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Monday, February 28, 2005

Oh Virtuous One, You Annoy the Crap Outta Me

I flopped onto my seat in the 6:35 pm Metra Northline Train this evening at about 6:27pm. I had a two-seat bench to myself. For me, an aisle seat is imperative. I don't like being hemmed in by strangers. The Main Street stop is only 22 minutes away from the downtown Chicago transportation center, so I usually am the first one on the two-seat bench to leave - sitting on the aisle eliminates the need for my seat mate to stand up when I depart.

At 6:34 pm, there was a commotion in the aisle. Many people rush in right before departure, but the guy standing next to my seat was not a typical commuter. He was wearing a bike helmet, had a huge backpack and was schlepping a large, odd-shaped piece of soft luggage. I figured it out - he had one of those folding bicycles in that piece of luggage. He was out of breath and was decked out in a bright yellow parka. Of course, the sole remaining seat in the car was next to me. I got up and let him in. He proceeded to consume 7/8ths of the space available on the two-seat bench. His backpack, the bike in the bag, his helmet and his parka (removed from his scrawny back) took up most of the room. I shoe-horned in, feeling a slow burn beginning.

It was clear that this guy had broken Lance Armstrong's Tour de France speed record while pedalling to the station. He was panting, wheezing and sweating like a pig. This created a locker room stench that was strong enough to cause my eyes to water. He mopped his brow and settled in as the train left the station. Once underway, he pulled a sack of apples out of his backpack and began to chomp away. It is interesting how much noise a person can create with an apple.

I am a polite person, generally. I don't cause scenes, usually. This fellow was doing many fine things - riding a bike in the winter in Chicago, riding the train, saving energy, eating healthy food, etc.; a very virtuous person. I wanted to squeeze his neck tightly until his virtuous eyeballs popped out of his virtuous skull. But I didn't.

Fortunately, the folks across the aisle left at the second stop. I scrambled over to the empty bench. I calmed down. The Disgusting Virtuous One spread out to 8/8ths of the bench. I had a big glass of red wine when I got home. I am all right now.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Greg McDaniel - Son of Floyd, Son of the Blues! Posted by Hello

Photo by Rick Trankle

Shoji Naito, the Asian Sensation! Posted by Hello

Photo by Rick Trankle

Mr. G Being Weird Posted by Hello

Picture by Rick Trankle

Mike Wheeler in Action With Mr. G and the Mystery Band Posted by Hello

Picture by Rick Trankle

Say it Loud - I'm Weird and I'm Proud

The great advertising guru, David Ogilvie, once said, "Develop your eccentricities when young. That way, when you get older, people won’t think you are going gaga." I have tried to follow this advice, but must admit that I am getting weirder as the years roll by. Have you ever had an "out-of-body" experience and observe your own behavior objectively? When this happens to me, I cringe.

Last Wednesday, this correspondent packed up his harmonicas, Green Bullet microphone and vintage 1959 Bassman amplifier and trekked to the local blues club. Mr. G and the Mystery Band was booked for the evening. This was an accidental booking - the club operator assumed that I would do it and booked me. I found out about the gig when I saw the ad in the paper! So I pulled my band together - we hadn't had a gig in months - and was feeling pretty good. My confidence was shattered when my drummer failed to show up. We called his house; got voicemail. We called his mobile phone - got voicemail. ARRRRRRRR!!!! So I called my other drumming buddy, Highway Ricky. Yes, he could take the gig, but it would take him an hour or so to make it to the club. So we did the first set without drums. An electric blues band without a drummer is a very eccentric musical exercise. Hell,it is extremely eccentric for a 50-year old Scottish fella to be blowing Chicago blues harmonica no matter who is in the band. I have the great good fortune to know some wonderful players - Mike Wheeler, a fine younger blues guitarist joined the Mystery Band for the gig. "Younger" in the blues guitar world means "under 50." Shoji Naito, a Japanese blues dynamo, covered the second guitar slot. Shoji plays bass with Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater but did not have a gig on that particular Wednesday night. Greg McDaniel, a second-generation bluesman (son of the Chicago blues legend, Floyd McDaniel), held down the bass chair. We shook off the rust and were rolling by the time Highway Ricky Trankle arrived. With a drummer in the group, we began to smoke a little. The crowd at Bill's Blues was smallish (fine with me), but appreciative. I felt great until the gig was over and I wondered how I looked on stage. Eccentric, I am sure.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Moping and Leaving

The New York Times had an article about disappointed Democrats that are immigrating to Canada. When I read this, I found myself muttering under breath - epithets like "Traitors! Cowards! Quitters! Slimeballs!" Hey, I vote for Democrats quite often, but I don't suck my thumb and run away when they lose! Show some spine, for God's sake! Fight for your beliefs, don't slink off to the quasi-socialist northland. Come up with a winning formula! Take back the reins of power! I like Canada and Canadians, and I hope they refuse to give visas to these mopes. One stat that the Times doesn't discuss - how many Canadians come down to the US to live and work? The economic incentive for Canadians to shift down to the mean ol' US is massive. I am guessing that the southern flow more than offsets the northern flow. There are three Canadian families in my neighborhood - one has been here for 20 years.

Here is the article:

February 8, 2005
Some Bush Foes Vote Yet Again, With Their Feet: Canada or Bust

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Feb. 4 - Christopher Key knows exactly what he would be giving up if he left Bellingham, Wash. "It's the sort of place Norman Rockwell would paint, where everyone watches out for everyone else and we have block parties every year," said Mr. Key, a 56-year-old Vietnam War veteran and former magazine editor who lists Francis Scott Key among his ancestors.

But leave it he intends to do, and as soon as he can. His house is on the market, and he is busily seeking work across the border in Canada. For him, the re-election of President Bush was the last straw.

"I love the United States," he said as he stood on the Vancouver waterfront, staring toward the Coast Mountains, which was lost in a gray shroud. "I fought for it in Vietnam. It's a wrenching decision to think about leaving. But America is turning into a country very different from the one I grew up believing in."

In the Niagara of liberal angst just after Mr. Bush's victory on Nov. 2, the Canadian government's immigration Web site reported an increase in inquiries from the United States to about 115,000 a day from 20,000. After three months, memories of the election have begun to recede. There has been an inauguration, even a State of the Union address.

Yet immigration lawyers say that Americans are not just making inquiries and that more are pursuing a move above the 49th parallel, fed up with a country they see drifting persistently to the right and abandoning the principles of tolerance, compassion and peaceful idealism they felt once defined the nation.

America is in no danger of emptying out. But even a small loss of residents, many of whom cite a deep sense of political despair, is a significant event in the life of a nation that thinks of itself as a place to escape to.

Firm numbers on potential émigrés are elusive.

"The number of U.S. citizens who are actually submitting Canadian immigration papers and making concrete plans is about three or four times higher than normal," said Linda Mark, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver.

Other immigration lawyers in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax said they had noticed a similar uptick, though most put the rise at closer to threefold.

"We're still not talking about a huge movement of people," said David Cohen, an immigration lawyer in Montreal. "In 2003, the last year where full statistics are available, there were something like 6,000 U.S. citizens who received permanent resident status in Canada. So even if we do go up threefold this year, we're only talking about 18,000 people."

Still, that is more than double the population of Gettysburg, Pa. "For every one who reacts to the Bush victory by moving to a new country, how many others are there still in America, feeling similarly disaffected but not quite willing to take such a drastic step?" Mr. Cohen asked.

It will be six months, at least, before the Canadian government has any hard numbers on how many people are really making the move.

Melanie Redman, 30, assistant director of the Epilepsy Foundation in Seattle, said she had put her Volvo up for sale and hoped to be living in Toronto by the summer. Ms. Redman and her Canadian boyfriend, a Web site designer for Canadian nonprofit companies, had been planning to move to New York, but after Nov. 2, they decided on Canada instead.

"I'm doing it," she said. "I don't want to participate in what this administration is doing here and around the world. Under Bush, the U.S. seems to be leading the pack as the world spirals down."

Ms. Redman intends to apply for a conjugal visa, which can be easier to get than the skilled worker visa required of most Americans. To do so, she must prove that she and her boyfriend have had a relationship for at least a year, so she has collected supporting paperwork, like love letters, to present to the Canadian government.

"I'm originally from a poor, lead-mining town in Missouri and I know a lot of the people there don't understand why I'm doing this," she said. "Even my family is pretty disappointed. And the fact is, it makes me pretty sad, too. But I just can't bear to pay taxes in the United States right now."

Compared with the other potential émigrés interviewed, Ms. Redman was far along in planning.

Mike Aves, 40, a financial planner in Palm Beach, Fla., where he has been active in the Young Democrats, said he was finding it almost impossible from that distance to land a job in Canada. "I've told my wife, I'd be willing to take a step down, socioeconomically, to move from white-collar work to a blue-collar job, if it would get us to Canada," he said.

Many of those interviewed said the idea of moving to Canada had been simmering in the backs of their minds for years, partly as a reaction to what they saw as a rightward drift in the country and partly as a desire to live in a place they see as more tolerant, pacific and, yes, liberal.

But for all, the re-election of Mr. Bush was decisive in their decision to take concrete steps.

"Not everybody is prepared to live their political values, but these are people who are," said Jason Mogus, an Internet entrepreneur in Vancouver whose Web company offers marketing services for progressive companies and nonprofit groups, and whose Web site at is often the first stop for Americans eager to learn about moving north.

"Immigration to Canada is not like packing your family in a car and moving across the state line," Mr. Mogus said. "It's a long process. It can take 18 months or even longer sometimes. And if you hire a lawyer to help you, it can cost thousands of dollars."

So Mr. Mogus said the response to the Web site, from all over the United States, had amazed him. Some are drawn by Canada's more tolerant attitude toward same-sex unions, he said, and there are a surprising number of middle-aged professionals.

"My wife and I have talked for a long time about perhaps retiring to a condo in downtown Vancouver," said Frederick Newmeyer, 61, a professor of linguistics at the University of Washington in Seattle. "But the election was the tipping point."

Since it may take all of the two years he has until retirement to get a permanent resident visa, Mr. Newmeyer said he and his wife had hired a lawyer and begun the paperwork.

Canadian officials decide on potential immigrants by awarding points for certain skills or attributes. Being 21 to 49 years old is worth 10 points, for instance. A bachelor's degree is worth 20, a master's 25, with up to 21 points for certain work experience and 24 points for being fluent in English and French. At the moment, 67 points are required to qualify for the visa.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, workers in certain jobs can also qualify for residency permits if they land a job in Canada.

Mr. Key has made several recent trips to scout for jobs in the Vancouver area. He thinks most Canadian employers would prefer to hire a Canadian.

Chris Mares, a recreation therapist in Albuquerque, said that he hoped to move to Canada in about a year, when he qualified for his pension, but that he could not do it without first landing a job.

"I put a bunch of applications in and filled out a bunch of forms and now I'm waiting to hear back," said Mr. Mares, 54. "But it's not easy. It's not like they open the door wide and say, 'Hey Americans, come on in.' "

Jerry Gorde may be taking the longest view.

"I'm on a 100-month plan," said Mr. Gorde, who runs Vatex, a company in Richmond, Va., that creates promotional campaigns for corporate clients.

A former civil rights marcher and antiwar protester, Mr. Gorde said he built his company in Virginia because the state was not one of America's liberal enclaves, hoping to spread progressive ideas in the heart of conservatism. He was once named the state's entrepreneur of the year.

"I think George Bush's re-election, in itself, is nothing compared to what happens, over the next 10 to 15 years, if he gets to make three or four appointments to the Supreme Court," Mr. Gorde said. "I foresee a much darker period in front of us."

Beginning now, Mr. Gorde plans to gradually shift his life from Richmond to one of the islands near Vancouver - buying a home, spending a little more time there each year, gradually extracting himself from his company in Virginia until, 100 months from now, his life will be Canadian.

"When I set my mind to something, I'm the most organized and driven person in the world," he said. "I have made this decision and I'm going to do it."

He knows that some who share his political views wonder why he does not stay in the United States and battle it out.

"I'm 53 years old, and I don't know if I have the energy to go out in the streets and organize again," Mr. Gorde said. "Or maybe it's just a matter of becoming a little bit spoiled at this point in my life."

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Who is Out There?

When I began this web log last December, I was convinced that no one would ever read it. I certainly didn't plan on publicizing its existence. Blogging is a self-indulgent activity, sort of like tagging a wall with grafitti. There are millions of folks writing blogs now - I have read quite a few. While some grab larger themes, others are a record an individual's random thoughts. My stuff falls into the "random thoughts" category. But I do wonder - who is out there? Blogging sometimes increases my feelings of insignificance.

I dropped in on Joe Filisko blues harmonica class at the Old Town School of Folk Music last Monday night. Joe is one of the most self-disciplined people I know. He took his abilities as a machinist and became the world's first "harmonica technician" - a guy that takes a $20 Marine Band Harmonica and reconstructs it into a world-class musical instrument. Now, there is a small "guild" of harmonica techs around the world - many trained by Joe. He also is a relentless harmonica historian - he knows heaps of obscure facts about the instrument and the people who have played it. And Joe is a killer harp player - off the charts, really. All of this is wrapped together into his teaching sessions on Monday. It is hard to find a teacher who cares more about his subject matter than Joe Filisko.

The folks in Joe's class range in age from late teens to late 50's (now that Ed Wasserman has passed away, I am one of the older guys). It is terrific to be part of a mixed-age group with common interests. Musical skill levels vary in the group, but everyone has reached the "intermediate" level as harmonica players. We play, we sing, we study. And we are working on improving some of the most obscure and meaningless skills on the planet. When you become a harmonica nerd, you obsess on weird things - tongue blocking, draw bends, blow bends, tongue switching, and more.

There are not many people out there that care about this stuff.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Head Down, Heads Up

For working people, there are times when you focus on the tasks at hand, keep the head down, work the plan, clear the list. I have been in this mode for the past few days. I have a major deal in trouble; I am fighting to drag it across the finish line. There are many opportunities popping up, the chase is on for me and my partners. Economic conditions are leading to a slow rise in optimism, which translates to more aggressive business behavior. Aggressive business behavior means fees for investment bankers. We should do well, the ball is coming across the plate. We just have to put some wood on it.

While in "head down" mode, I received a "heads up" message. Mr. G and the Mystery Band has been booked for a gig at Bill's Blues Bar on February 9. A friend of mine saw the schedule and e-mailed me to ask about details. I wasn't aware that we had been booked! So I have spent some time calling my blues friends to assemble a band. Mike Wheeler is going to handle the lead guitar duties - he is a killer player! We won't have time to rehearse - we will count on our shared knowlege and experience to carry us through three sets of tunes. I have been listening to blues tunes during every free moment (thank God for iPods) which should help me get pumped for the show. It has been almost a year since I fronted a band and played harmonica for an entire evening. I know that the quality of the players in the band will carry me through.