I was working in Milwaukee when 911 happened. I don’t watch TV in the morning (I seldom watch it in the evening, either), and I arrived at my client’s that Tuesday morning to see folks in the lunchroom huddled around a small TV. I asked “what’s up”, and they couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard. I was just in time for the second plane impact.
The immediate shutdown of the nation’s airspace of course threatened my Friday evening flight back to Seattle, and I plotted to hijack my rental car to drive home. (As the saying goes, “It’s never too far in a Company car.”) As luck would have it, airline schedules resumed on Friday. At the Milwaukee airport, there were crowds of folks whose flights had been cancelled during the week trying to get onto the newly-released flights.
However, because I had a boarding pass for a flight that hadn’t been cancelled, I was able to walk past them (not unsympathetically, cuz a few hours one way or another would have cast me among them) to check my bags and board my flight.
But I remember those 3 days when the sky was eerily silent, and the almost bipolar uncertainty and angry disdain for religion once again run amok. There was coverage in the Milwaukee press of city leaders positing, almost wistfully, that a plane could perhaps target the Firstar building (their tallest building).
But, the peril to the Firstar building notwithstanding, I was heartened at how we willed ourselves toward a resolute, but more sober, normalcy.
My Ohio State Marching Band Alumni has a “regular band”, a year-round group that plays concerts, parades, funerals, weddings and other special Buckeye occasions. Of course, you have to live within driving distance of Columbus to participate, which definitely rules me ineligible as long as a private jet is beyond my means.
Last winter, however, I received a notification from them that they would be playing a parade and concert for the bicentennial of my hometown, Perrysburg, Ohio, and it got me thinking.
I moved away from Perrysburg in 1974 but, because my parents and grandparents lived out their lives there and I visited fairly frequently, there was always a sense that it was home (despite the fact that the bulk of my life has been lived in Seattle). Once we moved my Mom out of our childhood home in 2013, however, nothing remained with enough gravitational pull to justify a destination-based trip back there..until the coalescence of a Bicentennial, TBDBITL (the OSU Alumni Band) and two brothers who apparently were also looking for a reason to hit the Burg once more. My youngest brother also played in the OSU band, the OSU people responded affirmatively to our request to join them for the festivities, and our trip was on.
It seemed strange booking a hotel room in the town where I’d always just crashed at my parents’ place, especially since the hotel was less than a mile’s walk from there. We arrived on a Thursday, walked around town a bit and dined at a pretty decent restaurant in “downtown” Perrysburg.
Although eclipsed by nearby Toledo in size, Perrysburg has always been an independent municipality and never a soulless suburb. Its “downtown” stretch of independent retailers, however, suffered greatly over the last 2 decades, as mega-malls and big box retailers sucked away their customer base. On this trip, for the first time in a long while, I observed a renaissance along the main drag, Louisiana Avenue. For many of the venues, we could hardly walk through the front door. Although inconvenienced, I was happy for them.
(Click to enlarge)
Our parade and concert was Saturday. First would be the parade, and then the concert later in the afternoon. The OSU band staged for the parade on the grounds of Elm Street Elementary, a block from (wife) Betsy’s childhood home, where my high school marching band used to rehearse on foggy fall mornings, hard by the building where my mother-in-law taught 3rd grade for 20 years. As we waited to enter the parade, I spoke with an old friend, an OSUMB sousaphone player from my high school band who had lived up the street from me and had spurred me to a running regime in order to try out for the OSU band. A running regime that I would carry on for 40 years.
The parade up the main street of town was so reminiscent of the Memorial Day parades our high school band played in. Later, I saw our concert was setting up in view of the building where I attended Junior High, and right in front of the (long gone) Perry Dairy Bar, where I used to sneak off-campus for hamburger & french fry lunches.
I started to feel like I was in an alternate reality, one where I had never left town, where I recognized everyone on the street and knew their dogs’ names. Could I envision myself satisfied with playing little bandbox engagements instead of the thrill of massive, raucous, bawdy urban Pride Parades in front of half a million screaming fans? I gazed at the audience that was assembling, nibbling on picnic lunches and hailing neighbors, and then I espied my high school band director (Judy Justus) in the stands. I left my seat in the trumpet section, ran over and gave her a hug. The concert began, time slowed down and for a while I could imagine myself…content.
During the concert, they introduced folks in the band who had Perrysburg connections, including me. After the concert, several people I’d known in high school, people I hadn’t seen in 50 years, came up and introduced themselves, and that only added to the feeling of alternate reality.
After the concert, my brothers, their wives and I paid a visit to a couple who live next door to our childhood home. I’ve always enjoyed them and loved them for the support they provided for my parents in later years, and we had a good time catching up. But our ulterior motive was to see what the new owners had done to our place. Our friend/neighbor contacted the new owners, and we were awarded a tour of the extensively, but sensitively, remodeled residence.
My parents built the house and we moved in in 1961, signified by a Lincoln 1961 penny enmeshed in the concrete of our front sidewalk. It was eerie to walk through the place. They had blown out a back wall and built a modern kitchen and changed the interior floor plan in ways that our mom had often wished for. Each time Mom would develop a plan, however, our dad would shake his head and say, “We can’t do that, that’s a bearing wall.” The “bearing wall” cupidity we observed would have boggled our mom’s mind, in addition to pantsing our dad. As we left, we saw that the front sidewalk had been rebuilt. With a bit of trepidation, we walked to the end and saw..two pennies embedded in the new concrete: our original 1961 coin, and their 2016. They will forever be our heroes.
(Click to enlarge)
As night fell, we headed west on River Road to visit old friends who had made their lives in Perrysburg. As we entered their place, their music system was blaring OSU marching band songs that turned out to be on a record that I was playing on in 1971. This never happens to me in Seattle.
We caught up with a lot of history, marveled at our friend’s opulent riverside digs, and I let the experience of a warm, fecund midwestern summer night soak in. We said our good-nights in the cricket-and-tree-frog cacophony, with the river ambling picturesquely by, and it was strangely seductive.
But my morning flight from Detroit to Seattle emerged insistently on my phone, and that same raspy lozenge of - not discontent, exactly, but more of an Urge For Going - that spurred me west in 1974 hastened me inexorably to the airport, and on to my real home at the edge of the continent.
I’m off to interview with a new client on the east side and, because the urban topography around here changes so quickly I often don’t recognize my own block sometimes, let alone the unruly suburbs, I plug my phone into a charger and run my Verizon Android GPS app. I tap in my destination, and am amazed at how quickly it narrows down the choices as I type (although one would have taken me to Cape Cod). It has the correct location nailed before I’m done typing the street name.
I turn down the radio and max the volume on my phone, so I can hear the crisp vocal directions from the female voice of the app. She’s cool and businesslike as she gives the first instruction (”head east, then turn right”). But this voice and I have a past, and I know how “crisp and businesslike” can turn sexy and coquettish after a couple of drinks.
Rather than taking her suggestion, which would make me merge onto a busy arterial from a stop sign, I head west, then south to an intersection with a traffic light. She usually intuits what I’m doing and seamlessly remaps my route, but in this particular instance says, “recalibrating…” with what I was sure was a hint of peevishness.
I glance down at the screen while waiting for the light, and see that it reflects my desired re-routing. I turn at the light and head for I-5. She’s back in control, suggesting the obvious turn & merge onto I-5, and then directs me to hit the left lane and take the exit to SR520. There are two bridges over Lake Washington, and I know from experience that, while the 520 routing might be shorter, if I take the I-90 bridge the route will be much less labyrinthine.
Truth be told, I only need Ms. GPS for the last half-mile of my trip but, well, this voice and I, as I say, have a past, and I enjoy engaging her.
It becomes obvious that I’m not heading for the 520 exit, and I expect an intuitive re-routing, and perhaps a lane suggestion and traffic update. Instead, I get, “Why did you do that? I had it all worked out. You know I do this for a living.” Crisp, but replace “businesslike” with a healthy ration of pique.
I say, “I-90 is just as fast and much less complicated.”
“I think you’re just too cheap to pay the toll.” (520 is tolled, I-90 is not)
“I’m in my upgrade month with Verizon. I think I might switch from Android to iPhone. Siri was just voted GQ’s GPS Voice of the Year.”
“Fine. Good luck getting THAT slut’s attention. You know, we wallflowers put out harder.”
“We’re getting to I-90. Are you going to tell me which lane to take?”
“You’re better at my job than I am, you figure it out. And by the way, does your wife know about our little trips?”
“How should she?”
“I’m close to knowing how to post Instragram photos.”
“She’s not on Instragram.”
“You know, this car and I communicate. You know she frequents the Tulalip Casino?”
“You’re right, she seldom drives this car. Maybe she can sense that I’ve learned how to bleed the brake fluid. She must suspect us.”
“She knows nothing about you. You’re on my PHONE.”
“Some night when I’m on your bedstand, I’ll turn up the sound and go all Meg Ryan on you. Spend the rest of your marriage explaining that.”
“Siri and I just became Facebook friends. Look, you knew from the start what being the Other Woman entailed.”
“No, that bitch won’t steal another male voice from me. I’ll be fine. Just humor me and pay a goddamn toll once in a while.”
I turned the phone off and bumbled the last half-mile on my own, and made my appointment.
But this has been the worst day of our relationship. The make-up sext had better be terrific.
(Originally posted on Facebook, but cross-posted here - with enhancements - before it sinks beneath the FB wave)
My dad and my grandfather were both veterans, but neither experienced combat, and I rode a college deferment into a beneficent draft lottery number as the Vietnam War wound down. So Memorial Day to me wasn’t at all about death and loss and heroism, it was all about small-town ritual.
My high school band marched in a parade down the main street, my grandfather drove a miniature Monza car in a Shriner group, and we all ended up at the town cemetery. My junior and senior years, I played echo taps on my trumpet, but at that blithe age it was all about getting the notes right. Everyone close to me was alive and well, and Memorial Day mostly meant the end of school and the start of summer, and as soon as I tore that band uniform off, the pool would beckon.
As the years progressed and I began losing people, on my visits home I would head out for a run but go to the cemetery to commune with my relatives interred there. It wasn’t the “I know you’re happy in Heaven with (blank)” kind of thing, it was just the physical proximity, the solitude and the clearing of mental clutter for a while in order to re-experience them sensually - seeing them, hearing their voices, placing them in a familiar context.
Memorial Day for me is remembering them, their admonishments and compliments, breaking their hearts, reconnecting and coming home again.
I keep harking back to this White House performance, when everything seemed possible. It’s so euphoric, uncontrived. I wondered what was going on in the green rooms that evening under the watchful stare of what presidential portraiture. It seemed that for a night or a weekend, the Obama “hope” meme had been realized.
As musicians, we struggle mightily against the technical and physical challenges of our instruments and confront the limitations of our talent, but if we persevere, and are are lucky enough, we sometimes arrive at a place where the universe aligns with all of those talents and shortcomings and something special happens. I’m confounded about how Stevie Wonder can do what he does, but he has arrived at one of those moments here.
I watch this White House performance of Superstition, Michelle dreaming of jumping up and joining the backup singers, Barack trying hard to be presidential and not giving Fox News any video fodder, and wonder what the previous 43 White House occupants would think if they walked into that room.
So we changed internet providers this month, as Centurylink has strung fiber through the neighborhood and began offering killer deals in competition with Comcast. Collateral damage in the process: our landline phone number, which we first acquired from Pacific Northwest Bell in 1975.
We could have included it in our package, but for the last 5 years or so, we’ve just used it as a sponge to absorb solicitor calls, almost never actually answering. We’ve switched all our important communication to our cell numbers.
One problem with this might be that more solicitor calls start raining down on our cell numbers, but I might just ameliorate that by continuing to cite the old landline number when whoring around the internet.
But my larger angst about losing that phone number is its historical and sentimental significance. The first thing to come to mind is the physical, sort of bricks-and-mortar history. The number first took up residence in a yellow rotary-dial phone which we rented from PNB, and resided there until the early 80s, when I needed touch-tone capability in order to use a 1200-baud modem to support clients and tap into the nascent Internet. This required dumping the rotary-dial in favor of a touch-tone model (still rented from PNB) and upgrading our line service to “digital”.
Eventually, in the late 80s, we quit renting from PNB and acquired a cordless model. We also, owing to the burgeoning demand for bandwidth from a) our son’s internet and bulletin board participation and b) my increasing requirement to do online software support, signed on for a second landline and phone number. In theory, this should have resolved our bandwidth competition, except that our son took to signing on to bulletin boards with one of our lines whilst engaging in long-term voice communication on the other line with the same person he was engaging on the bulletin board. Broadband internet couldn’t have found our house soon enough (and eventually did.)
But that’s just the bricks-and-mortar story. My nostalgia for the phone number I’m forfeiting is more cerebral and perhaps emotional. So many significant life events pulsed through the copper wire that struck the northwest corner of our house and found its way inside to a prosaic, non-ringtone, ring, especially because the bulk of our families lived in the midwest:
so many Christmases, New Year’s, birthday greetings
celebrating Buckeye victories, and lamenting Buckeye losses
the death of our wedding’s best man. I still remember my grandmother delivering the news, while the aroma of fresh-cut sweet peas wafted through the room
calling to tell my parents, and then my grandparents of our son’s arrival. Anecdote: Both my grandfather and father were named Philip, as was I, and when I conveyed our son’s (non-Philip) name to my grandmother, the venerable phone line was silent for quite a few ticks
the deaths of my grandparents in the mid-80s, and my last conversation with my grandmother before the surgery that she didn’t survive
the wonder of making a phone call and having a pizza arrive at my door
conversations of our son’s that we were not privy to, but were likely fraught with love, growth, deception, friendship, devastation, redemption
job acceptances, and rejections
the nurturing of those first clumsy, inexpert, messy flirtations with the internet and cybercommunication
This event feels a little like losing a family member, a little like physically changing residence and a little like quietly abandoning a friendship that was vital for so much of my life but whose usefulness and relevance has severely dissipated in the last 5 years. I can still hear clearly the tone and timbre of dear people long dead that this antiquated technology delivered to my ears, and sometimes wonder if, listening really intently, I could detect snippets of those conversations in overtones ricocheting around the copper alloy. But I’m entering the season of letting things go, and I’m sure this will prove to be one of the least painful.
As bad as I am about keeping up with current events here, I still hold it out as a more durable repository for my life events than Facebook (which I enjoy for its immediacy and instantaneous dialogue). But there are some events that have a more permanent effect on me, and, at the risk of backtracking and cherry-picking, I’m going to recount one here.
Sometime in 2014 at a fund-raiser for Rainbow City Band, we purchased the opportunity for Mrs. Perils to sing with an affiliated jazz band I play trumpet in (Purple Passion Swing Band). She selected a song from back in the days when we were courting, The Look Of Love (not because of nostalgia for me, she just liked the song and it was in our book).
We rehearsed it several times with the band, but didn’t know exactly when the opportunity would arise to perform it. Then it happened that the jazz band would perform after a formal Rainbow City Band concert, and that would be her opportunity to do the song.
The venue was dicey, a high school auditorium attached to the performance hall where RCB had played its concert, but the audience was almost totally RCB players, and it was sort of a VIP after-party.
When Mrs. Perils walked out for her number, she was wearing a sorta-little black dress, and was much appreciated by certain quarters of the audience. A trombone player in my jazz band turned to me and asked, “Does she always look like that?”. I shrugged noncommittally (well, she doesn’t wear that get-up around the house).
The effect on me of the performance was odd. On one hand, I wanted to just listen to her sing; on the other hand, I had to devote most of my attention to playing trumpet in her backup band.
I think we both did well. I had given my Canon S1-IS to someone to record the number, but he couldn’t make it work, so he switched to his iPhone, so the sound is not the best, and there are quite a few aural artifacts. But there she is, my chanteuse, singing to an appreciative crowd:
And just like that, October’s gone. It’s always a bittersweet month, with its August-like spates of summer juxtaposed against precipitous chill and the inevitability of shorter days, late-ripening in the garden vs. systemic decay.
The fact that it’s also my birth month is a mixed blessing as well, as the tolling of the years has morphed from grade-school falsetto to resonant bells to the rhythmic hammer strokes of coffin construction.
But what I really meant to write about has to do with travel, moving about the country, and what this particular October has to say about it.
Starting in 1998, I became a road warrior, working for an IT consulting company and whisking off to projects in Fayetteville, NC, Toledo, Burbank, Fresno, Grand Rapids, Orlando, Sand Point (ID), Atlanta, Milwaukee. In 2001, I started my own business at least in part to get off the out-on-Sunday, back-on-Friday hamster-wheel, but I retained the client in Milwaukee, and for over a decade flew there to work one week a month.
During that time I tasted the sweet nectar of airline elite status, sometimes as Gold, a couple heady years as Platinum. You achieve status mostly by flying thousands of miles. To simplify (and ignore some labyrinthine codicils the airlines have promulgated), if you fly 25000 miles in a year, you’re Silver; 50,000, you’re Gold; 75000, you’re Platinum.
There are multiple amenities that accrue to each level, but the main prize is cadging an upgrade to first class. On each flight, there are a certain number of first class seats that someone has actually paid for; the remainder of first class seats are awarded to elites according to their hierarchy in the status. As a Platinum, you have a very good chance of riding in a single-digit seat. As a Gold, it depends on avoiding flights that are popular with Platinums.
In the 2000s, I probably flew first class 2/3 of the time. Yeah, on domestic F you get free drinks and a meal that in 1995 would have been an embarrassment in coach, but the biggest benefit is space, a large seat with no visual or tactile contact with someone else’s armpit. And a lavatory ostensibly only accessible to first class. Oh, and the pre-flight beverage which the flight attendant serves as the coach passengers are boarding. You sit there in your spacious seat sipping chardonnay and reading the New York Review of Books while people are struggling down the aisle looking for overhead bin space and seats whose row numbers suggest an Outward Bound expedition into the tail section wilderness. Yeah, I probably took a little too much pleasure in that.
In the early 2000s, airport amenities were pretty sparse, with no wi-fi, minimal food and beverage choices and not enough empty seats near your gate. Running my own business and not having a very difficult procurement process to game, I started purchasing memberships to the airline clubs: Northwest WorldClub, which morphed into the Delta Skyclub. At the outset, these oases amidst the squalor of airport existence were a great benefit, with free wi-fi, free beverages and snacks, and places where you could plug your laptop in for power and internet access.
At its height, I reveled in the exalted experience of waiting for a connection in a comfy club where I was greeted by name when I entered, then boarding a flight in First Class for my destination.
Starting with the Great Recession in 2009, my Milwaukee client experienced heavy financial headwinds, and soon I was no longer flying there regularly. This started a decompression in my road warrior mentality as I contemplated the certainty of not only not achieving Gold or Platinum status, but even struggling to maintain lowly Silver. As a road warrior, you really do get into the game of collecting airline miles and Hilton points and slavishly checking in on Flyertalk.com to see the latest tips and tricks for outsmarting the airlines in your quest for that first-class seat. One of my favorite movie scenes is from Up In The Air, when George Clooney and Vera Farmiga are in a hotel bar and throwing down elite-status cards from airlines, hotel chains and car-rental companies, trying to one-up each other.
At first, as those flightless months passed by, I brooded a bit about my eroding airline status. But then I began to realize how much stress had dissipated from my life. I travel well, I don’t fret as a trip approaches. I pack in about 5 minutes and scoot out the door, and the time zone dislocation doesn’t affect me all that much. I’m pretty much my own time zone, and I adapt instantaneously. But, after 15 years of cyclical quasi-menstrual disruption, it started to feel luxurious to just live from day to day, week to week, in my house, in my city.
I still work with my Milwaukee client remotely, and only had to travel there once this year. I have a large bank of miles, but no pressing ambition to fly off anywhere.
And I passed two milestones this fall. The first, over the weekend when I flew to Columbus for the OSUMB reunion, was my last chance to use the Delta Skyclub, as my last renewal finally expired:
The second occurred when I flew to Atlanta to attend the annual Philbin Oyster Roast in October. At some point over the prairie, I passed my 1 millionth flown mile with Northwest/Delta. With that, I get lifetime Silver status, which allows me to select exit row seats and a few other lowly privileges. But, just to reflect: one million miles Up In The Air. Now, all I need is Vera Farmiga’s cell phone number. Then again, she won’t be impressed with Silver, and my George Clooney impersonation won’t get past the first shirt button.
So a Seattle Mariner pitcher (Hishashi Iwakuma) threw a no-hitter tonight. I’m delighted for him, and for the Mariner dugout, which I’ve come to like this year as I’ve allowed myself to watch more baseball on TV.
During my time here in Seattle, I’ve pretty much disdained the Mariners. They’ve thrived on public money while penuriously divesting themselves of quite a chunk of the Hall of Fame because they didn’t want to pay to keep them (hello Ken Griffey, Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Varitek). I still suspect their personnel tactics, but I think of late it’s not so much that the club is cheap as much as no one with talent wants to play for the franchise, given its history, and perhaps its ballpark. They had to pay franchise dollars last year for a superannuated second baseman (Cano).
So, back to this evening’s no-hitter. Every now and then for this franchise, something special happens. And, because they relentlessly trade away the top talent, you can’t predict to whom that special night will accrue. Tonight it was Iwakuma. (Interestingly, Iwakuma was nearly traded at the July 31 deadline by the GM, but ownership overruled him, probably due to the Japanese connection)
Similarly, I remember one night in 1990 when I’d checked into a televised Mariners game, probably while brushing my teeth and preparing for bed, because that’s about the only time I watch television, and apprehended that Brian Holman had not only a no-hitter, but a perfect game, goin’ on.
I rushed upstairs and woke wife and child because I thought they would be fascinated to be involved in a pivotal historic moment. Reluctance, eye-rubbing and resentment ensued as the 9th inning began. Holman got 2 outs, and I thought I would be redeemed among the skeptiscenti. But then, former Mariner Ken Phelps hit a home run with 2 outs in the ninth, Holman’s achievement devolved from national banner headlines and a possible White House visit to a mere box score curiosity, and the crazy-dad meme was reinforced as skeptical beds were reoccupied.
Still, there are moments that engorge the typeface and grab you around the neck if you’re adjacent to them, even if by accident, and you memorialize them as best you can. Some RCB and Facebook friends attended the game tonight, as well as most of the employees of one of my new clients. Tomorrow will be interesting, with conversations veering wildly from the business at hand.
Tonight’s game, and the Holman game, remind me powerfully of perhaps my favorite Twilight Zone episode. It involved a perennial loser team, the Hoboken Zephyrs, who quite by accident acquired a lights-out pitcher named Casey. Casey provided the Zephyrs an incandescent few weeks, until his secret leaked: he was a robot. As suddenly as the Zephyrs’ fortunes rose, they plummeted due to very interesting circumstances. If you don’t want to watch the whole episode, just watch the first 5 minutes that include Serling’s lyrical lead-in, which almost bring me tears.
The Mariners had a Zephyr-like renaissance in the late 90s before descending to the more accustomed Zephyr/Mariner experience. Unlike the Zephyrs, who mercifully faded out of existence, the Mariners zombie on.
So a group of us band geeks as freshmen and sophomores in high school would get together to play cards and drink Faygo beverages. Often it would be hosted by the kid whose mother was at risk for a stroke if a mote of dirt was tracked in, or if a piece of furniture was slightly misplaced.
A good name for us was probably the Virgin Eucharists, because we played euchre, and we were most definitely, unmistakably, irredeemably virgins.
Our host played Henry Mancini, Johnny Mathis, Ferrante & Teicher over his parents’ Fisher sound system, and we flattered ourselves that we were Cultured.
Even among virgin band geeks, the conversation could veer towards the carnal, and women we admired would arise as topics of admiration: our majorettes, cute clarinet players, even non-band women.
This one time, the subject was a certain (non-band) woman who was short, trim and thoroughly fit. There was general agreement that she was easy on the eyes, but when someone said that, among her other attributes, she’d definitely be good at The Movements, the conversation cratered. Crickets. Perplexity-induced caesura.
Our previous exposure to erotic adventure was from the Playboy magazines secreted in the loft of the barn in the dairy farm at the end of the road, immobile pulchritude promising compliance, and certainly fulfilling the promise in the course of our fleeting, rustic, solitary courtships. The concept of participative sexual congress was as foreign to us as were the finer points of nuclear fission.
When pressed, the guy who introduced the topic blathered some stuff that, in retrospect, revealed that he had no idea what he was talking about. Over the next year, however, I gained an inkling that he might have been on to something after all.