Friday, October 24, 2008

Minutes from Madrid - Chapter 2

For those of you still paying attention, I've been in Madrid a couple times this year, and this is the saga of the second trip. OK, I know I've been slow, Habs fans. I kinda promise to work a little faster-ish.

I hope to be back in Montreal in the Springtime, so wear that little outfit I like, would ya?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Minutes from Madrid-Chapter 1

Here's how it's gonna be: Having now returned from Madrid with new photos and video, I'll start to tell the story.

The video I shot is high-definition,which means a lot of memory is required to create these videos. So the chapters will be short. You have a far longer attention span than I do, so you'll be just fine. (Yes, I did travel to Geneva in the early '80s to have an attention span implanted, but it didn't take. However, I did manage to have my birthday surgically removed, so....)

That said, here's day one and two.

Brought to you by Degree© deodorant. Used by smart travelers everywhere, but except in Europe, per se.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Move Your Seat Back, Please

Do you know this guy? I met him on a flight from Paris to Los Angeles two weeks ago."Met" is the wrong word, but is it too much to ask NOT to put your seat back the whole way? Apparently for him it is. My hope is that someone who knows him will let him know his creepy, skull-like countenance is on YouTube. And here.

I get irritated just looking at him again. Kinda.

Ok, more to come soon, Astronauts.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Logistics, Lights and Locks

MADRID, SPAIN—This is what happens when we place our trust in things dependent—dependent on power, dependent on operating systems, dependent on batteries, dependent on things undependable.

My own faith rested in a slim metal box—my MacBook’s hard drive. Purchased only a year ago, it has now failed three times. The Greatest Invention of the 20th Century, reduced to high-impact polyurethane and titanium, fancy words for plastic and metal.

So I sat at a table three floors above Avenida de Americas with a small notepad and a Pilot Razor pen, wondering how long I would have the concentration to form lines and curves into sentences. I did this until I ran out of patience and my iPod, now un-chargeable, gave up its valiant struggle. (Truman Capote wrote “In Cold Blood” lying on his stomach in bed, scratching away on legal pads. I should complain.)

This is my second trip to Madrid in the space of over a little over two months. I’ve come to explore the possibilities of living and working here, both of which ideas seem to be becoming less and less plausible each passing day. But anything can happen.

First, there is the logistical: Americans cannot legally work in the European Union (England, Italy, Spain, Greece, France, and about twenty others) without papers, and those are hard to acquire. These countries hire from within, so “immigrants” here occupy the same societal level as those in the US. Ironically, at a time when Latino immigrants are targeted and blamed, and pushed out like so many ants at a picnic, I am contemplating working in a country “illegally” as an American.

It probably won’t happen. But the irony resonates still.

Then there is the everyday of living in Europe— more things that begin with “L” this time. Like language, lights and locks.
Language. Why do I gravitate to places where I don’t speak the mother tongue? My struggles with French in Montreal are well-documented (and equally well-mocked). My Spanish improves every day, and I can shop, and say, “Can you replace my hard drive, please?” in Castilian Spanish, so that counts for something, but sometimes it’s like trying to dribble a flat basketball.
I’ve often had discussions with people where they’ll say, “Sure, they speak Spanish in Spain, but it’s not the same Spanish you know. But I think I know why no one ever actually demonstrated it to me. They didn’t know how, or only had a vague idea of what it was.

Simple. Its Spanish with a lisp. It’s Thpanish with a lithp. Thilly Thpanish. It’s “Grathias,” not “Gracias,” and “Platha,” not “Plaza.” The popular legend is that the venerated King Phillip II spoke with a lisp. Therefore, his eminently loyal subjects adopted the the style, or “thtyle.” It’s disconcerting, but believable. People have done far thtupider things in thervice to a king, so why not speak like Daffy Duck to save the National Honor?

No speech pathologist has ever really explained it, as far as I’ve been able to research. It’s all technical word noise about speech formations and derivations. But if you look at a painting of this Phillip II guy, he kinda looks like a guy who spoke with a lisp, like a guy who came up four numbers short of winning the mental national lottery.

Lights. Lights in much of Spain are motion-sensored—a nice little energy-saving trick, and certainly something simple the US could implement. But.....I didn’t know this. All I knew was that as I stood fumbling with the keys to my apartment on my first night, the lights would suddenly go out. I would straighten up, look around, and they would go back on. Probably funny for someone to watch, but for me, not so much. Part of the problem is that I was never good with...

Locks. If it has a key, forget it. Im in trouble. Who knows the reason, but keys and me never agreed. If a key can break in a lock, it will, for me. I once started my friend’s car with my car key, thinking it was the right one. You get the idea. Me and keys will never be.

Add to that little dilemma the fact that in Spain, the second floor is called the first floor. I was told my apartment was on the third floor, so, you guessed it, Peanut. There I was, at midnight, trying to open some stranger’s apartment. On the fourth floor. How fast would I have been shot in America? Faster than a speeding bullet, if you will. Faster than you could say “gun rights.” So make sure you’re opening the right door out there, OK, Astronauts?

I should have written a lot more by now. But I have lots of photos, and lots of video that I’ll put together in an epic presentation upon my arrival back in the New World. I’ll write some more this weekend, about Aranda de Dueros, about Santo Domingo de Silos and the Cathedral at Burgos. And how Madrid as a functioning city kinda makes LA look a little silly. It’s the little things, but I’ll get to that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Places That Begin With M

MADRID, SPAIN—This just in: one year goes by really, really fast.

On this date last year I had just moved into a small and shabby apartment on the dark end of Rue Boucher, a half block off St. Denis, near that weird pizza place, and eons away from Los Angeles. I spent that first week shopping for a cell phone, new sneakers, and enough ethernet cable to connect myself to my landlord's computer, unspooling it out the front window and up to their second floor apartment. You might have read that entry already. Um, a year ago, right. The memory seems vivid to me at the moment, because my subconscious has been knocking on my window a lot lately, reminding of the date.

First it was Montana, then Montreal, then Madrid. All these places that suddenly and dramatically changed my life, either physically, spiritually, or in how I viewed my own everyday. Three summers ago, I was a city dude extolling the virtues of the Cowboy Life. I didn't really want to run away and join the rodeo, but in one week at a camp high in the Gallatin Mountain Range, my LA existence was stirred up just enough to suddenly appreciate the value of fresh horses and sturdy boots.

Montreal was the first simple test of a new language and a new culture—not exactly foreign, but different enough that simple tasks were a new challenge. Ride the Metro, order lunch, shop in a store, and head back home, in French. A tiny challenge, but enough to make me play bad French pop music all day on the radio, in case any phrases might seep into my subconscious. (Sadly, few French-Canadian pop songs used the refrain, 'What is the Loonie exchange rate today?" in the chorus.)

I was lucky enough to make two trips to Montreal with you, dearest reader; once in the dwindling warmth of late September and then in the frozen snowdrifts of March. Before that there was the non-White Christmas of 2006, and then the spectacular July of 2007, when there was no city in the world as beautiful as Montreal, and no street as perfect as Laurier above St. Denis.

My first two months in Montreal were equal parts magical and mysterious. My second trip was lonely and frozen. But never regretted.

Enter Madrid. This was every adventure at once. It was the first trip to Europe, a language I understood, and one I thought I did, but one that sounded as if it was "thpoken" by cartoon characters. Theriously. But Madrid is another one of those great, eye-opening cities. I've not seen Rome or London yet, and only saw the Paris airport. Those cities are on the list for this dilletante explorer, but Spain, like America, could take a really, really, really long time to fully explore.

Loyal readers in Los Angeles and far beyond already know way more than necessary about VaughanTown, this past summer's little adventure. This time, I'm creating the Podcast thing, and may not be back at Vaughantown until next summer.

Meanwhile, I've lost ALL the video from my last Madrid trip— including the groovy little iMovie video I made, and almost every important newspaper file—in a catastrophic hard drive failure over the weekend. It will take a long time to rebuild everything.
Until then, I'm beginning to learn that not only are material things not as important as we think, but digital files, too. Everything comes and goes. Attach yourself to little, OK, astronauts?

This is Day One in Madrid, Phase Two. Don't go far. There's more to read tomorrow, depending on which side of the International Date Line you get your mail.

"MontrealMontreal" is also available at: and It's the same quality product.

Forgot your password? Click here.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

This is What it Looked Like

You read all about it. Now you can experience it, as if you were there. Kinda. Not really.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Kids are Still All Right

The passageway to the stage at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip, is narrow and hidden, deep amongst a maze of staircases leading away from the bar at stage right. You know you’re headed in the right direction, because there is a big sign on the door that says, “Artists ONLY Beyond this Point.” There, in a crowded fog-filled hallway, we tap our feet and make nervous little Spinal Tap jokes, our collective hearts pounding like jukeboxes, as we wait to play for a packed house.

These are the final hours, and final day, in fact,of Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp’s “On Tour Summer 2008” event. From the end of July to the end of August, the camp’s sleek silver tour bus traveled fromcoast to coast through 15 cities; from Boston to Chicago, to Nashville, across the South and the Midwest to Vegas, San Francisco, and finally the campus of UCLA to teach ordinary, non-rock star people to rock with the best of them.

Unlike the usual week-long Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp sessions, today’s will be one day and one day only. It’s meet your bandmates and counselor at 10 a.m., head off to rehearsal rooms to learn three songs (!), name your band, eat lunch, take a master class, jam a litle, rehearse some more, and be ready to leave for the House of Blues at 4 p.m.

This summer’s staff is a impressive lineup of working rock musicians who’ve sold mcjillions of records among themselves. There’s Gilby Clarke of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Elliot Easton of the Cars, Earl Slick, guitarist for John Lennon and David Bowie; Glenn Hughes, of Deep Purple, and 90s big hair band survivors Mark Slaughter of Slaughter, and Kip Winger of the band of the same name. Acting as head counselor is mega-producer Mark Hudson, who by himself has been responsible for the sale of nearly 50 million records (Sure, a lot of them were by Celine Dion, but a lot of them were by Aerosmith, so there.)

The camp was created by New York entrepreneuer David Fishof, who also masterminded the successful 1986 Monkees reunion tour, as well as creating Ringo Starr and his All Star Band, and too many more successful projects to name here. Over the years, nearly every rock band or musician you can think of, has gotten involved in the fantasy camp, from Slash to Roger Daltrey to Jane Weidlin, to George Thorogood to Bill Wyman to Robin Zander to Brian Wilson, and far more than you or I can think of at the moment.

Since we’re in LA, there are of, course, a host of working actors who’ve plunked down $1999.00 for their one-day rock and roll dream cum laude. In Kip Winger’s band is Angus Jones, the kid from “Two and a Half Men,” Brandon Barash, from “General Hospital,” is the lead singer in our band, led by Mark Hudson. Other cast members from CBS’ “Cold Case,” and Showtime’s “Californication” take up seats in class.

Kristin Coleman, a Los Angeles event planner, is in a cold sweat. At breakfast, she confesses she can barely play the guitar, and can barely sing. While most of the campers come to the camp with plenty of talent, just not enough cool, Coleman is in safe hands. Despite the popular notion about rock and roll attitude, each of the counselors is supportive and sympathetic, and the bonding among band mates and their leaders is nearly instantaneous.

Let’s get to rehearsal. We’re packed into several floors of the dorms at UCLA’s De Neve Plaza during Family Orientation Day, and I can only imagine the fine impression we’re giving the parents, as wave after wave of loud rock music wafts across the campus from the un-insulated rooms.

The 40 campers (plus me, ssssh) will be broken up into five bands. We’ve been given a list of songs to know before arriving, most of them tunes any self-respecting rock fan would know in a heartbeat.There is a quick discussion of butterflies and nerves, and someone describes a physical feeling too graphic to describe in a family newspaper.

“That’s called a ‘taint,’” someone a little too knowledgeable, offers.

Hudson says, “Hey, great band name!” With that out of the way, he puts The Taint to work right away.

“Okay,” he says, “This is ‘All Over Now,’ by the Stones. Everyone knows it, right? OK. I need someone to give me that Chuck Berry rhythm.”

I am so there.
He looks at me and smiles, “Yeah, you do that.”

He turns to the rest of the band members and begins handing out parts. He explains, “Guitarists, you can’t all just play the same thing, or it will be a sludge fest.” To the guitarist on the other side of the room, he says, “You do the ‘chink chink’ thing with the drummer’s beat.” The other guitarist on my left is struggling with the three chords necessary to put the song across.
But he is three chords ahead of the female singer, who is a bundle of nerves at the moment. (Names are withheld to protect the guilty.) She is clearly in over her head, but she is a trouper. She sings willfully, if nervously, and it will have to do.

Alongside me, Earl Slick, he of David Bowie fame, is cooly taking it all it in. Given his part, he sprays bursts of Excellent Loud Rock Guitar® in delicate layers all over the tune. We’re starting to sound like a band, and it’s only past 11.Hudson comes up with a spoken breakdown for the middle of the song with a chance for the singers to do a little “acting” with the band as foils. It works perfectly in rehearsal, but...

With Earl Slick playing alongside me all morning, I’m secretly hoping we’ll play “Rebel Rebel.” As it turns out, what else would we play?

He begins to play the tune’s distinctive opening riff, the drummer kicks in, the bass player does that little thing at the opening, and we sound like the radio.

Instinctively, I sing a harmony line over the bridge, and Hudson notices right away. On the next one, he is right there with me. Okay, the guy who actually played on the record is on my left, Ringo Starr’s producer is sharing my mike, and this is what the commercials and advertisements for the Fantasy Camp are all about. It’s actually kinda thrilling, and no one is even watching. Yet.

Former Monkee Mickey Dolenz visits the camp at lunchtime and tells a few rock and roll war stories, that I frankly hoped would be better, or at least funnier.

Like regular summer camp, a few of counselors get up and tell stories, only these have nothing to do with bears and a guy with a hook terrorizing young lovers in the Eastern Sierras. These are mostly about girls on the road, and stories I could never tell my kids when I was a summer counselor. (Well, maybe the one where Hudson saved Ozzy Osbourne’s life with the Heimlich Manueuver.)

Following lunch, campers have a choice of master classes in guitar, bass, drums, songwriting or producing, or a jam with Gilby Clarke.

You know where I went. As if I don’t have enough chances to play my guitar loud at home, I jump at the chance to play with a new band. This group is actually far more talented than me, and I hang on for dear life, until we get to “Bang a Gong,” something your mother should know. I was all over that one, playing the ending chorus again and again, just south of delirious.

Returning to rehearsal, Mark Hudson is just finishing his producing class.
“Remember, it’s the song first, the writer second, and the band last,” he reminds the campers. Makes sense to me.
We have one hour to learn the last tune, “Wild Thing,” before we have to pack up for the show. Hudson adds a little trick to the song, we hammer it down, and it’s time to head east on Sunset.

And there I am in that narrow little crowded hallway with my band mates, one of whom is wearing pajamas. I gotta respect that. The show is sold out, there are TV news crews in the photo pit with the shooters, and everyone in the balcony is standing. I remember once thinking about how the only way I can get into a club like this is by being in the band, and start to admire the view.

There are five bands, we go on second, and we roar like jets once we launch the set. No one makes an obvious mistake, the audience cheers after every song, girls are smiling, and I remember why anyone is in a rock and roll band.

And everything went by too fast. Like every good thing. Rock on, per se.

Rock ‘n’Roll Fantasy Camp. 1-888-762-BAND

Friday, August 15, 2008

OK, I'm thinking about moving over here....

Since, I don't seem to know where I live anymore......

Thursday, August 7, 2008

VaughanTown and the Spanish Sky

© Copyright 2008 The Arroyo Seco Journal

MONFRAGUE, EXTREMADURA, SPAIN—Two hundred and twenty kilometers from Madrid near the Portuguese border, the sun is bearing down on this national park like light through a magnfiying glass burning little black ants.

Three hours from Madrid, on a four-acre, four-star resort hotel property in the shadow of the Castillo del Monfrague, 10 Spanish students and 10 “Anglos” are assembled in “VaughanTown” for a week of one-on-one chats, discussions, phone calls, play performances, evening cocktails and morning coffee. The idea is to create a full-immersion learning situation for native Spanish speakers, far away from dreary classrooms.

I spent three weeks in and around Madrid this summer “working” at Vaughan Learning Systems’ two Spanish campuses, in Gredos de Avila, and Monfrague, in the region of Extremadura.

Created in 2001 by transplanted American Richard Vaughan , the Madrid-based company has conducted over 160 programs for more than 6,500 English-speaking volunteers and Spanish clients. The company also operates a radio station, as well as more traditional classroom-based English classes.

Here is the basic idea: English-speaking “Anglos,” as they are referred to, are recruited from all over the world to stay in a luxury hotel here, and spend the week conversing with Spaniards. About everything. And I mean everything. In this way, Spaniards hear English as it is actually spoken, and not just by Americans.

Easy enough, right? Well, we’ll get to that in a second.

I had two misconceptions about this place at the very outset: one, that we would be dealing with stodgy Spanish executives and middle managers, and two, that this would be a vacation. Though the ages vary, the students are all youthful and dynamic. In this first week, there’s Maria Jose, the computer physicist, serious but with a streak of silliness just begging to be coaxed out of her. We spent a walk to the nearby village discussing Cary Grant movies and the creation of new computer ISDN addresses. Earlier in the week, she’d donned a wig and hideous glasses to play one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters, in a performance for the whole group.

Jesus, a 51 year-old business management consultant, portrayed Oscar Madison in a scene from Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” with hilarious results.

Andres, a “master student” and engineer for a produce company, and I, engaged in an intense discussion of music from Nine Inch Nails and System of a Down to Springsteen, and then, as we walked back to the hotel from the village, he proudly showed me his new iPhone.

Among the “Anglos” are Carolyn, a charming teacher from Manchester Metropolitan University; Will, a young, exuberant former college baseball player here for a week before heading off to a small private school in Maine this fall to teach; Fiona McDonald, a recent Oxford graduate headed off to the world of financial planning; Margaret, from Leeds, a landscape artist who played the wicked stepmother and narrator for an improvised traditional English pantomime version of “Cinderella.” (Due to an accounting error, I was picked to play Prince Charming. I was also the only male in our little troupe).

That’s not everyone, but combined, the first week’s group is dynamic, gregarious, smart and really fun to hang around with.
But this is no vacation, really. Don’t get the wrong idea. Come prepared to talk. A lot.

Our first week’s campus is the Hospederia Parque de Monfrague in Extremadura, a region of Spain known for its blazing hot summers and its ham (There’s a chain or restaurants in Madrid called “The Museum of Ham,” to give you some indication of the importance of the local product.) There is also a luxurious pool alongside a spacious grass lawn, as well as gracious Spanish dining with attentive and courteous waiters.

Both campuses are in fact, luxury hotels, with differing and similar characteristics and facilities. The Gredos campus sits just outside the village of Barco de Avila and the famous walled city of Avila, the fabled home of St. Theresa de Avila.

Over the course of a week from Sunday morning to Friday afternoon, Anglos and Spaniards follow a set schedule that includes general conversations, and group presentations. Imagine being thrust in to a vacation with two dozen strangers, half of whom expect you to talk to them, all the time, non-stop. It is as rewarding and as draining as you might imagine. Our conversations ranged from American and Spanish politics, family issues, morality, business ethics, and well, a lot more sex than I expected. Many times I was asked the names of sexual parts of the body, or questioned as to my own sexual tastes. Oh, those Spaniards. (One Anglo reportedly spent his one-on-one-time showing pictures of his FaceBook female friends to his Spanish counterpart and explaining the American slang names for well, you can imagine).

The show is run and organized by a master of ceremonies and director, who change from week to week, and from location to location. Greg Stanford, a professor of drama at St. Louis’ University’s Madrid campus, led our first week, along with Carmen Villa, our charming and elegant director.

A mixture of corn and sincerity, Stanford engaged the group with a stream of silly jokes, scenes from Simon and Ionesco, and created an atmosphere which teetered easily somewhere between family and best friends.
“We were really fortunate this week to have such a great group,” said Stanford. “Everyone got along so well. That doesn’t happen very often. This one was magic.”

And they are always looking for Anglos, if you’re wondering.

Okay, now add to all of this the fact that this was my first trip to Spain, and my first trip to Europe. Ever. That backpack trip you took through Europe after college? I took it last month.

So everything was new to me. Gathering footage for an accompanying video of the trip, I told the camera more than once, that far more skillful American writers had traveled this road before me, and I wondered what I could add to the hundreds of years of insight.

I arrived on a flight from Munich to Madrid late on a Friday night. I saw little on the taxi ride from the airport to the city. Come Saturday morning. Boarding the clean and efficient (and air-conditioned) Madrid Metro at Ciudad Lineal on my way to the Sol Station, I ascended a flight of stairs to the street above.

As if in a wide-screen movie, I emerged on to Gran Via, on e of the main boulevards of Madrid. The whole of the street appeared before me—heat and crowds and beauty and history converged at once. I literally laughed out loud.

“I’m in Europe.”

Though Spanish-speaking, Madrid isn’t Los Angeles, and it certainly isn’t Mexico. Having only emerged from the shadow of former dictator Francisco Franco in the mid-70s, it has re-emerged, and re-invented itself into one of Europe’s most progressive and important cities. (Following the March 11, 2004 Madrid Metro terrorist attacks, newly elected president Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero promptly withdrew Spain’s forces from Iraq. President Bush, not surprisingly, is loathed by most Spaniards.)

Madrid’s modern wide boulevards, and narrow streets in its historic section near the Plaza Del Sol, teem with people at all hours of the day and night. The afternoon slows slightly with the last vestiges of “siesta,” and then ratchets itself back up, going full-bore till long past midnight.

On the Friday night of my first week in Madrid, I joined a group of VaughanTown Anglos and Spaniards for dinner at Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world, according to Guinness. But earlier that evening, I strolled through the Plaza Meyor in the middle of Madrid near the dead center of Spain, as the plaza lights began to come up, families and couples filled the Square, and a thin line of blue and purple lit the skies just over the rooftops. Magic would be too easy a word for it.

And oh, the Spanish skies.

Standing on the terrace at Monfrague on my first night, I stared up into the deepest and biggest sky I had ever seen. Miles from Madrid, thousands of stars filled the sky from horizon to horizon in a huge, mesmerizing, and humbling display of nature.

The Spaniards may remember the idioms and phrasal verbs they learned. I will remember the Spanish sky. 0034.91.591.48.30

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Week on the Island

WAIKIKI, OAHU, HAWAII—"Speed, balance and direction,’ those are the three things you need to know about surfing,” our surfing instructor tells a group of us on a sleepy Wednesday morning, just across the street from the bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku. Since I haven’t actually stood on a surfboard since the 20th Century, I listen intently, silently praying to Brian Wilson that, before lunch, I will be catching a wave and sitting on top of the world.

My morning at the Hans Hedeman Surfing School in Waikiki is only the latest in a series of excellent adventures since arriving here on Saturday afternoon, and parking myself at the Waikiki Outrigger hotel. (Full disclosure: Travel and transportation arrangements were provided gratis through the Oahu Tourism Bureau, who booked us at the Outrigger, the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore, and the Aqua Coconut Waikiki,over a span of five nights and six days.)

Since living here in the mid-80s as the editor of the local entertainment monthly, I was startled to see the amount of new development on Kalakaua Avenue, which runs along the Waikiki beachfront. New and renovated hotels sit chock-a-block with designer stores as well as the requisite t-shirt and chotchke emporiums and ABC stores. Five-dollar t shirts hold court next to Louis Vitton and Coach merchandise. As it should be, I suppose. The effect is a dizzying whirlwind of shops and surf, coated with a fine scent of coconut oil. To this day, coconut tanning oil always reminds me of Kalakaua Avenue.

The view from the Outrigger Waikiki looks like every postcard of Hawaii you’ve ever seen. The luminescent, teal-colored water shimmers under a blazing sun that will fry you like carne asada faster than you can say, “We go power grindin’ at Zippy’s, li’dat.”

From the 14th floor, Diamond Head looms over the landscape like the Sphinx, and the horizon is a continuous monochromatic vision of blues. A $20 million renovation project, begun in September 2002, has re-imagined the once-dowdy Outrigger Hotels & Resorts' Waikiki property, including its 495 guest rooms, 30 oceanfront suites, and the 18,000-square-foot lobby. A one-hundred-year-old koa canoe sits front and center in the renovated lobby. Everything dazzles at the Outrigger, and the service and accomodations are quietly and elegantly impeccable.

Though we traveled here in the middle of summer at the height of travel season, there is really no peak season on the eight main islands that make up Hawaii. (Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe and the Big Island of Hawaii, if you’re taking notes. Niihaau is privately owned, and Kahoolawe is a former military target area, not open to the public).

With Honolulu as the 11th largest metropolitan area in the US, and the largest in actual size (It’s complicated), Hawaii is unique in that there are no racial or ethnic majorities here. Everyone is a minority. Caucasians (Haoles) constitute about 34 percent; Japanese-American about 32 percent; Filipino-American about 16 percent and Chinese-American about five percent. Most of the population has some mixture of ethnicities. Very few are strictly Polynesian.

And now back to our trip, currently in progress.

Saturday evening found us beachfront at the Outrigger’s luxury Hula Grill restaurant,staring out at a cinematic sunset and staring down at plates topped with gourmet- quality entrees, only the first of several frankly spectacular dinners we would enjoy over the course of the week, each one vying for the title of “best ------ I’ve ever had.” By the time the sun dipped below the Earth’s blue edge,we were giddy and satiated with food, sun, turquoise-colored drinks with umbrellas, and the constant ringing disbelief in our heads that we were actually here.

And things would only get better from this point on, as if that were even possible.
A drive up and over H1 past Pearl City, Aiea, and the Dole Pineapple factory (now more a museum than an active factory), brought us to the entrance of the Turtle Bay Resort. Situated at Hawaii’s North Shore alongside the beach town of Haliewa and the famous surfing locations of Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and the Banzai Pipeline, the hotel is a spectacular bit of everything Hawaii offers.

“Depending on what you like,” explains PR rep Keoki Wallace, “You can find it here.”
The resort boasts 443 beach cottages and guest rooms, and owns nearly five miles of beachfront which is not only peaceful and secluded, but also lays claim to some of the most impressive waves in the world every winter.

It’s hard to believe as I sit,watching a quiet, peaceful bay with gently lapping waves, but those same waves become 20 and 30-foot raging monsters who take no quarter come November.

There are two pools, one with a pool slide, two golf courses, tennis courts, horseback riding, hiking and mountain bike trails, and of course, a surfing school, as well as free scuba lessons. Since the hotel’s footprint is so large and diverse, it’s the home for numerous TV and film productions, says Wallace, who has arranged close to 40 during his few years at the hotel.

Wallace points to a lush, dense clump of palm trees across the bay. “They shoot “Lost” over there.” He goes on to explain that because of the diversity of the landscape, as well as the luxurious facilities, the hotel is a popular choice among production companies.

“We can produce everything from the jungles of Viet Nam to the shores of Cape Cod here,” he says.

Just a few miles south of the resort, alongside Waimea and Sunset Beach, sits the historic beach town of Haliewa, a cozy little melange of Hawaiian cowboy shacks with restaurants, surf shops, and more surf shops. At one end of a seven-mile stretch of beaches and some 40 surf breaks, it’s a madhouse every winter, as thousands of fans converge for Uber-Surf contests like the Quiksilver Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, with waves the size of houses roaring down toward the shore from hundreds of feet out, turbo-powered by winter Pacific storms. No hodads allowed here, bro.

We spent two luxurious nights at Turtle Bay—with daily jaunts into Haliewa for t-shirts and tourism—the highlight being the resort’s first-ever Winery Dinner, featuring Flora Springs Winery and Vineyards, a Napa Valley-based operation, hosted by owner/raconteur John Komes. He introduced each of the five courses and accompanying wines. The meal offered a pair of Chardonnays, a Cabernet Sauvigon, and a Merlot, which Komes naturally defended after its savaging in the hit film,

Courses ranged from Cajun-spiced Ahi, diver scallops, roasted duck breast and a pan-seared beef tenderloin, each of which was sublime. And devoured.

Tuesday brought us to The Aqua Coconut Wakiki hotel, a smart, stylish boutique hotel on the banks of the Ala Wai canal, where crew teams practice in the early evening twilight. This is an affordable but high-quality alternative to the pace and price of beachfront Waikiki, and within walking distance of everything you might desire Honolulu-wise.

The Aqua chain also owns the Aqua Surf and Spa, where I was treated to a surprisingly effective massage to bang out the dents I had acquired surfing.

Oh yes, surfing.

I paddled out, turned my Laird board around to face the shore, and as the next wave tucked under and lifted me, I was sailing along in a sea of foam and wind. Remembering my lesson, I stood up quickly, and for the 10-second ride, I understood again why people give up their lives to do this. Sure, I wiped out more than a few times in true surfer fashion, but standing atop the board and dreaming of the Pipeline, I surfed. I paddled out again. I surfed. I paddled out again. I surfed. Until my shoulder said, “No mas,” I surfed, dude.

How was your week?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

In the Meantime...

When I don't have time to write a lot, I'll tell you a little. I have lots and lots to write about Spain, and I promise to do that soon. Depending on the time-space continuum, and if I am very lucky, I just might see you in Montreal this fall. Hope springs eternal, which is what I've heard.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Thing about MadridMadrid

This is my new location for a bit:

It says "madridmadrid" when you get there, but the actual site name,, is taken by some nitwit named Jorge. I think the only entry there is something about his sex life. I'm not sure whether its' dreaming about it or talking about it.

So Spain won the game last night as you and every person and peanut and chicken in Spain know by now. I'll be back to serious writing mañana.

Adios Astronauts.

The Madness in Madrid

Montfrague Nacional Parc—The first time I am able to sit and talk to you, and the Community of Madrid and the country of Spain has come to a full stop. I meant to describe the excitement of my first visit to Europe, and I have arrived on perhaps the biggest weekend in Spain since the death of Francisco Franco in 1975.

Spain is in the finals of the Euro Cup against Germany ("Alemania"). This is their first visit to the Finals since 1964, I'm told. After a first half goal by the blond-haired Fernando Torres, Spain is leading 1-zip. Here at Vaugha town in Monfrague Parc Nacional, the entire group of students and volunteers has gathered around two television sets—one in a smoking room and one in a non-smoking room. In the center of Madrid, thousands and thousands of Spaniards, (and no Germans) are assembled in front of jumbo TV screens in the Plaza Colon in the heart of Downtown Madrid.

At ten minutes before 10 p.m. the sun is only just beginning its slow descent below the horizon. Night comes late to Spain in these early days of summer. 16 teams began the march to tonight's game in early June to tonight;s game in Vienna, Austria. The Euro Cup is second only to the World Cup in Importance in the sporting universe. And the World Cup makes the Super Bowl look like Franklin High School vs. the Widney High Junior Varsity. My sitting here with my MacBook balanced on a shaky cocktail table is roughly tantamount to a moon landing covered by the Belleville, Arkansas Bugle and Reporter society writer. Every media outlet in Europe has a correspondent here. Have no fear. Any fan looking for coverage of the tournament is not looking at this tiny blog tonight.

Spain has been on the attack all evening, and every wayward kick at the German goal draws shouts and gasps from the hometown crowd gathered in the bar here at the Monfrague Park Hotel.

Germany has mounted a brief attack with two quick shots on goal, but the match so far has been played in Spanish.

Should the Spaniards hang on to win tonight, bedlam will ensue in Madrid. If not, it will be a sad week in Vaughantown. The next 17 minutes will decide whether this is the New Summer of Love in the New Spain or the Summer of Sad.

Prepare to stand by.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I Got The News

Who the F--- are the Detroit Red Wings?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Miles From Sherbrooke

Gee, this is kinda like the Metro Station—leave your house early in the morning and go play music. Yes, right.

My silly little band, Ann Likes Red (long story), opened for Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jackson Browne on Sunday at a park near my house. The event, Lummis Day (, is a new one in LA, and only in its third year. Here's how it came about: (

Okay, those explanatory things are out of the way.

I realized a couple weeks ago, that I have not played with a loud, electric rock band since, well, LAST June, at Lummis Day. I brought an old friend out from Italy to handle lead guitar for us, arranged for our bass player to come down from San Francisco, and had everyone in place here. There were only TWO rehearsals, and there was NOT ONE where every member was present. I e-mailed everyone the song list weeks ago. "These are easy," I told everyone. "Play 'em loud, fast and fierce."

There was an ongoing discussion about what to bill the band as, since, well, the story is convoluted at this point. Suffice to say, for various reasons, the band had an ongoing series of guests for the bulk of our 30-minute set. Someone to sing "DayTripper;" Randy and Scott Rodarte, from Ollin, to do the Righteous Brothers AM radio nugget, "Little Latin Lupe Lu," and local blues belter Greger Walnum, to sing "The House is Rockin'."

At our first rehearsal, Christina, the bass player had e-mailed me and said, "I can't play 'Town Called Malice,' it's too fast, not enough time to rehearse it." Eli Chartkoff of the Monolators, brought in for "Daytripper," jumped at the opportunity. That meant Eli starts the set with us, Christina is off-stage, and at the end of the song, he goes to center mic, and she takes the bass. Some tricky footwork there.

There were other issues. Deborah, the keyboard player, was caught up swirling in a series of vertigo attacks all weekend, that left her dizzy and drained. "I might have to sleep in the car in parking lot before, and come up just for the set, and go back to sleep," she said. That's how bad it was. (She left for a minute during the last song, and returned to finish. Trouper a go go).

Our last question was whether or not my friend Eric Garcetti, LA City Council president, would show up and play along with us. I had danced badly with his office scheduler since he committed back in February. (I think it was the Thursday show mention in the LA Times that convinced, him, frankly.)

But all the parts worked.

Hal Eisner from Fox 11 TV, introduced us. The set took off loud and fast, and the rest is really blurry. I counted some songs off wrong, started to play the wrong one once, and the sound guy forgot to turn my acoustic guitar on. (It was OK, I ditched it quick.) I saw thousands of faces that were new to me, I remembered all the words to "Just Some Guy," and thought about how many times I'd been playing in crowded bars, and thinking, "Gee, if I wasn't in the band, I could never get in here."

I could smell grilling burgers and strawberries. No one threw coins in a hat for me.

It all ended with five guitar players on stage— and Eric Garcetti on keyboards with Deborah—and Greger wailing away on his harmonica. Loud, fast and fierce.

Jackson Browne? He was terrific. He put on a great show. Maybe he blogged about it.

See all the photos at

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Watch This Space...

It's late May, summer creeping up. At the moment I'm getting ready to play a show in Los Angeles with Jackson Browne (OK,that was weird to type). It's kind of a big deal, and I'm looking forward to it, I'll admit. I think we're doing a few shows in June, actually, miles away from Sherbrooke Metro Station, where our hero will return in September.

This is also where you can locate me these days:

July will find me in Vaughantown, one of two resort complexes outside Madrid, designed for Spanish corporate executives as a place to learn English from English-speaking Americans,Brits, Australians, Texans and Canadians, if you will. Not really a traditional learning setting, but that's the idea. (

I don't know much about it yet. On Friday, June 27, I'll be in a hotel in Madrid, ready to explore the city, shoehorn, pencil sharpener and trombone in hand. Kinda like in Montreal, but without a lot of the snow. Sunday morning will find me on a bus to a town far, far from West Avenue 37. I'll be letting you know how things go, by video and by correo electronico.

I promise, after a fashion, to post more here. You've all been so very nice to read me with so many cups of coffee, at desks and in beds all over Canada and America. I should really have written. But there've been deadlines followed by deadlines, followed by Pepsis and Pop Tarts.

You know, LA is home, but, just the other day, someone gave me a Lonely Planet© book on Montreal, and there was a picture of cornice work on a house in Square St. Louis, along with a long section on the Metro. I saw it and well, I panged. I yearned, just a little.

I will write more, I'll be a better correspondent. I know you were just about to forget me, and just the other afternoon, something reminded you of me, and you thought for just a second, 'What ever happened to that guy from L.A. who used to do that Montreal blog? He was, interesting."

I've missed you, too, Jacques Cartier.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sorry I Haven't Written

"I've been one poor correspondent, I've been too too hard to find/but it doesn't mean you ain't been on my mind...."
—'Sister Golden Hair,' America

Oh my God, could that be a cheesier intro?
It's dorky, but it kinda explains my position. What's today, May 7th? I've been back in LA for almost three weeks now, and it's surprising how quickly one slips back into old patterns. I mean, I was busy the minute I landed back home. There were things to be done right now. A new issue of the paper was going to press, and the deadline was looming as I touched down. So, I hadn't written.

At a family party, everyone wanted to know about this odd place called Montreal. What was it like? Is it like Moscow? Like Paris? Does anyone speak English? I said, "Um, it snows. A lot." (When I lived in New York, my mom would call me in September, and ask, "Are you cold? Is it freezing there?" I said, "Mom, it's New York City, not Alaska." Same kinda thing.)

I know I said I would write about playing in the Metro, and actually, I still have a lot to say about that. Hopefully I'll write about that tomorrow night.

Let's see:

• Oh, Im sorry about the Canadiens. My brother, who never follows hockey (Don't be fooled by The Ducks. LA is not a hockey town), told me he was rooting for the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge, since I was his only connection to anything in the hockey world.

• This band I have, Ann Likes Red, is opening for Jackson Browne here in LA at a little park just down the hill from my house. Though he is from the neighborhood, he's never played here. Let me know you're coming, I'll try and save you a seat. We go on at 2 p.m., he goes on at 6. What time are you arriving? (If anyone knows where I can buy a t-shirt with the Montreal Metro logo, not the map, please let me know. I wanna wear one for the show.)

• This little video here is from my trip to San Luis Obispo, on California's Central Coast, about 45 minutes from Hearst Castle in San Simeon. (Look it up.)

• I'm going to Italy in July, followed by a week in Spain, then back to Rome, then home. It won't be, but.....hmm, maybe it might be.

• It's raining...

Friday, April 18, 2008

What I Remember About Last Week...

If anyone's interested...

Sing Your Life

I'm holding this space. I wanted to talk about the whole "busking" thing, and who has the right to a spot.

Apparently I'm a dilettante if I don't give up my earned slot to a drug addict who needs the gig. Don't get me started. Actually, get me started later today. I'm just getting reaccustomed to being back in LA.

I'll see you guys back on here later this afternoon. Enjoy that whole "Spring" thing. Oh, and Go Habs.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

What’s on YOUR iPod?

You’re excused from examining this list closely—there won’t be a quiz— but these are bits and pieces of the Winter/Spring 2008 Montreal soundtrack, such as it was.

Across The Universe 3:45 The Beatles
The Beatles - I'll Cry Instead 1:47
Radio Nowhere
You'll Be Comin' Down
Livin' In the Future 3:55 Bruce Springsteen
All That Heaven Will Allow
Brian Ferry - More Than This
For The Movies 4:35 Buckcherry
I'll Never Fall In Love 3:19 Burt Bacharach & Elvis C.
The Beatles - I'm A Loser 2:33 The Beatles
The Beatles - I've Just Seen A Face
King Of New Orleans 4:07 Better Than Ezra
Lucky Town 3:27 Bruce Springsteen
Je Reviendrai À Montréal 3:24 Charlebois, Robert _
Four Seasons In One Day 2:54 Crowded House
Better Be Home Soon 3:10 Crowded House
4/12/08 5:23 PM
I Still Have That Other Girl 2:48 Elvis Costello With Burt Bacharach
Gymnopedie No. 3 2:35 Eric Satie
Six months in a leaky boat 2:48 Finn Brothers
Chelsea Dagger 3:24 The Fratellis

Ole Black 'n' Blue Eyes 3:16 The Fratellis
Hippy Hippy Shake 1:48 Georgia Satellites
Til I Hear It From You 3:47 Gin Blossoms
Sky Blue And Black 6:07 Jackson Browne
Pipeline 3:54 Agent Orange
School's Out 3:34 Alice Cooper
Take me to the River 5:16 Ann Likes Red
They're on to Me (Acoustic) 3:47 Ari Hest
Landslide 3:59 Ari Hest
Travelin' Boy 5:03 Art Garfunkel
Jump 2:53 Aztec Camera

Pour Le Monde 5:10 Crowded House
People Are Like Suns 3:52 Crowded House
Sister Madly 2:52 Crowded House
Can't You See That She's Mine-Dave Clark five
Two Faces 3:03 Bruce Springsteen
Brilliant Disguise 4:17
Jersey Girl 6:30 Bruce Springsteen
Radio Nowhere 3:19 Bruce Springsteen
Crawling From The Wreckage 2:55 Dave Edmunds 1
Little Sister 3:32 Dave Edmunds & Robert Plant
Babylon 4:25 David Gray
Please Forgive Me David Gray
Mercury Blues 3:35 David Lindley
O Valencia 3:45 The Decemberists
Happy Girl (Instrumental)
Elvis Costello With Nick Lowe - Baby It's You
In The Darkest Place 4:21 Elvis Costello With Burt Bacharach
Toledo 4:36 Elvis Costello With Burt Bacharach

The Next Voice You Hear - The Best of Jackson Browne
In The Shape Of A Heart 5:42 Jackson Browne
My Favorite Thing
Gunslinger 3:31 John Fogerty
Mountain Of Love 2:40 Johnny Rivers
I can do without you 3:24 Kaiser Chiefs
Asking For Flowers 5:02 Kathleen Edwards
I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory 4:37
Oh Canada 3:59 Kathleen Edwards
I Won't Take The Blame 3:54 Del Amitri
Drunk In A Band 2:44 Del Amitri

Medicine 2:50 Del Amitri
Life Is Full 3:22 Del Amitri
Start With Me 4:27 Del Amitri
Here And Now 5:30 Del Amitri
Twisting By The Pool 3:30 Dire Straits
Local Hero Dire Straits
The Kids Are Alright 2:30 The Dropkick Murphys
I'm Walking On Sunshine 3:58 Katrina & The Waves
Somewhere Only We Know 3:48 Keane
This Is The Last Time 3:29 Keane
You Really Got Me 2:14 Kinks
Waterloo Sunset 3:15 The Kinks
My Sharona 4:56 The Knack
God Give Me Strength 5:20 Kristen Vigard
Suddenly I See 3:21 KT Tunsall
Summer in the City 2:40 The Lovin' Spoonful
You're My Favorite Waste of Time 2:39 Marshall Crenshaw
Whenever You're On My Mind 3:20 Marshall Crenshaw
I Am A Town 5:05 Mary Chapin Carpenter
Irish Blood English Heart 2:44 Morissey
First of the gang to Die 3:38 Morrissey/The Smiths
Ace of spades 2:49 Motorhead
Don't Dream It's Over (acoustic)) 3:44 Neil Finn & Tim Finn
Loud Music in Cars 2:49 Nick Lowe
So It Goes 2:31 Nick Lowe
True Love Travels on a Gravel Road 3:38 Nick Lowe
Time Won't Let Me 3:02 The Outsiders
So Bad 3:16 Paul McCartney
Dyslexic Heart 4:32 Paul Westerberg
Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home) 4:10 Paul Young
World Wide Suicide 3:27 Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam - Soldier of Love 2:54
Wish List 3:26 Pearl Jam
Baba O'Riley [live] 5:44 Pearl Jam -
What the World Needs Now 3:57 Pixies & Burt Bacharach
A Good Feelin To Know 3:54 Poco
Some Like It Hot 5:05 Power Station
I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man 3:40 Prince
Little Sister 2:54 Queens Of The Stone Age
I Never Came 0:00 Queens Of The Stone Age
Johnny And Mary 3:55 Robert Palmer
You Wear It Well 4:20 Rod Stewart
Avalon 4:16 Roxy Music
Dance Away 3:26 Roxy Music
Gymnopedie #1 3:36 Satie, Erik
Black Horse & The Cherry Tree-Kt Tunsall 2:51
Everything You've Done Is Wrong 3:26 Sloan
Sing Your Life 4:00 The Smiths - Morrisey
The House is a Rocking 2:23 Stevie Ray Vaughn
When The Train Comes 3:57 Sutherland Brothers & Quiver
Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love) 2:21 The Swinging Medallions
Metal Guru 2:28 T. Rex The Slider
Persuasion 4:41 Tim Finn With Richard Thompson
Love Is The Answer - Utopia 4:18 Todd Rundgren
You Wreck Me Baby 3:22 Tom Petty Wildflowers
Downtown Train 3:53 Tom Waits
Sing 3:50 Travis
Stereophonics / Have A Nice Day 3:15
The White Stripes - While My Guitar Gently Weeps
My Generation 3:16 The Who
That Thing You Do 2:52 The Wonders
Debussy - Erik Satie Gymnopedie No 3, Orchestrated by Claude Debussy 1 3:16
Let it Rock - Rockpile (Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe & Keith Richards) 2:58
Rod Stewart - I Don't Wanna Talk About It 4:52
Crying, Waiting, Hoping - Marshall Crenshaw 2:21
The Beatles - Come Together 4:19
Tom Waits - Waltzing Matilda 6:38

A Bientôt, Montréal


My last day and evening in Montreal was all trolling for souvenirs and chocolate, returning movies, renting more movies, and finally gathering up a loose handful of errands that bounced and skittered across the hours like marbles on a kitchen counter.

It was snowing the day I arrived, and it snowed the day I left. It will be 89 degrees American in LA today. (Um, it was in the high 90s American today...) The temperature never rose above 11 Canadian while I was here, and it sounds funny to say, but that seemed about normal to me. Everyone eventually gets used to everything, and I got used to it being cold every. Single. Day.

I had a friend who went to college in Wisconsin and she once told me about how they would have “50 Degree Days,” in those waning days of Winter when the sun would burst through the clouds, and everyone wore a t-shirt, skipping like hippies in the afternoon warmth. I thought she was a couple of nachos short of a combo plate then, but now I can kinda see it. There was that one day about two weeks ago when I threw open my front windows and listened to the guy in the Square sing badly. It was a beautiful thing, man.

I never figured out a lot of things in Montreal. When is trash day? Why aren’t book and movie titles in quotes in the newspaper? Why is that halfwit Mike Boone allowed to write a column in the Montreal Gazette? Where oh where can I find diet Coke in six-pack cans? Where is ouest? Oh, and where is est?

I did manage to figure out how all those wretched Midwest and Canadian ‘70s bands (Triumph, Reo Speedwagon, Kansas, Rush ad nauseum, etc) sold so many damn records. Canadians bought them. I think its CHUM, maybe it’s another station, but apparently those bands have found a cozy home on Canadian radio, free from the cruelty of the calendar.

Meanwhile, let's just call it even on the whole Spring thing. Summer will be here soon. Looks like Spain and Italy for me in July, and I am thinking about Hawaii maybe in August, just to make sure it's hotter than hell there.

There's the paper to do ( every month, and this loud rock and roll band that I run with is doing something big in June (Watch this space.)

I have more on my Second-Favorite City, lots more, and I need to say something about "busking." But that's for tomorrow.

A bientôt, Montréal.

Friday, April 11, 2008

One Night Only

I was beginning to think I would never play the Sherbrooke Metro again, at least not on this trip. Someone had warned me that it's much more difficult to sign up and play in the winter months (I know it's Spring here. I got the memo late.)

Three times I set my alarm, got to the station early, but never early enough, apparently. So last night, I set the alarm for 4:45, and there I was in the station at 5, all alone, list in hand.

As you recall from last Fall, Campers, you gotta get up early, make two sign-up sheets with the date and hours listed; put your name in a slot, and then affix the lists to the metal music sign at each station.

And even then, it's not always a guarantee. Last year I put up a list, and came back at noon to find that someone had thrown it away and made their own list--a cardinal sin in busker circles. This afternoon, in fact, I found one of the sign-up sheets missing, and other torn halfway down the middle, but there was my name in the 5:30 spot. (Oh, I'm not a busker, by the way. That's a stupid name. I'm a guy who sometimes plays his guitar in the Metro station.)

I tossed some coins into the flute case of the guy on duty when I arrived, to his surprise, and was ready to go--no set list, no music stand, no song notebook. Just a person and that person's guitar.

I'd actually learned new songs this time around. And the guy who sings on the streets of Dublin in last year's Irish film, "Once," was wrong. You don't have to play familiar songs to attract coins to your case. The guy who was playing today at lunch time was noodling jazz/rock guitar improvisations through too many effects pedals with his eyes closed. To me it was nauseating. But there was money in his case, quite a bit, in fact.

But I began with two originals, the one about that girl, and the other one about that girl. It was slow at first, really slow. I was beginning to fear that this would be the only set where I made no money.

Twenty (!) minutes in, a little girl accompanied by her father, dropped coins in my case, and five minutes later, the same scene repeated itself. I almost thought it was the same little girl.

And then something odd happened. A tattered, toothless, dreadlocked hippie approached me, and started to look at the list. He stopped me and asked in French, "Are you on this list?"

"5:30. There's my name."

"I really need to busk. Can I have your spot?"

He seemed surprised when I said no.

"Oh man, I really need to busk....," he said, and then tossed the sign-up sheet on the ground, stomping away angrily towards the exits.

And then he was back. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, smelled him coming, actually. As he walked by me, a little too closely, he spat on the floor, in front of me, and kept walking.

Did he just spit at me? Okay, I think he was just making a point. Had he actually spat on me, it would have been International Incident time. But off he went, to convince someone else to give up their spot.

And then money started to fall. Old women, twenty-something baby chicas, business guys. I was pleasantly surprised.

Remember last year, when I said you could theoretically sing just one song for the whole two hours? Um, maybe you could actually sing five or six. People seem to really like that song about that girl, and the other one about her. And then maybe you do two or three they recognize immediately (but not the Eagles. Never the Eagles).

And then "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

I remember very clearly and distinctly. Two trains arrived at once, and a bus had just discharged passengers into the station from St. Denis. Perfect storm. Okay, they're approaching from both sides now, and from three directions.

Start in that split-second quiet moment. They hear it, and they notice, and then suddenly, they're one quickly moving group moving in and out of the station from east to west across my vision. They slow down, they step aside, they maneuver towards me. Coins fall. I metamorphisized from jukebox to guichet. Something about that song, I guess. Plus you have to make eye contact.

Ssssh. I played it twice. And then the song about that girl. And the other song about that girl.

It's 4:34 a.m right now. Hmmm.....

This Just In....

Amtrak found my wallet. Last week. I didn't get a chance to tell you. Whew. UPDATE: That's Roop there. He handed me a cardboard box, and said, "Which is these is your wallet?" Just like that. And now he can be seen world-wide. (Shh... Don't say nothing. He said his boss told him not to talk to the press.)

A House Guest

Yes, It's been a while. I know you are, but what am I....?

Okay, so imagine you have a house guest. Your house is fairly large, and he has never visited before. So, every day he comes to you, breathless, with a new discovery.

"Dude, if you walk down that hallway, there is another bedroom!"

"Hey, is that a kitchen??!"

"Bro, there is a whole street outside with people walking around, and stuff like that...!"

You get the idea. It's a bit how I felt recently, after visiting with my new friend Phillipe-Andre Piette, he of Le Journal Montreal. He contacted me after my last posting, which I'm beginning to think resonated with a lot of people. (A lot of nut people as well. You'll notice I had closed the comments section here. I had to, after the gates of WackadoodleTown were breached and every nut person with a salacious suggestion or conspiracy theory or spam sandwich decided this was their chance to finally reach out to me. But the comments are open again. This blog's gonna be here for a while, anyway.)

Anyway, I was seeing new bedrooms everywhere.

Phil and I met in the Square here, and then off we went to his chic urban home, smack in the middle of the Hochelaga ghetto, high above a Dollarama, near Maissonneuve. His comfortable second floor loft, which he shares with his girlfriend, was all exposed brick walls and stereo equipment—works for me.

More and more I learned—and am learning—that it's a pretty small percentage of Montrealers who live like I have been, and very few who pay anywhere near what I am paying for a home here. It's a bit like moving to LA, and the first place you find is in the Hollywood Hills, and you're startled when no one you meet lives anywhere near you. ("Dude, there is a WHOLE CITY outside!")

Thus my eyes were opened (again) as Phil and I drove through the city, east to west, and he pointed out the sights and neighborhoods at least in a small radius out to Olympic Stadium (I know, I know, that is barely east.)

Up we drove then to the winding curves of Westmount, to the view from the summit, down across The Boulevard, and eventually down into Outremont and Rue Bernard to L'Assomoir Bernard, the hip resto bar where Phillipe used to spit fire for the bar customers. (Did I get that geography right?)

We shared tapas at the bar, ate dinner, watched his former compadres juggle drinks with a flourish, (you know the drill) and watched the pretty girls. (Oh wait, that was me.)

Leaving the bar, I noted the Metro stop and thought, "Another neighborhood I have to discover." Ah, that will happen in September.

A few days later, I headed off in the direction away from the Sherbrooke Metro to stroll St. Denis across Sherbrooke and Rene Levesque down to Vieux Montreal.

"Dude, there are people going in and out of stores there, and everything!"

Call me Magellan.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The L Word

No, it's not Laval, though it occurs there and in towns and cities larger and smaller.

I hadn't really noticed it until lately. There was no mention of it in local newspapers or on television.

I'm pretty familiar with it, actually. I remember it sweeping though New York City in the late winter/early spring of 1986. It happened in Honolulu in 1983 as well.

There had been local outbreaks of it in Los Angeles over the past two years, and I'm thinking its the secret reason why I ventured out to a new city where I knew no one. It couldn't be worse, I thought, and it might even be better.

I realize I haven't written a lot of travelogue stuff for any publication lately. In fact, the latest travel story I wrote was on San Diego—a trip I took in December. I'll write about the Amtrak Adirondack when I return to LA--a normal travel article with facts and figures. (The home magazine is "reorganizing," and I think we are starting a new one when I return.)

This blog, then, lies in some strange netherworld between journal and travelogue. There is little soul searching here, that's not my style. Its far easier for me to chart other people's thinking or look for patterns in the everyday that become material for columns.

This trip has been a lot different from previous trips here. I've traveled here twice with groups, and once alone. I faced the first trip alone last year with a mixture of trepidation and delight. Summer was waning, fall was stirring. I knew no one, I knew nowhere. I actually met people. New people. Everything was bright and shiny.

Fast forward five months. I'm back in Montreal. It's a LOT colder this time, but that's OK. The places I came to know and visit seem like old friends, but something is different.

I still haven't played the Metro. Tried twice, was too late. My guitar sits, restless, in a corner. Without the pressure of deadline writing, afternoons stretch on and on and on. (Check that. This is deadline week for my LA newspaper. I'll be busy this week.)

I joined a movie group at the local cinema. But all they want to talk about is movies. At home, movies stack up, unwatched. I pass crowded bars, too shy to go in. I think about things to write about--how skinny the sidewalks get when it snows, about how locals seem unable to negotiate the art of Pedestrianism, about the Great Obsession with the Habs, about why you have to dial the area code with local numbers, why a comma instead of a period, and when exactly is trash day? When is recycling day?.....grand thoughts like those.

So I go out and sit in an Internet cafe on Mount Royal, like some slacker college dweeb. Encased in my iPod, there's the feel and vibe of a crowded place without a crowd in my head. A journalism teacher once told me, "Be able to write anywhere." And I can. And I do.

I can scratch out inch-deep musings for a world of strangers, even though I know my favorite audience is me.

So, this then is what passes for soul searching on a Saturday evening, as our hero visits his second-favorite city.

The first two weeks of April will pass in a blur. And then I will be on a train. And an airplane. And it will be 68 degrees American when I get step off the plane, 81 the next day.

And I will return in late September, eager and new again, with full knowledge of what I'll face.

That L Word. Lonesome.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I'll Tumble 4 Ya

(Snow falling. Again.)

There I was, just a person.

But I knew it was gonna happen, though I'd been extra careful everywhere I traversed. Coming out of the shopping complex at Avenue du Parc and Prince Arthur, I took a hard left after the exit walkway, and, the process began, in far less time than it takes you to read this.

I felt my body leaning to the left, weighed down by groceries, and I leaned back, to no avail. With no purchase from the ground, my shoes went backward. I pitched forward, coming down on my hands and left knee. A loaf of bread rolled out of my Metro bag. No one hurt, no property damage. My iPod played on, of course, and I don't think anyone saw me fall. I didn't look around to check, just picked up the bread, dusted the snow off, and walked back home, chuckling to myself. "You thought you were so cool here, didn't you, Crackerjack?"

Yes I did.

I have actually learned a few things, quickly, about winter walking. ONE: WATCH where you're walking. That's the thing, gentle readers. Plant your feet and look down when you can. That dark shiny spot? Yeah, um, you don't want to walk there.

But you need to hear this from me, like I need to hear your recipe for Carne Asada, or your opinion of American Idol. (Someone told me the other day, "Dude, do not even be joking about the snow, ha ha ha, to Montrealers. They won't think it's all that funny.")

I recognize, as do you, that I'm not from around here, in a million little ways every day. Like not being able to count in French yet. That's embarrassing in the market, but the trick is, hold out the biggest bill to the merchant. I mean, I know what everything costs, but when the sales clerk says something that sounds like, ""Qui est des dollars de thirty-nine et de vingt-six cents," I just stammer and look at the cash register screen. And invariably, as I leave with my farewells en Francais, they smile and say, "Yeah, so long, cowboy." I fool nobody.

But I was telling someone today, I still love it here; the snow, the French, the culture mix, the Canadian Way, the get the idea.

Just watch where you walk, ça va?

$2.75, Please

Montrealers, you don't have to watch this. I realize this makes about as much sense as showing you snow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

From a Window

"Late yesterday night, I saw a light shine from a window,
and, as I looked again, your face came into sight....."
--'From a Window'
John Lennon/Paul McCartney

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Million Words for Snow, One Word for Ketchup

Forecast for Los Angeles and Vicinity
As of 6:00 am PDT on March 9, 2008
Today...Partly cloudy after morning low clouds and fog. Local visibilities one quarter mile or less in dense fog. Highs in the 70s to lower 80s. Through and below passes and canyons...northeast winds 15 to 25 mph in the morning.
Monday...Partly cloudy. Highs in the upper 60s to mid 70s at the beaches to the upper 70s inland.

Current Montreal Conditions:
Partly cloudy
Temperature -8°C
Wind Chill -8°C
Winds 9 km/h SW
Humidity 48%

Ah yes, the weather. Our brave correspondent travels by plane and train to a wondrous land of a foreign-ish language, where the ground is covered in ice almost 5 months out of the year. Yet he presses on, with no explanation for his friends as to why. He actually likes it.

He laughs at the ridiculous amounts of snow on the ground, at the cars buried under a white blanket of frozen everything. He leans forward into a stiff wind that pushes ice at you like shrapnel. He trudges (It's the only word that works) through an empty Vieux Montreal on a weekend afternoon, with tourists gone, and store after store shuttered and closed.

(Right now the LA audience is thinking, "WHAT an idiot," while the Montreal readers think, "What an IDIOT."

Yeah, its been eye-opening. Hey, you know that popular saying about how the Eskimos have a hundred words for snow? Well, stop spreading that ignorant rumor around, Crackerjack.

According to linguistics expert Sasha Aikhenvald, it ain't so. As she explains, "The story about Inuit (or Inuktitut, or Yup'ik, or more generally, Eskimo) words for snow is completely wrong. People say that speakers of these languages have 23, or 42, or 50, or 100 words for snow --- the numbers often seem to have been picked at random. The spread of the myth was tracked in a paper by Laura Martin (American Anthropologist 88 (1986), 418-423), and publicized more widely by a later humorous embroidering of the theme by G. K. Pullum (reprinted as chapter 19 of his 1991 book of essays The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax). But the Eskimoan language group uses an extraordinary system of multiple, recursively addable derivational suffixes for word formation called postbases. The list of snow-referring roots to stick them on isn't that long: qani- for a snowflake, api- for snow considered as stuff lying on the ground and covering things up, a root meaning "slush", a root meaning "blizzard", a root meaning "drift", and a few others -- very roughly the same number of roots as in English. Nonetheless, the number of distinct words you can derive from them is not 50, or 150, or 1500, or a million, but simply unbounded. Only stamina sets a limit."

But in Montreal, there is only one word for it, mon ami. It's "snow," and it's everywhere.

Montreal's ninth major snowstorm of the season dropped snow quietly and steadily all weekend, with another storm expected Wednesday. I watched bemused as the snow piled up all around everything, burying fences, parking meters, lots of small cars, and some household pets, I'm sure.

But then I went out in it. Sweet Baby Jesus a Go Go. Saturday afternoon, the wind ripped through Prince Arthur Square like a buzz saw, sending snow sideways across the field of vision. In the mile walk from my door to the supermarket, I watched two locals take a tumble, waited for a car to spin out of a parking space (he was still trying on my way back), and realized that this was an actual blizzard gathering strength here. (This is where Montrealers shake their head at my meteorological-ish naivete.)

But I did make some new discoveries here again:

• In Canada they sell microwave bacon. ("Cooks in five seconds!")

• They don't sell flavored coffee creamers.

• They do sell pink and green tortillas.

• There is ketchup-flavored salt for sale at Blockbuster Video.

• Apparently, there is no French-Canadian word for "Ketchup."

This just in: I might be playing the Sherbrooke Metro station tomorrow. Ssshh.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Weekend in Montreal

Let me just mark this space here. I have a lot to write about, in the meantime. Stay tuned.

Mr. Bruce Springsteen and the Culture of Rock and Roll Dorkiness

This is late, so let me get right to it.

It's a bit of a long story, involving too many tickets, a lost wallet, sick children, and a slice of pizza. Suffice to say that its the second of March, 35 degrees American outside, and I am sitting high above and behind Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, stretched out among a few seats, with no one to dance with.

The last time I saw Bruce was in Ottawa, if you remember, and that was with my new friends, Jimmy and Gary. Now, sitting alone among 16,000 fans at the Bell Centre, I know no one.

At a certain age, you stop lining up early outside for tickets to your favorite band; you stop living your life around their schedules. Not so Bruce fans. As I'd been explaining to someone, if you have any obsession, no matter how cool it may seem—golf to tattoos to rock and roll—you walk a fine line between cool and dork.

In trying to buy tickets for the Montreal show, I strode deeply through Springsteen fandom, encountering people with CyberNoms like JaneyFreehold, Born2Rn, RosalitaSanDiego, KyleWilliam456—obscure references to characters and titles and places in the Springsteen ouevre. Kinda like Star Wars, but with leather jackets and jeans.

And very close to obsessive dork. But hey, then what am I? I try hard not to ever become so obsessed by anything it takes over any aspect of my life. But we all have our obsessions. I'm no different.

Having said all that, I can appreciate Springsteen from a fan's perspective, and from someone who knows what he is and what he isn't. Here's a guy who had every dream come true in his life, someone who can tell his life story and your life story better than you can. Someone obsessive about controlling every aspect of his career. Fans know that.

He is not the Messiah. And I would never let a celebrity tell me how to vote.

But we look for ourselves in the artists we admire, they say what we can't say. It's why you send a song to someone to tell them that you love them.

When he speaks to a larger American picture in his work, it strikes a chord in people. Simple ideas—decency, goodness, the power of rock and roll revival, the best in people—come through, but not as Pollyanna. It's delivered loud with blazing guitars and pounding drums—like Steinbeck through a Fender Twin.

This wasn't the best Springsteen show I had ever seen. That will never happen again, and I'm okay with that.

But high above the stage, as the house lights went up and everyone gleefully sang along on "Dancing in the Dark," and did that little dance like in the video when they were 20, I remembered why he means a little something to me and so many.

"...And when they said sit down, I stood up, ooh, growing up..."
—You Know Who

Monday, March 3, 2008

First Things First, Or How it Be to Be Me

Tonight's entry begins back on Wednesday evening--deadline night. In order to send the latest issue of the Arroyo Seco Journal (my other day (Check it tonight, not right now)to the printer, the cover has to be created and finalized by John, our art director.

So there I am at his place Wednesday night. My MacBook has been acting funny for the past few days every since he placed a folder full of fonts on my desktop, and I loaded some of them. Chaos has reigned since then. But we're trying to go to press at midnight, so I'm being extra careful with it.

So there we are. I at my laptop, writing some final stories and he on his, creating the cover. At just about 10:30, the cover is finalized and approved for uploading to our printer's FTP service. I'm just gonna head home and finish two more sections and lay out the art news. We wont make midnight, but we will make 8 a.m., which means we make our on-street schedule.

I get home, fire up the MacBook, and nothing....just a blinking clock. Not good. There isnt' even enough time to go, "SweetBabyJesusagogoOnaFreekingDirtBike, IcantbelievethisishappeningtomeAGAIN!" I have to get the paper to the press and get on a plane.

I cruise into the nearest Kinko's, pray they have the proper system available, and start working immediately. I'd saved all of the week's work on a flash drive, fortunately, so I had only to finish the remaining pages, and I was done. But this requires critical thinking at 2 in the morning. I, um, did the best I could.

By 7a.m. I was headed home, pages safely sent to the printer. Now the sun was up, and I am wide awake, on the phone to Don, my mac guy.

"Dude!!," I said.

"I can be there in two hours,"he answered.

11 a.m. He arrives, and reveals that he has forgotten a critical tool ("Your brain?", I offered, politely, under my breath.) "I'll be back in an hour," he assures me.

He is climbing the stairs to my apartment at 1 p.m. After about an hour of "tsk tsk," and "thatsfunnyhmm," I ask him if he has a loaner computer. He says his are all out with customers, but he knows where I can rent one."

"Call him right now."

3 p.m. I'm headed for Westwood (Imagine trying to drive to Laval from, let's say, Verdun, at 5 p.m., Montrealers), directly through the heart of afternoon traffic and moving deep into rush hour.

At 4:25, I am walking out of the store with another Macbook Pro, and headed up Sepulveda Blvd. north to the 101 east to the 134/5 interchange, onto the 5, to the Glendale Freeway north to the San Fernando road exit, up San Fernando to Cypress, up Roseview to the very very top, then Avenue 37, and home, with barely enough time for a shower and a dash to the airport. A 22 mile trip in about 3 hours.

Long Beach Airport is uncrowded and peaceful an hour before my flight. My bags (and guitar) are checked curbside.

Looking forward to a long dark, sleepy night, I am blazing awake until we embark at Dulles Aiport in Washington D.C. Another hour for the New York flight. I shoot a couple of video segments, we board the plane, and we are at JFK in about 11 songs.

I shared a car service into Manhattan with my two new friends, Crystal and OhMan,WHAT is her husband's name? They were traveling to NYC to help empty a friend's apartment after her father's move to LA. Long story, kinda. (They'll read this and send me an--oh wait, no they won't, but I'll get to that.)

I can't check into my hotel until noon, so I wile away the hours in a Starbucks on West 56th, watching the city's work force straggle in and walk out awake.

I stroll around Midtown for an hour or so, forgetting what real cold feels like. It's about 12 degrees, and the wind shoots through my clothes like an X-ray. I buy warmer gloves and ear muffs, and at about noon, I'm sitting in the "O" of that "L O V E" sculpture on 55th and 6th, having a hot dog and a diet coke (It's the little things, mon amis.)

By 1:30, I am in rapid eye movement, and do not anticipate any movement for several days. Alas, I am awake at 8 p.m. I board the F Train down to the Village in search of pizza. As I emerge from the West 4th Street Station, a gentle snow begins to fall, and the natives are giddy. Actual snowfall in the City is relatively rare, and the world feels like a happy place.

I found pizza on Carmine Street, in Little Italy, read the NY Post, like a New Yorker, yo, and then got back on the train. I exited again at Times Square, and barely recognized it from the 1986 version I'd been familiar with. No one brushed past me, whispering "Smoke? Smoke?," all the porn shops were gone, and the city that once looked to me like it was about to slip off the worn veneer of civilization was shiny and new again.

By now the snow had turned to rain, all the photos I took were wet and blurry, and it was getting late.

Ah, but by midnight, I was out again. My brother, in New York for three days on assigment for NBC Sports, invited me out for a late something.

We met like tourists at the Carnegie Deli, had strangers take our picture, planned my sister's surprise birthday party, then said our goodbyes. I headed back to the hotel full to the brim with every tiny, happy thing that pizza, falling snow and family fills you with.

(Oh, and why won't Crystal and her husband e-mail me? Because, dear friends, when I arrived in Montreal, I realized that I had lost my wallet. Along with the credit cards, license and all the rest, Crystal's card was in there. THAT is one more blog entry.)

Next: "Mr. Bruce Springsteen and the Culture of Rock and Roll Dorkiness." Only at, Montreal's Best Choice for Quality Low-Cost Entertainment at Work.

How YOU gonna act?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hey Monkeys, I'm back!

13. 5 hours on a train, only to lose my wallet. I promise to update this as soon as I can get VideoTron to answer their phones, and turn the Internet on in my lovely apartment. You know that coffee place on St. Laurent and Prince Arthur? That's where I am. OK, see ya tomorrow. ;-)

OK, OK, you got me. I FORGOT how cold winter can be.
What the F, David Blaine??

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Arrival Plans

74 Degrees today on the American Left Coast.

As I begin to edge closer to my stay in Montreal, I'm doing that Cultural Immersion Ritual Thing. French podcasts, Sur La Route (Eeky French pop music) on XM Radio, and, I hate to admit this one—Rants And Raves on the Montreal Craigslist.

People, people....All that stuff I wrote about this good and wise nation is reduced to schoolyard bullying and a really astonishing level of anti-everything? I mean, can we all get along? (Does that joke work in Canada?)

I mean, I know America takes the cake, and the candles and the frosting, when it comes to this group hating that one, ...but....Jeez Louise. Guys, your city is pretty small, and the Metro is kinda crowded. Be cool. I guess it's just the Quebecois/Anglophone dynamic bubbling quietly just below the peaceful surface, but I gotta say, I expect more from you.

Now I'm coming to realize the difference between visiting a city and thinking you know it, and actually living in a city. Seems like I don't know Jacques about the Montreal everyday.

What if someone from Montreal moved to LA and wrote about it in a similar blog? Some smartass who thought he had all the answers and looked at my city with this weird combination of wide-eyed and jaded.

Sometimes that's me, and I would understand if people thought, "Who is this Wingnut who is going to tell me about where I live?"

But I'm working on it. Like I said before, I have a plane ticket, a guitar ready to pack, a MacBook (Don't start with me) and people who know me in the second-largest French-speaking city in the Western world.

So I'll see you at Springsteen, and I'll be at Sherbrooke Station. Or maybe afraid to leave my apartment because the frozen Montreal GazetteSicle just sailed onto my porch and broke a window. I might be sitting next to the lone hockey fan at Pepsi Center. Or sitting next to you on the Montmorency train. I'll be at the Second Cup on Mont Royal. And tripping onto snowdrifts at Parc la Fontaine. And shopping at the cool Metro on Laurier below St. Denis.

And I'll be right here.