A Love Unnamed

I’ve begun flying on business fairly regularly in the last several years, and aside from the “perks” of being away from home and collecting points to spend more time away from home, it’s been interesting to drive other cars.  National Car Rental, if you join their club, let’s you choose from any car on the member aisle – or Executive aisle if you rent frequently enough.

Hyundai Sonata, with a mid-level trim, nice.  Kia Sorento, just feels cheap.  VW Passat – kind of sporty with a unique and not unpleasant odor.  Toyota Rav 4 – kind of stiff.  Jeep Patriot – a shell of a SUV.  Ford Fusion – acceptable, but the same as our company car fleet.  Ford Edge – surprisingly nice.   Nissan Rogue – an okay version of its larger brother, the Murano.  And so it goes.  Temporary rides for temporary needs.  So, I return to the airport parking lot, get within sight of my car, and think, far more often than not, “Hello, baby.”  It’s good to be home, or, if not quite that, to my home car. 

It’s a 2006 Nissan Murano.  It has fit me like a glove for over 11 years and 182,000 miles.  Eleven years is a long time in a corporate life.  There are numerous coworkers who know me by my car and no other.  Elegant in its simplicity, the SUV moniker was originally advertised as a Smooth Utility Vehicle.  And it was, with it’s then fairly novel continuously variable transmission.  Substantial in feel, nimble enough, a great ride, a worthy ride (zipping by a Land Rover spinning its wheels in one of Atlanta’s deadlocking ice storms, for example), and a surprisingly good sound system (as proven by comparison to the many rental cars).  Mediocre gas mileage, so there’s that.


My mom once named her 1970 blue Dodge Dart Swinger, “Betsy.”  I hated Betsy.  It lacked air-conditioned (or A/C and gas shortages = no A/C), the blue faded quickly over time, and it became over time an artifact from a prior civilization, at least in kid years.  I’ve resisted naming any of my, let’s see, two vehicles that I’ve owned, due to my distaste for Betsy (and refused blue cars for the same reason).  There was my short-term college car, a 1980 Pontiac Sunbird, which was a (censored) excuse for a car,  and the Murano.  In between were at least 8 company cars that don’t count. 

So, “Hello, baby.”   That’s not really a name, but after driving rental cars, the stitched leather steering wheel provided a tactile enjoyment to driving that every company car or rental lacked.  Plastic steering wheels just don’t cut it.   My car was a home away from home, a personal space, a theater for probably a thousand CD hearings.  Or more.  I’m speaking in past tense.  It’s sad, I know.


Despite an ambitious goal for two more years of faithful service, the car’s moans and groans, or more specifically, its leaks and transmission roar, summed to triple the remaining cash value of “Hello, baby’s” remaining cash value to repair, with no certain guarantee in life expectancy.  Suddenly, I’m the solo member of an health insurer death panel.  Live or let die.  Well, living doesn’t come cheap, so…

Where to do that, exactly?  Well, the place it entered my life, of course, the same place that pronounced its pending medical bill had I opted in.  So, if you’re the unfortunate soul who buys it next, long may she run.  But she won’t.  (But, in the meantime, don’t tell her I’m cheating on her, or about the new 11 speaker Bose sound system that makes parting, shall I say, so much easier?)


Dixie Dregs–Live at Center Stage

They’re back.  And thank goodness.  It’s only been since March 6, 2000, so 18 years.  Or… 40 years since this lineup that made their first recording in 1977, Free Fall


A high school buddy introduced me to the Dregs around 1981.  I hadn’t heard anything like them before or since.   Part country, jazz, fusion, rock, classical – they could play anything they wanted, and they did just that, mixing in the genres from album to album.  You can’t really say too much about Steve Morse, the band’s leader and guitarist.  Despite the bright lights with which he surrounds himself, he’s the calling for the fans.

As might be expected, those fans are young guys, or, well, young enough to have been deprived of living foolishly in the 60’s, though I’m sure there were some of those in the crowd, too.   Music has no age limit.


It’s hard to pinpoint musical highlights for a show like this.  The songs were well-known, as people don’t just stumble into a Dixie Dregs concert.  It’s all instrumental, with ace musicians at every spot – drums, bass, keyboards, violin, and keyboard.  At times simple, at times complicated, the between song jest of “we can’t agree on what the time signature of this song is” speaks to 1) the sophistication of some of the pieces and 2) to hell with musical expectations.


Speaking of being unconventional, the Dixie Dregs renamed themselves in the early 80’s as The Dregs as a (failed) gesture to find a mainstream audience, not withstanding a handful of Grammy nominations for Best Instrumental Performance.  That lasted a couple of albums before later regroupings reclaimed the fuller name.  So, it’s of interest, if not admiration, that they raised a middle finger to political correctness and kept the Dixie in their name, given the vitriol of the times.


The question arises, after such a band layoff, how do the members keep their talents up to the level that we were witnessing?  Answer, they never quit.  For example, this article about Steve Davidowski.


Or, bassist Andy West, at least a part-time VP for Analytics and Adaptive Learning at Pearson Education.  He kept playing too, with or without this band.


And, if there was a disappointment, well, there would be two.  One would be that, despite covering everyone’s favorite Dregs songs, they didn’t do a cover version of somebody else’s, something always fun and surprising in past tours.  Second, the Setlist taped to the stage indicated “Gina Lola Breakdown” would be the second song of the encore. which would have been a fun send-off.  But, who’s counting?  Well, dang it.  I did.

Hey, look! Here they are now!

Keep scrolling for the many faces of Steve Morse, plus other photos.
  1. Divided We Stand
  2. Free Fall
  3. Holiday
  4. Assembly Line
  5. Twiggs Approved
  6. Take it Off the Top
  7. What If
  8. Rock ‘n’ Roll Park
  9. Moe Down
  10. Odyssey
Set 2:
  1. Allen’s Violin solo
  2. Northern Lights
  3. Go for Baroque
  4. Country House Shuffle
  5. Day 444
  6. Leprechaun Promenade
  7. Refried Funky Chicken
  8. Wages of Weirdness
  9. The Bash / Drum Solo
  10. Cruise Control
Bloodsucking Leeches

Click on any photo for larger views.






















Marillion–Live at Variety Playhouse

So, how many would show up in Atlanta for an English progressive rock band?  Well, as it turns out, it seemed a sold out show.  Absent the presence of a radio station that would touch a band like this, you realize it’s not needed when those attending harkened to the days when radio, record shop discoveries and word of mouth were a thing.


I was never a huge fan of their early work, as it sounded a bit too much like Peter Gabriel era Genesis.  That was my reaction after the band’s first album, and it’s one that I regret.  Revisiting their work, with then-singer Fish and current singer Steve Hogarth, I find that there’s much to explore.


That said, I didn’t particularly care for 2016’s FEAR album – a too much narrative and/or too little instrumental passages.  Still, they’re one of the “greats,” and Marillion rarely comes around.  Hopefully other acts that participate in the Florida based progrock cruises will similarly follow the highway north after the tour is over.  So, with concert buddy in tow, off we go.


As expected, FEAR dominated the set.  And by the reaction of tour T-shirt clad audience, that was just fine with them.  Sound and lighting were excellent, and front man Hogarth commanded the stage.  As the night grew on, the crowd appreciation was reflected in his expressions between sections, often smiling and making eye contact with many of the fans.


Ace guitarist Steve Rothery handled his solos beautifully, a prime example that fleet fingers aren’t needed for a career in rock music.  Wry grins and frequent nods were shared with his corner of fans in front of the stage. 


Highlights included “Season’s End,” “King” with an impactful visual of those passed away, and all of the encores, perhaps with an edge to “Sugar Mice” for its sing-along status.

Additional photos follow the set list:

Set list:

  • El Dorado I– Long-Shadowed Sun (FEAR, 2016)
  • El Dorado ii – The Gold (FEAR, 2016)
  • El Dorado iii – Demolished Lives (FEAR, 2016)
  • El Dorado iv – FEAR (FEAR, 2016)
  • El Dorado v – The Grandchildren of Apes (FEAR, 2016)
  • You’re Gone (Marbles, 2004)
  • White Paper (FEAR, 2016)
  • Season’s End (Season’s End, 1989)
  • Kayleigh (Misplaced Childhood, 1985)
  • The Leavers I – Wake Up in Music (FEAR, 2016)
  • The Leavers II – The Remainers (FEAR, 2016)
  • The Leavers III – Vapour Trails in the Sky (FEAR, 2016)
  • The Leavers IV – The Jungle of Days (FEAR, 2016)
  • The Leavers V – One Tonight (FEAR, 2016)
  • The Great Escape (Brave, 1994)
  • King (Afraid of Sunlight, 1995)
  • Encore:
  • The Invisible Man (Marbles, 2004)
  • Encore 2:
  • Sugar Mice (Clutching at Straws, 1987)
  • This Strange Engine (This Strange Engine, 1997)









Ice Fishing

The invitation was there, so I took it.   Ice fishing, in northwestern Wisconsin on the Chippewa Flowage!  It wasn’t a bucket list item, but hey, why not?  After working in St. Paul, we left for about a 2.5 hour drive “north.”  Roads were in good shape, with the sides cleared of trees a good distance so drivers have a better chance of avoiding deer, as well as wrecked vehicles to be found. Comforting, right? 

It’s rural, pockmarked with little towns that on average, have two to three little restaurant/bars, a general merchandise store, a beer store/gas station, with homes a small distance along the road on either side.  Throw in a grocery store, an occasional motel and fast food restaurant, and there you have it. What do people do up there for a living?  Well, there is some industry tucked away, but otherwise it’s farming and catering to the needs of hunters, fishermen, snowmobilers, and retirees.


Sure.  The people are friendly.  So, we stopped at this little spot, regarded by my friend as having the best food between “here and there.”  He should know as he grew up in the area and has stopped at most of the bars over the years.  And, I had a tasty fried fish sandwich, coleslaw and the obligatory beer.  It was a small place, where people obviously knew each other, one selling raffle tickets for an ice fishing competition that was scheduled for the next day.


So, what’s involved.  First, there is a fair amount of preparation needed – minnows, fishing rod/reel, ice auger, something to sit on, and general winter clothing.  My friend had extra clothing to help me out, but as he put it, “It’s like Spring!” meaning the temperatures were in the high 30’s and no wind to speak of. 

So, we gear up and hop on to his ATV and head for, ultimately, an island known as Little Banana.  I’ll help with a map.  I’ve marked the spot with a “1” below, just south of island.


First, we get the ice auger out and drill.  Frankly, it’s kind of fun.  You drill until you feel it punch through, then lift it with what should be Black Gold or Texas Tea bubbling up, but it’s only ice water.  I mean, you’re standing on a lake and drilling a hole.  The water gushes up and then quickly freezes. 


After drilling the whole, you take a plastic scoop on a long handle and dig out the displaced ice to clear out the hole.  Helpfully, the handle also serves as a measuring stick, and the ice was generally 13” to 17” thick where we drilled.   I gather around “4” is when people feel comfortable walking out on the lake.

At this point, and drilling several holes in a row, you bring out the electronics to see how deep it is.  This is a visual indicator where a lake shelf might be located because fish tend to follow the terrain.  By law, you can only tend three holes per person, so we end up with six holes.  Only, there’s only two of us, so you can only tend two, right?  Well, not so much.

However, there are these helpful little fishing tools called “Tip-ups.” It’s essentially a line that connects to a board that spans the hole, and should a fish strike the bait, it twists a catch and a spring loaded flag pops up to alert you get moving, yank the line, and pull it in.


If that’s not enough of an advantage, the electronics also can show you where your bait is compared to the bottom and give indications when fish are in the area. 


So, now all this left is to be “Grumpy Old Men” and pile into a comfy ice fishing house, complete with heater and a day’s worth of beer. 


Those may exist somewhere, but not here.  First, this “lake” has marginally developed shoreline, so on the best weekend in a couple of months for ice fishing, we saw only a couple other people doing it.  So, no congestion.  Also, there was the spring-like weather, so it ends up looking like this:


Not much different than sitting on a boat seat, only no boat.  Now, let’s say that it was colder and/or windy.  Well, behind the AV we’re pulling a pre-packaged “ice fishing house.”  It’s a sled with two mounted chairs that fold open, along with a cover that can be positioned overhead like a tent.  Just drill two holes a few feet apart, and you and a buddy can sit there in a tent and fish the holes.  It looks something like this, as erected by a guy who chose 50 yards from us as the best spot to fish among the 15,000 acres of fishing paradise.


So, you sit and fish.  And nothing bites.  Nothing shows on the electronics, and eventually you brag about your (lack of success) with a Facebook post because really, what else are you to do in an era when smart phones operate on a frozen tundra?


Spot #1 didn’t work out, so we relocated to #2 over by Big Banana island.  More holes to drill (fun), but it was just as uneventful as the first spot. 

Day 1:  0 bites.

Okay, it’s Day 2.  Due to ice auger issues, we borrow some holes that had frozen over near home base (X on the map).   Only, it’s Sunday.  And it’s a doubleheader for the NFL Division titles.  No problem.  We have tip-ups.


So, in the comfy den, we keep an eye on the flags, and when one pops, we rush to put boots and jacket on, hop on the ATV and drive the 100 yards or so to the flags.  Happily, we had several occasions to do so, resulting in the catch of one (1) Northern Pike.


If we were starving, we could have eaten this one.  But we weren’t, so we let him go.  First, I was very happy to have caught the fish, about 14” but fairly slim.  It’s reportedly a decent fish to eat, though not as tasty as Walleye (out of season anyway) or Bluegills.  Whatever. Caught a fish.

It should be noted that my friend’s refrigerator and tables are decorated with many photos of him or his grandson holding fish that generally measure 30” to 42”.  It’s a really good fishing environment, and… at least I caught one. 

So ice fishing was a first, as was driving an ATV, with a daily double of first time driving an ATV on a lake.  “Don’t drive over there (a shallow dead end) but you can go wherever you want.”  So, I did.  By this time, I’d observed how my friend had stayed wide of the markers that define the snowmobile trails and often looked over his shoulder (the rear view mirror was marginally helpful).

Now, snowmobiling.  They tend to hunt in groups, which makes sense should one break.  But even in the best weekend weather in a while, that weren’t that many.  Those that were there, though… zoom.  It looks like fun.  Helpfully, they put maps in the lake to guide them, to lodges, trails (which connect paths on both shores, for example).  Still, it’s a little surreal to see “road” signs on a lake.


Economically, it makes sense, because other than the speed demons, people tend to drive from one lakeside bar to another for adult beverages.  Not a bad deal if you can get it.  Anyway, I drove “a ways” ultimately contenting myself by driving around an island for no other reason than I could.  It’s kind of a fun ride.  There was several inches of snow, but certain areas were icy which is pretty much exactly what makes ice driving fun.


All told, I had a great time and got to appreciate why people love winter recreation in the north.  Fortunately, that doesn’t require living there.  No, not because I’m afraid of the cold, but rather giant mutant mosquitos and other insects that eat people alive in warmer months.  Yeah, it’s not the cold, really.