The Five Love Languages

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It seems I've run into trouble with at least one person who takes exception to my tongue-in-cheek characterization of my wife's dog, Gypsy, as a "stupid" dog.  Setting aside the uncouth nature of "Snortz," as we often call her, Gypsy obviously has some wisdom about her. 

She gets excited about certain things, namely meals.  When I return home from work, it's not that she's necessarily excited to see me (though she is a little bit), it has as much to do with "if he's arriving home, that means it's time for my dinner!" 

Any visitor to our home creates another excitable moment.  It's a fine opportunity to flare her nostrils and launch a loving array of wetness on a visitor's legs.  The Gypsy-savvy guest who wears shorts in the summer knows not to enter the house until she has settled down, but there's always the sneak attack a little later when they're less suspecting.  Her nose is generally set on "spray" rather than "stream," and I suspect that "Aw, mannnnnnnnn," in dog terms, must mean "I love you too, Gypsy."  Endearing.

Which brings us to the UPS guy, yet another excitable occasion.  He visits fairly regularly, due to my wife's crafting business.  Over the past year or more, she recognizes the brown truck and eagerly awaits his arrival at the door, knowing that he'll leave the package at the doorstep, ring the bell, and depart.  She doesn't have a chance for her preferred social graces, but the glass pane, if dogspeak was an option to it, would be saying "I love you too, Gypsy."  Where's the Windex?

Her excitement, though, is less about the UPS guy and more about the large milk bone he leaves on top of the box.  Or, sadly, it used to be.  There's a new UPS guy now, and he doesn't leave a bone.  She hardly musters now when Brown arrives, the memory of many bones replaced by the expectation of nothing.  Again.

Successful marriages take lots of milk bones.  As my peer group enters mid-life, there have been several recent occasions where friends or acquaintances have reassessed their lives to date and decided that a crisis is a logical next step.  They haven't received enough dog bones in recent years, and I suspect they haven't given them out, either.

I'm not one for psychobabble self help books.  A lot of authors make great arching life-changing Five Love Languagesconclusions with a few pithy case stories in hand to support their cases.  That doesn't mean that they're right. 

One book that gained a lot of traction for me, though, was The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman.  As I read through it (and it's a fast read or I wouldn't have), my truth detector kept pinging on point after point.

The five languages of love are ways in which we demonstrate and receive love.  Briefly, these are:

1) Gifts

2) Physical Touch

3) Words of Affirmation

4) Acts of Service

5) Quality Time (not co-location time)

The point made is that, of these, we each have one primary love language.  If we value "Acts of Service" most, we tend to give the same.  That's fine, but not if your spouse's primary love language is "Words of Affirmation."  They feel unloved even while their partner is busy sharing their love - but in the wrong form.  I've presented this concept to groups before, and it's amazing how often spouses do not guess each other's primary love language correctly.  A complicating factor is that they may change over time, and none are invalid completely.

Undergirding all of this is the primary concept that love is not a feeling.  It's a decision.  Feeling "in love" lasts about two years, and after that it takes a regular decision to make that special someone continue to feel special, and vice versa.

The stereotypical mid-life crisis may involve all sorts of things outside of relationships, such as glamour toys, plastic surgery, a new career, a new hobby, etc.   But, for people near to me, the real crisis occurs not when they find life wanting in some way, but when they make a decision not to love.  And, that bothers me greatly.

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iPod, iPhone, iWork, iBlog, i i i...

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...I guess advertising works.  I certainly didn't need an iPhone.  A coworker had one, and, sure it look looked spiffy and simple to use, but a phone is a phone is a phone (and a camera).  An extra iPhone$30 a month for a data plan was certainly not in the budget.  And I already had a perfectly good Razor.

So maybe it's those commercials.  Apple seems to have done almost everything well through their history (Microsoft's existence to the contrary), and as I watched "app" after "app" being demonstrated... yeah, I was weak.

I've had the iPhone for about 4 months, which, for other cell phones, is more than enough time to get used to it.  After all, by the time you figure out how to enter people's names and phone numbers, all that is left is find the alarm clock option.  But with the iPhone, the graphical user interface simplifies things greatly.  The problem is that you can litter your phone with so many of these little graphics, and each demands to be interfaced.

Certainly, it's easy to use.  The default applications work well and meet the majority of most needs - phone, pictures, weather, clock (includes alarm!), notes, contact list, etc.  But their slogan of "There's an app for that" has turned out to be the biggest adjustment.  The iPhone doesn't rule my life, but I've found it conveniently handy time and again. 

Ever have a question at dinner that otherwise would just pass, never to be resolved?  A star in a movie? The capital of North Dakota? The odd emblem on Tiger Woods' hat?  The answers are there at your fingertips, wherever you are.

Such as in Las Vegas.  Somehow or another, the protective filter over my camera lens got lost, and I needed a new one.  Where doyelp I find a camera store?  Yelp to the rescue - searching by "camera," it presented various stores by distance from my present location. Some of these were just for photo processing (which seems almost an anachronism).  But finding what appears to be a real camera store, I press against the listing with the tip of my finger and, in a very short time, and I'm looking at a steet map with a blue pin where I am and a red pin where I want to go.  And my pin moves with me as I travel.

One default application that caught my interest in the commercials is Shazam.  Ever wonder what that song is that you're hearing?  Shazam "listens" to the music, then tells you.  I tried this as I was playing a “deep cut” on a Paul McCartney disc – “Famous Groupies” – shazama song which would likely never be aired… no problem.   Later I was demonstrating it to my father-in-law and gave it a far greater challenge, and again it scored with the oh so tremendously popular “Clarinet Concerto in A (liadagio, opening)”.  But it was right.  Other songs it has identified include “Pirate Love” by Johnny Thunders, “Vibration” by The Congos, and “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon.  It does struggle with some live recordings, but overall, this app gets an “A.”

One thing I hate is the bias in the local news.  With the iPhone, I can now read bias from other locations!  USA Today, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, (London) Telegraph, LA Times, Associated Press... and I'm sure there are others.  These obviously don't include all the content of the papers, but it's more than sufficient, and all of them are free.

For sports information, there is, appropriately, goodsportacular competition.  I really don't want (or need) more than one source, and Sportacular was the first one I found that worked well and logically.  However, ESPN lately entered the contest and has the muscle of some of their "newsline" content.  Another revision or two in their sorting options, and it could emerge as the winner.  An honorable mention, which speaks to the potential of an application for literally everything, was one specific to the Masters golf tournament, from which I could access the leaderboard and watch live video (with sophisticated narration, of course) from two holes.

There are ample reference applications also - Wikipanion, Google, Flixter (theaters and movie listings near your current location), Google Earth (ever wonder what Pyongyang, North Korea looks like from above? Just zoom in! Sure you can do this at home, but the iPhone is perfect for all those moments when you have a few minutes to kill.)  Add ebay, amazon, and others, and each is basically a "shortcut" application so you don't have to first load the included Safari browser and then "surf" to that site.  But they are tailored for iPhone use, which makes them easier to use.

Certainly, not all applications are good - many are actually very bad.  Beer Brands is one such debacle.  It has a lot of brands included, plus their brewery locations.  But that's about it.  It would be handy to check which ones you've tried before, make notes on them, assign personal ratings, or develop a favorites list.  In time...

Next up:  Photography and graphic options.

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Come Fly With Me

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Once I get you up there where the air is rarified
We'll just glide, starry-eyed
Once I get you up there I'll be holding you so near
You may hear angels cheer 'cause we're together

Yeah, baby! So sings Sinatra...

The first movie I remember seeing in a movie theater was "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."  I liked it so much that I wanted to see it again, like the next day.  My parents, of course, were not so enthusiastic, and before long, the movie was gone from the theater.  The era of Blu-ray, DVDs, VCRs, or even cable TV were years away.  Soon after I saw the movie, the theater itself was gone, and I remember passing it for years remembering that I had seen a really good movie there that had a really creepy kidcatcher. 

A bad man! Very bad!

Fortunately, he wasn't seen anytime soon after in my neighborhood, and kids don't dwell on creepy kidcatchers, especially when more fanciful material is at hand.  Instead it was that spiffy car that sprouted wings on opportune moments, such as when a person happens to drive off a seaside cliff towards the unforgiving boulders far below.  (Honorable mention certainly went to Mad Ludwig's Castle and the desirability of a cool bedroom in the tower). 

chitty_chitty_bang_bang

One of the more prevalent memories from those early years was driving around in my parents brown Chevy station wagon, going on errand after errand after errand.  Still, that was the golden age for riding in a car, in that kids had free roaming rights in the backseat and the rear storage area.  Then someone figured out that seatbelts mattered.

Still, with it's sticky vinyl seats, it was an unsurprising place for the mind to wander to a happier place... with flying cars.

Step forward 41 years...

Terrafugia in flight

It doesn't quite have that "old world" charm of the Mr. Pott's snazzy roadster, and, as yet, there's no obvious spare tire.  Still, it's promising enough satisfy the middle ground of expectations, that being until we get something closer to the ultimate commuting vehicle of fantasy, George's simple but elegant ride.

The Jetsons

Still, for around $150,000, you too can soon (well, "soon" is likely to be defined differently when this actually arrives) Transition yourself above the lowly and congested highways.  At 30 mpg (regular unleaded gas, even!) and approximately 110mph airspeed, the Terrafugia "Transition" is designed to land at airports, and, like your favorite Transformer, convert to a car within 15 seconds. 

Terrafugia on the road

Yeah, it's a little unsightly (if a VW Beetle is a "bug," maybe this is a Spider), but it's better than having your wings clipped in traffic.

The Transition just finished proof-of-concept air flights but has three more rounds of development and approvals before it becomes available to park in your garage.  But, you can reserve one now for (only) $10,000 if you want to be the first on your block to lead the way to the future.

If your summer offers some free time, you might as well beat the rush and enroll in some flight training courses as the Transition requires a sports-pilot license.  I know the more savvy buyers are awaiting word on the more critical elements: The number, placing, and size of cup holders is as yet unknown, and there's no word yet on a convertible option.

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Howlin' Wolf - 'Rockin the Blues

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Years ago, when I was engrossed in reading The Rolling Stone Record Guide and searching out the better rated albums, I found a record with Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (the latter two of the Rolling Stones).  Not a bad mix of talent!

It was rated four stars, and the "risk" factor was that they were backing an unknown, to me,The London Howlin Wolf Sessions named Chester Burnett, aka Howlin' Wolf.  Still, the blues are the blues, even though I was only acquainted with the English and American reinterpretations.  In short, it was worth a few bucks.

The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions was fairly good, but exceptional moments were few and the clean production made it seem less than inspired.  It certainly didn't draw me any closer to the Wolf, whose voice seemed reduced in the mix.  He didn't stand out at the time.

In the years since, I've explored a lot of blues artists - Son House, Skip James, Robert Johnson, Elmore Leonard, Muddy Waters, Mance Lipscomb and others.  My interest in most of these was primarily the guitar.  Howlin' Wolf, as his name would suggest, is known for his vocals, but he keeps getting mentioned as one of the blues greats.

I read an interesting review of this re-release and decided to give the Wolf another try.  Recorded live in Bremen, Germany, it features longtime guitarist Hubert Sumlin (still playing today), Willie Howlin' Wolf Dixon (author of several of the most covered blues  songs), and other noteworthy musicians.

The sound of the recording, being live and in 1964, is not that great.  It's in mono sound (the same sounds coming from both speakers) and doesn't have a great sonic spectrum - the lows aren't that low, and the high's aren't quite clear.  So, what's left?

A great performance, an artist doing what he does best outside of the constraints of a studio.  These weren't the days when bands planned every note of solos or the exact length of concerts to the timing of the programmed lighting effects. It was raw and of the moment.  But front and center in this recording is the voice of Howlin' Wolf, this time not lost in the shuffle of the instrumentation.  He has a gravely voice and the ability to use it forcefully, whether it be menacing, earthy, or even conversational.  In every case, he sounds like a man who sings it as he means it and who gets what he wants. 

Interestingly, the passion that clearly comes across on this recording was apparently not reflective of his home life.  From a quote from his wife in the liner notes:

"He liked just being at home with his family.  He'd come home and sit in the den and play records for hours.  I guess he got ideas then.  When he was at home, he was just a quiet man who smoked a pipe and read the paper.  Nothing excited him.  Not a thing.  I'd say, 'Old man, ain't you happy about something?' He never showed that he was happy or sad.  Never."

He apparently saved it for his shows. Among so many early blues artists who spoke mostly through their instruments, he and Son House stand out as having the vocal presence to take the standard blues lyrics and make it seem like they mean it.  There were certainly many better blues guitarists that would follow, but Wolf sang many of the better "old" blues songs in a way that sets him apart from the technically superior musicians that would follows.  The raw stuff is recommended for those that like the genre, and this CD has a good mix of many of his better songs.

Recommended: "Shake it for Me," "Dust My Broom," "Howlin' for my Darlin'"

Rating: 3 of 5

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Las Vegas Q&A

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Ah, Las Vegas! "The Land of Make Believe" - Carlos Santana

LasVegas Sign

1.  I hear people get killed there every week. Is it really as dangerous as it seems on TV?  I don't really know.  I didn't get killed.  And I didn't hear of anyone getting killed.  So, in my experience, no. Please keep in mind that "CSI" is fiction

2. Why is the desert so hot?  From my observation, it's because all the heat is sucked out of the casinos.  The Hilton was cold enough that it actually felt refreshing to step outside.  Considering that my aging home AC unit announced its retirement today, I feel entitled to give my respects for its (superior) brethren out west.

3. What is a University of Georgia truck doing on the highway from Las Vegas to Beatty?  Enquiring tax-payers want to know!

UGA Truck

3.  Why do I keep going to Las Vegas?  No, it's not a complete write off.  That might work if you're employed by a corporation, but when you work for yourself, it costs real money.  My wife actually does have business there, and this was her third year at the American Craft Retailers Expos, or ACRE.  Based on the economy and past results for this show, we didn't expect to be returning next year.  Actually, her sales were surprisingly good, and returning next year remains a possibility. 

Cellar Art ACRE Booth

4.  What's better after a blistering day at the Hoover Dam than to warm up by a toasty fireplace?   A swimming pool comes to mind.  The designer of the McDonald's in Boulder City, NV apparently thinks otherwise.  Yes, really.

McDonald's Fireplace

5. Can deals be had in Las Vegas?  Yes.  If you ever wanted to go, now is the time.  The Vegas Hilton deal was $59 per night for three nights, including buffets for two each day.  We are Hilton Honors members, but dang, that's a steal.

6.  With so little paid on the motel, did we blow the savings on gambling?  You know, my iPhone has an app for that.  I can play just about any card or slot type game I want, without risking a dime.  I'm not anti-gambling (within an entertainment budget), but I haven't figured out the appeal of inserting cash, pushing a button, and hoping for a BAR BAR BAR match.  Table games are sociable, at least, but I'd rather do even that with friends.

I did contribute $5 to the bookies, I admit.  I placed a $5 bet on Clemson to win the BCS Championship at 50-1 odds.  You might think, "Gosh, that's a lot of money to blow on Clemson.  You could have saved that for your AC unit!"  I agree, but it is also the minimum bet and, at least until my team's first loss, gives me something to look forward to past the doldrums of summer baseball. 

7.  Is that a Significant Other or a Hooker?  Whoa! Where did that question come from! Yes, I saved this one for last, but whereas other towns have ghost tours, this is a question that haunts me walking around in the evening. (Actually, Vegas does have a ghost tour...)

Vegas is a place to party.  Many people tend to "dress up" in the evenings (meaning, something more formal than flip-flops, comfort shorts and a T-shirt).  While some dress to the nines, there are ample number of women who either don't understand what that means or interpret it quite differently, dressing somewhere on a scale from from suggestive to provocative to "you should have already paid to look." The question at hand pops up like an auto-suggest in Google, and I can't help but think it.

Now, you might never have guessed this, but Vegas can be sleazy.  Yes, gentle reader, it's shocking but true.  Until you eventually succumb to Vegas' insistence that women are only good for one thing (not cooking, if you were wondering), it's terribly difficult divining between "ladies of the evening" and "ladies out for an evening"... I might add, especially without staring. 

Granted, some girls just wanna have fun or otherwise dress to make ooh-la-la memories with that special someone.  But darnit! It's hard!  Take any typical young lady walking around.  Many, surprisingly, actually struggle to walk with elegance on their 4" heels.  It begs a question!  Is she new at her job or just trying something new?  If they do manage a measure of grace, when have they had the opportunity to practice?

Sure, sometimes it's easy, like the 50ish GQ man with a young babe on each arm.  Definitely hired and probably expensive.  Well, maybe.  He might be a VIP of some sort.  How would I know?  And if so, he could probably afford to hire his companions.  I tell you, it's a circular problem that has no end.

It almost leads the curious to call the phone number on one of those moving billboards that pass you by on the Strip (don't see one, wait 30-40 seconds).  "Hot babes to your room in 20 minutes."  Faster than pizza.  Gotta like that.

Hot Babes Truck

I mean, an escort is someone to pal around with, right?  Theres tons of things you can do together.  Aside from dining and go to a show, you might teach her the rules of hockey or give her real world applications of the Pythagorean Theorem at the Luxor.  After all, prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas.  And if they're hot babes, maybe they're that way because their air-conditioning died too, and they can't help it if they inherited good genes.  And if not that, I'm sure they're just lonely and want to get away from the TV for a while.

Frequent readers can safely assume that this question might be better presented in context if pictures were provided.  When departing a (fantastic) Cirque du Soleil performance at Bellagio, the thought crossed my mind...

 Cirque

"O, I'd like to take a picture of that one."  But, common sense prevailed.  My wife would disown me for the rest of the evening, I'm sure that my subject would naturally turn out not to have been for hire, and I'd be deeply bruised by her significant other if I was called upon to explain my expository purpose.

Well, maybe next year I'll have an answer to this question.  Until then, I'm happy to be home, far, far away.

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Keeping a Chin Up in Vegas

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If you ask anyone or read the papers, things are looking down in Vegas.  The economy is taking its toll, and hotels and casinos are making some of their best deals to attract vacationers.  This was my fourth trip to Las Vegas, and as I've seen the major casinos a few times, I decided to take on a different perspective, literally keeping my chin up. 

Stepping inside any of the hotels, you quickly find that it's hard to get from, for example, a restaurant to a show venue, without passing through the casino.  This is good planning on the casinos' part.  As a non-gambler, it remains easy to be distracted by the cha-ching of casino operations and the flashing lights, but these are not located in a nondescript metal building.  No, the interiors are lavishly decorated and filled with art: statues, paintings, sculptures, inlaid tiles, floral gardens, etc.

But sometimes you can miss things if you don't look up.  Amongst all things sinful in Vegas, the sin that apparently weighs most on the minds Bellagio - Chihulyof interior decorators is unadorned ceiling space.  This is abundantly clear upon entering the registration area of Bellagio.  Chihuly glass art just can't be ignored. 

The proportion of this overhead lighting ensemble is lost here, but the size and obvious weight of it above your head demands attention, even if the spectacle somehow fails.

Bellagio Balloons

That is but one and a more obvious featured ceiling "exhibit." Continuing our tour of Bellagio, we have hot air balloons.  Why?  I have no clue.  But if you don't look up, you'll miss them.  No, they're not working models, but they fill an atrium nicely.Bellagio Ceiling Decoration

 

And sometimes, a ceiling adornment  is not really a definable object, just a very colorful something, made of silks or other fabrics.  Add a little zoom, and it will remain a very colorful something.

Changing venues, we move to the Wynn.  Some fixtures are not particularly intrusive - they enhance the area and blend in but are, nevertheless, appreciated.

Wynn Casino

And if they are individually less remarkable, the sheer number remains impressive.  "Lots of" seems to be the secondary design criteria when "Big" is not workable.Wynn Casino Hallway

But, "Big" just needs room, and if there's one thing Vegas has, it's room.  In some areas, where the ceiling is high enough, a designer does not have to worry about someone bumping their head, or, more likely, an alcohol induced leap that may harm the fixture.

 

Wynn Sometimes, a potpourri of lighting fixtures will work.  Why be so picky when there's space for plenty?  This is another atrium in the Wynn, and I wonder how many people ignore the lights as an infinity pool and waterfall are the featured highlight in this area.

 

Encore Portico Moving next door to Wynn's Encore, we have further variety.  Let's imagine that you take a taxi to the hotel, and a bellhop whisks away your luggage as you enter to register.  Do you notice the ceiling of the portico?  The point being, ceiling art or fanciful light fixtures are everywhere

This one was not so much a favorite, and struck me as an upside down gravy bowl.  But art is in the eye of the beholder, and it casts a pleasant golden light in the area.  

 Encore Hallway

Not far away, butterflies appear to be drawn to the light at the entrance to the Encore Theatre, but perhaps moths would be a more fitting metaphor for Vegas tourists.

Encore Theatre Butterflies

Although the inspiration for the fixtures or their placements may be a mystery (the butterflies are a motif throughout the Encore), sometimes they make sense.  In an Oriental restaurant, these simple shapes seem to fit.

Encore - Wazuzu

Elsewhere, stylistic commitmentSinatra Chandelier may lead to monstrous insertions.  In keeping with the  Sinatra restaurant's retro look, this fixture, last seen sucking the salt from the crew of the USS Enterprise, lurks above unsuspecting diners.  It's not as savage as it appears, but must be observed closely for appreciation of its fabrics, ropes and tones.  It kind of sucks you in that way.

Encore Hallway

These inverted carnation fixtures were very colorful, but it also makes one stop and think... who designs these?  It seems just any concept drawn on a napkin in a bar, when greased with enough cash, can become reality.  But, that's Vegas.

 

And finally we come to these, Encore Shopping Area rather extravagant appearing chandeliers, which both complement the space and the retailers below.

So, what's the point?  Well, first, Vegas is a fun place to take pictures as at every turn there seems something picture worthy...if you look for it. 

Secondly, everything on the Vegas Strip invites an inquiry as to its legitimacy, beginning most obviously with "Why did they build this here?"  As you behold a glass pyramid, Camelot, NYC, the Roman Empire, Venice and the Eiffel Tower, an overwhelming sensation of "too much" looms even as a sense of scale is lost.  Clearly, the cash involved here allows the aspirations of designers to achieve their most outlandish whims, yet, there is often a beauty in the Strip's opulence, whether real or fake.  If it's not evident on an individual basis, the grandeur of the place makes a very clear and unsurprising reminder that in the end, Vegas wins. 

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Robin Trower - What Lies Beneath

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Have you ever heard a song where you immediately recall a specific memory?  These associations are never intentional, but they imprinted somehow.  For me, a few examples include the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Amazing Grace album, which brings back clear memories during elementary school, sitting on our brown living room couch facing the stereo console on the opposite wall, tapping away pretending to be a drummer.  

Less pleasing were the road trips to or from home during college, burdened by high rotation Hall and Oates' songs (ugh! I paid for half the gas, but had no rights to control the radio.)  Dexy's Midnight Runners I can hear blasting out of a window in my college dorm as I carry my laundry bag to another building.  Then there was Genesis' "The Musical Box" which I listened to on a Sony Walkman, while walking on a cool foggy night, ultimately climbing one of the towers on the football practice field to enjoy the breeze and music.  I guess it made sense then.

There are many other songs that reflect memories public, private, important, and meaningless (Paul Abdul's "Straight Up" on the radio while driving up I-65 to Huntsville,AL?  Go figure). And sometimes, it's less specific, bringing a mood or a recollection of a general time in my life.

What Lies Beneath by Robin Trower will indelibly be remembered in context of my drive to, through, and from Death Valley.  I had not prepared Robin Trower - What Lies Beneath for my audio entertainment for my day trip, and this timely acquisition (purchased and autographed after the concert two nights prior) filled the void.  I didn't play it constantly, but this may have been the first time I've listened to any album 7 or 8 times in a row.  In short, there was nothing else to listen to "out there," and the album did a fine job of masking the sound of the unconfident sounding engine in my rented Dodge Avenger.  It's my first experience with what, in essence, was a forced association.  But not a bad one!

His new CD is much like his concert – expert in what he does (guitar rock with a focus on tone), but the songs themselves don’t linger in memory. It's a solid listen for either focusing on the guitar work or just absorbing the mood, but there's no songs which demand a specific listening.  While there is a fairly diverse offering of rock styles, he also adds jazzy elements in rhythm guitar, strings on two songs, and, at times, atmospheric tones rather than gut wrenching solos.

Unusually, he also does the singing, which is certainly adequate, but in combination with the lack of memorable tunefulness, makes this album further unlikely to attract new fans. The lyrics are decent, such as the awareness of getting older in “Find a Place.” It’s unfortunate he doesn’t pair himself with someone proven to write hooks and with a singing voice… In other words, just as he came to some notoriety with Procol Harum, he’s probably more listenable as a featured guitarist for a group that can stand on its own.

So perhaps it's easier to say what this isn't, but it remains a very pleasant and, at times, rewarding CD, as his guitar playing remains quite focused and expressive.  It also served very well as background music while my eyes and mind wandered and wondered on other things.

Recommended songs: “I Wish You Were Mine” (instrumental), “What Lies Beneath,” “Skin and Bone,” and “Find a Place.”

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars.

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Carlos Santana - Live at The Joint

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As fortune would have it, the day after it was announced I read that Carlos Santana would be taking up residency at the recently refitted "The Joint" concert venue located within the Hard Rock Hotel.  As concerts come and go in Vegas, this was an unusual announcement as he would be playing for about 30 dates, and, most importantly, while we were in town.

Aside from the opportunity to see a good show, the other surprising planetary alignment came from none other than (the cursed and to be lambasted later...) Ticketmaster, which gave us front row balcony tickets, within a couple seats of dead center stage.  I again turn to my woeful iPhone camera for an image (because I can't call it a picture).

santana at the joint

To be fair to the camera's ineptness, the stage usually carried with it a constant movement of light, and I only tried twice... I was too busy watching the show.  The view was better than this image appears.

Santana is one of those artists who you either like or you don't.  Throughout almost every song, the Latin percussion dominates the rhythms, and it was probably an equal split between songs sung in English and Spanish. Most important, of course, was the sound of Santana's distinctive guitar.

The venue was fantastic...not too large, not too small (around 1400 capacity), with excellent acoustics.  Sound clarity wasn't perfect, but I think this was due to so many musiciansSupernatural Santana competing for aural space - drummer, two percussionists, bassist, acoustic guitar, keyboards, two singers,  trumpeter, trombonist (who played an excellent solo), plus Santana.

The staging was excellent, with live feeds on side monitors and a mix of video of Santana's past with live action on the screen behind the stage.  Although celebrating a 10 year anniversary re-release of his mega-hit album Supernatural, (think "Smooth" and "Put Your Lights On"), the set covered songs both very familiar ("Evil Ways, "Black Magic Woman," "Oye Como Va," "Soul Sacrifice") and many that were likely familiar to more loyal fans.

The show wasn't perfect, though.  This was the third night of his stint in Las Vegas, and it's probably unusual playing the same venue more than once before moving on.

That said, the two singers, both likely in their 20's, struggled at times to get the floor audience off their seats and participate.  They did at times, but when prices push $200 for those same seats, both the age and the desire of most purchasers is to use them.

Also, it took Santana a little while to warm up.  At 61, he's forgiven, but there were a fair number of notes that he's played far better in the past, particularly in the first half of the show.

My favorite of the songs was an instrumental called "Curacion: Sunlight on Water" where he sat and just played with minimal accompaniment.  The biggest disappointment was the absence of his cover of "She's Not There," a song he's scorched many times.

But to go to a Santana show is not all about the music.  Whereas many artists say very little to the audience, some probably think that Santana talks too much.  I saw him in the mid '90's, where he seemed stuck in the peace and love movement - aka, a stoner.  Listening to him now, though, his message has been refined to a clearer pursuit of spirituality and a gratitude for the gifts that God provides, which he openly invites the audience to share.

Inspiration for any artist comes from somewhere, and it's very clear where Santana draws his from.  In fear of copyright violation, I've linked rather than included some excellent photos of the previous concerts at The Joint which can be seen by clicking HERE and HERE.  The staging is awesome, and you can see the emotion and inspiration in his face that accompanies his music.

Also below are two videos from the night I attended, both of which are visually impaired but give a good sense of the evening.

A great show.

 

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Road Trip! Part 2

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My intent from the beginning of this day away from Vegas was to visit Death Valley.  Rhyolite was a bonus that worked well for a circular trip.  As we considered this might be our last trip to Vegas for a while, another opportunity to explore what is basically an alien landscape may be a long time coming.  Also, if we were to visit California, I'm pretty certain Death Valley would not figure into our plans.  It's now or never... It might also have to do with there not being many travel options when looking at a map of Nevada.  Death Valley made sense.

It continued to make sense when, in the middle of desolation, my daughter called my cell phone, wanting me to reschedule a doctor's appointment for her back in the real world.  There remains a certain measure of irony to be facing this sign when talking on the cell phone. Technology is amazing.

Death Valley Entrance Sign

Yes, I happened to be approaching this sign when she called, and, yes, I could have stopped in the middle of the highway to talk.  I wouldn't have blocked traffic.

Cresting the next mountain, my amazement moved from the state of modern communications to the spectacle of nature.  It doesn't appear like much, but when it fills your complete field of vision, Death Valley is quite something.

Death Valley

It's also interesting to note that when you're barely inside Death Valley, surprise, surprise...cell phones no longer work.  You begin to wonder about the wisdom of taking a little day trip, alone, in a rental car, in a place that is so unforgiving.  During the course of the day, I may have passed a total of five cars on the road, one of which, of course, I had to wait for to make a left hand turn. 

Without this becoming even more of a travel diary, I'll focus on one stop, that being Marble Canyon.  It is accessed by driving up a 2.4 mile gravel road from Stovepipe Well, a small spot (it's not even an intersection) with a motel, a restaurant, and a gas station, the motel being of very modest variety.  This is the view looking back from the parking area:

Death Valley-View from Marble Canyon Parking Area

The little sliver of white at the right are the buildings in Stovepipe Well.  It may appear hot, and it was, but it was tolerable.  From here, it was a short 1/4 mile hike (okay, walk...) to Marble Canyon, which gets high marks for being 1) an easily accessible canyon 2) interesting for the view/geology, and 3) a very quick adventure suitable for 110 degrees.  One of many photos:

Death Valley - Marble Canyon

I've mentioned the temperature.  Yes, it was a dry heat, quite different from the humidity of the Southeast.  Here, at least, it was never uncomfortable as a very warm flow of air continued to breeze through the canyon.  As I was taking pictures both high and low, I happened to catch sight of this:

Death Valley - Life!!

I realized that this bird was the only live animal I had seen (or would see) during my time in Death Valley.  And I also realized how eerily quiet it was.  The path through the canyon is gravel, but when I stopped walking, it was completely silent.  No voices. No cars.  No lawnmowers.  No insects.  No wind rustling through leaves. Nothing.

Prior to visiting here, I had been disappointed with the desert.  There are no Saharan type sands - it's all rocky soil with fairly ugly bushes.  Here, there is one relatively small area that does include sand dunes, which are both beautiful and significantly hotter than other desert floor areas. 

Death Valley Sand Dunes

But otherwise, the desert is a very rocky place, in some places looking like rubble.  Even without the heat, crossing Death Valley would still be a challenge without twisting or breaking an ankle.  Death Valley - Rocky Terrain

Here it should be said that I went to Clemson University, where the football team plays in what is nicknamed "Death Valley," and where they rub "Howard's Rock" entering the stadium before each game (but only if they're willing to give 110% effort before touching the Coach's rock).  Both are related.  CoachHoward's Rock Howard brought this chunk of rock home from a trip he made to Death Valley, and, to a degree, it's disappointing to find that Death Valley rocks are not exactly a rarity.

But I guess that's what good coaches do.  They take what they're given, and they make the most out of them.  I certainly did from this trip.  Death Valley is a beautiful place if you look for it.  And have a car.  With air-conditioning. And water...

Many more pictures and comments from my trip can be viewed by clicking HERE.

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Road Trip! Part 1

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As my assistance was not essential during the 2nd day of my wife's wholesale craft show in Las Vegas, I decided to go somewhere other than the Strip or the completely underwhelming pool at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Remember the old westerns?  Gunsmoke, High Chapperal, Hang 'Em High?  I always thought it would be sort of cool to see an old western "Ghost Town."  So, I searched and found that there was one in Rhyolite, NV, not two hours from Vegas... just head northwest and turn left at Beatty, NV.

Well, hello.  Sometimes a small spot on the map brings pleasant surprises, and Beatty, NV, was one of them.  Maybe they've been baked in the sun too long, or perhaps they just have a good sense of humor.  It's a small town, with a few shops, a tiny casino, a couple restaurants.  Obviously, if you want to stop, you need to park.  Well, worry not! 

beatty 3

And this out-of-towner appreciates the tips on which way is in vs. out.  But, hey, what's this?

beatty 4

Where in the world am I?  It's literally a funny little town.  But that wasn't my first waypoint, so I refer to my directions and just need to take a left to go to the ghost town!  Just up the hill and... whoa.

Rhyolite 1

Rhyolite is such a forgotten little ghost town that it's not programmed into my Garmin.  But go down this road a bit, and take a right where the... well, where the dirt road is, and just go a short ways until you "see" it.Goldwell Open Air 1

Well, sure, but... uh, what's that?  Why, of course! It's a huge metal miner and a penguin!  Just stay focused and keep driving.

The classic western ghost town presupposes a main street, with a barber, a hotel, a jail, and a saloon, all made of lumber.  Does this area look to be a likely source for lumber?

rhyolite 7

Well, no.  So they used mostly materials that were at hand.  Basically, add water and cement to what you're walking on, and you get concrete.

Details on Rhyolite can be found by clicking HERE.  Unfortunately, despite a building with a sign pointing towards it that says "Information," no one was there, and there was no information.  But, I guess that's what you get when you go to a ghost town, and doubly so when you're in the middle of northwestern nowhere alone.  From the website above, here is what it looked like in 1909.

And here's how it stands today.

 rhyolite 15

Mostly rubble, and not exactly the kind of ghost town I was seeking. Still, it was an interesting place to stop.

rhyolite 9

And for reasons other than just the "ghost" town.  Built at the same time was a home constructed of an estimated 50,000 bottles.  Why? Because they were abundantly available from beer, soda and medicinal uses, and lumber wasn't.

rhyolite bottle house 1

(Obviously, it has been restored to a point). Do you really expect to find something like this in a ghost town in the desert?  But wait!  There's more!

That strange miner and penguin... they're Goldwell Open Air 18actually an exhibit from the Goldwell Open Air Museum.  It's an (sparsely populated) exhibit of folk art, a full measure below the genius of Howard Finster,Goldwell Open Air 4 but it certainly chases a vision unassociated with commercial artistic expression. 

I came to see a ghost  town, so why am I taking pictures of this stuff?  Location, location, location.  And how could I not? 

They all fit together - Beatty, Rhyolite, and Goldwell - a quirky but enjoyable detour.  Additional photos and comments from each of these sites can be viewed by clicking on the names, respectively.

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