Beer Summit '09

... So the President, the professor and the police man had their beer summit today.

Wonderful. Can we get on with solving the rest of the world's problems now?

... Best political cartoon I've seen in a long time came the other day via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. (Check it out here.) ... I could totally hear the music of those classic beer commercials playing in my head as I read the lyrics ...


100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About

Caught this one from Wired -- 100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About ... It's a great read.

Pretty soon we'll be telling "I remember when ..." stories just like the ones our parents told ...

Man, when I was a kid, I thought cassette tapes and VCRs and Nintendos would be around forever ...


Game 9: The way the ball goes

It’s Sunday. And that means it’s game day. Time for some baseball.

We had this one circled on our schedule at the beginning of the season. We were going up against a team that matches up with us from top to bottom as well as anybody. A team that’s as competitive as any in the league. And a team that’s roundly annoying because of how seriously they take their baseball … They don't seem to get the recreation part.

To up the motivation factor, if we came out with a win today, we’d be tied for third place in the standings…

Instead, the story of today’s game was written in one unfortunate third inning, and we lost the game, 8-6.

Through the first two innings, we traded runs and they carried a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the third. It looked early as though it would be a tight game all the way … But in the bottom of the third, we gave up a couple walks, a string of booted ground balls, a misplayed double-play ball, and soon they’d put five runs on us.

From that point on, though, our defense was snappy, and we didn’t give up another run the entire game. Still, we couldn’t get out bats going, and by the time we crawled back into the game, it was too late…

I led off the game with a bloop single to left field, then stole second and scored to get us on the board … Then, in the fourth, I slapped the first pitch I saw toward the second baseman and grounded into an easy double play.

In the seventh inning, I put up an epic at-bat that might go down as one of the most memorable I’ve had during my time in this amateur league. It’s just too bad the outcome wasn’t in my favor … I knew the opposing pitcher had been throwing hard fastballs all day and mixing in some solid change-ups; that’s my kind of pitcher so I was stepping to the plate and hacking at every pitch that came near the zone …

He started me with a fastball just below the letters which I took for a strike. Then I swung and missed the second fastball to go down 0-2. Then a ball that was high, ball two was outside and I pulled back on a swing to get ball three. Then, I fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch after pitch … I fouled one into the catcher’s shoulder, several more to the backstop and a couple that bounced in front of the plate but rolled foul.

One of my teammates said he counted 12 or 13 pitches in the at-bat. I was faring well at keeping up with the fast ones and waiting back on the slow stuff ... But by the last couple pitches, the battle had drawn on for so long that I was starting to lose focus and almost couldn’t keep from breaking into a little bit of laughter at was happening …

Finally, I fouled a pitch into the catcher’s glove for strike three … Ugh. I could take solace in the positive reception I got from the guys when I returned to the dugout. But man, after all that, a hit would have been really nice …

I got some redemption in the top of the ninth. Down 8-3, we were desperate for a rally … After the lead-off batter struck out, I stepped up hoping to get something started and slapped a ground ball down the third base line for a clean single …

On the next batter’s liner up the middle, I advanced to third base but was called back to second base on an interference because the ball had hit the infield umpire on its way through the infield … Nonetheless, the next batter hit a deep ball to center field, I stayed on second base to either tag or make sure the ball dropped -- and when the ball dropped, I took off and scored. The runner behind me scored, too and the rally was on … But we could only muster one more run. With two outs and another runner on, the tying run came to the plate, but flied out to right field to end the game.

And so it goes.

The loss dropped us to 5-4 for the season. But it was hard to find anything to be ashamed of .. It was hard-fought, fun game to play today. Just the way it should be.

ER checks out

... So I finally watched the big 'ER' finale last night. Yep, three months after it aired and it's long-been forgotten and surpassed by a summer of weird weather, celebrity deaths and our bottomless economy problems ...

Ah, well.

The thing was so old it had been buried at the bottom of our DVR list, and was probably just days from being deleted -- not by the machine, but by Kates and I out of a simple lack of time an interest. In fact, Kates was already there and had no interest in watching it; I was the one still holding on ...

So last night, alone and in desperation for something different and interesting to watch before heading to bed, I flipped it on

Even at three months old, it was still pretty darn entertaining ... I enjoyed the appearances by "ER" alums, although I thought their returns were a little overplayed, based on what I remembered from the promotionals last May. ... I enjoyed the way a lot of the stories that have unfolded over the years sort of came full circle -- Sam connecting with Tony and getting a car as a birthday gift from her formerly troublesome son Alex; and Dr. Greene's daughter showing up at the hospital to begin her career... I also couldn't ignore the feeling that I was watching a new generation of young actors slowly and skillfully making their marks on the TV landscape -- people like "Gilmore Girls" Alexis Bledel and "Brothers & Sisters" Emily Rose.

In the end, I couldn't keep from smiling as the final scene played out with the old, familiar faces rushing to the ambulance dock and a slew of ambulances pouring in with patients from an explosion. Dr. Carter was back at the hospital and seemingly returning home. The classic theme music played in as the shot pulled back on the hospital and an utterly Chicago scene, complete with an el' train passing on a rail line overhead.

A memorable ending for a very memorable show.

I'm sorry I didn't watch it earlier. But I'm glad I saved it just long enough ...

Here's some good reads I collected way back when the finale actually aired ... (I had some others, but the links no longer work. Go figure.)

a The 'ER' finale did what it did best for 15 seasons: It made us laugh and cry
a ‘ER’ Goes the Way of Nurses’ Caps
a A flood of memories comes alive in 'ER's wake
a 'ER' calls its time of death
a 'ER': How It Almost Flatlined At the Start
a 'ER' and the end of Nurse Shirley


Sensational videos

So my friend Laura tipped me off to these videos and I had planned to post them earlier this week …

But, as it usually happens, things come up. I get sidetracked. And the strong emotions that pushed the idea for the post in the first place fade …

Luckily, these videos never get old …

In the case of this first video, when we first caught wind of it and viewed it, it had maybe a few thousand views …

As of tonight, it’s officially become an Internet sensation with 5,617,106 views. The wedding party was featured on the Today show this morning. And tonight the story made the NBC Nightly News, on which a reporter pointed out that you can’t stop smiling once you start watching it … It’s the kind of video you want to watch over and over again.

Interestingly, it’s also been noted the song featured in the video, “Forever” by Chris Brown, has soared to the No. 7 spot on the iTunes charts … I can relate. Moments after I finished watching the video, I wanted to know the song. I Googled it. I downloaded it.

So in case you haven’t gotten in on the latest Internet video to rock the world, check it out

This next video -- which also features a pretty cool song -- will bring a smile to your face in a completely different way. The assemblage and organization of this video -- to match up each of the individual motions -- is nothing short of amazing …

Last, but not least … I stumbled on this video a couple weeks ago. Hitler finds out Michael Jackson has died


Free thoughts

I don’t have anything worthwhile to say tonight. But for the sake of showing some life on this blog, I’m going with some random thoughts …

Kates and Pheebs are off at the family farm for the weekend … while I had to stay home to work.

The good news: I have the house to myself.

It’s a chance to refresh myself and work on a whole list of projects I might not get to with them around. Fun stuff like refinishing a cabinet that we’ve targeted for our guest bedroom, but it’s been sitting in our garage for the last year; and cleaning out the laundry room. … And if I’m lucky, I’ll catch up on some television, too.

* * *

I’ve been lucky to actually catch some baseball this week …

On Tuesday night, I first opted for the Cubs game, but I moved for the remote again a couple minutes later with the Phillies trouncing them. … The alternative was the Brewers-Pirates game, which was in a rain delay … So the alternative to that, was a “Brewers Classics” game from Sept. 5, 2007. A classic indeed. I know, because I was there, and I gladly watched it again.

I didn’t, however, catch the classic at U.S. Cellular yesterday -- Mark Buerhle’s perfect game … I had been working outside and came in at around 5:30. It was then that I checked my e-mail and saw the news alerts from hours earlier that Buehrle had a perfect game in progress. … All I could do then was turn on the Chicago news stations and indulge in the endless highlights and replays of DeWayne Wise’s miraculous game-saving catch.

* * *

Today was the day that comes around this time of every year ...

The day that an amateur bicycle tour sweeps into our city and forces the closure of major downtown intersections and practically imprisons all downtown workers in their offices … All day long the bikes go round and round and round our office blocks, and merely crossing a sidewalk to get to the parking lot -- that is, if you’re able to get your car out of the parking lot -- becomes a life-or-death decision.

Aside from all of the inconveniences, it is an exciting event that brings hordes of people to our downtown for the race action, as well as the accompanying music, kids activities and food … Oh, the food. I walked over to the event for lunch and got one heckuva tasty grilled ham and swiss sandwich …

Here’s a photo I snapped of the racers from outside my office building …


Game 8: Funny game

Baseball is a funny game.

One day your team plays to perfection. The hits drop in the gaps. Your defense gets to every ball, and fields all of them cleanly. The pitcher is getting calls on the outside corner. All the stars align and everything goes your way …

Then there are days when the stars align for the other team -- no matter how different your win-loss records appear.

Today, it was the other team’s day, and we lost.


To a team that, so far this season, had six losses and no wins. ... We dropped to 5-3 with the loss.

It’s fair to say that, as the game progressed, some guys were taking the loss in stride, and some guys were taking it personally … After our manager accused the young manager of the other team for purposefully running up the score, the young manager hit a bomb over our manager’s head in left field. The young manager had a real shot at a triple, but instead trotted slowly into second base. Afterward, our second baseman asked the young manager why he didn’t try for third, to which the young manager said, “Your coach wouldn’t let me.”

I was in the group of guys that thought the exchange was a funny one.

You couldn't blame them for their excitment about knocking the cover off the ball and actually winning for once. These guys had been pounding at the door all summer. They’ve played hard, and their games have been close. I wasn’t out to jinx us, but I said before the game that I figured they were due for a win … I just didn’t expect it to be at our expense, much less a 22-1 beat down.

These guys were jumping on us from the beginning. They scored five runs in the first and crossed another six in the third … They were hitting the ball solidly up the middle and way out of the reach of any of our fielders.

Meanwhile, we couldn’t have hit the ball if it was a beach ball. Their pitcher was throwing as hard as anybody we’ve faced since our first loss in Week 2. Mix that in with some good sliders and an umpire that was calling a wide strike zone, and we looked at a lot of third strikes. We racked up 12 strikeouts in all, and just four hits. Our one run didn’t come until our final inning of at-bats.

I batted lead-off today and left with an 0-for-3 next to my name … I popped up foul to the first baseman in the first inning and grounded out to the first baseman in the fourth. During my last at-bat in the seventh, the pitcher buckled me up with a slider called for a strike on the first pitch, and I knew my fate right then … Slider, swing and a miss, strike two. Slider, swing and a miss, strike three.

If there was any glimmer for me to take away from the game, it was that I left the field feeling as proud of my defense on Sunday as I had all season. I started and played two innings in right field before moving to third base as part of a double switch/pitching change in the third.

At both of my positions, I fielded every ball cleanly and made the plays, including two choppers toward third base that I fielded cleanly and tossed to second base for crucial outs. I also took a perfectly-placed throw from a cutoff man to cut down a runner sliding into third base … It felt so good to execute those chances.

It’s funny how the one thing that hasn’t been right for me this season finally goes well … while everything else goes horribly wrong.


15 months

Phoebe turned 15 months old Sunday. And she spent it at a Brewers game … Her second Brewers game. Her third Major League ball game this year. And her fifth Major League game in her lifespan. I’m not really counting -- but seriously, I didn’t make my fifth trip to a ball game until I was 12. I'm not sure how we’ve managed it …

Calling Phoebe curious these days feels like an understatement. She wants to go and be everywhere. … As we’d anticipated, her new found walking skills have made it slightly more complicated to take her along for errands. Strap her down in a stroller or car seat or hi-chair for too long and she’s flailing and arching her back in a tantrum. Let her walk and she's strutting over to every nook and cranny that catches her eye ...

Her walking -- and her fascination with scaling steps -- also has brought more bumps and bruises and Band-aids.

Her vocabulary delights us daily -- not to mention the hilarity that ensues when she starts speaking her “Ewok.” ... She’s been screaming “Daddy!” for a couple months now, but she’s since learned “ball,” “up” and “hi” to her repertoire. She also yells out “doggie!” at just about every animal she sees, and she scurries to look out our back door and yell “doggie!” every time she hears the neighbor’s dog bark. She recognizes “Elmo” and “Ernie” now thanks to a summer of watching “Sesame Street” with Mom …

And this week, her new word is an exuberant “yeah!” …

“Phoebe, do you want some water?”
“Phoebe, do you want to go downstairs?”
“Phoebe, do you want to take a bath?”

She probably understands more than we can comprehend. With all the words she has yet to learn to say, it amazes me to watch how she responds to what we say. Whether it’s a request to turn around, to retrieve a specific toy or to throw a ball, she knows what to do.

She also knows what she wants. She sees one of us with a glass of water, she looks at us and signs “please.” If there’s a toy she wants, but can’t reach, she looks at us and signs “please.” If we’re in another room and she wants help with something, she’ll come into the room, look at us and sign “please;” inevitably the thing she wants help with is a toy she accidentally pushed under the couch or a door she closed and wants to reopen. Or the other day when she appeared sleepy and we asked if she wanted to take a nap, she signed “please” and promptly turned to begin walking to her room.

Handling things with her hands and touching things fascinates her. Opening and closing doors of all kinds gives her endless enjoyment, and she never fails to flood the floor with Tupperware lids when she gets into the container cabinet. That said, I’m terrified of the day she figures out where the pots and pans are stored.

Buttons and knobs are equally fascinating. To our chagrin, she thinks it's fun to turn the TV on and off, or turn the volume knob on my stereo. The other day I dropped a record on the turntable, not realizing the volume had been turned up and nearly went deaf.

Special toys? Yep. She's got those now, too. ... Mostly, she just loves blocks and containers. Give her some empty yogurt containers and milk jugs and she's good to go, walking between rooms and knocking them together.

Then, there's her blanket, which she can't sleep without and she carries almost everywhere. It's checkered with a yellow and white floral pattern, and most of the stuffing has been flattened, but it's so soft even I wish I could sleep with it sometimes. It's adorable to watch her carry it to bed every night, a bundle of so much fabric she can hardly see where she's going ... What's even more interesting is that the blanket was Kates's blanket, and Phoebe took to it almost immediately.

Oh, but this week, we got her a baby doll and a miniature stroller. We’d seen her clutching a similar doll at her daycare and she took ownership of Sophia’s baby doll the minute we stepped on her home turf. Now, she won't let go of that.

She’s becoming more and more of a little girl each day.


Women in music

I’m such a sucker for music featuring good-sounding female singers …

First, I caught this very cool video bit about the very cool Mates of State the other day. Good stuff …

Second, Imogen Heap, one of my real faves, is about to release a new album. She Twittered the first single earlier this week … I listened and loved it instantly. Her dreamy vocals never fail to lift me up.

Third, Ingrid Michaelson is about to put out some new stuff too … So I’m pasting this here on her behalf …
“ … Ingrid is releasing "Everybody" under her own label, Cabin 24 Records so we need your help more than ever. Tell a friend or 2 (or 10) and let's get "Maybe" to the top of the Billboard charts.”

The fire

So US Weekly has the “never-before-seen” video of Michael Jackson’s hair being set on fire

Of course, I clicked over to US Weekly the moment I finished reading the story about it, via the Washington Post …

Crazy stuff … And we’re not talking some grainy old video footage here …


Late nights with all-stars

Compared to most of my summers, this one has been brutal for me.

Since my switch to working early mornings in the spring, the night life I once knew has nearly been erased. All the things I was used to enjoying at night had to be avoided …

It became a marathon just to finish out the TV season with “Lost” and “American Idol” and all the other programming Kates and I have loved watching together.

Then, once the baseball season started – forget it. I probably could count on one hand the number of games I’ve watched this season. On most mornings now, I’m cursing my work schedule when I get in the shower at 4:15 in the morning and I have to get my sports updates by reading the morning newspaper. Ha, getting updates from the morning newspaper. Imagine that.

But this week, I was set out to defy my early bed time. It’s the All-Star Game, the Midsummer Classic, for cripes sake. And I was not missing it.

(Sure, I figured I could sneak in some afternoon naps to accommodate my move. But seriously, when’s the last time I came home from work and wanted to take a nap instead of doing yard work or cleanup around the house or some free writing. Yeah, I wasn’t taking any naps.)

On Monday night, Kates cooked up some Chicken Salad Veronique (thanks, Joel and Stephanie!) while I gladly stretched out on the couch and soaked up every moment of the All-Star festivities. The pregame show with the “Baseball Tonight” gang. The Home run Derby. And the celebrity softball game, arguably the most fun-to-watch event of them all ... Watching guys like Bobby Knight tower over Shawn Johnson in between her doing back flips around them, not to mention Nelly playing like he belonged with the rest of the Hall of Famers on the field, was tremendously entertaining.

For the record, while everybody else was picking Albert, Albert, Albert to win the Home Run Derby, I confidently said to Kates beforehand, I think Prince is going to win it this year. … Sure, he was a bust two years ago when he only hit home runs in the derby. But I was banking on an older, wiser and more patient Fielder this year, and that was exactly the way he played it.

497 feet. 503 feet. Prince hit like four of the five farthest homers of the derby. The guy was launching ‘em, and it was so fun to watch.

Then last night: the All-Star Game.

I didn’t enjoy watching the AL knock off the NL again … but it was a well-played, gripping and entertaining game. All the makings of a classic. Another gem, although not quite as good as last year’s thriller.

We had Carlos Crawford’s home run-stealing catch that saved the game for the AL. We had some great defensive plays in the infield, most notably by Chase Utley and Albert Pujols. We had a stellar lineup of AL pitchers mowing down the NL hitters. We had Curtis Granderson hustling around the bases for a triple. We had Barack Obama, clad in his White Sox gear, throwing out the first pitch (despite the shady camera angle) and yuking it up with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver in the TV booth.

If there was one thing I was bummed about after the game, it was that Prince Fielder was used so early and as a pinch-hitter … But the more I think about it, NL manager Charlie Manuel probably couldn’t have used him in a better spot – pinch-hitting for pitcher Tim Lincecum in the third. Fielder ended up hitting an RBI-double that gave the NL a 3-2 lead.

One more thing: If Major League Baseball ever makes the players wear universal jerseys for the All-Star Game, I think I'll puke. I can stand the American and National jerseys, the color of the host city's team, for batting practice and the Home Run Derby, as another marketing ploy / money-maker for the league ... But seeing the array of individual jerseys across the field in baseball's All-Star Game is one of the things I truly love about the Midsummer Classic game. Don't change that.

Good reads (Updated 07.17.2009) ...
a Crawford stole the show
a Some good, and bad as baseball heads to break
a All-Star Game photos
a President Barack Obama shows poor form


Summer days

The Brewers had one of their big guys at the plate with a chance to tie the game with one swing, but All-Star Ryan Braun authored a fittingly frustrating end to the first half. (more)

So true, on multiple levels this summer.

There’s little more fun than loading up the car and going to the ballpark for some tailgating and a Sunday ball game between two of the league’s best (and two of my favorite) teams. It was the annual gathering with members of my mom’s side of the family -- all 27 of us, ranging in age from 85 years old to 4 weeks old. And there were quite a few more who couldn’t make it.

We had Phoebe dolled up in her pink Brewers outfit and pigtails. The weather was gorgeous. We had about-perfect seats on the first base side. Plus, the laughs and banter within our gang are always good and plenty …

If only the Brewers could have provided a little more excitement …

The tone was set early when Manny Ramirez came to the plate with one on and one out in the top of the first inning. He drove a ball deep to right center fielder and Corey Hart misplayed it, allowing it to drop just short of the wall and giving Ramirez an RBI-double …

Manny, by the way, was heavily booed before his first-at bat. But love him or hate him (I think he’s an idiot for using performance-enhancing drugs, but I still love to watch him), the dude can definitely still hit and play ball.

After Ramirez doubled, Mike Cameron bobbled a ball in center field allowing Manny to score and the Dodgers to go up 2-0.

Later, Brad Ausmus homered. Orlando Hudson homered twice and Manny was 3-for-3 with two doubles … The Dodgers had a 6-0 lead by the middle of the seventh inning and the ballpark was already emptying.

Finally, the Brewers showed a little life in the bottom of the seventh on back-to-back doubles by Cameron and Bill Hall that helped Milwaukee get its first two runs on the board. They had two more in the eighth, but that would be the end.

Braun popped out with two runners on to finish the game and his disappointing 0-for-5 day.


A moment in time

While most people were probably hitting the snooze button, pulling the sheets over their shoulders and grasping tightly to some final hours of sleep this morning, I had the assignment of joining a couple dozen spirited souls who woke early and gathered for a moment in time.

While you were sleeping, this morning held a rare numerical occurrence that — depending how technical you want to get — happens once in a millennium. The moment came at six seconds after 4:05 a.m.

Combine the time and date and you have a sequential order of 04:05:06 07-08-09.

Under a full moon, I met the group of about 20 local residents -- I was pleasantly surprised at the number, around 3:45 a.m. in a city park. A clock counted down the minutes and seconds on a laptop, while pastries and coffee, provided by a local coffee shop, were spread on a picnic table. Some came dressed in their pajamas. Dogs came, too.

As the moment approached, the group joined in a countdown of the final seconds. Then, they erupted in cheers and laughter before returning to their conversing over coffee.

There were no signs of The Apocalypse. The computer didn’t explode. Aliens didn’t descend from the sky to attack. Nobody was hurt.

To be fair to other numbers geeks out there, Father Time offers up a sequential moment in each of the next six years. Although Wednesday’s exact sequence won’t occur again until 3009, a different sequence will be marked an hour later next year at 5:06:07 a.m. on Aug. 9.

Internet sites have posted the ensuing sequences on their virtual calendars with the last one occurring at 9:10:11 a.m. on Dec. 13, 2014.

Others, I learned, marked the sequential time at 12:34:56 7-8-9. I would argue, however, that sequence is a stretch because it doesn't conform to a standard dd-mm-yy timestamp. And nobody says " ... in the year '9." Again, a technicality.

The organizers of this morning's local event already are planning for next year. They were handing out “save the date” fliers for the Second Annual Sequential Gathering.


Michael remembered

And now Michael Jackson rests -- sort of.

Kates and I just finished watching the Michael Jackson memorial service. Soaked it in from start to finish …

I had started watching some of the early coverage this morning on the Internet at the office. Then, having worked some extra time yesterday, I hastily finished my work and managed to squeak out of the office a little after 12. I drove home -- interestingly, to “Billie Jean” which was playing on a radio station -- and settled in to watch the rest of the service on television. I knew this memorial service had all the makings of something historic and I wasn’t going to miss it …

John Mayer, for his masterful guitar solo of “Human Nature,” and Jermaine Jackson, for his touching rendition of “Smile,” stand out as my favorite performances of the tribute. Usher’s tearful “Gone Too Soon” also pulled at the heartstrings.

By the time the Jackson family, friends, performers and speakers gathered on the Staples Center stage for the finale, the memorable moments were too many to count … Berry Gordy calling Jackson “the greatest entertainer that ever lived.” Magic Johnson recalling a dinner meeting during which Jackson feasted on Kentucky Fried Chicken. Smokey Robinson talking about the first time he heard Michael sing his song. Brooke Shield’s tales of their young friendship. And young Paris’s heart-wrenching moments of trying to describe how much she’ll miss her daddy.

These last two weeks have marked the end of an era for a generation. The passing of an icon. Again today, as we watched Jackson’s memorial from our living room, the world seemed to stop … I read a tweet from a local entertainment writer who noted he found something like 22 different television stations carrying live coverage of the memorial.

As some of the commentators noted, it was a fitting tribute that was respectful, joyous, at times political and sometimes humorous, but never over-the-top. With appearances from Mariah Carey to Kobe Bryant, it was a star-studded achievement that promoters aptly pulled off quickly and without a hitch.

More memories to let settle.

Update 07.08.2009: Some good reads ...
a Growing Up Under a Lover's Spell
a Deification of Jackson as creepy as he was


Toast to freedom

So we celebrated the Fourth of July weekend by blowing town and heading to that fabulous paradise called -- wait for it -- Toledo, Ohio.

Quite honestly, we’d been counting down to the trip for weeks, looking forward to a chance at not only blowing town but spending some quality time with Joel and Stephanie, and allowing Phoebe and Sophia to share some valuable cousin time, too.

Although, the excitement for the trip had turned a little less sunny in the last week. On Monday, Joel, a golf course architect, was cut loose by his firm, the result of cost-cutting measures, another victim of this terrible economy … He was one of those lucky souls who grabbed an opportunity to go do his dream job every day, and he worked hard at it. We were as shocked and saddened to hear the news as anyone. We’re thinking about them constantly.

Our usual rush to pack on Friday morning and we were on our way around 11 … We made good time going through Chicago and were glad to be heading south rather than north. One of the lasting images of the weekend is the northbound lanes of the interstate had virtually become a parking lot. Traffic was at a complete standstill. We saw loads of people getting out of their cars, walking around, even picnicking on their cars’ roofs. The sight made me think for a moment of the video for "Everybody Hurts." ... We caught a glimpse of the crashed cars and emergency vehicles that were the culprit of the tie-up, but it wasn’t until we returned home last night that we learned the crash involved 15 vehicles and stopped traffic for about seven miles. Yeesh!

A couple pit stops in Indiana, a time zone change and about six hours later, we were pulling into Toledo …

Despite the cloud of Joel's job loss, our time there was ideal, relaxing and meaningful. Good conversation. Delicious home-cooked meals shared on the back yard deck both nights. Surrounded by the gardens. The girls trolling the yard and guarding their toys. Sleeping in. A picnic and walk in the park on Saturday. Stumbling upon a Civil War-era baseball game. A viewing of “Love Actually” ...

And a toast to new beginnings while we watched the televised Fourth of July festivities from New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston.

Here are a few of my favorite images from the weekend …


Guster 'nother night at Summerfest

I closed out my tour of Summerfest ’09 tonight, and I’m thinking I made the right decision by going to see Guster ...

Best. Guster show. yet.

Rather than fill their set with unfamiliar songs from their upcoming album, the Guster boys loaded the show with old tunes and fan favorites. A fun-loving crowd exploded in cheers at the opening of every song, danced on the benches and drowned out the band at times with their singing.

And Brian Rosenworcel – wow. The guy went so freakishly wild on his drum kit and bongos tonight, I was surprised we didn’t see parts of his fingers flying into the crowd. Check out this clip from Guster's performance of “Come Downstairs And Say Hello,” which unfortunately doesn't do it justice ...

I arrived at the grounds in time to catch the last few songs of Mt. Olive’s set, which proved to be a perfect warm-up for the night. They provided my cover band fix for this year's Summerfest and I got to hear crowd-raising renditions of “Blister in the Sun,” “Closer to Free” and, best of all, “Sweet Caroline.”

Also, I'm submitting my nomination for Most Amusing Summerfest Dancer '09. I saw this guy and it brought back visions of the guy I saw last year, who, by the way, I spotted at one point tonight ...

Chester French followed Mt. Olive, and while there appeared to be a handful of fans in the crowd wearing T-shirts and singing to their songs, most people hardly seemed pleased with their act. The band was fronted by some smart allecky kid with curly carrot-top hair and wearing a pink suit coat; he was loud, obnoxious and their lyrics were barely coherent … When the front man interrupted their last song to ask the crowd how many people thought they should be a headliner at next year’s Summerfest, I rolled my eyes and gladly remained silent with my arms folded. I couldn’t help noticing the guys next to me doing the same. Then, when the last notes finally played out I caught the girl in front of me wiping her forehead and mouthing the words, “It’s about time.”

Wild Sweet Orange, the final band to play before Guster, was a much more crowd-pleasing and appropriate choice as a lead-in for Guster. Interestingly, it was the second time I’d seen Wild Sweet Orange, having seen them with Counting Crows last year. Tonight, they were even more fantastic and entertaining than I remembered … Check ‘em out.

Guster wasted no time appeasing fans with “The Captain” and “One Man Wrecking Machine.” Then turned the crowd's energy up another notch by capping “Red Oyster Cult” with the infamous cowbell and harmony riff of Blue Oyster Cult's “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper.”

In one of the other great highlights of the night, lead singer Adam Gardner noted how many music options Summerfest goers had to choose from and thanked the crowd for choosing to spend the night with them. Then, as a way of saying thanks, Gardner said, the band wanted to present the crowd with some of “the best of Summerfest,” and they proceeded to reel off a rockin' medley that included Whitesnake's “Here I Go Again,” No Doubt's “Don't Speak,” Kiss's “Rock 'n' Roll All Night” and a Matisyahu song on which Gardner jumbled some Hebrew lyrics.

The band had played so many of their best and most memorable songs that by the time they started in on “Satellite” for their encore, I thought for a moment, Didn't they play this one already? ... The only song I really missed hearing was “Careful.”

Guster didn't throw out a new song -- which is called something like "Swallowed Me Whole" -- until their second-to-last number of the night. To introduce it, Gardner apologized to the crowd for missing Summerfest last year and reasoned the band had to take some time off to "have sex with their wives and have babies."

Whatever works. Here's hoping they're back again next year.

Here's Guster's set list ... Links go to videos I shot of the performances.

1. “The Captain
2. “One Man Wrecking Machine”
3. “Red Oyster Cult” / “Don’t Fear the Reaper”
4. “Demons”
5. “Center of Attention”
6. “Hang On”
7. “Come Downstairs And Say Hello”
8. “G Major”
9. “Barrel of a Gun”
10. “Ruby Falls
11. “C’mon”
12. “Best of Summerfest Medley”
13. “Manifest Destiny
14. “Airport Song” (I should note, the crowd tossed ping pong balls onto the stage during this one and it was perhaps Rosenworcel's most entertaining work of the night.)
15. “Amsterdam”
16. “Fa Fa”

1. “Satellite”
2. (New song)
3. “Happier”


Don’t stop ‘til you get enough

As more than a few people have said in the last few days, we’re starting to enter the realm of Michael Jackson information overload …

And yet I can’t. stop. reading.

And watching.

I’ve probably driven Kates crazy with all the Michael Jackson tributes, documentaries and video specials I’ve loaded on our DVR the last few days …

The latest material to fascinate me is the sudden and gargantuan draw to his music. Not that there wasn’t a huge draw to his music already, but to see him grab top-spots on Billboard years after those records were released is huge. … Yesterday my cohort Joe mentioned he got a tweet from the local library reminding the public that they can get Michael Jackson music there for free. Yeah, with the run on his music, most people won’t be able to get their fingers on those library copies for months.

Here’s some more of the stuff I’ve enjoyed reading over the last several days …

From the Washington Post: A Man Whose Talents Far Outweighed His Eccentricities ...

A funny sort of thing happened Thursday when word of Michael Jackson's death started to sink into our cultural psyche: We weren't sure how to react … is it possible to honor one while continuing to back away from the other? To reconcile the very real disdain for the man while at the same time recognizing his music as every bit worthy of praise?

And by admitting that we appreciate the art of someone we find morally objectionable, are we selling out our own ethics?
A tribute from The New York Times

Michael Jackson made the sweetness of that high voice guttural and demanding. He showed that it was rooted in his feet and hips and hands. He re-sexualized it in a way that you could never really mistake — then — as androgynous.
From The New York Times: His Moves Expressed as Much as His Music ...

Michael Jackson will be remembered as a great and widely imitated mover. Other things about him will be remembered too, but it is amazing how many of them are apparent in his dancing. … But to watch “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” (1979) is to be amazed at just how much charm the 20-year-old Mr. Jackson had, and the charm gets more infectious as the dancing proceeds.
From the Washington Post: The Dancing: That Precision, Grace -- and a Wicked Groove ...

The dance style that Jackson honed into a corporeal autograph is one not of physical or emotional release -- it's not flashy or overblown. It's a statement of fierce, obsessive control, and in the way only the best of the best can do it, he made it look supremely easy.

From the Washington Post: The Man in Our Mirror ...

He was Elvis with an androgynous tenor, Sinatra with a moonwalk and killer pop instincts, Prince with more mass appeal, John, Paul, George and Ringo with high-water pants, white socks and a single, sequined glove.
From the Boston Globe: A persona that floated above reality ...

As Jackson’s fame reached stratospheric levels, all the grit, the abrasions, and the dragging weight we associate with real life seemed flushed out of him, and he attained a kind of hovering, artificial aura that chimed with his much-invoked Peter Pan syndrome, his stupendous revenues, and the impression he gave of levitating even above the law.
From the Washington Post: Thread of pain ran through Jackson's career ...

It was the last day of shooting for a Pepsi commercial at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1984, and the only hiccup had been an argument between Michael Jackson and an ad executive over whether the young superstar would take off his sunglasses.

"Then," as the executive later wrote, "we set his hair on fire."
From the Boston Globe: Even when the hits stopped, his influence remained ...

In the days since Jackson’s death, music fans have debated his relevance. While it’s true that it’d been nearly a decade since he threatened the top 10, and even longer since a song of his was justified in being there, Jackson’s sound has never left the charts.
Finally, Paste resurrected its terrific tribute to Jackson from last year: What I Miss About Michael Jackson. It’s so good I couldn’t come up with a few lines to pull out.

Cagle's, of course, also has some excellent tributory cartoons. The first one you see is arguably my fave.

'Ledge' at Sears Skydeck opens

The Sears Skydeck opens today.

I'm so going. The first chance I get ...