Book Review
Cincinnatus
Rusty McClure & David Stern

cincinnatus_cvrWhen this blog’s About page mentions reviews, it says they will not include “the latest novel”. When I wrote that, I was probably thinking “any novel”. I don’t read much fiction these days and I did not really expect to be reviewing any. I waited long enough to read this book that it is no longer the latest novel so my claim is still good. So is Cincinnatus.

One day months or maybe years ago, a friend told me about a really good book he had just finished but, when he looked for it to loan to me, it couldn’t be found. Another day months or maybe years ago, I attended a lecture on Powell Crosley given by Rusty McClure, co-author of the non-fiction book Crosley. I had read Crosley; Had actually bought a copy at a signing when it was first published. The lecture was quite interesting and, at its conclusion, everyone was given a paperback copy of Crosley. We were also given a hardback copy of a novel. As I said, I don’t read much fiction and I figured that something someone was giving away copies of wasn’t worth my time to read. I put it in the stack of stuff to be read if I ever get snowed in for three months with no internet connection. Then, on another day just a couple of months ago, my friend once again brought up that book he had mentioned previously. It had been found and he had enjoyed reading it so much that he had read it again. That is not normal behavior for my friend or very many other people. That must be a really good book. Yes I would like to borrow it. Then, as he talked more about the book, I realized it was the very novel that sat at home scorned and unread. I decided to reconsider.

Crosley is a very good book. McClure and Stern are clearly good writers. However, the ability to produce good non-fiction does not always translate to the ability to create good fiction. I was still a little skeptical when I finally wiped the dust off of my copy of Cincinnatus and opened it. After a little back story set in 1938 Florida, the book’s action begins in modern day Columbus, Ohio, and fairly quickly moves to Cincinnati. At first my skepticism had me seeing the use of local names and landmarks in a harsh light. Maybe the authors were trying just a little too hard to convince the reader that they had been to Ohio. Despite my friends recommendation, I found myself wondering if this was like those customized books from Santa Claus that kids like to read because their family’s names are in them. Was this fun for Cincinnatians to read purely because it talked about Cincinnati? But, even as I asked myself that, it became apparent that the answer was no. The adventure was rolling and, while it was nice to know what Cincinnati’s Fountain Square looked like when the plot traveled there, it wasn’t necessary.

Any fears that the novel would drown in Ohio minutiae were unwarranted. The plot visits California, Florida, and a few other places and everywhere the details do what they’re supposed to do — make the story believable. The book is a thriller. Political thriller I’m guessing is the right description. There is ample well researched history and more than a smattering of golf which I’m confident is as well researched and accurate. And there’s some accurate real science and some of the “science fiction” variety that is accurate enough.

The action is almost non-stop and the twists frequent enough that predicting who shoots who is rather fruitless. Maybe my description so far makes the book seem shallow. It isn’t. Now and then the reader might look up from the page for a while to follow some thought on politics, or technology, or religion that the book hatched.

I enjoyed reading Cincinnatus a lot but I don’t expect my fiction/non-fiction ratio to suddenly flip flop. I guess that could change, though, if I could be guaranteed a Camp Washington Chili appearance within the first hundred pages of every novel.

Cincinnatus: The Secret Plot to Save America, Rusty McClure & David Stern, Ternary Publishing, November 1, 2009, 9.2 x 6.2 inches, 523 pages, ISBN 978-0984213207

Congrats WNKU

bwphhOnce again I was within minutes of posting a Trip Pic Peek when I decided to do something like what I did a couple of weeks ago and make a quick post with a picture of my favorite thing from the week. I didn’t do much this week. We had record-for-the-date temperatures and snowfall and I spent a few days battling a cold. It was all I could do to see sixteen bands.

My favorite radio station, WNKU, celebrated its first thirty years and raised a little money for the next thirty with a two night event at The Southgate House Revival featuring fifteen performers each night. A Saturday pre-show party with one of the performers from Friday and two new additions brought the total to thirty-two. I didn’t see them all. That would have meant staying up way past my bedtime. I concentrated on seeing acts that were new to me and, having seen both night’s “headliners” before, I was able to cut out early each night. However, I did stay a little later than planned on Saturday. I intended to listen to just a few songs from Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle but ended up staying for their full set. They are this week’s favorite thing.

When I first started hearing of them, I kept putting a “The” in front of the name and thought it odd that these two bands kept getting booked together. I eventually learned that it was a single group and this week I learned that Buffalo Wabs isn’t a band. It’s guitarist Matt Wabnitz’s nickname. Their website says he handles “most of the vocal duties”. That may be true but The Price Hill Hustle (Casey Campbell, Ian Mathieu, and Scott Risner) all sing and the harmonies are fabulous. They’re almost as much fun to watch as they are to listen to. It’s kind of hard to see but that really is a log chain that Casey’s playing that snare with.

Here’s the full line-up, with the acts I saw in bold:

Friday – Wild Carrot500 Miles to Memphis, Jason Wilber, Will Kimbrough, The Tillers – Alone at 3AMFrontier Folk Nebraska, Noah Wotherspoon Band, Arlo McKinley & the Lonesome Sound, Charlie Mars – My Brother The Bear, The Great Wide Open, The Repeating Arms, Honey & Houston, The Part-Time Gentlemen.

Saturday –  Chardez, Nikki LaneJason Wilber – The Bromwell Diehl Band, The NewbeesBuffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle, Noah Hunt & The Scotty Bratcher Band, The Cliftones – William Matheny, Ben Knight & The Well Diggers, Tyler Childers & The Food Stamps, Hocking River String Band, New Country Rehab – Willow Tree Carolers, BMV, The 220 Breakers, Nick Dittmeier Band, The Ready Stance.

Trip Peek #28
Trip #76
Memorial Weekend 2009

pv58This picture is from my 2009 Memorial Weekend trip. The purpose of the trip was to research a magazine article on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. That made the journal a little strange since I didn’t want to include photos or other items intended for the article. As the article was never published, the fact that the journal contains so little about the trip’s primary target may seem even stranger now than when it was posted. The photo was taken inside the Princess Restaurant in Frostburg, Maryland. The restaurant was celebrating its 70th anniversary then which means it is turning 76 this year.


Trip Pic Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the trip journal it is from.

Not A Bad Week At All

wnile01It’s been a pretty full week. It included several things that could have been turned into blog posts if I felt the urge but none for which the urge was felt. I was about to schedule a Trip Peek to fulfill my Sunday morning commitment when I decided to just list the week’s activities and include a few pictures from my favorite.

On Sunday I went to the afternoon performance of Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash at Playhouse in the Park. The play was over before the big football game started so I watched some of that, too, but I liked the play a whole lot more.

Monday was Groundhog Day and, although I didn’t didn’t actually travel to the home of any of the prognosticating rodents this year, I did make the quasi-traditional visit to Bob Evans for ground hog & eggs and I did follow the reports. There are three furry forecasters whose jurisdictions I think I might be in. One is Punxsutawney Phil who is the most famous and whose forecasts might, for all I know, apply to the whole world. The others are Buckeye Chuck, Ohio’s Official State Groundhog, who makes his predictions in Marion, and Rosie who lives and works in nearer-to-my-home Dayton. Phil and Rosie saw their shadows. Chuck did not. What now? There isn’t even a geographic pattern. I don’t know whether to hunker down for six more weeks of winter or get ready for it to be over in a month and a half.

Tuesday I did nothing but meet the gang for some Buzztime trivia. The temperature was in the 40s on Wednesday so I walked down to Flipdaddy’s for exercise then ate a Burger of the Month to nullify it.

A string of nights out began on Thursday with the Bare Boards Theater Company‘s performance of Rabbit Hole. This isn’t a trivial play but the BBTC nailed the first performance of their first production. I attended with my daughter and both of us were entertained and impressed.

wnile02wnile03wnile04On Friday it was a Willie Nile concert at The Southgate House Revival. I became an overnight fan of Willie after seeing him for the first time last year and bought my ticket to this show as soon as I heard about it. I learned just a few days ago that, rather than the anticipated full band show, this would be a performance with just Willie and bassist Johnny Pisano. I thought things might get toned down and I’d be disappointed. No so and not so. I’ll admit to missing Matt Hogan’s guitar licks now and then but I got to focus on and appreciate Johnny’s outstanding bass work even more. Far from being disappointed, it was, as you can see, my favorite event of the week.

The Cincinnati Winter Blues Festival took place on Friday and Saturday. I wrapped up my week by going to the festival’s second night with a few friends. The night’s headliner was young guitar phenom Joanne Shaw Taylor and she did not disappoint. The festival was successful to the point of being uncomfortably crowded. Maybe I’m just getting too old for this sort of thing even when it’s got chandeliers and marble staircases.

Dinner and a Movie – Cincinnati Style

asmdm01I put Wednesday’s screening of the movie Sign Painters at the American Sign Museum on my “maybe” list as soon as I heard about it. It was moved to “probably” when I learned dinner would be included. When I found out the museum’s almost neighbor Camp Washington Chili would be doing the catering, I bought a ticket. I’ve eaten at CWC many times and I’ve eaten many things there but never a salad. I don’t believe it ever occurred to me that they would even have a salad. It was quite good and apparently can be had with grilled chicken at the restaurant. Who knew?

asmdm02asmdm03The beverage table never really got crowded but I hit it before even a hint of a line formed. Local (Mount Carmel & Christian Moerlein) and “other” beer was available along with wine and soda. I made my food line pass after the initial rush. There were 3-ways and coneys in addition to the aforementioned salad and they even had cold-cut sandwiches. I’m guessing those were for the out-of-towners.

asmdm05asmdm04The tables that were empty when I took my picture of the beverage table, were filled as soon as the food was served as were other tables throughout the museum. Paint trays and cans held a variety of movie-appropriate sweets and one pail was filled with small paper bags so you could carry a supply of Lemonheads, Charleston Chews, Bulls-Eyes, Necco Wafers, and other goodies into the viewing room.

asmdm06asmdm07asmdm08As showtime approached, a drawing of museum founder Tod Swormstedt (accurate enough to identify him should he ever go missing) was replaced by the real thing and Tod introduced the movie. Two large screens were filled by a pair of synchronized digital projectors so everyone had a good view. The event had sold out several days earlier. I don’t really know what that means but something like 200 attendees seems a reasonable guess.

Sign Painters features interviews with a number of painters plus quite a bit of footage of some of them at work. A few of the painters are in their thirties but most are older and there is, as you might expect, plenty of talk about the good old days when sign painting was a thriving profession. There is no question that automation and the availability of cheap — in every sense of the word — product have wreaked havoc on the field but not everything is doom and gloom. There are still people who feel called to paint signs and there are still some customers who appreciate the value of hand crafted advertising. In particular, large wall signs are often seen as worthwhile and they remain something that takes a human touch.

At one point in the movie, I found my mind returning to thoughts of a couple weeks ago. I was loosely following an online discussion about ghost signs. Ghost signs are always old so they are almost always faded and they often, but not always, advertise something that is no longer available. They can be considered eyesores or glimpses of history. People may tend to lean one way or the other but opinions are often of the “it depends…” sort. I believe my participation in the discussion was limited to sharing a link to a local radio story on ghost signs. The story uses the words “art” and “pollution” but that’s really just another way to say “history” and “eyesore”. In the movie, when a large and fading hand-painted advertisement is painted over — by hand — with a new and very different advertisement neither of the signs seem very important. It doesn’t matter whether some history gets covered over or if an ugly wall is made beautiful. What matters is that an art form, a skill set, a profession gets to breathe a little.

The museum’s parking lot is not huge and, in addition to the chili and beer and candy and movie, there was free valet parking. I tucked a couple of bucks into my shirt pocket for a tip but by the time my car was pulled up to the door, I’d already heard what the valet would say to me. “No, I can’t take that. No tips. We’ve been taken care of.” Me too.