Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Totally Random 3.1

• Slow Traffic Keep Right is law on the Interstate Highways in some states but merely a strong suggestion here in Maryland. One week eighteen months ago I noticed that I regularly encountered slow-pokes in the left lane when the right lane was open so I decided to keep track of how often that happened. As of tonight, the total number of nights in a row in which that occurred since August, 2008 … ALL OF THEM.

• Winter Solstice was just over nine days ago; the days are getting longer! Woohoo, break out the shorts, tank tops and flip flops.

• I will be up at midnight at the end of December 31st to bring in the New Year as I have every year since high school. I have a deep-rooted fear that if I don’t do this, the new year might not start and we’d be stuck with the old one for twelve more months. I can’t let that happen.

• I have some pretty remarkable friends. Sadly, I will not be ringing in the new year with any of them face-to-face. But I’ll be with each of them in spirit and with some of them in text messages.

• When I think about specific years that proved to be transitional years for me, several instantly come to mind. 1981, 1984, 1986, 1996 and 2000 are at the top of the list. 2010 will eclipse them all, for both good and bad reasons. Bring it!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ho ho hmmm

OK, Christmas is done; reality is back.

My annual January-long process of looking back and looking ahead is starting early this year. It is the one time each year that I make no apology for over-thinking; that strategy serves me well.

I got a late start planning 2009 but the rewards were worth it. A transition began in May that will continue into 2010.

More later.

Friday, December 25, 2009

We’re All Kids at Christmas

I have few regrets, but sometimes I do regret not having children. That image bobs around the ocean of emotion I swim through during the holidays. Christmas is as much a family celebration time as it is a religious-based holiday and as adults, we often revert to traditions and rituals from our youth.

A few years ago I produced and co-hosted a one-hour radio show called “We’re All Kids at Christmas.” The show included songs that showcased some of the child-like qualities of the holiday, such as “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy.” My co-host and I also reminisced about Christmas time in our youth and we each had a conversation with “Santa” and told him what we wanted for Christmas as adults. (By the way, I did NOT get world peace but I did eventually get a bright red Ford Explorer).

The best part of that radio show was our conversations with kids. We got the OK from a local shopping mall to interview children standing in line to see Santa. We interviewed some of the parents too. The sense of wonderment in each kid’s voice was even more memorable than whatever it was they planned to ask the Big Guy to get them.

I think if I had kids I would have tried to make this holiday as special for them as it was for me at that age. Part of why so many people experience holiday depression at this time of year is that we try to recreate that feeling, even though our lives may have taken many twists and turns since then. Something that usually snaps me out of my own holiday blues is the sound of children, even if it’s only Zuzu’s line in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Laugh if you want to, but seeing that movie each year as an adult means even more to me than it did as a kid.

Random questions about your Christmas traditions, if you happen to celebrate it:

- Do you unwrap presents on Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning?
- Did you pretend to sleep but were really awake trying to see Santa?
- How did you feel upon discovering that Santa wasn’t quite who you thought he was?
- Which is your favorite holiday movie: “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “Miracle on 34th Street”? Or do you not like any of them?
- Do you have a favorite Christmas song?
- Do you object to religious-themed displays in front of public buildings at Christmas?
- OK, back to kid stuff because that last question could start an endless debate … do you carefully unwrap presents or do you rip through the wrapping paper?
- Have you ever actually eaten a fruitcake?

OK, the kid in me says it’s time to go watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” again. The adult in me says I’ll have a glass of wine instead of milk and cookies. Although I do believe I smell cookies being cooked as I write this. Maybe I’ll have wine and cookies.

Merry Christmas to my blog family!!

And if you don’t celebrate any of the December holidays, come back in a day or two and we’ll talk about something else.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Death Happens

Everyone eventually dies, yet is seems to surprise us when someone we know reaches the end of their life. Celebrity deaths often affect us in a collective way … it’s someone we ‘know’ because we see them on a screen and read about personal aspects of their lives.

Today a celebrity I actually know died. That’s a double whammy and it has me thinking about death, life and living in the moment.

George Michael was a legendary TV sportscaster here in the Washington DC area and was known by sports fans in other cities because of his weekly syndicated Sports Machine program. In the early 1990s he also did a weekly sports report on the radio station I work for; I spoke with him on the phone almost every week and I met him a few times.

We didn’t know each other well, but we had a few interesting personal conversations. He gave me advice on pursuing a TV career (gotta have thick skin because someone is always criticizing you) and he all but told me I was crazy for marrying a divorce lawyer (he was right).

And he once ridiculed me for having a Border Collie in a townhouse with no yard. He did that without knowing I was shopping for a house on fenced acreage. I always planned to ‘finish’ that conversation, if you know what I mean. He turned 70 this year, which in my opinion is still young, so I was in no hurry to reach out to him again even though his comment was made more than ten years ago. That contributes to the surprise I feel today upon learning of his death.

Our parents usually don’t teach us much about dealing with death. It seems the only acquaintances who died in my youth were old people; no surprise there. An elementary school friend died when I was in high school, but I hadn’t been in touch with him for years so the loss seemed distant.

But the older we get, the more we face death. Our uncles and aunts die, our parents die, cousins and friends die. We always think there is more time left, but often there isn’t. Death never discriminates based on age.

I truly believe I’ll celebrate my hundredth birthday, but what if tomorrow never comes? That may seem an odd thought to have on the eve of a day that celebrates one of the world’s most famous births. But even He died.

Death happens to everyone. It’s what we do in life that really counts, isn’t it?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gone in 2009

Today I saw a list of products, TV shows and people whose last year was 2009. Here are a few of them:

Kodachrome - remember film? This legendary slide film was around since 1935 and was my favorite back in my film days (which only ended 18 months ago). This film was known for rich color, expecially in warm colors like red and yellow. The best photos I've ever taken during a whole life as a photo enthusiast were in Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon, September 2000, and I shot mostly Kodachrome on that trip. I'll actually post these one day, when I can afford a slide scanner (unless that product disappears too).

Pontiac - I never thought I'd see Pontiac go away. The Pontiac GTO was one of my favorite cars of my youth. Pontiac also made the Trans Am, LeMans and Firebird. My sister drives a Pontiac Vibe, although that is mostly a Toyota with a Pontiac nameplate.

Saturn - This was supposed to be the brand of the future when it was introduced back in 1985. GM announced this year that they will stop making them next year. Gone like a freight train, gone like yesterday.

ER ended it's 15-year run on TV this year. I stopped watching it several years ago when most of the original cast was gone, so I didn't know it was still on till the highly-promoted final episode.

Guiding Light ended a television run spanning more than 50 years. No, I do not watch soap operas. But I'm sure I saw this one a few times as a kid because it was one of my Mother's faves during her housewife/child-raising years.

Oscar G. Mayer, the retired chairman of the meat company that bears his name, died this year at age 95. He was the third Oscar Mayer in the family. Until I read the story I had no idea that Oscar was actually a real person.

Boomers might remember this jingle:

Monday, December 21, 2009

What Christmas Songs Are Played The Most?

Have you ever wondered what Christmas songs are played the most on the radio? According to ASCAP, the music licensing organization, these are the Top Ten this year:

1. "Sleigh Ride" played 118,918 times
2. "Jingle Bell Rock" played 118,601 times
3. "It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" played 101,614 times
4. "White Christmas" played 89,348 times
5. "Winter Wonderland" played 77,599 times
6. "The Christmas Song" (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) played 74,360 times.
7. "A Holly Jolly Christmas" played 57,948 times
8. "Little Drummer Boy" played 55,617 times.
9. "Feliz Navidad" played 51,072 times
10. "Frosty the Snowman" played 51,068 times

Have a holly, jolly winter wonderland sleigh ride Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Record-Setter

That snow storm yesterday set many record for snowfall amounts in Washington DC and the surrounding subburbs in Maryland and Virginia. It was the largest amount of snow in December and one of the five largest amounts on record for any time.

My neighborhood topped out near twenty inches.

This picture was taken in the morning when the snow had only reached eight inches.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Blizzard of December 2009

It is snowing like hell today in the Washington DC area. These pictures are in my yard, taken at 9:00 this morning. Forecasters predict at least 15 inches for my county (northwest of DC) by late tonight.

Look to the left of this page for some webcam links.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Decade Since

It’s hard to believe that in less than two weeks we will have ended the first decade of the 2000s.

Remember the Y2k scare? Were you just a little concerned that computers would stop working as 99 turned into 00?

Are you still deciding how to refer to the year? Is 2009 “two thousand nine” or is it “twenty oh nine”? What about next year? Two thousand ten or twenty ten? We didn’t call 1999 “one thousand nine hundred ninety nine” or even “nineteen hundred ninety-nine.” Come on, sing it with me … “party like it’s one thousand nine hundred ninety-nine.”

In 2000 did you think almost a quarter of U.S. homes would have cell phones only and no landline? Gasoline would cost more than $4 a gallon one summer? A woman and a black man would be among the leading contenders for President and one of them would win? Twenty men would simultaneously hijack four airliners and bring the country to its knees?

Could you have imagined Facebook? Twitter? Susan Boyle?

What do you think the next ten years will be like? Will CDs be thought of in 2019 the way cassettes are today? Will paying with cash be considered old school? Will Jenna Bush be President? Will we finally get the flying cars they’ve been predicting since boomers were babies?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Random Updates

My holiday depression … isn’t nearly as bad as I expected it would be. In fact, I’m feeling pretty good. Things that helped: a gentle wrist-slapping from a friend, a cool custom Christmas CD from that same friend, a stray comment from another friend, some decisions I’ve made recently and the return of my usual kick-ass attitude about not letting negative things bother for extended periods of time.

My diet … well, hell, it’s the holidays. I don’t think I’ve gained weight lately but I’m sure I haven’t lost any either. Don’t know because the scale battery died. I’ll get a new one on New Year’s Day.

My car … is back from the body shop, looking as good as it did the day I bought it.

My commute … still sucks. This morning is took me two and a half hours to get to work. Normally it takes close to an hour (which is also too long).

That’s all. Didn’t have much else to say today. How are you?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Louis and Christmas

This week a cool friend sent me a custom-made CD full of unique holiday songs. One song that popped right off the disk was “Christmas in New Orleans” by Louis Armstrong.

Armstrong, if you don’t know, was a legendary jazz trumpeter and singer in the 1920s – 1940s, who also had some pop hits in the 50s and 60s and one more in 1987, a remake of his own “What A Wonderful World” that was featured in the movie “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

His voice, phrasing and style are part of the unique mix of elements that makes up New Orleans music.

Do you have any idea what that does for a music-loving native of that city?! Probably not, so let me explain. New Orleans music is almost its own genre, borrowing from many styles but blending into a distinctive gumbo of rhythms and sounds. The instrumentation is spiced with hints of Dixieland jazz and Cajun zydeco, the vocalization features that “Noo Awlins” accent and often the drum beat is similar to the percussion of the ‘second line’ jazz funeral marching bands (it sounds a little like taking two steps forward and one step back).

Boomer natives of the area heard it all the time during our youth. It’s in the streets for the tourists and old jazz preservationists; parents and grandparents knew the words to some of the traditional songs. That sound even oozed into some pop music of the mid 20th century, escaping the local scene in national hits from singers like Fats Domino in the 50s and 60s and Dr. John in the 70s. That song “Iko Iko” that was remade in the “Rain Man” movie soundtrack also has the New Orleans sound.

New Orleans music is part of the DNA of anyone who grew up there.

For me, just a few notes of that sound instantly rushes through my ears directly to my brain and heart. That’s not as messy as it sounds. The New Orleans music style is a sonic time machine instantly blinking me to any number of moments from my youth, mostly good times. Thanks to my friend for putting Louis on the CD.

Oh, here is the Louis Armstrong song, paired with a Billie Holiday song:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It'll Be A ....

I was going to compose a clever post relating to the New Orleans Saints victory over the Washington Redskins a few days ago ... saying something about how I am normally a Redskins fan but for this one game a year I revert to my original hometown team ... about how the bumbling Redskins almost beat the unbeaten Saints ... etc., etc., etc. ... when I saw this cartoon that says it better than I could:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Discovering Live Music

In May I declared my keyword for the remainder of the year would be “play” … a one-word reminder to myself to have more fun.

Part of that fun includes seeing more live music, which I did. During the summer tour season I saw acts I had seen before, like Toby Keith and Rascal Flatts, and performers I had never seen, like George Strait, Paul McCartney and Dave Matthews.

Now I am stalking more of the non-hit acts, especially blues bands, and checking out the smaller venues, which I prefer to arenas and stadiums. Back in the 1980s I hung out at slightly-bigger-than-a-hole-in-the-wall bars like the 8x10 club in Baltimore, where I saw numerous blues bands. It turns out that some of those bands are still around and occasionally play in my area and others I didn’t see back then are also passing through. And my current venue of choice is usually the Birchmere, bigger and more comfortable than the 8x10, but still sporting the perfect vibe for music on the fringes of mainstream.

Last week I saw the double bill of Tommy Castro and Coco Montoya. Awesome show! Both performers are great guitarists and singers and each is backed by some amazing musicians. Each band did an extended jam during their set, featuring solos by each band member. Tommy Castro’s band jam was a 15-minute version of James Brown’s “Sex Machine.” Really! It started and ended with that one-chord song, but meandered in the middle through hot solos on keyboard, sax, trumpet, bass and a killer drummer.

Tommy Castro a few years ago (some of the band members are different now):

The next stop on my little musical adventure is another double bill: The Nighthawks and the Billy Price Band. Price is legendary in Pennsylvania and the Nighthawks are local legends in here in the DC area. Back in the day, I saw each of them twice. One of my Nighthawks nights was an alcohol-fueled New Year’s Eve and one of the Billy Price nights included a surprise appearance by his personal friend Billy Joel. On January 1st, I’ll find out if those bands are still as good as they were in the late 1980s.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Interesting Quote

Embrace your uniqueness. Time is much too short to be living someone else's life.

- Kobi Yamada