Stories Told

Rock shows

Who have you seen in concert? Something the disk jockey said on the radio this morning started me thinking about the concerts I’ve been to. I was surprised that I couldn’t remember them all! It’s not like I’ve seen that many shows, and I certainly wasn’t smoking any dope at them to fog my memory. I wrote down what I could remember and Googled to fill in some blanks. You would not believe the detailed tour information people have cataloged on the Internet! I was shocked to learn that I’ve seen hair-metal band Dokken. Good Lord, shoot me now.

Megadeth in 2021

My first show was Al Stewart at the Westport Playhouse in St. Louis. You know, “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages.” My second show was Iron Maiden at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. You know, “The Number of the Beast.” Talk about a change of pace! The Iron Maiden show was so loud that my ears rang for three days. I’ll never forget the newspaper review the next morning: “About as subtle as a baseball bat to the forehead. But to these kids, all zonked to the rafters on Clearasil and beer, it was probably poetry.” It was.

The best performance I’ve seen was Eric Clapton on his 1994 blues tour. His guitar work was as skilled as you’d expect, but it was also unexpectedly emotional. The best show I’ve seen is, believe it or not, Ozzy Osbourne on the 1992 tour that was supposed to be his last, but wasn’t. He may have only three functioning brain cells, but he sure knows how to work his audience. It’s hard to call the worst show I’ve seen, but Ringo Starr and Van Halen totally phoned in their performances, and Metallica was badly off their game when I saw them play in the rain in 1994.

I’ve seen Heart six times, Iron Maiden and Metallica five, and Anthrax three. Rush, Megadeth, Lamb of God, Eric Clapton, and Pokey LaFarge had me in their audience twice. I’ve seen Paul McCartney, my all-time favorite, just once and wish I could have seen him again and again. But last few times he toured, tickets were outrageously expensive and I just wouldn’t pay it.

Here’s the list I’ve pieced together, in chronological order. Headliners are listed first. You’ll see that I gravitated toward heavy-metal shows, and then gave up on concerts altogether for nine years while I was busy with my young family. And then when my kids were older and my time was more my own, I saw Heart a bunch of times, and a couple indie bands I found on YouTube — but mostly I went to heavy metal shows. It’s funny, because I was far more a metalhead in the 80s than I am today. But so many of the metal bands I loved back when are still touring, and when they come around I want to see them!

1986: Al Stewart

1987: Iron Maiden, Waysted | Eric Clapton, The Robert Cray Band | Heart, Mr. Mister

1988: Iron Maiden, Anthrax | Van Halen, Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica, Kingdom Come | Metallica, The Cult | Grim Reaper, Armored Saint

1989: Anthrax, Exodus, Helloween

1990: Motley Crue, Whitesnake | Paul McCartney | Rush, Mr. Big

1992: Ozzy Osbourne, Slaughter

1993: Heart | Aerosmith, Jackyl

1994: Rush, Primus | Metallica | Ringo Starr | Eric Clapton

1995: Megadeth, Korn, Flotsam and Jetsam, Fear Factory

1997: Metallica

2006: Heart

2007: Heart, Head East

2012: Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper

2013: Pokey LaFarge | Heart, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience

2014: Heart

2015: Pokey LaFarge

2016: Iron Maiden, The Raven Age | Lake Street Dive, The Brother Brothers

2017: Iron Maiden

2018: Anthrax, Killswitch Engage, Havok

2019: Metallica | Slayer, Lamb of God, Anthrax, Behemoth, Testament

2021: Megadeth, Lamb of God, Trivium, Hatebreed

I’m sure I’m still overlooking a band or two. But now tell me who you’ve seen! Leave a comment, or blog about it and link back here.

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Stories Told

My 9/11 memory

I’ve meant to tell the story of my 9/11 experience for years. As I’m sure it is for most Americans, the memory comes with considerable sadness and some pain, so I keep putting it off. Now here’s the 20th anniversary of that terrible day and I still haven’t done it. So I’m writing it now. I am sure the telling will be rough and uneven — I usually work on a story like this little by little for a long time in advance, including several editorial passes to make it just right. I’m not doing that today. I’m just getting the words out there. Perhaps on 9/11 anniversaries to come, I’ll revise and republish this story.

After 20 years, some details of even such a momentous day get lost in the tangled web of memory. Some elements of this story might be flat wrong, but they’re as right as I can make them. This is another reason to write this story now: so I don’t forget even more of it.

Twenty years ago this morning I awoke in a bed with my children in a motel room we’d rented for the week. Because of serious problems draining water in our home, we were having all of the plumbing under our house replaced. It was wicked expensive. It’s remarkable how much you take for granted being able to flush a toilet, take a shower, or pour water down the drain until you can’t do it anymore. It makes a house a lot less useful. I was still married to my first wife then, and she was sleeping in the house overnight with our dogs, who weren’t allowed in the motel.

I got the kids up, fed them breakfast, and took them home. Their mom had arranged with neighbors to use their bathrooms when necessary. She would cook on our gas grill for lunch. She had a strong survivalist bent and had recently ended her time in the United States Army — she was fully in her element, figuring out how to make life work under challenging circumstances.

As I pulled into the parking lot at work the radio played a quirky album rock station that was on the air here in Indianapolis then. I was only half listening to their regular newscast when it reported that a plane that had apparently flown into one tower of the World Trade Center.

It defied belief. I didn’t look to this radio station as a real source for news, so I punched the button for the city’s primary news station to find that they were running the ABC radio network feed, a very unusual move for that fiercely independent news station. ABC reported the same thing.

I raced into the building and upstairs to my desk, where I the phone was ringing. It was my wife, anguished, crying. She was watching Today and had seen the first plane hit. She had been talking to the lead plumber in our living room, and he was a Vietnam vet. When he saw the plane hit, he had a full PTSD meltdown in our living room. I don’t remember the conversation in detail anymore but I do remember that she was deeply torn up that she had recently exited the Army, as she believed her place was to be in service to her country at this critical time. It cut her to the quick that the phone was not ringing with an order for her to report.

I said I’d come right home; she said stay right at work, as there was nothing I could do and she would push through her feelings.

At work, at first the atmosphere was of shock and disbelief. Nobody had a television, and the Internet was neither as rich nor as reliable as it is today. It’s hard to believe it now, given the ubiquity of these things, but nobody had a smartphone and there was no Wi-Fi. The company did, however, have a high-bandwidth wired connection to the Internet, and given our work as software developers we all had powerful computers on our desktops. I searched the Internet for news. In those days, streaming video was in its infancy. But I found a live stream of, I think, ABC News on the Web site of, I think, Channel 6 in Indianapolis. I let it play all day. I have a memory, one I can’t verify, of watching the second plane hit and, later, the towers falling, live. It’s hard to remember for sure, and I’ve seen video of both events several dozen times since.

Many in the office were not able to connect to live streams, not even the one I had found — such was the state of streaming then. People came and went from my cubicle to watch the story unfold. As it unfolded, I became numb to it. I got no work done that day. I imagine few, if any, of us did.

The executive team was away at a retreat and planning session amid a challenging business forecast. Our small software company had gone public during the dot-com bubble, which burst in 2000. The stock-market decline that followed put the pinch on our company’s valuation, and if I recall correctly the economic situation led to falling sales.

They returned the following day, having abandoned their retreat. They said that they accomplished nothing, and sat watching the news together all day.

I remember this as a turning point in this company’s future. Sales continued to miss the mark. We had already had a couple of layoffs, and they continued every quarter. In January of 2002, my number was up in one of those layoffs. A private equity firm bought the company in 2003 and later merged it with a few other companies in similar lines of business; the resulting company still operates today.

At the end of the work day on 9/11, I no longer remember whether I went home or met my family at the hotel. I no longer remember what we talked about or how we felt. I do remember the incredible feeling of national unity that followed; it lasted weeks, maybe months. I wish it had lasted for years. I regret how divided an fragmented we have become in the 20 years since.

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Stories Told

Summer’s denouement

I first shared this story on 14 September 2008, and have shared it three other times since. I also shared it in my book, A Place to Start — click here to learn more.

During my 1970s kidhood when schools started after Labor Day as God intended, my mid-August birthday always meant summer was beginning to end. By then, the afternoon sun was at its hottest and most intense, the annual August dry spell began to toughen and dry all that had been green, and the street lights switched on earlier to send everyone inside for long quiet evenings with our families and our TVs.

Summertime children on Lancaster Drive. August 1976.

The dozens of children all up and down Rabbit Hill, as our parents nicknamed our prolific neighborhood, always sensed these changes. We squeezed in as much play as we could before time ran out. One fellow down the street, thinking he was Mickey Rooney in Babes in Arms, always organized and directed an end-of-summer show, an extravaganza that nobody would come and watch because everybody was in it. I would push to reach the new tree-climbing heights my brother and his best friend had mastered weeks before, heightening their schadenfreude when I would inevitably fall, have the wind knocked out of me, and make that loud but hilarious sucking noise that only sounds like death is imminent. Somebody would connive their mother into have a big running-through-the-sprinkler get-together at which gallons of Kool-Aid were served. Several kids sold lemonade or toys at a family garage sale to raise money for Jerry’s Kids. The chubby fellow who lived where the street curved sang his slightly naughty rhymes more often (“In 1944/My father went to the war/He stepped on the gas/And blew out his ass/In 1944!”). And then the Jerry Lewis telethon was on everybody’s TV. It was Labor Day weekend, and we all knew it was over.

Rabbit Hill in 2010. The house I grew up in is on the right side, white with blue trim.

On the day after school started, we could still play war in full army gear in the wide easement behind the houses, ride our bikes and Big Wheels up and down the hill making siren sounds as if we were a horde of ambulances and police cars (imagine 20 children doing this on your street!), play endless Red Rover in the freckled girl’s front yard, and watch the four-year-old girl next door eat sand with a spoon (oh, if her mom only knew). But we didn’t, hardly. We lost our enthusiasm. It was time to button ourselves back down and return to school-day routines.

Rabbit Hill conditioned me well; I still recognize and lament the signs of summer’s end. Kids have been back in school for weeks already. The grass hasn’t grown much lately because of the annual dry spell. My air conditioner has been off more days than it’s been on; it was too chilly the other morning to drive to work with the window down. I’ve crammed as much outside time as I can into these days to enjoy their freedom, but the end is in sight. Shorts will soon give way to long pants and short sleeves will give way to long sleeves. I’ll be in a windbreaker with a rake in my hands, collecting my trees’ deposits. The snow will fly and I’ll be hunkered down at home.

I still feel restricted, buttoned down, in fall and winter. Here’s hoping for a long, warm Indian summer first!

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Film Photography, Stories Told

A good used car

To help one of our sons launch into independence, we decided to buy him an inexpensive used car. The criteria: Under $3000, four doors, cosmetically and mechanically okay, a couple years of life left in it.

You’d be surprised how many cars at this price are clapped out and beaten up. Darn good thing we weren’t in a hurry, because it took us about a month to find this 2005 Ford Escape. We paid $2600.

Escape

It had nearly new tires on it. They’re some off brand I’ve never heard of, and I’ve already found them to be so-so on wet pavement. I’m sure they went to some tire store and said, “Put on the cheapest tires you’ve got.” Regardless, I was happy to see them when we went to look at this car. These tires probably cost $500, a large percentage of the car’s purchase price.

Tire

I’m not an expert in buying used cars. I did pay for a Carfax report, which revealed just two owners and no accidents. I checked the car for things I know how to check. When I stuck my finger in the tailpipe, it came back grey and sooty, which was good. The oil was dirty, but it wasn’t foamy or low. The belts I could find were old but not dry or cracked. I grabbed the top of each front tire and pulled and pushed hard, looking for loose front-end linkage. They didn’t budge. All the switchgear worked, and there were no lingering idiot lights on the dashboard. The car drove and stopped straight, and had good, smooth power all the way up to highway speeds.

Dashboard

A couple minor issues were evident, however. The headliner is starting to separate from the roof where it meets the windshield. One of the hinges for the hatch glass was broken. I replaced the hinge myself — it’s incredible the car parts you can buy on Amazon and the instructions for repairs you can find on YouTube. I let the headliner go.

XLT

Whenever you buy an inexpensive used car, Murphy dictates that it will need some sort of repair shortly after. So I drove it for a couple weeks to shake it out, to keep our son from having to deal with it. Sure enough, one day I pulled into the parking lot at work and found the oil light to have just come on. My mechanic said that the valve gasket cover was leaking ever so slightly, and that there was a temporary plug in the oil pan, neither of which is great. But he said that for a car this old with this many miles, he wouldn’t invest in those repairs, he’d just drive it like that. He replaced the oil pressure sensor and couldn’t get the oil light to come back on, so we both declared it good.

One headlight

It’s been only in the past few years that I stepped up from driving old cars much like this one. I know very well that after a certain number of miles, you live with some issues that you choose not to fix because the return isn’t worth the investment.

Ford

This Escape has 175,000 miles on it. I remember a time when a car with 100,000 miles was used up. But despite this Escape’s issues, I’ll bet it has at least 25,000 miles left in it — maybe 50,000 with good care and good luck.

I forget which camera I used to make these photos — it was one of my 35mm SLRs, probably with a 50mm prime lens. The film is Ultrafine Extreme 400, which I developed in the last of my LegacyPro L110, in Dilution B.

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Stories Told

Everyday life, half a world away

Originally published 1 August 2014. The summer I turned 17, I lived with a very nice family in Krefeld, Germany. I was on an exchange program through Indiana University that aimed to immerse me in the German language so that I could increase my fluency. It worked; by the time I came back to the United States I was dreaming in German, and for several days I kept slipping back into speaking German without realizing it, and nobody could understand me! But here, I want to remember the everyday life I got to live while I was there.

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My home that summer

Ulrich and Irene were my host parents, and Peter and Ulrike my teenaged host brother and sister. They lived what I see now was an upper-middle-class life in Krefeld. Row houses were the rule, and almost everybody shared walls with their neighbors on both sides. It was a sign of status that their house was attached to a neighboring house on only one side, and even then, only via a garage wall.

They were a good family that loved each other. They lived a low-key life centered around each other and their home. The family ate two and sometimes three meals a day together. Freshly baked rolls were delivered every morning for breakfast, and cheeses and hard sausages and Nutella came out every morning to top them. Irene thought for sure that as an American I’d want a bowl of corn flakes for breakfast, and bought box after box for me. I never had the heart to tell her I’d rather have rolls and Nutella! That chocolate-flavored nut spread was such a sugar-laden pleasure! It would be 20 more years before you could buy it in the States.

The main meal of the day was at about 1:30. Ulrich came home from work to eat with his family. Dinners were usually meat, vegetable, and boiled potatoes with a thin brown gravy. I never got tired of those boiled potatoes – they were outstandingly delicious! I don’t know what the Germans do to grow such flavorful potatoes. No American tubers can touch them. Ulrich went back to work after dinner and so missed afternoon coffee and sometimes even the evening meal. There was usually some sort of sweet or pastry at afternoon coffee, and that summer it frequently featured strawberries. Evening meal came at about 7 and usually consisted of an open-faced sandwich of hard sausage. It was nice to have such a light supper; it made it easier to fall asleep at bedtime.

After Ulrich made it home in the evening, it was his habit to offer me a beer. I’d never had beer before, so out of anxiety I declined. Later I did come to enjoy German beer, but by then it had become almost a game between us: he’d offer, I’d decline, and he’d sigh. I hope he knew we were both playing! On my last evening in their home, I did have a beer with Ulrich, and he seemed delighted.

Irene kept a lovely and spotless home. She was home anytime I was, and was always up for a conversation. I think that my German skills improved mostly through conversation with Irene, who wasn’t shy about gently correcting poor pronunciation, untangling my garbled grammar, and feeding me words I didn’t know. I liked to run errands with her around Krefeld in her car, an itty bitty Citroën Visa, easily the smallest car I’ve ever been in.

I spent a fair amount of time with Peter, who was about my age. The family had hosted several other Indiana teenagers in past years, but they all had been girls. That year the family specifically requested a young man and they got me. I think Peter secretly wished I had been more athletic, as he liked to play soccer and I just couldn’t keep up. Instead, I was able to show him a thing or two on the family’s home computer. His sister Ulrike was kind and friendly, but a couple years older and involved in her own world.

Krefeld streetcar
Krefeld streetcar

The family had few rules for me, the most important of which by far was to enter the house quietly late at night so I wouldn’t wake them up. I was free to run around with my friends in the exchange program. Public transportation was outstanding and I could get anywhere I wanted to go in Krefeld on the streetcar. I rode it to school every weekday and also downtown where I would meet friends. We’d walk through the train station or Horten, a department store. We’d stop at an ice-cream stand, or step into a fast-food joint for pommes (french fries). Once we took part in a tournament for the board game Risk. The Germans who played seemed astonished that not only could these kids from Indiana play the game, but we spoke their language well.

A couple times my friends and I met at the Gleumes brewery for beer. Krefeld had two breweries, Gleumes and Rhenania, but I liked Gleumes a little bit better. We all toured the Rhenania brewery, though, and at the end we were invited to sample their brews. That was the first time I drank beer, and because I had no idea what I was doing I got good and bombed. But the streetcar stop was on the corner, so there was no need to drive. The Germans are onto something: you can drink beer in public starting at age 16, but you can’t get your driver’s license until you’re 18. You learn how to handle your beer before you learn to drive! And when you’ve had a little too much, there’s no need to drive anyway, because public transportation is extensive and it will get you home. Anyway, I was so drunk after my brewery tour that I missed my stop and got to tour Krefeld by electric rail while I sobered up.

Another time we walked into a random pub in Düsseldorf where they made their beer on the premises. The brewpub concept is hot in the States now, but the whole idea was a revelation to me in 1984. We sat down and the bartender produced beers for all of us without us asking. They made one kind of beer, so if you were there, that’s what you got! I turned the cardboard beer coaster over just to look at it, and found it covered in penciled tick marks. The bartender quickly chided me (in German): “The last fellow drank that many beers and that’s how I kept track. Unless you want to pay for all that, lay that coaster down with the unmarked side up!” That last fellow could put away an impressive amount of beer!

I wish I had more photographs of simple times with friends and my host family. I didn’t know how to compose a candid shot then and I was simply too anxious to ask people to pose. I have a handful of candid shots but that’s all. I cling to them, especially as during college I lost contact with the other students who made the trip with me, and shortly after college contact with my host family petered out. It’s been 25 years since I last saw or corresponded with any of them.

But my memories remain. Such good memories. Such a remarkable trip that tangibly shaped who I would become.

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Personal, Stories Told

Living life after running out of things to graduate from

I first shared this in 2013 as my older son was about to apply to colleges. Now his younger brother has graduated college, and I’m thinking about this message again.

I overheard my sons talking the other day about college. I found that to be encouraging, because I think they’re both bright and capable and should go to college.

My youngest said, “Elementary school prepares you for middle school, which prepares you for high school, which prepares you for college. And then college prepares you for life.” I was with him right up until the last link in his chain.

My degree itself didn’t prepare me for life. My overall college experience helped prepare me for life a little. But after I graduated college and lived on my own, my adult life was significantly new and different from anything I had experienced before. I had to figure it out as it happened.

Cueing a record
On the air at Rose-Hulman’s WMHD

Now, I loved my studies. I majored in mathematics and minored in German and sociology, and exploring these subjects made my heart sing. A few things I learned in class have directly helped me in my software-development career, but otherwise, my studies have benefited my life and career only intangibly.

Surprisingly, my time working at the campus radio station gave me much better clues about life and career. I had fun doing my regular air shifts. I learned a lot about working as part of a team and taking care of my commitments to them. When I became station manager, I led an executive board and had responsibility for about 100 staff members. I also learned to deal with difficult people (primarily the chief engineer, who seemed always to look for reasons to clash with me) and still get the job done.

There were no tests and no grades; there was no end goal. We meant to stay on the air indefinitely. (Sadly the station shut down in 2013.) We aimed to deliver the best on-air work we could today, and do it a little better tomorrow.

What I didn’t see very well at the time was that this was a lot like real life. When you run out of things to graduate from, you need to set your own goals and live to make each day as good as it can be.

I’ve lived more than 8,700 days (in Sept. 2013 when I first published this; it’s 11,600 now) since I graduated college. There have been some great times and some really awful times as I’ve figured out what works for me and what doesn’t. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on it now that I’m middle aged. With good health and good fortune, my sons will have many thousands of days after they graduate from college, too. I hope they figure this out faster than I did.

Did college prepare you for life? What prepared you best? Tell it in the comments, or write it on your own blog and link back here.

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