South Florida and Back

Sometime during the Winter of 2009/2010 I was on the phone with my brother Mike from Missouri. He mentioned getting a couple of weeks off work in the Spring and I suggested I pick him up for a trip to Florida. Over the coming months we solidified our plans, ticking off the places we should visit: Big Cypress Nature Preserve, Everglades National Park, and Key West came quickly to mind, as well as a visit with our old friend, Jay.

Shorebirds are numerous in South Florida     From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

By the most direct route, Key West is 3200 miles (5200 km) from my house, and I wasn’t going the direct route. While it was still a bit early in the year, I decided to take the Northern route to Missouri as the weather looked good for the next few days.
I had a rider from Craigslist set up to go, but I was getting weird vibes from him…so I backed out. Then, as luck would have it, I was unable to line up another rider.
So after a long work day, I threw the dogs in the van and we pulled out of Berkeley at 10 PM. We made it as far as Fernley NV that night where I had to stop for a four hour nap and we were on our way again. Driving across I-80, Eastern Nevada was as picturesque as I have ever seen it. Eighteen inches of snow on the ground in the high desert gave me an intimation of what we would see once we got into the Rockies. We stopped shortly before the Utah border to let the dogs play in the snow, which they enjoyed as usual. Then across Utah and into Wyoming. When we were about half way across Wyoming the wind picked up and started blowing the snow. Traffic would run over the blowing snow flattening it into black ice. It was dark and going was slow. There were numerous wrecks, mostly trucks, two spun out in front of me. A hundred miles took over 3 hours, still we managed to make it a 1000 miles in 20 hours (including our nap). We took another nap somewhere near Cheyenne. After this 4 hour nap we were on the road long before sun up. Driving through the dark with the wind and sliver moon was a really nice experience. We eventually left Wyoming behind as we entered Nebraska. Nebraska is long and it took most of the day. As we were leaving I-80 to drop south toward I-70 it started to rain. The rain would be our companion for three days, and i find it tiring to drive in the rain.
We got to Columbia in time for dinner Friday March 12. I had driven 2000 miles in 40 hours by myself. I was tired when I left home and still managed to pull it off. I find it to be a good feeling to push the limits of endurance and win.
Spent the evening with the Popster and left for the South the following morning. Mike seemed happy to hit the road and we accepted the rain, as what else can you do?
We made it as far as Murfreesboro Tennesee that night where we got a room and relaxed. Two nights sleep had me feeling almost normal again. We got up the next morning and continued South. We decided to drive straight through the night to get to our destination rather than set up camp in the rain.

Alligators were numerous in the canal         From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

Arriving in South Florida without much of a clue as to what to expect, we headed down Hwy 41 out of Naples towards Big Cypress Nature Preserve. Most of our time in Big Cypress was spent along route 41. We started at the visitor center where we found that Big Cypress contained not a single big cypress, they had all been cut down at some point in the past, leaving only smaller trees for present times. We headed to Monument Lake campground where we set up camp. Most of the hiking trails in the area are through the muck, with the exception of a few short boardwalk trails. So we did our hiking on a dirt road, Loop Road. We drove to a wide spot and set out hiking. As we hiked the road, impenetrable swamp on either side, we could hear crashing as wildlife took flight or splashes as alligators slid into the water. Walking along knowing that alligators were only feet away added to the sense of excitement of the hike. Back on 41, the canal to the north of the road was filled with alligators gathering up the warmth of the sun. There was an alligator about every 50 feet along the canal, this went on for miles and miles. There were also numerous shore birds…herons, egrets, anhingas, etc… My favorite was the Wood Storks, the US’s only native stork.

Wood Stork       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

We spent two days there then headed over to Cutler Bay (south Miami) to get a room so we could get an early start on our way to the Keys the next day. We got busted taking two dogs up to our room, this forced us to pay for another room as only one dog per room was allowed, so we forked over $75 for a room that we never ventured into.
The next day we checked out and headed down HWY 1. It was raining but warm. It is about 130 miles of bridges and islands to get to Key West. Along the way we took a couple of small walks and did some window shopping. As we got near Key West the rain let up and we started running into a lot of traffic. We made our way to the ‘old down town” area which is the heart of the tourist section. Since it was Spring Break the area seemed geared to drinking and the youth. not wanting to shop, we went to the iconic Smokey Joe’s saloon where we found out the original Smokey Joe’s was at the location of Captain Tony’s. Since this was where Hemingway hung out we went over there, but couldn’t get a drink as the bartender was less-than efficient. We took a stroll past Hemingway’s house and packed back into the car for the return trip.

Hemingway’s favorite hangout       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

The drive back north was much better, no rain and less traffic. We stopped a few times along the way to play and walk the dogs. In Key Largo we stopped and had a fancy meal at a place I believe was called Ballyhoos. I had shrimp with crab stuffing and it was very tasty. We finished off the meal with a generous piece of Key Lime pie, which was amongst the best pie that I have ever had.
We finished the drive off the Keys and got a room in Homestead, a small dumpy sort of place, but they took dogs.
The four days spent at Everglades National Park is really the heart of the trip. We entered the park near Coe Visitor Center and headed up the main park road toward Flamingo camp. The terrain was flat and featureless, there were saw grass (actually a sedge) seas stretching into the distance. Most of the elevation is less than 5 feet and it stretches 40 miles from Coe Visitor Center to the built up area of Flamingo (store, visitor center, marina, campground) which is located near the southerly tip of continental Florida.

Can it really be called a pass?       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

As we drove in we saw a sign stating that the vultures would eat the rubber off of your car if given the opportunity. We stopped alongside a small lake and sure enough there were vultures eating the rubber coating off a SUVs luggage rack. We drove on into the heart of the park with the hope of seeing manatees, crocodiles, and whatever else we could see in our brief stay.
Flamingo campground was huge and we had no problem finding a spot to set up a couple of tents and tie up a couple of dogs. Since dogs are not allowed on trails we decided that we would do our hiking early in the morning and late in the afternoon when it is cool enough to leave the dogs in the car. During the day we would hang out in camp or do car touring of the park. Near Flamingo campground was a marina where we learned there were frequent sitings of both manatees and crocodiles. Daily, or sometimes more often, we would trek over to the marina to look for wildlife. On one of our early visits we saw an osprey fly by with a fish, it landed in a tree and we set and watch it eat the fish and interact with other osprey. It was surely one of the most Wild Kingdom like experience I have ever experienced.

Osprey with fish        From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

We found that osprey were more than common around the marina and it was nothing to see 10 of them with half a dozen nesting sites easily found. There were also red-shouldered hawks, swallow-tailed kites, and other birds of prey which made regular appearances.
Added to the raptors, there were also numerous shore birds that would make regular appearances. A flock of ibis’s would regularly walk through camp looking for whatever it is that ibis’s eat in the grass. Black vultures would also come through camp looking for garbage to pick through.
Daily we would make a pilgrimage up to the marina to look for manatees and/or crocodiles. On our third day we were rewarded with a visit by a manatee (sea cow) and her calf. They are large gentle seeming creatures and we felt fortunate to experience them up close.

Manatee and calf      From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

We visited most of the boardwalk trails and even hiked a canal near bear lake, taking the dogs on an illegal hike into the swamp. At one point a ranger came and lectured me about the importance of keeping the dogs on leash, so their running free ended up being quite limited. I don’t know about Mike, but I felt that I got to see the vast majority of what there is to see before we left.

Swallow tailed kite       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

When we packed and left the Everglades we went back up to Big Cypress to spend a few hours checking out the alligators and hiking the loop road again. It was on this hike that I spied two alligators on the side of the road and decided to introduce the dogs to them. I hopped out of the van and ventured up as close as I dare to the alligators, probably about 10 feet behind them. The dogs were oblivious to them. I think that alligators are so far removed from my dogs’ experience that they were unable to even comprehend them, let alone see them right there in front of them.

Introducing the dogs to alligators       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

By this time, there wasn’t much else to do but point the car north and begin our journey homeward.
Soon we were watching Big Cypress disappear in the review mirror. Back through Naples and North on 75 to visit Jay and Cecie at their Winter home in St. James (on Pine Island in the Gulf of Mexico).
Leaving the lushness of far Southern Florida was a shock. There was no buffer zone, it went from tropical rain forest to a desert like mono-cultured dead zone in the space of only a couple of miles.
We spent the night in a motel in Ft.Myers, a bustling modern city. Early the next afternoon we we drove over to St. James on Pine Island to visit Jay and Cecie. They have a nice place right on a canal. They loaded us all up in their boat and we went putting around the canals. Even here there was much wildlife and we saw eagles, storks, numerous other birds, and even dolphins leaping from the water behind us. When we stopped to fuel the boat, Smokey fell off and I had to fish her out of the canal. Then we took a quick spin out into the Gulf and around a small mangrove island. Back on dry land our hosts took us to check out an eagles nest. We watched the eagles fly from the nest making eagle calls…the first time I had heard them.

Eagle with nest       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

After this we went back to Jay and Cecie’s place where we were served a nice dinner and spent a while chatting it up before heading back to our room in Ft. Myers.
The next day we headed North. We stopped and hiked a fire trail in the Osceola National Forest in North Florida. The area we hiked was farmed long leaf pine, sandy soil and devoid of wildlife. We finished the day by driving to Tallahassee in the pan handle and getting another room.

Smokey fetches in North Florida      From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

We had to two days of driving to get Mike back to Missouri and it was a two day drive to do it. We decided to enjoy the day along the northern Gulf coast and drive through the night to make up the lost time. After check out we dropped South to the coast and spent a big part of the day enjoying the scenery as we drove leisurely. We found some beaches that were barren except for us and did some hiking and playing with the dogs. Having a nice sandy white beach to ourselves was extremely pleasant. These same beaches were wrecked by the BP Horizon disaster about 2 months later.

Mike and the dogs play on the beach       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

After a short hike in the national forest, we pointed the car North and West and drove on back to Columbia, Mo, where we arrived early Thursday morning. Spent most of Thursday lounging and napping. Then a long weekend eating good and catching up with the Popster.
Soon enough came Tuesday night and I loaded the dogs up in the van and left Missouri. As I pulled away from the curb, I noted the big beautiful moon and thought it brought warm bodings for the trip. Leaving Columbia I dropped down 63 to 58 West.
Generally, when I start a trip I leave at night. To me it is bonus miles. I find that I can drive all night and all day, but if I leave in the morning I find that I am ready for bed as soon as dark rolls around. Since there was still too much snow in the mountains for the most direct route of I-70, I was heading South and West to pick up I-40.
When I got down to 58 I started seeing dogs crossing the road. This was about midnight and they were crossing in twos and threes. We had just watched Stephen King’s Desperation a few nights earlier and it was weird…I must have seen 15 dogs in a 70 mile stretch, they appeared out of the dark like ghosts and vanished as the headlights moved on. The rest of Missouri was hilly, curvy, and dark. We followed 58 through the night and napped about 100 miles East of Wichita Kansas. The next day we drove across Kansas endlessly…it did finally end at Oklahoma. We only caught about 30 miles of Oklahoma, still I managed to get pulled over for speeding.
Leaving a small town, I accelerated too fast out of town and was pulled over doing 44 in a 35. It was one of the better experiences I have had with a cop. He was friendly, we chatted about life the economy and everything, and he let me go with a warning. Luckily the state takes all of the ticket money so there is no pressure on the local cops to write more tickets to help with the budget. We ended up shaking hands before I drove off and surprisingly it felt very genuine. I guess I have to take back all the bad things I thought about the Oklahoma police, of course the outcome would have been very different had I been burning when he pulled me over.
In Texas, still on 58, we passed the largest feed lot I have ever seen. It went on for miles and miles. As I drove past I saw a sign saying “Bio secure area”, thinking that strange I went back to take a picture of it and the feed lot. I jumped out of the van with my camera, then stopped to read the rest of the sign: BIO SECURE AREA, NO ADMITTANCE, NO PHOTOGRAPHS. Oops… I jumped back in the van and left. We made it to Tucumcari New Mexico and got a motel.
I had made good time thus far, so the next day I took it easy. I stopped and browsed the roadside stores, took in the sites and followed some of Old Route 66. Often 66 would be just the business loop off of I-40…other times it would be a 100 mile loop that paralleled the freeway.

If daisies are your favorite flower, keep pushing up those miles per hour      From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

It was fun to imagine what Route 66 was like in the days before the interstate. Instead of the direct Chicago to LA at 65+ MPH that I know, it was a much longer trip. Where they moved mountains to create the modern interstate, the old route would have wound its way around and over them. Where every exit along the interstate are interchangeable the old route would have gone through every town along the way, big and small. Route 66 was a time when we still had regional cultures in the US, now our culture is flat and varies little from place to place, like one giant field of corn where small diverse farms once stood. I imagine that if one travelled back 50 years in time, returning would have given the same shock that I felt upon leaving the diversity of the Everglades and entering the desert-like mega farms of central Florida.
In Gallup, I stopped to look at some pottery (starting price $1000), as I got back on the freeway I stopped for a hitch hiker. It was a young (18 or 20 year old) Navajo. He had hitch hiked into Gallup to see a relative in the hospital. I drove him into Arizona about 30 miles off the freeway to get him home. We had some interesting conversation, the most notable thing was his absolute faith in nothing positive happening in his life. He had recently lost his job and had no prospects or hope of getting another…hunting antelope and worrying about mountain lions seemed to be his main joys.
In Arizona I stopped at Ofelia’s knife store, where I met Ofelia and discussed the finer points of various switch blades (I bought a set of pairing knives). Ofelia used to run her business out of Modesto California, but the tightening restrictions and stress caused by further prospective restrictions caused her to pack up and move it to Arizona. It was interesting finding an educated person in the desert selling knives at the end of 100 miles of bill boards. Between Albuquerque and Flagstaff it was cloudy, cool, and snow flurries. I liked it as I could leave the dogs in the car without guilt. I did a lot of stopping along the way. Flagstaff was cold with a lot of snow on the ground, I found a warm motel and snuggled in early.
The next day we played in the snow for a while in the Kaibab National Forest, the dogs loved the snow and I loved the trees, the first since Missouri. Then we did a large loop (130 miles) of historic route 66 between Seligman and Kingman. It was beautiful high plains, complete with Burma Shave signs. In Kingman I picked up another hitch hiker, this one a 50′ish ne’er-do-well. I ended up giving him $25 for a pair of work boots that I really didn’t need, and with his attitude he really had no use for either. The boots are actually pretty nice, new, and just a bit wide for my foot. I dropped him off in Needles where he no doubt found a liquor store to trade his cash for something more useful.
Then we were into California. Needles to Barstow used to be the long stretch of desert, at least 100 miles of dry hot road without water or gas. Now, you don’t need to travel further than 40 miles to find gas and the stretch is not much different from any other stretch of highway. I remember when I was a kid and saw this stretch of highway for the first time. My father had been talking about the upcoming desert, and I had child-like ideas of what a desert should be…sand dunes, oases with palms, maybe a camel…I was disappointed that it was scrub and had no blowing drifting sand.
We stopped in the high desert West of Boron to let the dogs run around and chase sticks and made a short day of it by getting a room in Mojave about half way up Tehachepi Pass.

Shadow enjoys the high desert       From 2010 Everglades NP, Big Cypress Reserve

Early the next morning, Saturday, we took off for the final 6 hours home. Driving down the hill into Bakersfield I noted the moon off to the West…a quarter moon descending to the West, it really helped to put the 4 day jaunt into perspective. Driving North in the central valley the coastal range off to the left was as pretty as I have ever seen it. Green with the recent rains and colored with vast patches of orange (poppies) and yellow (mustard?), I am sure I have seen prettier landscapes, I just don’t remember when. We pulled into our home driveway early in the afternoon still relatively fresh. Of course the dogs were happy to be home and warm hellos were given all around. Vacation is always a pleasure, and spending this one with family made it particularly so…but the pleasures of returning home after a long trip are also to be treasured.

A few more pictures can be found here.

Note: I stole the idea of mentioning the shock of running into the monoculture farms after the Everglades from Mike, it tied nicely with what I wanted to say later about the culture-less interstate system.

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2010 Blog In Review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,200 times in 2010. That’s about 13 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 67 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 294 posts. There were 2 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 65kb.

The busiest day of the year was June 25th with 69 views. The most popular post that day was Free MS apps for XP.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were foggytown.net, largeheartedboy.com, android-vs-ipad.co.cc, ifreestores.com, and foggytown.tumblr.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for xp apps, apps for xp, conjola sync, nimbus theme, and apps für xp.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Free MS apps for XP October 2006

2

How to Integrate RIM Blackberry With Google Mail-Calendar-Contacts and Backup on GNU/Linux August 2008
2 comments

3

Nimbus theme for GNOME August 2008

4

Funny Vista Error Message February 2007

5

Favorite Music of 2010 November 2010

Favorite Music of 2010

As the days grow shorter and 2010 recedes into the rear view, it is time to take a look at my favorite  albums of the year.  Last year I narrowed it down to a top 15 list, this year I narrowed it to 18.  Eighteen is way to many to write up, so I posted a list of the second tier favorites which I posted a few days ago.  This, then, is what remains; my favorite albums of 2010.

8) Happy: Robbie Fulks plays the Music of Michael Jackson (Boondoggle, 3/25/10).  It is no surprise that Robbie Fulks ends up on this list, after all he has been one of my favorites for going on 12 years.  The big surprise is that it is a Michael Jackson tribute.  Yep, Robbie Fulks sings Michael Jackson songs, and they are really good.  This isn’t your typical tribute album, it is more of a re-interpretation; Robbie manages to make the songs his own (Ben is the only straight-up cover).  This album is in line with Fulks’ recent works, not as countrified as his early stuff, yet still shying away from anything that sounds like pop.  The album opens and closes with Goin’ Back to Indiana, the opening song is the country-ist song on the album, here is what No Depression says about the last:

Goin’ back to Goin’ back to Indiana – bringing the music and story full circle, this mixes up track one with samples, loops and voice-overs “back to where I started from” is prominently repeated. It’s a metaphor for the way that Jackson’s life was twisted and distorted from its original innocence into something fascinating but darker (check the slightly discordant minor key loops) and more confusing (From the review of No Depression.)

Robbie obviously admires Jackson as a song writer, and this album really shows it.  Rumors are that this album was meant to be released in 2002, but Jackson’s pedophilia accusations pushed it to the back shelf for a while.  It is always interesting when a singer-songwriter does a cover album, but you can quit holding your breath, this one works.

7) Old 97’s, The Grand Theatre Volume One (New West 10/12/10).  This album makes a single statement, the Old 97’s are back and they are as good as ever.  The Grand Theatre is their best release since 2004’s Drag it Up.  I had the pleasure to see the 97’s back in July in Missouri and can attest that, whether on stage or in studio, the Old 97’s have earned their place on this list.  Rhett Miller’s catchy vocals and well turned phrase hearken back to earlier, less poppy, Old 97’s.  Back in the late 90s these guys introduced me to cow punk with their raw rockin’ Texas sound.  Then in the late oughts they made a few albums, their best commercial successes, which were over produced for my tastes but did give them some pop hits.  While I can’t blame them for seeking success, I whole-heartedly welcome them back.  Highlights of the album include the straight country ballads You Were Born to Be in Battle and Let the Whiskey Take the Reins, the re-working of Dylan’s Desolation Angel into Champaign Illinois, and the rousing crowd pleaser Please Hold on While the Train is Moving.  My favorite song from the album is The Magician, it has classic 97’s caustic wit wrapped in sweet innuendo, the kind of music that makes you want to turn up the stereo and scream the lyrics along with the band.  Enough recordings were made in these sessions that Volume Two is slated for release next year.

“What can I say?  The Old 97’s have been making anger and depression sound fun since 1993.”  –Rhett Miller

6) Jon Lanford and Skull Orchard, Old Devils (Bloodshot 8/24/10).  I gave this album a full review earlier this year.

5) Eleven Hundred Springs , This Crazy Life (Smith 2/2/10).  This Crazy Life marks the 10th album from EHS and these Texas stalwarts show no sign of slowing down.  I’ve heard these guys described as acoustic music with a rock n roll attitude, they continue to live up to that description.  Songs like Great American Trainwreck and Honky Tonk Angels are instant classic roadhouse rock.  The lilting I’m in a Mellow Mood paints a picture as good as any paint splattered artist, with the song almost oozing lemonade in its conveyance of a hot summer (maybe stoned) day.  High on the Town and Straight to Bed are out right rockers with Straight to Bed being upbeat in tone as well as message.  Read Nine Bullet‘s take on these long haired tattooed hippy freaks from Dallas.  I’ve been following these guys since 2004’s Bandwagon and know that as good as this album is, it is even better to see them live.  These guys know how to have fun and engage an audience and every show is guaranteed to be a blast.

4) Gretchen Wilson, I Got Your Country Right Here (Redneck 3/30/10).  This album is pure country, it is in turns rousing, trite, flamboyant, hard driving, and earnest; sometimes all 5 at once.  It is, in effect, country the way it was meant to sound.  The song Work Hard Play Harder is an anthem for every working class woman and proved to be a popular single.  Other songs illustrate the working class nature of this album, such as the political Blue Collar Done Turn Red and Trucker Man (masterful slide guitar!).  This is Wilson’s first release since getting out from under Sony and it shows that she has no intention of settling into Nashville smaltz pop.  As she sings on Outlaws and Renegades:

Well, just the other day I was driving down the road
Listening to the stuff coming out of Music Row
I didn’t recognise a single song or none of the names
But it didn’t really matter cause they all seem to sound the same

Where’s all the outlaws and renegades?
Lord knows I miss those days
When they said what they thought
And what they thought was what was on your mind

Outlaw country is alive and well and has an excellent proponent in Gretchen Wilson.

3) Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses, Junky Star (Lost Highway 8/31/10).  Last year Bingham released Roadhouse Son which made number 2 on my yearly list.  This year he again rises into the top three albums, a testament to his depth of lyrics and musical abilities.  The album opens with a harmoica and tells you exactly what to expect.  The opening song, The Poet, is about sleeping on Santa Monica Pier with the homeless, the vagrants, and the junkies; there is a level of feeling to the song that speaks loudly.  The album varies from raspy ballads such as Yesterday’s Blues and full on band assaults on such songs as Depression.  The entire album is dark, with characters seemingly out of luck and desperate.  Bingham earns a place in a long and valued tradition, taking his place amongst Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Steve Earle, and others.  I have no way of knowing what demons are eating Bingham, but he manages to channel them into his music and the result is some of the sparsest, ragged music out there.  Pop Matters describes the album like this:

The record’s best songs also tell the best stories: “Hallelujah”, one of the album’s most polished melodies, is told from the point of view of a murdered man who is caught between worlds, realizing that his faith in heaven was misplaced but who can’t return to his earthly loved one either. “Yesterday’s Blues” is a Nebraska-style folk ballad, the album’s most direct love song. The title cut is a story of a farmer’s plight—a story Bingham knows first hand—but one that takes a tragic turn into murder and addiction: “I borrowed a quarter for a call to the other side/Told God that the whole damn world was waiting around to die”. The album’s best tune is “Depression”, finding the narrator getting out of some bullshit town or another that’s going down in flames, reaching the album’s most powerful moment: “I’d rather lay down in a pine box/than to sell my heart to a fuckin’ wasteland.”

Bingham earns a special level of respect for not making a pop album.  Bingham wrote the song The Weary Kind for the movie Crazy Heart which charted and earned him a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, and Song of the Year at the AMA.  He could have been forgiven for coming out with a pop album to build on his success, but he didn’t, and for that he has earned my respect.

2) Drive-By Truckers, The Big To-Do (ATO 3/16/10).  This marks the Truckers 10th album in 11 years, despite their somewhat fluid line up, this rocking southern band may be the hardest working group in show business.  This album show cases what the band does best, gritty character sketches laid out on a foundation of guitar rock, and no one does it better.  The album opens darkly with Daddy Learned to Fly a hard driving song about a young boy whose father had recently died.  This is followed up with Birthday Boy, a tale of misadventure with a prostitute.  Of the 13 songs on this album (50 minutes, short for a DBT release) fully half a dozen could be mistaken for classic DBT, and that is a good thing.  You Got Another features  vocals by Shonna Tucker, a rare treat.    The album ends on a slower note The Flying Wallendas and Eyes Like Glue, the latter a father giving advice to his son and trying to prepare him that he (the father) is just a man.

Lyrically the album closes where it opened, typical for a DBT album as they still believe in The Album as art format. They hearken back to a day when The Album was the work, the songs were incidental to the whole, and to judge a song without the context of The Album was heresy. Now most albums are just collections of songs, with The Album a casualty of consumptive vapidity run amok.  (Rumor is that DBT recorded two albums and that we can expect another release as early as February!)

1) Backyard Tire Fire, Good To Be (Kelsey Street, 2/16/10).  It is hard to believe that I just discovered this band in January and by March I was listening to little else.  The only way that I can describe them is to say that Backyard Tire Fire would be the progeny if ZZ Top mated with the Bottle Rockets.  The most recent release is catchy and raw southern rock.  The album opens with Roadsong #39, an instant road trip classic.  The song A Thousand Gigs Ago will also make its way onto many road trip mixes.  Musically this is one of BTFs best releases, but lyrically some of the songs seem a little on the thin side.  But even these filler songs will have you singing along while bopping to the music.  Hell and Back and Good To Be are my favorite songs on the album, with Piss and Moan being a sure crowd pleaser.


The album ends with the slow, almost dirge, Once Upon a Time.

2010 was a great year for small label music and these albums and artists are just a small slice of it, focusing on Americana and its derivatives, there are whole other worlds out there to discover and play in.

What music did you discover in 2010?  What artists, songs, or albums did you feel had something to say to you?

Looking forward with eager eyes to 2011.

10 Best Albums of 2010 (That Didn’t Make My Top 8 List)

As is my end of year wont, I did a parsing of the music that had spoken to me this past 12 months.  Last year I did a top 15 list, this year I thought I would take a different tack.  This list of 10 albums are my favorites that didn’t quite make the cut.  I like all of them a lot and they are here because I could not bring myself to discard them from the list.  For this list I am only listing and linking, I will do a more expansive post on the top 8 that should be posted later this month.

In alphabetical order, these are 10 albums  that I really enjoyed this past year.  (keep in mind that most artists let you stream music from their home page)

Adam Carroll, Hard Times.  This Texas singer songwriter returns with another great album.  Nobody sings such plaintive originals as this Texas troubadour.

Casey Neill, Goodbye to the Rank and File. Portland’s finest folk artist returns with another stellar release.

Hank Williams III, Rebel Within.  There is little doubt that this young man is carrying the ghost of his grandfather with him , this album is pure unadulterated honky tonk.

Johnny Cash, American VI Ain’t No Grave.  The only dead guy to make the cut.  If you enjoyed the rest of the AR series, then you will enjoy this one.

Justin Townes Earle, Harlem River Blues.  JT made last year’s list and another release brings him into this year’s list.  This youngster has a bright path before him.

The Sadies, Darker Circles.  It is hard to believe this is their 13th album, it sounds so fresh.

Shooter Jennings, Black Ribbons.  A great concept album, made with Stephen King.  A welcome departure from Jennings’ usual Southern Romp Rock.

The Steeldrivers, Reckless.  The sophomore release from this roots country band, well worth a listen.

US Rails, US Rails.  The only debut album on this list, here is hoping for many more from these  performers. I won’t hold the fact that their domain redirects to MySpace, but I won’t link to it either.

Various, Twistable, Turnable Man: Tribute to Shel Silverstein.  Big names, great songs, the lack of feeling drags this album down, still worth a listen.

These 10 albums from 2010 shows that independent music is still some of the best stuff out there.  Coming soon, maybe as early as this weekend, maybe after Thanksgiving, I will post more expansively on my favorite 8 albums released during this past year.

Here are The Sadies performing postcards…

Election apathy 2010 (rant)

Out here on the Left Coast there is much nail biting and hand wringing over the upcoming loss of at least one house of congress (and maybe both).

I don’t really understand it, it is not like we have been living in some left wing Mecca for the past 2 years.  With the Dems in control of both houses of Congress, a super majority in one of them, and a popular president in the White House, what have they accomplished?

As our roads, canals, bridges, rails, etc, etc…crumble from lack of funding, did we divert any of the money being siphoned off to foreign wars to its upkeep?  Nope, Obama’s war spending is indistinguishable from that of Bush.

Firmly in control for two solid years, what do the Dems have to show for it?  I would argue, not a single thing.  Costs of healthcare continue to spiral, Guantanamo prison is still open, the income disparity continues to increase at alarming rates, the pirates of wall street have moved into Obama’s cabinet, our critical infrastructure continues to rot, our treasure still goes off to fund ill-conceived foreign occupations, our trade deficit continues to accelerate, relationships with our neighbors have not improved, the national debt spirals like nothing before, home foreclosures continue to escalate, homelessness goes up with joblessness, and it goes on and on.

Our representatives have been bought and paid for, on any true issue there is not a divide between the parties, they are in complete lock step agreement.  Sure they pay lip service to differences on things like abortion and global warming.  But while there is a difference in their rhetoric, there is zero difference in their policies.  The laws are written by corporate lobbyists while the so-called representatives are off on corporate sponsored junkets.

And what are the great debates this election season?  What grand scheme does either side have to fire up their base and get the middle excited?  Not a single damned thing.  Voter apathy is at an all time high, with fewer than 18% voting in the primaries.  If that doubles for the general election we will celebrate the high turnout.  That’s right, things are so dismal that we celebrate when little more than a third of the population goes to the polls.  In Afghanistan or Iraq, we would count such results a huge failure.

And this election season goes on, ho-hum.  No grand debate, nothing to see here.  Instead we focus on a nut from Delaware and pot in California.  Meanwhile, our treasure is siphoned off, our infrastructure rots, and our kids are not getting educated.

Welcome to the circus.

It would surely be funny if it were not so serious.

Summer Vacation 2010, part the second

When we last left off, I was in Missouri.  Due to the heat and my desire to hang out with the popster, I skipped out on canoeing the Missouri River.  Instead we barbecued some ribs and avoided the heat.

So Monday (August 2) morning we loaded up the van and set off NW out of Columbia for Michigan.  Ordinarily this is a 10 hour drive but I spread it out over 2 days to match the theme of the trip.  We wound our way North West and crossed the Mississippi on Hwy 54 and then on into Illinois.  In Illinois we followed county roads which followed the Illinois and other rivers, basically winding our way through the river bottom lands.  We stopped for a swim in a lake whose name now escapes me and generally enjoyed the scenery.  The entire trip lent itself to seeing old sites with new eyes.  I’ve driven across Illinois 10s or 100s of times, how long since I saw something new?  But this trip was different, I checked out historic districts, 120 year old bridges, and just generally rolled through enjoying the country side.  We ended up that night in a motel in Lafayette Indiana.

Early the next morning we rolled out early to continue our journey.  After an hour or so on the road it clouded up, the heat and humidity became even more oppressive, then the magic show began: it stormed.  Lightening, thunder, and the excitement they engender is something I miss living in the bay.  This light show made up for years of missing out.  I pulled off the road, twisted a number and sat back and enjoyed an hour of hair raising lightening.  After the storm it rained….and kept raining as we continued our journey.  Two PM found us following the Maumee river through Ohio with the rain only a distant memory.  We stopped and swam near Texas, Ohio at a metro park and then wound our way through rural Ohio and into Michigan.

We spent nearly a week in SE Michigan/NW Ohio, visiting with friends and family.  I won’t bore the reader with too many details, but the highlight was definitely the bloom of the lotus.  Monroe has long been famous for the lotus blooms along the lagoons of lake Erie.  Recently (in the past five years) the lotus have disappeared from their most famous home near Dog Lady Island.  But this year I found that they had spread…everywhere.  I marveled at 100’s of acres of new lotus, all abloom and as beautiful as anything I’ve seen (pictures as soon as I get some free time to edit them).

The trip across from West to East was everything I had hoped, I managed to drive 3400 interstate-free miles and see a lot of country that I had never seen.

My friend, I’ll call him Joe, received a big payment from SDI and asked to ride out to California with me and then fly home later.  Joe and I were inseparable friends 20 years ago, we drifted apart when he became a junkie, we kept in touch but junkies really only have time for themselves and you become someone to be ripped off to continue their tragic decent.  Joe’s decent had bottomed out when he had his head caved in for some stupid shit, now he’s a 40 something, brain injured, recovering junkie collecting SDI and living at his mom’s.  A fairly sad proposition for anyone.  I knew it would be difficult, I knew it would stress my levels for compassion, but I told him to come along as long as he had a ticket to get back home, I would take him along.

I visited a few more days with family, even attending the Trapp family reunion.  I knew few of the attendees and snuck off to leave after only a few hours.  Despite this, the visit to my home town was fun.  It is often easier to see where you are when you can look at where you’ve been…and this trip supplied lots of facets as to where I have been.

Sunday night, the 8th, I loaded up my gear, shooed the dogs into the van and picked up Joe for the trip home.  My original plan was to drive like a mad man across I-80 and get home 48 hours later.  With Joe along, I changed plans.  I added a day to the trip and dropped down to I-70 in Denver to show him the Rocky Mountains and high desert of Utah.  Joe hasn’t been a lot of places, and may not be again, I decided to show him some sites.  We left Michigan at 8:08 on 8/8.

Leaving at night put me in Nebraska during the heat of the following day…and it was hot, with a heat index of 115 and no air conditioning…  I was a miserable tired man long before we got a room in Boulder Colorado Monday night.  I expected it to be frustrating to travel with Joe, but I had no idea exactly how frustrating it could be.  But I managed to maintain my composure (and compassion) and give a good tour despite the frustrations of traveling with someone who had lost the power of empathy.  We wound our way across the Rockies all day Tuesday and night fall found us in Western Utah.  At this point I put the cruise control on 75 and drove virtually non-stop to get home about 11 AM on Wednesday.  I slept one out of three nights on the way home.  I had thought that Joe could help with the driving, but that wasn’t the case, this put me home tired and ornery.

As I write this, after a 10 hour slumber, I have gained a little perspective and feel like a did a good deed.  After work today I will work on editing a few more photos…I will edit this post when I put them up on Picasa.  I now remember full well why I don’t usually travel during the heat of Summer.  Coming home into the bay, after baking in the sun for days on end to find the marine layer in full effect and a high of 61 degrees was a great reminder of why I’ve chosen the bay area as home.  As I’ve stated in other travel posts…it is always nice to come home after extended travel.

Summer Vacation 2010 (part the first)

I almost titled this post: The right trip at the wrong time.

Wanting to go to Missouri to see the Popster and then on to Michigan to the family reunion.  Yet tired of shooting across country on I-80…or I-70…or I-40; I decided to drive to Michigan (via Missouri) on secondary roads, thus avoiding the interstates.

Not wanting to have a rider along for a slow drive cross country, I found a Craigslist rider heading over to the Sierras, I figured I could stand anyone for half a day.  I ended up enjoying my rider’s company, Alex is a self professed backpacking bum, something that I can certainly respect.  He wanted to go over to Sonora pass (CA 108) to drop off his re-supply can and then go on over the Sierras so that he could hike back.  Never having taken 108 over the Sierras, I was game for taking him where he needed to go.  So I picked up Alex and we headed out to Antioch and got on Hwy 4 to head across the central valley where we got on Hwy 108 and headed up into the Sierras.  Sonora Pass is just under 10000 feet and I dropped Alex off on top.  Then it was East and down out of the Sierras.  Winding down out of the mountains there were 25% grades, the first that I have ever seen and the prime reason that trucks are not advised on this route.  Then 395 South to 120 East and out into Nevada on Hwy 6.  I was going to stop in Brighton and get gas but the cheapest I saw was $4.09/gallon; this made the $3.74 I paid in Lee Vining seem reasonable.  I slept along the road that night and the next morning found us in Eastern Nevada where we made a quick stop at the Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin’s main area is a 20 mile road that leads up to about 11000 feet on Mt. Wheeler.  At the top are numerous sub-Alpine and Alpine hiking trails.  The fact that it was hot and that dogs are not allowed on the trails led us to take a quick look around and head back down the hill.  I don’t really see how Great Basin makes it as a national park, perhaps it rises to the level of national monument, but even that is up for debate.  I assume that it was made a park as a favor to Nevada, a sort of handout (the Feds are big on welfare for the red states, they are universally the states that receive the most in Federal handouts).

Then it was back down the mountain and Hwy 6 into Utah.  Our entry into Utah was through the worst part of the state (driving up to Nephi it was a lot like Nevada).  From Nephi onward things were stark and beautiful.  We drove up Mt. Nebo loop Road looking for a nice place to camp.  There were lots of pretty spots but they were all over run by cattle and their droppings.  This led to a fly problem, so we ended up not staying there.  At one point we stopped along the road and found a skeleton of a cow, Smokey was ecstatic.  She dismantled the skeleton one bone at a time hiding the pieces in every direction.  I guess she figures that she will get back there again someday, as for me, I have my doubts.  We criss crossed the mountains in central Utah, enjoying the sights and the stark beauty of it all.  The highlights of this was Rt. 31 from Fairview to Huntington, a fifty mile drive through a canyon with a rushing river off to the right, it was comparatively cool and quite refreshing.  We stopped at a dry lake but the dogs wouldn’t get out of the van, it was that hot.  Then it was North to catch Hwy 40 and head East.

We entered Colorado near Dinosaur National Monument.  Due to the heat we skipped the monument (much more deserving of park status than Great Basin).  We headed South out of Dinosaur and into a waste land created and maintained by Chevron.  I did not know that Chevron owned or leased such large swaths of Colorado.  There were wells and roads everywhere you looked for over a hundred miles.  I believe this is natural gas exploration, drilling, and pumping land.  I also think this is the area that has had the water table fractured to such a point that tap water has become flammable.  Imagine being able to set fire to the water coming out of your kitchen sink, and then having the government and Chevron try to claim that the water is fine…even though they would never drink it.  If you can imagine that then you can imagine the hell that Chevron has made of this swath of paradise.

After swimming for a while in the Rio Blanco Reservoir, we headed up into the White River National Forest where we found a place to camp near Ripple Creek Pass.  A prettier campsite will seldom be found, at an elevation of 10300 feet in a small copse of trees surrounded by sub-Alpine meadows.  We saw signs indicating that there were moose in the area so we spent some time looking for them, but with no luck.  Back in camp at dusk I was scanning the tree line for the elusive moose when I heard a gun shot near by.  The shot was followed by someone yelling, “I told you to get your black ass out of here!”  I looked quickly around wondering what I had stumbled into.  Then I saw a horseman and dogs pushing a dozen head of black angus out of the brush.  It was interesting to watch the cowboy and the dogs working together.  There was a border collie and a red heeler and they were dashing and nipping and keeping the herd together while the cowboy pushed them forward.  I enjoyed watching them and followed them for a ways just to watch.

Saturday afternoon found us entering Rocky Mountain National Park.  The park was crowded and traffic was lined up into the distance.  I was dehydrated and woozy from the altitude so we headed straight through the park and out to Ft. Collins where we got a motel to rest, recuperate, and rehydrate.  The next morning we were up before the sun and headed up into the park to take in the sites before the masses were out of bed.  We had the park to our selves till almost noon and we enjoyed driving around taking in the sights.  Two things of import regarding the park are that it is over run by elk to the point that they are destroying it and that most of the trees are dying.

We must have seen 30 different elk.  There are so many of them that they are a nuisance destroying the riparian areas.  A common sense solution to this would be to cull the herd, but that isn’t the Interior Department’s way.  Instead they put up fences to keep the elk away from the fragile areas.  To each their own way of doing things, but if they won’t re-introduce wolves to the ecosystem, then they really need to cull the herd.

Throughout Colorado, pretty much everywhere we went, between a third and half the pine trees are dead and dying.  The culprit is the Rocky Mountain Pine Beetle.  A natural pest whose damage has been exacerbated by global climate change.  Generally, early freezes control the population.  But now, the frost comes later and later and the beetles are proliferating.  With this amount of dead wood standing, it is just a matter of time until a catastrophic fire occurs.  With more and more people moving into more and more marginal areas, there are sure to be deaths amongst both those who settle into the forests and the fire fighters who have sworn to protect them and their property.  There is really no mitigation for this pest, all we can do is hope for an early frost and keep brush cleared far from the homes.  If a catastrophic fire does not occur this year, then it will happen next year, or the year after…but it will happen.

Rocky Mountain is a great park, almost a third of the park is above tree line (11400 feet at that latitude).  While there are other national parks in the Rockies, this is the only one that is not specific to any one feature, this park celebrates the Rockies in their entirety.  The main road through the park goes up to around 12500 feet and gives great access to tundra that would ordinarily require a hard day’s hike to enjoy.  By early afternoon the park was getting crowded and we had seen what one can see on a hot day with dogs in tow so we headed back down the mountain to Ft. Collins.

The next morning we were headed out into the great plains.  At first it was shortgrass prairie, but that soon gave way to hay and corn and lots and lots of cows.  Sheep farming also seems to be a booming business in Eastern Colorado.  We continued East into Nebraska and eventually dropped down into Kansas and kept heading East.

I found that with the cruise control on 55 we got an easy 30 mpg, at 60 we got just under 28 (at my usual 70-75 I get 25).  This knowledge will make it hard to justify the higher speeds in the future.

The whole great plains have undergone a huge de-population.  I had heard that this was happening but had no idea how much it was already complete.  All along the rural routes there are abandoned houses in varying states of decay.  Most of the small towns downtown areas were off the main road.  While there were businesses that were doing fine on the main road, if you went downtown you would find half the businesses abandoned or dying.  It appears that there is just not enough energy to sustain life in this area anymore.  It may be time to return the buffalo to large swaths of the American prairie.

As the afternoon was winding down, the dogs became lethargic with heavy breathing.  While it was no hotter here than the other states, there also was no place for them to swim (well, that and the humidity).  In Utah and Colorado they were able to jump in some water 3 or 4 times a day.  Here in the plains, that opportunity was lacking and it showed in their behavior.  They pretty much just lay on the ground and panted, refusing to get out of the van when we stopped.  I decided it wasn’t fair to them to take a few more days to get to Missouri.  With this in mind I drove non stop through the night to get to Columbia early the following morning.  I was a couple of days early, but the dogs were appreciative and it is always good to get some extra visit time with Mike and the Popster.

They have a new 4 month old puppy, Fido.  Fido is a scrappy little fellow, half springer spaniel and half bichon frise.  Very cute and very scrappy.  Smoke and Shadow don’t know what to make of him and give him plenty of space.

The visit has been pleasant so far.  Laid back, which I enjoy much.  Tonight Mike and I went out to dinner and went to see the Old 97s.  I am going to spend the next few days hanging out with the Popster.  Then I’m going to Lake of the Ozarks on Saturday with Mike and on Sunday we are going to canoe the Missouri.

Then early Monday morning we are headed up to Michigan.  So far we are up to 2600 interstate free miles, that should be 3200 by the time we get to Michigan.  That shows that we have done a bit of sight seeing as it is only about a 2500 mile trip.

More to come….  I’ve posted a few pictures here.

Edit: A note on the alternative title of this post:  “The right trip at the wrong time”

It was the right trip because I got to drive nearly 2000 miles on new roads, seeing things that I have never seen before and may never see again.  It was the right trip because I got insights into areas of the country that I haven’t thought much about.  Seeing the de-population of the plains was an education all in itself.  It was the wrong time because it is hot, the trip  would have been much better had I been able to adopt a more leisurely pace.