My Wheels – Chapter 14
1965 Barracuda

barracuda1965A white Plymouth Barracuda became mine after the Suzuki disappeared from the roadside and I think it was still running when the purloined motorcycle returned. I bought it from a co-worker for $300 or maybe $350. Though barely a half-dozen years old, the slant-6 3-speed had accumulated more than its share of miles and developed an appetite for oil in the process.

Of course, the Barracuda was my main ride while the wife drove the “good” car. I often took the bus to my downtown job and even when I did drive it to work, the car’s oil burning tendencies were kept in check by the fairly low speed route. Then a job change inserted about twenty miles of expressway into my workday drive. Some carpooling helped and I drove the wife’s car when I could. Sedate right-lane travel, frequent looks at the dipstick, and an ever present case of cheap oil in the trunk held off the inevitable.

I was still in a band and that was the job where the Barracuda’s oil consumption became something of an issue. Actually, it was just one particular gig. This gig was in Napoleon, Ohio, near the top of the state. We played there multiple times and each was a three night, Friday through Sunday, deal. I was working about 150 miles away in South Lebanon, Ohio. With looser schedules,  the rest of the group drove up on Friday afternoon. I headed north as soon as I could slip away. This freed me from lugging in and setting up equipment but meant I had some real time constraints and basically walked through the door and started playing after a non-stop drive. Or maybe a one — or more — stop drive. At 50 MPH or less, the Barracuda could squeeze a few hundred miles out of a quart of oil. At 65 MPH, the rate was closer to 100 MPQ and at 75 or 80 it was noticeably worse. More than once I found myself trying to mentally calculate whether I would get there sooner by rocketing onward and making a high-speed dump-in-a-quart pit stop or slowing down and saving the oil. I don’t recall ever getting that worked out satisfactorily.

It’s probably not surprising that other ‘Cuda stories are also band stories. One involves having my drums loaded in the car. It was actually pretty good for that. With the rear seat folded down, there was a goodly amount of space under what was the largest piece of glass ever used in a production car at the time. Details escape me but we had stopped somewhere to see another band play. The others wanted to stay longer than I did so, after hearing a few songs, I went out to the car to sleep. Maybe I had to work in the morning or maybe I was just tired. By moving some things to the front seat, I dug out enough room to snake around what remained and fall asleep. I awoke when the light of a thousand suns hit my face. My head was toward the rear with that big rear glass just inches away. I eventually figured out that there was just one light, not a thousand, and that it was white and probably not the sun. I couldn’t look directly at it, of course, or see around it and I felt completely helpless and pretty darned scared. The car was locked but if someone wanted to smash a window and drag me out by my feet I certainly couldn’t have stopped them. At last the light pulled back and I could see that it was held by someone in a uniform. There was another person beside him and in time I could make out badges and realized that it was a pair of police officers. They chatted with each other and, although I couldn’t make out what they said, they apparently decided I was harmless and moved on. I went back to sleep. With long distance hindsight, I’m thinking that those cops may have glimpsed a horizontal body in the car and hit the light for some parking lot picture window porn. Sorry to disappoint. Wish I could have obliged. Really.

The back end of that car really could hold a lot. A Hammond organ, for example. It wasn’t a line topping B3 and it wasn’t completely pure but a real Hammond did get transported inside the compact Plymouth. It was an M3; Noticeably smaller than a legendary ‘B’ but still a potent music maker with two keyboards. In the interest of portability, the organ’s “guts” had been removed from its finely finished tall wooden cabinet and placed inside a sturdy but far from finely finished black plywood box. The desired playing height was achieved by screwing legs made of pipe into brackets on the bottom of the box. A similar box held the volume pedal and the bass pedals were simply left at home. I have absolutely no memory of why it became necessary to carry the organ in the Barracuda but things like that seem to happen fairly common in the music world. The big black box went in and out the passenger door and I recall that someone had to force that seat forward and down while the organ was squeezed over it. Apparently once was enough. We henceforth put enough effort into planning to avoid a “Hammond Under Glass” repeat. Sure wish I had a picture.

Christmas Escape 2014

pic01dDespite a sincere and publicly proclaimed desire to get to Key West last year, it didn’t happen. I can’t guarantee it will this year either but at least I’m headed that direction. I attended the Lighting of the Serpent on the evening before leaving and have plans to drive some Dixie Highway both coming and going. I’ll probably also visit some friends and/or relatives somewhere along the way.

The journal for the trip is here. This entry is to let blog subscribers know of the trip and to hold any and all comments.

Cincinnati the Exhibitionist

cte01I visited a few museums this week. One reason was that I realized some temporary exhibits I wanted to see would be ending soon but there was also a lot of happenstance involved. For those of us spared desperate last minute shopping, the week before Christmas seems to be rife with days needing to be filled with something and a little catching up fits nicely. This post will wander a bit but will eventually get around to explaining the nose shortage revealed in the photo above.

cte02cte03cte04Early in the week, I attended the Mummies of the World exhibition at Cincinnati Museum Center. No photos were permitted in the traveling display so I’ve included a picture of the museum’s resident mummy, Umi. Mummies of the World will be in Cincinnati through April 26. The third photo is of the museum’s giant Christmas tree backed by Union Terminal’s brightly painted half-dome. For those who feel a little disoriented by that shot, a more traditional view is here.

cte08cte07cte06On Friday, I went out for breakfast then decided it would be a good time for an overdue visit to the American Sign Museum. There is so much here that it’s often near impossible for me to know if a sign is truly a recent addition or simply something I’ve not noticed before. As I gawked my way around, founder Tod Swormstedt made a point of saying hello and verified that a couple of signs in the local area were indeed newly placed. I clearly remember driving and walking by the Wizard sign many times in the wild but do not recall ever being inside the Clifton area record shop. Tod also gave me a little behind the scenes tour that included a recently acquired 1944 sign truck that will be used in parades and other promotions.

cte10cte11This year’s Fotofocus was in October and, with the exception of Treasures in Black & White at the museum center, I pretty much missed it. However, some related exhibits are still in place. One of them isn’t too far from the Sign Museum so I figured this was a good time to visit it as well. Good thing, too. It had just two more days to run. Documenting Cincinnati’s Neighborhoods at Hebrew Union College contains examples of the work of three local photographers from the middle of the 1900s.

cte13ncte12Maybe realizing how close I came to missing the Neighborhoods exhibit scared me because I next headed straight to the Taft Museum where two photo exhibits were in progress. I didn’t really need to hurry, I suppose, since both Black, White, and Iconic: Photographs from Local Collections and Paris Night & Day: Masterworks of Photography from Atget to Man Ray continue through January 11. No pictures were allowed in either exhibit but amateur photos of photo masterpieces aren’t all that appealing anyway. On the other hand, what I believe is a fairly recent policy change, not only allows but encourages non-flash photography in the other areas of the museum. The two photos here are of displays in the museum’s annual Antique Christmas exhibit.

cte14That opening photo was also taken at the Taft. A trio of reindeer stands in the lobby with an oval cutout that allows anyone to be photographed as one of the group. Apparently red noses were once available so that adding a Rudolph like touch was an option. That option, it seems, was quite a bit more popular than anticipated which led to it currently being unavailable. BYON.

History by the Pint

cbc01Ohio has a new brewery. It wasn’t desperately needed, I suppose, but this one is seriously different. There were already more than 100 breweries operating in Ohio and over 3000 in the country. A dozen other states also have more than 100 each. New mini, micro, and nano breweries are popping up everywhere everyday and, while I’m personally very happy to hear of each and every new launch, it’s a fact that the opening of a brewery is not as exciting and rare as it was just a few years ago. In an effort to distinguish themselves, some breweries are targeting the extremities of things that can be measured to claim titles like “the hoppiest” or “highest alcohol content”. How about “most labor intensive”?

Carillon Brewing Company did not set out to be high on the labor used scale. It set out to be high on the historically accurate scale and provide a piece of living history befitting the 65 acre open air museum it is part of at Carillon Historical Park. It just turns out that, when you accurately recreate an 1850 brewery and use it to make beer the same way it was made more than a century and a half ago, things are going to be a bit more “hands on” than is normal today.

cbc02cbc03cbc04Though many are in really old buildings, the working bits of most breweries we see today look pretty modern. There are usually dials and gauges and maybe some electronics. One or more — sometimes many more — big — sometimes really big — stainless steel tanks are what actually identify a brewery to most of us. There are no steel tanks here and no fancy gauges. Definitely no electronically controlled automation.

cbc07cbc06cbc05Here the beer is brewed in copper kettles and fermented in wooden barrels. Heat comes from wood fires and transferring the liquid between brewing steps is accomplished by hand dipping and gravity. One of the few concessions to modern times is the use of city water to save workers the chore of toting bucket after bucket from the nearby Great Miami River.

cbc08cbc09The doors were opened in August with a full food menu and OPB (Other People’s Beer). In October, house brewed root beer and ginger ale were added. Last Thursday, December 11, two of Carillon Brewing’s own ales were introduced. The Porter (from an 1862 recipe) is pictured. I was served both it and the already downed Coriander Ale (1831 recipe) by Frank, the guy in the second picture. Note the period dress. Another modern concession is the use of refrigeration so that us twenty-first century wussies don’t have to drink warm beer. It is anticipated that some varieties will be served at room temperature to provide a true 1850 experience. Only ales will be brewed here. Even though lagering existed long before 1850, most breweries produced only ales until the mid 1860s

cbc10My new word of the day is “brewster”, a female brewer. Carillon Brewing’s Tanya Brock is that and more. Not only is she responsible for turning out something as tasty as those new stainless steel filled microbreweries, she must do it with historically accurate methods and recipes. Oh, and she has to research those methods and recipes, too. This is one unique operation. With justified pride, Brock says, “No one else in the United States is doing a fully-licensed production brewery in a historic museum.”

cbc11cbc12cbc13The brewery is indeed part of a museum and vice versa. Signs, including several on barrel heads, explain brewing and its history in the area. One barrel head contains an annotated drawing of the brewing operation that stands behind it. Employees and volunteers are knowledgeable and happy to answer questions. Brewing currently takes place Wednesday through Saturday though watching it is sometimes akin to watching water come to a boil. Actually, between the flurries of activity moving the brew between steps, it is exactly like watching water come to an almost boil. Still, it’s mighty interesting. Nowhere else can you drink a beer truly made “the old fashioned way” while watching another batch being prepared for a future visit. You’ll leave not only refreshed and educated on nineteenth century brewing methods but, with just a little counting, knowing how may states were in the union in 1850.

EDITED 15-Dec-2014: Within a day of publishing this article, it struck me that the opening paragraph did not at all establish the right tone. In a move that I certainly won’t make a habit of, it has been rewritten. The original follows:

Ho hum. Ohio has another brewery. No, ho hum isn’t really what I want to say. I’m very happy to hear of each and every new launch but it’s a fact that the opening of a brewery is not as exciting and rare as it was just a few years ago. It’s not just Ohio, of course. There are now more than 3000 breweries in the country and new mini, micro, and nano breweries are popping up everywhere everyday. Ohio is just one of thirteen states with more than 100 breweries in operation. In an effort to distinguish themselves, some breweries are targeting the extremities of things that can be measured to claim titles like “the hoppiest” or “highest alcohol content”. How about “most labor intensive”?

Slipped on Down to the Oasis

oasis01The Oasis Diner is back. It isn’t a “high place” in either price range or pretensions but neither is it a “low place”. I want to make that last point crystal clear because I met some friends there Saturday and I’m guessing it would be easy for Garth Brooks fans to get the wrong idea. These are classy friends and the Oasis is a classy place.

oasis02Created in 1954 at the Mountain View Diners Company in New Jersey, the diner immediately traveled west to spend the next sixty years on the north side of US 40, a.k.a. the National Road, in Plainfield, Indiana. There were good and not so good times and a temporary closure or two. In 2009, structural and health department issues resulted in it being closed “permanently”. Permanently, that is, for that location. Earlier this year, the original factory built part of the restaurant was moved across the road and about four miles further west where major effort went into getting it ready to reopen in November. The “DINER” and coffee cup were restored. The entire “OASIS” panel was fabricated anew to duplicate the long lost original.

oasiscoasisaMy first experience with the diner was in 2005 when I met friends Pat and Jennifer Bremer there for breakfast. At that point the Oasis sign had been gone for years and it was known as simply “The Diner” or “The US 40 Diner”. The interior picture is from a 2008 stop with Pat. That’s when I got to try the famous tenderloin sandwich.

oasis03oasis04oasis05When a firm and imminent opening date was announced, I made an online comment about a visit. The comment targeted the Bremers and a couple of other fans of old roads and the stuff beside them. Within a day or two, plans were in place for a gathering at the Oasis and on Saturday it happened. From left to right we are Damion, Garret, & Jim Grey, me, Dean Kennedy, and Pat & Jennifer Bremer. We had all heard mixed reviews that included some downright negative reports on service. The young wait staff is admittedly unpolished but we experienced no problems at all and we all gave the food (Yes, that’s a pork tenderloin next to those fresh-cut fries.) a big thumbs up. The school aged kids waiting tables and the unfavorable comments some customers have made about them made me think of the Rock Cafe on Route 66. Wait staff there is often young (some family members, some not) and their lack of poise and polish has been mentioned negatively in a few reviews. I think it’s great that they’re getting some work experience without wearing a corporate uniform.

oasis07oasis06It certainly looks like Plainfield is happy to have its diner back. It has reportedly been at least as busy as when we were there since it opened. In fact, after just a few days, the owners announced they would be closing between 2:00 and 4:00 each day to recover from the lunch crowd before the dinner crowd hit. There can be little doubt that the sometimes overwhelming crowds have contributed to the service issues some have reported. Of course, this is exactly the sort of place that the group I was with looks for and it would be fair to say that we might be more inclined than others to overlook missteps in a place like this and probably more inclined to overlook them in a diner setting than elsewhere. But the truth is, we really didn’t have any to overlook. I’m happy that the Oasis is back and I’m extra happy to see the palm trees and the big OASIS fronting the place again. I’ll be back and look forward to washing down breakfast with a cup of that coffee advertised atop the building in neon.

Book Review
Tibetan Peach Pie
Tom Robbins

tppcvrYes, this is rather mainstream for me. I’m not in the habit of reviewing books that have appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers List. For one thing, it increases the chances of the amateurish nature of my offerings being found out. For another, such reviews are surely unneeded and are destined to have even less value than my reviews of niche releases. But I’ve never let the lack of need deter me from writing and, as for being caught impersonating a reviewer, I’ll take my chances. Just like Tom Robbins did at the Seattle Times.

Although the book’s subtitle is “A True Account of an Imaginative Life”, the back cover announces, in all caps, that “THIS IS NOT AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY”. That is also, with a quieter font, the first sentence inside the book. A paragraph later, Robbins also claims this isn’t a memoir but he doesn’t really stick with it. He does make a pretty good stab at explaining why this isn’t an autobiography plus I visited a couple of websites making their own stabs. The most commonly accepted differences between an autobiography and a memoir seem to be the timeline and degree of fact checking. As for timeline, Tibetan Peach Pie might not start with the author’s birth but it doesn’t miss by much (he is seven or eight months old in the first tale told) and it may not be 100% chronological but it doesn’t miss by much in that regard, either. In terms of fact checking, the whole book does seem to come from Robbins’ memory without much corroboration or documentation which does support the not-autobiography claim. So, if you’ve set your sights on a Tom Robbins autobiography, this isn’t it. But it is as close as you’re likely to get and that is the point of the old Tibetan peach pie story and probably (I’m guessing here) the point of this book’s title.

Tom Robbins is an English wordsmith whose product I might devour for its own sake regardless of content. If Tom Robbins wrote those End User License Agreements for Microsoft or Apple I’m guessing that a few people might actually read them. Tibetan Peach Pie is, of course, infinitely more interesting and readable than an EULA but it’s not quite as interesting and readable as Another Roadside Attraction or Still Life with Woodpecker. At least I’ve serious doubts that it’s that interesting unless you’ve read those and/or other Robbins novel and are already a fan. In fact, Jason Sheean, in his NPR review, suggests that “you gotta really like Tom Robbins to want to read that one”. I basically agree but believe that something similar could be said about every autobiography or almost-autobiography.

Robbins’ life has been interesting as well as imaginative. Tibetan Peach Pie includes stories from his North Carolina beginnings through his Virginia college days and Air Force deployment in Korea to his long time Washington state residency. There are some good stories here. Even a few brushes with danger. As a toddler he almost did himself in by pulling a pot of boiling cocoa from the stove onto his chest. In New York, he recklessly takes the chalk from a gang member marking territory to correct his spelling. As a successful author indulging in adventure travel, he spends a sleepless night in a Timbuktu hotel while a sword wielding local raves outside about a perceived affront involving camel rental.

Most of the stories, however, are about normal everyday impulsive free-spirited goofy behavior that might put his career or relationship, but not his life, at risk. As a starving student he unwittingly ignites a gardener’s rage by chowing down on a prize winning chrysanthemum. At the second meeting of a woman who had stormed out on one of his poetry readings, Robbins blasts her for her rudeness, she proposes marriage, and he accepts. On another adventure outing, this time in Sumatra, he reigns as King of the (former) Cannibals for a day. Like I said, normal, everyday.

Robbins’ success is the result of his wonderful word craft but he has seen his share of luck. As a youngster in North Carolina, Robbins won a coveted radio when his was the second raffle ticket drawn. The ticket pulled ahead of his was the only one that had not been sold. As the end of a temporary job at the Seattle Times approached, the paper’s art critic departed and Robbins talked his way into the job. When the assistant arts and entertainment editor also took off, he moved into that position and when the department editor was hospitalized, Robbins found himself reviewing, for a major city newspaper, the first opera and first symphony concert he’d ever attended.  Hey, you can’t make this stuff up. Well, Robbins could but he didn’t. I think.

Tibetan Peach Pie, Tom Robbins, Ecco (May 27, 2014), paperback, 9 x 6 inches, 384 pages, ISBN  978-0062267405