delectable dish.

We've always been fans of Singapore Noodles. Usually it's served to us in a paper container four or five beers in at the Wisconsin State Fair. Actually, four or five beers in at just about any Milwaukee festival. 

But what's not to love? You've got noodles, fresh herbs, soy sauce, and for your health, a few vegetables. In fact, it's vegetarian!

I don't think our home-cooked version will ever compete fairly with the State Fair variety, but we're getting closer, and finding it a dish that's fun and interesting to make. By only varying a few ingredients, the noodles can taste very different. 

After picking up a number of fresh peppers--both Thai chili and reds--at the Dane County Farmers' Market last Saturday, we set our sights on trying to create a reasonable facsimile of our Summertime favorite festival food. I found this relatively hacked up recipe on the website Yummly


1 carrot thinly sliced
3 mushrooms thinly sliced
2 tablespoon(s) vegetable broth divided
2 teaspoon(s) fresh garlic minced
1 tablespoon(s) bell pepper chopped
1 chili pepper chopped
1 tablespoon(s) fresh basil chopped
1 teaspoon(s) fresh oregano
8 ounce(s) Linguine cooked al dente (we used Capellini; I suggest you do, too)
2 tablespoon(s) soy sauce
1 teaspoon(s) black or white pepper ground
1 teaspoon(s) sugar
1/2 teaspoon(s) chopped red pepper
1 tablespoon(s) fresh parsley snipped


Sauté garlic in oil over medium high heat in a large pan for about 1 minute, add carrot, sautee two more minutes then add mushrooms, bell pepper, chili pepper, basil, and oregano. Sauté two more minutes. Add cooked linguine and stir. Add remaining ingredients through chopped red pepper, stir until thoroughly mixed. Additional soy sauce may be added to taste. Garnish with parsley and serve with garlic bread. Serves four. 

Don't examine it too closely because the recipe is rather hacked up. Take for instance that vegetable broth. Two tablespoons ... divided? Why are they divided? Where are they used? And why doesn't this recipe ever bring these two lonely tablespoons of vegetable broth back together again?

Freeze 'em!
No matter. This is a good starting point for the dish and whatever you do will probably wind up tasting pretty good. In fact, I forgot the vegetable broth the first time I made it and it was still delicious. (I forgot the parsley also. Things in the kitchen were happening too fast for me!)

Just make sure to use good oil (we used sesame oil the second time ... JACKPOT!) and fresh vegetables for the sauté. You probably can't screw it up, but here's a tip that I got from a little Vietnamese woman at the Dane County Farmers' Market that's really worth knowing:  Freeze Thai chili peppers. Whenever you want to add some spice to your dishes, just take a pepper or two out of the freezer and chop it up finely and throw it in. They'll stay good and fresh in the freezer for a long time.

This tip ... life changing. Something so simple that I've never considered. I'm going to be chopping up little chilis into just about everything now. 

Eggs? Check.

Pizza? Check.

Ice cream? Check. (Hey. Why not? They're already frozen!)

And the best thing: a little Thai chili pepper goes a long way. We chopped two of them into tonight's Spicy Thai Noodles and I only had to excuse myself from the table three times.

They're THAT hot!

So, even though we are entering the cold and non-festival season in Wisconsin, in Wauwotosa we're going to keep the Summer season alive with some spicy noodles and a freezer full of Thai chili peppers. 

Whew. Now please excuse me. I've got a nose to blow.


Appropriately, a song from Xavier Rudd's "Food in the Belly"

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Yelp's Family Style Sunday with the Bartolotta Group

Prosciutto Appetizer
Zoinks. My first Yelp event. I was excited, but also a little bit apprehensive.

"What the heck? There's food, there's beer, there's wine. How bad can it be?" I asked myself. I like to challenge my insecurities so, with the assurance of the availability of liquid courage, away I went to the Yelp's Family Style Sunday with the Bartolotta Group.

Impressed more, I could not be.

Not only was it not bad, it was fantastic. I met some cool, forward-thinking Milwaukeeans who have a vested interest in pushing our cultural and culinary community forward and were recognized by Milwaukee's top restaurateur--Mr. Joe Bartolotta--as influential and important people.

Risotto - "Comfort in a bowl," said one Yelper
Joe could not have left a more positive indelible impression--he catered us with great food, drink and hospitality. He addressed his age and the awareness of Milwaukee's changing epicurean terrain and the options faced by the local diner. He gets it. He knows restaurant critique criteria has changed and recognizes the power of technology--with a few taps on a keyboard our reviews can greatly influence the future of a business--and his intent was not to buy us out, but to make us keenly aware of the challenges a restaurateur faces and ask to make those considerations before we (possibly) excoriate an establishment.

That's pretty respectable in my opinion. Joe wasn't talking only about his joints--he was talking about his competitor's establishments too.

As far as the event went, it was wonderful. We started out at Pizzeria Piccola and then had a sit-down at the quaint and authentic Ristorante Bartolotta. Beer, wine, pizza, prosciutto, Caesar salad, risotto, pasta, and desserts (flourless chocolate cake and tiramisu) were presented in, mostly, that order.

All glasses, emptied ;)
All delicious. Every entree, every bite. Not only that, but we were served with the same level of excellence the normal patron should expect.

I don't know if all Yelp Elite events are this good--this was my first--but if they are, count me in. Bartolotta's put on a wonderful event that has set the Yelp event bar very high for me. I look forward to future events and visits at Bartolotta's restaurants--they've never disappointed before and certainly did not tonight.

Thanks for wonderful afternoon, Ristorante Bartolotta. And thanks, too, for welcoming us with genuine hospitality. Every bite and sip was most certainly appreciated! :)

Joe talks openly and passionately about his restaurants.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Yelper Skelter

I've become a Yelper and I never saw it coming.

The reason probably has to do with having a particularly enjoyable experience at a restaurant a few years ago and feeling the need to, um, "Yelp" about it. It's a "Boy, this place is really great. I'd love everybody to know how fantastic this place is and give them their support so it stays around for me to enjoy many, many more times." And we all know how tough the restaurant business is so, if I can put my love of food, writing and Milwaukee to good use to support a worthy proprietor, I'm happy to do it.

I love writing about places that are 4 and 5-star worthy. They charmed me with a good experience and I usually can't wait to return to my laptop and write a review that heaps some praise upon them. If I do it well, it will be an entertaining read too.

Three star places? Two star places? Meh. They don't motivate to write. What am I gonna say? "Their Wonder bread with Kraft american cheese grilled sandwich was divine! A must-have!! Just like Mom used to make!!" Nah. In most cases a 2 or 3-star joint provided me with sustenance and they'll likely do the same for you.

But then there's those places that really disappoint. They take your money and, in return, give you much less than you expect and deserve. You leave feeling upset and taken advantage of. In fact, you're even a little bit angry.

Now these places ... these places inspire. Much like the 5-star joint stimulates my critiquing Jones, a 1-star does the same. I want potential customers to be wary.  Caveat emptor, people, but at least we've got Yelp on our side. If you go in, at least you've been warned. Don't say it's my fault.

Recently I had a very poor experience at a popular Milwaukee restaurant. So poor that I gave it one star. Despite the crummy one-out-of-a-potential-five rating, my review was nothing more than a factual account of my visit. I documented stale product, tasteless food, slow service and poor value -- all the makings of a classic 1-star worthy review. To my surprise, one of the proprietors sent me the following message:

While I would usually start thanking any customer for their feedback, it is hard to do in this instance because Im not sure from your review if you gave us any chance to accommodate you.  Our staff works very hard to read our customers and anticipate needs.  If you and your guests would have alerted us to your desire for spicier salsa or displeasure with your choice of entree, we would surely have addressed it.  We are the heart of the latin quarter but understand people's preferences for our neighbors too.  We are all here to serve you but from your estimation, we fell short.  That I regret and truly would address would you be open to the possibility. If you consider yourself a foodie, you would find we are using  only fresh ingredients,  many local purveyors and making every dish to order.  We allow our guests to salt and add more spice to their choosing because these are relative tastes.  All i would ask is that you rethink your harsh review by reviewing your own actions too.  I cant revisit your concerns because you left. If I can at some future time, I welcome you to contact me. Nothing would give me more pkeasure than to turn your frown upside down. Our previous manager is still on site as are we 2 very committed owners.  Call or write me Mike. We love people who arent afraid to reason.

Apparently it's my fault that my experience at their restaurant sucked. "Rethink your harsh review by reviewing your own actions too"?! You GD right I'm reviewing my actions -- I should have never dined at your crappy restaurant in the first place!!

Dang that comment made me angry. I spent too much for sub-par food, poor service in an area when most businesses deliver a satisfactory experience at three-quarters the price and you ask me to rethink my review?!

No way. Ain't happening. Not now; not ever. In fact, it's too bad I can't give zero stars, 'cause you just might be my first.

And to think, I didn't even mention the flat sodas in my review either.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Glorious Puempel's Olde Taven

Puempel's Olde Tavern is positively friggin' glorious. This is everything I could ever want in a pub. It has everything that suburban eateries, Las Vegas celebrity-owned restaurants and corporate-crafted themed joints cannot deliver: authenticity.

On my recent Labor Day weekend visit, I sipped my draught Hamm's beer ($2) while noshing on a Green County cheese sandwich. There's lots of cold cut sammie choices, but when I'm in Green County, Wisconsin, I always opt for a cheese sandwich. I chose a brick on rye adorned with spinach, raw onion and tomatoes. Served with a bag o' chips and a pickle spear, this pack of foodie delight costs only $4.50 and ...


Did I just say "noshing"? Did I say "delight"? "Sammie"? "Foodie"?!

What the heck is wrong with me?!?! I didn't go to Puempel's for the food. I didn't go to Puempel's for the beer. I WENT TO PUEMPEL'S TO BE AT PUEMPEL'S!! And that's a good enough reason!!

It's no surprise that during my visit I'd be seated at the bar next to a Chicagoan. As the oompah band set up--two ladies and two men respectively playing a humstrum, accordion, accordion and banjo--the Chicagoan says to his buddy, "Can you believe how touristy this is?"

This is why we can't be friends sometimes, Chicago.

You're at Puempel's. They've been doing this continuously since 1893. I've been there on the a midweek

day--there's still seniors playing sheepshead in the corner, they're still sipping a light beer or a diet soda, they're still listening to a group at the end of the bar playing two accordions, a banjo and a humstrum. They still get their news from the newspaper curled up and mustard-stained at the end of the bar. They discuss the crypt-o-gram. They think today's was a tough one.

Did you ever think that it's only "touristy" because you dragged your butt out of the 'burbs to get a real taste of the midwest?

Sorry, Chicagoan, but that question frosted me. Can't you just sit back and enjoy the folks 30 years your senior singing their hearts out? Can't you just appreciate the 100-year old tapestries and murals on the wall? The cash register that still has a 5¢ key? The brass rail? The wood floors? The hundreds, if not thousands, of dollar bills stuck to the ceiling and wonder like everybody else "How do they get those things up there?" Or that fact that your Hamm's cost only two dollars?!

If you want touristy, go to Bubba Gump's. If you want authenticity, go to Puempel's. Hopefully you'll see me there. I'll be the one staring at the ceiling wondering, "How do they get those bills up there?"

PuempeI's. I love this place.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary - AMAZING!

The Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary celebration has been nothing short of amazing. I know many who shudder at the thought of all these bikers invading Milwaukee every five years, but I think it's one of the coolest things that could ever happen to this city.

My first love of this event would have to be the entertainment. I spent three nights in a row at the Henry Maier Festival Park (Summerfest Grounds) seeing some legendary rockers: ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Dropkick Murphys, Joan Jett, Cheap Trick, Brett Michaels, Elvin Bishop and, of course, we caught the amazing surprise of Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters) playing with Hawkins' jam buddies, Chevy Metal. Man, when Joan Jett joined on 'em on stage for the Grand Finale covering The Stones' "Bitch," I almost fainted.

I haven't enjoyed a rock and roll moment that much since, well ... ever. "Awesome" gets used too much these days, but there's no other word that describes it better.


Then there's the bikes and bikers -- the reason this every five year event even exists (besides Harley-Davidson, that is). If you've been out and about in downtown Milwaukee anytime in the past 3 days, you've had to catch yourself thinking, "Can you believe this?!" I mean, it is a SEA of motorcycles. They line up along every street for miles and miles. And if you've seen the parking lot outside of the Festival Park, you know what an eyeful of steel and chrome that is!

If you know me, you know that my current ride is not a Harley. I have German bike, but one of my favorite things about owning a motorcycle is finding preferred parking spots at nearly every event. Last night, however, I could not find a single spot to park my bike within a half-mile of the entrance of the festival grounds. It was packed with nary an automobile in site. Bike upon bike for blocks and blocks. Parking far away is not bad though, because on the walk to the grounds, I got to walk past the lines of gleaming steel, leather and rubber and gawk and admire along the way.

You know this is true: there's a lot of bikes that look and are cared for better than their owners! ;)

Another super cool part of this event is the sheer number of riders from foreign lands. Walking the grounds, it's hard not to be flummoxed by the amount of Harley-Owners that have made the trip to Milwaukee from Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Russia and Japan. I've struck up conversations with a few of these groups and welcomed them to Milwaukee. Since I've got friends and coworkers in Guadalajara, I talked to the Guadalajaran group like we were long-time pals. I took a picture of their Harley patch to send to my friends down there.

In the aforementioned group, Seven out of nine rode their cycles from Guadalajara. They rode for 10 days. Man, I put on 260 miles yesterday in a little southeastern Wisconsin circuit and my butt's sore. Guadalajara to Milwaukee for 10 days takes an ass of steel!!

Today's the final day. The festival grounds are now closed, but there's still dealership parties and a street party at the Juneau Avenue manufacturing plant (also the place where Harley-Davidson was born). I doubt this final day will bring the jaw-dropping awe that the previous days did, but if you get the chance, go take a walk along the rows of motorcycles and welcome them back home. While you're at it, find a rider and welcome them to our home, Milwaukee.

Happy 110th birthday, Harley-Davidson. Maybe by the 115th, I tell myself. ;)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cheese Sandwiches and Beer

I've got lots of favorite places. I've got a favorite place in Milwaukee. I've got a favorite place in Taiwan. I've got a favorite place in Mexico City. And I've got a favorite place in Barcelona. I've even got a favorite place in lovely Doolin, Ireland.

But no favorite place is like my favorite place in Monroe, Wisconsin.

My favorite place in Monroe is the bomb. Or more like, "the Baum."

Of course, if you know Monroe, you know I am talking about the incomparable Baumgartner's Cheese Shop and Tavern - Wisconsin's oldest cheese store (1931). There's so much to love about Baumgartner's it's hard to know where to start, but picking one ... I'd have to say it's the cheese.  Why more places don't serve good cheese sandwiches, I don't know, but it's worth driving two hours from Milwaukee or Chicago to Monroe to dine on one of these beauties. Earlier today I ate one made from a thick slab of medium cheddar on light rye. Of course I had to upgrade it with hard salami and red onions and, at my own discretion, I slathered it up good with some stone ground mustard.

So simple you could make one right now in your own home. But, for whatever reason, it won't taste as good as one at Baumgartner's!

They also serve craft beers from nearby breweries like New Glarus, Ale Asylum and the very near (two blocks!) Huber. (I suggest not drinking TOO local, if you know what I mean.)

Besides the great cheese and beer, the ambiance and service is pure fun and classic Wisconsin. There must be $1,200 stuck to the ceiling and one young waiter will show you exactly how it's done. I dunno, they wrap a quarter into a dollar with a thumbtack or something. Give it a good hard whip and it sticks right up there. If you try, and in the process you knock some money down, it's yours to keep!

What took me to Monroe today was business. I traveled with a colleague who had never been to Monroe. At the end of our meeting, I said to the guy with whom we had just met, "You know, my coworker has never been to Monroe and there's a place that I need to take him."

Without a moment wasted, he said "You're taking him to Baumgartner's for a cheese sandwich and beer, aren't you."

"Yes," I said. "How'd you know?"

"EVERYBODY that visits Monroe goes to Baumgartner's for a cheese sandwich and beer!"

Well it's good to know that America hasn't swung completely to the corporate side and that they still recognize the quality, value and fun of a true American classic -- Baumgartner's.

My favorite.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Wisconsin State Fair -- My Happy Place

fair (fâr) - Moderately good; acceptable or satisfactory

Well maybe YOUR State Fair is, but not the Wisconsin State Fair. The Wisconsin State Fair is crunchy awesomeness wrapped on a stick and deep-fried to a golden, crispy brown.

I'm an unabashed and unapologetic lover of our fair. Most years I go between 3 and 4 times and this year (2013) was no exception - I've made it 3 times so far and since I'm writing this on the fair's final day ... who knows?

Simply put, I love the Wisconsin State Fair because it makes me happy.

We spent the entire day there yesterday and, I kid you not, after about 3 hours my face hurt I was smiling so much. Well, maybe it didn't "hurt," but I definitely felt smiling muscle fatigue. What could possibly make me smile so much? The list is long, but here's a condensed version:

- Music. I love live music. Whether it be a stadium-sized venue hosting Paul McCartney or a beer tent rocking to a Milwaukee cover band that has played together for more than 50 years (The Skunks), live music abounds and I never have a challenge finding something that delights me. Watching folks older than me (there's still a few!) dance and clap to The Skunks (currently known as The Larry Lynde Band) made me smile immensely. The rolling Matt's Family Band and The Who tribute band (Substitute) also rounded out a great day yesterday, but if you go today or next year, make sure you don't miss cover band extraordinaire, The Bobby Friss Band. Bobby puts on the best rockin' good time show in the land and he has played nightly at the Saz's stage for years. (A note to teetotalers: Beware. Bobby's more fun when you drink!)

- Food. For the most part I bypass the weird foods on sticks and go with my tried and true favorites. A few include a Usinger's Italian sausage slathered with peppers on a Miller's pretzel roll in the Wisconsin Products Pavilion, a Hungarian sausage sandwich from Rupena's and the deep-fried green beans from Krautland. But my absolute favorite and can't miss annual culinary treat is Mexican Corn in a Cup. I love this sweet, hot and tangy treat. It's fresh corn cut of the cob and slathered in mayonnaise and queso then topped with chili powder. This is available under the Milwaukee Mile grandstand and if there was only one food to eat at the fair, this would be my choice.

- Farm animals and culture. For a few hours each year it doesn't hurt to look at the animals that feed us and greet the hard-working people that care for these beasts. Studying the animals is some of the fun, but the real interesting study is the interaction between the farm kids from up north and the Milwaukee locals that come to see them. There's too few opportunities in the world to break down the walls that separate us, but when a young city dweller has a chance to come eye-to-eye with a swine and the 11-year old from Merrill that raises the animal, I can't help feeling that this is a step in the right direction.

- Beer. There's two great distinctions about Wisconsin State Fair beer: quantity and quality. To address the first, one can buy a beer EVERYWHERE on the grounds. You only need to take about 20 steps onto the grounds before you'll have a chance to buy a tall cool one, and when you're empty, you won't have a long walk to replenish your cup. Second, thanks to West Allis bar Benno's, beer nerds can now slake their thirst with some quality crafts at The Micro. Chances are if you're my friend and you're at the Fair, I'll bump into you at The Micro. The Sprecher landing on the north end of the grounds is also a good place to wrap your lips around a  local craft brew. (Related: Indiana, I understand your fair is dry. How can you stand it?!)

- People selling stuff. I know I'm in the minority here, but I love walking through the Exhibition Center and watching snake oil salesmen pitch their peelers, dicers, choppers and slicers. I (almost) never buy anything, but an hour watching this selling circus always entertains me.

- People watching. Face it, this is the reason many of you who go, go. You may even play State Fair Bingo. Men with 1:1 aspect ratios, women with Hello Kitty tattoos on their calves, mullets (you've played The Mullet Game, right? See a mullet first, slug your pal!), mustachioed ladies, baby stroller sightings after dark, etc. It's all here and spot 5 cultural anomalies in a row ... BINGO!!

Yep. The Wisconsin State Fair is my happy place. If you haven't gone in a while (I know quite a few of you that haven't), I suggest putting Xenophobia aside and returning with an open mind, heart and love of simple pleasures. It just may become your happy place too. :)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Milwaukee Music -- It's Up, and It's Good!

Quinn Scharber's Telecaster
There's many Milwaukeeans that could tell you a lot more about the local music scene than I could, but in the past few weeks I've seen a few of our up-and-coming bands and I must say, there's plenty to be encouraged about.

In no particular order or preference, here's a few that I've seen that require your attention...

Ethan Keller and the Ethan Keller Band

We caught these guys at Port Fish Day, 2013. Their music style is described at Ethan's website as Midwest Americana R&B. That's a music category that I've never heard of! Doesn't matter. Ethan's brand of music is smooth, melodic and expertly performed. Watching the band perform while standing in the Summer sun alongside Port Washington's lovely harbor, it would have taken a team of wild horses to drag me away. (Thanks for the reference, Mick and Keith.) Also, as a fan of the look of guitars as much as the sound of guitars, Ethan plays a few that are truly drool-worthy: a lime green Gretsch and ashen gray Gibson Hummingbird. Both ... WANT.

Hugh Bob and the Hustle

Total pros, these guys. Last Summer I had their self-titled album on near constant repeat. Hugh Bob, from Butternut, Wisconsin, makes high quality Americana music with a distinct Milwaukee touch.

Americana. Milwaukee. Milwaukeecana? What the heck -- if there can be Midwest Americana R&B, I don't see why there can't be a "Milwaukeecana" category!

By the way, what's a distinct Milwaukee sound, you ask? To me, Milwaukee has a long history of cleverly crafted Americana music. The reference list is long: Paul Cebar, The Mosleys, The Spanic Boys (I LOVED them; where'd they go?), Loyal Order of the Water Buffalo, John Sieger, BoDeans, and, of course, The Violent Femmes. There's many more, and that's not to say Hugh Bob and the Hustle sound like any of them, but they're cut from similar cloth and I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.


The way these two have been rolling up great press lately they scarcely need my endorsement, but I'm a sucker for melodic pop and their music hits me right in my sweet spot.

Thanks to our common appreciation of Milwaukee artist Dwellephant, I learned of the release of their 2012 EP, for which Dwellephant did the album cover art. I picked up the release and instantly fell in love with it. I played it often in 2012 and continued to do so right up until their 2013, full-length release "Love of Mine."

There's a lot to like about Vic+Gab. They write great melodies, play expertly, sing lovely and they're very nice people; however, there is an unsung hero in the band: drummer Jesus Enrique Nañez. I often find my ears listening to his rhythms as much as the vocals, guitar and bass. His drumming reminds me a bit of Ringo Starr's. The Beatles claimed that Pete Best's heavy-footed drumming prevented their music from growing and living. When they heard Ringo playing in another Liverpoolian band, they knew he was their man. I imagine Vic+Gab must've had another drummer before Jesus--I don't know--but without question Jesus's drumming gives the music of Vic+Gab wings like Ringo's gave those three other guys'.

Here's another endorsement: I watched Vic+Gab yesterday while standing alongside Milwaukee music legend Paul Cebar. Throughout the entire show Mr. Cebar was smiling and toe-tapping. I said to him near show's end, "If you like it, it must be good," and he replied, "They're great. I love it!"

Also, I've yet to see this band that I've only heard of a few hours ago, but Buffalo Gospel has instantly grabbed my aural attention. Their new album "We Can Be Horses" dropped July 27th and is quite lovely.

Lastly, Trapper Schoepp & The Shades and Ivy Spokes are making great original music too. The only reason I'm not dedicating a paragraph to each of them is typing fatigue. (My right hand is in a cast; all functions normally carried out by 4 fingers are now entirely being carried out by my thumb!)

Gonna take this blog out with a great Nick Lowe song covered by Paul Cebar. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Put a Sock In It, William Shatner

William Shatner, you sucker puncher, you.

You see, I've used that service you shill (Priceline) many times, and most often I've come away pleased, but this time, William, you got me. You upper-cut me right in the rib cage when I wasn't looking.

I travel a lot for business. Many times, when the work is done and all I've got to do is fly home the next morning, I'll log on to Priceline and use their "Name Your Own Price" feature. Generally I'll pick a city center so I can walk the town and do a little exploring. I've done this in Hartford, Chicago, San Francisco (twice) and Baltimore.

You treated me really well in Baltimore and San Francisco, Bill. The Marriott overlooking Camden Yards during an Orioles game was a particularly nice touch. Thanks for that.

But then Buffalo happened. You placed me in that stinkin' Adam's Mark. Seriously, Bill, what were you thinkin'? Three Stars?! You're getting senile, I think.

Checking in I was going to give you a break. I overlooked the broken sign lights and the non-working parking gate, but once inside ... that's when the real fun happened.

The room key system was down. I got checked in, but then had to be escorted to me room by security so they could let me in. Maybe that's not the worst thing, but others needed to get to their rooms too, so we had to wait. And wait. And wait.

Within 5 seconds of entry into my room, I spotted something that did belong to me ... or the hotel. Bill, I kid you not, there was a single dirty sock slung over the left armrest of the office chair. Yours after a hard night of drinking, I presume, Shat-man?

And the beds. There were two of them. One looked nice, but the other, Bill -- I could've sworn I could still see your arm hanging out from underneath the covers.  I checked - you weren't there. It was just messy.

I unpacked my stuff and headed for the bathroom. WHOA, BILL. Aim to please, please. Or at the very least, take a seat. I mean, sheesh, did you get ANY in the pot? It sure smells like you didn't!

I had to get out of this joint before I got sick, so I left the inn and did some exploring. I had a nice time, but when I returned, again, I had to endure the wait.

At least, Shat, you had the courtesy to leave me one comfortable bed and a working alarm clock, but, please, next time before you do this to me, Bill, at least buy me dinner first.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Paul McCartney -- Out There in Milwaukee

A few thoughts on Paul McCartney's 2013 "Out There" tour stop at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin...

It took me nearly 35 years, but roughly 10 years ago I irrevocably became a fan of The Beatles. It was due to an anniversary celebration of the release of Rubber Soul. Numerous contemporary artists cut a track-for-track tribute of Rubber Soul and were being interviewed on NPR. One artist, Rhett Miller -- the frontman for the Old 97's -- talked about how significant that album was to him and how he still regularly enjoyed listening to it

It got me thinking ... I don't know The Beatles' work linearly. Up to that point, I just knew their muddled mass of work as one jumbled entity. I didn't know if I Wanna Hold Your Hand was on the same album as Revolution #9.

So I started squarely in the middle: I bought a copy of Rubber Soul and fell in love with it. It may have been 35 years old, but it sounded fresh and surprisingly modern to me.

Rubber Soul was the album that diverted The Beatles off their always-writing-songs-that-contain-the-words-Love-and-You trajectory.

I followed with Revolver and then continued to procure albums in the order they released them until Let It Be - their last.

That was a GREAT way to learn and appreciate The Beatles -- who recorded ALL of that wonderful music in a span less than 9 years!

I didn't have a favorite Beatle; they all played a role in giving them a sound and style that was uniquely "The Beatles." However, after 46 years on this planet, it's hard to deny that one Beatle's footprint is bigger than any others': the catchy, hummable and instantly recognizable tunefulness of the music produced by Paul McCartney.

So it was with great eagerness that I went into his stadium-sized concert at Milwaukee's Miller Park with 45,000 others. I was going to see a man knighted by the Queen of England, a man noted as the wealthiest musician in the world, a man who wrote the riffs that I practiced for hours on end with my guitar, a man credited with writing the most played song in the history of recorded music (Yesterday), a man who has inspired anybody who is anybody in music today.

I was going to see a Beatle. Or as my pal Tony said it, "I am going to see a fucking Beatle!"

But here's the thing: despite all those great reasons to see a Paul McCartney show, what struck me most was his very visible virtuosity. I guess I knew it was there all along, but somehow I had forgotten that gift he had for being able to play nearly any instrument and make it look easy.

Watching the legend on the big screen and stage, I was captivated by his talent the way I would be if I was watching a one-legged unicycler juggle chain saws while balancing a toaster on her nose.  Despite the fame, wealth, sweltering heat and 45,000 person crowd, at the heart of it all was Paul McCartney's music and incredible ability.

Guitar, bass, piano, ukulele and, of course, his great voice - he makes it appear effortless.

Plus, he made it appear effortless for THREE hours and never took a drink of water! (He probably took a little sip at the first encore, which was at least two and a half hours in.) Seventy-one or twenty-one, that's one hell of a feat!!

So with that said and a day's reflection passed, I'd have to say that was the best concert I have ever attended. It wasn't inexpensive, but in no way do I feel cheated out of even a single penny. In fact, if he came back to Miller Park next week, I'd gladly fork over the dough to na, na, na, na, Hey Jude with Sir Paul once again.

Concert rating: 5 Hofner basses out of 5.

P.S. It didn't hurt that Live and Let Die was the most bombastic, loud and visually assaulting song I have ever seen performed in concert either. ;)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Rockin' to New Politics at Summerfest

Photo from New Politic's website
Looking at the Summerfest schedule, there's always bands you know and bands you don't know. Yesterday
we attended the show of a band we don't know and, damn, was it fun!

Entering the midgate for our first Summerfest experience of 2013, my wife and I veered left. The first stage that we encountered live music at was the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage. There, the band Tristen was just finishing their last song.

As they played their last note and pleaded fans to come meet them at the "merch" tent, the skies opened up and it poured buckets of rain. We faded back to the beer stand and took cover under a small umbrella and a  tiny overhang.

As we sipped our beer and looked out at the downpour, we spied a hundred or so young fans rush the U.S. Cellular Stage to get a good view for the next band. I fumbled with my phone to find out who the next band was.

"Hmm. New Politics. Never heard of 'em," I thought. "But they sure have a committed group of young fans to stand in the rain like that."

When the rain lightened up, we wandered the over to the new Johnson Controls World Sound Stage. There was nice rain protection at this stage, but frankly, it was crowded and African drum music just wasn't cutting it for me. After a few minutes, I said to my wife, "Let's go find out what's so good about New Politics that would make all those kids wait in the pouring rain."

Once we made it to the furthest bench away from the stage, we sensed it immediately: NEW POLITICS
Kay rocks in the rain
to New Politics
ROCKED! Oh man, they rocked hard. We were old enough to be most of these kids' parents, but that didn't prevent us from moving up one bench at a time to get a better view throughout the next rockin' hour.

We had never heard any of these songs before, but by show's end our voices were hoarse from singalongs and our arms were tired from the waving, clapping and one-armed alligator chomping. This 3-piece band out of Denmark really knows how to put on a show, and within their act, I could sense the influence of so many bands before them: U2, The Cult, Nirvana and rap music in general are all part of their eclectic swirl of rhythm, melody and presence.

When the show was over and we were exchanging our "Wow. Can you believe how good that was?!" commentaries, we encountered a fellow much older than us in a rain poncho. This man, I'd put him in his mid 60s, said to us, "Those kids sure know how to rock!" and we did a fist bump.

That, my friends, is precisely why I love Summerfest.

Check out this song from New Politics. If I understand correctly from the lead singer, it is currently #5 on the Alternative Singles chart. I haven't looked it up to see if it was true or not, but the video sure is cool!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Exploding Toilet Story

Please note: Read no further if you still wish to respect me in the morning. Thank you. 

The day started well enough. Lake Michigan was like glass as we glided over its smooth surface aboard the Lake Express high-speed ferry. I was on my way to a business meeting near Grand Rapids, Michigan, departing Milwaukee on the 6 a.m.

The ferry ported and when I disembarked I had a little less than 2 hours until my meeting--more than enough time to make way towards a Muskegon area Starbucks, enjoy a cup of coffee, check some emails and properly prepare for a meeting of an undetermined length, if you know what I mean. (Long distance runners, you KNOW what I mean.)

Starbucks found, I paid no attention to the municipal utility vehicles parked in the street out front as I pulled into the parking lot. I parked my rental, grabbed my briefcase and made a beeline for the Men's room. Within, I set my briefcase in the corner furthest from the commode and prepared to answer Mother Nature's call.

No sooner had I relinquished control of those physiological faculties that separate adult humans from infants, I felt water on my backside. My first thought was that this toilet must have an automatic flush and somehow I had triggered it.

"Oh oh," I thought. "Let's hope it's nothing too, um, violent."

Five seconds after that thought, water sprung forth by the gallon between my legs and shot across to the opposite side of the restroom wall. I'm not sure if I was ejected from the pot or instinctively tightened my muscles and popped off of it, but a second later, I stood in the corner of the room, pants at ankle level, protecting my briefcase from the muddy spray bursting forth.

It was happening: the American business traveler's worst nightmare.

I watched in horror as the raging beast continued to blast excrement against the walls and floors. In fact, with such great force that even the ceiling became moistened. I was trapped in perpetuity in a 6' x 6' tiled room that was raining organic waste collected from the fine folks of Fruitport Township, Michigan.

When you're stuck in that position, you can never be quite certain how much time is passing. After what I'm guessing was most of two minutes, Ol' Faithful had finally subsided. Now to collect myself and figure out what to do. Some details are better left unwritten, but there was still a working sink and soap dispenser, so that seemed a good place to start.

I cleaned up the best I could and returned my trousers to their upright position causing a sensation that I hope never to feel again: sewage water drenched pants and shirt against my bare legs and back.

I knew the path from the restroom door was short, and there was only one table nearby. My goal was to get outside as deftly as possible, but also grab the attention of an employee and let them know that we had a situation here.

As luck would have it, the table nearest the door was hosting a meeting of three employees. I darted past and asked "You guys work here?" One fellow said "Yes," and I summoned him to join me outside.

He gave me a look that I'll remember for the rest of my life. It was one of those "What kind of a nut is this?" looks.

As I explained what had happened to me "in there," he continued to look at me with doubting suspicion, but he did ask what he could do to help.

I said, "Well, I came here to get a coffee. How 'bout we start with that?"

"Certainly," he said and went in to retrieve my drink.

I can only imagine what he said to the other employees in those ensuing moments. I bet they still talk about it today! (Remember that one time when a customer was trapped in a poop fountain in our restroom? Ha ha ha!)

A moment after he returned with my coffee, another employee popped out of the door and said, "It happened in the Women's room, too! And now the water is running into the restaurant from underneath the door!"

Thank you, women's restroom plumbing situation, for verifying that my story was true and proving that I wasn't just some clod who plugged the Men's room toilet and made of a mess of myself in effort to get a free coffee.

Now fully realizing the situation, the Starbucks team was nothing but commendable. They pointed across the parking lot to a shopping mall where I could buy some new clothes. If I did so, I could return with the receipt and they would fully reimburse me. As I put my stuff into the car and headed over to Younkers, I could see the manager head over to the utility workers in the street to find out just what the heck was going on.

Over at Younkers I explained the situation after I picked out some new under garments, a shirt and slacks. The lady who helped me was great, too. She cleared my items of pins and stickers and hung them on a rack where she expertly steamed them. When I walked out, I looked like a million bucks. Well, a million and $71 actually, because $71 was the price of my new threads.

Back at Starbucks they promptly reimbursed me and we had a bit of a chuckle over it. The manager said the utility worker said, "Gee, I've never heard of that happening before!" In addition to buying my new clothes, they gave me a few coupons for free coffees.

That was really great of Starbucks. It really wasn't their fault, but they went out of the way to help a traveling customer trapped in a most unfortunate situation. The Younkers attendant, too, was wonderful.

So how's that for an traveler's story? My new clothes are nice, but I'd prefer never to have had to buy them in that manner!

Related: I wrote the above a few days ago, but today I received a call from Fruitport Township's Utilities Manager expressing his sincere apologies for the unfortunate incident. He said that the next time I'm in Fruitport, I should give him a ring and lunch is on Fruitport. That's very nice.

Related II: No major harm was done and looking back at this nearly 2-week old story, I find it pretty darn funny. What would you do in the same situation?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Nothing Like a Tall Cool Glass of Wing Sauce

Nearly every morning, on my way to work, I drive past this sign in front of Milwaukee's Harley Davidson Museum. The sign does its job well: it advertises a product, event or service and attracts potential customers. And me, being a lover of things both spicy and brewed, found this particular advertisement of interest.

Sriracha (aka "Rooster sauce")?  Check. I love that fiery red flame-thrower of a condiment. Known to make even a old shoe with cheese on it palatable. (For more on Rooster Sauce, visit The Oatmeal's hilarious blog.)

Stout? Not only my alma mater (as in UW-Stout), but one of my favorite combinations of barley, water, hops and yeast.

Mix 'em together and it's got to be a pretty tasty concoction, no?

So one night after work, I visited the bar and with intrigue, I ordered a Sriracha Stout.

The bartender looks at me and says "Do you want a dozen or half-dozen?"

"Whoa there Mr. Bartender," I say. "I appreciate your assessment of my ability to hold my beer, but I've got an automobile to drive home!"

In reply, he says "That's a wing sauce, sir. You ordered a condiment. Our Sriracha Stout wing sauce was the winner in this year's WingFest." (Judge's Choice:

Duh. Do I feel stupid. But it's not my fault, right? I mean, you can see the sign -- does it say anything about wings?!

So I ordered a Booyah by Milwaukee Brewing Co. and was left only to ponder how delicious a Sriracha Stout would be.


Related: One of my beer-brewing friends, get on this, will ya? ;)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chordie Amore

As a basement singer/guitar player, besides my guitar and voice, one other resource has become vital to my basement jam sesssions: Chordie, as in -- guitar tabs, guitar chords and lyrics.

One of my favorite things about Chordie versus any other tab/lyrics site is randomness. They allow users to make their own collection of songbooks. Those songbooks, should the user choose, are available to be used and perused by the general public. That's what I do during my basement sessions: click on the 'Public songbooks' and experiment away with songs from a multitude of generations.

For example, writing this, I just emerged from the basement where I toyed around with the following songs:

"Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers

"Name" by the Goo Goo Dolls

"Drift Away" by Dobie Gray

"That's Amore" by Dean Martin

Maybe "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Drift Away" overlap in style a little bit, but "Name" and "That's Amore" ... not so much.

The fun I have poking around Chordie also highlights one of my biggest playing/practicing bad habits: not sticking to and learning one song thoroughly from end to end. I bore quickly and Chordie makes it possible for me to find a new song.

If you're a player, check out Chordie and have some fun.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

These Are Some Stellar Raisins

Has it really been nearly two years since Death of a Salesman at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater? After attending that production I wrote a blog titled Death of a Theater Phobia. My blog described how I had soured on live theater after attending a number of performances that had me checking my watch and counting the minutes until the show was over (I'm blaming musicals), but Salessman was so expertly acted and riveting that I had no idea how long I sat in the theater. It could have been 20 minutes or 200 -- time stood still as I watched the ticking human time bomb, Willy Loman.

Last night my wife and I went to see the iconic Raisin in the Sun at the Quadracci Powerhouse. It was equally powerful.

Going in, I had no idea what the play was about. As the day of the show grew nearer, I resisted temptation to read a synopsis of the story, and when I navigated to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's website to check the exact showtime, I guided my eyes only to the schedule to avoid seeing too much of the story.

It's rather embarrassing that I was so naive of a story that has been played out in countless American theaters and silver screens -- the latter starring Oscar winner Sidney Portier as irascible dreamer Walter Lee Younger.

But my persistence to remain ignorant paid off. Walking into the Powerhouse, neither my wife nor I had a clue of what about we were about to see. We were about to be blown away.

The play was two hours and 55 minutes long with an intermission about halfway through. Much like Salesman, time flew by. The moments before intermission reached a crescendo and when the houselights were turned on, my eyes were watery from emotion and all I could do was look over at my wife and say, "Wow."

After a short break we settled back into our seats for the second half. The next hour and 15 minutes went by in a blink. I was riveted. My heart pounded as the story came to its emotional climax when Walter finally becomes the man that his mother always believed was within him.

And speaking of mother, Lena Younger played by Greta Oglesby was a showstopper. She was amazing. When the show ended and the players came out to take their bows, I could hardly wait until Ms. Oglesby appeared. I was already standing and clapping enthusiastically when she did, but how does one show the love when everyone else is clapping and standing too?

When I was 6 or 7, my Grandpa Collins taught me to take my two pinky fingers and curl over my tongue and blow. When done correctly, it makes a piercing noise like the whistle atop the ill-fated locomotive Old 97. To experienced theatergoers, us whistle blowers are probably as uncouth and annoying as the guys who always yell "IN THE HOLE!" during televised golf tournaments.

No matter.

When Greta appeared, I inhaled deeply, properly placed my pinkies between my curled-lip covered teeth and exhaled with great force. I may have been in the second row from the back, but I'm quite certain Ms. Oglesby could feel the love, as my siren whistle took the curls right out of the lady's hair in front of me.

Ms. Oglesby's performance was worth every decibel. The whole casts' was.

Raisin in the Sun runs through April 14th. I highly suggest you go. It's a wonderful performance. Just hopefully you're not sitting in front of some obnoxious whistle-blower at show's end. ;)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Crazy St. Patrick's Day Fact

Back in the early 80s, a song hit the northern Wisconsin album rock airwaves (WAPL - The Rockin' Apple!) that I really enjoyed. It was simple hard rock with a captivating lead guitar riff.

Twenty-plus years later, that riff has remained stuck in my head even though I had not heard it in at least two decades. Thank goodness for the Internet, as I was easily able to navigate my browser to rediscover this rockin' metal track.

Here it is, "Say What You Will" by Fastway starring "Fast" Eddie Clark Clarke on guitar and Dave King on vocals:

Unfortunately the original music video for the song is not available for embedding, but if you wish to see it, it's viewable on myspace (that's right, myspace!).

You might be wondering, "Okay, Mike. That's a swell Hair Metal riff, but where are you goin' with this?"

Fair question.

Many years later in my life I took a liking to Celtic rock music -- the Pogues being the Godfather of the style, but a nod to the late, great Thin Lizzy must be given too. Others that received popular acclaim include Flogging Molly, The Tossers, Dropkick Murphys, The Young Dubliners, Black 47, The Killdares, The Drovers and Jackdaw, and Seven Nations (Scottish). Of those, I've been a particularly fond of the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly.

In fact, I have been listening to Flogging Molly since their second album "Drunken Lullabys" was released in 2002, but nearly the whole time I was completely unaware  that there was something that should have sounded familiar to me. That thing was Flogging Molly's lead singer's voice. That voice belongs to Dave King -- the former lead singer of Fastway 20 years earlier!

Now, in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, enjoy this great Irish drinking song starring Dave King on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. And, as evidenced by his middle finger at the 21st second of the video, the Rock and Roll spirit is still alive in Mr. King!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jury Tales - Part Three - Unlucky #13

A well-dressed jury
If you've read my earlier post, Jury Tales - Part Two - Give a Little, you know that I went into jury duty with the expectation that my contribution would be little more than showing up. After all, my last jury service only required me to sit and read magazines all day--never once was my name called over the PA to report.

This time was different. This time I was selected from the general pool to a subset of 30 potential jurors. As we stood on our selection  numbers (I was 23, Jordan!), we entered the courtroom in the order that we were selected. The judge gave us instructions to, in numerical order, give our name, marital status, children (if any), occupation, spouse's occupation, and some other stuff.

We were given a brief on the trial that was to be presented to us if were one of the 13 selected from the pool of 30.

First the prosecuting attorney's turn.

Second, the defense's.

I could tell by some of the questions and jurors' answers that the pool was rapidly dwindling down to roughly 20 potential candidates. In some cases people were just too kooky to serve or, in others, too close to law enforcement (i.e. married to an officer, etc.).

I thought for sure I was going to add my name to the list of discarded candidates when I raised my hand to the defense attorney's question, "Does anybody here think that my client is guilty of something?"

I was one of about 4 or 5 that raised my hand. When asked why I raised my hand, I replied, "You've listed a significant number of serious charges against the individual. Surely he committed some sort of grave offense or he would not be here."

Actually, that's not totally true. A fellow juror said that, but that was my thought exactly and I really replied, "What he said."

After the Q & A, we were asked to return to the jury room. It was a little like being in the "stew room" on Top Chef, with all of us wondering who would be selected to serve.

The Bailiff retrieved us back into the courtroom. The judge instructed us "Please stand when I say your name."

This had me wondering: was he going to say 13 or 17 names? If 13, those called would serve. If 17, those not called would serve.

From the lowest juror number to the highest, he began saying names, "Dennis, Sue, Marvin, Marrietta, David, Matt, ..."

The whole time I am counting on my fingers. He says juror 12's name and the next word out of his mouth is "and..."

And. That means the names called are the jury. Those not called are going home.





The moment seems to stop and my heart is pounding. The last juror called was still in the upper 10s, meaning there were at least 10 of us to select from. What are the odds? One in ten? I'd take those odds.





"...the 13th juror is Mike Collins."

It's me. I'm number 13. A whole range of questions comes in to my mind. What about work? Will we be sequestered? How long will this take? Days or weeks? What is about to happen? For a moment I feel like Peeta Mellark must have felt when he was selected as Tribute to participate in the 74th annual Hunger Games.

All I'll say at this point is what followed was a few of the most emotionally draining days of my life. I may post more about my service, but never fully about the case--that would take way too long.

Selected. Me. Unlucky #13.

Jury Tales - Part Two - Give a Little

Roughly 15 years ago I was summoned for jury service. At that time, I reported on the required morning, read magazines all day and then was told to call the next morning to see if I my services would be required again.

They weren't.

Summoned again in 2013, I fully expected this jury duty service to be similar to my service from the 90s.

It wasn't. Not even a little.

Collecting ALL the Stickers!
But some of what made it different was entirely my doing.

Monday morning, at the initial jury pool assemblage, John Barrett, Milwaukee County's elected Clerk of Circuit Court, explained the rules and procedures for jury candidates. Near the end of his instruction, he added that we should approach him with any ideas that we have to make our time in the jury pool more productive or enjoyable. He said a person approached him 8 years ago and suggested, "We are here all day with little to do. Why don't you arrange the opportunity for jury pool members to donate blood while they are waiting?"

Thus a great public service tradition was born. Every Monday for the last 8 years, the Blood Center of Wisconsin has been bringing their mobile unit to the Milwaukee County Courthouse and collecting this life-sustaining human motor oil.

Following Mr. Barrett was a representative from the Blood Center. I cannot remember her name, but she gave an impassioned plea for donation.  By the time she was done, I would've donated a gallon right on the spot.

Embarrassingly, I have never donated before, but I recall my many times in the NICU at Children's Hospital seeing my nephews and niece require transfusions. I knew then that donating was the right thing to do and my opportunity to give would never be more convenient than while whiling away the hours waiting for jury selection.

So I finally decided to give a half-pint. The opportunity was too convenient not to. I'm one of those who darn near faints at the thought of a needle going into my arm. I always will be. So I approached my apprehension with more of a game-like mentality: conquer my fear; beat my foe.

I recently read a few stories that one never really lives a fulfilled life unless they face their fears and challenge them. Like, if you  have a fear of public speaking, the best thing to do is get out there and speak publicly. My blood-giving challenge was similar: overcome my irrational fear of having a needle stuck in my arm. I call my fear "irrational," because I saw 2-pound babies have multiple tubes, needles and sensors penetrate their epidermis, dermis and hypodermis frequently -- if they can do it, any fear a 46-year old healthy person would have is clearly irrational.

I let myself become subservient to the process: questionnaires, waiting, the finger prick and the blood pressure test. The latter which reveals that I had better see a doctor soon. My blood pressure, it's not low; it never is. In fact, at first my pressure was too high. They would not allow me to give blood unless my pressure readings descended. The nurse gave me 5 minutes to relax and take some deep breaths. After 5, she took it again and fortunately it had come down enough for me to proceed with my donation.

Finally they led me to a portable cot. Again, a few questions about my allergies to iodine, if I had any. With no allergies to report, the nurse turned over my left arm and said, "Woowee! We like them veins!"

I'm not sure if this is the worst thing she could have said or the best. To the former point, this made me think of my veins and a needle penetrating them, which gave me the willies and nervous sweats all the more. To the latter point, it cracked me up. I mean really cracked me up. With my nerves jittery already, a little humor made me laugh like a Henny Youngman one-liner.

While I was still laughing, she quickly inserted her appliances and before I had a chance to Instagram a picture of the process, she had collected her pint. (Note: a small benefit of high blood pressure is I donate faster than the average guy.)

Simple. Painless. Much different than the other times I've lost a half-pint of blood - which typically occurred with blunt severity and in far less sanitary conditions. (Oh, State Colleges of Wisconsin.)

Thank you to the person who suggested this idea to Mr. Barrett 8 years ago. I think it was a great one and I appreciate the opportunity to finally not have had a reason not to give. Having finally donated, I will do my best to make a commitment to do this at least a few times per year.

I also appreciated the Otis Spunkmeyer muffin and tomato juice chaser. (Free lunch!)

Save lives. Donate blood. If I can do it, anybody can.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Jury Tales - Part One - Ice Breaker

A quick story from my recent jury service...

After we--13 complete and anonymous strangers--were selected from a subsample set of 30 candidates, we sat around a rectangular office table in the jury deliberation room is complete silence. Each of us wondering, "What's next?"

The only thing that could be heard was the light tapping of thumbs on mobile touchscreens and, occasionally, the heavy, deep sigh of exasperation.

The quietness stifling, I broke the ice:

A grasshopper walks into a bar. 

The bartender says, "Hey, we've a drink named after you here." 

The grasshopper replies, "You've got a drink named Steve?!"

And three days later, my peers elected me Presiding Juror.