Monday, April 24, 2017

Sock Tech & Other Discoveries

A few months back, I started thinking about the basic stuff I buy and use.  It all started with the purchase of a Logitech MK710 in order to facilitate an office redesign.  That resulted in me writing this review on Amazon:

I have been working with keyboards since I started with computers back in 1978. Since then IT has been my career and as such I have always allowed myself the best, newest and fastest systems as soon as they hit the market. And with all that tech, I never gave the keyboard a second thought. When I redesigned my office space, I wanted to move the computer away from the desk and so I started looking for a wireless keyboard -- that search led me to this set. I had never spent more than $20 for a keyboard, given that it is my primary tool maybe it was time I did so. DAMN GOOD DECISION.  This set is awesome. I have always ignored the adjective ergonomic when it came to mice, but this one is and all the buttons and wheels are in the right place. The keyboard itself is so quiet and the key presses as easy and smooth. Wonderful! Have never noticed lag (and I type fast) or drop off of signal. Well worth the $$$. Go ahead and get it, you deserve it -- I did.

The unintended result of my keyboard purchase was a basic change in my personal philosophy on the routine and mundane things I buy.  I stopped grabbing the cheapest item on the shelf while discarding more expensive choices based solely on price.  This does not mean I don’t still ignore designer labels for their own sake – that started back in High School when I decided if Calvin Klein’s name was going to be displayed on my ass, he was going to pay me for the privilege not vice versa—he hasn’t sent me a check so I don’t wear them.  Recently, this edict has expanded all the way to --- socks.  But, before I go on I will repost this disclaimer:

Whenever I provide a review or write up, it means that I have bought and paid for the item or admission costs myself.  In the extremely rare instance when items or admission are being provided free of charge or at a discount, I say so.  This site is non-monetized therefore the opinions provided are truly free of influence.

To me, socks are about as mundane an item as there is. Until I went to the Air Force, my sock drawer was full of one size fits all white tube socks a majority of the time. One notable exception was a pair of toe socks that I won in a radio contest by being the 32nd caller; I never wore them, but they were in my sock drawer. While I was in the Air Force, I was forced to wear black socks and during the first few years I actually wore the wool socks that they provided me. I hated them, they were hot and itchy. When someone got smart at the sock factory and started producing tube socks and black, I transitioned over to them. Now, when I would dress up I did wear other types of socks, but nothing that was either outlandish in color or style. My socks were purposely boring.

Just after I bought my new keyboard, I saw an ad on Facebook for something called Bombas. You may have seen the ad and ignored it, I did too. Until that fateful day when I mistakenly clicked on the damn thing and the Bombas website appeared and discovered Bombas were socks. They were wildly colored socks but aside from that, they were socks. They didn’t even have the decency to try and tempt me further by providing a really hot looking model wearing nothing but socks - or holding strategically placed socks.  They were just socks. Something must’ve been right about the website because I actually took the time to click on the Sock Tech page and read all about what went into the Bombas socks.

Admit it, you are just like me and really don’t give a crap about Sock Tech. If it’d been another day, I might have not given a crap either. But the socks I happened to have on that day had bunched up around my toes and were about to require me to take my shoe off in order to straighten them out – – again. By the way, the high-end socks I was wearing cost me, I think, $8.99 for 10 pair or something like that.  Bombas somehow inspired me to look at an ad for socks that were apparently so expensive the price was not even displayed on the pages I had seen thus far. You know what that means in a restaurant?  Well, it probably means the same thing on a sock website – lobster priced socks...but back to my story – – I read all about the tech that went into the socks. I have to admit, it was impressive. There was technology to make them stay up, support your arches, prevent blisters, and they even get rid of that damn seam that usually runs across the top your toe and hurts after you’ve been walking for a while.

Due to the planet’s alignment on that particular day, as well as the failure of the socks that I was currently wearing, I decided to try a pair or two of Bombas. Actually, due to the limits of their free shipping and handling offer, I tried three.  One black pair, one grey pair -- both calf height, and a pair of ankle height to round it off.  The socks arrived in no time flat, and I took some time to look them over and compare against the finer points of Sock Tech.  The colors, were really cool and depending on which style you order the colors are completely hidden from the casual viewer by your pants leg or the shoes you are wearing. As a result, you get to be the wild freak you want to be without letting anyone else know who you really are. Part of the sock’s design and use of various colors and other markers is to indicate the presence of each of the unique features of the socks. But there was no way of telling if any of that actually works, without wearing a pair. So, the next morning I did.

The first thing I noticed when putting the socks on was that they fit from toe to heel. That means that the part that was pattern for the toe was actually on my toes while the part that was patterned for the heel was actually on my heel. I bought the size large, which the website said was appropriate for my size 10 ½ foot. The sock only came up to the lower part of my calf, which was okay because that’s where I actually liked my socks.  I say this here only to clarify where their particular socks fit because I’ve had calf fit socks that actually went almost to the bottom of my knees. At the end of the day, the top of the socks where in the exact place where they started. In other words, they did not slip or fall.

Other features of the socks became apparent as the day went on. My feet never felt overly hot, cold, or sweaty. There was no irritating seam going across the top of my toes, grinding against them all day long. Even though the socks were not overly thick, they did feel well cushioned. The honeycomb technology may have helped out around the arch, but aside benefit that I think I felt was the fact that the extra structural integrity there helped with padding and supporting the insoles that I wear. The biggest selling point was that the issue I had had with my previous socks bunching up inside my shoe has never occurred with a pair of Bombas.

Up until now, I have not listed the price for the socks. I will do so now – – they start at $12 a pair. But there are various ways to reduce that cost to include using this link which will give you 20% off plus free shipping if you by over $40 worth.  You can also buy the socks in bulk packs of four or eight and get a percentage off as well.  

Now consider the part of the deal that is not in the package Bombas sends: accidental good karma.  Aside from the Sock Tech my feet were now enjoying, the company also designed some socks specifically for homeless people. They too have unique features like treatment that prevent fungus and bacteria from growing even if the socks are washed infrequently, they use darker colors, and are fully reinforced for a longer lifespan.  I know what you’re thinking:  That’s great but how can a homeless person afford high-quality socks?  Well, for every pair bought, a pair is donated.  By the way, the donations are not made only in Bombas’ neighborhood but in neighborhoods across the United States. How cool is that?  

Over time I will gradually replace all my socks with Bombas. I will end up with a higher quality sock that performs the way a good sock should and some homeless person will also benefit from the same and in case it had not occurred to you up to this point – – that is a good thing.  

The only negative that I can mention about the socks is the way Bombas  handles their bulk packs. If you choose to get a bulk pack of four or eight, you do not get to pick which colors you get in that pack of four or eight. This was a bummer for me because after my test run with the socks I decided to start replacing the socks in my drawer with Bombas so I ordered five pair, but because I decided I wanted to specify the colors I could not order the discount bulk pack and paid more for the privilege of choosing the colors that I would wear upon my feet.  

I will continue to look for day-to-day items in my personal life that can benefit by being upgraded. As for my socks, a majority of days you will find a bee logo on the side of them. After all, Bombas is the only company I have ever run into that has a 100% happiness guarantee -- how can you pass that by?

Note:  Yes, I am the model in the above picture and I am available for sock modeling gigs worldwide.  Please contact my agent.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

At Last, A Teller of Tales

Way back when I was 10 years old or so, I went to my first sleep away camp at Lake Arrowhead, California which was run by the YMCA.  There are many things I could write about with regard to the camp, just like everyone else who has gone to camp, it is impossible to escape without more than a few One time at camp stories.  But it was at this camp that I found out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  

Every night of the week we were there, there was a huge bonfire down by the lake right at sunset.  It seemed like there were thousands of us gathered there, but in reality, it was probably only 2-300 boys gathered around in a semi-circle being led in cheers, songs and watching skits.  All of this was new to me.  I was not a Scout yet, so camp was a big bag full of new stuff to be a part.  Then at the end of the evening came an act that changed my life.

Too many years have passed since I have given this serious thought, so the character’s name escapes me now, but I remember the important parts.  He walked out slowly from the darkness, using a cane to walk and wearing a jungle explorer jacket and pith helmet.  His beard was long, and too obviously fake and he wore wire rimmed glasses.  Everyone fell silent as he walked to the center of the fire ring, and then some staff member from the side ran to center stage and placed a small stool a few feet in front of the fire.  The interloper slowly sat down on the stool and then took off his glasses and cleaned them using a handkerchief he had taken out of one of his many pockets.    No one said a word as all this happened and the only sound was the crackling of the fire that roared behind him.    

I can’t really recall any of the qualities of his voice other than it was clear and loud enough for all of us to hear.  Even among us first timers there was a sense of expectation as he cleared his throat and then began to speak.  Then, he told us a story.  It was something I had never heard before and as he spoke he used facial expressions and hand gestures to emphasis points.  The story was a combination of local legend, tall tales and humor; all told using various voices and sound effects he provided.  The assembled crowd was no longer silent as we laughed, cheered, and shouted comments as all this went on.  The story would go one for several minutes and as it did, the teller of tales would eventually stand and walk from side to side in front of the assembled crowd as his story came to the climax; his gestures getting more wild and inspiring excitement.   

When he finished his story, he would slowly drop his hands to his side and lower his head – as the absolute silence returned.  Then, as if on cue, we all exploded in loud cheering and applause.   Over the course of my life I have come to realize that what we all witnessed was a master story teller sharing his craft.  I went back to my cabin every night of camp inspired and knowing the career path I wanted for my life.  I wanted to be a storyteller too.   

Later when I was a Scout and an adult Scout leader, I had my chance to tell tales around a campfire from time to time (even adding a guitar now and then), but it was never a full-time pursuit.  As years went, reality sank in and I pursued a very satisfying but different career path that has provided well for myself and family, but I never forgot those nights around the lake or the desire to be a story teller.

Fast forward a few decades to 2012 or so, Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.  I was working as chief technologist for a transportation unit and a new Deputy Commander, was holding a team building session with the staff asking of us to share something we had as a goal or dream when we were younger.  This meeting was one of a series of sessions held by LtCol Dan Ellis, a Reservist from Florida, with a prior session including something new we were doing since being assigned there to constructively fill our time. 

During that prior session, I talked about writing and maintaining this blog.  For today’s session, I related the story above and expressed a small bit of regret that I had yet to become the story teller I envisioned.    LtCol Ellis pointed out something that had never occurred to me before – I was a story teller -- through my blog.

Sometimes it takes someone outside of you to point out a truth you are too close to see.  I am glad Dan did and I am grateful to him for doing so.  Someday, I may get a chance to be a purest and experience that feeling as I walk out before a crowd in front of a roaring fire, wearing a story teller costume with cane in hand to tell tall tales --- pausing at just the right moments for the listeners to reflect on the words I have spoken.    Until then I am telling stories a different way, via this blog and via my fiction writing.  A career path chosen so long ago, now being realized every day, full time.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

On Being Weighed & Measured

It was hard to believe when I first read it, but having seen the reference several places since my initial discovery, I will accept as fact that the length of the average Agatha Christie mystery is between 40,000 and 60,000 words. Christie is the most prolific and widely sold English language mystery author in the world. Of course, I found out several other facts about books and their length while researching the number of words that make up various literary works.  Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is over 481,000 words, whereas The Hobbit is only 95.356 words; the Harry Potter books run between 77,000 and 200,000 words; and Huckleberry Finn is right at 110,000 words.

Why was I even looking at the number of words contained in the average novel? Due to my own personality quirk, I needed some way of measuring the level of effort I was giving to my latest writing project. Since the beginning of the year I've started to write a story  that I have had bouncing around in my mind for the last few years.Allah's Numbers (working title)is an espionage thriller with several main characters, multiple story lines, various plot twists, and turns, and it takes place across several countries. Evan Davis, the main character in Three Paperclips & a Grey Scarf and Blood Upon the Sands, is back again and he is drawn into yet another situation that requires a man of both common sense and ethics who can rise to overcome his faults and human frailties. Anyway, since I have transitioned from full-time government employee to full-time novelist I needed some way of gauging how I was doing on a day-to-day basis.

I have read that some writers sit down and attempt to write a specific number of pages per day.  They start at eight in the morning and whenever they reach the specified number of pages they stop for the day. This means that some work days may only last a couple of hours whereas others may stretch into the evening.  I actually tried that method when I was in Kuwait and found that I would write 4000-5000 words on Monday and on Tuesday I would delete half of them because they felt forced. By the end of the week I would have 500 good words. That is no way to actually finish writing something.

My typical schedule right now is to write two full days a week, edit one full day a week, and do story flow and continuity checks on Fridays. Every week I record the number of words in each of the story segments that I am writing and compare the that total to the week before. I realize now that some weeks I just write more than others, and likewise there are times when I actually delete things during editing and continuity checks which can cause fluctuations. Breaking my effort into different purposes actually helps my overall writing productivity and my rate of production, as measured by just number of words written, has gone up every week.  I take this to mean that the more time I spend writing, the more productive I get.  

What is this mean for where I am at today?  Three Paperclips & a Grey Scarf came in right at 33,000 words, but that was a novella and not a full novel; even so it is my longest published work to date.    As of today, I have written 47,000 words of my current novel Allah's Numbers (working title).  I will continue writing until I have told the entire story that I want to tell, but based on my research I found that most thrillers tend to run between 120,000 and 150,000 words.  Looking at the story I've captured thus far, and where I want to be when I write the words The End that is a pretty good estimate for what it will take to finish things.

A few more hints to whet your appetite – – – other characters in the book include a failed KGB chief, a sleeper agent who has been in place for almost 3 decades ago, a beautiful Mossad agent, a confused Palestinian boy who is being used in order to exact a final revenge and a dog name Zax.

I hope to release the book by July of this year.


Friday, March 3, 2017

I Don't Know From a Double Dribble, But I Do Know an En Passant

My favourite sport is none.  I have never had a great deal of athletic prowess and therefore never enjoyed playing many sports; when you couple that with not being a preferred choice when teams were being picked my flippant attitude toward sport is easier to understand.  I did give organized sports a few tries, baseball and football, they just never were my thing.  The only positive that sport ever brought into my early life was that basketball introduced me to chess.   

It was 6th grade in St. Mary’s Catholic School in Oklahoma, when that change started that took recess from being a free form playtime into a formally structured gym class.    It was when I suddenly found myself on a basketball court, with no formal education in the hoop arts, holding a just passed basketball, and being yelled at take a shot.  Somehow, I was supposed to know all the rules as well as how to dribble, pass, and shoot -- I took the shot and it bounced off the rim.  There were two guys in class (Sully and Brian) who had older brothers and fathers who had been preparing them for a life in the pros.  If memory serves, they were not any better than anyone else; but their knowledge of the game made them the leaders in this arena and as a result they got more play time every day and that did improve their skills.

I did not have a basketball hoop at home, so the sum total of my playtime was lunch recess during the week when I would be passed the ball, at most, once a day.  When I did get control of the ball, I would either be called for traveling, until I found out what dribbling was, or I would take a solitary shot at the basket. Those 3 or 4 throws a week were insufficient practice to ever show any improvement at the game and so I spent my lunch hours just filling in the court so that the two “experts” could feel good about themselves.  Given my internal need to excel this was totally unsatisfying.

Then one day a friend brought in a travel chess set and invited me to play during lunch.  This was 1971 and there was growing interest in the game as a lead up to the Fischer - Spassky World Championship Match.  My friend, whose name escapes me now, taught me the basics of the game and from that point until the end of the school year, we would play daily at lunch and through practice I got more skillful and learned to enjoy the game.  Eventually, I taught my kids how to play and I even play the occasional game of Star Trek Three-Dimensional Chess.

Now, I have grandsons who have started to learn and play basketball in a formal setting and are being taught the game’s rules as part of it.  They seem to like it and that is great for them and the exercise will do them good.  But at some point, they may want a more cerebral challenge, and that is when Grandpa will teach them to play chess.

MacBeth plays a pretty mean defense, but I doubt he will ever understand the nuance of a perfectly executed and timed Castle move.


Friday, February 10, 2017

The Meet & Greet -- Not Really What You Think

With The Tempations on 26 January 2017 at Kalamazoo State Theatre
The Meet & Greet

Ever since I started buying concert tickets, I have noticed that there is a special category that exists for some shows called the Meet & Greet or the VIP Meet & Greet.  The only concert last year that I toyed with the idea of paying the extra fee to attend a Meet & Greet was The Steve Miller Band concert (), but there was no such category of ticket.  I did buy VIP seats to the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert last July, but we all know how that concert turned out.

This year, I opted to buy Meet & Greets for two shows, The Temptations at Kalamazoo State Theatre and the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at 20 Monroe Live!   

Otis Williams
My choice of those two particular shows was easy, The Temptations are legends and of American music an Lynyrd Skynyrd has been my favorite band -- forever.  Using those for the basis of how Meet & Greets are conducted, because there was so much in common with both experiences, I thought I would share with you what I thought was good and bad about it.  Bottom line up front:  The Meet & Greet is not what you think; it is a brief drive-by which includes a photo op and may or may not include a handshake.  Do not expect any real interaction or discussion.  You will never get a chance to ask that question you had about that one lyric from your favorite song.

In the case of The Temptations, the Meet & Greet was held for about two dozen people 30 minutes prior to the show starting -- from what I can tell this is pretty much standard. However, all this allows is 50 seconds per person with the artist. Whereas you might call this a Meet it definitely isn't a Greet.  All of the participants are lined up, and then shoved through one at a time to have a picture taken with the artist. In the case of The Temptations, someone from the theater operated your camera to catch a picture of you with the group.  The Good: You didn't have to worry about taking the picture because someone else was taking care of that for you, The Bad: You have no idea if the once in a lifetime picture is good or bad until much later – – a bad picture and you're stuck with it having paid for it in advance.  Luckily, the person who used my camera took three pictures. As a result, when I was looking at the pictures the next day I was able to use Photoshop to come out with one good image – – because in each one of the three pictures at least one of the band members had their eyes closed, or a strange expression on their face.  

I went last in the line of people, and as a result I was able to get an autograph of everyone in the group. This was a big plus in my book, and made the extra charge worthwhile, but this is far from the norm. I was also able to have a brief discussion with a few of the group members (Larry Braggs and Otis Williams) as I walked with them from the Meet & Greet room to the stage, that also made the extra fee worthwhile because I shared a brief moment with some music legends.   

With Lynyrd Skynyrd on 3 February 2017 at 20 Monroe Live!
For the Lynyrd Skynyrd Meet & Greet, I had brought a brand-new guitar with me to have them sign. I did contact the band’s agent and the venue to get permission for this prior to the show.  Getting the guitar into the venue was no problem, getting it into the room for the Meet & Greet was impossible.  This time there were 21 people lined up for the Meet & Greet to have one of their Road Managers take the photo of you with the band. The Good: I did not even have to take out my phone and the camera being used was on a tripod with extra lighting.  The Bad:  The photo was horrible, because it looked like Johnny Van Zant was about to sneeze. This time, since I only had one photo with me in it, I ended up downloading several different photos that were taken that night in order to Photoshop a decent image together. Again, for what I paid I would've been really pissed off if I had not been able to get that image fixed.

Johnny Van Zant Out Take
The purpose of Road Managers is to be the Asshole for the band.  No band or celebrity would ever turn down a fan request for an autograph, it would make them look like jerks if they wouldn't take a minute to sign their name for a fan. However, there is a Road Manager who has no problem telling you No; that is his job and that is what he is supposed to do in order to have some control over the band’s time. My issue with this system, is that the Asshole Road Manager is disconnected from the fans and therefore has no appreciation what one goes through or pays just to get that opportunity for an autograph. 

I will not go into detail as to what happened between myself and the Road Manager or how I eventually got my guitar signed by the three members of the group whose autographs I sought (Johnny Van Zant, Gary Rossington and Mickey Medlocke).  I will say you can’t asshole a Road Manager, but being firm and reasonable does help.  What matters to me is that in the end, I walked away with the most prized piece of memorabilia in my entire

My Favorite Souvenir - Ever
I am very happy with it and feel the price paid was worthwhile because I was able to get it signed. I am not sure how I would've felt about paying as much as I did for a bad picture and no autograph -- but I guarantee you I would've been a total asshole about it.  For what it's worth I do understand their need to safeguard the autograph because it does have value and many people seek autographs just to resell them. I would gladly have signed an affidavit that I would never sell the autograph that I obtained.

In Summary

Meet & Greet opportunities are great for those groups that you truly count as your favorite, if the performer is not --- it is simply setting fire to money. Most of the Meet & Greet opportunities I have seen include a special T-shirt, a limited-edition lithograph, exclusive merchandise, or a poster -- so there are some concrete things you end up with after the show; but for the true fan those items are really no big deal. What most fans want is that opportunity to actually shake hands with somebody they greatly admire and perhaps get an autograph or a quick question answered. Unfortunately, there is always a Road Manager who standing there shaking his head and they will do it without concern for the fan. You are almost much better off standing outside the theater and waiting for the band to come in prior to the performance or leave at the end of the night in order to get an autograph.

As for me, the only other band that I would seriously consider paying to attend a Meet & Greet opportunity for is one that doesn't even exist anymore:  The Beatles.

Post Script: As I mentioned above, I walked into the venue with the guitar in a backpack case to have it ready for the Meet & Greet.  I had seen people do this many times before, once actually presenting guitar to the artist in the middle of a song to have them sign it from the stage. As you can imagine, I did get questions from a lot of different people as to why I was walking around with guitar on my back  Here are a few of the answers I gave, with an absolutely straight face:  "I am the opening act" (actually said this while the opening act was on stage), "I play back up rhythm guitar for Skynyrd" (was asked for an autograph), "I am the luthier for the band, working on a new guitar for Rossington" (begged to see it), and "What guitar?  Are you making fun of my guitar shaped mole?" (the girl apologized for asking).  When I was getting a drink, a gentleman (that I found out later was the owner of the property) asked me if I was aware I was being attacked by a guitar. Apparently, I am not the only one with an offbeat sense of humor.


Friday, February 3, 2017

At Last --- Lynyrd Skynyrd!

Laith Al-Saadi

Photo by Anthony Norkus Photography
A few weeks prior to the concert, I happened to catch an interview with Laith on NPR. He was talking about how not winning on The Voice but as a result got a lot of publicity and attention that he never would've gotten if he had. During that interview, they played a lot of the music that Laith had performed during the season he was on The Voice – – just snippets here and there and all of it covers. Tonight, I had a chance to hear some of his original work instead of just covers.

Laith is one of the best bluesman I've ever heard live. He has dark flowing hair and a large beard, and a name that doesn't match anything that you would expect of a bluesman but he is outstanding to listen to. His voice is clear and strong adding so much to every single song because his backing lead guitar is so on point. Not a single wasted note, and every note played for effect.

I hated that I had to miss part of his performance to go to the Meet & Greet with the headliner, but I took a few moments the next day to locate several of his albums and download them from various vendors. I can't wait to hear more of his music, both covers and originals, and I have added him to my search routine for performers that are performing locally. Would love to see him as the headliner.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

My attendance at this concert was almost 40 years in the making.  I related my story of prior attempts to go to see Lynyrd Skynyrd in my entry about My Summer of Live Rock & Roll.  As part of my plans for last summer, I bought VIP seats for July’s Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at DTE, but as a result of Gary Rossington requiring emergency heart surgery that concert was canceled.  The only reason that I even found out about this concert was a small blurb on line about a new venue opening in Grand Rapids (more on that later).  Lynyrd Skynyrd was the official Grand Opening concert for the 20 Monroe Live!

Details about my experience for the Meet & Greet is covered in another entry, so I will talk about their performance only here -- and it was awesome. Someone had told me last year that the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert they saw was all done with the band seated, just playing their songs.  If that was true, things changed after Gary's recent heart surgery. These guys were all over the stage, giving a great performance with great music and vocals.

For a Skynyrd fan such as myself, the performance was a gold mine of the greatest hits of the band. They did not bother with stuff off their last album or things from the period of time when they were the Rossington-Collins Band -- everything was pure classic Lynyrd Skynyrd.

They opened with Workin' for the MCA and then went right into What's Your Name and You Got That Right.  The audience was totally fired up, on their feet, and singing along. I once heard Ronnie Van Zant explain the lyrics of That Smell in an interview and I have to say that it is undoubtedly the best song about the downside of drug addiction I have ever heard.  

The band did a great shout-out in honor of veterans, those on active duty, and those related to folks currently serving in the military and then performed Simple Man as a tribute to them. Excellent. Among the other favorites of mine they played were Gimme Back My Bullets, Tuesday's Gone, and Call Me the Breeze.  The band was having a good time, the audience was right there with them.

During the entire concert, Gary Rossington ended almost every song by playing the distinctive first three or four notes of Sweet Home Alabama right as the applause trailed off.  It felt like he was teasing the audience with it, because a natural assumption was that it was going to be the next song played. You could almost hear everyone in the audience hold their breath when those notes were played, waiting for the next bit of song to confirm that it was indeed the one that they thought it was.  It was not until the last song of the concert set list that they actually played a dynamite take on Sweet Home Alabama.

I have never been to a single concert ever were at least once someone didn’t yell “Free Bird!” at the band until tonight. I am sure that everyone in the crowd knew that Free Bird was going to be the encore so no one bothered to call it out. Sure enough, after several minutes of applause that followed their last song, a single spotlight appeared and shone upon a full-sized grand piano that had Lynyrd Skynyrd murals painted on it.  A large silver eagle was sitting on top of the piano having mysteriously appeared after the band left the stage. After a few more minutes of applause Peter Keys came out and sat down and started playing those familiar notes.  Awesome way to end the show.

I really enjoyed the band's performance, and this is one of those groups where substitute musicians have taken the place of some of the primaries over the years without affecting the spirit of the band.

Lynyrd Skynyrd lives!

The Venue

As I mentioned before, this was the first official concert at 20 Monroe Live! in Grand Rapids; as such, there was some confusion by employees as they were dealing with the first crowd but I have to say that they didn't excellent job. Everybody who worked there was friendly, polite, and helpful.

The venue is a horseshoe shape with multiple levels. The bottom level was standing room only Electric Light Orchestra in Frankfurt, Germany. The problem then, as now, is that if you want to see well you have to get there early and stand directly in front of the stage while people behind push you forward into the barriers. If you are further back than 5 or 6 folks, you cannot see over the top of people's heads. It is kind of a frustrating setup if the reason why your attending is to actually see the band.
directly in front of the stage. The last time I went to a concert that was laid out like that was in the 1980s; when I saw the
Ringing the upper floors was a walkway where you could stand and watch the band, as well as several rows of seats on one side and the back of the house. Those seats in the back of the house were probably the best in the house as they had a direct view of the stage and were above the crowd below. Also, the seats were tiered like stadium seats so you didn't have to worry about someone in front of you blocking your view, and less they stood up.

The sound, hit a few rough spots during the first number but then smoothed out and delivered for the rest of the performance. Likewise, the lights  at 20 Monroe Live! were well handled and you could see everything perfectly.  There were bars on both the upper and lower levels, as well as a VIP room on the upper level. There were adequate bathrooms, which were well maintained during the show. As far as getting the crowd in and out, I don't recall seeing any issues there, and even though the doors opened a bit after the scheduled time there was no issue getting everybody in before the music started.

Will I be back at 20 Monroe Live! again? Maybe, if the band is a good one as the venue is closer than the ones in Detroit. However, there was a lot of confusion about the tickets that people had bought.  My package was labeled as VIP Meet & Greet tickets; to me this meant I should've had seats somewhere near the front but instead I was told that they were General Admission and I could stand anywhere that it was okay to stand. For the price paid, I should've gotten a damn seat; especially when the seats on the upper deck along the back wall were mostly empty until people started seat jumping into them after the main act began.

I am sure they will eventually work those issues out, but I just hope that unlike many shows that are booked through Ticketmaster you will have some control over where your seat actually is rather than the random lottery system that seems to place you all over the theater rather than where you actually want to sit.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I Am I Said

Any regular reader of my blog is probably wondering if the it has been undergoing some kind of identity crisis over the past two months.  When started, the blog was written under the author name Traveler from 2009 to January 2017, then under the name Sheldon Charles from then until now.  Now it is under my name, but perhaps an explanation is in order.

When I started writing this missive, I was also starting to relearn how to ride a motorcycle.  As a result of that event and my 50th birthday, I decided it was time to start writing down things I was thinking and events that were happening to me – so I started the blog and used the single name Traveler, my riding nickname. 

For several years, I wrote about my love of riding and the various adventures I was having.  Then my job took me to Kuwait.  So, the focus of the blog shifted, from riding to the day to day experiences I was having living and traveling through the Middle East.  I also started a more disciplined approach to writing by making an entry every week versus my prior when I feel like it schedule. The author name remained the same because for operations security reasons tying it to my real identity might jeopardize my safety.   It was during this time I wrote and published my first novella (Three Paperclips & A Grey Scarf ); also released under the name Traveler. 

Life went on and I returned to the United States with many stories still flying around my brain.  When the time came to transition from my service to America to something I wanted to do, I spoke to several people about my future as a writer.  One piece of advice I got was:  Unless I was already famous and using a single name as a nom de plume (i.e. Cher, Sting, etc.) or unless I was planning on writing low end erotic fiction – I needed to use a two-name pen name.  Since Lemony Snickett was already taken, Sheldon B. Charles was born.

At the time, I thought it made sense to use that name for everything I was writing, including this blog, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was not really what I trying to do by using a pen name.   I thought about an author who I deeply admired and who also used a nom de plume – Samuel Langhorne Clemons.  When he wrote books, he did so under the moniker Mark Twain but when he wrote opinion pieces or for the newspaper he wrote under his own name.  Ben Franklin was another who used a pen name for some writing (in fact he used several); but when he was expressing his own thoughts he wrote under the name Benjamin Franklin.  While I would never compare myself to either man as an author, I do know how to follow a good example when I see one.

Starting today I am changing the author name and link to this blog ( to my own; as my blog is about me – my thoughts, remembrances, experiences, random ramblings, and images.   However, Sheldon Charles is my story teller/raconteur alter ego and he creates characters, writes dialog and creates a fictional world of adventure.  Since the two of us do get along well, you may see the occasional cross post or link from one to the other.