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Loren’s Travels

Prohibition and Arizona Rum

I had the privilege of spending the evening at one of my favorite local watering holes, Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge. They had a double-bill special program tonight, with a history talk and a rum tasting. Both turned out to be extremely interesting, and I’m glad I was there.

The talk was given by Richard Foss, author of Rum: A Global History. I’ve encountered Rich here and there over the years through some of the circles we share. His talk was “How Prohibition Changed America.” I can’t begin to remember everything involved, but here are some high points:

  • Before Prohibition, drinking was a much more integrated part of American life. There were hundreds of local breweries and distilleries, and various alcoholic beverages were marketed as healthy. Not only that, but alcohol was the basis for many of the “herbal compounds” of the early 20th Century, from Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound on down the line.
  • Prohibition was pushed as anti-immigrant (Irishmen and Germans drank; Irishmen and Germans were the Mexicans and Muslims of the early 20th Century), primarily by the then-Republican party, and much more by women than men. Drinking at bars became a predominently male occupation, and led to men not enjoying a leisurely dinner at home, because their wives were the ones pushing abstinence. (“Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine!”)
  • Many towns had two newspapers: One pro-prohibition, one anti. Apparently they seemed to report two entirely different views of reality.
  • Beer and wine distributors supported the Volstead Act (which enacted Prohibition nationwide), thinking that it was only about distilled spirits. They were very surprised to discover that they were included.
  • Americans got very creative about finding ways around Prohibition. Italian restaurants would give away wine with dinner, which helped Italian cuisine become popular.
  • The way Utah ended up voting to repeal Prohibition apparently was sold by saying, “This will be adding tax to liquor. But since we good Mormons don’t drink, we won’t have to pay that tax, though we’ll get the benefits from it.”

And there was much, much more – this is just a rapid and random brain dump. It was enlightening, how many elements of our current culture and how people try to enact social change have been around for at least a hundred years.

And then there was the rum.

There’s a new “micro-distillery” in Kingman AZ called Desert Diamond Distillery, makers of Gold Miner Rum. They’ve been open about five years, serving four rums and a vodka. I got to taste them all.

The vodka and white rum are decent examples of their respective categories. The white rum has its own set of flavors and aftertastes, very unlike something like Bacardi. I happen to think this is a good thing for their white rum. πŸ™‚

They have three dark rums. I can’t recall which of them tastes like bourbon and which is just a very good dark rum, but the agave rum has somewhat of a sweeter flavor, and they call it a “dessert rum.” Definitely smooth on the palate.

“Joe-Bob says check ’em out.” πŸ™‚

All Aboard the Key West Express!

During my recent tour to southwest Florida, I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to sneak away to one of my favorite islands for a day.

It’s a good long drive – 6-8 hours – each way from the Ft. Myers area to Key West. The Key West Express ferry service gets you there in about three and a half hours. If you’re prone to motion sickness, Dramamine isn’t a bad idea, especially if it’s a very windy day. But on our trip, the motion wasn’t bad – comparable to the average plane flight.

Picture of the Key West Express

The Key West Express

It costs about $150 for a round-trip, less if you buy tickets ahead of time. I got the best rate buying more than eight days in advance. You can either go back the same day, or stay in Key West for a while and go back when you’re ready.

There are several types of seating. On the main and second decks, there’s a mix of tables along the windows and “airplane”-type seats in the middle of the cabin. It looks like you can fit a lot of people on this boat!

Picture of the inside main cabin on the Key West Express

Inside the main cabin

There’s also a top deck, open to the wind. Once the boat gets up to speed, this can actually feel chilly, even in 80+ degree temperatures.

Picture of the top deck on the Key West Express

From the top deck – departing Key West

Once the boat gets under way, after the obligatory safety talk – where to find life vests and rafts in the “unlikely event of an emergency” – there’s a cute tourist video describing some of the wonderful attractions of Key West, most of which have probably paid for product placement. That didn’t bother me; I was on my way to Key West. But it’s worth noting that at least one hotel in town and the Conch Train have special deals for Express passengers.

For the rest of the trip, they’ve got movies playing. This trip, the focus seemed to be on science fiction and comedy; I’m guessing that other trips might have other movies. Or you can read, play games on your phone, or just watch the water slide rapidly by.

Speaking of your phone, there’s no Internet access and spotty phone coverage on the trip. Once you’re mostly out of sight of land, it’s two bars of signal at best and no 3G or 4G coverage. That’s on Verizon; other carriers might have better coverage. Truth to tell, I managed just fine for several hours without Internet or phone service.

You can also buy food – breakfast-type stuff on the way down, hot dogs, burgers, chicken strips and such on the way back. You can get various beverages, and they have a bar. Which I did spend a bit of time at, for research purposes of course.

We were coming into Key West at about the same time as a cruise ship, and I discovered something I’d never really noticed before – cruise ships are taller than the entire island!

Picture of Key West from a distance.

Key West on the horizon! Note the slightly higher bulge of the cruise ship at the right.

Once you arrive on the island, there’s a service willing to store your bags until it’s time to check into your hotel, motel, or B&B, cabs willing to take you wherever you want to go, and other people willing to help you get where you’re going and find what you want, for a fee. And it’s not a huge island; you can easily get wherever you need to go without a car.

Something you should keep in mind: It’s important to show up early, to make sure you get on board before departure. The earliest passengers also tend to get the table seats by the windows. The KWE Website has all of the necessary info on boarding times both ways – read it. In general, you’ll want to show up about an hour before the posted departure times.

I love driving down the Keys. Most trips, that’s how I get to Key West. And I’ll keep doing that when I can. But it’s nice to know there’s another worthwhile option for getting into town.

Loren’s rating: Five rum drinks (on a scale of zero to five).

One Night in a Roadside Bar…

Tonight’s commute sucked rancid, hairy swamp water. A commute that would normally take me an hour or so, and by 50 minutes in, I was maybe 2/3 of the way home.

At times like this, I do what any sane individual would do: I get off the freeway, find a place that serves booze and food, and hang out until the traffic eases up a bit. It’s usually a much better way to spend my time.

Tonight, I washed up on the shores of the Applebee’s in Fremont, right off 880 at Mowry. I think I’ve been there before, but it’s been a while. I bellied up to the bar, ordered myself a rum ‘n diet, and checked out their happy hour food menu.

One of the first things I noticed was that a fair number of the bar patrons seemed to know each other and the bartenders. While this isn’t necessarily something I’d expect from a chain restaurant, I adjust fairly easily. So I paid attention to the various conversations, and managed to contribute the following:

  • A lady next to me was on her way home from the hospital, where she’d left her husband for a knee replacement surgery. It sounds like he’s likely to turn out well, as this isn’t his first rodeo there, and we talked a bit about local stuff (I lived in Fremont for about five years) and the area in the Sierra foothills where she actually lives, where I got to spend some time about 15 years ago.
  • I met a very young (about a year old) and well-behaved man named Joaquin, who was supervising his dad while dad got himself something to drink.
  • A nice couple about four seats down apparently get there regularly, and were enjoying their evening.
  • A gentleman between them and me was away from his wings and beer more than he was enjoying them, because he apparently had to keep taking phone calls. I got a smile from him when I suggested he might suffer a “battery failure” until he got to finish his food. And his beer.

And so, half an hour or so later, after enjoying the company of a half-dozen total strangers, I was on my way again. Traffic had thinned out, and I got home in a reasonable amount of time.

Adventure and fun are where you find them.

Hunting the Sunset

Tonight I fed my soul.

I can’t speak for anybody else, really, but I know that my soul tends to need feeding on a regular basis. There’s a lot of stressors structured into the society I live in that suck out soul-stuff on a daily basis; if I don’t renew that, I get cranky, and start to forget the important stuff, like sunsets and loving myself enough to take time to enjoy them.

There’s somewhat of a universal appeal to a sunset, it seems. Tonight, for example, I went to what I think is part of Marina Park in San Leandro, about fifteen minutes from where I live. There’s a peninsula separating the marina from the Bay, with a fair bit of parking along the breakwater. It’s an easy destination for me, and for others.

Tonight, I heard at least two languages other than English out there, and saw folks from a number of different social, economic, and ethnic “communities” here. I saw people in tattered denim; I saw one foursome in formal wear. Each and every one of them went out of their way to come down by the water’s edge to watch the sun go down over the Peninsula.

In Key West, they’ve made sunset a celebration. They have jugglers, musicians, one guy who’s trained his cats to jump through hoops, dancers, and the occasional fire eater. And when the last edge of the sun disappears below the horizon, or below Tank Island (Sunset Key)…people applaud and cheer.

I was the only person who applauded tonight at San Leandro Marina, but that’s cool.

Just being by the water calms me. It was near low tide tonight, so the water was *way* out. The wind was almost calm; the water was almost glass-like. I also like the sound of waves slapping against the shore, but that wasn’t part of tonight’s symphony.

Picture of approaching sunset

Sunset Coming Soon

Advice for the Would-Be Sunset Hunter

I highly recommend showing up early. There are plenty of resources online and smart phone apps that will tell you what time sunset occurs where you are; look this stuff up ahead of time. If you plan to show up a half hour before actual sunset, this is enough time for you to really “arrive,” to let go of any stress you might have had about getting there in time, and if you take pictures or want to set up a folding chair, to figure out where you want to be and get settled there.

Another sunset picture

Low tide at San Leandro Marina – taken while waiting for sunset

Some clouds are good. Clouds are the stuff that the reddening light of the setting sun will color. A few strategically-placed clouds will turn an “ordinary” sunset into a spectacular one. If there are no clouds, you’ll still see a great sunset, but the truly photogenic ones have some high clouds in them.

I use my iPhone to take pictures. I have friends who use fancy cameras. They get better pictures. I get pictures that are still pretty spectacular. Use what you have. If you have a smartphone, try using the HDR setting on your cam software, or download an HDR app. This will take two pictures at different exposures and combine them. This can compensate for the sun’s glare, at least until the sun has gone down, and brings back other details in your pictures. Sometimes you get weird “ghosting” effects in an HDR picture, but if you’re digital, you can always delete it. πŸ™‚

Roughly the same as the first sunset picture, with HDR

Up until the sun starts to cross the horizon, all the interesting stuff to look at and photograph is what’s around you – if you’re by the water, maybe the birds or boats are doing something interesting. I got a picture or two of a blimp tonight, which was in the air as a camera platform for the 49ers game at Candlestick. I could see the lights at the ‘Stick from my vantage point.

Contrails make a nice composition touch

Don’t look directly at the sun! You’ll go blind. Look off to one side or the other, or through the viewfinder of your camera/phone.

I take a bunch of pictures while the sun is crossing the horizon, trying to capture the exact moment of sunset. If I’m someplace like Key West, where I can see the sun crossing into the sea, I’m still hoping to see and get a picture of the “green flash.” When I’m by the Bay, I can’t see that of course – the sun disappears over the hills, and isn’t low enough to give me that view. But as I’ve written elsewhere…the sunset is still worthwhile. πŸ™‚

Once the sun has set…wait. Keep watching. This is when the sky starts to turn interesting colors, especially if there are clouds. This stage of sunset can last another half hour or more, and is well worth sitting through. You can get a hint of what the clouds nearer the west will do by occasionally looking east – the colors will show up in the east first, and then travel across the sky with the Earth’s shadow.

Half an hour after sunset – worth waiting for!

If you’re taking pictures, rotate the camera from time to time – take some shots “portrait” and some “landscape.” You never know what’ll look great later.

After the red part of sunset starts to fade, you’re probably done taking pictures. Kick back and watch the sky for as long as you like before heading in.

I hope you enjoy many sunsets!

 

“I Came for the Waters”

As a writer, part of my job – both of my jobs – is finding the right words for things. As Samuel Clemens once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

One of the great joys in my life, these past few years, has been driving through the Florida Keys and enjoying the many colors of the water on either side of the highway.

One of the great frustrations in my life, the past few years, has been trying to describe what color(s) that water is. And the blessed stuff keeps *changing* on me, with the weather and the tides. I mean, what color is this:

Blue-green-turquoise?

Or this:

The “commute” down the Keys

Sometimes it seems as though the water almost fluoresces from its own inner light. I don’t have a good picture of that one. And most of the time, no matter what I do the pictures I take don’t look like the water I see.

Then again, occasionally someone else gets it right, such as during my “catamaran cruise” gig this past trip:

This is the way I want to go to work every day.

I got to be out on a sailboat in water that looked like that for several whole hours. I was short on sleep and therefore not entirely awake…but it was one of the best times of my life so far.

There’s something about being down by the water that I find extremely healing and renewing. I can be dead tired, short on sleep, borderline sick, frazzled, overloaded…but put me in a chair where I can watch sunlight dancing on the waves and hear the water flirting with the shore, and I relax. And I’m happy. It doesn’t seem to matter where that water is.

I’ve enjoyed the Keys water from a seat in the Key West McDonald’s:

Beauty is everywhere.

I’ve sat and watched the water several times from the deck outside the Postcard Inn, formerly known as the Holiday Isle, in Islamorada:

I’ve been calmed standing or sitting by the San Francisco Bay, whether in San Leandro near my house, or up in Emeryville:

Sunset through the Golden Gate

For that matter, it doesn’t have to be an ocean or a bay. Listening to the water in a fountain or stream calms me as well.

I don’t understand why or how this all works. I’m guessing it’s something primal, that somewhere in my genetic memory is a time when we hairless apes lived by the water and were content. Perhaps it’s an echo of the primordial ooze from which our ultimate ancestors emerged, billions of years ago. I don’t know.

I just know that I love being by the water, and try to spend time there whenever I can.

Living on Key West Time

It’s my fourth day in the Keys, and I’m taking advantage of a spare hour to jot down a few random thoughts that have been floating through my brain as a result of this time here.

First: I really like being in Key West. I’m not sure it’s at a “time to move here” level; it’s certainly at a “I really need to figure out how to spend more time here” level. How I’ll manage that is, as they say, an exercise for the advanced student. πŸ™‚

Second…being here when most of my Parrothead friends aren’t is a very different energy from when they are, and I like that energy. I love hanging with my friends – just spent the morning at the Casa Marina, getting registered and catching up with various and sundry good people. But for lunch, I tried out a local fried chicken place on Flagler, partly because all the shady seats down by the Casa pool were full.

This is my tenth Meeting of the Minds (MOTM), and each one has been interesting and fun in its own way. I remember a moment back in 2005 when I thought, “Oh, am I just going to keep doing the same stuff over and over and get bored?” Well, that didn’t happen. I started trying out different places and exploring more. I still haven’t seen it all. And i keep finding new places to try, and new things to see. Because I decided I *wanted* to. And my intention created this very fun reality.

I’m also playing a fuller schedule of gigs this year, which has been way cool. I’ve been making notes on what I need to do differently next year, of course…but life is an iterative process. And I enjoy having the ability to tell people where to find me. I forgot to print up reminder cards with the schedule this time…but I trust that people will show up where they need to.

The feedback I’ve been getting on the new album has been very positive and encouraging. According to several people, it survives repeated listenings. πŸ™‚ And those folks who’ve made it to my shows have been having a very good time, and hopefully telling *their* friends.

And the best part is, I’m only halfway through the week. πŸ™‚

On another, more serious note, I almost feel guilty having such a good time here when so many people in the Northeast are without power, and some without homes. My prayers continue to go out to those people, and I hope that life returns to normal there soon. It feels funny to be sitting in Key West watching hurricane damage in New York and New Jersey. Fortunately, most of those who were trying to get here for the week are here, and others are getting out today and tomorrow. And those of my friends I’ve talked to seem to still have homes to return to, and this is good. Then again, if things are worse for someone, odds are I won’t hear from them for a while. πŸ™

I love my life and love my world, and I am very thankful to be in this place with so many wonderful people.

Packing for Paradise

As I write this, I’m three point something days away from hopping a Southwest flight, on my first leg of a weeklong trip to the Conch Republic, mka Key West. Hurricane Sandy is very considerately staying out of my way, so I expect a safe and relatively uneventful flight east, followed by a lovely if not leisurely drive down Highway 1 on Monday.

What does one pack for a trip like this? In his book “A Pirate Looks at Fifty,” Mr. Buffett devotes an entire chapter to talking about all the cool goodies he packed his seaplane with for that particular trip. It was an entertaining read.

I, however, don’t have an entire aircraft at my disposal. I get two bags, plus the guitar in its case and my “portable office” shoulder bag. And I have to keep each bag under 50 pounds, or a) Southwest will charge me a small fortune for the privilege of hauling it for me and b) I will hurt myself trying to schlep it. Until I have a significant fraction of Mr. Buffett’s money, that’s how it’ll have to be.

So…what *does* one take, on a week-long journey to Paradise? I’ll spare you the details of the entire list, but share some highlights:

Guitar case – I take the soft case with shoulder straps; on Southwest, I can carry it on-board and put it in an overhead bin:

  • Guitar – Martin HD-28V, my “go to” guitar since roughly 2004
  • Spare strings
  • 1/4″ coax cable to plug into someone else’s amp, for when I need to do that
  • Songs I’m learning, in case I feel like dragging something out that ain’t completely baked
  • Capos – the regular full-neck version, and the “short cut” capo I use on “Green Flash.” I’ll eventually write and/or cover more songs that use it, maybe re-learning “Piece of Work.”

“Portable office:” CDs to sell, stickers and sampler CDs to hand out, sign-up sheets for my newsletter, coasters, pens, Sharpies, CD opener, Square widget for my cell phone, mini recorder(s), change envelope for events where someone else is selling my stuff. Paperwork folder – air reservations, hotel reservations, car reservations, parking coupon, MOTM confirmation for my membership, printed schedules. (Yes, I’m old-school about that. And in the habit of marking up the printed copy with where I have to be and where I want to try to be.) Music journal, because I always write something new while I’m in the Keys.

It will also contain my iPad. This will be my third trip without a laptop. I can do pretty much everything I *need* to do with just the iPad, and they don’t make you take it out of the bag going through airport security.

Merch bag: New for this trip, this will hold T-shirts, swag, and probably some CDs. It’s a rolling duffle from LL Bean in a Hawaiian shirt print; it should be impossible to miss coming off the baggage conveyor. I won’t put anything in here that can be broken. I *might* pack some costuming in, as I’ll be in Key West for Halloween.

Suitcase:

  • Clothes for a week. I expect to do laundry sometime around Saturday, so I don’t have to carry clothes for the duration. There’s a great laundromat on White Street that has a Cuban deli attached; they make a decent Cubano sandwich. Clothes will mostly be Hawaiian shirts, 1-2 pair of shorts, and a waterproof windbreaker in case it decides to rain.
  • Pills and remedies. I ain’t twenty-something no more, so I schlep along the stuff I need to stay healthy and comfortable while I’m away. Also toiletries, sunscreen, similar stuff.
  • More CDs and/or shot glasses. This trip, I need to give out some of the extra “goodies” that people who supported my new album on Kickstarter get. And I might sell a few shot glasses along the way; they’re kinda cool. These go in the suitcase, so that Southwest has a harder time breaking them. πŸ™‚
  • Headset mic and cabling. I *think* I’ll have what I need everyplace I’m gigging this time. But just in case, I want to be prepared. I don’t need the rest of the portable PA, which has its own suitcase, but I’m going to take the mic.
  • Ear plugs. I need to preserve what little of my hearing is left, and some of the music is *loud*.
  • SunPass transponder (Yes, I got one!), maps of FL and the Keys.
  • Possibly an insulated cup to carry my own potables in.
  • Hat, to keep sun and/or rain off my face.
  • Power cord(s) – to recharge my iDevices, mostly.

It’s not an exhaustive list…but some items just really aren’t “need to know” for the Internet. πŸ™‚

On the Road: Partying with Parrotheads in Utah

I spent last weekend hanging out with the Wasatch Mountain Parrothead Club in the Salt Lake City area. And I had an incredibly good time.

I’d been hired to play for their summer party, along with a local duo called Marmalade Chill. They played a lot of cover songs exceedingly well, with two-part harmony and good guitar work.

My outbound flight ran about an hour late. This was a good thing, as I was somewhat less than fully-organized and needed the extra hour at home (thank you, Southwest, for the phone notification before I left for the airport!) to get everything done, including a couple of press kits into the mail and my Day Job stuff to a good finishing point.

I always arrive early at the airport, because one never knows how long the security lines will take. As my gate was right across from the Gordon Biersch micropub, I stopped in there for a Marzen and some garlic fries. Tasty!

Picture of The view from Gordon Biersch, at Oakland Airport

The view from Gordon Biersch, at Oakland Airport

Well, they finally let me on the plane, we left the gate, and off we flew! I was looking out the left side hoping to see the America’s Cup races going on, but apparently they were done for the day by the time we took off.

Upon arrival, I was whisked away by Kathleen to the home of my friends Mike and Rene, who were also going to be hosting the party. Several other WMPHC folks were there, having helped set up the stage and various other stuff. We then hung out until it was time to get a token amount of sleep so that we would be ready to party the next day.

Morning dawned with a few unexpected sprinkles. This worried us a bit, as a downpour would make it a bit harder to have a big outdoor party. But the storms went around us all day, so we were good. I even made myself useful, hanging lights and such:

Picture of me hanging lights

“Just a little to the left…”

The place looked wonderful, as we awaited the arrival of a bunch of fun people:

Picture of the party yard

Popcorn beneath the willows 

 

picture of the stage
My “office.”

We had a good bunch of people there, as the day wore on into night. I played about three hours’ worth of music, with Marmalade Chill taking a few hours in the middle. After the raffle prizes were given out, some folks wandered off, but we ended up with a hard core of partiers who stayed right to the very end, and even demanded a couple of encores! πŸ™‚

Here’s a shot of me from the middle of the day, taken by my friend Sharron Lukens:

Picture of me performing

“Good afternoon everybody!”

Alas, all good things do come to an end, and eventually we all crashed. The following morning dawned bright and sunny, and I got a couple of good pictures of the Wasatch Mountains on my way back to the airport. Here’s one of them:

Picture of the Wasatch Mountains from SLC

A beautiful morning in Utah

My flight home was reasonably uneventful. I had the pleasant surprise of running into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in about six or seven years, and we spent the flight home getting caught up. That was enjoyable. And I got home early enough to get a few things done around the house!

Thanks again to the fine folks of the WMPHC for inviting me out to their party, and to Mike & Rene for their incredible and comfortable hospitality! Thanks also to everyone who bought raffle tickets, bought jewelry, or just made donations to Buffalo Blessings, our charity. We raised quite a bit of money for them!

Partying with a purpose. That’s how we roll.