Gettin' some kicks with a new Serenity Overdrive pedal from my buddy Matt Pasquerella at Stomp Under Foot. This pedal is a beast!
This traffic is just ridiculous, all bumpers and brake lights. Look, there goes some dad trying to shoehorn his sedan into this lane. Horns are blaring now. Welcome to the car loop at my daughter's elementary school. Never have I seen so many agitated faces behind the wheel. Freshly caffeinated and late for work, this crowd isn't very friendly. I admit, I'm pretty wound up myself. But I get a strange kick out of watching the mayhem unfold. Here's hoping the efficiency of this morning routine improves as the school year wears on ... for the sake of all these hotheads ... and me ... oh, and the kids.
To Edgar Allan Poe, Sullivan's Island on the coast of South Carolina consisted "of little else than the sea sand" and was "separated from the main land by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of weeds and slime."
That was back in 1827, when Poe had been dispatched to the island's Fort Moultrie, newly enlisted in the U.S. Army and yet to spawn his brooding brand of literary creepiness.
Today, Sullivan's Island is a wonderland of opulent beach houses and hip watering holes, set against swaying palms and sparkling Atlantic breakers. It's a locale beloved by locals and tourists alike, most of them pouring in from nearby Charleston.
It certainly was a fun place this week to tool around on cruisers with my wife and brother, the wind in our hair, sandy pathways crackling under our tires, and the ghost of Mr. Poe chasing us from the shadows, his words stirring the imagination: "Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”
The petite white-haired woman at the front desk of the history museum in downtown Juneau quickly collected my $6 admission fee. I proceeded to ask her a few questions about this soggy capital city along Alaska's Inside Passage, but my inquiries were met with terse we're-done-here responses.
Then I got personal. How long have you lived in Alaska? "I've been in Juneau my whole life," she said, eyes beginning to twinkle, mouth almost, just almost, forming a smile.
Have you ever wanted to live someplace else, someplace in the Lower 48? "Why would I leave? I've never had any reason to leave. Alaska is my home and it's magnificent." She went on to tell me about her parents, and about their parents, all of whom proudly raised their families in Juneau and worked on fishing boats and in mining and construction. She is deeply rooted in these snowy peaks and ancient glaciers.
And my new friend is right, of course. Alaska is magnificent. It's cold and rainy (and far worse in winter) and it's difficult to reach and maneuver, but it rewards visitors with unspoiled wilderness and views that quicken the heart and lift the spirit. This place is big and bold and ethereal.
Perhaps no one captures the vibe better than naturalist John Muir, who left us these words about southeast Alaska more than a century ago: "Tracing shining ways through fjord and sound, past forests and waterfalls, islands and mountains and far azure headlands, it seems as if surely we must at length reach the very paradise of poets, the abode of the blessed."
Yep, he nailed it.
They're slivers of another language, glimpses into another world. A kid's kinetic Minecraft world.
"Look at that noob over there. Target that guy!"
"The only way to re-gen is with a golden apple, which are really hard to get."
"Remember TBNR? We trolled the poop out of that dude."
"I've got this bro, hold on. Ahhhhhoooooo .... booowwwww!"
These are the types of verbal assaults we hear from our son's bedroom whenever he plays Minecraft with his friends online, doing whatever it is they do on there. Sometimes my wife and I lose patience when he stays on too long. And I have to wonder if his passion for the game, to put it mildly, is a little unhealthy.
But he's a good kid, really, and well-rounded. He's a boss on the basketball court. And he makes straight A's.
I honestly don't know how to size up this Minecraft addiction. Is it robbing him of more adventurous real-life fun? Or is it actually honing his social skills and tech savvy and giving him tools needed to be assertive in the adult world and effectively manage conflict?
"All I know is he's soooooo loud," says my wife, as our 12-year-old blurts out another indecipherable directive over his headset to some other kid, in some other town, with some other set of perplexed parents asking the same questions.
"Wait, this is where we got lost last time," the young female voice said, overheard from at least two bookshelves away. I'd already been lost myself an hour or so, literally and figuratively.
Today I made a pilgrimage to the granddaddy of all used bookstores, Chamblin Bookmine in Jacksonville, Florida. I make it a point to visit used bookstores wherever I travel, and I've visited scores of them, some of them great, some not so much. This one, though, this rambling maze of connecting rooms stuffed with tomes from floor to ceiling, must be the biggest and best in the world.
"Wow, I hit the jackpot," a boy, who'd harvested an impressive stack of paperbacks, said to his dad, a frazzled man trying to usher his kid out of this time-sucking monster of a store.
I did indeed get lost, venturing into dead ends and rooms that only led to more rooms, as I combed the overflowing walls of Classics, Essays, Travel Writing and, my favorite category, Writers on Writing (super nerd that I am). Eventually, after three hours, I paid a pittance for a few selections and found my way back outside to my car, the sunny afternoon turned to pouring rain.
A former citizen of this fine community, I dropped by several other Jacksonville landmarks to reacquaint myself with my old stomping grounds and chalked up this adventure as one of the coolest day trips I've ever taken.
We slowed the boat to a near standstill and cut the engine. In silence we contemplated the sublime majesty before us: A bald eagle, poised and self-assured, perched atop a mossy cypress tree.
Over the years we'd caught glimpses of the gorgeous lakes of Windermere, Florida, from the road or shoreline but never experienced them from their surfaces. Until today. With our friendly and knowledgeable guides Roger and Steve from Orlando Lake Tours, we ventured onto the Butler Chain of Lakes for a morning of sightseeing and nature gazing. On these waters you get an up-close look at nesting ospreys, pelicans and other noble birds as well as the sprawling homes of famous athletes and timeshare titans.
When I booked this excursion a few days ago, my kids wondered why I would cut into their free time with such an unnecessary diversion. They're singing a different tune now, of course, and can't stop talking about that wondrous eagle and all the fun they had.
We knew something was wrong the moment I started the car. An eerie whistling noise emanated from under the hood. The battery light came on. Really? On my day off?
But there we were, at least 10 miles from home, and wishful thinking set in. The engine was running so I figured driving was still an option. Fingers crossed.
Less than a mile into our journey the dashboard lights began flickering off and on. The gas and temperature gauges rose and fell. The car jerked in convulsions. It was a scene straight out of Poltergeist, my 2006 Honda Odyssey possessed by pesky little demons. Moments later we lost all electrical power, the engine shut down and I barely had enough momentum to roll into a parking lot off the road.
"Sounds like the alternator," said Josh in the service department of my Honda dealer, and he was right. Five hours later, after towing the car, making the repair and agonizing over whether it's time the replace my minivan (it's pushing 107,000 miles) with something more manly, I picked up my prized ride and headed home.
I must say I was relieved. This car ... this minivan ... MY minivan ... still drives like a dream. I can't bear the thought of parting with it. Besides being able to cram all kinds of stuff in it (bikes, guitars, luggage, family members), it's quick and nimble and comfortable.
The mechanic told me I can probably get another 100,000 miles out of this puppy if I treat it right, and I'm shooting for that. Chuckle all you want, folks, but this dad loves his Honda Odyssey. Oh, if you're ever wondering which one is mine, just look for the electric guitar license tag on the front bumper. Who says minivans can't rock?
"We usually require collars but I'll let it slide," the guy in the pro shop said. That was a good thing, considering my son and I had just arrived at the country club on our bikes, sweating in our T-shirts, deciding on a whim to smack some golf balls.
After a quick credit card swipe we were headed to the driving range, lugging a full set of clubs and a bucket of 75 balls.
The timing wasn't great. It was early afternoon, clear skies, scorching Florida sun, insane heat index. Oh, and no sunscreen.
Still, we couldn't have had more fun. We laughed so hard at our pathetic performance we almost cried. Once every 10 strokes or so, one of us would actually propel a ball in a forward direction more than a few feet. Mostly, we just clubbed the ground, kicking up dirt and drawing snooty looks from the more appropriately dressed fellows to our right and left.
Golfers we surely are not. I'd call us hackers if I thought we had that much potential. But few endeavors have been as entertaining lately as our ill-timed, laughable and downright deplorable appearance on the links.
Tonight I lucked into one of the last seats in the house at Rollins College for a free performance/presentation by one of my guitar heroes, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. I'd seen him play before (he lives in Orlando) but didn't realize he was such a good-humored storyteller. Between songs on a 12-string acoustic, he recalled his folk roots in Chicago, his days as a songwriter for hire in New York's Brill Building, his role in L.A.'s psychedelic 60s and of course his participation in all things Byrds. Musical genius, pure and simple, and still a creative force at age 72.
Few things are as downright silly as a Harlem Globetrotters game. The experience is really more comedy show than sporting event, of course. And in a world tormented by terrorism, economic instability and the Kardashians, who can't use a wacky, laugh-out-loud diversion?
So the fam packed into the minivan and steered toward Orlando's Amway Center, where we enjoyed prime seating for a performance of everyone's favorite exhibition basketball team.
These guys bounce basketballs off each other's butts. They spin the ball on their fingertips and heads and backs. They stage slapstick stunts and pull embarrassing pranks on their long-standing rivals (the poor Washington Generals). They masterfully dribble and dunk and even dance.
In short, they entertain. And every member of the audience whoops and hollers and has a fantastic time.
I remember my dad taking me to a Globetrotters game back in the late 1970s in Greensboro, N.C. The legendary Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal brought the house down with their nutty antics and extraordinary athleticism. I thought they were the most amazing players I'd ever seen, guys who mixed theater and sport with a strong dose of hilarity.
Today's show was exactly the same. Only this time I got to see my own kids giggle and take home memories of this storied basketball squad, one that inspires us to strive for precision and excellence as much as it forces us to drop our concerns and just laugh. Long live the Globetrotters!
The streets of Charleston are almost completely still.
A bell tolls solemnly from the steeple of St. Philip's Church, much as it has for the past 164 years.
A woman offers a soft "Merry Christmas" as we pass each other along the stately Battery. The historic harbor is hushed and smooth as glass.
If there's an ideal time to stroll this fair city, a place increasingly swamped with visitors, it's the morning of December 25. And this Christmas, it is peaceful and slow and oozing with charm.
For the umpteenth time since my childhood, I return to Charleston, S.C., and can't stop myself from taking photos. For me, few things are as soothing and aesthetically pleasing as a lazy walk "South of Broad," particularly on a quiet and coldish morning when most everyone is someplace else.
The poet James Dickey put it well after one of his own pilgrimages to this beautiful bastion of the old south. "Wonderful trip to Charleston this weekend with family. The weather was lovely, the city was lovely, the houses and walled gardens were lovely. Everything was as lovely as it is possible for things to be in Charleston, and that is lovely indeed."
"Hark, now hear the sailors cry,
smell the sea, and feel the sky
let your soul and spirit fly,
into the mystic."
― Van Morrison
When this started back in May, we didn't think much of it, other than it was expensive and time-consuming and not something we thought would last very long.
Two evenings a week, for two hours at a pop, we took our daughter to gymnastics team practice, an experience my wife and I frankly didn't love but that our little girl seemed to enjoy more and more. I must admit, we pondered how we could pull the plug on this commitment and steer our girl toward something requiring less capital outlay and fewer commutes across town.
Then our daughter surprised us all, as she has a habit of doing. In her first gymnastics meet, she absolutely killed it, accepting five medals (including first-place all-around in her age division) to the thunderous applause of a crowd of parents and kids.
Just look at the smile on her face. The pride. The joy.
Lesson learned: Don't ever think of re-routing or getting in the way of a determined child, especially one as spunky and bold and dedicated as our budding gymnast.
Levelheaded perspectives on
Click here for a selection of
Click here for Guitar Dad's