As the title of this post implies - Merry Christmas from Chicago!
We didn't have any family obligations for Christmas, nor did we have any of our kids showing up for the day. I found a great deal at the Hilton Garden Inn in the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago and we went in for a few days.
We did a little shopping, but not much. We ate some great food. We walked around a lot as the weather was very nice for the end of December. And we took in our customary Christmas Eve movie.
Even though there was no snow to speak of, Chicago at Christmas time is still one of the neatest experiences one can have. Here's a picture of Santa Claus and reindeer made out of Lego's outside of the Lego store at the North Bridge shopping mall near our hotel. I'll have more pictures and reports in the coming days.
One of the biggest complaints I've received from people who read "Road Tips" is that it's difficult to find a post on a restaurant, hotel or attraction for a given city or area. I've been fighting with this dilemma for quite sometime, given that I have a lot of entries regarding restaurants or burger joints or pizza place from all over the Midwest and beyond.
In talking with Dr. Gary Gaffney, who writes the highly entertaining Steroid Nation blog, I wondered how he was able to have multiple categories listed for his posts. He showed me how (with a couple of hiccups along the way) to use multiple categories within a post.
You'll notice on posts from the last few weeks I've added separate categories for given areas that I travel to frequently. For a restaurant, hotel, attraction, etc. that I write about in, say, the St. Louis area, I'll put it under the category that I'm writing about, plus the "St. Louis Area" category. That way, if you're going to St. Louis sometime, you can look into the St. Louis category instead of going through all the restaurants I have listed in that category to find a place you may want to try.
By far and away, the largest new category will be the Chicago Area listings. I may have to re-think that as I begin to go back and change the category listings for my earlier posts. I may have to do one category that just has Chicago area restaurants listed, and the other Chicago attractions and hotels listed in the Chicago Area category.
I continue to receive feedback from many of you who like the fact that I try to add a little background history on many of the places that I visit. And I thank you for that because I believe it adds much more to the story of the visit than a basic "great place, great food" review can turn into.
In the coming weeks, I'm looking to add a category that I've been contemplating and working on for quite some time called something along the lines of "Restaurant Remembrances". It's not going to be like my "Rest in Peace" category (which I've woefully neglected recently), but rather a category where I'll talk about great restaurants that I've eaten in long ago that are still around today.
There's an age old expression here in Iowa that basically says, "If you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes."
It's not quite that extreme, but it can be close.
Since the day before Thanksgiving, we enjoyed eight straight days of 60 degree weather here in the Quad Cities. It was absolutely beautiful. Some of our plants were starting to come back to life, it was so nice.
We got some timely rains, as well. We got about an inch of rain on Monday night, followed by an inch of rain on Wednesday night. Actually, the front that brought the rain on Wednesday evening also brought cold weather.
A strong low pressure system formed in Oklahoma earlier this week and quickly came up from the southwest. With it, it brought heavy snow and the coldest temperatures since last February. Temperatures that were in the 60's on Tuesday (above left) were over 40 degrees colder forty-eight hours later (above right).
Knowing that the weather was going to change rather quickly, I took this picture of our backyard on Tuesday afternoon. Look at how green everything still is, especially with the warm temperatures and the rain we'd had lately.
Here's the backyard on Friday afternoon after the snowstorm dumped nearly 8 inches of snow on us overnight. Actually, Cindy woke up at 3 a.m. and looked out the window - which woke me up. I got up and noticed that we only had about an inch of snow on the ground, but it was coming down pretty good.
Around 6 a.m., Cindy got up to go to work early and I went out to shovel a path to the garage (all of about 10 feet). It had snowed about 5 to 6 inches in the three hours since I first looked out the window.
Here's a picture of the front of the house on Tuesday (left).
And 72 hours later, here's what the front of the house looks like (right).
We haven't had a lot of big snowfalls over the past couple of years. Cindy bought a snowblower while I was in Las Vegas a couple years ago and I think we used it once or twice that winter. Last winter, I don't think we used the snowblower after January 15. It was used heavily this morning.
Officially, we received 8.3 inches of snow in the Quad Cities, but amounts were tremendously less just to the west of town, and tremendously higher farther to the east. My friend, Tom Kakert, lives in Blue Grass - about 10 miles to the west of Davenport (see map) - and he told me this morning that they got "two inches, maybe three".
But in Princeton, IL - 60 miles to the east of the Quad Cities (see map) - they got 19.2 inches. It was a helluva storm.
Although I do like the first snowfall of the year, I get real tired of snow after the Christmas holiday. Warm weather can't get here fast enough for me when January rolls around.
I don't care much for turkey. Never have. And we don't have turkey at our house for Thanxgiving.
Thanks to a useless piece of information that I learned from a quiz sent to me by Steve Somermeyer, our household is one of the 10% in the United States that does not have turkey for Thanxgiving dinner.
Actually, I'm kind of proud of that.
We bought a 5.5 lb chunk of beef tenderloin a couple days ago and I marinated it for about 36 hours in a concoction of Worcestershire sauce, liquid hickory smoke, garlic powder and cracked black pepper. I cooked it on our large Weber grill - with indirect heat - for 1 hour and 20 minutes at around 375 degrees.
I could have taken it off 15 to 20 minutes prior. It was a tad overdone. But it was still very good, very tender and very flavorful. Along with a bottle of the 2000 Chalk Hill Merlot, it was still a killer meal.
And I'm heading for a piece of pumpkin pie as soon as I hit the "send" button...
One year ago today, I dove into the world of blogging. I didn't exactly know which direction I was going with this blog, but as time went on it sort of figured things out for itself.
Initially, I had a nice number of readers - about 40 to 45 a day. Things settled down to about 20 to 25 hits a day - which, I'm told, isn't too bad for a start up blog site.
During the summer, things slowed down to an average of 10 to 15 hits a day and I began to question whether or not I wanted to continue with the blog. But I like to write and it's a nice little hobby. And I've got some positive feedback from people, many of whom e-mailed me with suggestions of places to go for this or that.
With the fall upon us, I'm back to averaging about 25 to 30 individual hits a day and it seems to be growing. One day last month, I got about 71 hits with 125 page views. Then about 10 days later, I had 83 hits with 142 page views. Last Wednesday, I had 65 hits with 109 page hits. Someone must have found the site and passed it on. I don't actively promote the site and choose to use the "word of mouth" way of promotion. It must be working.
Considering that many of you told me that you look in a couple times a week to see what I've written, I figure I have about 100 to 125 people who regularly read my blog. Not quite the number of hits some of the huge blogs have, but I'm happy with that number for now.
Monday's my biggest hit day, with most people checking in between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. But it's also interesting of the number of people who look in between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. each day.
My biggest hit for individual posts continues to be the Fonda Dicks story, while my dissertation on Bose Loudspeakers has been my second most read post. And both by a long way.
"Restaurants" is my most read category. Interestingly enough, "Tales of Jane" is my second most read category, even though I haven't written about Jane in months. For the fans of Jane, I'm sort of sorry that she moved into a care home. As I always said, she was great entertainment.
"Audio/Video Info" is a close third most read category. I need to add some info to that category as I guess a lot of people check that category for new info on what's hot in the home entertainment industry.
"Fun Pictures" is my most looked at category in the Photo Album page, although "Iowa State Fair" and "Busch Stadium - 2006" aren't far behind. Interestingly enough, my pictures of my afternoon in Paris last spring have had the least amount of hits.
As the blog grew, I had to upgrade my service, so I'm going to keep going for the time being. I have too much invested in this in time and internet fees to quit now.
One thing the blog has made me do is to get out of my "comfort zone" in some cities. I don't think people would like to hear me talk about the same restaurants time after time, so I've purposely sought out some restaurants, bars, burger joints, etc. to write about. It's definitely broadened both my horizons and my waistline.
I'm toying with re-working some of the categories - especially the "Restaurants" category - to make them a little more info friendly. About the biggest complaint I get is, as the restaurant category has grown it's difficult to look through all the reviews to see a review on a restaurant in a given city, such as Chicago, St. Louis or where ever.
All in all, it's been a good time talking about the places, restaurants and experiences I've taken in over the past year or so. It's helped me pass the time in lonely hotel rooms, it's been a minor bit of consternation to my wife (who puts up with my writing on some evenings at home), and it's allowed me to meet new people and reconnect with old friends who've looked in.
Thanks for reading and keep those suggestions coming in!
Fall came to the Quad Cities last Friday night and it's always a bittersweet moment for me. I love summer, I love the growing season, I love to see the plants that we put in the ground in May become beautiful plants come September.
I took some pictures of our landscaping work earlier this year and it's kind of interesting to look back at what it was and what it has become.
Here's a picture of our rose garden just after we had the landscaping bricks put in back in May.
Here's what it looks like today (right). Cindy planted a bunch of marigolds in with the roses and they just took off. I don't know if I've ever seen marigolds so big and full. And the roses are going nuts, as well.
Here's the east side of the house back in May (left). Looks pretty barren, but full of possibilities.
Here's the side of the house today (right). Check out the window box. It just grew and grew and grew. We get a lot of complements from the neighbors when they go walking by, saying that their eyes are always drawn to the east side of the house.
Our petunias in May (left), and the petunias today (below). They were actually a little more full a month or so ago. I'm going to have to plant more blue ones next year.
I didn't take a picture of our tomato plants back when we planted them in May, but I had to show you these. These are two Better Boy tomato plants that have just grown out of control. It's just crazy. They're actually hiding a cherry tomato plant and a green pepper plant. Suffice to say, we haven't had many peppers this year. Next year, I think I'm going to plant one Better Boy tomato plant and a cherry tomato plant. That's it.
Here's my parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme from May (left). And here it is today. And I've cut back some of the sage and parsley a couple of times this year. The thyme didn't do so well, but I had some thyme growing out behind the garage from last year that came back.
The front of the house did pretty well this year. The window boxes grew exceptionally well. And our wild roses under our picture window did very well.
Here's the back berm after we had the landscape brick put in last May. Cindy planted a bunch of annual flowers along the base and it turned out like this (right).
Here's our basket of impatiens hanging outside our bedroom window.
The impatiens and the other flowers attracted a lot of bees, butterflies and, finally, some hummingbirds. We were kind of worried as we didn't see any hummingbirds until about mid-August. Then we'd see two darting about the yard, chasing one another (hummingbirds are pretty aggressive for as small as they are). Here's one feeding on the honeysuckle along our back fence row.
And I couldn't get out of here without some shots of our roses from this year.
Winter's coming and it bums me out that all the flowers and plants won't be around much longer. But I hope you got an idea as to what we did in our yard this year.
It was 13 years ago today that I walked away from a plane crash.
A lot of people don't know that little fact and I thought I'd tell the story for those of you who didn't know about it.
I was working for a company out of Chesterfield, MO at the time, and the company was headquartered in the Chesterfield Valley next to the Spirit of St. Louis Airport. I began to work with them in June of 1993, right before the height of the Great Flood of that year. The company's office was located about two miles south of the Missouri River and in late July the Army Corps of Engineers told people in the Chesterfield Valley to vacate the area because the levees would be breaking.
My boss at the time, Rod Tolle, was a pilot and had his plane, a Beechcraft Baron, over at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport. The Corps of Engineers told pilots to find another place to park their planes, so Rod had that hassle on top of the moving of files, office equipment, samples and other stuff to a temporary location in St. Peters, MO.
Rod ended up moving his Baron to the Wentzville, MO airport (which is now closed). And after the levee broke the night of July 30th, it flooded the valley with 10 to 14 feet of water (the Corps of Engineers had predicted that it would only go to six to eight feet deep).
During all of this, due to stress and being a diabetic, Rod's blood pressure went through the roof, effectively grounding him from flying by the FAA. Through medication, he was able to control it. However, in order to be reinstated as a pilot, he had to undergo 20 hours of flight time with a flight instructor. This was no problem to Rod - he loved to fly and, besides, the flight instructor was one of his best friends.
Rod and his partner, Craig Andrews, had scheduled a company meeting at Craig's place in Omaha for Sept. 13 and 14. But before that, I had to go to Dallas for a trade show for a few days. Then it would be back in St. Louis for Sunday night, then off to Omaha. Then after the Omaha trip, I would have to stay in St. Louis thru the following weekend to work a promotion at a number of Circuit City stores in the greater St. Louis area.
Now, this was just at the time that Cindy and I first began to date, so I was scheduled to be gone from Sept. 7 thru Sept. 19. I'm telling you, life on the road ain't all that glamorous.
Rod decides that he is going to fly himself, me, our sales manager, Dixon Smart, and one of the office ladies in St. Louis, Judy, up to Omaha for the meetings on Monday morning Sept. 13. The previous Friday, Rod called his mechanic and had him go out to Wentzville to give the Baron a once over and to take it out for a shakedown flight. As the mechanic was flying at 3000 feet near Wentzville, he hit a bald eagle in flight (no shit!) and put a hole in the wing. The plane was grounded by the FAA until the hole got fixed.
Well, it wasn't going to get fixed over the weekend, so Rod was in a panic. He got a hold of his flight instructor/friend and asked if he could rent his Beechcraft Twin Bonanza. The guy told Rod, "Aw, just fill it up with fuel after you get back and we'll call it even."
(An aside - Weiss Airport was sort of a famous destination along the old Route 66, thanks to a number of billboards along the highway between Chicago and Springfield, MO that would advertise "Learn to Fly in 5 Easy Lessons at Weiss Airport, Fenton, MO." Weiss Airport closed in May of 1994 and is now the site of a number of large office buildings.)
The day started out nice and we got into the air around 8 a.m. About 40 miles northwest of St. Louis, we ran into a very strong cold front. We were buffeted about and it was very nerve wracking. Finally, after about 3 hours in the air (we should have been to Omaha in two hours), Rod finally announced that he was going to go to Des Moines and park there, rent a car and drive the rest of the way out. I thought, "Des Moines! That's no where near the flight path!"
Turned out that the headwinds were so strong that we were only going about 90 miles an hour! That's some pretty strong winds aloft!
We landed in Des Moines, rented a van and went to Omaha. After delaying the first day's meeting, we met again on Tuesday, then the St. Louis group left for Des Moines to get in the plane and fly back to Weiss Airport.
The flight back was pretty routine. We were above the clouds and I watched the sun set into the clouds, which was pretty neat to see.
After about an hour and a half, we made out descent into the St. Louis area. About three hours prior, a heavy thunderstorm had come through the area accompanied by a strong cold front pushing the winds out of the northwest at about 20 to 25 miles an hour. Weiss Airport had a runway that ran north and south, so Rod swung the plane around and approached from the south.
Rod was in the pilot's seat, Dixon was in the co-pilot's seat. I was in the jump seat directly behind the pilot, and Judy, who was a rather large lady, was in the big seat in the back of the plane facing me. (The trip the day before was Judy's first flight in a plane - it was one helluva inaugural flight, I'm tellin' ya!).
As we're coming in over a grove of trees, and in the last part of evening light I could see a number of planes parked on either side of the runway at Weiss - a number of which were refugees from the Spirit of St. Louis airport. The runway at Weiss was only about 30 feet wide, making it sort of tight and with little to no margin of error.
As we were on our final approach, I could feel the wind rock the plane to the right a little bit. Rod was fighting the wind all the way down. I just turned around, took a deep breath and sat there waiting to get on the ground.
Suddenly, I felt a large thud, then a couple more. My body was being thrown from right to left and back again. It happened so quickly that I really didn't know what was going on.
We ground to a halt and I noticed that we were on fire on the left side of the plane. I figured that we had a hard landing and ruptured a tank on the wing. I heard Rod yelling, "Get out, Judy! Get out!" I helped Judy out through the front and there was a back emergency door on the left side of the plane. I jumped through that - and right out into the fire.
Now, just to show you how much of a dumbshit I can be from time to time, I stopped for a second and thought, "My briefcase is on that plane." There's a little compartment behind the back seat of the plane where our briefcases were stowed and I almost went back and got them. But looking at the fire raging around the wing area of the plane, I thought better.
I ran around one side of the building and saw Rod running off to call for help. Dixon was holding Judy, who hurt herself in all the excitement. All three were sopping wet. It turned out that when they jumped out of the plane, they went right into a huge puddle of water off the tarmac that had formed when the big thunderstorm had come through earlier.
Fire trucks and ambulances show up soon thereafter. They put out the fire and tended to Judy. I was standing there with Dixon and I was looking out at some planes that were damaged and one case, completely obliterated. I said to Dixon, "What happened to those planes?"
He said, "You don't know, buddy? Hell, we HIT those planes!"
I said, "What?!"
Dixon said, "Yeah, we hit those planes. Hell, if they wouldn't have stopped us like they did, we were headed right for that hanger. Hitting those planes may have saved our lives!"
I turned around and looked at this white building our damaged plane was sitting next to, not any more than 10 feet away. I said, "Wow!"
We were quiet for a second, watching all the commotion, and I finally turned to Dixon and said, "Do we fly much in this company?"
To this day, when Dixon and I see each other and reminisce about the crash, he always brings that up.
They took Judy to the hospital and took us to the St. Louis County Police Department facility in Fenton to wait for an FAA official to show up to interview us. On the way in the back of a squad car, we must have passed four or five taverns and/or liquor stores. I was PLEADING with the officer to stop and let me get a six pack. He wouldn't do it. Fun hater...
While we were at the police station, they allowed us to call our family to let them know we were OK. Well, hell, I called EVERYBODY whose number I could remember off the top of my head (remember, my address book was in my briefcase on the plane - not damaged or lost, as it turned out).
Cindy was first (she thought I was kidding her), then I called my dad, then other people in my family. Then I started calling friends and I must have run up a healthy bill courtesy of the St. Louis County Police Department.
They had us in there from about 9 p.m. to around 1 a.m. (the FAA official never showed up). They let us go and I had to go to a hotel room for the night - not exactly what I wanted to do in that time and place in my life.
The next day, we had to go out to Weiss Airport and talk with the FAA investigator. I stopped and got a disposable camera. While Rod was in talking to the investigator, Dixon and I were out snapping pictures of the wreckage.
The daylight really showed the havoc we created on our landing. One plane, a two-seat trainer, was completely decapitated and de-tailed; another plane was a twisted mess; and a third plane had a hole in the fuselage near the engine. Our plane was just sitting there with a large burn mark on the left wing and engine.
Now, I took a bunch of pictures that day and I had them with me for a number of years because word spread that I was in a plane crash and everyone wanted to know the story. I had the pictures in my briefcase and would bring them out when the story was brought up by dealers, other reps, friends, etc.
Late last week, I went to look for them to scan them to add to this story - and all but one was gone. I literally tore through my briefcase looking for them, but all I came up with was this one.
This is a picture of the left side of the plane with all the fire damage to the wing and engine. You can kind of see the one plane with the hole in the fuselage in the background, and the mangled mess of the one plane that we really tore up is just off to the side.
Damn! I wonder what happened to those pictures! I really hadn't brought them out for quite some time, so I just figured they were in my briefcase. Oh well, that's sort of an episode in my life that I should try to forget, anyhow.
After we took the pictures, I had to go in and meet with the FAA investigator. I couldn't tell the investigator much of anything. I told him pretty much what I wrote earlier - Rod was having trouble with the crosswind, I turned around and just waited for the plane to land. When the plane hit and stopped, I told him that I thought it was just a hard landing. The FAA investigator - a crotchety old sort - said in an exasperated tone, "Well, you're no help at all!"
For the record, the official FAA finding was that when Rod was coming in for the landing, the strong wind kept pushing him to the right. When he got about 20 feet off the ground, he gunned both engines to go around. (Or as he told the FAA investigator, "I was having so much fun trying to land the plane that I decided to go around and try it again.")
When he gave the engines full throttle, it literally flooded the right engine and it stopped. The left engine remained alive and "corkscrewed" the plane down to the right and into the planes on the ground. Rod's Baron, manufactured in the early 80's, had a system on it that if too much gas was applied via the throttle, it would regulate the flow as to not flood the engine. The Twin Bonanza was built in the 60's and didn't have the fuel regulator device. So the engine was flooded and it quit.
I never did ask Rod how much that little escapade ended up costing. I mean, he thoroughly destroyed two planes and inflicted minor to major damage on two more, including our plane. It had to be a lot of money that Rod's insurance company had to cough up.
All I know is that after looking back at what could have been, I tell people that I've already hit the lottery - life's lottery. I could have very easily been gone 13 years ago.
This picture is called "Wheat stacks - End of Summer" by Claude Monet. It was about the most classy thing I could find to signify the end of summer.
September 1 always brings a melancholy feeling over me. Today is the first day of the meteorological fall. The days area getting shorter and cooler. Crops in the field are beginning to change from a vibrant green to a golden brown. Leaves will soon change and fall.
To me, it's somewhat sad when September 1 comes around. I love summer. I love the hot weather. I love sitting on the deck and eating outside. More than once lately, Cindy has asked, "What happened to our summer? It seems like it just flew by!"
She's right. Where did the summer go?
I do like fall - it's probably my second favorite season. And it is very pretty in the Midwest when the trees and crops change colors. It's football season, it's clear cool nights and days of warm sunshine. The windows are open 24 hours a day.
But soon our roses and flowers will soon be gone when the first frost hits later this month. The wrens and hummingbirds will be going south shortly. The goldfinches will be losing their color. The tomato and herb plants will no longer produce the wonderful food we've gotten from them this year.
I'm not looking forward to the first shot of cold air. And that signifies that winter is just around the corner...
I will admit that I'm not much of an environmentalist. I use charcoal to cook food, I sometimes sweep my grass clippings into the street, and I pollute the air with some wholesome farts from time to time. However, there is an ecological organization based in the Quad Cities that I'm fully in support of - Living Lands and Waters.
Living Lands and Waters was founded by Chad Pregracke, a native of the Quad Cities who literally grew up on the Mississippi River. When he got into his 20's, he decided that he needed to start cleaning up the river "one piece of garbage at a time."
Pregracke has boundless amounts of energy and is always upbeat when it comes to talking about cleaning up the river banks. I've worked a couple of events where he either spoke at or used as an "awareness" event and you would swear the guy is drinking 15 pots of coffee a day or taking loads of amphetamines. But he's just that way. He is a bundle of high energy. He is adamant about cleaning up America's rivers.
And they need it - people throw out things like tires, refrigerators, water heaters and other old things that most landfills won't take without the person paying a fee. And they usually throw them out along a river. Pregracke realized that no one was doing anything to clean up the junk along the banks of the Mississippi River and he started to clean up the river by himself in a small boat - one piece of garbage at a time.
Over the years, he has grown into a non-profit organization of full-time workers and local volunteers. He has won numerous awards and citations for his efforts to clean up river banks across the nation. He has secured a number of annual donations from large corporations so that he now has a small tugboat and four barges to store the scrap garbage that he and his crew collects.
Recently, Living Lands and Waters conducted a clean-up around the Quad Cities area and Pregracke's tug and barges were docked along the river bank near our house. I wanted to go down and see what kind of crap they'd been pulling out of the river.
It was unbelievable to see the amount of tires, tire rims, old appliances, barrels and other large pieces of discarded refuse that people just went to the river bank and dumped.
Not only do people throw out appliances and garbage, but a number of signs end up in the river or along the banks. Here's some of the signs Pregracke's crew have picked up over the years that are attached to the living quarters aboard one of the barges.
And Pregracke tries to make it fun and whimsical when they're cleaning up the river banks. Check out his tug boat and the colorful artwork painted on the side.
Pregracke and his crew spend about 10 months on the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois and Potomac rivers cleaning up the river and riverbanks. When he's not spearheading clean up efforts, he's hosting educational seminars on the effects of dumping junk in and along the rivers of America.
My hat is off to Chad Pregracke. He's doing a thankless job and people are STILL dumping refuse along the rivers. But I have nothing but admiration for his work.
It's always good to get back home from a vacation, but it's also tough to get back into the daily grind. Cindy was having a little trouble this morning, but I'm still on vacation thru Wednesday. She's not too happy about that.
Our vacation took us to Kansas City (a place that I'd been to many times - but never really explored - and a place that Cindy had never been to); to the Northwest Arkansas Ozark area (a place that neither of us had been to before); and a quick stop outside of Columbia, MO to see our good friends, Dave and Teri Haack.
We rolled in about 6:45 last evening and started to unpack the car. We took a nice stroll around the yard to look at our plants and flowers, and took notice that the yard should have been mowed two or three days prior. We had over an inch of rain in the gage. But I figure that some of it could have evaporated out, so that was nice to see.
I'm downloading pictures this morning and will post some of them in the Photo Album section soon. I've gotten behind on some posts and need to catch up, so that will be happening in the next day or two.
But, as I said, I'm still on vacation so I'm not moving too quickly this morning...
That's (sorta) the opening line in a song from Milwaukee, Wisconsin troubador Pat McCurdy who hilariously tells the musical story of going on vacation with his family in the 60's. And how his dad needed a drink in Davenport, IA on a Sunday night. But Davenport, at the time, had a blue law in place and he couldn't get the drink. It drove his dad nuts. Funny stuff.
Anyway, we've been on vacation for the past few days and the lack of posts on my blog site is a direct order from my wife. We're driving and dining and seeing and doing and having a wonderful time. Special thanx to Scott and Marcia Schroeder who are house-sitting for us while we're gone.
We'll be back next week and I promise to post tons of information in the coming days on places we've been, places we've ate and things we've seen.
Or if I can sneak something in while Cindy isn't paying attention, I'll do that, as well...
The dog days of summer are in full bloom with temperatures across the Midwest in the upper 90's into the lower 100's for the past few days. And we're supposed to have a couple more days of hot, humid weather before the temps are supposed to break later this week.
The Wells Fargo Street Festival suffered the most during this last weekend - attendance was way down from where it was the last few years. One of the biggest sellers at the fest are the butterfly pork chop sandwiches sold by the Davenport Kiwanis chapter. I was told they sold 3000 less sandwiches than they budgeted for. That's a lot of food that went unsold.
Usually, I like this weather. But it was just too brutally hot to be hanging out on the street on Friday and Saturday. It literally zapped my will to live a couple of times.
At 4 p.m. on Saturday, I was told by one of the Davenport cops that he looked at the thermometer hanging on the north side of the one of the vendors trailers and it read 103. The humidity was about 55% at the time which would have made the heat index about 134 degrees. Unbelievable.
I drank a lot of water and Gatorade, I figured I drank about 6 liters of water and 2 liters of Gatorade on Friday alone. I had my first beer around 6 p.m. on Friday evening and it didn't even taste good.
And it affected the bands, too. No one came out to see the bands in the middle of the afternoon on Friday. And the energy of the bands that played all throughout the fest was very low. It just wasn't any fun for anyone.
Last year when Wicked Liz and the Bellyswirls played on Saturday night, it was packed from in front of the stage back to the beer tent. This year, there were pockets of people and holes in the crowd. And walking through the crowd was no problem.
Here's a picture of Liz Treiber from Wicked Liz at last year's Street Fest taken from the stage - it wasn't any where close to being that packed this year.
Our air conditioner at home is running non-stop. Low temperatures have been around 78 to 80 degrees at night with humidity levels in the 90 percent range. It's just sticky and uncomfortable.
But, I know I'll be wishing it was 95 with 50% humidity when a cold blast with snow comes down from Canada in January.
Andy Ihnatko is a Boston-based techno-geek who is a writer for MacWorld magazine, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, and a person who just loves how technology has evolved and loves to speculate as to where it's going. But he's not afraid to trash a few people and corporations along the way. You can find his "Complete Waste of Bandwidth" web site here; and you can find his blog "Yellowtext" here.
He recently had a column in the Sun-Times that skewered bloggers of all types. Actually, I think that all bloggers are writing for ego stroking. Personally, I like to write and I like to see that people are reading what I've written.
Whereas a number of blogs that I read are more cerebral than mine - discussing world affairs, politics, and current events - I want to keep mine light and fun.
Initially, I had about 30 to 35 people hitting my blog site a day, with each person doing at least two to three page views. Now I'm down to about 15 to 20 people looking in daily - which, I've found, is still pretty damn good for most bloggers. Not everyone looks at my page each day, I've been told by some of you that you like to look in once a week or so. And that's fine. As long as someone keeps looking in and thinking what I'm writing is worth the time to read it, I'll keep my blog up.
But I won't go to the lengths that some bloggers have gone to promote their sites. I've got a number of friends and business colleagues who don't even know I have a blog site. I guess I'm not that big of a self-promoter. So I read Andy's recent column in the Sun-Times with great interest and had a good chuckle along the way. At least, I don't think I hit many of the stereotypes he points out regarding most bloggers.
But, then again, maybe I do. Read Andy Ihnatko's column on bloggers from the Sun-Times here and see for yourself.
On June 29, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the legislation that became the Federal Aid-Highway Act. The new law was enacted to initially build approximately 20,000 miles of an Interstate highway system that would link a number of Army bases across America. The number of miles planned would soon double to over 40,000 miles of uniform highways that would accommodate both military and civilian traffic.
As someone who travels for work - and travels 98% of the time by car - today's anniversary didn't go unnoticed by yours truly. On a trip into Chicago on Interstate 80 today, I passed a stretch of highway along the interstate around the 87 mile marker near Ottawa, IL that served as the first test road for the Interstate system. I should have stopped the car, got out and gave thanks.
Actually, the first Interstate to open is a stretch of Interstate 70 that I used to travel quite frequently on when I worked for a company just outside of St. Louis. In 1956, the state of Missouri was the first to award a construction contract for a stretch of road outside of St. Louis near St. Charles, MO. Within weeks, paving began and the first stretch of what turned out to be Interstate 70 opened before the end of the year. Here's a picture of a sign along I-70 that recognizes that stretch of road.
A number of newspaper articles have marked the 50th anniversary of the Interstate system, including a recent article in the Chicago Tribune. Actually, had I not read something about the Interstate system turning 50, I wouldn't have known about it. And I'm certain that the vast majority of people traveling on Interstates across the nation today had no idea that the law to begin the Interstate system was signed 50 years ago today.
Today, the biggest problem the Interstate road systems face is an over-used and over-taxed infrastructure. Many of the Interstates built in the late 50's and into the 60's were designed to last for just 20 to 25 years, and to handle a lot less traffic than what is on it today.
Anyone who has traveled the Interstates over the past few years have seen an incredible increase in traffic, and an incredible increase in the amount of bad pavement. States (with 90% financial help from the federal government) have patched, resurfaced or rebuilt Interstates in some areas. Interstate 80 across Iowa has been nearly completely rebuilt over the past few years. But that's the exception rather than the norm with most Interstates across the nation.
Still, the Interstate highway system is the backbone of commerce across the nation. It's closed the travel gap between points and allowed people to go literally from New York to California without once hitting a traffic light (except getting off the Interstate on exit ramps to get gas). It may seem trivial to some, but it's certainly an important part of everyone's life. A lot more people should be thankful for the Interstate system.
I'm certainly thankful when I get on the Interstate, hit the accelerator and set the cruise control at 75...
A few people are always interested in what we do for our landscaping each year. We actually go a little nuts on planting of flowers and the like. This year was no exception. I thought we'd share some of the results with you.
Actually, we hired a young guy, Kyle Dolen, to come over and lay some decorative stone around the back half of our big maple tree in front of our house, and to lay the same stone around the front, side and back corner of our house. He did this the day that I flew to France. While Cindy was sitting on the deck watching him do this, she got to looking out at our berm along the back part of our back yard, and at the rose garden next to our garage. She thought, "I'm going to have him do the berm, too."
Through some crappy weather and working around Kyle's full time schedule, he finally finished the stone work about two weeks ago. It turned out very nice. He's a hard worker and does great work.
We've added a tree (a pink dogwood), some rose bushes (we had something like 18 big rose bushes, but we lost 5 over the winter), and, of course, flowers, plants and hostas.
The plants and flowers up underneath the maple tree in front of our house have always had trouble growing. With the amount of shade the tree has, plus the large amount of water it takes out of the ground, we've never had much luck growing stuff. Cindy tried nothing but begonias one year. Over $100 worth of begonias. About 1000 gallons of water later, we started to pull them out. Cindy decided that she plant nothing but perennials that work well in shade under there. So far, it's been the right decision.
To see the work and the results from our landscaping efforts this spring, check out the Photo Album and look at the pictures in the "Landscaping - Spring 2006" folder.
I was born at on April 27, 1956 at 12:47 a.m. at Skiff Memorial Hospital in Newton, IA. There were tornado warnings that night and I believe the hospital was on emergency generator power when I was born. My uncle, Jack, told my dad, "If the weather is any indication, this kid is going to be hell on earth."
I was told back in March that I would be spending my 50th birthday in France on a business trip. I wasn't too happy about that. My wife was even less happy - she had been planning a big surprise party on the 29th. And she wasn't happy that she wouldn't go with me. Believe me - Saint-Etienne is not one of the those destination cities that you'd think about going to in France.
Since I was born at 12:47 a.m., that would have made it 7:47 a.m. in France. I woke up that morning at 7:00 a.m. and started to get ready for the day. At about 7:45, I sat down at the end of the bed and waited for the clock to hit 7:47 a.m. When it did, a number of thoughts and emotions went through me. I thought about how I missed my parents (my mom died nearly 20 years ago, my father about 2 1/2 years ago), about how I missed Cindy, about how I missed the kids, the rest of my family and my friends.
I thought about the things I did or didn't do over the past 50 years, the things I accomplished and didn't accomplish, and wondered where in the hell the time went. I got a little tear in my eye, took a couple of deeps breaths, composed myself and got up and went for a nice little walk along the streets of Saint-Etienne.
My colleagues knew it was my birthday and I got the normal salutations. But that was pretty much it for the day. And I liked it that way. No one was making a fuss, no one was making a big deal.
That evening, the top 20 Focal distributors from around the world made it to Saint-Etienne and they threw a big dinner at the hotel. Honestly, the food sucked - well, it was OK, but it wasn't what I would have picked for my 50th birthday dinner.
I was seated at a table with Dominic Baker, my colleagues John Bevier and Ian McArthur, the distributors from Portugal and the distributors from Norway. I turned to John and I said, "Man, no offense, but this is one of the last places I want to be on my 50th birthday." He fully understood.
The evening was pretty low key. The Portuguese guys were nice, but didn't understand English very well. The people from Norway - a husband and wife - spoke impeccible English. And they were kind of fun. We had the guys from the United Kingdom come by our table and talk with us for awhile. They're fun people, as well.
About 10:30, I saw my boss, Daniel, get up and go over and talk with the head waiter. Then he walked over toward our table. Suddenly, the lights dimmed and Daniel said, "Can I have everyone's attention, please?"
I said, "Oh, no! Oh, shit!"
Daniel said, "Tonight is a very special night for one our guys from America. It's his 50th birthday. He's a big guy and he's got an equally big heart. I want everyone to wish Will Veber a happy birthday!"
Oh, man! I was so frigging embarrassed. Daniel came over and gave me a hug while the whole room - about 85 people - sang "Happy Birthday" (well, at least those who knew the words to "Happy Birthday" - there were people there from China, Russia, the Ukraine and other Eastern Countries). As he was hugging me I said, "Well, if I couldn't be home with my wife on my 50th birthday, I'm glad I'm here with you guys."
And they brought me out this little cake with this sort of shooting sparkler thing on it with a single candle. Here I am blowing out the candle.
After all the hubris died down, Jacque Mahal, the founder and main guy for Focal, came over to me and said, "Will! How old are you?"
I said, "I'm 50, Jacque."
He got this surprised look on his face and said, "50?! Oh, my! I didn't think you're that old!"
I said, "Jacque, I'll take the surprised expression on your face as a complement."
Here's Jacque just after the surprised expression went away. I wished that they would have gotten the surprise on his face when I told him I was 50.
The guy from Norway said, "I would have never guessed you were 50. I would have thought, maybe, early 40's. You have such a full head of hair for a 50 year old."
I feel good about that because I get that all the time. When I tell people that I'm either getting ready to turn 50 or have turned 50, there's always an incredulous verbal or bodily expression that follows.
After the dinner was over, we retired to the bar and I had a few Scotch's with my colleagues and some of the other distributors. It was a good birthday, but it just wasn't as good as being home with my wife, family and friends. It wasn't what I envisioned my 50th birthday being.
A happy 11th wedding anniversary to my lovely wife, Cindy. Actually, I'm kind of wondering where the time has gone. We have a lot of fun together and time has just flown over the past 11 years. This is a picture I took of her just after I told her that I was giving up drinking.
I'm back from an 8 day business trip to France. Our main importer, Focal Loudspeakers, had their top worldwide distributors come to Saint-Etienne (see map) for their annual distributors meeting. However, they wanted the North American regional sales managers (of which I'm one) to come a few days early to get trained on new products that will be hitting the market later this summer.
Unfortunately, there wasn't too much time to do sight seeing. We did walk around the old city of Lyon for a couple of hours a week ago Sunday. And we did get to walk around the Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Left Bank area along the Seine in Paris for a couple hours last Saturday. But for the most part it was strictly a business trip.
When I told people that I would be going to France - especially during my birthday - everyone seemed to be thrilled for me and showed some signs of envy, whether it was real or mock envy. But I kept telling everyone that Saint-Etienne, a very industrial city in the Rhone-Alpes area of SE France, is not a destination one would like to go to in France. "But it's still France," people exclaimed. Seriously, it's like going to Cedar Rapids only the city is a lot older and it tougher to get around in.
My sister-in-law, Anita, told me before I left, "People don't realize that business trips are not vacations. They're grueling and take a lot out of you. They are certainly over-rated."
And she's absolutely right. Monday thru Friday last week meant getting up at 6:30 or 7, breakfast with the group (12 of us from the U.S. and Canada), meetings, demos, factory tours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dinner at 8 and that would usually last until 11 p.m., at the earliest.
And the food went from very good to pretty bad. It's difficult to serve prepared meals off the menu for groups of 14 or more people, which is what we had nearly every night in France. Most of the night meals were at restaurants where Focal had negotiated a pre-selected menu and price. I don't remember some of the food being that bad on my previous visit to France. Then again, we had a much smaller group when I went before.
Still, it was France which is a beautiful country full of history. The stereotype of the French people being snobbish and rude is something that is completely overblown. It's a nice place to visit and I'll tell you, if I ever hit a mega lottery in my life, Cindy and I will own a small villa in the south of France along the Cote d'Azur.
But it is nice to be home. The travel to and from France is somewhat tedious. I'm downloading pictures right now and will be sharing with you some of my impressions of the trip, the restaurants we ate at, the wine we drank, the hotels we stayed at, and the sights (albeit limited) we took in.
And actually, the picture at the top of this post is something I found on the internet. Here's the closest I got to the Eiffel Tower on this trip. This was taken last Saturday from a bridge over the Seine looking Northwest toward the Eiffel Tower.
Wow! I was in Paris two days ago. The miracles of modern travel. As I settled into bed with Cindy last night after I got home, I laid there for a second and said, "Geez, I woke up in Paris this morning..."
But, yes, once again - it sure is nice to be home.
I'll be away from a computer for a few days and won't be able to post for the next week. I promise the blog will continue on or about May 1. So hang tight and I guarantee that I'll have some good stuff to talk about (and show you) when I get back.
A large tornado hit the Iowa City area last Thusday evening, April 13. Thankfully, there were no lives lost and only about 30 injuries were reported. But the devastation is unbelievable. From the pictures I've seen and the reports I've heard, the damage is widespread from the downtown area to the northeast side of Iowa City. (Photo courtesy of Cedar Rapids Gazette)
The University of Iowa was spared a large portion of the damage. The Cambus barn (see map) lost its roof, but the buildings on the Pentacrest area around the Old Capitol had little damage to them. However, due to the extensive damage to the area east of campus - which houses a number of students - classes were canceled the following day.
The hardest hit area was just on the east side of downtown Iowa City and to the residential area just to the east of that. Our daughter, Sara, lives on Burlington St. and it so happened that the tornado just missed her place, but damaged a number of homes and businesses to her north and east. This is a picture taken by Marcia Schroeder as Scott and her were in Iowa City the following day to be with their son, Greg.
It turned out that Sara was in Cedar Rapids when the storm hit, and she went back to Iowa City that evening to make sure that everything was OK. She had a large chunk of metal in her parking spot and she told me it was all she and a friend could do to move it out of the way. The only damage she could see (other than having no power for about 20 hours) was that the windows rattled so hard that the sprayed on texture on the drywall around the windows came off.
The intersection of Gilbert and Burlington was hard hit (Sara lives 1 1/2 blocks to the east of that intersection). A pizza place, a convenience store and the Iowa City Rec Center all sustained heavy damage. The law offices of Randy Larson, a guy I've known for years, was also heavily damaged. The picture to the right, one of Randy's assistants carries files out of the building. (Photo courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Gazette)
One of the most hard hit buildings was St. Patrick's Cathedral on the south side of the downtown area. There were 75 people inside the church when the tornado hit. They sought refuge in the rectory next to the church (photo by Marcia Schroeder). It's not known at this time if the church will have to be razed or if they can salvage the basic foundation of the building.
The Alpha Chi Omega house at the corner of Washington and Governor was also heavily damaged. About 35 members of the sorority lived in the house. (Photo by Marcia Schroeder) Well, not any longer. They were moved to an old fraternity that was closed a couple of years ago.
One of the most high profile buildings in Iowa City, the Dairy Queen on Riverside Dr. was also wiped out. Here's a picture of a before and after shot of the Dairy Queen that was sent to me. The Dairy Queen stood there for 54 years and the owners fully intend to rebuild.
Here's a shot Marcia Schroeder took of three cars under a tree behind the Pentacrest Apartments on Burlington St. Scott and Marcia's son, Greg, lives in the Pentacrest Apartments, but there was little to no damage to them (in fact, Greg was in Davenport with his parents when the storm hit).
All in all, storm damage to Iowa City will be probably well into 8 figures before everything is totaled up. Iowa City Police initially set the estimated damages at $3 million dollars. However, my friend, Al Kern, who works for WSUI in Iowa City, was told by the owner of the Honda automobile dealership in Iowa City that his business, alone, suffered about $2 million dollars in damage.
Looking at all the pictures people have sent me along with the news reports I've seen, it's difficult to imagine that no one was killed or seriously hurt in the tornado.
A Happy Birthday greeting today to my oldest sister and the matriarch of our immediate family, Nancy Geiger, who is hitting a milestone birthday this year. I'm not going to say which one, but it's getting up there.
Nan and I have always joked that we're the only "true" brother and sister of the family because we were so much alike growing up. I sort of broke out and took a left turn when I hit 16, whereas Nan has stayed pretty much stayed on the same course.
I'll be hitting a milestone birthday later this month, too. And I'm not ready to admit to it, yet...
Today is the first full day of spring and a major snow storm is hitting the Midwest. We're sort of lucky here in the Quad Cities as we're getting flurries, but it's cold enough that it's sticking on the ground. Just south of here, not more than about 25 miles, schools are closed, the wind is whipping the snow. It's not good.
They say we may get an inch of snow on the ground here before it's over and I'm hoping that it's the last big snow of the year (we always get one last "big one" before the weather starts to change for the better). We may have dodged a bullet, but it's going to be cold the rest of the week. So much for spring for the time being.
On the good side - Major League Baseball's season opens in less than two weeks. That's always a sure sign of spring.
We had an amazingly dry 2005. Total precipitation in the Quad City area was something like 40% of normal. Our water bill for the summertime was unbelievable - I think for a three-month period I paid around $200. But we have so many plants and flowers that it had to be done or all that money would have been down the drain - literally.
The forecast for this last week was rain, with some areas receiving some pretty significant rainfalls. I set out the rain gauge on Tuesday and I checked it on Saturday - we had received 1.45 inches of rain through the week.
Yesterday afternoon, we got another .30 of an inch, but they were saying more rain was on the way. About 7:30 last night, it just cut loose. About 8:15, it let up enough and I went outside to check the rain gauge. In about 45 minutes we got a whopping 2.15 inches of rain! It was raining so hard that the gutters couldn't keep up. We had a little trickle of water in our basement, so we had to deal with that.
Given that our sump pump hasn't been working since last spring (it works - it just hasn't had to), Cindy was kind of worried about that, but I knew it would be fine. And it was.
After we went to bed, another storm came through and dumped ANOTHER 1.2 inches of rain on us. So, yesterday we received about 3.6 inches of rain. Add to the earlier amount we received through the week, we've gotten a tad over 5 inches of rain since last Tuesday. We needed it and honestly, we could use more.
The amazing thing is how green the grass got overnight. I also noticed that some of Cindy's daffodils are coming up already. Plus a couple of the rose bushes I looked at this morning have some green at the ground line, too.
I'm hoping it's an early spring, but this is Iowa. The temps the rest of the week are going to struggle to get out of the 30's. And you can almost bet there will be one more big snowstorm before it's all over.
A moment of silence for one of the greatest character actors of my generation - Don Knotts. Knotts died in Beverly Hills late Friday evening of pulmonary and respiratory failure brought on by lung cancer. He was 81.
As a big fan of the Andy Griffith Show, I felt when Knotts left the series after the 1964-65 season the show was never the same. Andy Griffith, himself, conceded the show lost much of its comedic luster after Knotts' departure.
Every city I've lived in has unique characters that aren't quite with it upstairs. Some are lovable, some are just downright village idiots. This guy is somewhere in between.
"Smiley" has been a fixture in Iowa City for years and years. I first met Smiley when I was going to school in the early 80's at the University of Iowa.
Now, his real name is Gary Bloore and he's nicknamed Smiley because his facial features make it appear that he's smiling all the time. Smiley grew up outside of Maquoketa and I believe he was working in food service at the university.
What made Smileyunique - well, there were a lot of things. First of all, he was never without his Kodak Instamatic camera, taking pictures of pretty girls all over Iowa City. Smiley also wore tons of buttons with girls pictures on them - ones that he had taken.
He would wear shirts or hats that would say, "I (heart) Suzy Jones" or whoever he had met and fell in love with that particular week. In his coat pocket, he'd have dozens of pictures that he'd recently taken. The next week you'd see him, he'd have a different shirt and hat on with the name of a different girl he was in love with. But the best part is that he'd have a couple three dozen NEW pictures of girls in his pocket.
Smiley also was omnipresent. He was every where. You'd see him at games in Iowa City. He'd be in the mall up in Cedar Rapids. He'd be sighted at the Miss Iowa pageant in Davenport. One year, I saw him at a boys basketball state tournament game in Des Moines. For a guy who didn't drive, he sure got around.
But Smiley was a "horn-dog" - one can almost imagine the thousands of pictures he has in his apartment of the pretty coeds he's taken over the years. Man, his film and developing bill has to be in the 4 figures each year.
Some people would make fun of Smiley, but I actually liked to stop and talk to the guy. He was a pretty interesting character, to say the least. He never knew my name, I was, "Hey, buddy!" every time he saw me. And it's the same way today. Of course, to Smiley, everybody's name is "Buddy".
But I had ulterior motives. I liked to look at his pictures of the girls. The guy had a good eye for the women, I'll tell you that. I wanted to get some leads on who he had been looking at lately.
Sometimes I'd recognize a girl whose picture he took. I'd say, "Hey, I know that girl."
Smiley would say, "Really? What's her name?"
If I knew her name, I'd tell him and he'd take out a pad and a pencil out of his other pocket and write down her name. It would probably horrify the girl whose name I was giving to Smiley, but it wasn't like he was a serial rapist. Geez, the guy's only 5'4"! And everybody in town knows him. Had he tried to do something, I'm sure he would have been locked up years ago.
One time, I was dating a girl, Tammy, who was a pretty sharp looking gal, and we were downtown in Iowa City one evening walking around. We ran into Smiley. She was terrified. Tammy said, "Oh, my God! It's that little pervert who takes pictures of all the girls."
I said, "Smiley? Naw, he's harmless. Come on, I'll introduce you to him."
We go over to him and I introduce him to Tammy, and I was giving Smiley a good natured jab at not letting me see some of his pictures. He said, "You've got your girl friend with you. She'd get jealous."
Tammy started to warm up to him. So finally, Smiley said, "I'll take your picture." Well, he wanted Tammy's picture, but Tammy wanted me in the picture, too. So, she clung close to me and through Smiley's objections, he finally took the picture.
About a month later, I'm walking along downtown and I see Smiley. I yell, "Hey, Smiley! What ya got today?"
He came over to me, covered with buttons, wearing a hat that said, "I (heart) Jill Smith" (or whoever), and a shirt that said, "I Love Nancy Jones" (or whoever). I was checking out his buttons and one sort of jumped out at me - it was the picture of Tammy and he painstakingly cut my figure out of the picture and it was just her. God, when I told her about it, she was mortified.
I said, "No, no! Being one of 'Smiley's Girls' is hitting the big time! You ought to be honored!"
For some reason she didn't seem to be.
Here's a picture of Smiley at a football game in Iowa City from a couple years ago. I'd never seen Smiley with a beer before - mainly because he's goofy enough he doesn't need to drink.