Friday, August 27, 2021

a busy summer part 6: the end

We were home for 4 nights after vacation before the next adventure began.  This year both Blue and Violet are running Cross Country for their school.  Training for Cross Country begins pretty early in the summer and since Violet was going to try to earn a jersey with the team this year, she decided to start running on her own before practices began.  We have a nice little 1 kilometer trail here at home and it’s convenient to walk out of the house and be ready to run.  She started running around the end of May and the team started later in June.  By the end of the summer the team has bonded a bit and the coach likes to end the summer practices with a 3 day camp just before school starts back up.  

I love to run and I really enjoy being able to run with my kids.  Each year my mileage starts to double as I run my morning 5K alone and then run again with one of the kids as they train.  Blue graduated from needing my support on his runs just as Violet joined the team.  She’s moved along quickly and while she no longer needs my support, we have a pretty strict rule about people not running alone so I still join her on her runs.  

There’s a lot of parental support and volunteering on this team which is really cool.  Many of the parents run or bike with runners at practices and help make sure that no one runs alone.  These same parents travel to camp and help with food prep and various other planning activities while there.  This year school did not interfere with me going, so I planned to attend most of the camp.  

The day before camp was Blue’s birthday.  He got his learner’s permit and had a couple of birthday cakes and lots of gifts. Violet and I got him a llama piƱata and filled it with goodies.  It was a good day.  That night the kids and I packed and prepared for an early departure the next morning.  I was up at 6:30 am to get my 5K done.  I dropped the kids off at school and then followed the bus up the mountain to camp.  It was a pretty place with decent cabins and a pond.  When the kids were trying to make sure I was going to camp with them, the pond was a big selling point.  They told me there were pedal boats and kayaks.  Violet said we would kayak together every day.  

I knew I pretty much had to go either way, but I figured I’d have to kayak alone.  While her intentions were pure, I knew that once she got around her friends, they’d want her to do all the fun things with them.  When we arrived, I unpacked and helped the other volunteers get tents and tables set up and then we went for our first run.  There are two runs each day at camp and they begin and end with a half mile loop around the pond.  It was not super-hot but it was very humid.  I had to take a shower as soon as we were finished running and everyone was getting ready for the afternoon free time.  After lunch everyone explored to see what activities were available.  There was a large group of kids at the pool apparently trying to kill each other with a ball.  There was a chilly creek that ran through the property.  There was a zip line and a rappelling tower.  We were free to use the pool, but the zip line and rappelling tower were amenities we did not purchase so those were out.  I don’t love sitting in water with a lot of other humans splashing around, so I ignored the pool.  I walked over to the pond just as Violet and her friends were walking away from it.  Violet ran to me and announced that we were not allowed to use the pedal boats or kayaks due to “short staffing”.  The girls played in the creek instead.

I made my way back to the front porch of my cabin and grabbed my laptop.  With classes beginning in a week, I had plenty to do.  I quickly realized that there was no internet at camp so while I had plenty to do, I was pretty limited as to what I could do.  I used my phone to do make some advising notes for a couple of students and then I decided to just sit and enjoy being bored.  I wrote and drew in my sketchbook for most of the afternoon.  I’m realizing that being bored is a luxury and perhaps even a necessity for a creative person.  In the bustle of this busy summer, I have written some details in my sketchbook but I have failed to draw in it as much as I would have liked.  Now there was nothing else I could do.  It was nice.

The late afternoon run was just as hot and I had to take another shower.  The food was provided by parents and it was pretty good.  I had no food complaints at all.  There was a campfire with s’mores and then some down time until lights out.  Y’all know I’m socially awkward and some of you may be able to imagine that I do not have a ton of things in common with other sport parents.  If you’ve never been the “art person” you’ve at least known an “art person”.  Well, I’m the art person.  I don’t think I’m really that weird, but I know I’m weird to normal people.  So take their trepidation in trying to talk to me and multiply that by my awkwardness and desire to be alone, and you can imagine what it was like for me to sit for an hour in a room talking with the other dads.  Nice people, I just felt very uncomfortable.

The dads split up the two parent rooms and I was sharing one with another quiet dad.  I know this is one of the strange idiosyncrasies of being me, but I don’t sleep well with strangers.  Fun fact: I also don’t like eating with strangers.  There’s something very bizarre about being so vulnerable around people you don’t know.  I can do it because, well, I love to eat.  When it comes to sleeping, I just can’t relax enough to get into a deep sleep.  On a different type of trip a few years ago, I was packed in a room with a whole crew of kids and dads and the dads snored like freight trains.  I may have slept 2 hours in three days that time.  It was horrible.  If you’re reading this series, you already know how I feel about my sleep.  At camp the kids were supposed to be in bed by 10:30 so I was probably in bed by 11:00.  My roommate didn’t snore or make any weird noises but I only slept a little from 3:00 – 5:00 am.  

Lying in bed awake most of the night reminded me of all the things I have to do for school in the coming weeks.  You’ve heard of the “Sunday Scaries”?  I don’t get those so much, but I do get the “August Anxieties” just before the academic year begins.  This was on my mind as we ran our morning run.  There was a lot of free time scheduled for the day and I mostly had to just sit and sketch and try not to think of all the things I had to do that I couldn’t do.  I sketched as kids would come and go in the cabins.  I watched Violet walk with a group down toward the pool.  While they were walking a very loud lightning alarm went off.  They froze, then turned and speed-walked back to the cabin.  

It didn’t storm where we were, but it did storm near enough to cool us down a bit.  The Friday night run was a “fun run” planned by one of the parents.  He spent the day calculating distances between challenge stations and doing math.  I volunteered for the station that required sidewalk chalk and I drove to Dollar General to get some chalk.  I grabbed a coffee at Starbucks on the way and it really helped my mood.  I drew a hopscotch board under a gazebo on the pond and waited for the teams to check in.  After the fun run I packed up and got ready for dinner.  I had to leave after dinner but the camp was continuing through the next day.  I told the kids I was leaving and I headed back down the mountain.  

The coffee helped keep me awake but I was ready to go to sleep.  When I got home I unpacked and washed a couple of loads of laundry.  I took that awesome shower you take when you return from a trip and you get to shower in your own shower.  Then I slept that awesome sleep you sleep when you return from a trip and you get to sleep in your own bed.  

This adventure wasn’t over yet.  I was up at 7:00 am the next morning to get my run in and to get ready for a day in Columbia.  The reason I came home early was because while the kids would be enjoying their last day at camp, I would be driving to Columbia for the Young Artists Festival at 701 CCA.  In one of the earlier segments I wrote about the experience of doing the mural summer camp with the kids from the Boys and Girls Club in Columbia.  The Young Artists Festival was connected to that.  My kids’ murals would be exhibited in two locations in Columbia and I was going to be at a table providing information about the summer camp or perhaps manning a “creation station”.  

Katherine was invited to this event because of her important role in helping me lead the mural summer camp.  After my coffee, I loaded a sculpture into my truck to deliver while in Columbia and when Katherine arrived, we hit the road.  We briefly talked about lunch as we pulled into town, but once we got to the Festival venue, we quickly got distracted.  We were told we were, in fact, doing a creation station.  We had about 45 minutes to develop the idea of what we were doing and to gather some materials from next door.  We made a few posters and developed a system and then waited on the kids to arrive.  

While we waited, I, of course, compared our station to the stations around us.  There was a cool lady beside us with two activities to offer.  She had colored sand and was offering something like sand painting.  Very cool.  On the other side of us was Kat Hampton, a cool art teacher who was doing a printmaking station.  I felt ill-prepared in comparison.  I also felt very hungry.  We forgot about our lunch discussion and realized we were stuck behind this table without any food for the next few hours.  My fear about our station was washed away by the first visitor to participate.  This adorably cute child walked up and announced she wanted to draw a mural.  She was very young but when she said she wanted to copy the bird on one of our posters, she showed off her hand to eye coordination like a champ.  While my fear was gone, my hunger was still intact.  Soon the emcee announced there was free pizza in the courtyard and my heart lifted.  We took turns grabbing a piece of pizza and a water.  The entire Festival was fun and we had lots of participants.  Some wanted to keep their creations.  Some asked us to tape them up behind us on our “gallery wall”.  

The mural I created for inclusion in a park in Columbia was on display at the festival.  It was nice to see the 24 foot mural on a wall for the first time.  We were able to reference it when talking about the mural summer camp.  One of the kids from our camp came through the stations with her mom and brothers.  She came over to speak to us and to tell her mom that she knew us.  It was nice. 

After the festival ended we cleaned up and returned our materials next door.  We were still hungry so we found a Sonic close by and grabbed a snack and more water.  I delivered the sculpture in town and then we made plans to eat an actual meal with the family on our way back.  G and the kids met us at Dempsey’s and we all ate too much pizza while sharing cross country camp stories.  

Ok, so this one wasn’t much of an adventure, I’ll admit that.  But it was probably the last activity of my summer.  The kids would have their first day of school in just a few more days.  I would have one week to get my life together and try to remember what it’s like to be back in class every day.  Summer was kind of officially over for us at this point.  It was a really good summer.  If I didn’t get to see you this summer, I hope I’ll see you soon.  Maybe we can sit down with a couple of coffees.  Thanks for reading along.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

a busy summer part 5: the vacation, finally

I’m a coffee snob.  I may also be a music snob, a boot snob, and a guitar snob.  I am not, however, a beach snob.  I have friends who think South Carolina beaches are crap.  I have friends who think the Myrtle Beach area beaches are dirty and gross.  I understand that I do not have to agree with them to be their friend or to respect them.  I’ve been to beaches on both sides of Florida and the panhandle and their beaches are nice.  There are probably not many beaches I wouldn’t like.  The beaches at St. Augustine are pretty good.  The sand is white and fine and the beaches are very wide.  One difference from the beaches here is the long distance one must walk to get to the beach.  St. Augustine has wisely protected a wide area of dunes between the beach and the residential areas and this creates a cool little ecosystem in that space.  So while you may have to carry a bunch of beach stuff farther and across a long boardwalk, you may just see tortoises, snakes, and rabbits along the way.  

I woke up a little after 8:00 am on Sunday and after my run we drove into town to eat breakfast at a little place we had never tried called The Blue Hen.  It was a tiny, cool little place in the historic district and the breakfast was good.  We stopped by the grocery store to grab supplies for the week and then we went back and got ready to bask in the sun.  This was the last day of the heat wave and the temperatures were expected to be in the mid to upper 90s.  I found some breeze and some cooler air on the beach and after about an hour in the sun, I spent the rest of my afternoon in the shade of the umbrella.  Now I was really in a show about nothing.

Violet and I needed beach sunglasses.  You can’t use your regular sunglasses for this.  Beach glasses are disposable.  They’ll be scratched, covered in sunscreen, and lost in a few days.  The coolest pair I ever bought were $10 last year and I wore them 20 minutes before they were lost at sea.  I’m not certain Violet feels as strongly about this as I do, but she saw an opportunity for new sunglasses and we jumped in the car after cleaning up from the beach and headed for the local crappy beach store.  We tried on most every pair available.  The idea with beach glasses is that they have to have personality.  These are glasses you wouldn’t wear in regular life.  With some laughter we settled on two pair and headed off to pick up Thai food for dinner.  We attempted to walk on the beach that evening but a huge scary cloud drifted up and the lightning started about the time we started walking.  But there were plenty of sweets in the room so we just started dessert time early.

Monday after my run, I ran with Violet.  After that I walked a bit while keeping an eye on Blue when he ran separately.  Monday was cooler and such a beautiful day.  I stayed on the beach most of the day alternating between sun and the umbrella.  The big story of the day was watching this guy near us.  He was my age or older and clearly Scottish.  He talked to several people around him and was very nice.  The cool thing about him, though, was that he had a raging bull tattooed on his nipple area.  The face of the bull was right at the nipple and his nipple was pierced with a ring, making it look like the bull had a ring in it’s nose.  It was kind of great.  The beach was so quiet and wonderful that eventually I fell asleep in my chair.  I didn’t wake up when the tide started kissing my feet and there was a brief moment I was aware that a wave had gone under my chair getting my butt wet.  Soon I sensed someone was near me and I jumped awake.  It was the bull tattoo guy.  He was bent down rescuing my sketchbook from the waves.  He picked it up and was trying to place it on my sandals to keep it from getting wet.  He apologized for waking me and messing with my stuff but I told him how grateful I was that he was trying to help.  Sorry I don’t have a photo of the tattoo.  

We ended the day by walking through the old town.  If you’ve never been, it’s definitely worth putting on your list.  The oldest continuously inhabited city in the US.  Lots of parks and historical things and some really good food.  We ate at a place called Burger Buckets and it was really good.  We also got some Hyppo pops and Blue and I grabbed milkshakes at Cousteau’s.  Cousteau’s is worth the drive to Florida on its own.  They only sell waffles and milkshakes.  What a dream come true.  They’re all specialty mixtures and all very good.  The restaurant is themed around the movie “The Life Aquatic” and Jacques Cousteau.  Very cool.  Highly recommended.  It was a good day.

By Tuesday the days started to blur on me a little.  I was getting in the vacation groove.  I’d watch a bit of the Olympics at night and sleep a little later each morning.  I ran, and then usually ran again with Violet.  I made coffee and made my way to the sand to sit and watch people.  Blue was looking forward to going shopping at the outlets in town.  The afternoon was a bit rainy, so we drove to the outlets and walked through.  I wasn’t very excited about this and we did have a bit of a moment when we drove a short distance in search of a Journey’s store that apparently no longer exists.  We followed the map and kept walking by the “x” designated as the destination, but we never found the store.  This was mostly forgotten when we got to eat exceptional BBQ at Mojo’s on the way back.  This was also the night we tried to go to the torture museum.  I know that sounds sort of terrible, but we saw signs for the museum the previous night and decided it would be cool.  When we tried to get tickets the little goth dude inside scared us away by saying that it was strongly recommended that kids under 18 not be admitted and that it wasn’t legal for him to even describe some of the exhibits inside.  Fine.  We left.  But maybe they should reconsider their marketing plan.

Wednesday was a dreary looking day.  I dodged a bit of drizzle on the beach by scooting under the umbrella a little more.  When the skies got darker, I opted to gather my stuff and head inside.  As soon as I got inside it started pouring.  I napped while the rain slowed down and when I woke up, Violet and I decided it was time to explore the lighthouse.  The last time we were in town Blue and I climbed the 219 steps to the top but Violet didn’t meet the minimum height requirement.  This was her year.  I’m afraid of heights but I love looking out from high places.  Maybe that’s weird.  I don’t like looking down, just out.  Violet waited until we climbed all the way out onto the observation deck to tell me that she was also scared of heights.  We hugged the bright red wall all the way around as we looked out.  The view was amazing.  And though we were both terrified, it was exhilarating to be up there.  It was starting to rain again and we were VERY careful as we climbed down the 219 slippery cast iron steps with our wet feet.  We went through the various museum exhibits and just when we walked in the one farthest from the parking lot, a downpour opened up on us.  We tried to wait it out but it was 6:00 pm and one of the workers came to lock up.  We were soaked by the time we got back to the gift shop.  

With half of the car riders soaked to the bone now, the four of us tried to go to one of our favorite restaurants and found it closed with a lot of irritated people sitting in the parking lot.  We shifted to another favorite restaurant in town and we may have bought some warm, dry clothes at Marshall’s before returning to the room.

Thursday woke us all up with the realization that vacation was almost over.  We got breakfast at a local diner and then hit the beach.  It drizzled a little but I didn’t care.  I finished my David Sedaris book and had a beach nap.  I may have went inside in the afternoon and had a second nap.  We tried the closed restaurant again and it was open this time.  We drove around a little seeing things we missed on previous visits and watched lightning in the distance.  We ended the day by visiting the Publix bakery and grabbing desserts.  Oh, and I caught a vintage Tom & Jerry cartoon before the Olympics were back on.  That was nice.

Friday was “go home day”.  It’s always the worst of the vacation days.  We did two runs that morning and worked up an appetite.  We kept seeing this place called “The Kookaburra” in our restaurant searches.  There was one right across the street from where we stayed.  Their coffees were famous and so were their Australian pies…whatever those were.  We decided we needed to know so while we were on our second run, G ran over and got coffees and pies to try.  Dude, these things were excellent.  It was like a little breakfast pie with eggs, cheese, and meat.  The coffee was great too.  I mean, not as great as mine, so I followed my bought coffee with a homemade one.  We all went out for some final beach time and I stayed as long as I could.  Violet and I finally went inside around lunch time, showered, and packed the car.  

We checked out and drove to a mall in Jacksonville on the way home.  There was one or two stores we needed to go in briefly and we also needed a late lunch.  We shopped fast, hit the food court, and were back on the road pretty fast.  The drive home was pretty easy, though I did make G drive the last hour because my butt was cramping up.  We were home before it was too late and the dogs were very happy to see us.  The car was unloaded and we scavenged the pantry to find sweets before bed.  The credits started rolling on this delightfully boring episode.  Would this be our last adventure of summer?  

Find out when part 6 is posted....

Sunday, August 15, 2021

a busy summer part 4: the make-up concert

I slept in on the Wednesday after driving home from Atlanta at 3:00 am.  I didn’t feel so much like a 49 year-old on the drive back, but I did feel like a person with very dry eyes and contacts that were hoping to jump out at the first chance.  This kept my eyes squinty the whole trip home and made me even more ready to sleep once I hit my pillow.  The last couple of weeks had piled up and at this point I felt like I could actually relax and rest.  I forget how late I slept the next morning, but the only thing that got me out of bed was knowing how terribly hot it was already getting outside.  I needed to run before the temperatures got into the 90s.  

When G got home from work, Violet and I recounted the major details of our concert adventure.  “You MISSED WEEZER???” was repeated a few times.  I held up my HellaMega Tour shirt to show the cool design and when I did, I found myself staring at the back of the shirt for the first time.  Each of the summer concert dates were listed there and my eyes fixed on “Jacksonville, Florida”.  I can admit I began concert scheming at that moment.

It was Wednesday evening and I had one more day to continue cleaning up from the studio sale and to begin preparing for our family vacation to Florida.  We had decided to leave on Friday to extend our fun and spend a night in Charleston, SC on the way.  This would break up our drive a little and give us a chance to get some good food as well.  My mind began to produce formulas and calculations you’d expect to see on a chalk board in Einstein’s office.  Sure it was crazy to consider going to another HellaMega Tour stop, but what did that have to do with anything?  I mean, if this was going to be a Seinfeld episode, I might as well play the part of Kramer, right?  We were driving right through Jacksonville to get to St. Augustine.  What if we found cheap tickets and everyone could just go see the concert?  I mentioned the idea out loud.  I felt the ridiculousness bounce off the walls.  Violet immediately embraced it and started begging to go.  Blue was against it but I could tell he could be negotiated down.  G did not shout “NO!”  This was a start.

Thursday I worked on getting all the art wrapped and put away or hung and stacked back in its proper storage place.  I packed for vacation.  I looked up ticket prices, you know, just in case.  Friday morning I ran, had coffee, and loaded everything in the car.  We drove to Charleston and I talked out loud about the possibilities on the way.  It didn’t seem very practical and I couldn’t quite work out how the timing would allow us to either get checked in at the rental early enough to drive back to Jacksonville and NOT MISS WEEZER AGAIN or arrive at the rental before midnight after the concert.  I pretty much dismissed the idea and moved on with thinking about what I was going to eat for dinner and for breakfast the next morning.  

Dinner was good and breakfast on Saturday was not great, but a good coffee made it better.  We started our drive south and the topic of the concert came up again but this time with a different plan.  What if we were able to be dropped off right outside the stadium this time?  No parking or traffic problems.  I remembered seeing passengers bailing out of the cars around us stuck in traffic in Atlanta.  What if Violet and I were dropped off at the gate, G and Blue found a cool place to do back-to-school shopping, and then picked us up after Weezer performed?  This was starting to sound more reasonable and actually, very possible.  The Florida state line was getting closer and Violet and I started to get excited.  It looked like we were going to the concert!

Violet had a few questions.  “Do we have tickets?”  Well, no.  We’ll buy them at the Box Office when we get there.  “What if they’re sold out?”  I don’t think they will be, but if so, we’ll see if we can buy some from a scalper.  “What will we eat?”  Hmmm, it’s a football stadium, so surely there are restaurants nearby where football hooligans get drunk on gameday.  “How will they know where to pick us up?”  We have phones.  We’ll figure something out.  Before long we saw the stadium growing on the horizon.  Without a lot of warning, we rolled up right outside of Gate 3 and Violet and I sort of collected ourselves before bailing out of the car.  It was around 1:30 pm.  We were determined to not be late this time!

Florida is hot.  Like, on a regular day under regular conditions, Florida is hot.  We were right at the tail end of a heat wave in the Southeast and it was a very bright, sunny day.  We were both sweating before we hit our walking stride to find the Box Office.  We were also not football fans and out-of-towners so we had no idea where we were or where we were going.  The gates were locked so we were relegated to the exterior perimeter of the grounds.  We walked along from Gate 3 in what we agreed was a logical direction toward Gate 1.  There were signs indicating the Box Office was beside Gate 1.  We had a plan and sweat running down our backs.  

Gate 3 led to Gate 4 and then there was another building in our way.  Walking around it seemed ridiculous and maybe impossible so we backtracked.  On the opposite end of the stadium we encountered literal roadblocks of cones, busses, and 18 wheelers.  There were even a few police officers.  We asked how to get around and when the policeman didn’t know, he just told us to ignore the barriers and walk through.  We appreciated that.  Maybe an hour after stepping out of the car, we were buying cheap tickets at the Box Office window.  We both felt a little relief after securing our tickets but we also felt our stomachs growling.  The hotel breakfast was a long time ago now so we opened the map on my phone and started looking for restaurants.  The few we found within a mile of the stadium were closed that day.  The sweat was soaking through my shirt and Violet was only in slightly better shape.  She said she didn’t want to walk a long way in the heat so we started looking for shade in a Florida parking lot.  You know what you don’t find much of in a Florida parking lot?  That’s right, shade.  There was a Charlie Brown tree a few hundred feet behind Gate 1 with a shade just large enough for us to stand under.  We took our position there and prepared to wait patiently for the gates to open at 5:30 pm.  

I’m not a patient person.  My default when I get a spare moment is to check my phone.  Oh hush, you do it too.  Violet sat on the shaded concrete, I stood and we both checked our phones.  I had not charged mine since waking up and I suddenly became aware of how important it was to save the battery.  I needed my phone for our digital tickets and to figure out how to find the car when the concert was over.  And let’s be honest, I was going to make some photos and videos of Weezer too.  I turned my phone off and rested it in my pocket.  We people watched for 2 hours and we were not disappointed.  Hair, outfits, age ranges, it was all so worth seeing.

This is a good time to take a side trip with me about proper concert attire.  I know you don’t come to me for fashion but hear me out as I think this is a well-thought-out and time-tested theory.  I have a rule about what to wear to a concert.  It’s simple.  Never wear a t-shirt of the band you’re going to see that night.  It’s uncouth.  Philistine.  You wear shorts or jeans and comfortable shoes and you pick a t-shirt of a band you think the concert band will appreciate.  Sure, you could be a person who wakes up and washes their Green Day shirt to wear to the Green Day concert.  Or, you could actually put some thought into it and consider Green Day’s influences.  Who inspires them?  What does their particular style of music make you want to listen to?  I mean, let’s say you’re the lucky one person who happens to walk past Billie Joe Armstrong in the wing joint next door.  Do you want him to see a commoner wearing a Green Day shirt or would you rather him see a dude in an Ella Fitzgerald shirt?  Maybe it’s a big leap to imagine him pointing to your Ella shirt and saying “Nice shirt, man” but it’s an even bigger leap to think you’re going to impress him with your Green Day shirt from Target.  Not judging, I love Target bargains too, I’m just saying maybe wear the Green Day shirt to the Avett Brothers concert.  Speaking of judging, I stood in that tiny shade with sweat pooling in my socks weeping at all the Green Day shirts walking around the parking lot.  In the words of Violet, "uncultured swine".

There was also the guy in the fancy kilt to enjoy.  The pot-bellied male in his freshly cut-off t-shirt showcasing the pot-belly and his friend in what appeared to be a bikini.  There was the woman who decided it was too hot for this crap and just walked around in shorts and a bra.  And the old guy in jeans and boots who wanted to tell me about all the Aerosmith concerts he went to back in his day.  We didn’t exactly get bored.  I don’t remember what Violet was wearing but since we didn’t know we were going to a concert when we got up that morning…or two days before when we packed, she was probably wearing the equivalent to my khaki shorts and white t-shirt.  I remembered to grab my straw hat out of the car to protect my head.  

As 5:30 approached, the lines at the Gates grew longer.  I had a better understanding of the concert timeline this time around and I was in no hurry to get out of my shade.  With a little patience, the line at our gate grew until we were technically in line without having to leave our tree sanctuary.  The gates opened and we were through security and inside pretty fast.  We made our way immediately up to the upper level of food vendors and a nice lady beckoned us to come eat at her station.  We snagged a couple of stadium dogs and waters and basically inhaled them.  We agreed these were the best dogs we’d ever had and laughed, probably half from heat exposure.  We saw some lady drop out from the heat on the way up the ramp but here, almost alone in the stadium shade, we enjoyed the breeze blowing out from one of the tunnels.  It was nice.  Our complete lack of a plan was working out perfectly.

After “dinner” we found our seats and still had plenty of time to bake in the full sun of the upper deck.  When we sat down, I noted on our makeshift sundial where my head created a shadow on the row in front of us.  A little later it had moved a couple of rows down.  Soon a group came in and sat behind us and provided some shade.  My shadow moved another row and the opening act hit the stage.  The band was called the Interrupters and though we missed them at the first concert, Violet had looked them up on Apple Music and we sorta liked them.  We were excited to see them and Violet even sang along with some of the songs.  We took a short break in the tunnel to cool down and get a fresh bottle of water, and then we were back in our seats, jamming to the music. 

The stage was reset for Weezer and as they were converting the stage I realized how lucky we were to be guessing correctly.  This half baked "plan" was all based on the tour following the same set schedule as Atlanta.  If Weezer had not played first on this night, I would have been in big trouble with my vacationing family.  When the teal lightning bolts and huge drum kit was moved into place, I smiled, relaxed a little more, and texted our ride that Weezer was about to start.

The next hour was bliss.  Weezer took the stage with their 80s era guitars and Rivers in his costume that looked like it was from a John Hughes film.  They tore into every single song I ever wanted to hear.  “Island In The Sun”, “Beverly Hills”, “My Name Is Jonas”, even “Surf Wax America”.  It was a perfect sampling of every great Weezer album.  I got to hear “El Scorcho” and when “Undone: The Sweater Song” came on, Violet and I sang so loud together!  She had maybe heard the song twice before but she learned fast.  The dude beside me even joined us and we shared smiles and laughs.  With only a buffer seat beside Violet, we were packed a little tighter but everyone was well behaved.  There were not even secret vapers this time.  Strangers sang harmony, danced and swayed together, and when the confetti cannons blasted at the end of Weezer’s final song and the wind brought some of it up to our level, the nice lady near Violet grabbed a piece of purple paper and handed it to Violet.  

That was our cue to leave.  I know it was confusing to our neighbors, but we grabbed our trash and headed out.  We were so stoked about the concert we’d just experienced that we didn’t even worry much about not knowing where we were going.  The exits were not even opened yet and when we asked the police officer near the gate how to get out, he said “You’re leaving?”  Yeah, it was too long of a story to tell, but we were only there to see Weezer.  We had a vacation to get on with now.  The ticket lady told us we could just go out the entry gate and she too, questioned us before letting us out.  

Blue dropped a pin and sent me the location of the car.  The distance from the gate to the waiting car was shorter than the line to get merch in the Atlanta concert.  Some nice parking attendant let the car inside the paid parking area for free since they were just picking someone up.  We were on the highway before the next band was on stage.  It worked.  It actually worked!

I guess this one went a little more smoothly than a regular episode of Seinfeld.  However, Violet and I were still hungry after our stadium dogs a few hours earlier.  We drove for 45 minutes to St. Augustine and stumbled past a few fast food restaurants in indecision before directing the car into the parking lot of a beach restaurant.  The map said it was open and we decided we’d just run in and order to-go food.  The lettering on the door indicated they were open until “9:00pm ISH”.  It was 8:33 pm.  We waited at the host stand after the hostess said she’d be right with us.  We waited more.  When she finally came back she said “Oh I’m sorry guys, we closed 3 minutes ago”.  There were a lot of things I wanted to say, but I had just sung several songs with Weezer and my daughter so my mood was almost untouchable.  I chose to be Jerry instead of George Constanza.  We walked next door to the Dollar General and loaded up on junk food.  We unpacked the car at the rental and happily ate garbage food before falling asleep and officially starting the relaxing part of our vacation.  

*** stay tuned for part 5:  the vacation, finally...

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

a busy summer part 3: the concert

Monday night after returning home wasn’t the best night of sleep I have had recently.  The couch is great for naps but for a full night of sleep it’s not preferred.  That’s where Zeke sleeps each night and while he’s a very sweet and loving dog, he’s not a sleep cuddler.  When we all watch a movie on the couch he sulks in the floor waiting for us to vacate his space.  He was generous with half of the couch when I went to sleep but when I got up in the middle of the night to turn on the fan, he jumped in my spot and I had to physically move him in order to go back to sleep.  Once I woke up and ran, I was pretty recharged.  It had been a busy few weeks, but I had one more day of adventure ahead and I was kind of excited.

I think it was about two years ago that I bought these tickets.  I’ve wanted to see Weezer in concert since 1994 when I bought their first album on CD from a short-lived music store in a mall that’s now a charter school.  Over the years there was always one reason or another but when the HellaMega Tour was announced with Weezer and Green Day on the ticket, I was going.

Fast forward to the pandemic.  The tour was postponed because of people and germs.  When there was hope of things opening back up soon, the tour was rescheduled and I got distantly excited again.  I had a lot of things on the calendar for this summer so I added the tour date to my phone and completely forgot about it.  The concert was this thing I was going to do this summer but I wasn’t really sure when it was actually happening.  About two weeks before the date, I rediscovered it when G asked about it.  It was happening on a Tuesday?  In the middle of the week?  That’s not the best plan for a working person so she was obviously less excited than I was.  And while Violet jumps at a chance to go to a concert, Blue has never attended one and intentionally avoids places where people gather.  It started to look like it wouldn't be a whole family trip.

I kept forgetting about the tickets and really didn’t even know where they were.  I made a feeble attempt to sell the extras on Instagram, but with the new Covid numbers starting to rise again, I don’t think a lot of people we eager to go to a concert in what was being called a “hot spot”.  I took a little solace in the fact that it was still an outside venue, but vowed to not touch anything and then I decided that the extra seats might provide a buffer from others.  So while G and Blue were probably a little relieved that they were not going to stay up most of the night going to a loud concert, the rest of us were still excited.  I wanted to see Green Day.  I wanted to see Weezer.  But the thing I wanted most was to hear “Undone: The Sweater Song” live.  Second on that list was to hear “El Scorcho” live.  That one mentions Green Day so I figured there was a good chance I’d hear it.  

The third thing on my list was Alexander Calder.  There’s a big Calder exhibit in NYC this summer and I had every intention of dragging Blue and Violet to it before school started back.  As the calendar filled up, I saw those chances fade and decided that the Calder/Picasso exhibit at the High Museum in Atlanta might be a nice substitute.  Still I wondered when I would have a day to sacrifice to drive to Atlanta.  I’ll admit that sometimes these things sneak up on me.  Just a few days earlier I was thinking about it and realized, “Oh, I’m already driving to Atlanta!”.  Now I just needed to get there early enough to run by the museum before the concert starts.  No problem.

So I was sleeping on the couch with Zeke and the rest of the family was camped around on mattresses because the air conditioning was out upstairs.  G got up and went to work which left me as the adult in charge for the fix-it guy to come Tuesday morning.  I just needed this to be a quick fix so I could get on the road.  Violet and I dressed in our museum/concert attire and waited.  The appointment did not start on time, but it did go mercifully fast.  We were later than we wanted, but we were on the road to pick up Katherine before noon and I had high hopes.  If traffic was kind, we’d still be ok. 

I’m not sure “kind” is the word I’d use to describe Atlanta traffic that day but we still made it to the museum parking garage in good time.  We were all blown away by the exhibit.  

We took our time going through and even took an extra few minutes to see the contemporary exhibit on a different floor.  This was probably where I went wrong.  I should have stuck to my plan and got out.  You see, there was not a wealth of information about this concert for some reason.  The tickets stated that the gates opened at 5:30.  I knew there was an opening act and then three headlining bands.  I knew my section number and our seat numbers.  That was it.  I tried to call the venue and got nothing.  I even looked up information about the previous tour date online while I waited for the fix-it guy to come.  All I learned there was that Weezer was the first of the headlining bands to perform at that tour stop.  I knew I had a seat so I didn’t think I needed to be there super early.  I thought the opening act would play 45 minutes or so, which would give us until about 7:00 or 7:30 to get in our seats to see Weezer.  My plan was to leave the museum, get a coffee at a cool coffee shop downtown, grab some dinner quickly, and park at the stadium around 6:45.  We’d cruise into our seats by 7:00, get our music, and then drive home late.

That was the plan.  Here’s what actually happened:

We left the museum inspired but a little behind schedule.  We drove across town to the coffee shop.  The coffee shop with amazing coffee and huge letters on the door showing they were open until 6:00 pm.  At 5:30 pm they were NOT open.  Doors locked.  Lights out.  No coffee.  I checked the map and saw we needed to drive a bit to get to the stadium and I announced that was our next stop.  There could be traffic and I didn’t want to chance it.  We were all hungry but we’d just have to grab food inside the stadium in the time we had before the music started. 

Off we drove to the stadium exit.  The stadium that hosts major league baseball games several nights each week for a big part of the year.  The stadium that should have well-marked parking lots and easy ways to get into them.  We sat at that exit moving one car length per 5 minutes for an hour and a half.  There were no police directing traffic, just a ton of tired and panicky, hopeful concert goers trying to figure out where to go.  When we finally made it onto the street with the parking lots, none were clearly marked as ones we could use.  There were no instructions and no humans to ask.  After following other clueless cars up and down the roads, we finally pulled into one with some spaces left and asked the lady scanning cards of we could park there.  She said “NO!”  I asked where we could park.  She said “TWO LEFTS, THREE RIGHTS!” and motioned for me to get out of there.  

It was obvious that everyone on the street in front of us had the same instructions and we moved like a slow parade first taking two lefts and then ever so slowly taking the first and second right.  As we searched for parking, we noted there was music coming from the stadium.  Surely this was just a sound check, right?  During the slow parade, we heard what sounded like Weezer songs.  What was going on?  We weren’t missing the concert were we?  It was definitely a sound check.  It had to be.  The music stopped.  The crowd roared.  It was not a sound check.  Weezer was playing and we were missing it.  I moved an inch closer to the bumper in front of me.  The inch didn’t make me feel any better.  Was this really happening?  I was firmly in the anger stage at this point.  Choosing to not stop for lunch was my fault.  Choosing to add a museum visit to this trip was my fault.  Thinking I had the luxury of time for coffee was my fault.  But this whole business of trying unsuccessfully to get parked and into the stadium certainly felt like a failure on the part of Truist Park or the City of Atlanta.  I was very angry.  

We finally got parked in a remote parking space.  There was a whole moment of the lady holding my debit card at the gate musing about closing the lot but we escaped that disaster.  The three of us power walked through a maze to try to get out of the lot and onto the street.  We were so far away we had to use a map to get to the stadium.  The music was still playing.  The crowd of people who came early to drink in their cars all afternoon were seeing MY concert.  The song “Africa” was clearly blasting from electric guitars and drums in the stadium.  I was not at all excited about hearing this one, but I figured they were close to the end of their set if they were playing it.  Power walking turned into sprinting.  

My concert friends were very kind at this point.  Neither of them chose to point out how I had discouraged lunch in favor of an early dinner.  Neither of them chose to point out that I was the only one in comfortable shoes while we sprinted.  Neither of them chose to blame me for the disaster unfolding before us.  I ran, holding Violet’s hand, practically dragging her toward the stadium, grateful for their mercy.

They were in fact, quite pleasant about it.  Both of them were singing “Africa” while we sprinted and while we waited in line at the gate.  The multi-tasking began immediately.  Katherine held our place in the long security line while Violet and I picked up some merch.  We made it inside the stadium just in time to hear the last three Weezer songs.  We stopped our march to our seats long enough to stand and take in “Buddy Holly”.  Then we continued our climb to the nosebleed seats.  Almost as if they were waiting for us, Weezer bowed and left the stage just as we were directed to our seats.  We sat down and saw an empty stage before us.  All of our neighbors moved to the bathroom lines or food lines.  We were hungry and needed to pee so after we gathered ourselves for a moment, we found our places in the lines too.

I may not have mentioned that it was hot.  August in “Hot-lanta”.  The daily thunderstorm had passed over us while we waited in traffic so it had cooled off a little from the afternoon heat and it wasn’t miserable in the stadium.  We grabbed some very expensive food and water and made our way back to our seats to enjoy.  Fall Out Boy, the other headlining band, played while we waited on food and devoured it.  I recognized some of the songs but wasn’t excited about seeing them play.  I was also still a little ticked off.  We got in another line for merch and it was comically long.  I felt like I was in an episode of Seinfeld.  The one band all three of us wanted to see, we missed.  Violet literally didn’t know any of the other bands.  Want to park?  Follow George Costanza to a remote lot.  Looking for band merch?  Kramer knows a guy.  Just stand in this mile long line.  But all the while, it was almost entertaining.  Almost funny.  We laughed a good bit and after Fall Out Boy left the stage and darkness settled into the stadium, we got excited again.  

From the first note Green Day played, it was worth the effort.  It was easy to sense the pent-up energy from a band who has played one live concert in two years.  They came ready to have fun and they played every great song we wanted to hear and more.  Soon Violet recognized a song and said to me “THEY play this song?”.  Then another one.  “This is THEIR song??” She was even singing along and loving it.  As the clock moved towards 10:15 pm she started checking my watch after each song.  Even I caught myself thinking, “OK, this is great and all, but I gotta drive for three hours after this so exactly how many more songs are we doing?”  Then the next song would start and I would forget about being tired.  There were so many great moments I even started to lose my anger about missing Weezer.  This was so good it made up for it.  

This was also my first concert in almost two years.  In fact, one of my last ones was also in Atlanta a year and a half or so earlier.  My excitement was also, in part, due to not being at a concert in so long.  Live music is so enjoyable when the people around you are behaving.  Maybe it was an older crowd or maybe people were a little more respectful after a pandemic, but I found everyone very, very nice.  There was the one almost liquified woman semi-passed out on a picnic table attempting to shove a pretzel into her mouth, but she wasn’t bothering anyone.  A couple of people nearby vaped secretly but the wind moved it away from us.  No one was smoking anything illegal near us.  No one was annoyingly drunk.  Instead, I caught the eye of a few neighbors, some behind masks,  as we sang along together to the music and we shared a smile.  We “Woooooooo”ed together and raised our hands in the air together.  It felt really good to be back with people.  But also really gross to be back with people.  You know?

The fireworks display signaled the end of the fun and the return of stress.  We had no trouble following the huge crowd to the parking lot, though the crowd depleted severely before we made it to OUR parking lot.  I got out on the road and my two energetic concert friends flipped some sort of invisible switch and were instantly asleep.  I talked angrily to my map voice as she got me lost, changed her mind several times, and then asked me to take a non-existent exit toward home.  That one wasn’t her fault.  Atlanta decided it would be OK to block off the exit to I-85 N, one of the busiest in the state, without putting up any detour signs.  “Let’s just block it off with cones and not tell anyone!” I could see them laughing.  After another hour of sitting in traffic waiting on every other driver on the road to make the same laborious U-turn, I was back on speaking terms with the map lady and better still, on my way home and toward the credits of this episode.  But this is a series and the next episode was just a few days away.

***tune in next time for "part 3:  the make-up concert"...

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

a busy summer part 2: the top secret mission

We rolled into the hotel parking lot in Summerville, SC a bit closer to 5:30 pm than I had hoped.  Violet and I were set to perform a few songs during the Rad Dad Concert at Public Works Art Center that started at 6:00 pm.  We checked in, threw our stuff down, changed clothes and ran back to the car.  We were on time for parking, but by the time we walked into the gallery, we were a good 5 minutes late.  (Sorry y’all.)  The concert had just started so it was all fine.  Our cool friend Dan Riley was in charge and he kept things very informal and comfortable.  When he asked us if we were ready, it took us a few minutes to get things organized but that kept us from getting too nervous.  It was odd to not be in our living room with our music laid out on a table in front of us.  Violet had to hold the music because I don’t always remember the chord progressions.  I really had to concentrate because her hand was shaking, it was dark, and my eyes are old.  We rocked the first two songs but I kept screwing up the third song, “Betty”.  We never figured out what was wrong, but we both agreed the chords sounded terrible so it was definitely something I was doing.  We did one more song on ukulele and then we were done.  The pressure was off and that was one more thing I could take out of my mind.  One more compartment I could close.  We were so pumped to get to hear Dan play with both of his kids.  That was definitely the highlight of the night.  It was also very cool to be playing in the gallery filled with my artwork.

After the concert ended we started taking down my exhibit.  We stashed the drawings and sculptures out of the gallery so Dan could start painting over the mural.  One coat had the entire wall drawing invisible and gone forever.  We grabbed some really good burgers at the burger joint across the street and then got Crumbl cookies on the way back to the hotel.  Everyone except Blue was asleep by 11:00 pm.

We had planned to hang out in Charleston on Saturday before starting our secret art mission at 5:00 pm.  We got up, I ran, and we all headed to breakfast at The Vicious Biscuit.  It was so good.  At breakfast we decided to change our plans and shift it to doing back to school shopping for the kids.  We spent most of the day at the outlets and while I walked around with everyone, my mind had shifted to the mural I was about to start.  I didn’t know what I was going to draw, but I had some ideas on how to use the very vertical space.  I was also trying to problem solve how I was going to plan and execute the entire mural from the top down.  This is not how I usually work.  I like to move around the composition as it evolves.  All this was playing in my head as I “shopped”.  

After shopping we headed back to the hotel.  Actually on the way we had to make a very important stop for Blue.  This summer he fell in love with Cane’s chicken and the closest one is in Summerville.  He was happy we had to make so many trips to the area this summer and this was the reason he was glad to be town again.  After Cane’s, we made a quick stop at the hotel.  G and the kids were heading back to the dogs at home and Katherine and I were preparing to be up very late doing the mural.  We found a food truck near the hotel and got some really good food from Page’s Okra Grill to fuel our night.  We all loaded up G’s car with as many drawings and sculptures as possible and wished them a safe trip.  Then Katherine and I went inside to prepare.  Our friend Dan set up the scaffolding for us as soon as the building closed officially at 5:00 pm.  The idea was that the scaffolding was going to block access to the bottom floor of the Art Center so we only had from 5:00 pm Saturday until 8:00 am Monday to complete the whole thing.  Not a lot of people had been told about the event so we totally ran with the whole “secret mission” thing.  Muraling is still associated with graffiti so the idea of coming in under the cover of darkness and working all night seemed to fit.

We got started very quickly with the first image.  I didn’t want to waste any time.  There are a couple of things about me that played into my approach to the mural.  First, I have no interest in staying up all night.  Ever.  I love my sleep.  Snacks and naps, remember that.  Second, I like to get stuff done.  I’m all for goofing off and having fun, but work comes first.  I needed to get this mural finished by the deadline and I wanted to do it without missing any sleep.  Keep in mind we had limited sleep during the previous week and we were pretty exhausted.  So I lit into the mural as quickly as possible and my mind started clicking, putting things together fast.  A lot of people asked me if I knew what I was going to do before I started.  The short answer to that question is no.  But that answer is deceptive because it seems to give people the idea that I just waltzed into the situation unprepared.  While I did not sit and plan the exact things I wanted to use on the walls of this particular space, I’ve spent years developing a lexicon of images with distinct meanings.  With each new drawing, I use my cast of characters to tell a specific story.  I have years of sketchbooks teeming with images I’ve saved for just such an occasion.  So I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I did come in with my mural box filled with black, red, yellow, and blue markers and about 5 years’ worth of sketchbooks.  I had ideas, just not detailed ideas.  I knew I wanted to use bold black outlines and add some pops of color.  I knew I wanted to use some images of creatures from the land, sea, and air.  I knew I wanted to create a very positive message based on helping others.  I also knew I wanted to make it personal in some way.

When I did the gallery mural for my show, I asked a few of the artists in the adjoining studios if they had any requests.  I did my best to work those requests into my narrative.  I had an idea to do something similar this time.  I had the privilege of getting to know Jana, the Executive Director, Emily, the Assistant Director, and Jana’s husband Dan during my exhibit.  Two of Jana’s kids performed at the Rad Dad concert and I also got to talk to them a little.  The kids had a couple of requests for the stairwell mural and Emily had a tiny one too.  Those were little sparks that started to build and grow as I started drawing.  

That first night, I was at the top of the scaffolding, sometimes standing on tip toes.  Katherine kept having to hand or toss things up to me.  I’d finish an image and scour a sketchbook for the next idea.  Then I’d ask for another.  I knew what I was looking for, but I was never sure which sketchbook it lived in.  Image after image, the mural started to develop slowly and the space started to fill from the top down.  By 2:30 am I had drawn enough that I felt comfortable stopping for the night.  

Sunday was going to be a long day and it started with an early run.  I think the alarm went off at 7:00 am.  Katherine met me outside for a 5K and then we grabbed Waffle House to go and ate breakfast in the parking lot of the Arts Center.  We started working a little after 10:00 am and only took a short break to walk next door for take-out.  We started adding color and I immediately loved what it added to the mural.  As time went on, we were able to start lowering the scaffolding, eventually removing it completely.  The mural was engulfing us now and it was easier to see what needed to be added as we neared the bottom.  We had a few visitors but mostly we were able to work without stopping.  By Sunday evening, I wasn’t worried about finishing on time.  We worked until midnight and tried to get some food on the way out.  That was a bit of a mess actually.  We had encountered all sorts of food related issues over the last week and this one would be no different.  We found a Cookout that was still open and it was on the way to the hotel.  On the way we found the 4 lane road completely blocked by police and we had to navigate around that in the dark.  We pulled into the parking lot and I got confused by the two lanes of drive-through traffic.  After ordering, I apparently managed to pull up to the wrong window and I was handed two small bags that were clearly not what we ordered.  I reiterated my order and the lady got a bit sassy with me about what I ordered and what I DIDN’T order.  I was hungry so I repeated my order again.  She said “OK” and went away.  When she came back, she handed me the same two bags but also handed me a milkshake.  I was confused but I had a shake so I moved on.  Pulling into the hotel parking lot we realized we had a completely different order and I had been eating someone else’s stray hushpuppies on the drive.  We briefly considered going to another restaurant nearby but soon decided it wasn’t worth the effort.  We were exhausted and sleep was more important than food. 

On Monday I ran alone along the exercise path I found near the hotel.  I was able to think about the mural and toss around ideas for the few small open areas left to fill in.  At this point we mostly had touch up work to do and then we’d be finished.  We checked out of our rooms that were so kindly provided by Cambria Hotels and stopped at Coastal Coffee Roasters on the way to the Arts Center.  I found this place when I was doing the gallery mural and loved their coffee.  We were not disappointed this time either.  We took the time to leave a butt drawing on one of the tables outside and then drove over to do the finishing touches.  While we technically needed to be finished by 8:00 am Monday, we had completely dismantled the scaffolding on Sunday, so the stairwell was open to traffic.

We ninja-ed in through the back door to keep with the whole top secret thing and got right to work.  We still had a drive ahead of us and I knew it would still take a while to get all the details right.  We had discussed some things we wanted to do so we quietly started our tasks.  While I was crouched down on the stairs, Jana (the Executive Director) walked up and quietly sat at the top of the stairs.  She had been in earlier that morning to see the mural and had noticed a particular personal touch inspired by her children.  She mentioned it calmly and I smiled.  I could see that it had affected her and I knew it would affect her family each time they came in.  That moment was worth the entire weekend of work.  

Katherine and I finished up and started packing.  Of course I could have stayed another couple of days adding things and touching up stuff, but I usually have no problem calling something finished.  It was time for the next adventure and we needed to not outstay our welcome.  My cool refurbished mural box was loaded to the top and we loaded up the last pieces of art that were too big to fit in G’s car.  I think we grabbed a taco somewhere before finishing the drive in a flash-floody rainstorm.  The day before, the upstairs air conditioner at home decided to clunk out.  This meant that after G made spaghetti and Violet and I watched a funny Netflix special by Tig Notaro, we’d all be camping out downstairs to avoid the sweltering head upstairs.  More adventure awaited the following day and we needed our rest.  

...stay tuned for "part 3: the concert"...