Orange You Glad It’s Autumn?

autdr01In The Soul of a New Machine, a true story about computer development in the 1970s where microseconds are a common measuring unit, one of the engineers explains his abrupt abandonment of the team with a note left on his computer terminal: “I’m going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season.” I recently thought of that line as I read Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash and thought I’d use it in my review but did not. Ara and Spirit, the writers of Freedom…,  essentially live on the road and adjust their travels to be in the cooler north during the summer and in the south for winters. On occasion they have to deal with calendars and even clocks but the only unit of time they deal with on a regular basis is the season. I sometimes like to think that I deal with no unit of time less than a season but it’s not true. I also sometimes like to think that I’d like to live where the temperature is a constant 75 degrees but that’s not true either. I’ve been watching the seasons change for too long to quit now.

autdr02Trees around here seem to be changing color later or maybe I’m just anxious. A burst of warm and sunny days can do that to you. A burst that promises to continue through Monday started on Thursday and I took advantage of it to do some country road cruising. It wasn’t just aimless driving, though. I headed to nearby Greene County and followed a covered bridge driving tour described in a brochure I picked up some time ago.

autdrb01autdrb02autdrb03autdrb04autdrb05

The five covered bridges in the county, pictured in the order I visited them, are the 1887 Engle Mill Road Bridge, the 1883 Ballard Road Bridge, the 2013 Charleton Mill Road Bridge, the 1877 Stevenson Road Bridge, and the 1886 Grinnel Road Bridge. The brochure describes an 1883 bridge at the Charleton Mill Road location but that was closed, for safety reasons, in 2011 and what looks to be an exact duplicate opened there in 2013.

autdr05autdr04autdr03None of the bridges were surrounded by the glorious fall foliage I had hoped for and I never did find one of those walls of intermixed red, orange, and yellow that trigger oohhs and aahhs like some fireworks display, but I did find some nice touches of color around several farm houses.

autdr06I did some more country road cruising on Friday and this time it was pretty aimless. Still no big walls of bold color, though. No biggie. At the end of the day, I was more than satisfied with the warm temperatures, blue skies, and the occassional splash of orange. I think the guys in the boat were, too.


On Saturday I helped friends celebrate a wedding anniversary. I was best man at their wedding and have joined John and Sherry for some sort of merrymaking on most anniversaries. Over the years, both the level of partying and the degree of scheduling precision have lessened. This year it took us nearly three months to work through scheduling conflicts but we did eventually make the distillery visit that was originally planned for July.

icd03icd02icd01Indian Creek Distillery near New Carlisle, Ohio, is home to the oldest operating stills in the United States. In 2011, Joe and Missy Duer brought back to life the nearly 200 year old copper stills that Missy’s ancestors used to produce Staley Rye Whiskey in the early nineteenth century. The stills and other equipment had been hidden when Prohibition hit. Now they are installed in an old looking new building and making rye whiskey the old fashioned way from the original Elias Staley recipe.

Book Review
Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash
Ara Guregian and Spirit

fobeoth_cvrI really looked forward to the publication of this book. I certainly enjoyed reading it and expect to enjoy reviewing it once I get started but reviewing a book that is near impossible to describe isn’t all that easy. Saying it is the story of a man and dog traveling around the US on a motorcycle isn’t wrong but it sure is incomplete. The man, Ara Gureghian, and the dog, Spirit, have been traveling around the US on a motorcycle since November of 2006 with no plans to stop. I’ve followed their blog since April, 2007, and I have no plans to stop, either. When they started their journey, they were not leaving a home where they planned to someday return. They did acquire some land fairly early on and they do spend winters there but even it is more of a base camp than what most would call a home. From the beginning, Ara had called his online journal The Oasis of My Soul and the ten acres of Texas that his mother bought for him instantly became known as The Oasis. One definition of oasis is “something that provides refuge, relief, or pleasant contrast” and that is something both man and dog needed. Ara had suffered the painful loss of his son and Spirit has suffered abuse from a previous owner. Almost everything — the riding, the writing, the sunrises, the stars, the sunsets — is therapy to some degree but the writing is particularly therapeutic. Ara wrote, and continues to write, his journal for himself. He writes about his travels, his surroundings, and his thoughts. This book is something of a “Reader’s Digest” version of the journal. Neither book nor journal actually tries to be a travel guide or provide insights into living. Nonetheless, they do both.

In an introductory section of Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash called “About Us”, we are told that “This book has no chapters, a continuous life story.” That is one of two big differences, in addition to the major condensing, between the journal and the book. The journal, by its very nature, is broken into pieces clearly marked by dates while the book isn’t broken into pieces at all. In Ara’s words, “There really is no beginning as there will be no end.” The story is told in chronological order but with no artificial breaks or numbers or headings. The other big difference is the photos. Ara started his journey as a very good photographer and developed into an even better one. Journal entries almost always contain several photographs. They typically aren’t directly tied to the text but provide an often stunning view of what Ara was seeing during the time he composed and posted an entry. I believe Ara’s decision not to include any photos in the book is a good one. Trying to do justice to the photos would have really complicated an already complex task and they would not have really illuminated the text in any case.

Ara Guregian was born in France and spent time with relatives in Egypt and other parts of Europe and North Africa. Although he is quite fluent and comfortable with it, English is not Ara’a first language and he is not an English wordsmith whose product one devours for its own sake regardless of content. On the other hand, he can describe a sunset or a valley view in a a way that not only allows you to visualize it but that makes you want to go to that spot and experience it the way he did. That’s impossible, of course. There is too much of Ara in his experiences for anyone to have a shot at duplicating them.

Ara and Spirit cover a lot of territory. There are multiple visits to Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and beyond and between. At one point I thought I would describe their rides as going from here to there without, in many cases, any real idea of where “there” would be. Then, when I really thought about it, I realized that most of their rides were from here to here. It seems as if a majority of their camps are base camps from which they explore the surrounding area extensively by both motorcycle and foot. The exploration is not just to see different things but, perhaps partly because of Ara’s photographer’s eye, to see the same things differently.

Early on I referred to this book as “near impossible to describe” and four paragraphs of not describing it very well bear that out. It’s a little bit Blue Highways and it’s a little bit Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but it is, of course, neither. On the other hand, anyone who enjoyed either or both of those books will most likely enjoy Freedom on Both Ends of the Leash. The book is available from Amazon and other sources at a discount or, for a few dollars more, signed by the authors, through Ara’s Oasis of my Soul website.

Freedom on Both ends of the Leash, Ara Gureghian and Spirit, Ara Gureghian (May 26, 2014), paperback, 9 x 6 inches, 216 pages, ISBN  978-0996083706

Greetings from the UK

Flooded Bonneville Salt FlatsI’ve received a fair number of email messages and even a couple of real mail messages from folks who have read my book By Mopar to the Golden Gate. Some reported an error or two but none have been negative and every one of them put a smile on my face. One, however, had me not only smiling but shaking my head in disbelief. It came from a race fan in England who wanted to be at the Bonneville Salt Flats to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first land speed record set there. His initial thoughts were to fly to the east coast of the US and dash across the country to the event. His wife thought attending the festivities was a fine idea but not so the “dash across the country”. She wanted to see more than a few expressways. They discovered the Lincoln Highway Association website and, in his words, “that was that… the LH was perfect”.

Detailed route planning, it seems, did not go much beyond that. There wasn’t much time and I have the impression that this pair of Brits is rather spontaneous as well as adventurous. After all, the idea of going to Bonneville had been hatched while watching a TV show about the upcoming centennial. He got a copy of By Mopar to the Golden Gate a few days before they left and started reading it on the flight to Newark. I was certainly grinning broadly as I read that but then came the line that led to the head shaking. “Your book was our guide as we did the 2500 miles to Utah”, he wrote.

Surely he can’t mean that, I thought. The book certainly was not intended to be a guide book and I could not now imagine it being used that way. There are no real directions and no maps with resolution much finer than the average county. Eventually, though, I think I understood. From the online map and other sources, they had a pretty good idea of the highway’s course and roadside markers, beefed up in spots for last year’s Lincoln Highway Association Centennial, were quite helpful. The couple wasn’t trying to follow every inch of the old highway. They wanted to get to Bonneville and following the general route of the Lincoln Highway was an entertaining way to do that. The book is about the LHA Centennial Tour which stopped mostly at major highlights so highlights are essentially what appears in the book. It provides a list of some major spots that define the Lincoln Highway and that is the sort of guide that was meant.

Reading the following paragraph gave me more of an ego boost than is healthy but it’s really the road and not the book that prompted the praise.

Denny we had a great time we met fantastic people in all kinds of small towns we stayed in some really cool places such as the Virginian in Medicine Bow and were guided by you and the Valiant mile after mile. We lost the markers from time to time but always got back on track.

Sadly, rains and flooding caused Bonneville’s Speed Week to be canceled (Which is why I started this article with a picture from the book of our similarly flooded out 2013 stop.) but the drive saved the trip. Ian and Caroline are planning to return to the US for Speed Week and the rest of the Lincoln Highway in 2016. Plus, a colleague borrowed and read the book and is now starting to think of his own Lincoln Highway trip.

By itself, By Mopar to the Golden Gate cannot actually guide anyone along the Lincoln Highway (for that I recommend Brian Butko’s Greetings from the Lincoln Highway) but maybe it can identify some highlights along the historic route and introduce it to some folks who know little or nothing about it. I’m ending this with the sentence that ended Ian’s email. It makes me grin every time I read it.

So thank you Denny you gave me a plan and we have had a blast, driving on red brick Ohio lanes and seeing seedling miles (after filling up with gas at the garage) dirt roads drive ins and a sense of adventure.

Trip Pic Peek #26
Trip #62
Original OH LH

pv42This picture is from my 2008 Original OH LH trip to attend the Ohio Lincoln Highway League annual meeting in Galion. The route initially announced by the Lincoln Highway Association, now known as the Proclamation Route, included the cities of Kenton and Marion. When a revised route was announced a few weeks later, the route was moved to the north and these cities dropped. I decided to take a look at Ohio’s part of the Proclamation Route on this drive which is how I ended up in Kenton where this Gene Autry Mural is located. The drive continued through Marion and other Proclamation Route towns. The manufacture of Gene Autry toy pistols is a big part of Kenton’s past and that’s why the big mural is there and why there used to be an annual Gene Autry Days festival. As I prepared this post, I learned that the 2013 festival was the last.


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.

Bye Bye Four One Two Five

dg4125This week I lost something I’d had for forty years. In 1974 I contacted United Telephone of Ohio to arrange for a phone in my first post-divorce home. It was a rental unit in a trailer park near Morrow, Ohio. Few things say noncommittal like renting a mobile home. Unlike the big outfits such as Cincinnati Bell, United couldn’t assign me a number when I placed the order. “We’ll have to see what works,” I was told. What worked was (513) 683-4125. I carried the number through another United Telephone served address plus three different addresses in Cincinnati Bell territory. On Thursday, the land line associated with it was switched off and, for the first time in four decades, (513) 683-4152 became available for reassignment. Here’s how it happened.

Sometime after I moved into (really just returned to) Cincinnati Bell territory, mobile phones and the internet were invented. Maybe they weren’t actually invented at the exact same instant but it was close. I got on the internet fairly early and used my Cincinnati Bell telephone to connect to service providers like Prodigy and Compuserve. I was hardly an early adapter of mobile phones but did get in early enough that I started with a clumsy bag phone from Ameritech that plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter. While my home phone stayed with Cincinnati Bell, I sequenced through a small collection of vendors for my internet and mobile needs. Cincinnati Bell got my internet business when they brought DSL to my door around the turn of the century. They got my mobile business toward the end of 2008 with a really attractive bundling deal. With me being too lazy to change on my own, things might have stayed that way forever if Cincinnati Bell hadn’t decided they didn’t want my — or any other — mobile phone business.

Last April, Cincinnati Bell announced that they were selling their mobile phone business to Verizon. In recent years, they had gotten into digital TV, home security, and some sort of energy management. Apparently those products were considered to be the company’s future and the wireless component of the company was no longer wanted. Wireless customers would not automatically be moved to Verizon but we needed to go somewhere by February.

I didn’t rush into anything. I causally quizzed some friends about their own experiences with wireless vendors but I had not made any real plans. Then, on Thursday the 25th, I walked by a nearby Cricket store that I hadn’t even realized was there. A friend who uses Cricket is reasonably happy with the service and it was one of the possibilities I was seriously considering. I stepped inside. I could use my existing phone by buying a $10 SIM card, an appropriately sized service plan was reasonably priced, and there was no long term contract. It would be month-to-month just like that trailer park rental back in ’74.

I left without signing on but by the next afternoon had pretty much decided that was what I wanted to do. That’s when the decision making process got a step input. Maybe something got jammed into it or maybe it just wore out but, whatever the cause, my phone’s USB connector broke. The phone still worked but it could not be plugged into a charger. I own two batteries and an external charger so I technically had the means to keep the phone going but it would hardly be convenient. I considered it for awhile but quickly decided that buying another phone would be a better move. I had no spare time on Saturday so I just made sure my two batteries were charged and continued on with life. By Sunday I had come up with the idea of repairing the phone and had located a repair facility not too far away. On Monday, I stopped in.

Replacing the USB connector would cost about $60. I was leaning toward going for it when the technician asked if the phone had been unlocked. I know next to nothing about unlock codes and had blindly been assuming that the “if available” which Cincinnati Bell appended to every reference to them did not apply to me. It did. I learned that codes were not available from Cincinnati Bell for most phones older than two years and, when I visited the nearby Cincinnati Bell store as suggested, I learned that my nearly three year old phone was among them. For $30, the repair shop could unlock the phone with an electronic lock pick or some other magic.

Without their own wireless service to sell, Cincinnati Bell stores have become agents for Verizon. I had some concerns about Cricket coverage in some spots I’ve been known to visit and, since the cost of moving my existing phone there had just jumped from $10 to $100 ($10+$60+$30), I decided to look into what Verizon had available. I liked it and left the store with a suitably sized and reasonably priced service plan and a new $50 phone. Sensing that this would be a good opportunity to drop my virtually unused home phone, I also made arrangements to do that while in the store but that didn’t take and had to be repeated before the dial tone went away on Thursday.

To my surprise, the standalone internet connection is exactly the same price as it was as part of the “cost saving bundle”. The monthly Verizon charge is less than what I have been paying for a similar plan at Cincinnati Bell and the land line voice charge is simply gone. I’ll be saving about 50 bucks a month and a lot of aggravation checking caller ID to see which marketer or politician I won’t be talking to. All in all, I think I’m going to like being homephoneless.

Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Rail

octrainAmtrak has a simple but incredibly effective way of avoiding scenes like this at its station in Cincinnati. Eastbound trains are scheduled to depart at 3:27 AM; Westbound at 1:23 AM. That’s AM as in “ante meridian”, as in “before midday”, as in “middle of the night”, as in “dark as a black cat in a coal mine”. That would seem to be sufficient discouragement but, just to be on the safe side, Amtrak frequently misses those times by sizable amounts. On rare occassions, they might even cancel a train a day or two before departure as they did for me in 2011.

I made it this time though not exactly as planned. Between the time I left home and the time I reached the station, the Amtrak Cardinal had gone from 8 minutes late to 3 or 4 hours late. It finally pulled out of Union Terminal with me on board at 8:03 — a mere 4 hours and 36 minutes behind schedule. It was no longer dark. My plans for the evening are clearly demolished but I still have hopes for the rest of this trip to Washington, DC. A Saturday concert remains on the agenda followed by a couple of days roaming around the National Mall before heading back home on Wednesday.

The trip journal is here. This blog entry is to make blog-only followers aware of the trip and to provide a place for comments which are very welcome and appreciated.

Taste of Tarbell

tot01According to this blog’s “About” page, it may contain “just about anything other than politics or religion”. This post is a clear violation of that description but I feel it’s a fairly minor one and I’m hoping that it is one that can be forgiven. There is no question that Jim Tarbell is a politician but he is a lot more than that and Tuesday’s “Taste of Tarbell”, the event that marked the start of his campaign for Hamilton County Commissioner, seemed to be more than a political fundraiser.

Jim Tarbell has been a member of Cincinnati’s City Council and has owned two Cincinnati legends, Ludlow Garage and Arnold’s, on the way to becoming one himself. He lost a 2010 bid for a county commission seat and his late decision to run this year forces him to do it as a write-in. Specific reasons for the decision can be easily learned elsewhere. They are not the reasons I attended the campaign launch. I attended because Jim is someone who loves Cincinnati and Hamilton County and who I think will do his best to do what is right for them. That and the fact that it was a darned good party.

tot02The Comet Bluegrass All Stars were nearing the end of their set when I arrived and I caught just the last few notes of something that Katie Laur was singing with them. They did one more song but I was chatting through most of it and got no pictures. There was a cash bar and a pair of impressive layouts of a great variety of food brought in by friends. That encouraged mingling and chatting and it wasn’t until Ricky Nye, who I’d been doing a fair amount of that chatting with, sat down to play that I got my first picture.

tot04tot03Though I missed the actual announcement, I picked up on the migration and asked enough questions to learn that everyone was wanted in the main hall for a photo shoot. Several photos were taken of the mass of people, including me, wearing masks like the one shown at the top of the article. After that, Jim delivered some speechifying and a little harmonica playing. A tune with Katie Laur was planned and she joined Jim at what seemed like the right time but Jim wasn’t quite done talking. It was not an outrageously long speech but, after a couple of minutes, Linford Detweiler got the biggest laugh of the night when he brought out a chair for Laur. At the proper time, Brad Meinerding joined Jim and Katie for The Tennessee Waltz which, as Jim explained, was apropos of nothing but “we like it”.

tot05tot06With that, Jim and about half the crowd headed back downstairs for more mingling while those that remained were treated to a rather intimate performance from Over the Rhine. Meinerding stayed on stage to help Linford  and Karin perform about a half dozen songs beginning with Meet Me at the Edge of the World.

Lasse die Guten Zeiten Rollen!

ofjpAttending a John Prine concert in the middle of America’s largest Oktoberfest may have been the highlight of my week but it wasn’t the only musical event involved. Honky tonk ribbon cutting came before and Revival rocking came after. Here, in the order of their appearance, are the things that filled the last week of summer for me.

Early this year, Outlaw Magazine, which is about music rather than law breaking, launched something called the Last Honky Tonk Music Series. Taking its name from a song by singer-songwriter Wayne Mills, who was shoot and killed in Nashville last December, its purpose is “Sustaining the Artists, Sustaining the Venues, Sustaining the Community”. Every state is to have at least one venue in the series and Ohio now has two.

lhtrc02lhtrc01On Thursday, John Nawrocki and I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony that launched the first Last Honky Tonk Music Series performance at Friend’s Backyard Grill in Clarksville, Ohio. Clinton County officials help owner Rhonda Friend cut the ribbon.

lhtrc05lhtrc04lhtrc03Once the “formal” stuff was out of the way, Dallas Moore got on with the honky tonking. By pure coincidence, I’d seen — but not heard — Dallas about two weeks ago at Ohio’s other Last Honky Tonk Music Series location, Win Place or Show. By another, perhaps not so pure, coincidence, that was only the second time I’d stopped at Win Place or Show in the last few years and Dallas was setting up on both occasions. Of course, both stops were to enjoy the outside deck on sunny afternoons which is why I make no claims regarding the purity of the coincidence. That first time, more than a year ago, gear for the whole band was being carried in and I made sure I was gone before they got plugged in. On the most recent stop, it would be a solo performance but I still ate and left. In hindsight, I wish I had stayed. I have seen the Dallas Moore Band in the past and have not enjoyed them very much. On Thursday I discovered that I do enjoy Dallas as a solo performer. I’ll definitely hang around the next time I encounter him alone and I might even give the band another listen some day.

ofz01The John Prine concert was Friday. I got my ticket a long time ago and, because it would be in downtown Cincinnati, even had some vague plans about going down early for dinner and strolling. A few days ago, when I finally got serious and realized that the concert coincided with the first day of Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, those vague plans became very solid and darned near perfect.

ofz04ofz03ofz02Cincinnati’s first Oktoberfest, at least the first of the current run, took place in 1976. With attendance in excess of half a million, it is considered the largest in the United States. I haven’t been to Oktoberfest Zinzinnati in several years and when I did go it was likely to be on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. It turns out that Friday evening, with a somewhat smaller crowd, is a much better choice. The only things missing, besides the Saturday afternoon World’s Largest Chicken Dance, are the carnival rides which don’t get turned on until morning. That not only keeps the number of tikes down but prevents a regrettable tilt-a-whirl ride with a belly full of goetta and Hudy.

ofz05Anchored by Fountain Square, Oktoberfest Zinzinnati occupies five blocks of Fifth Street. A few blocks to the south, the Christian Moerlein Lager House has their own party going on under an immense “authentic Munich-style Oktoberfest tent” they call ÜberDrome. It looks like I captured Moerlein’s commander-in-chief, Greg Hardman, in my picture although I didn’t realize that until I was editing the picture for posting. I’m guessing that many stick with one place or the other though the walk between Fifth Street and the Lager House isn’t all that much longer than the walk from one end of the ÜberDrome to the other.

jp03jp02jp01I got back to Fifth Street with just enough time to add a bit of strudel to the goetta and Hudy before heading inside. John Prine‘s voice isn’t quite what it was in the ’70s; very few are. I’m sure his recent bouts with cancer haven’t helped but the funny songs are no less funny and the touching songs are possibly even more touching. He’s definitely still got it. That’s Amanda Shires, who opened the show, singing with John in the third photo.

bella1bella2bella3Just like Prine and Oktoberfest, I prefaced my third show of the week with a party. This was a birthday pawty for a Great Pyrenees named Mia Bella. I understand that Bella was even greater (by several pounds) at the time of the party than when the poster was created. There were beef, vegi, and turkey hot dogs, each with its own cooker, along with paw and puppy patterned pastries. Note that Hudepohl fits in at smaller gatherings just as well as at big city festivals.

simo01The third show was in the Revival Room at Southgate House Revival in Newport, Kentucky. I first saw JD Simo in Nashville in 2009 and have been looking forward to seeing him again ever since. He was a hired gun in 2009 but has been fronting his own trio, SIMO, for about three years. They have been here once before but I just could not get to that show. This time I made it and was every bit as blown away as I expected to be. The only thing disappointing was the crowd.

simo02simo03simo04I don’t believe there was ever more than forty people in the audience. That made it nice for those of us that were there and the trio sure didn’t slack off because of it but this guy deserves to be seen and heard by a lot more people. In 2009 he impressed me in Nashville where remarkable musical talent fills every stage and sidewalk. In Newport, there were times when I thought I might be having a 1968 Jimi Hendrix flashback. I don’t mean that JD imitates or sounds like Hendrix but seeing the virtuoso guitarist fronting a driving power trio naturally triggers comparisons with Hendrix, Cream, James Gang, Mountain, and the like. SIMO handles the comparisons well.

WACO Homecoming

waco01Troy, Ohio, was once home to the most successful airplane manufacturer in the world. That manufacturer, WACO Aircraft Company, ceased production in 1947 but the city keeps the memories alive with Historic WACO Field at the south edge of town. A museum, learning center, and runway see action all year long but the annual fly-in brings in quite a bit of extra action, particularly for the runway. I attended this year’s fly-in on Saturday, the middle of its three day run.

waco02waco03waco04The dozen or so WACOs parked on the ground made a colorful and impressive display. I have the feeling that there were more of the planes here on my first visit to the fly-in in 2006 but I can’t quantify that and a dozen WACOs is still a lot of WACOs.

waco06waco05There were plenty of “don’t touch” reminders but attendees were otherwise free to walk among the airplanes for up close viewing. Only after I got home and started to prepare this post did I realize that it is likely that not all of those gorgeous planes I admired were vintage. It had somehow escaped me that the WACO Aircraft Corporation of Battle Creek, Michigan, started building reproductions of the WACO YMF in 1986. The reproductions have the word “classic” in their logo so I should have been able to easily identify them if I’d only known to look. On the other hand, it was probably better not knowing and believing that all those great looking machines were older than me.

waco07waco08waco09A tremendous increase in museum space since I was last here means that several airplanes, including some that were displayed outside in 2006, are now displayed under cover. Maybe that contributed, just a bit, to my sense of fewer WACOs on the field.

waco12waco11waco10A big attraction is the availability, for a fee, of rides in the open planes. Passengers, two maximum, sit in front of the pilot. These pictures show a vintage (no “classic” in the logo) WACO taxiing from its spot among the other aircraft, gaining speed down the grass runway, then smoothly rising above the corn. My guess is that that’s a buddy and not a paying passenger in the front compartment.

waco13waco14waco15I’ll close with a 1993 WACO Classic YMF (I learned that later.) coming in with a pair of happy customers, seat backs in the upright position, sitting up front.

Making Peace with Linda

lindarOn my most recent road trip, I drove through both Tucson, Arizona, and Tucumcari, New Mexico. I did not drive directly from one to the other. A dozen days and even more towns separated my time in those two cities so that I did not, as the line in that song says, go “from Tuscon to Tumcari”. Of course that little detail did not keep references from being made by others or prevent me from mentally humming one of the greatest bits of alliterative road trip poetry ever:

I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari
Tehachapi to Tonapah.

The words are from Willin’, a song on Linda Ronstadt’s 1974 album “Heart Like a Wheel”. But it’s not a Linda Ronstadt song. Not only didn’t she write it. She did not, as might be said of some of her other covers, “make it her own”. In my view, that would be impossible. Linda might sing “I’m drunk and dirty, don’t you know” beautifully but it’s not remotely convincing. I can accept Lowell George, the bearded Little Feat guitarist who wrote Willin’, as the sometimes law skirting truck driver the song is about. Linda Ronstadt? Hardly.

I know that sort of stuff doesn’t bother everyone. Sometimes it doesn’t bother me all that much either. Other times it bothers me a lot. Sometimes (just once actually) it bothers me to the point of rather sincere hatred. Here’s how.

Little Feat recorded Willin’ a couple of years before Ronstadt did and I believe I heard that version first. Or maybe I heard them both about the same time. Whatever the case, I knew of both and, while I thought it silly for this sweet voiced young girl to claim she’d “driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made”, I was not particularly upset about it. I bought “Heart Like a Wheel” and her 1976 “Greatest Hits”. Then came ’78.

Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy” was released in January of 1978. It contained Werewolves of London which got a lot of air play and my attention. The name was not entirely unfamiliar to me (I read liner notes.) but the music was. I bought “Excitable Boy”. I went to see Zevon live. I bought the only other Warren Zevon album readily available. Titled “Warren Zevon”, that other album had some tunes on it that I had heard before. There was Hasten Down the Wind, which Ronstadt had recorded and used as the title track of an album she released in 1976. And there were a couple of songs that had appeared on Ronsadt’s “Simple Dreams” album. One was Carmelita, which, despite the Willin’ like gender mismatch and the ill fitting drug references, Linda had performed admirably. The other was Poor Poor Pitiful Me. That’s where the trouble started.

Even though Linda’s covers of songs like Willin’ and Carmelita challenged my imagination a little, they presented the material accurately as well as beautifully. Not so her version of Poor Poor Pitiful Me. I had heard Linda’s version quite a bit but readily admit that I had never paid a lot of attention to the lyrics. I thought it a catchy little tune about someone with a little bad luck. Now I heard the song directly from its creator and it wasn’t like that at all. As much as just about any song that Zevon has written, Poor Poor Pitiful Me is filled with dark edged humor. Its calls for pity are clearly facetious. Its characters about as scary as they are seductive. None of this is visible in Ronstadt’s version. Part of it is gender related. When Warren complains that “These young girls won’t let me be”, you can hear the wink in his voice. When Linda makes a similar complaint about “These young boys” you simply believe her. Linda singing about the Yokohama boy who “threw me down” asking “Please don’t hurt me Mama” doesn’t seem humorous at all. When Warren says the same line to a girl who threw him down, that audible wink is very much in evidence. Actually, he didn’t sing about Yokohama at all in that studio recording. Instead there is a verse about a girl who asks Warren if he’d “beat her” which would have definitely been tough for Linda to use.

This was just too much for me. Here the sweet voice and gender change did not just challenge my imagination. It altered the meaning of the song entirely. I saw it as an intentional and criminal act to disarm Zevon. The relatively minor changes to Carmelita also became more sinister as I started viewing them as part of the plot to suppress Zevon’s art. In my mind, Linda Ronstadt suddenly changed from a talented singer to a despised creature who sucked the soul out of songs and turned them into sugary pablum. My outrage might not have been justified but it was certainly sincere. I truly disliked this woman. I’ve only recently learned that one of the things that sent me over the edge just wasn’t true. I have read that, according to Zevon himself, the “beat her” line was ad-libbed in the studio. Except for the gender change, Linda had sung the verse as written.

Although that last discovery makes my near hatred seem even sillier, it really played no part in my getting over it. Time naturally caused it to fade but I’ve actually dredged it up and erased it. I was always a little ashamed of it and am glad it’s gone. In the end, all it took was a close look. That look started when I first met one of Linda’s nephews and became a little more serious when I met a brother and another nephew. Linda’s brother Michael J and his sons Michael G and Petie perform as Ronstadt Generations and have been mentioned on this site a few times. At my first meeting with Michael J, I remember wondering if he could tell I despised his sister. I also remember thinking that he was a really nice person and that his sister probably was too. Unless he has well disguised mind reading skills, Michael J has no idea how I feel about his sister. She has never been a topic in any conversation I’ve had with any of the Ronstadts but the contact did make me revisit those ill feelings from the 1970s, realize how ridiculous they were, and dump them.

I still don’t like Ronstadt’s version of Poor Poor Pitifil Me at all and I’m not all that fond of her rendition of Carmelita either. For me, Willin’ is and will always be a Lowell George song and not a Linda Ronstadt song. But some people really like her versions and I’m guessing that George and Zevon have been financially helped more than hurt by them. I’m quite happy over the fact that I can now admit to myself that Linda’s version of Hasten Down the Wind is at least as good as the original and that her recording of Blue Bayou, while I personally will never pick it over Roy Orbison’s, is pretty darned good.

That’s the cover from Linda’s year old autobiography pictured at the top of this article. I’ve used it for two reasons. One is that it is what I would use if reviewing the book (which I’m not) so I probably won’t get sued over it. The other is that it’s a face that’s not easy to connect with smuggling “smokes and folks from Mexico” or being “all strung out on heroin on the outskirts of town” and maybe that will support my point about ill-fitting songs a little. I have not read the entire book but scanned through it to learn that Linda actively sought out Lowell George in order to learn and record Willin’. On the other hand, Poor Poor Pitiful Me, was not only not appropriated in some dark plot to gentrify Warren Zevon, but was pressed on Linda by mutual friend Jackson Brown.