Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Yayhoos in Wapakoneta

Ever since the mighty Slobberbone broke up, I've been searching for my next favorite rock band. Some of the members of Slobberbone formed The Drams, and while I love the album and the show I caught in Minneapolis, it's not the same...they're not doing pure, unadultuerated rock anymore. The race has kind of been a toss-up between the Drive-By Truckers, Grand Champeen, and Two Cow Garage. I never expected The Yayhoos to be in the running, but after seeing them this Saturday, I'm having to put them into consideration.

When I found out that The Yayhoos were playing in Wapakoneta, I made immediate plans to go see them...mostly because I like the bar so much. Rhythm and Brews in Wapak is perhaps my favorite venue to see a rock show ever. The bar itself, first off, is a classic. It is a great roadhouse...but clean, neat, and orderly. They have a good menu and serve a very nice pizza. They have a friendly staff. They have a trough made out of galvanized steel, a pvc pipe, and a screwdriver in the men's room. My wife says the bar reminds her of a clean Urban Cowboy, but without the bull or Stetsons.

Wapak also boasts the best rock crowds I've seen. The audience for the show in Minneapolis had (for the most part) only mildly polite applause, and the crowd all looked bored. The shows I've seen in Detroit mostly consisted of people incessantly discussing their weekend plans and only playing scant attention to the bands. Cleveland crowds, while very appreciative, are a little too "hipster" for my taste. Ann Arbor crowds boast too many college students trying to be hippies, and that can get really annoying.

Wapak, on the other hand, is mostly 50-something farmers and factory workers. But they really love their bands and know all the material by heart. They are loud. They are appreciative. They are boisterous. And they make going to see a band really fun.

Opening the show was some very wirey, 15 year old-looking singer/songwriter wannabe named Wil Cope. His songs were all good, but he was just very one dimensional...everything had the same tempo, same picking pattern, and it all sounded very forlorn. He was okay, but I was amazed at how badly he marketed himself. He only said his name one time, and he only alluded to the fact that he had cds available for sale...maybe he doesn't need the money, but he struck me as someone who was trying too hard to be an "artiste."

The Yayhoos brought it like nothing I've seen in a while. They were loud. Every member was great, had wonderful stage presence. And they played and played...we got two hour-plus sets and two encores. Some highlights:

  • cover songs. We got (of course) "Dancing Queen," but we also got an impromtu jam leading into "Love Train" and Roscoe singing "You Were Always On My Mind."
  • virtuoso musicianship. Roscoe Ambel started doing great slide guitar with a Sam Adams bottle. However, the surprise of the night, musicianship-wise, was Keith Christopher. Why didn't anyone tell me he was such a monster? He took bass solos...and they rocked AND fit into the songs. When he took over Dan Baird's guitar for "For Crying Out Loud," he just ripped through a blazing solo that made the rest of the band just sorta blink.
  • dancing girls for "Dancing Queen"...from the audience (no, the band didn't bring their own)
  • tons of material from both albums.

Before playing "Baby, I Love You," Roscoe told of their last time through. That time, when they were doing their 4pm soundcheck, a man and woman came in who were apparently celebrating their anniversary...but during the 15 minute break they had between split shifts at different factories. Apparently, the couple requested a slow song, the band played "Baby, I Love You," and the couple slow-danced...and that dance apparently bordered on conjugal visit territory.

Halfway through the second set, some sick bastard puked in the men's room trough, clogged up the drain, and it flooded out the bathroom floor...not being able to use the rest room for about 30 minutes put a little bit of a damper on the set, especially since I'd been drinking a number of High Lifes, but the brave (yet disgusted) bar staff managed to get it cleaned up before anything dangerous happened.

Although there were only about seventy people in the crowd, the yelling and stomping pulled the band out for two encores, including a rousing "I Love You, Period"...which was apparently the last song they'll play together on this tour...I guess Steve Earle must be calling Roscoe or something.

It's too cliched to say I felt "rocked-out," but it was one of the best rock shows I've ever seen. The Yayhoos were ultimately much better than I would've guessed. They are tremendously fun, they were very talented, and they worked together beautifully. I don't think they're my favorite rock band (the albums aren't as consistent as was the band live), but I would go see these guys again in a heartbeat.

It was raining for the 1 1/2 hour drive home, and it hasn't stopped since, but that's just not depressing me...I still have a slightly manic grin, even though the ringing in the ears has died down...a little.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

the semester is here

I'm at the end of the first week of Fall semester. It's been quite an adjustment, especially coming from the hedonistic no schedule days of summer.

First off? I now know what day of the week it is...without thinking! While those who've been doing the standard 9 to 5 might not find this extraordinary, those of us lucky enough to get the full summer off realize that, when you remove someone from all deadlines, time becomes very fluid. In the summer, I never had a clue what day it was...or for that matter, what week or month it was.

I am also getting used to being an authority figure again. I've got to exercise my booming "teacher" voice. I've had to keep people's attention for over two hours. I've had to funnel cacaphonous conversation back toward whatever point I was trying to make. I've had to do the hardass "if you don't like working, drop the class" bit (which I am good at, although I am nowhere near my old History prof. Dr. Prousis in this regard).

I'm doing two comp ones and two comp one with workshops. All the students seem pretty good...they're not afraid to talk, which is always a plus. I'd much rather put up with students who can't shut up or are prone to open rebellion than deal with a silent group. So their conversational prowess bodes well.

I actually get my hands on technology in the classroom. After three years of teaching in tech-free dives, I have two classes in computer-mediated classrooms and one class in a brand-new refinished building (which comes with an instructor computer and projector). I am using powerpoint for the first time ever. I already have a pile of grading sitting in my inbox.

The most important thing, however, is that I am back to discipline. Ever summer, I have grandiose visions of doing tons of writing, but it always falls through...I need a schedule, and having to be in the office x number of hours a week tends to focus me a little bit...that, plus being away from the TiVo. So, now I am sure I will do some writing. I'm already doing conference prep. I also have plans to return e-mails to the 6 or 7 people to whom I owe. Plus, I have papers coming in next week...so expect more posts to this blog, as I seem to use it as a grading break.

Post #200, by the way...thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

final on the road for Minnesota trip

Excuse me if I bust out my last observations all together.

The return to the twin cities, from the great northern wilderness, was fairly uneventful...but being back in civilization after so much peace was weird. Personally, I found myself disturbed by how disturbed I was...being a city boy myself.

Friday night was The Drams. For those of you not familiar, when my favorite band of all time, Slobberbone, broke up, one member became a Florida high school teacher...the rest of the band formed The Drams. It's a little less jagged, a bit more melodic, and still very good.

They played the 400 Bar in Minneapolis, and I took my ex-roomie. A good show, by any standards. They started out with a Band cover, played most of the album, threw in one token Slobberbone song. Met with singer Brent Best afterwards, and he's as nice of a guy as ever....we talked about Wapakoneta.

I met some Twin Cities members of the Postcard from Hell contingent (including Lauren, with her "Ryan Adams is no Brent Best" t-shirt), but only at the end of the night...and despite making plans to meet some of them the next night, were never able to hook up again.

Went to the Mall of America, hoping to at least get some good photos. For those of you unfamiliar, the Mall of America is this gargantuan four story shopping mall built on the site of the old Metropolital Stadium, where the Vikings used to play (outdoors, in Minnesota winters, no less). It's so big, it holds its own amusement park (complete with two roller coasters), aquarium, and museum (currently NASCAR).

You think that with a mall that has 4.2 million square feet of space and over 520 stores, there would be something notable and weird to see. Wrong. Instead of having interesting, unique shops, it has five Starbucks, three Gaps, ten pretzel stands, four Carribou Coffees...and a whole bunch more generic crap. The only really photo-worthy element was the very cool Lego store, which currently has a dinosaur garden...and they're all made out of legos, as is the Boba Fett. Oh well.

After eating meals around the state of Minnesota, I have discovered that putting lettuce, tomato, and mayo on a hamburger makes it a California burger...never heard of that one before.

While driving somewhere, we passed a homeless guy begging in front of a "Condos for sale" sign.

We were, for some reason, inside a Target store. The cashier told me that my Hawaiian shirt reminded her of the first time she ever went scuba diving.

We spent one day walking around downtown. I got a photo of the Mary Tyler Moore statue for my strangely obsessed wife, then we headed down to this downtown British pub which had an authentic bowling green on its roof. I drank cider, my ex-roomie had a Bass, and we ate the appetizer platter. About the Scotch egg, my ex-roomie said "I don't think I've ever eaten anything that tastes as fried." We then saw the architecturally beautiful new library building and took some photos of the Grainbelt Bottle Cap sign.

We ended up my visit with a voyage to Porky's, this fifties-esque drive-in in St. Paul. Marvelous shakes, onion rings, home-made fries, and a divine pork tenderloin sandwich. Their sign is very cool, and I was really hoping they'd have some t-shirts with their logo.

Compared to the flight out, the flight back home was very dull. I did find out that the airlines now even charge for their meager packets of trail mix...I still remember flying and getting my choice of breakfasts. The Detroit airport was dull. There was little conversation in the bar, and the only guy who sat near me had a Hooters t-shirt, a copy of FHM, and a NASCAR hat...not someone with whom I was dying to converse. The only thing interesting he did was convince the bartender to give him a to-go cup for his beer.

It was a long (3 1/2 hour) layover, and to amuse myself, I walked the lengths of every concourse. The plane was further delayed becuase, 15 minutes before scheduled takeoff, they decided that the plane was too hot and they needed to run the AC for a while.

And of course, I arrived in Toledo and got to see my beautiful wife. I was away for over ten days, and the longer we were seperated, the more melancholy I got...I don't think I could've survived much more time apart.

Coming soon, the photo-essay!

delays again

School starts next week, so my fun week has been spent putting together a new reading schedule (I was on the book committee and still agreed to a new text...what was I thinking?), updating the syllabi for the move to portfolio grading, updating the WebCT stuff, finding a string of vastly stupid errors in my own work, and attending orientation...so more updates when I return to sanity.

Pray for Mojo.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

on the road post 6--the north country

August 1-2. The day after the move, me and my ex-roomie made our way up to his hometown in northern Minnesota. He's from the area around several small towns/villiages, all of which basically rose up as mining towns. Unfortunately, there have been mine closures, so the towns are in a period of decay. Some mines still operate, and there are also attempts to bring tourism to the area.

On the way up, we decided to check out one of the Indian casinos, so we pulled into Grand Casino Hinkley. There really wasn't too much unusual about the casino...lots of noise, flashing lights, and gambling elderly. The casino (at least the slots) operated entirely on real money...you had to get change to play the machines. When I went to the slot room at the Windsor Raceway, they forced everyone into using tokens...which seems like the smarter route, if your goal is to maximize income. If you're using tokens, you are are apt to disassociate it from real money...and thus spend more.

We weren't really there to gamble...we each did lose about $10 on video poker and slots, but the real thrill was the sociological angle. When I commented to my ex-roomie that I was surprised that there were no actual Indians (no idea if the Ojibwe prefer this or "Native American") working there, he told me that they had probably taken in so much money that they didn't have to work there anymore...which makes sense, seeing the hurry everyone was in to give away their cash. He also claims to have heard white patrons making the unintentionally ironic comment "next thing you know, we'll be working for them" while handing over more money.

The whole Indian casino thing is something I feel a little uneasy with, at any rate. Casinos are specifically designed to strip you from your wallet...and gambling has always seemed like a particularly amoral way to make your living. One could argue that the Ojibwes are just treating the Whites the same way they were treated, but this still smacks of vengeance (even if economic), and this still makes me really wonder if this is the right way for the tribes to go about supporting themselves...but the alternative is the crushing poverty most suffered through before, so it's a hard question.

So we left the moral ambiguities at the casino, stopped at the local Hinkley MN landmark bakery (can't remember the name) for some of their famous 3" thick caramel rolls, and headed north. After passing a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed gas station (fallen into disrepair, unfortunately) and a stop at an IGA for some sausages to grill and a bottle shop (what some Minnesotans call their liquor stores) for some Hamms and Schmidt beer (the latter was called "Animal Beer" because the cans had pictures of fish, deer, or other game on them) to drink, we then went to my ex-roomie's parents's cabin.

When we got to the cabin, we met my ex-roomie's mom, who immediately (1) offered us use of her fishing pole and tackle, and (2) gave us a big hunk of smoked salmon...two things that I could never see my own mother doing. We cooked our sausage and drank beer. We also got to meet my ex-roomie's cousins, who were both fun guys. Some of my favorite quotes from our conversations:

  • "I'd tell you stories, but I'm 16, and I'm not supposed to have stories yet."
  • "I don't know what made me think of this...probably the concept of drunk people."
  • "This guy was so big, light bent around him."

The next day, we went to the Soudan Underground Mine State Park, which is an ex-US Steel mine that the state has turned into a tourist attraction. It was open for over 80 years and was incredibly safe...for that kind of place. The tour took you down over 2,000 feet, to the mine's 27th level. Afterward, we hit this area which used to be an open-pit mine. You normally think of such things as environmental eyesores. This, however, was quite nice. The areas where they dumped the rubble had taken on trees, the pits had filled with water, and the whole thing looked like a mini-Grand Canyon...entirely artificial.

We did a few other touristy things, including visiting the World's Largest Hockey Stick and the currently closed US Hockey Hall of Fame, both of which are (for some reason) in Eveleth, MN. We then went back to the cabin, where my ex-roomie's parents joined us for a dinner of various grilled deer sausages and pickles before taking a boat ride around the lake. The next day, before leaving, my ex-roomie took me on a tour of some of his old haunts and then showed me his family's hunting shack, which he said was his favorite place on earth.

The whole northern voyage was incredibly calming, and it was a fun, welcome break from the Twin Cities...I can't wait to go back.

on the road post 5

(note: halfway through this trip, I lost my internet connection after my former roomie, with whom I was staying, moved to another place...so the remainder of these posts are from my notes)

July 31...Moving day hell. Of course, it got up to 103, there was no wind, and we had to move relatively swiftly. Rather than a full list of trials, some higlights include:

  • lots of Gatorade and such consumed. We had a gallon jug of the premix, two 32 ouncers, a fifteen pack of 20 ouncers, all on top of tons of water. I still felt dehydrated and zoney. We had to work in short bursts before collapsing in rest.
  • A nice neighborhood to move into. When we were unloading stuff in the backyard, I found a used syringe. Wee. Later, my ex-roomie told me that him and his now current roomie were in the neighborhood a few weeks before and saw one gentleman puling what looked like an Uzi on another gentleman. Hopefully my ex-roomie and his new roomie survive long enough to benefit from the lower rent.
  • a Hello Kitty toilet seat...wonder how long that one will take to get replaced.
  • Of course, utter, sheer exhaustion. My ex-roomie's new roomie offered me a beer, but I was too drained to take advantage ("I've become everything that I hate!"). Thankfully, me and my ex-roomie had a trip to the north country planned for the next day, and that promised to be good recoup time.