The United States of Inspiration, Pt. 2

DramaFree

Destination Buffalo Lake, Minnesota. That’s about a 16 hour drive from where I was staying in Tennessee. I don’t like to drive more than ten hours in a day if I can help it because of safety reasons. Driving tired is a terrible idea. Luckily, a friend let me stay at their home in Galesburg, Illinois the night of August 11th, cutting that trip almost in half. On the 12th I made it to “The Drama Free Zone.”

Sean Lindahl owns a sprawling piece of property with a two-story farm house and various outbuildings fenced on either side by acres of corn. His house is currently in a state of flux with some rooms finished to a fine degree of craftsmanship while most are lucky to have wallboards and are stripped down to the 2x4s. Sean works on other people’s houses for a living so he gets to his own when he can.

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When I arrived at his home others were pulling in as well, wearing shirts from the previous years’ Seanfires. (The shirts feature the Seanfire logo along with a fire character. This year’s shirt also had my logo and the fire guy was strumming a ukulele.) Some folks were family, others just really good friends. Sheri, Sean’s girlfriend, was there as was her dad who joked irreverently with his best friend all night long. There were some young ‘uns and various dogs. Most of the eating and drinking activity centered around a shed as crockpots and foil containers were stacked around on shelves and beer was available in coolers. I could not believe it but they had spelled out my name on a smaller shed with lights.

After settling in and meeting everybody, I set up and played for about two hours while the revelers hung out. It was a party so some listened while others flowed back to the shed for more Grain Belt and other beers, delicious barbecue (cooked by Sean the day before on his handmade grill pit), many side dishes and other beverages. A shot ski was employed with four imbibers shooting Fireball and “apple pie” moonshine. On the bottom of the shot ski, seen as it was tilted back, was painted the words “So Dumb.” As I got close to my final song, “I Like It Hot,” the fire starter was cued and a plume of flame shot up behind me. Seanfire.

Seanfire

It was a great party. Some folks saw the sun rise while I hit the hay about 2am. I had a gig the next day in New Germany, an hour away and wanted to be somewhat fresh. The night was peaceful and Dave the Cat slept with me for awhile. The morning was chilly, only about 56 degrees. I came downstairs to see if anyone was awake. Sean appeared, trying to find his cell phone and shirt, both of which had separated from him during the night. Someone sprawled on the couch, others camped outside in tents and campers. Breakfast was an awesome casserole, coffee and light hearted conversation.

The next show was at Jill’s Down South Bar in New Germany. Owned by Jilann Paehlke, the bar is a fun atmosphere to make you feel like you’ve escaped to the tropics. The decor is colorful and very reminiscent of south Florida inside and out. At the bar you can order a variety of macro as well as micro brews. Out in the courtyard are fun tiki heads, beach themed furniture and a covered stage for entertainment. This particular Sunday they were hosting an open jam run by singer-songwriter Bill Litzau and friends.

While on stage I was surprised by the arrival of singer songwriter and musician extraordinaire Donny Brewer along with his wife Michelle and Radio Trop Rock’s owners Eric and Gina Babin. They had played a house concert venue not too far away just the night before. We caught up while some other folks jammed on stage. Also in the yard were friends John Sherwin, Patrick Petersen, Linda Robb and John Ritter plus Sean, Sheri and more friend from the previous night’s party arrived. I think they found their new favorite hang out.

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Donny and I got up to do a few tunes and the crowd was having a blast. Donny is an accomplished guitarist and a joy to listen to. He’s great at getting the audience involved. Later, one of the patrons handed him a vintage Stratocaster guitar and he wailed on Jimi Hendrix’s song “Little Wing.”

We parted company later on in the evening. Donny and company were on their way to Pennsylvania and the next day I would be heading to Kansas. Sheri and I enjoyed a delicious pizza at Jill’s Bar, then headed back to Sean’s house to chill with friends, the dogs and Dave the Cat.

The following morning I packed the car and bid farewell to my dear friends and hit the road south. Next stop, Valley Center, KS, just north of Wichita.

Driving through states I’d never travelled through before was fun. Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, all farming states with quaint towns. I enjoyed the approximately ten hour drive and was putting some serious mileage on the car. The house concert venue in Valley Center is called The Backyard and is at the home of Bill and Debbie Haas. I had pretty much introduced Bill to Trop Rock music when he heard my song “TropiGal” and contacted me on Facebook to find out more. Years later he and Debbie have their own house concert space. The yard is comfy and spacious with a small stage and pop up tents with chairs underneath. Of course it’s decorated tropically in true Parrot Head fashion and is a nice place to play beneath the trees.

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After I arrived and met some of the family I did my best to befriend the cats, especially the black cat, Marley. I really felt at home. The next morning we went to breakfast and Bill and Debbie drove me around to do a couple of errands. Afterwards I worked on some music and prepared for the show. Again, it was a “school” night so we had a small but mighty group of friends. I decided to do “Wichita Lineman” instead of “Rhinestone Cowboy” this time. It seemed apropos. I played mostly original music and told stories and had fun. A train could be heard coming through nearby several times which made an interesting background to some of my songs.

The next morning came all too soon and it was time to begin the trek East towards Philippi, WV. The fun part was, my friend Kirstin would be joining me for a few days so I headed towards St. Louis Lambert International Airport to pick her up.

Part 3 is next…

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The United States of Inspiration Pt. 1

Time to hit the road.

It’s now mid to late September and we evacuated because of a hurricane, but that’s in a different blog which I’ll write soon.

I went on a short tour in August. I had lots of reasons to travel, the primary reason being I owed some folks house concerts. In July 2016 I put out a new CD, “At the End of a Long Road.” For funding, I used Kickstarter and a few friends supported at a level where I promised them a house concert. These are the kinds of friends you don’t want to disappoint. But, how to make this happen?

Sean Lindahl and Sheri Benson are such GREAT friends. They live in up North in Minnesota. I originally got to know them through our home bar, The Cork and Stogie, 1218 Duval Street, Key West. Sean and Sheri are also friends with Dave Senior, Leslie and Diamond Dave (Dave Jr.) from the Cork and often came to Key West to do interior carpentry and home remodeling. My partner Key West Chris and I met Sean aboard the USCG Museum ship The Ingham a couple of years ago in January, hanging out and watching the sunset with our friends mentioned above. We became fast friends very quickly and met Sheri when she came down to join Sean for a week.

They are, really, the sweetest people and they love to have a good time. About 7 years ago they created an event called “Seanfire.” Sheri had a very old couch she wanted to burn. According to “legend,” Sean announced, “Such a large fire cannot be enjoyed by only two people.” He probably raised an index finger during the proclamation. Thus, the bonfire became Seanfire and was held at Sean’s home in Buffalo Lake, MN, the second Saturday in August. A funny thing is they forgot to burn the couch. The couch was eventually burned two years later behind the barn. What does this have to do with my topic? Everything. Seanfire 7 was to be held August 12, 2017, and I signed on to be the entertainment.

I couldn’t just do one date, of course. If I was going to Minnesota I was going to make sure I had other dates on the way up and on the way back. I would be driving, after all. I needed a PA so it made sense to pack up my Bose L1 Compact. Looking at the map, I saw Tennessee was on the way. I called Danny Lynn of Tiki Man Radio and we settled on Tuesday the 10th. After several messages and calls I had a three week tour set up. Checking my email I noticed CDBaby (see album link above), one company that I sell my music through (and also the company that helps me collect royalties) was having a convention in Nashville. That seemed like the perfect end to my tour so I bought my ticket and booked the hotel room. Being as busy as we are in Key West, playing music, I had to be efficient with timing. Luckily our friend Bobby DeVito was available to be a surrogate Shanty Hound for Key West Chris.

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Bahia Honda bridge

Full of trepidation after not leaving the Keys for more than a few days in 3 1/2 years, I hit the road on Monday, September 7th. My first stop would be Melbourne, FL, for an overnight stay with my friends Kate and Jerry. They live in the unincorporated part of Melbourne by Floridana Beach. I arrived in the evening and Kate and I, like those moths to the flame, headed to the local bar known as SBI or Sebastian Beach Inn.

We hung out in the back on the deck. It was late Monday night, so very quiet, with only a few locals and a cool bartender. One of the guys called out, “Turtle on the beach!” Excitedly we ran to the rail to watch a female Loggerhead drag herself through the darkness with tremendous labor onto the sand and out of the charging surf. She was dragged back by the beating waves but managed to pull herself forward inch by inch. In the dark, her flippers tossed sand into the air as she excavated the hole into which she would deposit her eggs. For some reason I turned 180 degrees to look at the dark sky just in time to see a shooting star blazing downward. While we were there four turtles buried their clutches. What an auspicious beginning to my tour.

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The next morning, after a good breakfast with Kate, Jerry and their Papillions Bama and Candy, I hit the road for the Panama City or, more specifically, Saint Andrews.

Saint Andrews is a quaint historic town near the Panama City Beaches. Jeff Brewer and the Panama City Parrothead Club attended along with some other friends. Diana and Tim have a wonderful pub known as The Mariner’s Daughter. Serving beer and wine, they also have an adorable gift store of sundry items.

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Before the show I grabbed an oyster po-boy from Hunt’s Oyster Bar across the street. It was epic! I rarely say “epic,” by the way. Delicious food, busy oyster shuckers, cheap beer. You can’t beat it.

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I played for a couple of hours and was so grateful to the folks at the Mariner’s Daughter. It was great to see Cathi and Wayne Edwards with their parrot, Mr. Utley. Thanks to Susanna Russell for giving me a place to spend the night. Even Woody Jenkins stopped by! I couldn’t believe it.

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On August 11th, I got in the car and headed for the Tropics of Tennessee.

I realize Tennessee is not tropical. The whole “tropic” thing, for those not aware of the Parrot Head lifestyle, is that “tropical” is a state of mind. Those who embrace the tropical lifestyle can live in Florida or Alaska and anywhere in between, but the key is to celebrate and support our communities by “partying with a purpose,” no matter where you live. My destination, The Tiki Bar, is a place where the tropical lifestyle is exemplified. So, I headed to Harrison Bay near Chattanooga.

With many thanks to the River City Parrot Heads for attending and the Tiki Man and Original Hippie Chick for hosting my show on a Thursday night during the beginning of the school year. The Tiki Bar is at a private home but, oh, what a home it is, with an outdoor tiki bar and pool and the Chocolate Bar inside featuring a long bar, pool table and a card table plus a long line of alcohol delights. It is a bar, after all.

The Tiki Man broadcast the show on his radio station and it was a fun night. With the recent passing away of Glen Campbell I couldn’t help but play “Rhinestone Cowboy,” a favorite of mine and my cousins when we were younger, playing the 45 on our plastic turntable. I also felt I should play “Tin Cup Chalice” by Jimmy Buffet. “I want to go back to the islands…” I played plenty of originals but we had some great sing-alongs like “Wagon Wheel.” So many of these folks that showed up I now know as friends.

The next day, I hit the road again. Time to head to Seanfire.

To be continued…

The Sea is Calling

Two years ago I bought a Motorola Droid phone at our local Verizon store in Key West. It’s been a great device for business and pleasure.  I recently bought a nice, new, protective cover for it with a photo of the wooden mileage sign from Fort Zachary Taylor Beach on the back. Carrying my Droid everywhere, I often shoved it into the back pocket of my shorts.

About a week ago Chris, my partner, musical and otherwise, and I biked over to the Green Parrot Bar late at night for a beverage and some warm, salty popcorn. Jeff and Beaver were behind the bar and we settled in for a bit. Chris put some money in the juke box but we didn’t stay long enough to be able to hear the songs he selected. Exiting the Parrot, we mounted our trusty bikes, heading south on Whitehead toward home.

I must not have heard the clatter of my phone popping out of my pocket because I got home without it. I had no luck locating it that night or the next day so I reported it missing to the police, posted it lost on the Facebook page “Key West Lost & Found,” then proceeded to Verizon Wireless to pick up a replacement. The Droid had almost been paid for so maybe it was time for a new one anyway.

Instead of opting for the insured replacement I selected the new Motorola Moto Z so I could walk out the door and communicate immediately. The sales associate was a young guy and very helpful. I sent out texts, began to move apps around and renew my digital phone existence. I took a liking to the phone immediately. The camera app is much more sophisticated than my old phone.

Later that day I received a call from someone with a 305 area code. They didn’t leave a message so I shrugged it off and ignored it. I rarely answer my phone if I don’t recognize the caller ID, so leave a message if you really want to talk to me. When I got home and checked Facebook on my Macbook I discovered that someone had found my lost phone! It had turned up at the Coast Guard ship museum the CGC Ingham, located at the end of Southard Street, a few blocks from the Green Parrot. I called the 305 number back to find out the call earlier was from a man that worked on the ship. I pedaled over and retrieved my phone. The cover was broken on the front and the phone was in setup mode but otherwise okay. At least now I would have a backup phone.

Then, this past Saturday, on a fabulously clear day, I went out on a boat.

Our friends Tadd and Lindsay have a fabulous catamaran, the Makara. She is 47 feet long, has four staterooms, a lovely kitchen and living area. She was built in South Africa and shipped to Key Largo where they picked her up and brought her to Key West, settling in a slip at Safe Harbor on Stock Island. Their business, World Sailing Adventures, is all about the Makara, which is available for charters and excursions. The Makara is also their home. Contact them for a great experience. They are amazing.

The Makara
The Catamaran Makara

As a bit of a mutual advertising deal, we decided to go out on the water to do music videos. The idea of the videos, which are under construction, is to showcase the charter business along with our original music, as Chris and I are songwriters and recording/performing artists. Armed with guitars, video cameras, tripods and phones, we headed out to the reef in the afternoon. On the way out we ran around making short videos of the boat, water, sail raising, anything atmospheric and fun.

Finally, we arrived at the reef. I was anxious to get done so we could get into the water to cool off. Chris was chatting with a couple on the boat so I grabbed his guitar, the video camera and my phone, which was attached to a mini tripod by one of those light metal clips, and headed forward on the boat on the starboard side.

Suddenly, I heard a click sound as the metal clip popped off the tripod. This had happened earlier. Why had I trusted it this time? Guitar in one hand, recorder and empty tripod in the other, I watched as my phone landed on the deck, then popped over the edge of the boat into its watery grave, 20 feet below. As with most things of this nature, it appeared to happen in slow motion. Filled with disbelief, I continued forward to the trampoline to put everything down so I could process what had just happened. Chris came forward and, laughing, I explained what had just happened and that I needed a hug.

Tadd threw an empty mouthwash bottle over the side with a long piece of line and a weight to mark the spot of my phone’s demise. We all snorkeled, checking out the amazing reef below, known as The Western Sambo Ecological Reserve, and looked for my phone near the marked area. Tadd even took a diving mask and tank down to the bottom but had no luck. We snorkeled for probably an hour or more, enjoying the sea fans, coral and colorful fish, before giving up on finding my device. I really feel terrible that my phone is part of this reef. I should have been more careful.

I know this sort of thing has happened to lots of folks. We all make mistakes. Mistakes are a chance to learn what not to do next time. I’ve learned not to put my cell phone in my back pocket, not to carry too many things on a boat (always have one hand free), not to trust those flimsy metal phone holders, and, when something falls overboard, not to wait too long to alert the crew. I’ve also learned that I’ve had to pay a lot of money over the past week. Thank goodness I have insurance on the phone. It could have been a lot more painful otherwise.

So, on Tuesday I get a new phone in the mail. In the meantime, I’m aware of what it’s like NOT to have this constant digital companion clamoring for attention with its constant notifications and noises. Having one is a pleasure, plus they are extremely useful, but also there is the price of not being focused on what’s going on around you or the people you are with. I’m contemplating how to minimize my new phone’s impact on my daily life without losing the ability to react on important matters in a timely way.

Here is one of the last photos I took with my drowned phone, saved to the Google cloud. It is just past sunset at the Key West Historic Seaport. If I get a call from a mermaid, I’ll let you know.

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Going Live

Here, in Key West, I perform as part of a duo called “The Shanty Hounds.” The duo is comprised of myself and Key West Chris Rehm. Both of us are singer songwriters and found that combining our complimentary skills in music makes for a fun and engaging show. We do lots of covers, some of our originals, and bits of schtick. We take the music seriously but at some points I play a banana shaker, tambourine and kazoo. At the same time. That gets some laughs. People really seem to have a fun time at our gigs.

For the past three years we have played a variety of venues in Key West and up the Keys, but the place that gave us a chance to hone our musical chops the most has been at Grunts Bar, 409 Caroline Street, Key West, a wine and beer bar just off the busiest block on Duval Street. We perform there twice a week, Sundays and Thursdays, from 8-11pm. Mostly we have a trio which includes Bob Tucker on bass and vocals. Bob also plays with The Bubba System, the band that provides music at Grunts on Fridays and Saturdays. Lately, on Thursdays, John Sausser has been drumming with us because we are getting ready to record a live CD album.

The CD will feature mostly original music penned by Chris and I. Some of the songs have been recorded in the studio and some not, such as “Yippee Cayo Hueso,” one of Chris’s songs. We will be doing an extended version of my song “I Like It Hot.” We will also do “The Beach!!!” and “Gone Native.” Our signature ending song, written by Chris, is “Tote the Load,” a country style song about a couple that are traveling musicians. Here are a couple of links to our original music: Dani Hoy  Chris Rehm

We will also have a couple of our best cover songs, the ones we are known for and can get licensing to use without too much work. “The plan” is have the CD done by late summer/early fall. We are running a Kickstarter for it. We need about $351 and have ten days to go to make that happen. It’s not an expensive CD since we don’t need to go into the studio. The rewards include the CD, The Shanty Hounds tee-shirt and coozie. You can support our effort by clicking this link: Kickstarter

Getting this project together for me seemed like a logical step in our music development. We have songs that I feel need to be heard outside of Key West but done in our live style. Studio albums are great for radio but they don’t really capture the essence of a band like a live recording.

Thanks for reading, thanks for pitching in on the Kickstarter, and we hope to see you sometime in Key West.

I Got the Fever… Taking a break and some Key West history

I got sick. That’s where I’ve been.

When sick in Key West, denizens frequently refer to having the “Key West Crud.” I don’t know why we blame the illness on Key West. Viruses go around. We have visitors from all over the world and they bring their viruses and bacteria along. Some blame the cruise ship visitors. Honestly, viruses come from all over. They are designed to procreate by spreading. Investigate the scientific background of these replicators. They require a host, a moist environment, certain temperatures. While making sure they continue to thrive, they are busy invading your body and making you miserable.

Whatever you call it, I have miserable for over three weeks and now have a sinus infection. Joy. Being a professional singer, this is not my ideal circumstance. My voice has been rather “husky” lately. My throat is extremely sore. I’ve missed a few gigs. Today I went to Urgent Care and picked up antibiotics, steroids, Virtussin and Flonase. They were very helpful. I came home and I slept a lot.

I should complain. In the 1800’s, Key West summers brought dire consequences. People from all walks off life suffered and died from the Yellow Fever. No one really understood at the time where it came from. Summer would arrive and folks would die horribly. Symptoms began with typical flu symptoms such as fever, aches and vomiting. Then jaundice would set in, the yellow of “Yellow Fever”, followed by bleeding from every orifice. Finally, liver and kidney failure was followed by seizures and coma, then death. People blamed the transient sailors that came to town, “bad air” from the cemetery. No one knew it was actually a mosquito borne illness.

These days in Key West and other tropical areas mosquito control is important. Here in Key West we have our own mosquito control organization Mosquito Control District. They have a helicopter and, during the summer, do announced fly overs releasing larvicide to kill mosquito eggs. After heavy rains it’s important to police your property. I go out, empty pots, bowls, any container that has filled with even just a few tablespoons of water. Mosquitos can lay eggs in just the tiniest amount of water. We also keep lots of repellent on hand. Mosquito Control frequently visits neighborhoods to investigate any areas where people are not being vigilant. We live in a tropical climate. People often take mosquito borne illnesses for granted because someone else is doing a fantastic job keeping us safe.

So, yeah, I’ve been sick. It’s nothing deathly but enough to keep me from having enough energy to write. Maybe it’s the codeine in the cough syrup that has given me enough loopiness to write this. I’m also currently listening to exotica music and roasting root veggies. I don’t know what this illness is but it certainly is NOT the Yellow Fever.

Stay well, friends.

And I Ran

Not too long after I moved to Key West I required surgery on my right knee. My ACL tendon had finally become completely detached, resembling a “spaghetti monster” with many tentacles. Tearing the meniscus in my right knee made it completely unstable and I could hardly walk. After surgery it took months to fully get my strength and mobility back. Now, almost three years later, I’ve started running for exercise.

Also, I recently turned 49 years of age. A few folks have suggested running may not be what I should be doing. They could be right. However, I enjoy running and I’m giving it a try in spite of their kind advice. I’m attempting to be logical about my approach to it (choosing a good but not expensive running show, working my way up from intervals, etc.) to minimize injuries. Now that I’ve been running for a couple of months I’m working on doing three mile runs, three times a week, in addition other types of exercise. Lately I’m slowing down a little to make sure I can finish the mileage without as much fatigue. I’m feeling pretty good and my legs are getting muscular.

Unfortunately after my surgery and subsequent disability I packed on some pounds. I’ve lost about ten so far and feel healthier but still struggle. Now, with regular exercise, getting the diet/eating plan down is an important part of the plan. There is way too much temptation living in this food and drinking mecca. Being healthy is becoming more of a priority and focus and I’m trying to be more mindful.

I love running, walking, biking on this beautiful island of Key West. Many others seem to feel the same. There are various gyms, yoga centers, opportunities to kayak and paddleboard. A couple of “fitness parks” can be found here, one next to the tennis courts and by the dog park on the corner of White and Atlantic by Higg’s Beach.

I stopped at the park one day and was stretching when I was approached by three older folks who appeared to be on their way to Salute, a Mediterranean restaurant. I said, “Hello,” and they were friendly in return, but one says to me, “Exercise? Really?” I responded, “Well, it feels so good when I stop.” It really does. The improvements in my health, posture and energy have all been worth it so far.

Off the Rock

Any time we travel out of the Keys, we say we’re going “off the Rock.” This chain of islands we exist on is a delicate string of saltwater pearls made of coral rock and mostly limestone. It takes a little more than 2 1/2 hours to travel from Key West to Key Largo, then to the “18-mile stretch” of highway bordered by blue barriers until you get to the upper part of Card Sound Road, the Last Chance Saloon and Florida City. Beyond is Miami to the east and the Everglades to the west.

Leaving the Keys is a lot like leaving Narnia and reentering the real world. Driving the interstate is maniacal and frightening. Enormous shopping centers are unheard of through the Keys so on the mainland we can go to places like Ikea and Target, among others. Before Key West got their Taco Bell back people would go on runs to the mainland just to bring back chalupas for their friends. Returning to the Keys is a relief from the rat race even with the usual shopping and dining limitations.

Recently my partner Key West Chris and I traveled to the mainland to play a couple of house concerts. We are testing the waters by going farther afield to perform and, so far, it’s been a great experience. Many of our friends live in Florida and come out to see us. This past weekend we played Art & Darlene’s house, known as Destination D’Arts, and also J & L’s Lei Low which is the home of Jesse and Linda Harrison. Playing house concerts is an intimate and fun experience whether you have a packed house or a small appreciative group. Basically a house concert is just that. Kind folks open up their home to you, invite their friends, and you play music for them. Usually there is a potluck and something for charity. Check into if you have any in your area. They are great fun.

In May we will be traveling back to SW Florida to play at Common Grounds Meeting Hall in North Port May 20th, and “Vinny and Moe’s Lobstaritaville” in Cape Coral May 21st. In June 16th we will be at The Habitat in Bradenton for the first time with our friends B-Man & Mi-shell. On June 17th we will be at Diablo Creek in Englewood with them as well. Danny Lynn of Tiki Man Radio will also be there broadcasting live.

Besides playing music we also get to spend time with our wonderful friends who are the most amazing, hospitable people you can imagine. We head back to the Rock with happy memories. It’s about the only reason we don’t mind leaving the Keys for the madness of the mainland.

Thanks to Terri Hood for the photo above. She performs under the name “Toes in the Sand.”

Visit my website for more information on where you can see me perform.

Biking around Key West

I may have mentioned this in an earlier post but the first time I truly fell in love with Key West was when I was on a bicycle, riding around, getting lost, all by myself.

When people come to visit I always tell them to ditch their car. Parking here, at best, is problematic and expensive. Parking in most city lots will cost you up to $30 per day. On neighborhood streets throughout the city many spaces are marked as “Residential Parking” which means that if you don’t live here, you can’t park there. Since parking our own cars is a pain for us you can imagine how we feel when someone takes up our prized space in front of our residence.

In other words, avoiding driving in Key West if you can help it. We have public transportation and taxis plus lots of hotels offer shuttles. Once downtown you can hoof it everywhere. Some folks rent scooters, some electric cars, aka slow moving vehicles. My chosen conveyance is the trusty bicycle.

Many of the hotels either have bikes you can rent on site or can assist you in obtaining a rental for your stay here. Lots of the bike rental companies deliver to your room. The quality of bikes ranges greatly from clunky cruisers to nice foldable bikes and everything in between, and usually include lights, a lock and a helmet. If you ride at night you MUST have lights, the brighter the better. I suggest wearing your helmet. I wear mine. I might look like a wuss in your eyes but I am allergic to brain damage and accidents do happen.

If you aren’t confident on a bike, do not rent one. If you are reasonably able to balance and can keep your wits about you, you’ll be fine. The keys are to take things slower, look around, be aware and be seen. Florida law states that bicycles are vehicles just like cars, albeit slower, which means you are supposed to abide by the same rules as cars in the flow of traffic, including stop signs and stop lights. When you’re here you’ll notice no one gives that any concern. Bicycles blow through intersections frequently, but so do cars and scooters. What is important here is your own safety and well being. No one can read your mind and guess what you’ll do next. Just try not to give the police extra work.

Speaking of the police, you can get a BUI for drunken biking. Mostly they will ask you to lock up your bike and try to make it to your home or hotel on foot so you don’t bash your face in on a tree. Don’t be a jerk. Just do what they tell you. It’s for your own good.

Always lock your bike. Bike theft is possibly the number one crime in Key West. Once, at the Cork and Stogie, a friend noticed someone snipping the cable off a friend’s trike (a three wheeled bike) and starting to do the old getaway. Quickly she abandoned her beer and chased him down, shouting at him until he left the bike and disappeared running down a side street. If you live here cable locks are better than nothing but I highly recommend a thicker chain lock like the ones made by Abus. I bought one that had not only a combination lock but also a key. It wasn’t cheap but it’s damn near impregnable and more flexible than the old U-shaped lock.

Biking around Key West IS very popular and an amazing way to fall in love with the town. Fewer cars zooming around is such a blessing here. For a great exercise it’s about 10 miles to ride around the edges of the island, if you choose to attempt it. Just be careful out there, okay? Be safe, be smart and you will be happy you rode your bike instead of driving.

Cold in Key West

Yesterday, January 7th, 2017, the temperature in Key West as a balmy 85. The rest of the East Coast was looking at very low temperatures and snow storms. What could that mean for our little island town?

Today is a very different picture. After rain and storms passed through, that all changed. I know most of you will yawn, snigger or say, “Whatever,” but it’s COLD here today. The projected low appeared to be 68 Fahrenheit yesterday, but that was entirely wrong. Sitting up under the coverlet, I reached for my phone to discover it was only 54 degrees. My feet are freezing. It feels like late October in PA. I know. You have no sympathy for me but I’m hoping you’ll understand this one thing. We are used to being really warm most of the time. If you subtract 54 from 85 that’s a 31 degree drop. Granted, by Thursday we will back to 77 so “winter” ain’t so bad.

The coldest it has been here is 42 and that’s only happened twice in recorded history. Living in a tropical climate isn’t for everyone. It does get hot here and very humid during the summer. The sun can be very intense. There are tropical storms, hurricanes, coastal flooding. Of course we never get snow here and are frost free. There are trade offs for every climate. Where you live frequently depends on what you can tolerate. As you know, I like it hot. Just listen to the song below from my CD “Songs of Love & the Ocean.”

I Like It Hot

Luckily, I still have socks and shoes, a few jackets, long pants and jeans, for those infrequent bouts of “winter.” A space heater is all we need when the temps remain a little colder than we like. We make soup, bake, nest, just like anyone else.

We do have a job tonight. Chris Rehm, Bob Tucker and I, The Shanty Hounds, have a gig at Grunts Bar, 409 Caroline Street, in Key West. I have a feeling it will still be a bit brisk when we play from 8 to 11pm EST.

So, it gets a little cold here. I’m not out to compare my experience to yours. Having lived in the MidAtlantic for most of my life I completely understand what you’re going through up North. In any event, I hope your winter isn’t too bad. When you get sick of the cold and snow, come on down and visit us. Cheers!

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

I’m sure most have a favorite Christmas song. My heart has a soft spot for songs from the 40’s so mine is “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” The song is a melancholy yet uplifting gem written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine and was introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 movie, “Meet Me in St. Louis.” In the scene in which the song is sung, Garland’s character Esther is trying to cheer up her little sister Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien. Their father is thinking of moving them to New York city so he can accept a job promotion and they really don’t want to leave their home in St. Louis. The moment is poignant as tears fill little Tootie’s eyes. Things aren’t good now but “next year all our trouble will be miles away.” Listen to the tune with the link below.

Watch the Video on YouTube

The holidays are a difficult time for many. In 1944 families were separated by World War II, temporarily or permanently. Throughout the years until today folks have been filled with uncertainty about a world where wars are still fought, there is poverty, terrorism, disease and other continuing concerns. Holidays and celebrations are occasions to set aside our worries temporarily, gather with family and friends and create happy memories to sustain us throughout the rest of the year. Unfortunately, that’s not easy for everyone. Still, we hold out our candle of hope and try to make the best of it.

Growing up in our house, Christmas meant “Mom.” Our mom loved Christmas to pieces. Like a mad elf, she embraced the shopping, the baking, the tree trimming, to the fullest extent. I still remember dad driving us all around the neighborhood in Essex, MD, in our car to gaze in wonder at the beautifully lit houses. There were Christmas parties, visits to Valley View Farms to see the displays, caroling, making cookies, Christmas specials on TV (Rudolf!), midnight mass. We spent time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and close family friends. It certainly wasn’t idyllic. Dad had to work a lot to keep a roof over our heads. There were squabbles and disappointments, but we got through it and my memories of Christmas over the years are mostly wonderful.

Today I’m on my way to 49 years old now and living far away from where I grew up. Mom has been gone for eleven years. Dad, my step Mama Rose and brother are in Maryland. My cousins all have their own families, children, grandchildren. When the past leaves you, or you leave it, making new traditions that you can call your own is important. This Christmas, in Key West, I am spending it by the beach with friends. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, there will be ham, potluck dishes, some cheer, laughter and, later tonight, music when we, The Shanty Hounds, play once again at Grunts Bar, 409 Caroline Street.

So, have yourself a merry little Christmas now. Set aside your cares just for today. Create a new tradition, small or large, a happy memory to sustain you for the coming year. We can muddle through, somehow, together. That’s why I love this old song. The quiet optimism in the face of sadness and the unknown. As in olden days, I hope the fates allow us happy golden days in 2017.

Thanks for reading. Here is a related opinion piece by Bruce Handy from the New York Times.

NYT Opinion Piece by Bruce Handy