Chip Shot

Ballreich chips & Jolly rootbeerMaybe I wouldn’t normally drive to Michigan just for a concert and maybe I wouldn’t normally drive to northern Ohio just for a potato chip, but at the trailing edge of a winter that has snow falling in the last week of March, either would have qualified as raison d’roadtrip. Together, they could not be denied.

As a child, I had a certain amount of fondness for the well-oiled curled-up and crunchy product of the long gone Star Potato Chip Company in nearby North Star, Ohio. There was also a brief period in my early twenties when I faced the risk of addiction to Mikesell’s Green Onion Potato Chips. Since then, although I’ve certainly eaten my share of chips and crisps and even those impostors that are neatly stacked in tubes, I’ve not had a favorite. I hadn’t really thought about it until a Jim Grey blog post made me realize that I lived in a state that was a legitimate “King of the Chips” contender. The post is here and well worth reading but the important point for me was that Jim, after some serious research, had picked two Ohio made chips as his favorites.

The musical part of the equation is that Willie Nile, who I’ve recently discovered I like a lot, would play his last concert before heading to Spain in Ann Arbor, Michigan. One of Jim’s picks is based in Tiffin, Ohio, which is, if you look at it with the proper motivation, right on the way to Ann Arbor. You could also look at it with the idea that, once you’ve driven to Tiffin, Ann Arbor is just a hop, skip, and a jump farther. Either way works for me.

Ballreich chipsBallreich chipsI headed north on I-75 then left the interstate at Findlay to follow US 224 to Tiffin. If I had studied the history of Ballreich Brothers Inc. a little better, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find it in what is basically a residential area on the east side of town. Big buildings have been built and much equipment installed over the last 90+ years but the company remains located right where Fred and Ethel Ballreich started making potato chips in a copper kettle in their garage in 1920. Although the company store is open Monday through Friday during the Christmas season, the normal schedule is Friday’s only. Lucky thing that I was going to a Friday concert and even luckier that I checked in advance since I initially thought of stopping on the way home. In addition to all the company’s snack products, the store offers clothing, mugs, and other items bearing the company logo. I grabbed both a large and a small bag of the Original Marcelled chips and a big bag of sweet potato chips which were unexpected but immediately snagged my interest. I intended to also get a small bag of Sour Cream & Onion but another surprise, Salt & Vinegar, must have distracted me because I let the Sour Cream & Onion get away.

Jolly's root beer, Tiffin, OHI had forgotten that a Jolly’s Root Beer stand existed in Tiffin but instantly recalled the connection with the two in Hamilton, Ohio. The ones in Hamilton can be traced back to 1938 and founder Vinny Jolivette. This one was started by Vinny’s brother, Roy, in 1947. The stand surprised me but the fact that it was open — with temperatures in the 40s — surprised me even more. I’m sure the idea started to form as soon as I saw the Jolly’s sign and it was fully formed by the time I left the Ballreich company store. Rather than having my first Ballreich experience in the parking lot or as I drove out of town, I headed back to the drive-in and that’s how the photo at the top of the article came to be.

Even though I thought I knew what Jim was talking about with his dry chips and moist chips, it wasn’t until I chomped down on one of Ballreich’s beauties that I really understood. All the moisture and much of the flavor had disappeared from my chip supply so gradually that I didn’t consciously miss it. I do now, of course, but I fortunately live in Ohio and, even though Ballreich’s hasn’t reached Cincinnati yet, I frequently pass thorough places where they are supposed to be available. I’ll be OK.

Lamp Post Inn, Ann Arbor, MII asked a couple Michiganers about independent motels in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti resident, Russell Rein, reported that only one remained standing that he knew of. One was enough. The Lamp Post Inn had pretty good reviews, reasonable rates, and a very acceptable location. There is a peek inside my room here. The location became more than acceptable when I searched for Friday Lenten “fish fries” and found one within walking distance of the motel. I’ve made a habit of attending a variety of such events for the last few years and this year am planning on posting some sort of summary after Easter.

The Ark, Ann Arbor, MIThe concert venue, The Ark, was just a couple of miles away. It’s quite a nice place on the second floor of the building in the picture. I’m guessing that it seats no more than 300 and less than a third of those are reserved. I had been able to buy the last reserved seat because, as is often the case, few people want a single seat. Overall, the show was close to being sold out but not quite.

Willie NileI bought a Nile CD, Places I Have Never Been, at that impressive concert in Newport, Kentucky, in February (my post here) then ordered American Ride online. Those two CDs, one more than twenty years old and the other less than a year old, went into heavy rotation in the car. I was becoming quite a fan and thinking I’d like to see another show now that I was a little better prepared. The Ann Arbor show was not only the last in the States for awhile, it was also the closest. Every time I listened to one of those CDs, I would be ready to make plans as soon as I got home. Then some time would pass and I would talk myself out of it. Eventually I listened to Willie Nile and read about potato chips on the same day.

Larry BeersJohnny PisanoMatt HoganThe lineup was the same as it had been in February. Guitarist Matt Hogan and Bassist Johnny Pisano had a little more room than they had in Newport and used it. They certainly had not stood still at the earlier show but here they were just a little showier and they also teased each other a little more. A picture here is just a hint at how much fun they were having together. I’ve read that Alex Alexander has played at least some of the shows since Newport but not this one. I’d kind of like to see the group with him sometime but I sure can’t complain about the job that Larry’s doing. I claimed to have forgotten his last name when I wrote about the concert in Newport but now I have to think that I never heard it properly. Beers! How could I forget the name Beers? Larry Beers is the name and top notch drumming is his game.

Willie Nile bandWillie Nile bandWillie is now off to tour Spain but will be back in the US in May. There is currently nothing very close to me on his schedule but I’ll keep watching. I’ve a lot of catching up to do.

P.S., The sweet potato chips are excellent.

windshield chipADDENDUM 2-Apr-2014: I don’t know how I missed this obvious title connection when I wrapped up this post Saturday night. Earlier in the day, as I left Columbus in traffic, I heard a now familiar clack and soon located this crater in my windshield. “Chip shot” indeed!

Music Review
Sweatshop Pinata
Dirk Hamilton & The Bluesmen

Sweatshop PinataThe album’s full title is Sweatshop Piñata: Most of the Best of Dirk Hamilton & The Bluesmen. If that means there may someday be another album with the rest of the best of Dirk Hamilton & The Bluesmen, I’m in.

Dirk has a sizable fan base in Italy and has spent part of many summers touring there. For the last few years, he has done that in the company of an Italian band called The Bluesmen. A portion of the 2005 tour was captured and made available as a CD and DVD package titled Sometimes Ya’ Leave the Blues Out on the Road. Now they’ve got a studio album with no road involved at all. That 2005 recording included some Dirk Hamilton compositions, a few covers, and a few tunes that Dirk co-wrote with The Bluesmen’s guitarist, Roberto Formignani. The international collaborations were essentially made up of Hamilton’s lyrics and Formignani’s music. That’s the arrangement on every song on Sweatshop Piñata except two where keyboardist Massimo Mantovani also contributed. This is hardly the first time Dirk has collaborated with others. There are plenty of examples of him co-writing songs with guitarist Don Evans or bassist Eric Westphal. This is, however, the first time he has collaborated on an entire album and it is also the first time he has done an album of all blues.

None of that, of course, keeps Dirk from doing some lyrical ear tickling. On The Collector, one of the most hard core blues tracks on the album, the list of things collected starts with “Mojos, yo-yo’s, maybe butterfly wings”. Two of my favorite lines come from the short and funky “Baby Take A U-ey”. When he asks for rent money, it is because “My bullfrog wouldn’t like it if we had to move again”. Then he warns folks at his funeral not to cry and instructs them to “Just chisel on my tombstone, ‘He came, he sang, he died’”. Unlike some Dirk Hamilton offerings, there is nothing at all political here. There is some social commentary (I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t.) but it all concerns individuals like the aforementioned “collector” or the empty headed target of “Automaton Town”.

Good lyrics and good music deserve good execution and they get it. Formignani’s often biting guitar is up front on almost every track. Mantovani takes the lead a little less often than Formignani but he is never hiding. He makes major contributions to most cuts on piano, organ, or both. He also arranged the horns that appear on several tracks. Roberto Poltronieri (bass) and Roberto Morsiani make up the talented rhythm section.

The mention of horns might make you think this album has a big sound. It does. Instrumentation is an area where there is some real contrast between this and Dirk’s preceding album. That album, solo mono, was a true solo effort with nothing but Dirk’s voice, guitar, and harmonica. Oddly enough, one song appears — and sounds good — on both. Assuming a specific meaning for a Dirk Hamilton lyric is never a safe thing to do so I may be way off on this. On solo mono, “Where are all the Rebels?” has lots of nice guitar work and plenty of harmonica. The harmonica supplies a touch of melancholy. To me, Dirk seems to be mourning the disappearance of those 1970s rebels. The Sweatshop Piñata version is faster. The harmonica and acoustic guitar are still there plus there is an electric guitar with some serious tremolo now and then, driving drums, piano AND organ, and a banjo! This time, I feel like Dirk just might be challenging those vanished rebels to come out and make some noise with him again.

I love them all but it’s a fact that some of Dirk’s offerings are a little tough to classify. Not so this one. Sweatshop Piñata is solid mainstream blues. I’ve mentioned that I’ve never seen Dirk live with a full band. My dream is still to see Dirk, Don, Eric, and Tim (a.k.a. The Dirk Hamilton Band) somewhere sometime but seeing a long tall Texan fronting a bunch of Italians at a Mississippi delta blues festival might satisfy me for awhile.

This and other Dirk Hamilton CDs can be purchased here.

My review of solo mono is here.

Technical problems resulted in the posting of this review being delayed one day to a Thursday rather than Wednesday.

My Wheels – Chapter 10
1964 Corvair

1964 Corvair adThe replacement for the ten year old Austin Healey was a three year old one owner Corvair. I really can’t remember where the money came from for this major upgrade. Possibilities include a “distribution” from my grandparents like the one that enabled my sister and me to buy that 1959 Chevy or some money from my wife’s family. It is for certain, though, that we didn’t buy it with money saved from the wife’s secretarial earnings or my halftime co-op job.

Our 1964 Monza, with 110 HP engine and 4 speed manual transmission, looked pretty much like the car in the ad at right. Although seat belts were showing up quite a bit in the first half of the 1960s, they were not required in new cars until the 1965 model year so that the double entendre of the ad was perfectly legit even if it was’t exactly responsible safety wise. The car remains one of my all time favorites. It looked great, was fun to drive, and even handled snow better than most cars of the day.

It’s tough to write more than a paragraph or two about the Corvair without mentioning Ralph Nader. There is a common misconception that Nader’s 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed, killed the Corvair. The marketplace killed the Corvair. Americans just were not ready to embrace the unconventional rear-engine design. On the other hand, Nader’s criticism of the car’s handling had some basis in fact. The earliest Corvairs had no front stabilizer bar. To compensate for most of the weight being in the rear, Chevrolet specified a huge difference between front and rear tire pressure (15 PSI front, 26 PSI rear). In practice, that unusual specification was probably not adhered to very well. It didn’t even apply to my car since, for the 1964 model, a front stabilizer bar and transverse-mounted rear spring were added. The suspension was completely redesigned for 1965.

1964 CorvairThat’s not our car in the photo but, with the possible exception of that chrome trim around the gas lid, it could be. I believe we had the Corvair for about two years and during that time the incompatibility of our small and spotty paychecks with the need to eat and pay rent became rather clear. This was the car I drove to my first full time job and it was on the way to that job one morning that I tested the car’s crumple zones.

I was the third car on the I-75 entrance ramp when the lead car started to accelerate for the merge. I looked at the traffic on the expressway and decided there was a sufficient gap for all three of us. When I turned my attention back to where it should have been, I discovered that the lead car had decided that there wasn’t even enough room for one of us and stopped. Car #2 hit car #1 just a moment before car #3 (me) hit car #2. I don’t know if either of the other drivers was charged with any thing or who paid for their damage. I wasn’t and didn’t. After looking things over and talking to everyone, the policeman handed me a citation listing my offence as “having an accident”. There was no fine or other penalty and I was responsible only for the damage to my own car. That was enough.

The badly wrinkled car was soon sold. Normally that might be the end of the story but I sold this car to a friend and it wasn’t just any friend, the buyer was Dale, the lifelong buddy who has appeared in other posts including the Whizzer and the 4CV. I contacted Dale and got a bit of a memory refresher. The yellow Corvair made it to Darke County where it was fitted with the front end of a non-running green Corvair (1960 I think) that Dale already owned. The front end was painted to match and Dale drove the car to St Louis where he then lived. A blown head gasket revealed itself on the trip. “…about gassed us out”, Dale remembers. “Bad headache for a couple days.” In St Louis, he got a cylinder from a junkyard only to find that the replacement would not clear a crankshaft counterweight. So Dale, “with hacksaw in hand, made a relief in the cylinder and it worked.” Ah, those were the days.

Dale drove the car for quite awhile including a year or so around northern Indiana’s Fort Wayne. Dale’s green Corvair had a gas heater. There was a little burning odor and people looked at the car warily when they first heard the heater burning off excess gas after the engine was turned off but it sure worked good for keeping you warm. 1963 was the last year for the gas heater, even as an option, so the yellow ’64 had only “direct air” heat. Dale’s last comment on the yellow convertible sums it up pretty well, “Sure was a fun car but a crappy heater.”

My Wheels – Chapter 9 — 1965 Honda 65

Book Review
The Narrow Road
John Jay Abbott

Narrow Road coverThis book could be called a near opposite of the one in my most recent review. That one contained lots of information and was well researched but not so well written. The Narrow Road: An Adventure on the Lincoln Highway tells me little that’s new and involved almost no research but is fairly well written. Yes, I do have variety in my reading.

I’m sure no one will be surprised to read that I sometimes visit Amazon and type “Lincoln Highway” into the search box. I used to do it to see if there was anything new that I hadn’t heard about but recently I’ve been doing it to see where my own book appears. The Narrow Road popped up in the search results and was not only “something new that I hadn’t heard about”, there were similarities between it and my book, By Mopar to the Golden Gate. Abbott’s book was published on December 17, 2013, mine on December 27, and both were travelogues of full length drives of the Lincoln Highway during its centennial year. Abbott lived far from the coasts, in Springfield, Missouri, so that, like me, he had to start his journey with an eastbound drive to New York City and end it with an eastbound drive back home. Beyond that, however, the similarities peter out quickly.

Abbott knew next to nothing about the Lincoln Highway before setting out to drive it. He was between jobs but had a little money in the bank. The recent death of his mother left him with no obligations and a cross country drive seemed like just what he needed. He more or less stumbled on the Lincoln Highway when he started looking for a route to connect the east coast with Route 66 which he knew about not only because of its own fame but because it ran through his home town. I think the coincidence of the Lincoln Highway’s 100 year anniversary and his own opportunity to run free for a bit clinched the decision to follow this newly discovered piece of history. He explains, “I didn’t go with any preconceived ideas. I learned just enough about the route to find my way.”

Amazon’s description of the book includes “…a travel narrative in the tradition of Travels with Charley“. I don’t doubt that’s what Abbott was going for but Steinbeck had a couple of decades of living and a shelf full of best sellers on the forty-three year old so that his “careful reflection and discovery” (also part of the Amazon description) ran a little deeper and carried a little more weight. One bit of discovery that, at least in my opinion, Steinbeck and Abbott share is the discovery that they don’t really like road trips. Neither says this, of course, but neither seems to be having the time of their life during their journey. I reviewed another book in the Travels With Charley tradition, Long Way Home, last year and the writer of that one, Bill Barich, seems to enjoy his trip a lot more than either Abbott or Steinbeck.

Steinbeck had no practical limits on time or money. Barich definitely did. Abbott’s time might not have been limited itself but his clearly restricted budget did certainly limit the amount of time he could spend running around with no income. Restaurants and motels were luxuries. Abbott ate a lot of canned fruit and peanut butter. He camped quite a bit and spent several nights sleeping in the homes of people contacted through a website. Both the camping and the home sharing contributed stories.

When Abbott left home, he was committed not only to the full coast to coast road trip but to producing a book about it. That commitment may have made him a little more observant and definitely kept him on the lookout for subject matter. More than once he noted that an encounter provided “something worth writing about”. Things observed and people encountered are written about and are sometimes used as launch points for essays on whatever enters Abbott’s thoughts at the time. None of the observations are particularly enlightening or the essays especially insightful but I enjoyed them — largely, I think, because they were quite different than my own observations and essays on a very similar trip. I believe this was Abbott’s first big road trip and I suspect part of my enjoyment of the book came from telling myself that some of Abbott’s thoughts were the thoughts of the typical first timer.

In the first paragraph, I described this book as “fairly well written”. I added the “fairly” qualifier because the writing, while extremely literate, has some issues. Or maybe it just has one issue. Abbott doesn’t exactly repeat a thought but neither does he let go of one easily. There were times when the same thought was expressed in so many different ways that I wondered if it might be some sort of writing exercise.

The Narrow Road: An Adventure on the Lincoln Highway, John Jay Abbott, December 17, 2013, Kindle ebook only, 388 KB, ASIN- B00HESQC2G

Is Paddy Out Of Step?

Cincinnati St Patrick's Day ParadeCincinnati’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade has never been about precision marching. Oh, there are pipe & drum corps that step quite sharply and high school band directors who try to get their charges to all put their left foot forward at the same time but the general atmosphere has typically been one of slightly sloppy fun rather than of practiced drills. Now, however, the parade itself seems to be out of step with most of the country.

Last year Cincinnati made discrimination illegal at any event receiving financial support from the city but it also stopped the practice of absorbing much of the cost (police, cleanup, etc.) associated with the parade. One result was that the local chapter of the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) had their application to participate in the parade denied. There were claims that the denial was due to the group failing to follow rules when they marched in the previous year’s parade but the violations were never exactly specified and not many are buying into the claim. A direct result of the application’s rejection was the boycotting of the parade by several officials and politicians who were scheduled to be part of it.

Cincinnati St Patrick's Day ParadeThis year the Cincinnati St. Patrick Parade Committee denied no applications and no politicians boycotted the parade. Reverting to what they had done sometime in the past, the committee accepted no applications and the parade was filled by invitation only. Other cities weren’t so clever. Organizers of the Boston parade turned down an application from a gay rights group named MassEquality and that led to a boycott by the city’s mayor and a number of other politicians. It also prompted Boston Beer Company, which operates brewing facilities in Cincinnati, to withdraw sponsorship for the parade. For similar reasons, Heineken dropped its sponsorship of New York City’s parade which was also boycotted by the mayor. Cincinnati’s preemptive “you can’t boycott ’cause you’re not invited” move did keep protesters at Saturday’s parade to a quiet and well behaved few. It also caused at least one parade goer to think about the whole Saint Patrick’s Day thing in a different way than ever before.

I first likened the recent events to some sort of bait and switch but soon realized it’s not like that at all. The parade organizers did not create some bit of revelry then take it away. In Cincinnati, the parade has always officially been a “religious procession”. It was the attendees who created the “everybody’s Irish” and, without actually saying it, “everybody’s Catholic” lore. I’m undecided but maybe, if the Catholics simply want their parade back, I’ll let them have it. I’ve a year to decide.

Cincinnati St Patrick's Day ParadeCincinnati St Patrick's Day ParadeCincinnati St Patrick's Day ParadeThis year’s parade had all the normal entries including the statue of Saint Patrick borrowed from some church. It also had really nice weather which is not always the case.

Cincinnati St Patrick's Day ParadeCincinnati St Patrick's Day ParadeI grabbed a couple of overhead shots from atop the same garage as last year. The second picture is of the Pedal Wagon, a human powered arrangement of mobile bar stools. It can be rented by anyone wanting to put the “crawl” back in pub crawl.

Cincinnati St Patrick's Day ParadeThe reviewing stand was near the end of the parade route and that’s where I caught the Delorean Club of Ohio. I counted fifteen cars this year. There are other Saint Patrick’s Day parades in Ohio, including one in a city named Dublin, but Cincinnati is where the state’s population of these Irish built cars come to show off. That has to be an endorsement of some sort.

AHA Heart MiniAHA Heart MiniAHA Heart MiniThe parade was Saturday. I was back downtown on Sunday for the American Heart Association Heart Mini consisting of a 1/2 marathon and several other events. One of those other events was a 10 K walk which I participated in. From near Fountain Square, we walked east on 5th Street  continued on Columbia Parkway, then turned around and walked back.

AHA Heart MiniAHA Heart MiniAHA Heart Mini10K is about six miles which put the turnaround about three miles east of the heart of the city. A 5K walk started at the same time so things were pretty crowded leaving downtown. 5K walkers were definitly in the majority and things thinned out quite a bit at their turnaround about a mile and a half out. I started near the middle but was very near the back at the finish. I typically walk around 3 MPH and that’s about what I did Sunday finishing in slightly over two hours. Most people obviously moved a little faster than that.

Hurrah for Cosmos

Cosmos: A Personal VoyageBack in 1980, Dr. Carl Sagan wrote a book called Cosmos as a companion to a TV series named Cosmos: A Personal Voyage which he co-wrote and “starred” in. I watched the series and read (and still have) the book. Sagan was a smart guy and a darned good communicator. In the book and the program, he set out to share the scientific community’s knowledge of the universe — the cosmos — with the masses. It’s generally accepted that he did a pretty good job. Until Ken Burns came along with The Civil War series in 1990, Cosmos ranked as the most watched PBS series ever.

Cosmos: A Spacetime OdysseyNow another smart guy and good communicator, Neil deGrasse Tyson, is trying it again. We, the residents of Earth, have learned quite a bit in thirty-four years. The first episode of a new series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, aired last Sunday, March 9, on the Fox Network and Monday, March 10, on National Geographic TV. Additional episodes will be shown on subsequent Sundays and Mondays until thirteen episodes — same as the original — have been broadcast.

The chances are good that nothing I’ve said so far is news. The original Cosmos is legendary and the new one has been getting a lot of press. That first episode was even preceded by an introduction from President Obama. But there is at least a small chance that, like me, you missed the premier and that’s my excuse for making this post. Here’s my Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey episode one story.

It was the first TV show I’ve really wanted to watch in years. I got home from Bockfest in plenty of time and was parked in front of the properly dialed in TV as showtime approached. At this point, the accomplishment of a timely return home was nullified by the thing I returned home from. Last week’s post was on the Bockfest Parade which I had attended on Friday evening. I was back at the festival on Sunday and sampled some of the namesake product. With the odyssey start just minutes away, I dozed off.

For many, that would not be a problem. They would have had their DVRs all programmed and the show would have been recorded for viewing later. I have no DVR nor do I have access to National Geographic TV so watching the Monday night broadcast was out. Thankfully, Fox has provided a Cosmos On TV website. where I was able to watch the first episode, “Standing Up In the Milky Way”, as well as the President’s introduction and other related videos. It looks like future episodes will also be available there which I certainly appreciate since I’m guessing I might miss another broadcast showing or two.

It is clearly too early to know if “Cosmos II” will equal “Cosmos I”. There are plenty of connections between the two including the fact that Carl Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, was a co-writer of the first and an executive producer of the second. And there is a Tyson-Sagan connection, too. They first met when the seventeen year old Tyson was researching schools and the world famous scientist gave the aspiring one a personal tour of Cornell. Near the end of his first Cosmos episode, Tyson talks about that day. “I already knew I wanted to become a scientist, but that afternoon I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become”, he says. Tyson also spoke of that day in an interview with Bill Moyers where he recalls thinking “If I’m ever in a position of influence the way he is, then I will surely interact with students the way he has interacted with me, as a priority.” That excellent interview, spread over three shows, is here, here, and here.

The new Cosmos has already received some attention and generated some discussion. I’m confident there will be more and I have hope that it will also have some impact. I don’t believe in miracles but having something on commercial TV that I actually want to watch is mighty close.

CosmosThis picture is of a TV series nearly thirty years older than the first Cosmos. That series was a comedy and about as far from scientific as it is possible to get. Its title character was a straitlaced bank president named Cosmo Topper. There was only one of him but, had there been more, they would have been called…

Book Review
The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili
Dann Woellert

History of Cincinnati Chili coverThere is definitely a lot of information in this book. That’s why it’s here. I’ve often said that all my reviews are positive not because I like everything I read but because I see no reason to spend time reviewing something I don’t like. The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili had me wavering. The subject matter is clearly in my strike zone. History? Check. Cincinnati? Check. Chili? Are you kidding? This looks like a book that could have been written specifically for me, right? Digging into it, however, was not quite as tasty as I thought it would be.

As I read, I noticed some repeats and the occasional oddly formed or slightly out of place sentence. There were many tiny details, like the address of a parlor owner’s home or the what movies played in nearby theaters, that pushed the too-much-information boundary. I was about halfway through the book when I had an epiphany. I’m not sure it was a real epiphany in which truth was revealed or a pseudo-epiphany in which i concocted a theory that made things make sense to me but it suddenly struck me that I was reading somebody’s notes. Not completely raw notes but notes that had been jotted down to record every bit of information that an interview or newspaper article provided then wrapped in enough conjunctions, adverbs, adjectives, and punctuation to turn bulleted lists into paragraphs. There are exceptions. The introduction and a chapter called “Unlocking the Flavor Secrets”, perhaps because they are overviews of multiple chili operations and recipes, manage to avoid the just-the-facts but all-the-facts style of most of the book.

All-the-facts is a lot. Woellert obviously did extensive research and interviewed several members of Cincinnati Chili’s founding families. Founding family members also supplied several photos from the early days of Cincinnati chili for inclusion in the book. There is a family tree type chart showing how it all goes back to Empress. If you have a question about the history of chili in the Queen City, chances are the answer is in this book; maybe more than once.

I did not have a question but I did have a suspicion that was validated by this book. Tradition has it that Skyline Chili’s name came from the view of downtown Cincinnati from the chain’s original restaurant. Some versions of the story claim it was the view from the kitchen. I readily accepted that until I visited the site on Glenway Avenue last year. The original building is gone but I couldn’t imagine how anyone could see down town from the ground floor of any building at that location. Bill Lambrinides, one of the founders, tells a different story which, since it’s one of the few “revelations” in The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili, I won’t retell beyond saying that Bill confirmed that the view was not from the restaurant.

There are some errors in the book but I’ve a feeling that all the dates and addresses associated with actual chili parlors are not among them. In my most recent book review, I used the phrase “well researched and well written”. I can’t use it here. One out of two it is. I found myself scratching my head or chuckling at some of of the writing but still ended up believing the collection of information made this book worth keeping around.

The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili, Dann Woellert, The History Press (April 16, 2013), paperback, 9 x 6 inches, 176 pages, ISBN  978-1609499921

Drinking the Bocks Outside

Cincinnati Bockfest 2014When I attended my first Cincinnati Bockfest in 2010, I bemoaned the fact that I’d missed the previous eighteen which implied I intended to be a more regular attendee in the future. I have not done well. I made it back and had a blast in 2011. In 2012, I was out of town for a Missouri road trip. Last year I was actually downtown with good intentions but turned back home when moisture and the temperature both kept falling. I remember thinking “I’m too old for this” as I made my decision. That could be be a sign that I’ve grown wise but is more likely a sign I’ve grown wimpy.

Cincinnati Bockfest 2014Cincinnati Bockfest 2014Cincinnati Bockfest 2014Clear skies and 59 degrees — up 21 from the previous Friday — made attending this year’s event a no-brainer. Schnitzel the goat leads things off with the ceremonial first keg then it’s the Lady with the Whip (a personal favorite) and the Goat with the Glowing Eyes (a.k.a. the Trojan Goat). Cincy legend Jim Tarbell is usually one of the parade’s leaders but apparently missed his cue this year. He hurried toward the front occasionally breaking into a jog and high-fiving fans all the way. Among other claims to fame, Jim was the owner of Arnold’s, Cincinnati’s oldest bar and parade starting point, when Bockfest was born. The self-propelled bathtub is a reminder of the claw-foot tub that still sits on the bar’s second floor and may or may not have been used to produce gin during prohibition.

Cincinnati Bockfest 2014A somewhat sad fact about the life of a Sausage Queen is that her biggest moment, waving to cheering subjects while riding an eight foot sausage, takes place just one day before a new queen is selected. Queen Emily Berger handled her parade obligations splendidly during this last full day of her reign.

Cincinnati Bockfest 2014Cincinnati Bockfest 2014Cincinnati Bockfest 2014There is just one requirement for parade entries but it is rigidly enforced. You absolutely must be present to participate. No exceptions.

Cincinnati Bockfest 2014Cincinnati Bockfest 2014Cincinnati Bockfest 2014Musical offerings included polkas from the Zinzinnati Beirband (“The more you drink, the better we sound.”), excellent Dixieland from an unknown-to-me band, and the gentle sound of aluminum on asphalt. It’s only rolling bock but I like it.

Cincinnati Bockfest 2014Cincinnati Bockfest 2014Here’s a better look at the dragon/goat behind the barrel walker in the previous photo plus a picture of the only parade casualty I am aware of. That motorized bathtub from Arnold’s lost a front wheel but was rescued when Triple Digit Brewing’s van came along. Paraders and spectators, which are essentially the same thing, stepped up to hoist the tub into the back of the van for a ride home. I passed by Arnold’s later in the evening and saw the tub back in its normal parking spot. I’m confident it will be mobile in no time.

Cincinnati Bockfest 2014Cincinnati Bockfest 2014Cincinnati Bockfest 2014The first picture is of people, at parade’s end, attempting to get inside a packed Bockfest Hall (a.k.a. Christian Moerlein Taproom). I took one look and didn’t even try. A large tent had been set up across the street and that’s where I headed. It looked to me as if most, if not all, local breweries were represented. I had just one beer, a Hudepohl Festival Bock, in the tent.

Cincinnati Bockfest 2014When I stepped out of the tent, the crush at the entrance to Bock Hall had only worsened and the area between Hall and tent was now pretty much full. I ran into a couple of friends and we talked about the crowd and the growth of Bockfest. One of them, unlike me, had been to every previous parade but barely caught the end of this one due to the crowd and parking complications throwing his timing way off. I decided not to even work my way back into the tent but headed back towards the car. Many other bars and restaurants participated in Bockfest this year and those I passed on Main were full with lines outside a couple. This event, helped by spring-like temperatures, was obviously a good thing for area businesses.

It didn’t bother me at all that I never got inside Bock Hall. I saw the parade, which is the main event as far as I’m concerned, and I drank a little beer. I had my beer in a tent where melted snow and maybe some spilled brew made a few spots into reminders that I was outdoors but being outdoors was cool. It’s what led to this post’s frightfully clever title.

Concert Review
Lake Street Dive
20th Century Theater

Lake Street Dive at 20th CenturyHot on the heels of my first ever concert review, comes another. Not only another review but another first. This is the first time I’ve ever posted two reviews of any kind in the same day.

By the time I left the theater last night, I really wanted to post something about the show. I had a book review queued up for this morning and, even though I briefly considered rescheduling it, I knew I could not put a post together in time and still get some sleep. Besides, I really wanted to run the book review and I didn’t want to get even further behind in that department. Like that other concert review (Willie Nile) I didn’t plan a post and took no camera. Unlike at that concert, I did break down and snapped a couple of shots with my phone. The best (If you want a picture really bad, I’ve got a really bad picture.) is above.

I first heard of Lake Street Dive less than a year ago in a friend’s blog post. I was extremely impressed and, as I said I’d do in a comment on that post, I’ve been “keeping my ears open”. In January, when I heard of this Cincinnati show, I wasted only a little time before grabbing a ticket.

Midnight Moxie, an all girl trio with fantastic voices and adequate instrumental skills, did a nice job opening the show. It seemed like Lake Street Dive, as their career moves to a new level, are willing to help others do the same. I like that.

Frontwoman Rachael Price’s powerful voice is usually what grabs people’s attention when they hear Lake Street Dive for the first time but most soon realize that it is just one piece of the skills and talents making up the band. The other three members also sing and the harmonies are incredible. Each of them — Mike Olson guitar & trumpet, Bridget Kearney bass, and Mike Calabrese drums — is a master of their instrument. A video, of course, is worth all the words I could ever write. There are plenty on YouTube but I’ll point out two for starters. Here is the first video I saw via that blog post. Apparently it was the first look for a lot of other people, too, and is getting some credit for the recent popularity upswing. Here is a more recent four song clip of a radio station studio performance.

Saying that last night’s concert sounded just like the videos is definitely accurate and I could sum things up with that but there are a couple of specific moments worth reporting.

The place was full. I’ve seen it packed tighter and, although a sellout may have been announced, that’s probably not true in practical terms. But it was full. The audience was shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the stage. It seems the band simply had not expected this. Rachel actually used the word “surprised” when talking about the crowd. And it soon became apparent that it was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd. It wouldn’t be fair to say that we impressed them as much as they impressed us but there is no doubt that Lake Street Dive appreciated their Cincinnati welcome. A few songs from concert’s end, as loud applause and cheers were fading, Rachel looked over the crowd, sort of shook her head, and stepped back to the mic. “Excuse my language”, she began, “but I don’t know what the f— we’ve been doing driving across Ohio.” A little later, when they returned to the stage for an encore, the first thing she did was try to make sure everyone knew what she meant. Someone up front assured her that we understood that she meant they should have been stopping in Ohio and not that they should have been avoiding it. That’s cute. That’s endearing.

They’re stopping in Ohio again tonight. In Columbus. The website says sold out but if you have a buddy at Skully’s who owes you a favor, this would be a good time to collect.

Book Review
Thus Fell Tecumseh
Frank E. Kuron

Thus Fell Tecumseh coverOne of the few undisputed facts of Tecumseh’s life is the date of his death. The date of his birth is only known approximately and there are multiple possibilities for its location. He was born about March 1768 somewhere in the Ohio territory. It’s pretty much accepted that he met his end at the Battle of the Thames but that statement isn’t quite as precise as it might appear. While it is generally believed, as most reports indicate, that he died as a combatant in the battle, reports do exist that describe his death as an accidental shooting some distance away from the actual fighting. What no one questions is that Tecumseh was alive on the morning of October 5, 1813, and dead at the end of the day.

Use Grammarly’s grammar check because smart words should be presented smartly.

A little more than half of Thus Fell Tecumseh involves that day which means that nearly half of it doesn’t. Kuron spends that other half providing a well researched and well written description of the early part of the War of 1812 and the circumstances that led to it. He also manages to fit a pretty good biography of Tecumseh in there. By the time the Battle of the Thames begins, the reader has a more than decent idea of what those British, Canadian, American, and Indian forces are doing there.

Kuron also provides a good summary of the battle before starting to present the various accounts of Tecunseh’s death. There are accounts from eye witnesses with details that, if there were no other reports, would make them readily accepted as absolute truth. But there are other reports. Lots of them. Some name different individuals as the slayer and some name the same man but differ in other significant details. Even more problematic are the differing reports that one witness might give over time. Like testimony in a trial, the reports are presented unmodified. Kuron never urges the reader to accept one report or another. He does point out the discrepancies in each. If this was a real trial where the killer would be punished rather than glorified, every suspect named would almost certainly be acquitted thanks to mounds of reasonable doubt.

Of course, the killing of Tecumseh was no crime. The Shawnee chief was almost universally admired and respected by friend and foe but another of those rare undisputed facts about him is that he was a very active and effective enemy of the young United States. There was fame to be gained from his killing and the man most often named as the killer, Colonel Richard Johnson, was boosted to the Vice Presidency by that fame. Of the three most popular candidates for the honor, one (David King) shied away from any publicity and another (William Whitley) died on the battlefield. Johnson himself never quite claimed to have slain Tecumseh but supporters did make the claim for him and his political career clearly benefited.

Part of the difficulty in identifying the slayer is in identifying the slain. At least two of the bodies left on the field of battle were identified as Tecumseh plus there are claims that the body was carried away by companions and even that it was never there.

Kuron does not offer an answer to the question of who killed Tecumseh. He does supply a terrific amount of testimony, from participants in both sides of the battle as well as others, that suggests several possibilities. Interest in the War of 1812 has certainly increased during its bicentennial but has been overshadowed even in that by the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. As the final use of the British military against the United States and nearly the last, and possibly the largest, organized resistance by Native Americans to advances of the new country, the War of 1812 is extremely important in this country’s development. Thus Fell Tecumseh is a very well done look at the war, the Battle of the Thames, and the many ways in which Tecumseh might have fallen.

Thus Fell Tecumseh, Frank E Kuron, Kuron Publishing (January 14, 2011), paperback, 9 x 6 inches, 352 pages, ISBN 978-0615415222