The sole reason Leah and I traveled to Cleveland was to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, period…
and it didn’t disappoint.
Classic rock music filled the cavernous lobby…
and lighter-than-air concert props hung from cables…
It was a crusty carnival atmosphere on the outside, but we were there for the gooey goodness of the center.
Inside was like a multi-media circus. There was so much information and memorabilia organized on the walls, on the ceilings, and inside floating kiosks that whiplash seemed inevitable. And the Hall was buzzing: with so many tourists, campers, musicians, and music enthusiasts, that at times it felt like a mosh pit, as I moved from one area to another.
To be expected, there was a tribute to Woodstock…
and Dick Clark…
a salute to the 2019 inductees…
and the icons of rock: Elvis,
The Rolling Stones,
and Jimi Hendrix, to name a few.
There was plenty of concert apparel to gush about…
And there were interactivities to capture one’s creativity, like Garage Band.
Most importantly, when the last lyric was sung and the last chord was strummed, it was time to shop!
Leah and I were looking forward to touring Hitsville, USA after determining that a visit to Detroit was an essential part of our Great Lakes adventure.
Once we arrived at Motown Studios, I sensed a different kind of energy around me. Almost immediately, I found parking for the F-150 just beyond the funeral parlor’s yellow lines, and saw it as an omen of sorts for something good.
The scene around the house pulsed with enthusiasm and excitement. The crowd was as mixed as a casting call for Felinni’s Amarcord, yet everyone shared a common connection to the music, which made for instant bonding.
A like-minded gentleman of similar age joined me as I read the commemorative plaque, and I turned to him.
“Do you realize that we are the generation of those spider things?” I joked.
“Tell me about it!” he shrugged. “I got memories fitting that thingagmajig into the record hole just so I could stack my 45’s on the record player.”
“Amen!” I replied.
We shook hand and moved on.
Fans from across the country and around the world made the pilgrimage to celebrate the soundtrack to America’s social, political, and cultural consciousness.
Leah took a trip to the box office, while I attempted a portrait of Hitsville Chapel, all the while dodging families posing for selfies on the steps.
Leah returned without tickets. To our disappointment, the 5pm tour was sold out…weeks ago. It never occurred to us to secure tickets beforehand.
“Let’s go inside,” I suggested. “We’ve come this far. Maybe there’s something to see, or something we can do to fix this fiasco.”
The front door opened to an overflowing gift shop doing brisk business, but we weren’t there to buy souvenirs (at least not right away). We were there to relive our childhoods.
I walked around the backside of the shop, where I found the exit to the exhibition.
So close, yet so far…to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 173 miles east of us…
to catch up on nifty artifacts.
“I think I can get us in,” Leah announced.
“Really!?” I mused. “And how are you gonnna manage that?”
“I think I can convince the guard to feel sorry for us, and he’ll let us in,” she boasted.
“Just like that!?” I laughed.
“You’ll see,” she insisted.
I think the security guard of 25 years has probably heard every sob story imaginable, except for Leah’s. To be expected, Leah’s story had little impact on his decision, but he must have been moved somewhat.
He withdrew a tattered writing pad from his shirt pocket. “Y’know, over the years, I collected the addresses of some Motown legends, and I don’t really show it aroun’, but I’m gonna make an exception in your case, ’cause you came all this way for nothin’.”
“And all these addresses are in Detroit?” I asked.
“Yup!” declared security.
Wanting clarification, “and they’re real?”
“Yup, but do me a favor and keep it on the QT, OK? I don’t want the neighbors hassled and all,” he advised.
Cool! While we had lost the grand prize, it seemed, at the very least, that we were leaving with parting gifts. With addresses in hand, Leah and I decided to regroup and return the following day to play “private investigator.”
When plotting addresses on GPS, it became clear to us that many of the homes were within a ten-mile range of each other, so off we went on our real estate scavanger hunt of once-lived-in homes of America’s greatest rhythm and blues, and soul singers.
We started our tour at Florence Ballard’s home in Detroit’s largest historic district, Russell Woods. Florence was a founding member of the Supremes, who passed in 1976.
In her early years, Diana Ross lived with her family on the top floor of this duplex, just north of Arden Park.
It turns out, it was only five miles away from Berry Gordy, Jr.’s home, until he sold it to Mavin Gaye in the ’70’s…
and moved to a 10,500 sq ft Italianate mansion in Detroit’s Boston-Edison historic district with 10 bedrooms, 7 baths, a 4,000 sq ft pool house, and a 5-car carriage house.
Nearby, Gladys Knight lived in a 4 bedroom, 3.5 bath Tudor in Detroit’s Martin Park neighborhood.
Around the corner, lived Temptation’s co-founder and lead singer, Eddie Kendricks in a 4 bedroom, 2 bath 2,300 sq ft house.
And only a couple of miles away in the Bagley neighborhood lived Stevie Wonder in a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath gabled house.
By now, I was fading from driving through Detroit traffic; and I was losing interest in photographing the rest of the listings. Additionally, I considered that crawling to a stop in front of someone’s house, double-parking, and positioning a camera through the window probably looked suspicious and creepy to any onlookers.
The following afternoon, the day of our departure, a home in Detroit’s Chandler Park section exploded–14 miles east of our recent real estate sweep.
One firefighter was injured in the blast. The Fire Marshall determined that a gas leak was to blame, but arson investigators are on the scene.
“Y’think this was an omen, too?” Leah mused.
“Nah! Just a coincidence!” I answered.
(Or maybe the beginning of another impossibly flaky, half-baked conspiracy theory!)
Within a span of five days, Leah and I had occasion to enjoy the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS), but in a nontraditional manner with uncommon overtones.
Dan Akroyd set the scene for our future expectations at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park IL, the CSO summer residency.
To be sure, it was a carnival atmosphere, with popcorn and green slime for sale. The Windy City Ghostbusters were on board, protecting their ride
and providing plenty of photo ops…
Meanwhile, the CSO was warming up on stage…
waiting for dusk and the arrival of their guest conductor, Peter Bernstein, son of legendary composer and Oscar-winner, Elmer Bernstein, who wrote the original score to Ghostbusters.
Happily, the orchestra never missed a beat, synchronizing perfectly with the film. While the band played on and the Ghostbusters faced their ectoplasmic foes, we enjoyed a picnic on the lawn with my niece Rachel and her partner, Kevin. Thanks, guys.
Days later, we traveled to Grand Rapids, MI for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Strings Attached tour. Unlike last year’s stripped-down tour (seeParody Paradigm), and stripped of shtick, this concert promised to be vintage “Weird Al”–the parodies, the costumes, the MTV videos, and 41 pieces of symphonic punctuation.
The GRS opened the show with 20 minutes of John Williams’ cinema overtures from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, and Star Wars…
to set the mood for a sell-out crowd that was every bit as white and nerdy as “Weird Al.”
It was the largest collection of ugly Hawaiian shirts I’d ever seen.
And some fans decided to elevate their look with shiny accessories.
The band was tight; the parodies are clever; the singing was splendid; and the GRS added an extra richness to the event. “Weird Al” showcased a deep catalogue of “funny,” paying homage to Don Pardo,
a twine ball from Minnesota,
and sending up Coolio with an irreverent Amish rap.
The crowd was treated to a crowd-favorite Star Wars encore, á la Don McClean’s American Pie (The Saga Begins),
and the Kink’s Lola (Yoda).
The audience was on its feet by the end of the show, and so was the orchestra,
because their job was done and it was time to leave.
Leah and I caught up with the Associate Concertmaster as she exited the DeVos Performance Hall stage door.
“Great show, tonight,” I offered.
“Thank you. It was lots of fun,” she said.
“Did you have much practice time with the band?” I asked.
“Not really,” she admitted. “Just a couple of sessions.”
“That’s all!? You guys nailed it,” I gushed. “Any after-party plans?”
Crossing the street–“A glass of milk, and bed,” she sighed. “I’m glad you enjoyed it”–and she was gone.
From a distance, Mt McKay is imposing, rising 1200 ft over Lake Superior and making it the largest of the Nor’Wester mountains. It gets its name from William Mackay, a Scottish fur trader from the mid-1800s, who lived for a time in the Fort William vicinity.
However, the Fort William First Nation, descendents of the Chippewa tribe, call the mountain Anemki Wajiw (ah-NIM-ih-key waw-JOO), meaning Thunder Mountain,
and consider it sacred land.
Mt McKay is a prominent landmark of the Fort Williams First Nation reserve, and offers sweeping views of Thunder Bay…
from its boardwalk overlook on the eastern plateau…
Leah and I drove up Mission Road to a toll house, where a First Nation member collected $5.00. She advised us to hike the western trail to the flat cap for more commanding views, and encouraged us to return in 3 days to witness a powwow of the Lake Superior chapters. She also offered a menu and invited us to visit her lunch counter in town.
The trail was narrow, steep and challenging with shards of shale scattered over rocky formations. We took our time.
After a weary climb of 40 minutes, we welcomed the cooler air around us as we crossed onto a plate of volcanic rock formed over 1,100 million years ago.
The bright sun promised a crisp and dazzling vista,
but it also seemed to energize the horse flies that soon regarded me as bait.
That’s when I knew it was time to retreat to the bottom of the hill, oh-so-gingerly over long drops onto loose shale.
Once we landed at the trail head, I had decided (after checking with Leah) that we should attend the powwow on Satuday.
On the day of the powwow, we looked for news on the internet. and it was everywhere. The council was expecting over 5,000 attendees over two days with plenty of drumming and dancing. Food tents and crafts stalls would round out the affair. The rules were simple: No Alcohol. No Drugs. No hiking. Have a Safe Time.
We drove to Fort Williams First Nation ice arena, where we met a yellow school bus that shuttled us the rest of the way. Only three days ago, the area was empty and quiet, but today, it looked like a parking lot next to a fairground with fringe tents and trailer camping.
Participants were gathering inside the spirit circle and adjusting their costumes, while spectators were filling the grandstands, and the royalty was assembling in anticipation of the welcoming ceremony.
It was a colorful and festive affair. A steady drum beat managed by eight drummers, accompanied a caterwauling chant of guttural highs and lows and occasional shrieks.
After a prolonged opening procession and invocation, Chiefs and Elders presented flags,
and then it was time to drum and sing and dance again. Grass dancers followed Elders…
who were followed by family members…
who also danced several times around the pavillion with their children…
showing off their feathers,
their elaborate ceremonial costumes…
and their elaborate moves…
After a couple of hours, Leah and I returned to the boardwalk for a stroll to the memorial,
where we discovered a trail to the right that hugged the cliff around the plateau. We hiked further along, scouting for poison ivy as we walked, and came to a clearing where three girls in training bras were sneaking cigarettes around a slab of concrete.
It was an amusing irony and signaled our time to return to the ice arena. The school bus that brought us circled the field–collecting passengers–and momentarily paused at a graphic display of Ojibwe insight and life lessons:
From too much rain to bother honoring the dead. I don’t give a shit. Those…NATO allies that I dread–
keep me bawlin’…
So I just did me some talking to my sons. And I said, “I didn’t like the way Dems got things done– Winning at the polls. Those…losses are falling on my head,
they keep fallin’…”
But there’s one thing…I know. The Blues they sent to beat me Just defeat me.
It won’t be long, Subpoenas now step up to greet me.
Democrats keep falling on my head. But that doesn’t mean the House will soon be turning Red. Winning’s not for me, ‘Cause, I’m never gonna stop the wave with complaining. I’ll cop a plea. It terrifies me.
It won’t be long ’till prison opens up to greet me.
Bad vibes keep falling on my head. But that’s just karma coming ‘round on me, I dread… Mueller’s got the key. ‘Cause, I’m never gonna stop the probe by complaining. I’ll drop a tweet,
’cause I’m President Cheat!
Thanks to Original Songwriters: Burt Bacharach / Hal David
“Let’s get this shuttle moving!” shouts a middle-aged surfer dude in an orange muscle shirt at the volunteer driver of the tram parked curbside at the farthest reaches of Anastasia State Park’s parking lot by the beach.
“First of all, I’ve got plenty of empty seats to fill, with plenty of people still on their way. And secondly, you should have thought about getting here earlier pal, ’cause I been here since 5:30 transporting people to the concert. So stop complaining that I’m the one who’s making you late!” the driver retorts.
“Well asshole, I have no intention of missing the opening number because of you,” he bellows.
“You’re welcome to get off my ride anytime and call an Uber if you want, but otherwise, I suggest you shut the fuck up, and sit the fuck down, and wait patiently like the rest of these folks,” the driver threatens.
According to Joe and Jenny, who had come from Gainesville in celebration of their 10th wedding anniversary, the passengers on the tram were stunned into silence after this fiery exchange. The moment Leah and I took our seats on the tram, the mood seemed unusually somber for a group of mostly baby boomers who were on their way to attend a sold-out performance of Steve Miller Band with Peter Frampton at St. Augustine Amphitheater.
This was to be our maiden concert at the amphitheater–having purchased tickets over three months ago–knowing that we were taking a chance with the rainy summer weather, but choosing to risk it all for just a few hours of iconic rock and roll nostalgia.
At last the day had come, and despite the iffy forecast through late afternoon, the overcast sky had held firm, and it wasn’t long before we were on our way, barreling along the service roads…
to the back door entrance of the amphitheater.
It was 7:05pm and the opening power chords of Something’sHappening were already resonating through the thick air. We bypassed the crowded concessions…
and settled into our seats…
under the big top…
to lose ourselves in Frampton’s guitar licks.
From the start of the evening, Frampton established a smooth repartee with his exuberant audience–thankful for the fans who’ve stuck with him through thick and thin.
At 72, Frampton has seen his share of sunsets in your eyes and lines on [his] face, affably referencing his musical longevity during the interludes between songs, and reflecting on the passage of time through his career–from his chart dominance to his subsequent free fall to his eventual resurrection.
The devotees in attendance who may have missed the ’70s, seized this downtime as the perfect opportunity for a bathroom break, but not without escaping playful ridicule from Peter..
“I wish I could pee. I really do,” quipped Frampton. Now I can only pee on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday… with the help of Flomax.
He’s willingly traded his teen-idol, cascading hair locks and bare-chested pop star status for a musician’s bald/bold appreciation of his instrument, and aptly demonstrated his guitar prowess throughout his set list:
Lines on My Face
Show Me the Way
Black Hole Sun
(I’ll Give You) Money
Baby, I Love Your Way
I Want You To Love Me
Do You Feel Like We Do
But the literal centerpiece was Black Hole Sun–“the best song [he’s] never written”–performed as an instrumental from the 2007 release of his Fingerprints album that garnered Grammy acclaim.
As if channeling Chris Cornell on the anniversary of his birth, July 20,
Frampton commanded the stage with a mindful intent of demonstrating his guitar virtuosity,
and he deftly acquitted himself in the eyes and ears of his audience.
And when the last shred had been wrung from his beloved Gibson, the crowd let him know how much they were with him and how much they cared.
After a half-hour intermission to reset the stage, the evening continued with Steve Miller and his band.
With a few exceptions, Steve Miller’s set list mimicked his multi-platinum Greatest Hits album, spanning the mid to late 70’s, and nobody in the crowd was disappointed, because they had come to sing along and Dance, Dance, Dance.
True Fine Love
Living in the U.S.A.
Take the Money and Run
I Want to Make the World Turn Around
Wild Mountain Honey
Dance, Dance, Dance
Fly Like an Eagle
From his early overture into blues-infused rock, to experiments in psychedelia, to a catchy collection of counter-culture anthems with mainstream melodies, Miller captured the songbook for a new generation of America in flux.
Midway through his set, Miller evoked a memory from 1965 that took him from San Francisco to New York for a performance of The Mother Song on NBC’s Hullabaloo with The Four Tops and The Supremes.
As Miller recounts, the $250 he earned from the gig gave him the confidence to shop for a new guitar at Manny’s Music, a cherished, legendary music instrument store located in mid-town Manhattan. Unfortunately, he discovered there was nothing he could afford. Rejected and dejected, he headed for the door, whereupon he discovered a cluttered barrel of buried guitars standing neck up with a posted sign: “Your Pick–$125.”
One guitar called to him–a 19-string sitar-guitar that he had to have. Along the way, Miller explained some of its unusual features: spool-like knobs, 3 pick-ups, and a mirror on the backside.
Of course, after 53 years it’s still in his possession, despite an offer of $125,000 from a bigwig music producer. This tale has been repeated at similar events for years and years–with fluctuating asking prices–but the audience was hooked on every word and ate it up.
“Whadaya think? Should I consider selling it?” he petitioned the crowd.
Naturally, the crowd answered back with a resounding, “HELL NO!”
Miller put the instrument to good use in a soulful rendition of Wild Mountain Honey.
Thereafter, with each new tune, the audience responded with greater enthusiasm and a deeper appreciation of his classic hits.
The band returned with a raucous 4-song encore (if you consider Threshold to be a song rather than an intro)…
And in an instant, the show was over. We were transported back to the here and now–no longer celebrating the soundtrack of our salad days from high school or college, but always reminded that “time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.”
Ironically, I spotted the belligerent surfer dude from before, who had embarrassed himself aboard our tram. Folks were filing past him to the exits, yet he seemed frozen in place–as if locked in a trance–holding onto a past that he was so impatient to embrace.
When I was eight, it was thrilling to be able to watch television. It was 1960, and as America’s new favorite past-time, television had quickly taken over as the modern recipe for family togetherness.
Early television programming came from only three channels (NBC, CBS, ABC), so the networks’ scheduling had to appeal to as many home viewers as possible to attract sponsors’ advertising dollars needed to fund the show. Usually that meant finding a personality with versatility and broad appeal, and crafting a show around their persona.
Aside from notable comedians (Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, George Burns, Jack Benny, Groucho Marks), variety stars (Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey), and singers (Perry Como, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland), movie actors were also drawn to television with an opportunity to increase their audience. Yet few would cross over with the success enjoyed by Andy Griffith.
Already a star of stage…
Andy Griffith easily transitioned to sitcom television as a guest star on an episode of The Danny Thomas Show, playing a country bumpkin sheriff who arrests Danny Thomas for running a stop sign in Mayberry.
The Andy Griffith Show pilot ran on CBS later in the same year, where Andy reprised his role of sheriff,
often playing straight man to a host of characters…
who worked and lived in a fictionalized town patterned after Andy’s beloved hometown, Mount Airy, North Carolina, where today, the Andy Griffith Museum shares space with the Andy Griffith Playhouse,
bringing fans from across the nation…
to follow the career of Mt. Airy’s favorite son, and enjoy a collection of memorabilia,
dedicated to a cultural icon.
Whenever I watched The Andy Griffith Show, I’d pretend being Opie Taylor (Ron Howard), Andy’s son,
walking hand in hand with Pa, down to the Fishin’ Hole,
while whistling the show’s familiar theme song:
There would be lunch at Snappy’s…
and a haircut at Floyd’s…
before heading back home, where Aunt Bee would be frying up the catch of the day for dinner.
Without sounding too utopian, life seemed simpler in 1960. Looking back, our role models were wholesome, our families were intact, and civility was practiced in earnest.
How many of us Baby Boomers yearn for the nostalgia we remember from classic TV, before the innocence was shattered by the assassination of JFK, and television brought us closer to the horror and tragedy that’s so commonplace today?
Last night, I took Leah to see your show at the Apollo Theater for her birthday, and she loved all of it.*
We highly approved of Emo Phillips as your opening act, and appreciated him opening up to us about his personal life. I never knew he was married and divorced. He mentioned that her name will forever remain nameless, but only if he can manage to be unseen at her gravestone with a sandblaster. Also, I didn’t know of his interest in playing chess with old men in the park, and how difficult it is finding 32 of them at once.
And then you took Apollo’s iconic stage…
with your long-time back-up band, and you guys were as tight as a vise grip. Whether it was your impressions of Bob Dylan in Bob, James Taylor in Even Worse, the Police in Velvet Elvis, or Gordon Lightfoot in The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, and many more…
the crowd was enthusiastic, and all the applause was well-deserved.
Your stripped-down version of you, known as The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, neglected the familiar fat suit from Eat It, and you never donned a Reynolds Wrap hat from Foil, or a Jedi robe from The Saga Begins.Instead, you featured composed musicians seated on stools,
playing original music from your library of clever parodies that we fondly remember from the 80’s and 90’s, and we loved all 100 minutes of it… although, we would have benefitted from cue cards on your rendition of Bob, for no other reason than to appreciate your insanity just a bit more:
Your twisted vision is a true testament to a society gone crazy on Crazy Glue, and koo-koo for Coco Puffs.
Your self-mocking and lampooning lyrics are delicately designed around intricate word puzzles that tell stories of ridiculous proportions, but still manage to make us smirk at ourselves with unwitting social commentaries about pop culture, religion and other uncharacteristic conventions of modern living.
Your wink-and-nod parodies–the product of a love affair mashup of music genres and sub-cultures–are at their best when you rip off the bandaid of political correctness and hypocrisy, and generously sing about the neurosis of our society.
With all sincerity, Weird Al, you are the court jester of a generation, and for that, I thank you.
P.S. I have dedicated a parody of my own to you–an homage of sorts, as a tribute to your talent and imagination that is rooted in a James Bond classic, The Spy Who Loved Me:
Nobody does it better
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it half as good as you
Weird Al, you’re the best.
[It’s more fun if you play the audio and sing along]
Nobody doesn’t like butter.
Dairy is simply the best.
Starting out warm, straight from the bovine’s udder,
Baby, it’s a breast.
Whenever we’re beaching,
I can’t help from reaching
the strings to your bathing suit top.
I want to unbind them,
and simply remind them
of what it’s like to be there when they flop.
And nobody doesn’t like boobies,
cuz titties are always the best.
Your buttocks and legs, they only take second place.
Baby, it’s your breasts.
Whenever you’re nursing,
and people are cursing,
“You shouldn’t be flashing your breasts!”
They can’t stop their gawking,
while all the time talking–
Claiming it’s too lewd and lascivious.
Nobody doesn’t like butter
Soy milk just won’t pass the test
As for me, it’s always been half and half
Baby, baby, darlin’, it’s your breasts.
Baby it’s the breasts
Darlin’, it’s your breasts
Baby, like them best
Uh, uh, uh,
Oh, oh, oh,
uh, uh, uh, eyuh, eyuh
Uh, uh, uh,
Oh, oh, oh,
uh, uh, uh, eyuh, eyuh
*Special thanks to my son, Noah who arranged the “extra” of our extra special evening.
June 15, 2018 UPDATE
“Weird Al” just completed his 77th and last date of his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, and has released a compendium of snippets from all the cover songs his band performed as the encore of each concert.
It’s hard to imagine going away to a resort to relax, and then being sidelined because of a cold. But after a day of Ubers, planes, and transport vans, we finally arrived at Hacienda Tres Rios–north of Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya–for a week of fun,
and all I could muster was a trip to the hotel convenience store for antihistamine pills before I was ready to collapse. It seems that running around the continent for nearly ten months had compromised my resistance, and was now threatening to compromise my vacation.
Saturdays at the resort have always been a busy day of transitioning, as the staff warmly welcomes new arrivals with chocolate-covered strawberries and mimosas, while firmly ushering last week’s guests through the check-out process and out the door.
After checking in, we killed time at the buffet, waiting for our room to be ready. It was an excellent opportunity to people-watch and predict who among us would be the chosen people we see again and again throughout the week. Of course, it’s always the loudest guests who make a lasting impression, and this week would be no exception. Sitting at the farthest end of the room, three overweight, middle-aged woman were easily heard above the dining room din, kibitzing with the waiter, and on their way to getting shit-faced with yet another round of drinks.
Eventually, a bellman escorted us to our accomodations–a top floor room with an ocean view, or so we were told.
Standing on the balcony, I strained my eyes past the clearing where the last building stood, and that’s when I discovered the deception; the hotel had determined that the miniscule ribbon of gray beyond the mangrove canopy qualified as a view of the ocean.
But I was in no shape to argue. All I could think about was getting into bed with a small hope of shaking this nasty hand that was reaching past my scratchy throat and squeezing my sinuses. That’s when our next-door neighbors arrived, and headed straight for the balcony. I immediately recognized the drunken cackling and the pitchy singing. Standing on my side of the dividing wall, I peered around the other side unnoticed to have a peek, and sure enough, each one held a drink in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other, confirming my worst nightmare.
“This can’t be happening!” I quickly re-entered the room, and shut the terrace door to keep the cigarette smoke from seeping through the opening. “With 272 other rooms spread out through the resort, this is where they’re staying?” I moaned in resignation.
“Well, not if I have something to say about it,” declared Leah.
She grabbed the phone, and dialed the front desk downstairs.
“Tell them about the smoking,” I coached, “because obnoxious is too subjective.”
Leah asserted, “I’m calling from 1307. We just arrived, and already the cigarette smoke from the people next door is drifting into our room from the balcony, and it’s intolerable. So you need to find us another room.”
“I’m very sorry that you are being inconvenienced, ma’am” the desk clerk regretted, “but we are unable to accomodate you because of the volume of registrations at the moment. However, if you could be patient with us, we should be able to make other arrangements tomorrow after check-out time, when we’ve had a chance to review our room inventory,” the advised.
“What time, tomorrow?” Leah zeroed in.
“If you come to the desk at 9:00 am, we will be happy to help you,” she elaborated.
Meanwhile, a slurred rendition of Shape of You vibrated through the shared door between the rooms.
“Damn! I used to like that song,” I aired, “and now it’s ruined forever.”
The clatter of their high heels on marble floors resonated throughout the night, and imprinted on my sinus headache. As I lay awake in bed with a box of tissues by my side, I wondered how many costume changes they could go through in one evening, and cursed the day Ed Sheeran had become popular.
A new day for a fresh start, Leah and I packed the last of our belongings and shlepped our bags to the front desk. We previewed a room on the top floor of another building and unconditionally accepted the exchange.
Not too shabby–an ocean view with a whirlpool tub on our new balcony, and a chance to reboot our vacation. Ahhhh…
Feeling sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, Leah and I consulted the concierge to schedule enough activities through the week to balance my boredom with my recovery.
After settling into room 4302, we met up with Salvador, our trail guide who escorted us through the Nature Park on mountain bikes.
We wove our way around the mangrove forest through a labyrinth of sandy trails recognizing white, red, black, and buttonwood mangroves–the four distinctive varieties that flourish in this tropical environment. On the way to the many cenotes,
we identified a plethora of termite burls, several songbirds, a vulture and an iguana.
Of the ten cenotes on the property, we visited Cenote Tortuga;
and Cenote Orchideo…
where we were greeted by a small school of Garra Rufa,
eager to perform ichthyotherapy for free.
On Monday, we spent our morning with sales agent, Ricardo (At Your Service, Too), and our afternoon with Manuel, who guided us from Cenote Aguila,
down the Rio Selva…
to the ocean.
On Tuesday, we took a behind-the scenes-tour of the kitchen with Celia, the kitchen supervisor. She invited us into her casa to showcase the operation and preparation of all food within the hotel:
Celia’s staff works hard–six ten-hour days every week–and is committed to ensuring a healthy and tasty experience with fresh ingredients and a variety of international cuisines. She acknowledges us by placing her hand on her heart–a sanitary salute of sorts to thank us for the opportunity to serve.
On Wednesday, we travelled by hotel shuttle to Playa del Carmen,
for a stroll up and down 5th Avenue–a pedestrian marketplace stretching 20 blocks, and lined with fashionable shops,
eateries, tequilarias, t-shirt mills, modern malls, massage stations, tchotchke kiosks, tourist stands, Mom-and-Pop Mexicana, and pharmacias, etc.
By Thursday I was dying. After five days of dosing Sensibit D (an antihistamine decongestant), my body had betrayed me, turning my free-flow nose into a gripping sinus headache.
But that didn’t stop me from touring the Cancun Brewery with Leah and The Ed Sheeran Trio. Hiding behind the green wall of an unassuming building,
a shiny brewery has taken shape in the middle of Tres Rios jungle. According to Brandon, brewmaster from Michigan,
a Sunset Group partner bartered a warehouse, utilities and unlimited clean water in exchange for craft beer supplied to all Sunset Group hotels.
Additionally, production runs of Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, and Pilsner are crafted in short batches of kegs and cans to satisfy Riviera Maya’s thirst from Cancun to Tulum.
To some extent, I felt sorry for Brandon, as he was peppered with ridiculous comments, questions, and suggestions from my ex-neighbors, yet good-naturedly responded to everything that came his way. Then I stopped myself when I realized that here is a guy who otherwise, would still be living in Michigan, but instead comes to work in shorts and flip flops, and gets to drink cerveza for a living.
Adios, Cancun Beer.
Friday was a good day to lay low and do nothing in preparation of an early departure on Saturday.
Lounging by the pool, I reflected on the past week, thinking about the activities I’d missed out on: snorkeling at Yal-ku in Akumal; diving Santa Rosa reef at Cozumel; and exploring the ruins of Coba or Tulum. While all of that would have made for an exciting itinerary, it wouldn’t have made for a relaxing vacation, and maybe that’s what my body was really craving.
Every day discovering something brand new
The sun felt good on my face, as I moved in and out of consciousness–half awake, half-asleep–my body floating through a cenote abloom with fragrant orchids,
In the distance, a hypnotic song was playing–a lilting melody of love that grew louder and louder with every new verse–until I snapped awake. The Three Little Mermaids were at it again, wading in the pool with a drink, and killing me softly with an execution of Shape of You.
No matter. It was time to rise, and the perfect segue to a late-afternoon hot-stone massage we had scheduled as our reward for enduring Ricardo’s two-hour spiel (At Your Service, Too).
By evening, we were totally relaxed and ready to celebrate our mock 13th anniversary over a langoustine dinner and a special treat from the pastry chef.
It was everything I needed to forget about the miserable cold that plagued me through this vacation.
Many have asked, “Why on earth do you call it a vacation, when you’ve been on a vacation for the past ten months?”
To which I answer, “Who cares what it’s called!”
Come on now, follow my lead I may be crazy, don’t mind me…
We refused to leave Nashville without attending a concert.
Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the live music screaming from scores of Broadway juke joints and honky tonks, combining to create a three chord din, and it’s all for free.
But getting past the burly bouncers requires mastery of a special skill set, namely: zigzagging through hordes of bridal parties and lady’s-night-outers;
sidestepping the street people and the homeless; and dodging the drunks and the soon-to-become-drunks who walk a crooked line.
Instead, Leah and I were in the mood for more of a formal venue. However, Grand Ole Opry’s Ryman Auditorium–featuring The Charlie Daniel Band–had sold out weeks ago, including standing room.
Undeterred, we scoured the internet and stumbled across an offering that showcased the quieter side of Nashville.
I was definitely up for the concert, but Leah was hesitant.
“I think we should do it,” I stated. “Besides, there’s nothing else out there that compares to this.”
“I don’t know,” said Leah, unconvinced. “For starters, I don’t know anything about John Hiatt. And second of all, I don’t think I can spend two hours looking at Lyle Lovett. I mean, how in the world he was married to Julia Roberts has to be one of life’s great mysteries!”
“I don’t think she fell in love with his looks, and I’m certain he feels the same way after two years together with her… Look, why don’t we find out if tickets are even available?” I argued.
“Okay,” Leah relented.
Unfortunately, online shopping established that only single seats scattered through the orchestra and balconies still remained, and that was not an option. However, a direct call to the box office revealed that a cache of tiered seats directly behind the stage could be ours if we were willing to forgo direct eye contact.
“What about the sound quality?” Leah asked the agent.
“It’s a symphony hall! You’ll hear it the same as everybody else, and it’s amazing!” the agent proclaimed.
“That’s perfect!” I declared, openly displaying my enthusiasm. “We get to hear two time-honored performers with deep songbooks, and you don’t have to look at either one of them.”
“Okay,” Leah surrendered.
Schermerhorn Symphony Center was designed with neo-classical underpinnings,
which seems characteristically out of place,
given Nashville’s lowbrow sensibility, and glass tower affinity.
We stepped into a stripped-down, blue-lit stage–just guitars and voices, and an occasional harmonica–as Lovett and Hiatt traded songs and repartee,
providing 2½ hours of mutual admiration,
and audience participation.
An evening of watching the backs of Lovett and Hiatt, while listening to their tone poems and anthems about America sounded wonderful.
The following day, the hit parade continued with a pilgrimage to Country Music nirvana,
where a million fans come every year to pay tribute to Country Western legends who’ve turned an American music genre into an international juggernaut.
Currently, museum exhibits follow the careers of music royalty, honoring the Queen of Country,
and the King of Folk–
–with multi-media memories, and enough testimonial trivia to solidify their golden reputations.
This is our second time through Nashville during our year-long odyssey; we’ve passed this way over seven months ago (Rig or Mortis) traveling southbound, and it’s become our way station once again as we move to warmer weather for the winter season.
We’ll surely pass through Nashville after we’ve emerged from our Florida hibernation, but next time around, we’ll have reserved tickets to the Grand Ole Opry in our hands before we get there.
As an outgrowth of downsizing, I have routinely reflected on the virtues of the mimimalist mantra of less is more.
Robert Browning is credited with creating the phrase, which was later mainstreamed by architect Mies van der Rohe to explain his philosophy of design. It appears to be a contradiction of quantitative terms, and as such, represents an apparent oxymoron. But the quote also has a number of practical as well as esotetic applications.
Less is more is a cause and effect–an itch that requires a scratch, but in an opposite kind of way. So, if less is more, then what is it more than, or more of?
For instance, if less is a number, like income, then what logically follows is more frugality or poverty. And if the number relates to temperature, then less heat requires more clothing or blankets, and lower temperatures may certainly create conditions for greater risk of frostbite.
Insurance actuaries will tell you that less risk assures more surety.
Musically, less noise produces more clarity. Conversely, less clarity produces more confusion.
For dieters, less food intake results in more weight loss. Additionally, doctors will tell you that less exercise results in more illness.
Donald Trump would benefit from considering that less diplomacy promotes more hostility; that less suspicion builds more trust; and less insight produces more ignorance.
Personally, traveling in a road home has taught us certain restraints. The less water we use, the more space we conserve in our disposal tanks. Limited storage between the truck and trailor means making do with less clothes, and consequently, more laundry time. Most importantly, the less Leah argues, the more peaceful things are.
And so I open up the discussion to the blogosphere. How many examples can my readers come up with. Record your thoughts in the comments box for all to share.
After all, it was never my intention to create an exhaustive list, since less is more.