Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Crime Comes Knocking

(by Bill Glahn)

“You want to know what my version of gangsta is? Making your family top priority. If you ain't doing that and your spending more money on drugs than you are on your kids school clothes than you definitely not gangsta. Go steal from someone that works there ass off so you can go get high. GANGSTA. Lmfao. If I hurt your feelings than this applies to you. Don't trip though I been there myself and Im still trying to get my life right. I hope that one day I make it to where I can call myself a true gangsta. To my two beautiful daughters I'm so very sorry and ill be doing my best til the day I die to earn the right just to be called dad.” (Chris Seitz, August 12, 2018 Facebook posting)

Exactly one month later Chris Seitz would be dead.

Yesterday morning at 2:30 a.m. I was awoken by a loud, persistent knock and Sally’s aggressive barking. I got up, threw on some jeans, turned the front porch light on, looked out the window. It was a cop at my front door. “We’ve had some reports from this neighborhood that someone is going from house to house pounding on doors. Have you seen or heard anything?”

Still groggy from my sleep and more than a little irritated about being woken up at the wee hours of the morning, I answered sarcastically, “Not until now.”

The cop asked my name and jotted it down on his notepad and then asked my date of birth. “What has that got to do with anything?” He didn’t ask the question again.

“So nobody has tried to gain entry to your house in the last hour?”

“I’ve got the biggest dog in the neighborhood with the loudest bark. No one who’s ever walked down this street doesn’t know that.” On cue, Sally pushed her way forward to stand between me and the cop. He took a step back from the doorway.

“Ok, We may send someone around later in the morning with some more questions.” As he started to walk away I told him as an afterthought, “My neighbors on that side of me are camping until Friday. You may want to put a spotlight on their house and yard.” He thanked me for watching out for the neighbors and left.

What he didn’t tell me was that an hour earlier a man had been killed at the house directly behind mine while attempting a home invasion. I guess that’s standard operating procedure in an investigation.

Not being able to get back to sleep, I posted the following on Facebook. “There was a pounding on my door at 2:30 this morning. It was a cop. He said they had gotten a report that there was someone going around the neighborhood pounding on doors. My first response was, "Well if there wasn't before there is now."(3:18 am)

It got a lot of laughs. But when the early news came on TV, it was no laughing matter. My neighbor, Travis, whose backyard is directly behind mine, had shot a man. Dead.

I’m not putting any blame on Travis. I’ve only met him one time and he seems to be a pretty decent guy. I probably would have done the same in his circumstances if I owned a gun. In fact, I have empathy for him. It’s one thing to have a gun in your house for protection. It’s another thing entirely to have to use it.

No charges have been filed against Travis. The media has kept his name out of the news. The focus of ALL media reporting so far has been to explain Missouri’s Castle Doctrine - similar to the “stand your ground” statutes in some states but only applying after a home has been breached.

The name of the man he shot, however, has not been kept out of the news. The inference, lacking any background, is “He got what he deserved.” And that’s the way people hear it. Put one in the “pro-gun” column.

His name was Christopher A. Seitz. He worked, for a time, with both my oldest son and daughter-in-law. “It’s pretty upsetting,” is what my daughter-in-law messaged me.

I decided to check out his Facebook page to see if there were any public posts. There were plenty.

I don’t believe you can always get an accurate picture of someone from social media. But I think you can sometimes get the basic palette. Here’s what I found.

Chris Seitz had two estranged daughters. He loved his mom. He was 36 years old, but still struggled with the stunted maturity that I see in a lot of younger men and women – trying to create an image that is packaged and sold through much of today’s entertainment media. And conflicted or confused when finding out that “image” isn’t reality. Issues that used to be resolved in one’s late teens and early twenties were still issues for Chris as he approached 40. For some people, they never get resolved. Chris Seitz hadn't at 36. And now, he won’t ever.

The pictures on Fb depict a heavily tattooed and muscular man. He spoke in “gangsta” speak. His posts depict a not so unusual tendency for drama. He had friends who catered to the same “style.” They loved him and offered support - or what passes for love and support on social media. The most profound statement on his posts was “It's okay if you take five steps forward and 10 steps back just the next time you make a move 20 steps forward.” But the reality is that sometimes 10 steps back is one step to many.

I was talking to my other next door neighbor yesterday. He was one of several people to dial 911 around 1:30 in the morning. Chris Seitz had tried to break into his house as well. Dissuaded from doing so by two Dobermans, he headed through the backyard and over the fence, where he then broke through the back door of Travis’ house. That was his one step too many.

Nobody knows what Chris Seitz intended as he went from house to house trying to break down doors at 1:30 in the morning. I asked my daughter-in-law for a summary of the 6 months that Chris Seitz worked with her and my son. This is what she wrote: “He was a really cool guy and a really good worker. He was living in a halfway house at the time trying to get himself and his life back together for his family. By the sounds of everything, he probably fell back into drugs.”

Chris worked as a low-wage temp, trying to move into a responsible adult life and failing. It seems epidemic.

Whenever a bunch of us old codgers get together, whether it be at the work break gathering place, a retirement party, or the local watering hole, you hear: “The younger generation doesn’t have any concept of work.” “People can’t handle responsibility these days.” “All they want to do is take drugs and party.” “They complain about not being able to buy diapers and then go out and get $500 worth of tattoos.” “It’s not like when we were young.” Is it just the next older generation talking?

The Westside Neighborhood where I live is something of an anomaly these days – a low-income neighborhood where crime rates are low. Tenant ownership is high. It’s an old neighborhood with an aging population – one of the oldest “suburbs” in Springfield, swallowed up by the city limits as Springfield expanded. At strategically located locations there are signs that proclaim “THIS IS A NO NONSENSE CRIME PREVENTION NEIGHBORHOOD.” They are not small signs, nothing like those “neighborhood watch” signs that you see attached to traffic signs and such in some communities. They are the size of small billboards. They’ve been there a long time, funded by an organization called The West Central Betterment Association. WCBA doesn’t exist anymore. These days it’s been split in two – the Westside Betterment Association and the West Central Neighborhood Association.

West Central is closer to the inner city, plagued with high crime, slum lords, and drugs. Lots of drugs. There are no such signs in West Central. A main corridor, Kansas Expressway, separates the two neighborhoods. In West Central very few people own their homes. Many of the residential buildings are former two-story, one family homes that have been divided up into decaying four unit apartments. In both Westside and West Central, if someone went house-to-house trying to break in, you’d probably call it suicide by proxy.

In Westside, the homes are smaller, single story, single family cracker boxes and ranchers, with a low cost of entry. Owners have kept the slumlords at bay by opting to stay in the neighborhood and apply their savings to buy up the low end of the market - maintaining them in good working order and renting out at fair market value. Travis is such a landlord, owning a house across the street from his. By taking care of his rental property, he protects the financial integrity of his own home. By taking a “no nonsense” approach to crime, he protects his family.

But, still, slumlords have made some penetration into the neighborhood. And real estate profiteers have built some large apartment complexes along Scenic Avenue, the most traveled road to the west of Kansas Expressway. Crime has come knocking at the door and people are scared.

How did we get to this point?

The news tells us that today’s wages are “stagnant.” They are not stagnant for unskilled or low-skill labor. In terms of buying power, they have been in free-fall since 1970. 50 years ago, 1 in 3 Americans belonged to a labor union. Today that number is 1 in 10 - the vast majority belonging to public sector unions with little or no striking power. For-profit colleges hand out paper “diplomas” for training in jobs paying as little as $8-9/hr. Tuition has skyrocketed for more traditional degrees. We’re left with a generation of young and middle-aged people buried in student debt.

The median length of time in a job for people aged 25-34 is 3.2 years. People are job hopping for a 25-50 cent an hour raise to make ends meet. And the entertainment industry is selling the idea that anyone can make it on “style” alone.

Suicide is at an all time high.

Did Chris Seitz deserve to die? Nobody deserves to die. That includes Travis and his family. Fearing for the safety of his family, in today’s society, Travis took appropriate action. But if we don’t take a harder look at what motivates behavior in our society and act on it, there will certainly be more tragedies like this one. A shift in a direction is needed. One to where “no nonsense” doesn’t have to mean “no future.” Literally.


Monday, August 13, 2018

The Mike Felten Interview: Back To School Days

(by Bill Glahn)

As a young man in Chicago, Mike Felten played the local folk and blues circuit, sharing the stage with the likes of John Prine, Steve Goodman, and Pinetop Perkins. A recording career, however, eluded him. Instead of making records he began selling them. Mike opened a shop in Iron Mountain, MI (upper peninsula) and adopted a cartoon moose as it’s logo. When he eventually moved the store to Paulina Street in Chicago, the moose logo moved with it. The Record Emporium enjoyed some great success there, eventually moving from one storefront to two.

The Record Emporium, like all the best new & used record stores, had a funky urban atmosphere and fit in well with the working class neighborhood near Wrigley Field. Then gentrification came, and with it, high rents. Felten’s record store survived for awhile, but when an age of disc-burners and I-Tunes turned records and CDs into a doomed market, The Record Emporium’s fate was sealed. The upscale bar market was much more appealing to his landlords. The business that provided income enough, along with that of his wife – a nurse, to raise a family was providing no more. Felten began playing the club scene again, this time recording CDs to sell at whatever venue would have him.
The gigs began to multiply and Felten found himself touring the upper mid-west – around 150 gigs a year. He and his wife, Gail, retired and bought a house in Franklin Park in July 2016.

Then the unforeseen happened. In February 2018, his wife, Gail, was diagnosed with ALS. Those gigs from Detroit to St. Louis to Kansas City and other distant points? Well, they were no longer a possibility – at least not for awhile. Mike would have to stay close to home. Still – there is no shortage of places in and around Chicago to play. When I interviewed him before a gig at Sylvie’s on July 2nd, it was his 80th show of the year.

Felten is currently in the studio recording his seventh album. He doesn’t reveal too much about what the finished album will be like, though. “The songs are still working themselves out.”

Mike Felten: It’s 7:35 in the evening at Sylvie’s in Chicago!
Bill Glahn: Your new record – you were telling me it’s going to have a little more instrumentation on it. Cello?
MF: No, no. That was the last one. This one might be a little more sparse, this time. Harmonica, bass… I’ve got the drummer lined up and of course me. I don’t know. We have tentative sax player. Tentative keyboards. The blues are kind of stripped down. We’ll see how it goes with each one. If I feel it’s complete… I like the raw sounds.
BG: More blues than folky?
MF: Yeah… I’m going to try to do two CDs at one time – one more produced with all kinds of people on it and one with just me & guitar.
BG: Like the 1st album?
MF: Yeah, I like the first album. It was all me, playin’ different instruments. So it blew me away. (laughs) I kinda like that way so people get a chance to hear what I sound like in person. (Felten plays almost exclusively solo shows)

BG: Topically you’re usually in there… well, you sing about your father as a working man – “a used car life” is how I think you put it.
MF: Yeah, a used car life for sure.
BG: Your records have always been rooted in the working class – the working class in Chicago specifically – and Iron Mountain (Michigan mining country).
MF: More Chicago this time. A lot of mom & dad.
BG: How long has it been since your mom passed?
MF: About eight or nine years now.
BG: And your dad was early, right?
MF: Yeah, 1991. It’s getting’ to be… I think there’s only one living (ancestral) family member left. I try to commemorate some of the things they’ve gone through. The houses I’ve lived in. It wasn’t heaven but it damn sure wasn’t hell. I guess I’m still trying to find out who I am.
BG: I’ve talked to quite a few songwriters recently that just happened to be in their sixties. One of the things that come up time and time again is that some of the things that weren’t important in their twenties and thirties have become more important. It’s not nostalgic thinking but, rather, reflective thinking.
MF: You look more kindly on your parents and the choices they made. I get the overwhelming sense that the problems they faced and the problems I faced back then are the same problems we’re facing right now. They have to be redressed and reaffirmed. And it goes on and on like another cycle.
BG: Yeah, if you live long enough you go through a cycle or two. When you’re young you think you’re bulletproof, but then you find out you’re not.
MF: We had the war in Vietnam and then the Civil Rights movement… and we thought we put that behind us. You want to think we put all of that behind – some of the crap you saw. And here we are – we’re fighting the same battle.
BG: My view – I don’t know about yours - is that… some of those same people we knew who were fighting those things – Vietnam, Civil Rights, have reverted back to individualist thinking. Money changes things. An awful lot of them have no problem sitting back and watching Afghanistan go on for 17 years. Do you get political on this next record?
MF: Well, you know… kind of. I try not to beat people over the head but it’s part of who you are and you’re facing these struggles. I’ve got one called “Godzilla Jones” and it’s about fighting hard times – getting blood on your nose. Over and over again. And you’re older and you’re tired. So you’ve got to pass the ball on. I can understand the kids from Florida. “How could you get us involved in Vietnam?” - “How can you get us involved with weapons in the schools.” It’s just stupidity. Why? Why? Why can’t you have a better life? Why couldn’t this all be eradicated? What happened when we got rid of Nixon and all those other assholes -pardon me - that came back? No, don’t pardon me. They come back and come back again with the same old tired ideas and bullshit. You can look back to Andrew Jackson.
BG: It’s like every time a new generation comes around they try to sell the same old lie. The next generation hasn’t heard those lies before. History, these days, is not taught in schools. You have a unique position as a volunteer tour guide at the Chicago History Museum. Do you get a chance to address some of this stuff?
MF: Yeah. Actually we have a Facing Freedom workshop that we do. It was kind of an underused exhibit. It’s dedicated to all kinds of struggles – from the United Farm Workers to the Pullman porters. Kids don’t know anything about this. Even Suffrage. And you look at the Declaration of Independence. Who did this apply to? It applied to white men with property. Could women vote? Could people of different colors vote? You had all these disqualifications that were accepted. "All men were created equal." "We hold these truths to be self-evident." Well things changed. And they’re changing again. These kids we talk to are younger than the Stoneman-Douglas kids. But I told them that “you’re at the point where you’re challenging your parent’s authority. They’re not always right. But you’ve got to accept responsibility and to change things and look at your issues. Where do you want to be? What changes do you want to make? And it might be a change that I don’t like. Or it might be a change that your teachers don’t like or your parents don’t like. It’s your vision and it’s part of becoming an adult. And you can grow on that. There are no wrong answers here. You give me your answer.” And it might be an answer that I don’t expect. And sometimes it has been an answer that I didn’t expect.
BG: Are these young people there because they have curiosity - made the decision to go there on their own? Or school children as a class trip?
MF: School kids. There was one kid, a small boy, who said he was afraid of walking down the street when people of other colors were walking towards him. Do you cross the street? Another kid said “if they’re not friends, you cross the street.” But you have that issue. Do you feel safe and do you do things for your safety? Or do you placate someone who might be offended ? You have to educate yourself with what’s goin’ on. I told him to err on the side of safety. But that’s an option on this whole Facing Freedom deal. Is it safer to stay at home and let the war go on? Or do you stand up and get your ass beat? [Felten made that decision at the 1968 Democratic Convention where his head was split open by a Chicago cop.] But I also told him “You can choose this issue or that issue, but you can also choose to do nothing as well. But if you choose to do nothing, you’re beholden to whoever does what.”
BG: Do you ever learn things as a guide?
MF: Oh yeah! I learn stuff from kids all the time. Different perspectives. They’ll jump in there on something like gun control and they might be against it, depending on where the kids are from. Kids might not know who the Pullman porters were. They might not know who Rosa Parks was. They might think “Rosa Parks, a black woman gets on a bus – what’s the big deal?” She could have gotten killed on that bus. You gotta think about this. They don’t know anything about the women’s movement. Or the American Indian movement. Cesar Chavez – that’s another one. “I like grapes. Why should I boycott grapes?” Pullman porters – unionizing was not all about wages. What about identity? All the Pullman porters had to go by the name “George.” And black men, in those times, couldn’t form a union. But they stood up and did anyway!
BG: Once you reach to a livable wage, wages are no longer the best thing a union can do. Safety for one. Child labor laws. Racial equality in the workplace. Pensions. Some of these things are rolling backwards.
MF: With kids, everything’s about fairness. And you bring these things up and they think about it. What’s fair? Sometimes it’s “It’s not fair that I can’t go out with Johnny.” And the Parent has to consider “Is Johnny behaving responsibly?
BG: There’s a childish view of what fairness is and mature one.
MF: It’s called compromise. (laughs)
BG: It’s the idea that you can challenge things. It’s something you can establish very early on. It’s a very important thing.
MF: Yeah. It’s going to be interesting to see where they are in ten years.
BG: Social Security is the most successful socialist plan ever to pass into law in the United States. And it’s under attack. It’s something every young person ought to think about as much as old folks like us. Where do you come down on Socialism vs. Capitalism? Do people have to buy your records to find out? (laughing)
MF: Yeah. Buy ‘em. Buy ‘em all? Listen to them over and over. (much laughing) I try to tell stories because people like stories. I try to humanize what happens.
BG: I get that and I like the stories between the stories that you tell when you’re performing. Like about the workingman’s fireworks across the river at the smelting plants when you were growing up. Is that the style you prefer all the time or do you like to preach once in awhile?
MF: Well, I don’t like to preach at all. But one of my favorite songs is “How Many Wars.” That’s not something I would put on one of my albums, though. [It can be found on a Youtube collection of outtakes called Man + Guitar + Dog]

But Gail’s father was a paraplegic from WW 2. Her brother just died from the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Her other brother did a couple of tours in Vietnam. And her son is a disabled veteran. I have a friend named Tim that was very badly wounded in Vietnam and eventually died. My dad had a friend that was in a POW camp during World War 2 – he got letters and things that my mom saved. He eventually started hearing voices, locked himself in a bathroom and killed himself. I don’t think my dad ever got over that. My dad never saw combat or anything like that, but this kid did.
BG: And those are people that did one or two tours. Today you have an all-volunteer army where guys are doing sometime 5-6 tours in the Middle East. Not to mention the people getting bombed and slaughtered in those countries. But there doesn’t seem to be any anti-war movement. There aren’t many Americans dying so there’s no outcry.
MF: Jan Maara – she’s a fairly successful folk singer, I think – she did this song called “Penny Evans” by Steve Goodman. I was sitting in the audience and she did a tremendous version of it. And lady in front of me said “I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want to be preached to.” This was in the ‘80s. And I thought, “Maybe people should be listening to this.” And lo and behold, we’ve had Grenada and Iraq and Afghanistan.

BG: I noticed over the years that you perform to a pretty wide variety of audiences. Sometimes it’s a fairly young audience that might not have come to see you specifically, but you got a good reaction and they seem to pay attention when they’re not drinking too heavy.
MF: I think the last time I saw you was in Kansas City and they were there to party. They reacted more to the up-tempo stuff, so I’ve put more of that into my set. You can tap your feet if you want. It seems like it’s working.
BG: Is there going to be more of that on the new record?
MF: Oh yeah! Most of it is up-tempo. There’s no sentimental ballads like “No More Wars” or “Working Man’s Paradise.” I mean, I love those songs but…
BG: How many shows are you doing a year now?
MF: Tonight’s show [July 2] is number 80 this year.
BG: I know you have some personal issues you’re working around this year and you’re booking dates closer to home. Are you able to keep that up?
MF: I want to play more folk festivals. Maybe next year. I’d like to play things like the Winnepeg Folk Festival. Americana festivals. Gail and I are Sooners fans- season ticket holders. We weren’t able to go to games this year, but she’s got a positive outlook and wants to go next season. I wouldn’t mind playing a club like the Blue Door while we’re out there [Oklahoma City’s best known club for songwriters]. We’ll see.

Fast Mikey Blue Eyes is the working title for Felten's next album. As for it being a Blues album he states "I have problems being called a blues guy. It is a lot of blues form, but I'm a white guy from the north side of Chicago (whatever that entails) - I'm not up from the plantation. I'm not usurping anyone's culture. The whole thrust of my music is being true to myself."

For sure songs:
Where the White Lady Lives
Ragtop Down
Godzilla Jones
Dead Old Girlfriend
Burnin and Lootin
Homan Avenue
Y'all Look Guilty

Homan Avenue? Isn’t that an infamous street in Chicago where cops routinely take suspects for "interrogation”? Felten isn’t saying. We’ll just have to wait for the CD.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Even Facebook Sometimes Must Have to Stand Naked

(by Bill Glahn)

When is an apology not an apology? When it's a lie. Unless you live completely off the grid (in which you wouldn’t be able to read this anyway) it would be impossible to miss the Facebook apology ad.

Facebook starts the ad telling all the wonderful things they set out to do for us. They follow admitting to only a poorly designed business plan. The ad concludes with this statement: “We’re committed to doing more to keep you safe and protect your privacy. So that we can all get back to what made Facebook good in the first place: friends. Because when this place does what it was built for, we all get a little closer.”

Alrighty then!

I’ve got a Facebook account. I’ve carefully cultivated it to include many like-minded friends. A large percentage of those are music fans, musicians, artists, poets, writers, photographers – all of legal age, most long of tooth like me. Imagine my surprise (NOT – this has happened before) when Facebook removed a post of mine for being “unacceptable for community standards.” The charge this time was nudity. So I did what I’ve done in the past when this happened. I lodged an appeal for a review. This takes seconds and in the past the result was always the same – Fb reinstated the post within minutes. Not this time.

The offending post? A YouTube video of The Pixies “Bone Machine” picturing only the album cover art from their 1st album, Surfa Rosa, which has been re-released in multiple formats. Wikipedia addresses the cover art: “Surfer Rosa's cover artwork features a photograph of a topless 'friend of a friend' of the band, posing as a flamenco dancer, pitched against a wall which displays a crucifix and a torn poster. Simon Larbalestier, who contributed pictures to all Pixies album sleeves, decided to build the set because ‘we couldn't find the atmosphere we wanted naturally.’ According to Larbalestier, Black Francis came up with the idea for the cover as he wrote songs in his father's ‘topless Spanish bar’; Larbalestier added the crucifix and torn poster, and they ‘sort of loaded that with all the Catholicism.’ Commenting on the cover in 2005, Francis said, ‘I just hope people find it tasteful.’”

Surfer Rosa has been certified gold in three different countries, could be found in any decent record store in the late '80s & '90s, and easily on the Internet in the current century. The cover is pictured on a plethora of high profile music-related sites. In short, it meets community standards for art - not pornography.

After several days I received a reply from Facebook that my appeal had been denied. They offered a 2nd review, supplying a drop down box this time for me to plead my case. I sent them links for the Pixies' Wikipedia page and another for the Wikipedia page covering nudes in art. From that page: “In one sense, a nude is a work of fine art that has as its primary subject the unclothed human body, forming a subject genre of art, in the same way as landscapes and still life. Unclothed figures often also play a part in other types of art, such as history painting, including allegorical and religious art, portraiture, or the decorative arts.”

I also did a copy & paste of the appeal and posted it on my Facebook timeline. The post for the Pixies page came with the same art as the video. The post for the art page came with a picture of Michelangelo’s David – with full penis exposure. I expected one of two things to happen – those posts would also be taken down and my account would be suspended. Or my original post would be re-instated. Neither has happened (yet?). Evidently Facebook doesn't want to be in the position of censoring the world's largest online encyclopedia.

I’ve pondered the situation for a half-day or so (getting pissed tends to throw one’s priorities out of wack). “Because when this place does what it was built for, we all get a little closer.” Huh?

I decided to check things out a little more. Seems there is an official Pixies page on Facebook. It’s been around for years. It has over 2 million “likes.” Out of those, 1.8 million “follow the page” (get new postings in their Fb news feed). The profile picture? The same Surfer Rosa album cover. The cover photo? A page wide image of the album cover 3 more times in each re-release format.

This new illusion that Facebook is trying to sell – one where they are not totally profit driven - is a boldface lie. But they are keeping up with the times, though, in this regard – they even lie to themselves. To quote the good Reverend, Al Sharpton, "I gotcha!" 

[Update: Facebook has denied a 2nd request to reinstate the "offending" post. They asked a follow-up question - "How do you rate this experience?" (rate by emoji) Pitiful.]

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Toll Road To Redemption - Mark Insley Ventures Out of the Desert

by Bill Glahn

There’s a road on the outskirts of Tucson in serious need of repair called Old Spanish Trail. To the east of the road is Saguaro National Park, home of America’s largest cacti - a beautiful, yet harsh landscape. To the west is a maze of sand and gravel roads that get narrower and ruttier the further in you dare to venture. This is where Mark Insley hangs his hat. He’s been hanging it there for the last 16 years. He hasn’t made any new music in the last 15 of those years.

Mark Insley might be the best-kept secret in Americana music. After three critically acclaimed CDs around the turn of the century, Insley seemed to vanish. In terms of musical output, he went mute.

Insley’s first release, Good Country Junk, was the result of his well-received stage act at the Palomino in Los Angeles. He enlisted members of Dwight Yoakam’s band (Scott Joss, Taras Prodaniuk, Pete Anderson), among others, and if there is one minor complaint about Good Country Junk, it’s that it was, stylistically, a bit too close to Yoakam. That’s not a bad thing as far as making a record, but it really didn’t offer anything fresh. That would change drastically with Insley’s sophomore album, Tucson.

Tucson featured another great support cast of players – Dave Alvin, Albert Lee, Tony Gilkyson, and some jaw-dropping organ contributions by Danny McGough. But the thing that makes Tucson a solid five-star record is not the players, it’s the songs. To borrow a phrase from Willie Nelson, these are the kind of songs that keep the jukeboxes playing - songs written by a man that feels things deeply, songs that cut to the bone and are delivered in a voice that reflects every note of that.

Insley’s third and final CD, Supermodel, carries that forward, including a remake of “The Devil’s Knocking” from Good Country Junk that is stunning in its transformation. These are the sounds of a man on the verge of breaking. And they are the last sounds the world has heard from Mark Insley.

So what happened? Insley’s pretty open about the last 15 years.

“Oh man, it’s not a pretty story. I had a couple of failed marriages. I had a good little run for a couple of years. I was hosting this thing downtown called ‘Arizona’s Most Wanted.’ I had bands coming in from all over the country – very few from Arizona. That didn’t really endear me to the local vox populi. That went away.

“You know, I fell in with a group of guys that were on the unsavory side. I was doing more drugs and alcohol than any man should live to tell about. I had this little run-in with the police for possession with intent to distribute and illegal possession of an automatic firearm. I ended up selling everything I had to hire the best criminal attorney in the state. And we beat all of that.

“You’d think I’d have learned my lesson but I just kept at it. So finally, a couple of years ago I got drunk and decided to go out for a motorcycle ride. I ended up in the hospital with a motorcycle handlebar puncture wound in my small intestine and third degree burns all over my legs.

“I kind of took stock of my life. Asked myself, ‘Do you want to die like this or live a little bit longer?’ I quit most of my bad habits and started working on my craft – my writing.

“I was doing a weekly gig at a BBQ joint and then that went away [a place on Old Spanish Road outside of the city, which went out of business]. I had another slow period and then in the last year I started sticking my toe in the water and seeing how it felt. And audiences seemed to respond. They like it. I like it.

“That’s what I do. So that’s what I want to do. I have enough songs to make an album. My plan is to go out to LA and record with some of my old cohorts. Some won’t talk to me anymore, but the ones that will – they seem interested.”

At 61 years of age, Insley has a different approach to his songwriting. Rather than in-the-moment songs of heartache, songs he refers to as “written under duress,” Insley is both reflective and forward-looking with some of his new material.

“About once a month I come into town and play this little joint called the Royal Sun. The gal that runs it is the one who actually coaxed me out of - I don’t know what you call it – semi-retirement? I went in there one time and she asked ‘You want to play here, don’t you?’ I thought, ‘Fuck no.’ But that started it. She just wouldn’t leave me alone until I said yes. And I’m glad she did. She’s a nice gal.

“Damon Barnaby – I’ve been playing with him for years. We like to do this duo thing there.”

It’s in these acoustic settings that Insley performs some of his recent tunes.

“My younger brother (Austin-based songwriter Dave Insley) has written songs about parents and family for years and I always thought, well, nobody really gives a shit about that stuff. But it’s just been within the last few years that I’ve begun to embrace these aspects of life. You realize you’re not immortal.”

But being reflective doesn’t have to mean losing your edge. Insley pulls a guitar out of its case and, in an interview setting, gives me an example of a new song from his days growing up in the farming community of Chapman, Kansas.

Called “My First Car,” it begins with a description of one of the ugliest and coolest (in a funky sort of way) cars Dodge has ever produced. Slant Six motor. Push-button automatic. By the time the song is over it’s a back-door murder ballad (the previous owner had murdered her husband and put the body pieces in the trunk).

And Insley describes the song as “absolutely true”. This is a new twist for Insley. It’s dark but it’s dark humor. It’s a great story delivered in a talking folk/blues style. It’s the kind of song that will go a long way in entertaining an audience, but not one that’s going to knock them off their bar stools.

“Now I’ll play you a song about the future.”

The future Insley is talking about is the same one we all face - death. And this one will knock you off your barstool. Lyrically it’s one of the most provocative songs Insley has ever written. Called “10-Cent Redemption”, Insley delivers with conviction. This isn’t just story telling. It’s confessional story telling with a vengeance. Pollyanna doesn’t live here.

I’m over-churched but I keep on sinnin’
I claim the good lord’s work but the devil’s winnin’ 

On June 20, Insley played his first gig in five years with an electric band. They didn’t play any new songs. “We’ve only rehearsed songs that the band knows from recordings.” When asked afterwards how it felt, Insley responded, “It felt great!” Insley hopes to enter the recording studio before the end of summer. The process will be a lot different this time. “I’ve never had to pay for recording a record.”

Insley still prefers the isolation of where he lives. “Nobody ever finds it. That’s why I live out there.” And there are tolls to be paid to travel out of those sand and gravel roads. Mark Isley is paying them a little at a time, but he’s paying them. And that gives fans of his old records something to hope for.

[This article appeared first in the BigO e-zine, Singapore's largest independent music publication.]

Monday, July 16, 2018

My People Come From The Dirt – Activism Shines Brightly at Woodyfest 2018

Prairie school class, north central Oklahoma, early 20th century. One of those kids is my Grandmother.
(story by Bill Glahn)

I can’t pinpoint exactly where my journey to the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival began. Perhaps it was during a family trip to Holland and the western border of Germany in the late ‘90s. I was already familiar with the territory, having made numerous business trips there over the years. I had friends in those countries – kind and gracious friends – friends who practiced the same level of tolerance that my dad had taught me. There was Eddie, a record shop owner from Zwolle (R.I.P). Eddie’s wife, Reah (R.I.P.), and daughter Joyce. I watched Joyce grow up. Often it was she who answered the phone on my Trans-Atlantic calls. “Eddie (she always called her dad by his first name), it’s Bill from America.” By pre-arranged agreement, Eddie would take his time getting to the phone, giving Joyce an opportunity to practice her English. Her English was fine – a little broken – but fine. But Joyce lacked confidence in her linguistic abilities. The last time I saw Joyce was in 2005. Her English was perfect and her confidence was top notch.

There was Dieter (whereabouts unkown), a junkie who supplied his habit by making “protection gap” bootlegs. Dieter, being aware of my tenuous sobriety at the time, always steered me away from that aspect of the German underworld. And always insisted on paying my hotel room when I came to visit. “The comings and goings at my apartment would not be suitable for you.” And no matter how bad the reviews of his CDs were in my magazine, he never expected favor.

Wolfgang was an unlikely friend, but a good friend nonetheless. Wolfgang specialized in selling American CDs that hadn’t been released in Germany. Wolfgang, was the son of the founder of a chain of German department stores – a member of a class that I did not frequent often. On one of his buying trips to Austin, he invited me out to see an Americana artist that I was not familiar with. I don’t remember the artist, but I remember that he was quite good. I was impressed with Wolfgang’s depth of musical knowledge.

I could give, probably, a dozen more examples. But all would share the same common thread – these friendships would evolve around music and tolerance.

Getting back to the story… While having lunch at some remote rail outpost in Germany, my family and I began playing Uno, an innocent card game involving no gambling. The waitress, an elderly woman, approached and began speaking, indignantly, in German. I know very little German, but the message was clear. “No card playing.” I don’t know if this was an actual policy or an affront to the moral values of this woman. I put the cards back in their box. “So sorry.” It was clear that tolerance didn’t exist everywhere. And that there was no music being piped through the speakers of this train depot. Nor musicians busking around the perimeter (a common occurrence outside of Central Station in Amsterdam).

Or maybe this journey began at my father’s deathbed. My dad was from Oklahoma – upstate in the north central part. He hadn’t seen his childhood homes of Enid and Ponca City in more than 5 decades. I made a trip to gather a photographic journal to take to him as he lay wasting away from some undiagnosed illness in a New Jersey hospital. The best of his final days were spent looking at those photos and reflecting on his childhood – stories I had never heard before. When my father died, I inherited a “secret stash” of news-clippings, letters, and childhood photos from the 1930s – an intimate picture of life during Dustbowl-era Oklahoma. I had never known my grandparents until I received this. My grandfather was a newspaper proofreader (a blue collar job at the time) and my grandmother was a portrait photographer with a knack of capturing the uncommon side of common people. They died much too early, but isn’t that often the case when subjected to a hardscrabble life? As Grant Peeples would sing at Woodyfest, “My People Come From The Dirt.”

Long ago, before I spent my remaining ten years in the work force as a warehouse laboror, I was a professional writer. One day in late 2003, while working in my office at Community Free Press, a freelance photographer/writer walked in with an aging Great Dane named Baby. The woman would become my girlfriend and the Dane would adopt me as her second human being. Baby would live for three more years to the ripe old age of 13 – ancient for a Great Dane. Baby became an almost constant companion and walking partner. She would often come to the office (she had free reign) and my love for the friendly and loving nature of the breed was sealed. Baby was an ambassador of good will and a peace-keeper. The romance with the photographer/writer didn’t survive long without her.

One day about 3 years ago, I came home from the warehouse job to be greeted by a bark from the next-door neighbor’s yard. It was a deep-throated and loud bark, not the usual growl that came from my neighbor’s other dog, a vicious pit bull named Leah (the kind that gives the breed an undeserved bad reputation.) “Maverick,” as Sally was named then, stood in the middle of my neighbor’s back yard and looked me square in the eye. To the untrained ear, it was a bark that could raise the hairs on the back of your neck. To me, however, it was a bark that said, “Pet me.” I took some pictures of Baby over to my neighbor, told her how much I loved Great Danes, and asked her if I could meet Maverick without Leah in the yard at the same time. She agreed and Maverick came immediately to the fence, jumped up, and started licking my face. Sally didn’t have real good manners, yet. She was still a puppy of about 8 months old. I told my neighbor, “These are great dogs, but they require attention.” My neighbor, a single mother working two jobs, didn’t have the time for that. Neither, I thought, did I. I was working 56 hours a week and had planned to put off having another dog until retiring.

As winter approached Maverick was confined to a tool shed in the back of my neighbor’s yard. On a particularly cold day, her water bowl froze. I had been giving Maverick some good dog food on the sly – an effort to supply some nutrition that she wasn’t getting from the Ol’ Roy crap my neighbor was feeding her. Maverick wasn’t even getting much of that – having to fight a pit bull with food aggression for every nugget. Her ribs were showing and she had bite wounds. That was more than I could endure. I went over to my neighbor’s house and told her, “My business stops at the fence line, but I’m not going to stand for this. Either you take this dog into the house and give her some shelter, or find her a proper home. The other option is I’m going to call Animal Control!”

An untrained and unattended dog will train itself. Maverick trained herself to rip the inside of my neighbor’s house to shreds. By early April my neighbor was knocking on my door. “I can’t find anyone to take Maverick. Will you take her?”

I told her I would pay for a visit to the vet and take her for a week to make sure she hadn’t lost her Great Dane nature. Then I would make a decision whether to keep her or find a Great Dane adoption society that could assist with a foster home. I started calling her “Sally” from day one. The vet appointment was on the third day but my ex-wife, who knows me better than anyone, told me, “I already know that whatever the vet says, you’re going to keep her.” She was right.

The past 2+ years are a love story between a human and a dog. There’re plenty of those to go around, and every one of them is worth hearing. Despite some early immune deficiency problems, Sally has grown into a fit (and smart!) adult.

Last year, I went to Woodyfest for the first time. It was more a rendezvous with friends I hadn’t seen in too long than a quest. I boarded Sally in the capable hands of Camp Bow Wow – a first for her. Her exuberance upon my return was almost too much to bear. Never again. I’ve been promising her that when I retire, we would go on some great adventures together – the kind that her “Great Aunt Baby” had embarked on. She seems to like those stories.

I had this plan to travel America – to check out what had changed in our country since John Steinbeck wrote Travels With Charley almost 60 years before.

"A dog, particularly an exotic like Charley, is a bond between strangers... A man who seeing his mother starving to death on a path kicks her in the stomach to clear the way, will cheerfully devote several hours of his time giving wrong directions to a total stranger who claims to be lost." (John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley)

Sally is a dog much like Charley. She's a lover, not a fighter, as well as a great conversation starter. She's the perfect dog to embark on this trip. This isn't the same America. Some changes are apparent. For starters, there are changes in law. In 1960, the Voters' Rights Act and The Fair Housing Act did not exist. The Environmental Superfund of 1980 did not exist. Nor the subsequent stripping of it's corporate funding. Infrastructure is different - there are far more interstate highways to get from place to place. There is modern technology (social networking) that both connects and divides. Political apathy is not so apparent - it's more a case of choosing sides - political awareness is in your face 24/7. Or is it? Overt racism has seen fluctuations, but is on the rise again. On the labor front, unions have taken a beating since 1960. The Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, 9/11, Citizens United, Iraq, Afghanistan and perpetual war, Cadillac Ranch, the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame - all these things have happened since Steinbeck wrote Travels With Charley. Sally and I have made a few exploratory journeys since I retired several months ago. The 2018 Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, however, was the first official stop on the Travels With Sally adventure/book project. It's a journey to find out where America has gone wrong, where it has gone right. All conclusions are yet to be discovered.

About a month ago I took Sally on a preliminary trip to Tucson to see how well she would adapt to long-distance travel. One of the stops along the way was to see what Okemah, OK was like when Woodyfest (officially called The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival) wasn’t in town. It was a particularly hot Sunday when I ran into Peggiann Combs and three other members of the Okemah Garden Club – doing the work that often falls on volunteers in small communities with an even smaller tax base. Peggiann has continued to correspond with me, informing me about the activities of her club - their hopes and dreams.

Sally proved to be well-suited for travel, so onward!

While music was a big part of the trip, the ultimate purpose was different. Mingling with the locals was equally, if not more, important as mingling with musicians. I already knew the reputation of many of the musicians that play Woodyfest – an independent group doing the hard work of spreading the socialist, inclusive politics of Woody Guthrie. But I also have heard old stories about Okemah not being particularly fond of their association as the birthplace of “that communist.”

Oklahoma is considered a deep “red” state these days. It’s rather ironic that the color used to reflect states with deeply conservative and anti-Socialist views was, in Guthrie’s time, the color used to describe Communists. Hell, in the McCarthy era, when anti-Communism was heating up, the Cincinnati Reds even changed their name to the Cincinnati Redlegs to avoid the association. Apparently it was safer to affiliate ones team to a band of Civil War terrorists posing as abolitionists than it was to be associated with Communists. They have since reverted to their original name, which is more applicable to present day terminology.

Rural Oklahoma, I’ve found, is too independent to be typecast. The Wobblies (IWW) had enjoyed a good amount of success in pre-WW1 Oklahoma. As a union, the Wobblies failed, ultimately, in Oklahoma with a strict adherence to ideology. Tenant farmers couldn’t join because they were, technically, “bosses.” It didn’t matter to the Chicago-based IWW that they were as dirt poor as the field hands. Or that they were not the land owners that reaped the profits without doing any of the work. The anti-union sentiment in Oklahoma can often be traced backed to those roots. But the desire to receive an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work remains alive and well.

There are realities in small town mid-America these days, not the least of which is they have been abandoned by the jobs and industries on which they once flourished, both agricultural and industrial. Okemah survives, in part, because it is located on the heavily traveled I-40. Tax revenues and jobs from a variety of restaurants (both chain and independent), truck stops, gas stations, and other businesses maintain a subsistence level of government funding. Volunteerism provides the rest.

Towns off the Interstate, however, don’t fair as well. Closer to home, Granby, MO is on life support. When the lead mines there ran out of lead after WW2, the locals were left holding the bag. With no tax base, the community is left to the uncertainties of government "entitlement" programs. Smelting remains dot the landscape. When land for a proposed Head Start School was chosen years ago, it was found to be over an old mine shaft and subject to sinkholes. There are reasons to hate irony.

Okemah has better chances for survival. The Okemah Garden Club, for example, maintains and waters the corner pots along Broadway Street. Their community garden produced over 3500 pounds of produce which was distributed through to the community through the Moscogee Creek Nation Nutrition Center, the Okemah Senior Nutrition Center and to home-bound disabled citizens. This year they also delivered fresh produce to the campers at Pastures of Plenty. They planted Redbud Row by the High School, a memorial to their late Superintendent of Schools (22 years of service). The dream of OGC to have their own property for the Community Garden and to include a bird and butterfly habitat garden. Also to include a Monarch station and weather station for area students to learn from.

The Okfuskee County History Museum is run entirely on donations and has an all-volunteer staff. At Woodyfest, the museum hosted such things as Tom Breiding’s combination of part labor songs, part history lesson. Also, Barry Ollman’s annual “Collecting Woody Guthrie” slide show. If you’ve never seen it, “Collecting Woody Guthrie” is as much about Guthrie’s activism as it is about collecting his artifacts. And Breiding, from Pittsburgh, PA can quote you chapter and verse about mining and labor.

Then there’s the Animal Rescue League of Okemah (ARLO). Volunteers for ARLO staffed the Brick Street Event Center as servers and bar tenders for tip money – money to fund their organization. During the busiest week of the year in Okemah, at one of the most frequented music establishments in town, this is sheer genius when it comes to local fundraising.

Without the independent nature of the locals, however, Sally would not have been able to witness any of this. The willingness to bend (or outright break) the rules, when the situation calls for it, comes with the territory in Okemah. Sally was a welcome guest at the Rocky Road Tavern for open mic sessions, the Brick Street Event Center for ticketed events by Chris Buhalis and Grant Peeples, St. Paul’s Methodist Church for a performance by the Guthrie Kids and Family Band, the History Museum for presentations by Barry and Tom, and grass seating (free of charge) outside the fence at the Pastures of Plenty concerts. Peggiann Combs even arranged a spot for Sally at a Mexican restaurant.

The musicians brought the passion and activism that attracts thousands of folks from around the country every year at Woodyfest. But the folks that live in Okemah year round have it as well.

My dad, a community volunteer and patriot in his own right, would be spinning in is grave over a Trump-led Republican Party. He would have approved of the goins’ on in Okemah this week. When Okemah native, John Fullbright, closed the Saturday night proceedings at Pastures of Plenty he did so to a backdrop of lightning and thunder. It all seemed so appropriate. “So sorry” is not a proper response to authoritarianism. Make some noise! My people, do indeed, come from the dirt. And I’m honored to call the people of Okemah, My People. Sally and I will return as often as we are able. But while we're away we'll be carrying this tune with us...

[Bill Glahn is a retired warehouse worker and an unretired writer from Springfield, MO]

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Who Will Save The World - Travels Through The Texas Panhandle

-by Bill Glahn-

The world can't give
All its life and live
We must give back or lose it.
(“Music Is The Food Of Thought”, written by Tony McPhee)

When The Groundhogs released Who Will Save The World in 1972, it followed a popular format in rock music at the time – theme albums. But the theme Tony McPhee chose for his songs may have been a first for rock music – “earth first.” The cover was designed to look like the action comics of the day. Up in the left-hand corner, where you might usually find a brand name like “Marvel”, it contained the phrase “When danger arises, up from inner space come the MIGHTY GROUNDHOGS."

Recently I took a trip from Springfield, MO to Tucson, AZ. Much of the trip was along the same route I had made many times in the late ‘80s and ‘90s with my family, to CD and record trade shows in Los Angeles. On one of those trips, Don Henley was autographing copies of Heaven Is Under Our Feet, a collection of essays edited by Henley and journalist Dave Marsh. The book was part of Henley’s Walden Woods Project – an ultimately successful effort to save Walden Woods from development by purchasing the portions that weren’t already under protection. The Groundhogs weren’t nearly as successful in their efforts to bring attention to environmental concerns in the United States (the album peaked at no. 202 on the Billboard album charts) but did have noticeably better results overseas (no. 8 on the British charts).

I took my dog, Sally, on my recent trip. Sally, like many non-humans, not only takes notice of what’s on top of the ground, but what’s under the ground as well. I’ve learned to pay attention to Sally and follow her lead. Heaven is, indeed, under our feet. Hell can be, too.

As we passed through the Texas Panhandle, the landscape had changed quite a bit since those trips to L.A. Gone were the small wooden or steel windmills and their small collection ponds for cattle. Gone was the sagebrush that the cattle feed on. The cattle had moved onto feeding lots. If the sight of cattle, tens of thousands of them, corralled in tightly packed pens makes your stomach churn, you probably shouldn’t travel I-40 through Texas. But you should know they’re there and think about that the next time you bite into a hamburger.

But what of the sand and native grasses?

On those earlier trips out to L.A., the first giant windmills started showing up in the passes leading from the high desert into Los Angeles. "What a wonderful thing," I thought. "Using wind power to light such a vastly populated area." Passing through the Texas Panhandle last week, those windmills were everywhere. Thousands of them, stretching over millions of acres. But there were no cities to light. Hardly any houses at all. What there was were vast fields of vegetation - lush green vegetation. Looks can be deceiving.

You see, the largest aquifer in the world, the Ogallala Aquifer passes directly under the Texas Panhandle - the entire width of it.

From Wikipedia: "Large scale extraction for agricultural purposes started after World War II due partially to center pivot irrigation and to the adaptation of automotive engines for groundwater wells. Today about 27% of the irrigated land in the entire United States lies over the aquifer, which yields about 30% of the ground water used for irrigation in the United States. The aquifer is at risk for over-extraction and pollution. Since 1950, agricultural irrigation has reduced the saturated volume of the aquifer by an estimated 9%. Once depleted, the aquifer will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally through rainfall."

What Wikipedia doesn’t say is how much of that 9% has happened in just the last decade or two. Or how long the aquifer can last under such an accelerated draining. Capitalists can sure fuck up a good idea. When the aquifer reaches a point where it can no longer be exploited, Capitalists will do what they always do – abandon it. They’ll leave behind a legacy of destruction that dwarfs the slag heaps outside of Pittsburgh, burning rivers in Cleveland, lead mines in western Missouri, and even the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Dust Bowl? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

The Mighty Groundhogs didn’t save the world. But they served notice. Now it’s up to you and me.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Sally's Big Adventure

-by Sally G as interpreted by Bill Glahn-

[Sally is my Great Dane companion – my best friend for the last 2+ years. I had no plans to get another dog until I retired, but Sally needed to be separated from a bad situation. I was asked to adopt her, I said OK, and I have never regretted it. Retirement came 2 months ago. I’ll let Sally take it from here – to the best I am able to interpret her Scooby-Dooisms.]

Daddy likes to play music for me a lot. Sometimes it sounds great to my ears, sometimes not. When it’s not-so-good, I just stand up and walk out of the room. Daddy doesn’t mind. He thinks it’s kind of funny. But when it’s music I like, I usually go lay down closer to the speakers. “You’re a lot like your Great Aunt Baby,” Daddy says. “The best music critic in the house!” I’ve never met Great Aunt Baby, but Daddy has shown me pictures. She looks a lot like me only older.

Daddy has told me stories about her – stories about great cross-country adventures to Atlanta, Baltimore, and Minneapolis. In Minneapolis, there is an annual concert called Rock For Pussy where they play David Bowie songs. I like David Bowie. Daddy says it raises money for “no-kill” animal shelters. I’m not sure what that means, but I think it’s a real good idea if it makes Daddy happy. Daddy took Baby to Muscle Shoals once. Daddy says this is where some of Baby’s favorite music was made. He always adds a lot of details about funny stuff. Like the biker bar/ pool hall outside of Muscle Shoals called Hog & Heifer. And about how he taught some bikers how to play a game called Cheater’s Pool. I don’t understand a lot of what Daddy’s talking about, but he seems happy when telling me those stories. So I listen until I fall asleep. When Daddy retired a few months ago, he said it’s my turn for big adventures now.

He started making what he called mix CDs for the road. Mark Insley’s “Middle of Nowhere.” Billy Dankert’s “Open Wide.” Blackfoot’s “It’s A Highway Song.” Al Perry’s “We Got Cactus.” Elton John’s “Holiday Inn.” There was one called “Cadillac Ranch.” Daddy says we’re going there. He sings along with that one! “"I'm gonna pack my pa and I'm gonna pack my aunt/ I'm gonna take them down to the Cadillac ranch." I can’t wait!

Daddy put some extra things in the car. Like the suitcase and a lunchbox marked with my name. The last time he did this was when we went to a cabin at Devil’s Den State Park. Oh, Goody! That’s near where those little humans Daddy calls “the grandkiddles” live. I always have fun there! Daddy does, too. When we get on the big road heading that way, I’m sure of it.

We drove for miles to a town called Joplin. That’s where Daddy usually turns onto another big road. But he missed his turn! I tried to tell him but he just didn’t understand. So I jumped into the seat next to Daddy and tried to explain. I know I’m not allowed in that seat, but this was important. Daddy got off the road and put me back in my space. He told me if I didn’t behave, I couldn’t see the Cadillac Ranch. Then he put my lunchbox between the seat to block me. This was serious. I have to admit, I laid down and copped an attitude at first. Daddy has this saying sometimes, “Fuck ‘em. Let them make their own mistakes if they don’t wanna listen.” He was usually talking about his bosses. I pouted a little and thought the same thing about Daddy. But it turned out Daddy was right. This was a long ride to somewhere new – an adventure, not a trip. Daddy stopped the car a lot to let me out and stretch my legs and pee.  We drove all the way to Amarillo. Daddy said I was so good that we would definitely stop at the Cadillac Ranch in the morning. We got a room at something called a “motel.” There were two beds, one for me and one for Daddy. I decided that I wanted to sleep next to Daddy in his bed. He didn’t seem to mind. I’m sure he had forgiven me for my bad behavior a long way back.

Day 2 and the first stop is the Cadillac Ranch! This was a cool place – a bunch of old cars sticking out of the mud in the middle of a cow pasture. The dirt trail up to the cars was rock hard but there were good scents on the ground. I could spend some time here! When we got close, there were cans of spray paint all over the ground. The empty ones were turned over and the ones with paint still in them were turned straight up. Daddy let go of my leash and told me to stay. He walked into the mud pit around the cars and painted my name on one of the cars. I don’t like mud on my feet so I waited for Daddy to get done. A nice boy took some pictures of us. On the way back to the car Daddy let me wander into the cow pasture to poop. I have a container of poop bags attached to my harness and Daddy always puts my poop in a bag when we take walks. This time he didn’t. I suppose if cows use this field to poop it doesn’t really matter.

On the way back to the car, there was a man and his wife on the side of the road. The man was on a scooter like the one our friend Douglas rides. Douglas has a dog called McLaird and we see them at the park a lot. This man didn’t have a dog. Daddy stopped and asked the man if he needed any help. The man said that his scooter wouldn’t fit through the pasture gate but the view from the road was good enough for him. The Cadillac Ranch was on his bucket list of things to see. Daddy showed him pictures on our camera of what it looks like close-up. The man and his wife were real friendly and petted me a lot. They said I was beautiful and asked if Daddy would take a picture of them and me. Daddy took one with their camera and took one on ours as well. Yippee! New friends! I’m beginning to like this adventure a whole lot. But what’s a bucket list?

Daddy said we wouldn’t drive so far today. We drove to a city named Albuquerque. We stopped at several rest areas. The first had a dog park so I could run off leash. I played with another dog there. We got along great. But, jeez, was it hot. I didn’t play long. At the second stop, the nice people let me go into the gift shop and Dairy Queen. Daddy says that different places have different rules. Back home it’s against the rules for pets to go into the big building at Nathaniel Greene Park. But there’s one lady there that always makes an exception for me. Being friendly and well-behaved has it’s advantages. When we got to the hotel the ladies at the reception desk loved all over me. Daddy calls me a “chick magnet.” I’m not sure what that means but it sure sounds funny. I got to eat in the breakfast area in the morning as well.

We stopped at a place called Tombstone the next day. They wouldn’t let me in Boothill Graveyard, but they let me walk the historic district in the downtown area and even into one of the stores. You could take a tour on a trolly - $10 for adults, under 5 rides free. Hey! I’m under 5. But Daddy said no, we needed our daily walk. On the highway south to Tombstone there was a Border Patrol check-point. All cars headed north were being checked. Daddy told me a story. He called it his “duh” moment. It seems Daddy knew Tombstone was in Arizona but didn’t know it was so close to the Mexican border. No wonder so many bad men gathered there. They could cross the border in minutes to go where the law couldn’t get them. Murderers, thieves, rapist, gun smugglers. Daddy says Trump had it right all along. He just had his history and directions mixed up.

When we were stopped by the Border Patrol heading back, Daddy opened my window in the back so I could stick my head out. He said, “They’ll want to search inside that big green suitcase for sure. I could fit a couple of kilos into that thing. Sally, do your best ambassador-of-good-will act.” I’m not sure what he meant, but I stuck my head out and let the Border Patrol officer pet me on top of my head. The officer said, “Beautiful dog. You’re Ok. Go on through.” What’s a kilo?

Tucson was wonderful. We stayed there for two days. They have a great park there with water fountains and shady trees. And grass! I haven’t seen much of that out here.
The hotel ladies were real friendly there, too. A nice man named Mark came by the hotel for an interview. I'm not sure what an interview is, either. But he was nice and he talked with Daddy for about an hour and sang me some songs. I could smell some dog scent on him. He said he had two dogs – a Labrador named Layla and a Huskie-Cow Dog mix named Jack. I know some Labradors but I’ve never met a cow dog. I was super tired and I needed my sleep for the journey home. Daddy went to a club where Mark was playing and I dozed off. The sun sure stays up a long time out here and the earth’s gravitational field just doesn’t seem right to me. I woke Daddy up early in the morning. He seemed a little out of sorts, but he rubbed my head anyway. “Only one stop on the way home - Tucumcari. That’s where I used to stop on the way back from trips to California with my sons. There’s some cool older hotels there in the downtown area. Cheap, too.”
Road trip with Baby 2005
All in all, I think Great Aunt Baby DID make the trip. Daddy says dogs have souls. I want to do this again. Please, Daddy! But first I want to rest up. 

Bonus tracks: