She’s Leaving Home

We just got back from another road trip. This one was up to Buffalo to drop Michelle off at college. Yep, she’s a freshman at SUNY at Buffalo, majoring in aerospace engineering. Jeannie and I are officially empty nesters.

The week before was a hectic one, full of Michelle packing and getting organized, and getting ready mentally for a big change in her life. She was mostly looking forward to it, but a little bit nervous too. Lizzy, on the other hand, was psyched to have her sister coming to town. Last Saturday and Sunday it rained all day, so we didn’t have a change to pre-load the car. Monday morning we got up early and the rain stopped just as we started to load in, so it all went pretty smoothly and everything fit.

Monday night Lizzy invited us to join her and her friends for trivia night at a local bar where they have a regular team, because I know all kinds of useless facts. I used to wonder about whether we’re turning into our parents, but she’s already turning into us. I recently asked her what new music I should listen to, and she said she’s listening to alot of classic rock these day cuz it’s always a topic for trivia. Anyway, it was a fun night and downtown Buffalo continues to be hip and trendy. We came in 3rd place, which is much better than they usually do, because I knew things like Alice Cooper’s real name, who the programming language PASCAL was named after, and the height of Mount Everest. We would have done better if they’d listened to Michelle when she correctly identified the Australian flag, instead of guessing New Zealand.

Tuesday we moved Michelle in. It went smoothly enough, except it was unusually hot the whole week we were up there, and her dorm does not have air conditioning. Her rooms is on the third floor, so it was alot of trips up and down the stairs. As we were moving in we met Michelle’s roommate and her family, who are from Long Island, and like Jeannie and me are UB graduates. After we unloaded everything we took Michelle shopping for all the stuff that we didn’t bring up with us. After that we went up to North Tonawanda to meet Lizzy at her work because Michelle was inheriting the fridge we bought for Lizzy when she lived in the dorms. Later that evening we all went out for dinner a burger place on Maple Road.

Wednesday Jeannie and I mostly hung around my parents’ house. We went for an epic walk in the morning, but by the time we returned it was already pretty hot. We had BLT sandwiches for lunch, with fresh tomatoes from their garden. It’s tomato and peaches season right now, and they’re having a bumper crop this year, so we ate lots of both every day. Brought some home too. Yum!

It seems like every time I go on vacation it aligns with a mini-crisis on the Global Jukebox, and this trip was no exception. There was a deadline with lots of last-minute design changes, so I ended up working that day and evening and doing a push to the live site the next morning. I had a chance to practice guitar too, and learned the Beatles song She’s Leaving Home, which Jeannie found very annoying for some reason.

Thursday I went rollerblading in the morning. My parents’ neighborhood is nice and flat, with smooth streets and very little traffic, so it’s perfect. I did two whole laps of the neighborhood, and found one street that was unusually smooth, so I went back and forth on it three times. In the afternoon we visited the Buffalo Museum of Science, which I had not been to for at least thirty years, and had been heavily remodeled. It made a big impression on me as a kid, and I was happy that my three favorite artifacts were still around: the skeletons of a triceratops and and allosaurus, and a giant globe with the ocean floors shown in relief, although they’d all been moved to different halls. There was also a hall of taxidemified animals and anthological stuff, like a mini version of the New York Museum of Natural History. Some of the upper floors were filled with newer, interactive learning exhibits, but it’s really the artifacts that interest me. Oh, and a Mastodon skeleton that I’d forgotten all about. Western New York is one of the world’s premiere sites for mastodon fossils, and, unlike Wooly Mammoths, they’ve never found a preserved specimen with its skin, so they don’t know if it was furry like a mammoth or bare like an elephant. They also had a pretty cool exhibit about the history of guitars, with lots of historic examples including centuries-old proto-guitars of various kinds, and lots of modern acoustic and electric examples.

That evening Jeannie and I took my parents, Lizzy, and Michelle to the Buffalo Hofbrau Haus, a big new biergarten right downtown, brought to you by the Munich Hofbrau brewing company. Lizzy had been there a few times before and thought my parents might enjoy it, since they were members of the local German club for years before it closed. Michelle was beginning to settle into her new situation, doing orientation stuff, making friends and all, although the weather was still unusually hot. The Hofbrau Haus was a good time, and pretty authentic, with live music featuring accordion, clarinet, cowbells, and lots of polkas. The food was Wiener schnitzel and bratwurst, and of course beer. It was alot of fun. Apparently the place gets pretty packed and raucous on the weekends.

Friday we had lunch with Larry and Jackie at a pub in Hamburg, and just talked for hours. What’s going on with all the kids, camping and bear stories, drumming, music, everything. Everyone is encouraging me to move back to Buffalo now, but Larry says the jazz scene is pretty small and there aren’t alot of really good players. It got me thinking about my old musician friends from the area, if any of them are still around and into prog rock.

Friday night was the King Crimson concert, the reason we stuck around a couple extra days. They’d played SPAC in Saratoga near Albany on Monday. Martin saw them there, and so did Mark from the Adirondacks. They played Bethel Woods near Yasgur’s farm on Wednesday, but at the time we were planning our trip we expected Wednesday to be move-in day for Michelle, so that wouldn’t have worked either. Anyway it turned out be a the right move. The venue was Artpark, which is semi-open theatre with lawn seating behind it, right on the shores of the Niagara River, between the Falls and Lake Ontario. I think the last show I saw there was Monsters of Jazz featuring Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Jack DeJohnnette and (I think) Dave Holland in 1991 or so.

Unbeknownst to us until the day of the show, they’d closed the theater for the pandemic and built a new, smaller, all-outdoor venue on a hillside next to it, so we had to borrow some lawn chairs from my parents. It turned out to be a beautiful scene, a perfect summer evening with a view of the river, and idyllic ambient music of gamalan-like chimes and tones and the sweet smell of reefer wafting in the air as the venue filled up. We found a spot and Jeannie mentioned that there may well be someone we know was at the concert. A minute or so later I heard someone calling my name out of the blue.

It was my old friend Joe Q. At first I didn’t recognize him; it’s been twenty-nine years since I’d last seen Joe and he doesn’t look the same. But then I heard his laugh and it all came back to me. Joe was the bass player in the Cheshire Cat, probably the best band back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, when there was an incredible amount of talent on the local music scene. I fist met Joe when I was in tenth or eleventh grade, as part of the combined Kenmore East and West High Schools marching band, formed for the purpose of playing Buffalo Bills halftime shows, where we were both in the sax section. After high school, Joe and I were in a couple of bands together including Tafari, a mostly-reggae-with-some-Steely-Dan band with a horn section. I played the solo for Home at Last on the EWI. That band had half of Kenmore in it. Amazingly Joe is still playing music for a living. Rock on!

A few other people from Kenmore were three too. One was Mike M., the guitarist from Cheshire Cat. Apparently he got a bunch of free tickets because he and the drummer from the opening band were friends from Berklee School of Music. Another was Pete D., who was guitarist for the Automatic Man. Automatic Man were a jazz fusion band with Mike, Pat O. on drums, Jim W. on bass and myself on sax. We played every Monday night at Broadway Joe’s for about two years, unless there was a Bills game, and this group begat The Purple Connection which played every Sunday at the Inn on the River in North Tonawanda in the summertime. We did alot Mike Stern and Jeff Beck type stuff, plus the entire second side of the Abbey Road as an instrumental, although often the crowd would sing along to Carry That Weight.

Anyway, Pete was an excellent guitarist, one of the best in Buffalo. About halfway thru our stint he left the band and moved to New York City to try and make it on the music scene here. I moved to to NYC less than a year after that, and tried to find him but never connected. He told me he eventually returned to Bflo and hasn’t played guitar in many years. I thought that was too bad, since he was so good, so I told him about how I took a bunch of years of playing when my kids were little, but I’m really glad I returned to music. Then the show started, so our conversation was cut short.

The opening act was The Zappa Band. I’m not sure what connection they have to FZ, but they were at the least a flawless tribute band, possibly with some alumni from his groups. I thought I knew alot of Zappa songs, but I only recognized about a third of what they played.

King Crimson themselves were amazing. It’s the seven-headed monster lineup with three drummers in the front line, and back row consisting of Mel Collins on saxes, Tony Levin on bass and stick, Jacko on vocals and guitar, and Fripp on guitar and mellotron. It was pretty much the same act as four of five years ago when I last saw them: three songs off the first album, three off of Red, and smattering of songs from all the records in between, plus some later stuff too, and some epic drum solos. All very well done of course, often going well beyond what was on the original record, especially the stuff from the interregnum period. There were moments when the complexity of the various interlocking polyrhythms was just staggering. And I think the best Tony Levin is when he’s channeling Greg Lake.

Afterwards we went up the falls and walked around. Now we’re back home, making plans in our empty nest, hoping Michelle is doing well.

Life in a Northern Town

We just got back from a fun road trip, another mini-vacation. This time we went north instead of south, to the town of Saranac Lake, to visit our friends Mark and Kelly. Although we’ve been up to the Adirondacks plenty of times, we haven’t been up since before the pandemic, so it was great to see our friends and catch up. This trip was also a first in that Michelle stayed home cuz she had to work.

We drove up Friday night after work. It was a pretty easy and mellow drive, although the number of blatantly reckless drivers, as well as obnoxiously blaring extra-bright headlights, has definitely increased over the last few years. Still, that all tapered off as we got away from New York City. Once we arrived, we all stayed up late into the night talking.

Saturday we went hiking. In the morning we went up Mt. Baker, and in the afternoon some mellow walking around some ponds and lakes. Later got some local soft-serve ice cream, went out to dinner, then back to Mark’s place to build a fire and more hanging out. It’s interesting to see how the town has changed since last time we were up there. Some places have gone out of business, and some new ones have opened up.

Sunday we went for an epic canoe ride. Jeannie and I rented a canoe from a place right on the waterfront, a really nice kevlar boat, very light and fast. Mark has his own one-man canoe. The trip was about six hours, through a series of lakes and channels, and even a lock. It was a perfect day, warm and sunny, but not too hot, with very little wind. The journey was very scenic, with some shores dotted with cottages, others full of woods or swamps, all with the mountains in the background. We saw a couple of loons close up – surprisingly large birds – as well as a great blue heron, a bald eagle, and lots of other wildlife.

On the way, Jeannie accidentally capsized our canoe. We were crossing thru the wake of a motorboat, and as we rocked back and forth, she leaned too far the wrong way. When the boat rocked back the other way she was off balance and fell out, tipping the whole thing. We got wet, but it was a warm day, and our stuff was in a dry pack, so no real problem. We pushed the boat to a shallow spot near the shore, poured out the water in the bottom and were on our way. Believe or not, this is first time in 30 years of canoeing together that either one of us has tipped a boat.

Our destination was an island with a picnic area, where we had our lunch. The whole lake (and the greater area) is full of campsites and day use spots. We sunned ourselves on a rock and dried out or stuff for a while, then headed back. The way back was easier cuz it was downstream, but we were starting to get tired, and it didn’t help that a headwind came up as we were crossing a couple long expanses of deep, open water. That night we all went to bed early cuz we were tired from rowing all day.

Monday we drove home, stopping for lunch at Lake George, where they have some restaurants with patios looking over the lake, and watched the scene. Very nice. I bought some new sunglasses, since I lost my old ones when our canue capsized. When we got home, Michelle was waiting to greet us with freshly baked cupcakes.

On with the Show

Another low key fun summer week. Jeannie and I went to the beach Saturday morning. I can’t remember the last time I got out to the beach more than once in a summer, so that was really nice. The waves and weather were quite moderate.

Sunday I took a bike ride in the local Nature Study Woods, and it started raining when I was out there. I didn’t notice it much under the trees, but got totally soaked the last few block coming home.

Saturday night we went out to see my friend’s band at a sort of street fest up in Hastings. It was the first time we we’ve gone out on a Saturday night in a long time. The scene was pretty empty, but at least there was a restaurant across the street where we could sit and have a drink while we listened. The group was a jazz quartet led by Erik P. from my old group Haven street. This was actually first live music I’d seen since my last gig before the pandemic, on February 28 of 2020. The group also featured Rich P. from my old group on piano, and Rich W. on alto sax. Rich W. is a friend who sits in from time to time in the Wednesday jazz circle, and is one of the best sax players I know. I used to think he was way better then me, but I’ve leveled up a couple times over the last few years, so it’s probably pretty close now. Anyway, an inspiring musician. A standup bass completed the lineup. The sound was traditional acoustic jazz, alot of it out of the real book, very well done, with well honed arrangements. Only problem with a group led by a drummer is every second song has a drum solo. 🙂

Before the gig I was feeling a little down, remembering how the old group broke up abruptly, and lamenting that my new group got off the ground too late to get any gigs this summer. Ah well, so it goes. The fault line in the old group was pretty much that Erik and Rich wanted to do more traditional jazz, and Gary and I were writing originals and exploring new sounds. My new group has electric bass and synthesizers, and funk fusion in the mix, and it lets me push my writing in the direction. Meanwhile they’re doing their thing and everyone is happy. Anyway it was great to see those guys and catch up, and shocking to realize it’s been a year and a half.

Lots going on with work, and hardware and software updates to support mobile dev and deploy. More on that in another post.

Let’s Go to the Mall

Just got back from a mini-vacation down to Washington, D.C. At one point we were planning on going to Ohio for the Centerfold origami convention, but those plans fell thru. Last time we were out in Ohio, six years ago, we stopped by the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, which is pretty cool to see. Michelle asked if we could we go see the Air and Space Museum instead, since we haven’t been there in even longer. Seeing as she’s going off to college for aerospace engineering in a few weeks, and this kind of trip is what inspired her in the first place, we all thought it was a good idea.

Of course with the resurgence of the pandemic things aren’t quite back to normal yet. The Smithsonian is just opening back up, and large parts are under renovation, and they’re only letting in a limited number of people at at time, and of course you have to wear a mask. And yet again we struck out trying to get tickets to go up into the Washington Monument.

Our first stop was the Udvar-Hazy annex to the Air and Space Museum, out at Dulles Airport. This is fact much larger than the main Air and Space Museum and features some of the most famous aircraft and spacecraft of all time, including a Space Shuttle, a Blackbird, a Concorde, and the Enola Gay. There’s tons of other stuff too, from all eras of flight going back over 100 years, balloon craft, gliders, commercial, military and experimental aircraft, paraphernalia, engines, etc.

Since we drove out that morning, that was the only stop for the day. In the evening we met up with my friend John M., who lives nearby and had dinner. John is an origami artist, so it was a little like having our own min-convention. Our hotel was in Silver Springs, which is cute little urban dot in the middle of the suburbs, kinda like White Plains but with friendlier architecture and street life.

Next day we took the train into the Mall. It was a beautiful day for walking around, and we did plenty of it. Our first stop was the American History Museum. A good chunk of it was closed for renovation, particularly the cultural stuff, but there was a gallery of inaugural gowns from all the first ladies, and a collection of jazz musical instruments. We spent most of our time in the transportation section, which goes from sailing ships and horse-drawn wagons thru steam locomotives and of course automobiles.

The line for the Natural History Museum was around the block, so we skipped that and went on the National Art Gallery. Spent most of our time looking at sculptures, and paintings by Rembrandt, El Greco, and others. The last stop was the National Air and Space Museum in the mall. This of course has the Apollo 11 command module, a Lunar Lander, the Spirit of St. Louis, among others. The hall had just reopened, and more than half of it is under renovation, so it was a pretty quick visit. I was reminiscing about the first time I visited that museum as a kid, with my parents and brothers, only a month or so after it first opened in the summer of 1976. We all thought it was to coolest thing ever; I’d never imagined anything like it. Now space exploration seems to have largely fallen out of fashion, even as private space travel is becoming a real thing. Strange.

That evening we met up with John again, at a Mexican restaurant near or hotel with a large patio area like a beer garden. The food was great and after dinner John and I stayed talking late into the night. As always, he has alot of fascinating new origami stuff. He has some really innovative snakes with strips and some new polyhedra. John has gotten into making books styles as “symphonies”, with four movements, each a set or related models on a theme. This latest one, his Fifth Symphony, has tropical fish, tropical birds, some tetrahedron- and octahedron-based single-sheet polyhedra, and the last movement is complex sea creatures such as a crab, squid and nautilus. John is also to music and playing piano, so we had alot to catch up on.