Scenes From a Jeep

Scenes From a Jeep

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chocolate Chunk Trail

For a slight change of pace, we present a “Scene of a Jeep” rather than a “Scene from a Jeep”. At a recent party with friends we were given this creative cake with a 1/18th scale model Jeep climbing what I like to call the “Chocolate Chunk Trail”. As a result of this thoughtful gift, I now have two Jeeps – one big one that guzzles the gasoline, and a little one that I have to push with my hand get it moving. Actually, when I neglect to put gas in the big one, both Jeeps require pushing. So except for relative size, they are proving to be quite similar. As the evening passed, I came to discover a few other universal truths that apply to all Jeeps both big and small.
First, everybody wants a ride in your Jeep. We've been taking friends for rides in the big Jeep for a while now. When we get visitors in New York City we offer them our standard top-down Manhattan tour complete with a few passes through Times Square. Once in a while someone gets the idea to stand up and stick his head out the top. I discourage that, but it's hard for some to resist. When in the country, like this past week, we'll take some friends four-wheeling in a snow storm. By comparison at the party, mini-Jeep was constantly getting pushed back and forth through the choco-mud and over the fudgy-boulders. The cake's baker reports that the children were not the only offenders. Some people always have to stick their fingers in the cake. Put a Jeep on the cake and forget about it.
Second, in all cases, when you clean off the mud after a run on the trail, you'll always find some later that you missed. Big Jeep and I once took a ride through the cow pasture. As mentioned in a previous story, the farmers call the mud that cows make “gravy”. When it dries on your Jeep, I call it cement. In some parts of the world I hear that people actually cover the outside walls of their houses with it. It's that tough and water-resistant. I tried to blast it away with a power washer that could cut your hand off, but it wouldn't budge in some spots. A month later I was still finding cow-gravy-cement stuck under the hard-to-reach places. It was no different with mini-Jeep. After the party, the hostess presented me with mini-Jeep and said she tried to clean off the chocolate, but couldn't get it all. I said, “I know. I've seen that happen.” I'm still finding chocolate on mini-Jeep, but in this case I'm OK with just licking it off.
Finally, no Jeep is complete if it doesn't at least occasionally go off-road. Imagine if my friends simply gave mini-Jeep to us in it's original box. It still would have been a wonderful gift all by itself. But instead, there it was on top of the cake – buried up to its rear axle in frosting and hung up on a boulder, just as it should be! Today, mini-Jeep is all cleaned up and sitting in its space on my book shelf. After the snow, storm big Jeep is also now safely parked in the garage. Two clean Jeeps resting on solid ground... for now at least. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Happy Trails

Sometimes a scene makes a song pop instantly into your head. This was one of those scenes. We were looking for a hiking trail called Sunset Rock. After a winding dirt road drive up the mountain, we were looking forward to a bit of exercise, fresh air, and a promised vista at the end of the hike. As the Jeep reached the top and we saw the trail head, that's when it happened. Someone put a dime in the cranial jukebox...
“And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply.” As I was wondering why this song popped into my head, my brain iPod hit the chorus... “Signs, signs everywhere a sign... Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?”. Although not a favorite, I couldn't stop this particular song. Maybe we were to close to Woodstock. Or maybe it was the above-average number of signs marking the trail. To top that, it was cordoned off with police caution tape. What in the world happened here?
Before I answer that, I should apologize for another 1970's song reference. I do listen to newer music, but the old stuff is burned in there real good. Besides, what current pop song was going to work for this picture? As hard as I tried, I couldn't dig up a replacement. To be fair though, the young kids know a lot of the old tunes thanks to the Internet, so maybe they're not totally lost at this point in the story. For example, last week I passed a 14 year old on the street wearing a Led Zeppelin concert t-shirt. I figured he swiped it from his dad's closet. As he walked by, I couldn't help but stop him and ask if he actually listened to the band that was on his shirt. Why would a modern kid, with all the available hip-hop, pop, and indie music be digging deep in the dinosaur drawer for his tunes? But without hesitation he shouted, “Yeah! They're awesome!”. “Go figure...”, I thought, “14 year old boys are discovering Led Zeppelin. Where have I seen that before?” But that's enough of the musical side track. What about this trail and its copious tree-borne documentation?
Seeing the area taped-off, we were scared to get out of the Jeep in case the crime scene was still fresh. My brain music quickly switched over to the mom-voice channel where I heard something like, “Don't ever go in the woods, dear. The woods are full of ax murderers and bad men that steal children.” “Aw come on mom! I just want to go hiking!”, I answered back. Now while I was having this conversation in my head, my wife sitting next to me in the Jeep just saw a blank stare. But then I heard her say, “Are you gonna get out and see if the trail is open?” That jolted me out of my daze as I shouted, “No way! There's probably ax murderers in there!” Now I must admit to having a pretty cool wife. Not only did she see my statement as merely an expression of ingrained mom-fear, but she was able to reason that if there was an ax murderer in there, the police would have done more about it than just put up some caution tape. “True. True. Ok, I'll check it out.” 
So I got out and looked around. And it was a good thing I did. There was nothing there that should have ruined a happy day on the trail. Some hornets had built a nest in the tree by the trail head, and someone did the neighborly thing by putting up the tape and leaving a few hand-written signs on the ground saying we should be careful and go around the nest. I wondered why the caution signs were on the ground, but then I remembered that tree space was at a premium and there was nowhere to post any additional signs.
We heeded the hornet warning, went around the caution-taped area, and headed down the trail. After a mile or so of twists and turns, we finally found Sunset Rock. It was a small outcropping in what was otherwise a dense wooded area. After all the drama, we were rewarded with a beautiful view to the west towards the Hudson River. I guess that's why they call it “Sunset Rock”. It must be absolutely beautiful as the sun goes down. If you do stay for sunset, however, you won't be able to stay long to savor to moment. You'll have to hurry your way back down the mountain. The sign at the trail head says “PARK CLOSES AT DUSK”.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Roughing It

The great outdoors! Here we see a toughened group of hardy campers filling their days with fun activities and their nights with a general lack of undisturbed sleep. It's difficult to define camping in strict terms since it comes in so many varieties. As such, you'll sometimes hear a debate about what “real camping” is, usually sparked by someone who's form of camping is more “roughing it” than yours. How did this happen?
My best guess is that camping got its start when a group of ancient travelers couldn't quite make it to their destination, deciding instead to stop somewhere for the night and make due with what they had with them at the time. Given the choice of sleeping outside or in a dry, warm house, they would probably have picked the house. I think it would be difficult to explain to that first group of ancient campers that today we sometimes choose to leave the comforts of our houses and seek an outdoor location to spend the night. In the midst of explaining it, you're likely to be interrupted by one of them saying, “Yeah, yeah, back to nature, whatever... can I use your house while you're gone?”
Camping today is more often a choice and not so much a circumstance as it once was. When we choose to camp we're then faced with the next difficult choice of how much house do we leave behind and how much do we take with us. I have some friends that just returned from backpack camping. These are some tough outdoors-men. They take very little house with them. Everything they'll need for the weekend is stuffed into their packs as they march up a mountain to the perfect isolated spot. For them, the extra effort brings greater rewards – quiet, solitude, beautiful scenery, and a sense of accomplishment. 
Interestingly, while the backpackers were choosing less house, some of the local wildlife were instead choosing more. When these folks hiked back down the mountain a few days later, they discovered that a mouse had worked his way into their car through the air vents, nested in a duffel bag, and feasted all weekend on a few packs of granola bars. As if to fully explore his rare smörgåsbord of options, every granola bar had a few bytes taken out, but none completely eaten. Now who would you say had the more fulfilling weekend? Was it the rugged backpackers or the mouse that stayed in a 5-star all-inclusive resort? Try to imagine the mouse telling his story to his mouse friends on Monday morning... “Dude, you won't believe where I went this weekend!”.
The decision to bring more house with us when camping is, I think, directly related to how many children and pets live with us in the house. Our backpacker friends have no kids or pets, but our friends pictured here have both kids and cuddly dogs. For them, more house is the right choice. But don't be deceived, this family style camping has its own rigors. For one, there were bears on their campsite, hundreds of them. They were green, yellow, red, blue and gummy. For everyone's safety, the bears were kept under control in a 5-pound zip lock bag. Really, the biggest danger here was overeating in a campground full of Costco-sized provisions. 
To mitigate the risk of becoming a brownie by eating forty-three of them, you have to stay active. Fortunately, this campground had plenty of activities. For one, there was a shallow river flowing through it and a general store that sold inner-tubes – a wise business decision by the campground management. I witnessed a frenzied run on the general store when the first kid of the day bought a tube and inflated it using the conveniently located air hose in front of the store, and in plain view of the swimming pool. Within minutes, every inner-tube was sold and a 20-minute wait formed at the air hose. This gave the moms and dads hours of unexpected activity as they repeatedly floated down river and walked back up, performing the occasional water rescue when someone's inner-tube needed more air or got stuck in the rapids.
This campground had one other feature that blurred the lines and fueled the camping debate even more – air-conditioned cabins! “Why not?”, I figured. Some of the families there were wheeling in RVs that were bigger than my first apartment. So instead of buying and maintaining your own camper, there should naturally be an option to rent one when you got there, but upgraded with permanent foundations, full kitchens, queen-sized beds, and showers. Someone in our group of tent-dwellers made the unfortunate mistake of telling a cabin-camper in the hot-flash phase of life that what she was doing was not “real camping”. Besides the gummy bears, this turned into the second significant bear sighting of the weekend. Momma bear didn't take kindly to that observation and quickly set matters straight – she was on a campground, she was camping, and don't anyone dare say different! 
Who is going to argue with a momma bear? I wouldn't. In fact, I thought about it a while longer and realized that the cabin had more amenities than the average hotel room. Besides the ambassador suite which I rarely, if ever, reserve, what hotel room has two bedrooms, two baths, and a kitchen with full-sized refrigerator? None, of course, but where are we going with this? Here's what I think... the next time you're at a Holiday Inn or similar hotel, look around your room. Sure, it's just one room with a bed and TV, and there's no kitchen or refrigerator. But you're just passing through, and have to stop here for the night while heading to your final destination, just like the ancient travelers before you. You can rough-it for a night or two. You'll enjoy it, and according to momma bear's reasoning, “it's camping”.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Hot Dog Cart

What a sight! Never would I have imagined that when I came outside this particular morning I would find a hot dog cart parked right on our corner! In New York City, this is an honor. It means your neighborhood has arrived, and that you now live in a part of town that other people want to visit. Naturally, these visitors require convenient and delicious ways to satisfy their hunger on the go. It was all happening so fast. How did this come about on our block? And what does a person need to know when navigating the eclectic eatery that is the New York City street corner?
Actually, I should have seen this coming. The neighborhood has been changing in recent years to make it a prime tourist destination. One evidence of that would be the New York travel guidebooks that call it a prime tourist destination. There's a massive new park under the Brooklyn Bridge with a picture-perfect Manhattan backdrop that's been attracting more and more visitors. A steady stream of newlyweds pass through daily in gown and tux to have their wedding photos taken. Families from around the world can be seen walking with their travel books while trying to find all the must-see spots.
All of these visitors get hungry, and the books tell them to find the trendy pizza shop in the center of the excitement. It's a true New York hot spot in the sense that it takes charge and sets the rules for your enjoyment through a myriad of posted signs and a two-hour line. "No Slices!", "Cash Only!", "Eat in, Take Out, Same Line!". It is uniquely New York when a pizza restaurant can assume complete authority over the customer and, as such, become a must-do for all travelers. Just about every day I give directions to people who, with books opened to the restaurant pages, ask me where they can find the famous pizza shop. I'll point to the long line down the sidewalk and say "Right over there...". Then I head down the block to the pizza place the locals go to, and get a slice using my credit card from a friendly guy named Vinny. But the big-time pizza restaurant serves an important role as anchor to all the other culinary tourist stops, including some trendy pizza imitators, ice cream shops, food trucks, and of course, the hot dog carts.
On a summer day, the area by the park is packed out with people and mobile food vendors. So it didn't take long for some of the chuck wagons to begin migrating up the hill looking for fresh territory. And that's when it happened... our own hot dog cart appearing right outside our door. It seemed like a good spot for an enterprising street chef seeking an untamed location. Plenty of folks were walking up the hill to enjoy the Manhattan view and beautiful promenade, none of them yet with hot dogs.
This was the sort of thing that would have brought perfection to a childhood. Sure, we had the occasional ice cream truck roll down our street. The sound of its bells would throw us into a confused frenzy as we battled with the conflict of whether to run for the truck to make it stop, or bolt towards the house to beg for money. As a kid you don't reason on the fact that it was in the driver's best interest to stop and wait for you to get your parents' money and come back to buy an orange-cicle. You just fear the worst, imagining that when you get back with your dollar, the ice cream man will have sailed off to another neighborhood having more financially prepared children. We eventually got smart and teamed up - one person would flag down the truck, while the other went off to raise the needed funds. So to have something like a hot dog cart permanently perched on your corner would have been too much to even dream of. But decades later, here it was!
Sadly though, as an adult I couldn't appreciate our new hot dog cart like I would have in my youth. I like hot dogs, but at my age I can't make them a daily staple of my diet like I'd want to (I confirmed this with my doctor). But in New York, that doesn't have to be a problem. The neighborhood's new-found celebrity has brought in all kinds of choices. We have organic yogurt vans, falafel-on-wheels, and even a mobile Korean kitchen with barbecue and kimchi tacos - that's right, I said "kimchi tacos" - Spanish-Asian fusion on a truck!
If you don't like the options on your current block, head somewhere else and see what they've got over there. An old favorite, of course, would be Chinatown. They have some street cart food that's served no where else in the world except, maybe, China. I walked up to one particular cart that was cooking up something that smelled great all the way down the street. I asked the man what it was. He said, "One Dollar!". "Yes, but what is it?", I repeated. "One Dollar!". "Ok, but...", "One Dollar!". I soon concluded that the only way I was going to figure out what he was cooking was to pay up my one dollar. So I did, and it was delicious, whatever it was - I still don't know.
So pick your neighborhood, scope out your choices, and bring plenty of cash. The street cart is one of the last remaining strictly cash-based economies in the western world. Be prepared to do a little math, though, because there are no registers or calculators, and many of the experienced vendors are well trained in creative accounting. During a friend's visit, we walked up to a cart selling $2 hot dogs and $1.50 sodas. My friend ordered three hot dogs and four sodas (apparently, one of us was just thirsty). Quick... now how much is that? "Nineteen dollars!", yelled the vendor in his mathematically confident tone. I'm no math genius, but as my friend started to hand over his twenty, I asked the guy to add that up again. "Um... isn't that twelve dollars?", I said. "C'mon! C'mon! I got customers waiting! You're making the line slow!", he barked. Turning to the family next in line I asked if they would mind waiting for us to make sure the "cash register" was working properly before they placed their order. Having heard the whole thing go down, they said, "No, please... take all the time you need. Oh, by the way, do you know where the famous pizza place is?".

Friday, August 24, 2012

Merlin Beach

Jeep in the sand! What more fitting thing is there to do with a Jeep? As a young lad on family beach vacations I watched in envy from the jump seat of our faux wood-paneled 1972 Ford Country Squire station wagon as the big kids drove past in their open-top Jeeps - complete with surfboards strapped to the roll bars. It was a scene that even the Beach Boys would have drooled over. Decades later, me and the Mrs got a chance to live the dream in our home state of Merlin. Where's that? I'll explain and tell you a few other details from our over-sand adventures. 
This year's summer vacation had to be a short one, so we figured we'd try to make it count. After some careful research, we decided to head down to the east coast beach town we had visited dozens of times as kids. The icing on the proverbial vacation cake was finding out about a close-by section of beach that had four-wheel drive access. What could be better? Where was this awesome place that had surf, sun, and Jeeps in the sand? It was Ohshin Seedy, Merlin.
Before you Google that, let me give you the official spelling – Ocean City, Maryland. Even though we live in New York now, it takes only about a half hour after we arrive in our native Maryland to revert to the local accent. I love it. It's honest, unabashed, and easy to learn. It's the same accent no matter if you're rich or poor. Try this... pucker your lips like you're going to kiss a frog in a Disney movie. Now pronounce the letter 'O'. Try some words like “ocean” that becomes “oh-shin”. “Orioles” becomes “Oh-ree-ohles”, and “official” becomes “oh-fish-ul. It's fun, isn't it?  After that you can learn some key phrases. For example, most trips to Ohshin Seedy consisted of a southeast drive from the Baltimore area. Now the short 'a' is sometimes pronounced with an exaggerated 'aw' as in “awww, that's a cute kitty”. Along the way, you could also drop some unnecessary syllables. So if you were from “Bawlmer, Merlin”, you'd drive “downey ohshin” for your summer vacation. I even found a t-shirt that says “BAWLMER” on the front. When my New York friends ask me what that is, I tell them that's where I was born, and then give them about a half hour to figure it out.
 Ohshin Seedy is a densely built-up vacation town. During the day, the beach is solid sunbathers. At night, the action is on the boardwalk. You ain't seen a boardwalk until you go to Ohshin Seedy. My Jersey friends like to talk about their boardwalks. Then I take them downey ohshin and watch their chins hit the wood. There's enough rides, games, restaurants, and gift shops packed into the first ten blocks alone to make Walt Disney blush. It's a family-friendly spot, but whatever you do, don't let the young kids read the slogans in the t-shirt shops. You'll be gingerly explaining inappropriate adult themes for a solid three to six weeks after that. Distract them with a custard (Merlin for soft ice cream) or boardwalk fries (drenched in apple cider vinegar) and keep walking.
Needless to say, there's no driving your Jeep on the beach in Ohshin Seedy. To do that you have to drive across the southern inlet to Assateague Island. Compared to Ohshin Seedy, Assateague is quiet and serene. There's absolutely no development there, just some campgrounds on the state and national parks. The name Assateague comes from the Indian word for “The Marshy Place Across”. The Indians also named the local bay between the island and mainland, calling it Assawoman. Don't let me go there, but I suspect that when asked what the names of stuff was, the Indians had learned just enough English to play a little joke on the visiting white folk. Let's move on...
After arriving, settling some registration and permitting business with the good park rangers, and airing down the tires, we were in the Jeep and on the beach! It was awesome, but a little scary at first. The list of required equipment and cautionary language in the park brochure made it sound like we were going to be trekking across the Martian landscape, and would have no hope of ever reaching earth again if we got stuck in the sand. But it wasn't so bad at all, and soon we were heading down the beach to see what we could see. What did we see?
For one, Assateague has a population of feral horses. Getting back to our local dialect, these are referred to as “wawld poh-nees”. We saw a small group of wawld pohnees grazing on the beach grass as we kept heading south. Then in the distance, we saw something strange. As we got closer, it looked like the skyline of a small city. And that's pretty much what it was – a solid half-mile of campers on pickup trucks in a special camping area called the bullpen. The party was in full gear with flags waving, some confederate, as we passed through like Yankees in a New York-licensed Jeep. “Smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave.”, I told our group. 
They were a friendly bunch though, and it seemed unusually packed out on an otherwise quiet island. We later asked the park ranger what was happening. He said it was a special AMSA convention going on all weekend. “What is AMSA and why do they have conventions on the beach?”, I asked. “Um, I'm not sure.”, said the ranger. So we promptly Googled “AMSA” to find out what it was – that's what we NY Jeepers do, Google stuff on our iPhones. The first result in the list was the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). We looked at each other and said “Nah, not medical students”. Way down the list we saw the Assateague Mobile Sportsfishermen's Association (AMSA). Found it! They certainly were on Assateague, they were mobile, and even if not the primary activity, many of them were indeed sport-fishing. Our greetings go out to AMSA. Thank you for letting us pass through your convention, and we hope you had a great weekend.
We certainly did. After driving on a bit more, we turned around and headed back north to look for a good spot to stop and set up the beach umbrella. I was now feeling quite satisfied with my over-sand vehicle skills. I was aired down, geared down, and ready for any trouble that may require my extra ground clearance, tow strap, jack, jack stand, and military-grade shovel. The only danger we'd encountered thus far were some mutant mosquitoes that were trying to slam through the windshield to bite us like angered aliens in a science fiction movie. We soon found the perfect spot, got our beach stuff set up and started to relax. I looked around to see our closest 4x4 neighbors to give them a friendly wave in acknowledgment of our shared off-road ruggedness. To our right was a nice family in their stock Honda CRV. It wasn't what I expected to see, but I tipped my hat and waved as I thought... “There's certainly no harm in over-doing it just a little”.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Rock is Dead or Alive

Here's a scene outside of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Whenever I visit Cleveland, I make it a point to visit the hall and see what's new, or more accurately, what's old in rock music. I always enjoy the trip since it makes me think more deeply about something that wasn't intended to be thought about too deeply. It raises questions like, “just what is rock and roll?” and “how's it doing these days”? 
Rock and roll supposedly comes out of the depths of teenage frustration and confusion. Every generation creates its own version that only they understand, and that their parents can't stand to listen to. Maybe that's a good working definition for rock and roll – “music I like that drives my parents nuts”. I think a generation should conspire to really freak out their parents and get into something unexpected like polka or pan-flute (no offense to polka and pan-flute fans). But they almost always create or pick up on something new. And usually when they become adults, they package up their own unique rock collection, give it a sub-genre name, and carry it with them for the rest of their lives until it eventually gets called “oldies” or “classic”. 
I think that because the music originates with frustration and confusion, it is appropriate that rock itself can appear a bit frustrated and confused. For instance, Neil Young sang that “rock and roll will never die”. The Who, on the other hand, sang that “rock is dead”. Which is it then? It's probably both. The old rock dies and makes room for the new stuff that a kid's rock and roller parents can't stand to listen to. 
Even the rockers themselves are sometimes confused over their existence. Remember how The Who sang “I hope I die before I get old.” Today, Roger and Keith may have changed their minds on that one. I'm sure they are just as happy to still be kicking it on stage in their 60s than to have fulfilled their musical death wish. Paul McCartney was dead once. Some say he still is and was actually replaced by a new Paul that's been doing the job for all these years. I watched two family members argue this one for hours. For a good time, go ahead and search “Paul McCartney death conspiracy”. Whoever he is, the current Paul is still in the running for longest-surviving Beatle. Rock and roll lives.
I'm sure you're already thinking that my own song and artist references are dating me and my rock generation. You would be almost correct. I actually claim to have been born late for the party I was supposed to attend. I gravitated to the music from about ten to fifteen years before my time. I think that may have something to do with seeing parents or older siblings connecting with their music. That seems to be happening more often now as father, son, and sometimes grandfather come together at a Bruce Springsteen or Rolling Stones concert. I guess that makes a case for rock never dying. But again we have a rock conflict... if you and your dad like the same rock music, is it still, according to our definition, rightly called rock and roll? I'm confused and a bit frustrated by the question, and that alone may make it OK to call it rock. And even though father and son attend the concert together, there is sure to be music in each one's iPod that totally disgusts the other.
After something like rock and roll has been around long enough, and has a following that spans several generations, it's bound to get a museum or hall of fame. So not surprisingly, rock and roll has a beautiful hall of fame and museum in downtown Cleveland. But here is another irony... the very thing created as a means to stick it to the man, now has, or in some way is, its own man. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a foundation to support its operation and a nominating committee that votes in new inductees every year. The idea is that a person or group that is rebel-enough with their anti-establishment rock music can be considered for induction into the hall's time-honored institution. As a bonus, if the artist works hard to insure that they don't “die before they get old”, they can attend the ceremony, give a speech, and perform for all the distinguished guests – maybe even dress up nice and wear a tuxedo for the event.  
The hall of fame has its own rebels though. Some artists like the Sex Pistols and Axl Rose refuse to have anything to do with it. Is this confusing? Well it should be, “it's rock and roll man”. It's only fitting that rock lives on with a museum and hall of fame that, on one hand keeps the memory of its past alive, while on the other hand gives some of the old rockers something to rebel against. It's all good then.  
In my opinion though, the poster child for the whole rock thing is one of its founding members, Bob Dylan. Do I like everything good old Bob did? No, but that's the point. When too many people liked what Bob did, Bob rebelled, stopped doing it, and did something else. Whenever he was labeled, he'd rip the name tag right off his jacket. “You're the voice of our generation, Bob!”, they would scream. “I don't think so!”, he'd reply. 
Bob started by rebelling each year in the 1960s with the good people at the Newport Folk Festival. When that got “too heavy” and people wanted him to lead their causes with his guitar, he jumped ship and went electric, lost some fans and then got some new ones. When those fans expected to hear their favorite songs in the familiar way, he'd play them differently or not play them at all. Being in his band could best be described as a game of “what's Bob gonna do next?”. Check him out in Martin Scorsese's rock-umentary The Last Waltz, and watch The Band struggle to keep up with him as they try to guess what song he'll launch into next, and when they think he'll end the song he's playing. No matter what he was doing, it came with a side order of confusion and frustration – rock and roll at its best.
So next time you're in Cleveland be sure to visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's the one museum where you're not supposed to think too deeply about it. Take in the confusion and let yourself feel a little frustrated. But be sure not to let your rebel side get out of control and start throwing things. After all, the building is made of glass.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Random Act of Fashion

This scene is a reminder to always expect the unexpected in New York City. It started as a typical traffic-packed cruise up the Bowery one evening as we looked for a good dinner spot. But we got so much more – a free fashion show, and a reminder to always have your camera ready in the city that never sleeps.
I always thought that was a fun expression... “the city that never sleeps”. It sounds so exciting in a Sinatra song – No sleep! All fun, all the time! Woo! The reality, though, is that if you live here for any length of time, you'll be wishing someone would at least put the town down for a good nap once in a while. That way you could get a little break. It might also keep the city from getting too tired and cranky. But no, the city truly never sleeps.
I can't always prove that true, because I try to get some sleep here myself every night. So I don't always stay awake to see what the city is up to. But most mornings, if you look for it, you can usually find some evidence that somebody was up all night, you know, doing it Sinatra-style. Here's a case in point... One Sunday morning we were driving through Manhattan before most people were up and about. There were a few one-offs walking around as usual at that time, looking like they were still in their Saturday night clubin' clothes. Now I have heard about the “walk of shame” - I had a friend explain it to me once. But what I saw that morning took it not only to the next level, but a level no one should ever let happen to them.
Walking up sixth avenue was a nice young fellow in a ski jacket that sat just below waist-high. It was early winter, so the ski jacket seemed a smart enough choice. Along with that he had a sturdy pair of hiking boots, you know, in case we got snow. The nearer we got, though, the more we realized something was wrong. We couldn't figure out where his pants were. I think he was having a similar problem. We gave him the benefit of the doubt and told each other that he probably had on some really short shorts under that jacket. It was probably one of those new fashion movements we hadn't yet read about in The Times. But as we drove by, all doubt was removed, much like his pants. The funniest part for me, though, was that he didn't seem to be the least bit concerned. His confident stride was telling the world, “Yeah, I meant to do that! Ask me where my pants are. You won't believe it!”
Sadly, I doubt I could ever share such bravado. If I found myself sans pants on the streets of Manhattan on a crisp Sunday morning, I imagine myself doing all in my power to cover up around the equator. Even with my very limited fashion skills, I could have done something more creative with that ski jacket to somehow convert it to a lovely cover-all. Let's hope I never have to put that theory to the test.
Looking back, I shouldn't have been so surprised really. Random acts of fashion happen all the time in New York. It's an expected thing, almost required. With so many New Yorkers constantly blazing new fashion trails, you can't help but see it everywhere you go. Take a walk in any direction and you'll bump into a fashion photo shoot like the one we saw here on the Bowery median strip. With all the photo shoots I've stumbled upon, I'd like to think I picked up a few fashion tips along the way.
For example, always stage your photo shoot in an unusual place, like the middle of the street, an abandoned warehouse, or a pile of construction debris. I think the trick is to try to make yourself the best-looking thing around. If you present yourself tuxedo-clad standing in front of a burned-out building or in a crowded fish market, your rugged good looks are bound to stand out.
Another lesson is to look hungry. Real fashion models look like they're about to pass out from poor nutrition. Sometimes I worry about them. I've even considered starting a charity mission and naming it something like “New York Food for Fashion”. I could drive around New York, and when I find some models at a photo shoot, I could offer them a sandwich, or a handful of nuts and an energy drink. Nothing too fancy of course, but just something to get them through the rigors of the shoot.
Finally, I think the greatest fashion lesson I learned from what I've seen is something any of us could do when we're feeling a little plain and drab. Here's what you do... Put on a tuxedo or your sharpest suit and tell your girl to get on her flashiest red dress. Go out and buy her one if she's running low – I'll almost guarantee she's running low on pretty red dresses. Go ahead, ask her. Then tell her you're going out some place special. Hail a cab and head up the Bowery or any other local street in your area with a good quality median strip. If the curb is busted up or the grass is overgrown, all the better. Remember that your goal is to out-shine your surroundings. Have your photographer friend meet you there with his camera and tell him to bring the big over-sized lens to make the whole thing look legit to those driving by.
Now hop out onto the median and strike your best pose. Really ham it up and get some good shots. After all, it's your fashion photo shoot! Dance, jump, twirl around, the whole nine yards. Give it the serious look, the playful look, and the “I'm too beautiful to look into the camera” look. And when you're done, simply get back in the cab and go straight home for some flax crackers and a mineral water. When your girl asks about the restaurant, just remind her that real fashion models don't eat dinner. For extra credit, stay up the rest of the night. Then take an early morning stroll, with photographer, in your fabulous evening wear. Rest assured, you'll never forget the feeling you created with your random act of fashion.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cow Pasture Pass

Here we're taking the Jeep through one of our favorite cow pastures. Upon closer inspection, though, we see these are not cows, but some beefy bulls. All the better then to be inside the Jeep rather than outside. These are some big boys. Having lived for a few years on a farm, I learned just few things about the bovine – some things to do, some things not to do, and some useful terminology.
One of the first things I observed was that compared to the cows, the pigs were much less, well... piggish. The pig pens actually had a clean side and a dirty side. Without any obvious training that I was aware of, the pigs tended to keep their hay-filled sleeping end of the pen relatively clean, while dutifully heading to the other side to dispatch their barnyard business. This would have been very valuable knowledge to have as a child. When mom would complain that my room was a pig pen, I could have countered that no, it is not, since a pig pen is only half filthy, while my room is fully 100% a disaster. I could then point out that it would have been more accurate to describe my room as a cow pen. Proud of my wisdom and quick wit, I then would have swiftly ducked to avoid the stinging blow of mom's wooden spoon. Covered in tomato sauce from stirring the pot, the spoon's resulting splatter only served to make the room cleanup all the more difficult. But enough of that, back to the cows...
Unlike the pigs, the cows drop their loads pretty much anywhere they stand. After adding some liquid, they complete the recipe by slowly mixing with the steps of their cloven hoofs to make what I heard the farm hands call “gravy”. “Watch out for that gravy!” they would yell. And, “Hey there! Grab that shovel and scoop that gravy!”. Let me tell you, there was a lot of gravy. Calling it gravy stuck in my mind for a good while. The similarity in appearance between barnyard gravy and dinner table gravy is staggering. I had a few dry roast beef dinners before the memory faded enough to where I could again ask someone to “pass the gravy”. 
Also, from what I could tell, I don't think the cows are on to us yet. They don't seem to know what we're up to, you know, with the steaks and hamburgers and such. At least they're not letting on that they know. In general, I found them to be quite playful and curious with people. The young ones especially are like big dogs that want to be petted and chased around. I witnessed a few calves escape their pens and lead the farm hands in a game of “catch me if you can”. When they were finally caught, the disappointed look on their faces wasn't all too different from that of a third grader when recess was over. Even the adults showed an occasional playful curiosity. Here's an example...
One afternoon, I was heading to a favorite fishing spot and the quickest way to get there was to cut through a cow pasture close to the one in this picture. Usually the pasture is empty, or the cows are clear on the other side, or out about town somewhere. This particular day was no different. As I hopped the fence to cut through, I saw a herd off in the distance. I passed by, minding my own business, and they seemed to be minding theirs. 
After a few hours of harassing the local bass population, it was time to head back. I climbed back over the fence, and passed through the wooded section into the open field. Suddenly, I was startled by a noticeable change in the strategic positions of everyone involved. The herd had moved! There I was, staring at about ten to fifteen Holstein heifers who were all curiously staring right back at me. 
Not wanting to go back and walk the long way around, and having seen my farmer friends work closely with these animals every day, I thought I would just walk on through the herd to the other side and try hard to look like I knew what I was doing. Taking a deep breath, I began my slow march. Each cow's eyes were fixed on me, turning their heads slowly to follow me as I passed. As I got through the herd and kept walking with my back to them, I heard something that almost caused me to make my own instant gravy – hoof steps! I stopped and looked around. Immediately they stopped, some staring right at me, while others quickly looked away as if to play it cool, like “No big deal. We're not following you or anything like that.”
I started walking again and at once heard the hoof steps pick up again behind me. When I stopped, they stopped. When I sped up, they sped up. When I slowed, they slowed. At that one moment, I wondered if it was possible that they weren't being playful and curious after all, but rather were on to us meat lovers and saw this as an opportunity to score one for the team when nobody was looking. It's funny how a lone thought like that can take over and single-handedly decide your next move.
You guessed it... I started running for the fence. And as expected, so did the cows. I still didn't know what they had in mind, but with a dozen thousand-pound, suede-wearing freight trains on my tail I figured I wouldn't stop to ask. With a few yards to go before the fence, I threw my rod and tackle box across the rail before taking the jump, in what, to this day, must be my most athletic moment ever. No sooner did I land on the other side that I saw the whole bunch of them crash into the fence, and each other, in an attempt to make a sudden stop rather than try to make the jump themselves. Dazed and shaken, we all took a moment to gather ourselves and get up off the ground. I picked up my fishing gear and took one last look at them and they at me, as if we were all trying to figure out what had just happened. 
The rest of the walk home was uneventful, and I was never so thankful for the part that had just a plain old sidewalk for people. To this day I still don't know if the cows were wanting to play or trample, but I do know one thing for sure... I was thereafter resolved to have a little more protection, perhaps inside a Jeep, the next time I passed through a crowded cow pasture. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Back to the Future

In this scene we stumbled upon a well-preserved DeLorean DMC-12. “Great Scott! 1.21 Jigawatts!” - sorry I couldn't resist. In 2012 there's only an estimated 6,500 of these still in existence. So this is a rare site on the street. This one was making a brief stop at the local repair garage. Seeing a DeLorean makes most of us children of the 1980s think of two things... the failed DeLorean Motor Company and the 80s movie Back to the Future. In 1985, the car company was already bankrupt and the movie was making campy predictions of what the future might look like in 2015. Today in 2012, we're only 3 years shy of the real 2015. Oddly, neither the car company nor the movie's future vision turned out as expected.
First, how are we doing when compared to Back to the Future's vision of 2015? At the end of the first movie, the DeLorean had benefited from a trip to the future (our present) with a new hover unit and a Mr. Fusion reactor that turned banana peels and old beer into nuclear fuel. Wouldn't that be so awesome right now? However, if this were to happen, I'd think we would still see banana peels and old beer costing $5 per gallon. I think beer already costs more than that. The high prices would have something to do with Iran trying to refine their own beer to build a keg, or possibly investor speculation in the food garbage market. So no Mr. Fusion for us. Even in the movie's sequels it was revealed that Mr. Fusion only ran the time circuits and that the car still needed gasoline. So much for that. 
We also didn't get the hover technology. Maybe that was for the better. Hover cars sound like a great idea until you take the weekend course in creative driving on the streets of New York City. Here in New York, lane markers, street signs, and traffic signals are merely suggestions and not meant to stifle the creative driving flow of those zipping around you and cutting you off. If you're going to play this game it's better to limit yourself to two dimensions. Adding a third dimension to this adventure with hover technology should not be part of anyone's grand view of the future.
Ok, so how about the bankrupt DeLorean Motor Company? Thirty years after it went out of business a funny thing happened. There's now a new DeLorean Motor Company based in Texas. They've been dealing in used DeLoreans, parts, and restorations. And get this... they are advertising that soon you could buy a newly built DeLorean like the one from the 1980s! Go figure - even here the future is not what we would have expected.

So when I saw this DeLorean, how was I to know where or when it came from? Did it zip here from the past using the flux capacitor time circuits? Or maybe it's one of those newly-built DeLoreans from the not-so-distant future making a little appearance now to whet our appetites. No, it was neither of those. It proudly displayed its New York historical license plates. The New York DMV doesn't mess around. There has to be a clear paper trail for any such vehicle before it's awarded the historical tags. No, that DeLorean got here from the 1980s the same way I did... 30 years of hard time dodging taxis and keeping oneself fit and road worthy.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mall Crawler

In this scene we are crawling through the mall parking lot. This activity is appropriately named “mall crawling” - driving the trail rated Wrangler to shopping centers more often than through forested terrain. And it is a much maligned and debated practice among Jeep Wrangler owners. What exactly is “mall crawling”? Why is it an issue? And is it really such a bad thing? 
I learned this term reading through the Jeep Wrangler Internet forums. Search “mall crawler” and you’ll find plenty of discussions on how the Jeep was built for the trail. It is argued as the most capable off-road vehicle ever built for the consumer. The big tires (which can be swapped for bigger), high ground clearance (which can be lifted higher), and low-geared 4 wheel drive (which can be geared lower) are all said to be wasted on suburban moms and dads doing nothing more with this powerhouse than crawling the parking lot at the mall! 
I can easily see this point of view. Add to that, the beloved vehicular version of man’s best friend can be optioned-up to include heated leather seats, painted fenders and top, and electronics that would make Captain Kirk blush. But it gets worse for the die-hard off-road Jeepers. Some have observed perfectly good Jeeps modified with 22” sparkle-y wheels, low-profile tires, and enough chrome to blind a man on a cloudy day. All of these Jeeps will likely never taste the dirt, sand, and mud as they should. 
Let’s flip to the other side for a moment and see things from the alleged mall crawler’s point of view. The new Jeeps are more comfortable than older models. You can even get a 4-door now. The man (or woman for that matter) who missed his “Jeep-ortunity” when younger can get one that fits the whole family. Even the wife enjoys driving it to… where else?… the mall! Heated seats, leather, and killer electronics are in every other vehicle, so why should he sacrifice? The shiny version with paint-matched trim looks good in the city and doesn’t make the in-laws ask if he’s moving the family to a survival shelter in the mountains. Finally, the man ponders, “They built it so why should I be judged for buying it?” 
 So how did we get here? Answering that question will, I think, lead us to a peaceful state of co-existence, and dare I say, co-dependence. We all know the Jeep got it’s start in war. The United States Army needed a general purpose vehicle and went with the Willys-Overland Model MB. They named it in grand Army style as the GP for General Purpose Vehicle, pronounced “jeep” by its first drivers who must have been in some sort of hurry when speaking the acronym. They were likely getting shot at and didn’t have time to say “Quick! Let’s get in the G-P and get out of here!” the way the Army had intended. 
But there’s more… Plenty of things developed during war time became inseparable parts of regular life. I'm not saying that was a good or bad way to do it, but that's what happened. We got quicker development of things like the airplane, food preservation, and telecommunications. These advances along with the post-war prosperity led to the interstate highway system which connected the cities, and helped grow interstate commerce and manufacturing. People used those highways to move to the suburbs and build houses with room for more stuff. The desire to get more stuff to put in their houses led to… wait for it… shopping malls and general purpose vehicles to haul the stuff! You probably saw that conclusion coming. 
Think of it as one of those circle-of-life things. Just as we can fly in a jet plane that descended from a big bomber, we can drive a 4-door, family-packed, fully-loaded “Jeep of today” to the mall for some frozen yogurt and a ride on the merry-go-round for the kids. 
Where though does that leave the true off-road Jeeper who’s still a bit horrified at how things turned out? The good news is that he can still find joy in all of this. The Jeep’s popularity makes it so he can still buy one and use it for what it was designed – crawling rocks and trudging through deep mud. And there’s yet another circle-of-life thing going on here from which he benefits. That mall crawler will get traded-in after a few years. That puts an affordable used Jeep with frozen yogurt-stained seats on the market. After a lift and some big tires, it may never see the mall parking lot again. 
So… “Can’t we all just get along?”. I don’t think there was ever any question really. The results of one of those searches for “mall crawler” assured me of that. The post opened with the almost accusatory title, “Are you a mall crawler?” Inside the post, though, the writer assured, “Don’t worry, we will respect you.” And respect they did. Many came forward confessing more mall time than trail time. Some true off-roaders admitted they did a little of both and offered words of encouragement to their mall-bound Jeep brethren. In the end, everyone was happy with their Jeeps no matter where they crawled.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stay in Brooklyn

In this scene I am carefully navigating a rocky off-road mountain trail. Well, that statement is mostly true. I am carefully navigating. The “rocky off-road mountain trail” part is where the truth gets stretched a bit. It started as an effort to go out and do what rough and tough Jeep drivers do best. It ended with a single Facebook comment that all but shut down the man-parade.
I was visiting some friends in upstate New York one weekend. It was Saturday afternoon and everyone had some personal business to do before we would get together that evening. With a few hours on my hands, I hopped in the Jeep and headed to the only place nearby where one could even pretend to go off-road.
A few miles up the way was an old vacation community situated on the side of a small mountain. It's a quiet neighborhood of cottages that were used decades ago by city folk as upstate summer vacation homes. Today, most of the cottages are either abandoned or converted to year-round living. There's one long main road up the mountain and a network of trails that shoot off to the left and right as you climb. The trails range in quality from paved to rocky, with the ones at the top being the least maintained and best suited for some bumpy rides in a Jeep. “Here's where I'll have a little fun”, I thought.
And fun it was! I found the roughest of trails near the top, shifted into four wheel drive and had at it. The toughest section is actually a seldom used connector between two other main trails. That's where I snapped the picture. It looks like I'm deep in the woods, crawling the rocks, but I'm actually just about a hundred yards from the next cottage. But what a great shot to post on Facebook to impress my friends! So I posted.
I checked Facebook a little later and saw that a friend posted a reply. He said it was “Cool!” A short time later and another friend left more ego-boosting praise. I was feeling good. Then someone noticed the Jeep hood and asked about the kind of tires I have. This was great. I had a fun time on a bunny trail, posted a cool picture, and was getting all kinds of attention for my mad driving skills. How could this get any better!?
The answer soon came in the very next post. Everyone has this Facebook friend. It was none other than mom. Mom saw my picture. She must have read the posts from all my friends who thought I was cool and daring, and that wanted to know what kind of knobby tires I was riding on that would let me traverse such devilish terrain. Surely she could see the trend and be so kind as to add to it with some made up story about her backwoods offspring that chewed through the bars of his crib as a baby because he was already too wild to be confined!
So what did mom (whom I love and respect dearly, in case she reads this) write under my picture? Simply... “Please stay in Brooklyn where it's safe.”