Tag Archives: travel

Old Stories

At the Trees
At the Trees

Over the weekend, as I stated in my last post, I took the kids to the Calaveras County Big Trees park.  It was during the trip to that very state park, though, that my kids asked me if I’d ever been to the park before.  I had, but it had been a very, very long time.  In fact, the only time I’d actually visited I wasn’t even a resident of the state of California.  I wasn’t married yet…may not even have been engaged.

When I started dating Andrea, things were pretty hot and heavy at first.  We spent nearly every free moment together.  When she went off on any kind of break, particularly over the summer, I visited.  This was one particular break, most likely Spring Break, as I distinctly remembered the trip.  It wasn’t memorable because of the trees or the drive or the altitude…it was memorable because I had to have a tooth pulled and I waited until after the trip to visit Andrea to have it done.  This was problematic because I ended up having it pulled on the day of my computer final.  (still managed to get an “A” in it, though)

I told my kids the story, of how I had come out and visited their Mom.  How we drove all the way to Big Trees because, frankly, her father wanted to take us there.  I was all for it, but I distinctly remember Andrea being less than thrilled.  Still…she caved in and did it anyway.  If it gave us a chance to have some wine and a picnic – a fact I left out of the story for the kids – their mother was all in.  I went along and, frankly, hopped up on narcotics for the pain in my infected gums and aching tooth, I could have visited the Calaveras County landfill and not cared.

Why I bring this up, though, is because there was a dichotomy to the story.  I had fondness for their Mom, and my brain still remembers great details of everything that happened in those first years with her.  They were intense and fiery and sexy and I would go back to those very memories whenever things got bad or difficult to remind myself…this is why you married this woman.

But during the trip, when I’d bring up the trip with their mother, each of the kids would have their own qualifications for what likely happened:

2013-08-10 14.42.35“I doubt Mom would have walked up this trail, Dad.”  That was true.  It was near vertical in places and filled with tree roots and their Mom was likely dressed to the nines, even to go to a state park.
“She didn’t like hiking.  Mom wasn’t an outdoorsy type.”  True again.
“Did you stay a long time Dad?”
“No, kiddo. ”
“Because of Mom?”
“Well…no…your Mom probably wanted to stay.”
“Grandpa, right?”  That was right.  Andrea’s Dad liked to say he visited places, but he didn’t spend a lot of time there once he’d arrived.  He’d go, see the sights and get out.  Lingering wasn’t something her family did.  Camping they did, but I wasn’t up for that and we weren’t in a position to do it at that time.

It was interesting, to me and I had come to realize that we had swung the pendulum both ways: we started out two years ago adoring everything about Andrea.  She was perfection, the beautiful photos from her youth and the smile and the love she showed us.  A year later we were talking about the bad things, the stuff that put us through so much stress.  That seemed all we could dwell on.  Now, though, we’ve reached the happy medium, which is what marriage really is/was, right?  We had hard times, we had amazing times.  I’m sure my own kids will have their vision of how their Dad raised them and there will be things about me that drive them completely bonkers.  I hope by the end they realize I tried my best.

But as we stood there next to a tree that was thousands of years old, I knew they’d at least remember visiting the place.  Where they weren’t real sure they wanted to go after we got home it was all they could talk about.

As I tucked in the boys for the night they informed me “we had the best day, Dad!”

That’s all I could hope for.

Many Miles Before I Go

I will try
And I Will Stumble
But I will fly
You told me so . . . 

This isn’t the typical way for me to start a post, but I heard this song, by John Hiatt.  It’s the title up there, Many Miles Before I Go  from a CD that gets too little recognition: Crossing Muddy Waters.

I had made a copy of the disc for a friend.  It’s one of my favorites, though I found upon this listening that the disc is strangely prophetic for me.  Never realized that before.  Not that it made me break down or sad, but I was a bit melancholy listening to some of the songs.

But the last track . . . that one linked up there . . . that’s a great sentiment.  Hiatt is, without a doubt, a man who can weave a lyric like a poet with the most complicated yet simple of means.

Which brings me to that stanza up there.  Where his title track haunts in its sound of loss and prophecy for me, with “left me in my tears to drown…and she left her baby daughter…” the last track speaks so beautifully to what I’ve been trying to get across here lately.

For those stumbling across this post . . . two years ago my wife, Andrea, passed away unexpectedly.  Our lives went into a tizzy, for quite awhile.  The hardest part was knowing we continued to live while she just . . . stopped.  Whenever she’d gotten upset or worried or said that things weren’t going well I always told her I needed her.  It was as much for myself as for her, I often said I couldn’t do this alone without her.

Then I had to do it without her.

People ask me “how do you do it?”  I don’t think they like it when my answer is “I just do.”  It’s true, though.  It’s one of those questions that’s often like “isn’t having kids just too much work?!”  Well, yeah, kids are work.  Lots of work.  But if you treat changing diapers and warming bottles and putting flailing arms into tiny sleeves when they don’t want to be there work you’re going to  be miserable.  If you do all that and enjoy the smiles, the giggles, the soft curl of the baby sleeping on your lap . . . you don’t see it as work.

None of my kids were babies when their Mom died.  The boys, twins, were seven.  Just a couple weeks from their 8th birthday.  I had a middle girl, 11.  An oldest, who was 16.

I had homecoming dances; prom; one girl’s first period; boys wanting to date my daughter; questions about sex, life, loss, love . . . all of those came to the fore.

How did I do it?

I had to.

Proud and high
Oh, low and humble.
Many miles before I go.

Many, many miles.  I don’t have the luxury of stopping or slowing or bemoaning my situation.  There’s no situation to bemoan.

I get a lot from all four of my kids.  They have the strength of Atlas, holding up the world.  Occasionally the earth rumbles because they shrug and falter.  We try.  We stumble.  But rather than worry about where we’re going at some point – I can’t tell you when – I decided it was time to embrace the journey.  Sure, the ripples from the stumbles cross our world, but we also keep moving.  We keep living.  We saw the world flying by and rather than watch it from the sidelines I decided we should go with it.  We should fly.

We’ve stumbled.  Hell, we’ve fallen, too.  But we see the sky and dream of flight.

Because there are many more miles before we go.

A weekend by the fire

Making S’Mores

So I spend a lot of time talking about all the things I should do here.  I should take the kids around the country.  I should find a cool thing to do each weekend.  I should have adventures.  I should – and this one was pretty important – do things that I know I would never have done nearly two years ago . . . things that Andrea, my late wife, would never have considered.  I’ve sort of taken that line on as a credo.  We’ve done it, too.

One of the major parts?  No secret if you’ve read here before: music.  I used to have continual arguments with Andrea about music.  Not what we should or should not have on the radio. (those were there, but more in jest)  Not why when we were in college I put pictures of Garth Brooks on a dart board in the control room of the TV station where we worked.  Not even why we had a stack of Garth’s photos ready to replace them once she ripped the now pock-marked Garth from the dart board.  I’ll be honest, I bought the dart board and hung it up in the control room specifically so we could throw darts at it.  It’s not that I had that tremendous a hatred for Garth Brooks.  I did it because it garnered attention from a certain blonde in the newsroom.  (If I have to spell it out more than that you should stop reading now)

But we had considerable arguments about my being a musician.  We started dating, you see, when I was in a lull in my musical “career.”  My original band had broken up, gotten back together and taken multiple hiatuses in the time I’d been with them.  This was a prolonged hiatus and I certainly wasn’t in a position where I knew how to start my own band up yet.

Still, we got married, these people were part of my life and the creation of my musical life were getting continually placed on the back burner.  When we hit financial straits she would see the guitars I’d worked so hard to attain – so hard to maintain and play – as dollar signs, not as what I saw them.  These were symbols of my life so far.  I wasn’t one of those guys who picked up a guitar to meet girls, do drugs, or party all night.  Quite frankly, if you saw what most local bands go through to hit the stage and then leave it you’d wonder why anyone would ever do it if you didn’t love it.

I won those arguments, and there were many.  But it didn’t mean I loved her less.  She had amazing things that I treasured.  She had intense things that drove me crazy as well.  That’s everything about marriage, I suppose.  You love the insanity and treasure the beauty.

So when she passed I was determined to do things that she wouldn’t have considered.  I looked at when the kids leave and am determined to go to Egypt to see the pyramids – something she wouldn’t even consider.  I want to go through Britain and France.  I want to go off the beaten path, see Hadrian’s Wall, go to the Marshall amplifier factory, maybe go on Land Rover’s obstacle course.  She wanted none of it.

With the kids I wanted to do things they could tell stories about.  I wanted to drive to the Grand Canyon and on the way go waaay out of the way and get a picture of myself standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona.  Just because.  I wanted to record a video of us playing a song for my friend.  I wanted to be silly and funny and crazy.  It was part of what made Andrea so amazing in the beginning and part of what she lost in the years after.

But this weekend the craziness, it seems, wasn’t necessary.  I got one of those little fire pits for the back yard last year, just because we were walking through the hardware store and Abbi, my oldest, saw it and said she thought it would be fun.  Andrea didn’t like it, didn’t go outside much in the last year because she had a hard time walking around.  When we put it up we used it a lot.  This last weekend, we didn’t go anywhere, but I took the kids to the movies and thought it was a necessity to entertain them for the last week, which had been really hard.

But as much as they loved Hotel Transylvania (which I thought was just OK, by the way) they didn’t walk around all day talking about it.  When I came home with firewood for the fire, along with graham crackers and fun-sized chocolate bars, though, they were ecstatic.

It’s then I realized the biggest thing is something I’d been teaching them but not listening to myself.  It’s about being together.  It’s about being with people you love.  It’s about calling your family or texting a friend and looking up at the stars and knowing they’re looking up there at them, too.  I spent more than an hour out there with Noah, looking at the stars, trying to find planets and constellations.

By night’s end, they had forgotten the movie.  But they couldn’t stop talking about the fire and even though it was warm outside, they loved it.

Again, hate to beat the slogan to death, but it’s true: we’re better together than when we’re apart.

A travelling wish list

Before you all get on my case that I’m making a “list” simply so I can get “freshly pressed” by WordPress . . . that’s not the case at all.  (Though, if the wonderful people who have taken my money for domain names, web templates and overall blogging work wanted to do that I wouldn’t at all complain . . . seriously . . . no whining at all)  No, this is something that’s been weighing on me over the last year or more.  I feel like it’s something I’ve mentioned before but never took overly seriously because of the fact that, simply put, I was lazy.

I need to take the kids out of our comfort zone more.

So I want to see a lot of stuff . . . and we’ll never get to all of it . . . but if I can pull it off I want the kids to see it.  We never had the time when I was married.  I never had vacation.  We always visited relatives with the time we DID have.

So here goes:

The Grand Canyon – no secret why.  Even if we just go to that crazy outlook and look over at nature’s amazing beauty . . . I want to do it.
Gettysburg – This is more for me, I suppose, but it’s something we should do.  Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is my favorite speech and piece of writing – poignant and brief but filled with love and emotion.  Seeing where something so dramatic unfolded now peaceful and filled with honor I want to see.
Seattle/British Columbia – this is possible, I know it is.  Most . . . I’d love to buy tickets on Amtrak and take the train up.  Even if we just see the Space Needle, drink coffee (me and Abbi, not the others.  We’d get kicked off the train)  It’s feasible and we can make it.
Winslow, Arizona – I know . . . there’s nothing there.  But I just want a picture of myself standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.  It’d be such a fine sight to see.
Yosemite – we’ve been, but not really . . . been there.  My kids – even the boys – loved it.  It was the last real trip with their Mom and it was miserable.  She argued with her parents, had a breakdown, the trip was really hard.  Still, it made an impression and we want to spend more time there.  That, and it’s close.  We can DO this.
Yellowstone – I think I’ve been . . . maybe.  I remember feeding chipmunks, but that may have been another park.  Still, the kids should see what this country has to offer.  It’s an amazing place.
San Diego – I know, it’s close, not a hard trip . . . so why not do it?  It’s not the zoo.  It’s not Legoland (though they want to go) it’s the area and the beach and 67 degrees and sunny every day.  Plus . . . it’s feasible again.  Maybe even just a 4 or 5 day weekend.

The reason’s pretty simple: to give my kids a taste of some of what I’ve seen.

I work in an office, and am out a lot and have a tendency to want to stay home.  But I’ve had jobs that allowed me to travel the country and even the world.  I’ve been fortunate to be in an industry that not only gave me the ability to see places I’d not have considered, it also gave me a front seat to some of the world’s most memorable events.  I covered terrorism just a few short weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

I saw the hole in the side of the Pentagon.  File cabinets sat in their same location, the sides charred and the drawers knocked open by the impact of a United flight skidding across the lawn and into the side of the five-sided complex that houses our military and intelligence communities.  I saw Israel on New Year’s Eve of 2002, covering how a country that experiences terror on a regular basis deals with it.  I saw the impact our country’s worst attack since Pearl Harbor had on tourism in the Old City or Jerusalem.  I met Palestinians who were kind and Israelis who were heartfelt.  I witnessed how the Palestinian territories were mere yards away from Israel at their closest point . . . only to be told our location had been subject to an IED just hours before . . . and soldiers had disarmed it.

At Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan

I traveled to Afghanistan with a medical mission – spending a mere 90 minutes on the ground with a team that saves lives – and was humbled by the care and honor of doctors, soldiers and technicians.  I met soldiers planning their assault on the city of Baghdad as they trained in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for urban assault in the hopes of limiting casualties.

With a reporter we found a charred mission patch in the ditch of a county road in East Texas, near the Louisiana border.  This after slowing to a stop just minutes before as a bent and broken piece of metal . . . dotted with heat resistant tiles . . . lie in the middle of the road after falling through the upper atmosphere of our spinning rock broke off the Space Shuttle Columbia.

These are things I’ve witnessed and experienced.  It’s feasible my children will never face these same things.  Part of me hopes they don’t.

Many of these things affect you in ways you can’t imagine.  I was touched beyond all belief when a woman I’d never met offered to pray for my family when I had to leave Israel early due to a family emergency.  I was floored when she called back and offered to buy souvenirs for my children and drive them from her home in Bethlehem to Jerusalem because i didn’t have time to get them.

The biggest thing, though, is I was working through all these things.  I traveled to New York several times, but never experienced New York.  I had tasks in front of me and raced around the city shooting video and telling stories.  I experienced the Wailing Wall and the Church of the Sepulchre only because my friend and colleague made me stop and take the moments to take them in.  Much of the above is witnessing history, not experiencing places.

This last weekend, in traveling to New York, I realized that I had made my daughter’s summer just by meeting her for two days in the City that Never Sleeps.  I had visited but never gone to the top of the Empire State or the Statue of Liberty.

So here’s my wish list.  I am fortunate in that my work has afforded me more than 10 days vacation, a situation I’m thrilled to be in.  I have a year . . . 365 days . . . with Abbi.  Sure, she’ll come home, maybe have summers at the house again, but I remember going to college.  I met my wife there.  I joined a band.  I even worked over the last 2 summers in Omaha.  Sure, I was close to home and visited a lot.  I don’t know that will be the case depending on where Abbi ends up.

But it’s a wish list because I wish to spend the time with them.  I wish they could experience just a little of what I have – and experience it with me.

Still juggling . . .

I’m Not Drowning by Steve Winwood from the album Nine Lives

You’d think with a lack of children and the inability to take time off to go visit them that I’d be in the catbird seat, wouldn’t you?  The reality is I’ve managed to put myself in a position where I’m juggling more things that I’d probably have done if I wasn’t sans-children.

The first, obviously, is work.  I still have my daily grind and everything.  I have a July sweeps calendar.  I have a couple specials I’m helping a colleague with.

Then there’s the musician in me.  I let a touring musician stay at my house.  I started writing more of my songs that were weighing on me and I’d not taken the serious time to work hard on them.  Then – and this one cracks me up – I volunteered to help play guitar in a band for a fundraiser and awareness day for the Human Concerns Coalition.  Not that it’s a bad thing, I was really excited.

But being the worry wart I am I looked at the set list . . . then volunteered to sing several songs . . . then realized that I’ve played maybe 1/3 of the songs on the list.  Country.  Rock.  Hair band stuff.  None of that had I come to before.

So yesterday and today I was recording, playing, writing and trying to learn all these songs and – in Ringo’s words – I GOT BLISTERS ON ME FINGERS!!!!!”

That being said, I have a hard time saying no and I wanted to do it.  I’m singing Long Train Runnin‘ by the Doobies.  I get Take It Easy by the Eagles . . . and my biggest worry is Wonderful Tonight by Clapton.

I’ve posted last year how there are a lot of things that I brought to my relationship with my wife that we began to enjoy together.  Music was one of those things.  The song that Andrea loved the most – one we had at our wedding and listened to over and over again – was Wonderful Tonight.  I have practiced it – over and over – and finally gotten to the point where I can sing it without my voice cracking in the middle.  There isn’t an eighth note of that song that doesn’t remind me of her.

And it angers me.

It’s like a thief walked into my life and took seminal points and stole away with them.  Clapton.  Hendrix.  Miles.  Bird.  Every genre has some kind of reference for our lives together.  Some I can listen with wistful memories.  Others have me a gelatinous mess reaching for the turntable to get away from them as quickly as possible.

So the weekend approaches and I’m going to take my brother’s method of locking myself in the house and learning – over and over again – and hope I can keep up with the rest of the people.

But I sound so much like I’m complaining.  I’m not.

It’s an opportunity.  I’m still juggling, but I’m not dropping the balls.  I’m pushing myself to add more to the group.  Now, as long as I don’t add flaming swords and chainsaws I’ll be happy.

To L.A. on my birthday . . . part 3!

Why Was I Born by Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane

OK . . . final part here.

I made it to the club, seeing the awe-inspiring Mr. Kenny Burrell

Kenny at the Catalina Jazz Club
But it was time to go home and I really didn’t want to go in a hurry.  Again, life is just too complicated sometimes, so I decided it was not worth driving through the flat desert lands.  I cut over to Highway 1 . . . the Pacific Coast Highway, and felt it was time to see the ocean.

I’m not obsessed with the water or the salt air or the pull of the sea.  I’m not Hemingway.  I don’t have a tug when I hear a seagull cry or a wave crashing.  I don’t really know what it is that – now for the second straight year – told me to go this way and see the water.  I did it last year on the way to L.A.  This year it’s the way back.  As I said, there’s no pull for me to go into the water or jump on a boat.  I could save myself in a swimming pool.  Take me to the ocean and sink my ocean liner and I’m one of the many sinking like Leoardo diCaprio into the icy depths.

But I think – and this is just pop analysis here – is the finality of it.  This is as far as you’re going to go.  You can walk into the water but eventually you’re hitting the end.  This is the edge of the world, at least our American world.  I can go the other direction but I’m still crossing the same paths and lands that Andrea did going that way.  She lived in the Midwest and drove home a myriad of ways.  She lived with us in Texas.  She visited South Dakota.  She visited friends on the East Coast . . . she touched everything.  But there are pieces here she didn’t, I don’t think.

But in a way it reminds me of her, too.  I stopped in Pismo Beach for lunch.  Nothing fancy, but the view was inspiring.

Pismo Beach and all the clams you can eat – to quote Bugs Bunny
But lunching alone wasn’t wise.

While I told myself all those things above, that I’ll find this cathartic and enjoy it all, it’s the finality of the coast line that reaches to another finality.  I paid for and bought the gravestone for Andrea already.  I left town to leave being alone behind but instead I just felt . . . lonely.

I know why, and some of it has to do with this picture I brought with me:

Andrea took me 0n an amazing trip on this day.  Sure, that’s Alcatraz in the background and she’s cold and wind-blown.  But on Pismo the wind was blowing crazy…and it had kind of a bite to it.  It was chilly and I kept thinking about this photo and realizing that the tug wasn’t the water or the salt it was her.  We met that weekend and I knew I’d fallen in love that weekend and my life – as I knew it – was over.  This new life with her began.  We stood there and then walked the beach, my holding her close to keep her warm, and listened to the water hit the shore.  That was what I was thinking about here.

I went down to the water and watched the waves roll on top of each other, the foam cresting on the waves and rolling under as another undulation overtook the whitecap.

Waves on Pismo
I stayed there about an hour.  I watched the kids run around in the water.  I felt the water hit my feet.  I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was there again with her…but I couldn’t.

The realization was that I hadn’t left loneliness behind.  I wasn’t running from anything.  I just had to face that my life, as I knew it, was over.  Just like before, with her.  Then, though, I saw the change coming and felt it warm me, literally.  The feeling spread from the center of my chest and radiated to my toes.  This time, I had to force myself to abandon that feeling.  My toes were cold.  My arms had goosebumps.  I looked up and saw a different scene, a totally foreign landscape to the one on the photo.

The white cliffs at Pismo. Who knew?
It was here I decided it was time to go home.  I’d toodled around a lot, even wasted a good deal of time.  Sure, I had a good lunch, a nice piece of pie even, but it’s not the end all, be-all of my life.  I realized that I’d just set a night’s goal of hitting the jazz club and let the pieces fall where they may.

I played paparazzi…met Kenny Burrell…stayed in an amazing hotel…met some phenomenal people…and now it was time to go home.  I didn’t have to prove I could do something different.  I just did it.

After getting in the car I called Hannah and asked how her birthday went  – that’s right, it’s her birthday, too:

Hannah on her 1st birthday
She was sooooo excited to get a hardshell case for her Stratocaster.  She loved the book I gave her and the paper watch she could decorate herself.  She was . . . happy.  It was different from the apprehensive happiness of last year where she still felt empty with the happy feeling.  I understood, this year was the same for me.  She was smiling with her voice, something she hadn’t done in a long time and it made me smile.

Then during the drive home Andrea’s best friend – and one of my best – called during the drive.  I marveled how I could talk forever with her and not worry about pauses in the conversation or what was going on.  I just wanted to know and genuinely cared what happens to her and what goes on.  She’s miles away and it’s like I can talk and . . . not worry or talk about what we’ve both lost.

It’s been a long year.  This was a long trip.  I got home around 9pm, the road trip at an end.  I had my duffel bag and laptop with me and I sat on the couch and watched something mindless on the TV…then headed off to bed, thanking Andrea for an amazing birthday – because it’s like she let go just a little.

Then I prepared for the next day . . . which is today.  But that’s an adventure you’ll hear about tomorrow –


To L.A. on my birthday – pt. 2

So Saturday I drove California’s traffic artery – Interstate 5 – down to Los Angeles.  I won’t chronicle the drive again, you’ve seen that.  However, it’s worth repeating a couple things.

I had a picture with me . . . a picture of Andrea I found that I’d forgotten was even taken.  Obviously, I had hidden it so Andrea wouldn’t destroy it in her zeal to remove photos she thought looked bad.

the amazing picture

So I took it not because I was feeling nostalgic, but to remind myself that I wasn’t running from her . . . that I was doing something I hadn’t normally done.  I was doing this so I’d be able to share it . . . even if it was with her, captured in a moment of wind-blown happiness twenty years ago.  It was the kind of thing that she would have convinced me was fun and necessary twenty-one years ago.

So I arrived in Los Angeles and realized I hadn’t paid much attention to where I was staying . . . and then saw the hotel and was amazed.

The Sunset Tower Hotel

If you look up on the left side of that hotel, in the corner curved-room where the art deco look is at its height . . . six floors up is me.  I loved the room.  I loved the history more . . . Clark Gable; Mae West; Marilyn Monroe; Diana Ross forcing Tim Curry to be her elevator man; OK . . . so Howard Hughes kept a bunch of mistresses there, and maybe that’s why my room was really small, but I didn’t care.  I could see downtown LA

LA from my room

If you look, the second building from the left in the big group of skyscrapers . . . the Capitol Records building.
I could also look down from my room to the rooftop pool:

The pool . . .

Now, I went down there, is very cool.  But I have to be honest, there was more silicone there than skin.  Not just in the women.  I loved the hotel, the history . . . where Iggy Pop tried to jump from his room to that pool.  How Werner Klemperer, the man playing Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes saved the building.  You see, the Sunset was designated a historical site – an apartment building with tons of Hollywood’s history soaked into its walls.  However, there were no laws in the 1980’s that prevented demolition of historic sites.  Klemperer refused to leave, continuing to live in his apartment and causing a legal quagmire that slowed the project until the laws were passed that protected the hotel.  Now . . . it’s amazing and I get to be part of that history.

In its heyday

But my trip wasn’t just to see a really cool hotel . . . with its art deco hallways and stairwells:

The wraparound hallways
The stariwells

There was a reason for the trip.  I was on the way to the Catalina Bar and Grill . . . one of the best jazz clubs on Sunset.  Now, you don’t have to enjoy jazz to enjoy my story here.  When I decided to leave town I didn’t want to do the exact same thing.  When I found out that jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell was playing I had to go…just had to.  Burrell has played with Coltrane, Ellington, Billie Holiday . . . he’s amazing – so much so that Jimi Hendrix said he’d kill to sound like Burrell if he could do it.

I decided to walk . . . the trip wasn’t too bad.  A half-hour walk, couple miles . . . and it wasn’t really hot.  So I took the opportunity to walk down Sunset.  I spotted a huge crowd ahead of me and they’d blocked off the sidewalk.  I was initially aggravated because I didn’t want to zig-zag on the way.  Instead, I walked up and stumbled into a red carpet event for AIDS prevention.  With my little point and shoot I walked up to the press corps and joined them.  Nobody looked, noticed, or said a thing.  I popped off shots:

Kathy Griffin on the Carpet

Then my daughter texted me a few questions . . . the text message alert on my phone is set to the Woody Woodpecker laugh.  Suddenly photographers started stopping and looking at me . . . and I quickly realized it was time to keep making my way to the club.  I have other photos – you’ll have to wait for weekend to see those.

I got to the Catalina and was told I’d have to go through the garage.  I went in and it was like walking into All the President’s Men. Small portions in darkness with a spotlight over the entrance, hidden in an alcove in the corner of the garage.

The Club Entrance

But when I got in . . . I was given a table literally in front of the stage.

From my table

The club gave Kenny a stool to sit on when he plays but he barely sat on it.  At eighty-one he was spry, light on his feet, moving constantly, and playing better than most people I’ve heard that are 1/4 his age.  I desperately wanted to give you a video of him playing but the club was vigilant about not letting that happen.

Still, I was able to get photos:

The legendary Kenny Burrell

He played two sets.  In the middle he gave credit to the Friends of Jazz at UCLA, convinced a friend to sing from the audience, killing his amp and playing acoustic with a microphone.  He told amazing stories from the stage.

He also signed a CD for my brother.

The CD

He shook my hand, thanked me for coming, and told me how happy he was to have my brother and I enjoy his music.  He told me how much he enjoyed recording his last two CDs and how he loves this club for how they treat him.  He spent more time with each person than you’d find from most musicians today.

I was happy and impressed the club was full . . . a good audience for such a talented player.  With his history – playing with biggest names in jazz’s height from the ’50s on – he could be arrogant or bitter or stand-offish.  Instead, he was kind, generous, and simply the man you’d want him to be if you were a fan.  Burrell smiled constantly and was happy to be there.  He was even happier on the stage, playing amazing things seemingly no slower than he was at his height.

It was an honor to see him . . . I have no better word for it.  He was amazing.  His band was just as talented and seemed to have just as much fun.  To hear such an amazing group, whose talent just pours off the stage, I was taken with how they made it look easy.  There was no ego, no push to be the center of attention.  They played music.  In a world so surrounded by awful music with no musicians and auto-tune pushing for perfection these five men made perfect music with no technological push.  They are just that talented.

I went back to the hotel happier than I was last year at this time.  An amazing thing, an amazing night, and I still had the trip home ahead of me . . . but that’s for tomorrow.

Freight Trane by Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane

When Summer Comes

My extended family…in our last NE trip

Summertime Blues (Live) by the Who from the LP Live at Leeds

In my poor planning and idiotic reliance on a tax refund, I hadn’t realized that I’m only weeks away from the end of the school year.  Less than a week and Abbi’s out, moving onto Senior year . . . just like that.  Hannah will head to her final year of middle school.  I let it slip by, ignored the dates, and my father hit me with the question he’d asked over and over again: “when do the kids get out of school?”

The girls were the first to visit their grandparents.  It started the year we moved to Sacramento.  My folks missed the kids horribly and wanted to spend time with them.  When my folks wanted the time to get longer and longer it weighed heavier and heavier on my wife.  She didn’t like being away from the kids.  I think part of her really didn’t like my parents having any influence over her kids, which I believed then – and firmly believe now – was a foolish thing.  My Mom is definitely a take-charge kind of woman and my Dad has his opinions.  They might very well take over and run things if you let them . . . but that’s the key: if you let them.

The longest the kids ever stayed with my folks when Andrea was alive was a month.  Andrea hated it.  Even 2 weeks was too much for her.  You have to understand as well that when we got to California she had a very unrealistic view that her Mom would take care of the kids while she worked . . . and I think she believed her Mom would take care of her when she got home.  The hardest thing in the world is to grow up and see the weaknesses and flaws in your parents.  To you, particularly in those most formative years, they are indestructible.  Andrea always fought them but secretly wanted her Mom to take care of her.  The worst thing in the world was when she realized, as an adult, that her Mom was neither willing nor able to do that work – not when she was a kid, and really not now when we had our kids.

Look, I know this sounds harsh and I’m not trying to be mean.  Four kids . . . it’s a hard number to wrap your head around.  I even told Andrea she had no expectation – nor no right – to try and make her Mom take care of bother her and the kids.  I had raised a red flag saying that the agreement her Mom would watch our kids would never come to a good end.  I had seen the reality by how many times Andrea had been disappointed in our marriage with too high expectations and I expressed my worries to both her and her parents.  I was assured they were unfounded.  In the end, they weren’t.  It led to major bouts of depression and anxiety on my wife’s part.  It also led to my having to try and calm down both Andrea AND her Mom on some days, something I was not equipped to handle.

Now, I’m faced with doing the very thing my wife hated: sending my kids away for the summer.  My dilemma isn’t whether or not they can handle it, though I have that worry.  It’s whether or not they’re bored or hurt by having to be there.  That . . . and I’m not sure can handle it.

I was in a fog when I got back to work last year.  When I changed jobs (by necessity, not choice) I probably should have taken even more time off.  When July came last year, I took a pilgrimage over 1 weekend . . . on my birthday . . . to avoid being here.  Now I hit my 2nd summer and I’m not sure what I’ll do alone in the house.

I know I could go to Nebraska and visit the kids, and I will, but it’s not the whole summer.  I could surely work my behind off, hang out downtown, do a bunch of things, but it’s not changing the fact that I’m faced with the fact that I have 2 and a half months where I’m left to face the fact that my house is empty.  It’s like looking at my future and realizing that it’s where I’m heading in the next 9 years.  I don’t know what I’m going to do from here.  I love my job, but do I love it here in California enough to stay after the kids leave?  Will I continue to be an investigative journalist?

I know it’s not easy to face these questions, and I shouldn’t.  But I’ve come to realize that I’m only just now, in this last few weeks, looking more than a day ahead.  I got through last year, last summer, all of it by looking only at each day . . . trudging through the morning, the afternoon, getting through to the night, and then starting it all over again.  It became routine.  But the routine isn’t effective when it’s having to change constantly.  I will have 5 more years with Hannah and then it’s me and the boys.  After that, what?

It’s hardest because, the weeks that the kids would spend in Nebraska I always wanted to take advantage of.  I wanted to grab Andrea and head to LA or to London or anywhere . . . I wanted to find some of that spark again, the thing that had us so amazed with each other, unable to stop holding hands or kissing in public, damn the stares.  But she wouldn’t do it.  She was obsessed with the fact the kids weren’t here, wouldn’t travel, and counted the days until they were back.

I now face those summer days alone.  I don’t have a choice.  I can’t work if they’re home alone and it’s not fair to my oldest to keep them home and make her watch them . . . that, and I’m not sure she’d do it right.  It’s easy to be coddling and attentive when you’re babysitting.  It’s easier to ignore the arguments and head to your room when it’s your siblings. To survive and pay for everything these kids need I have to work and keep them watched and cared for.  My parents volunteer to do it.  I also love the influence they have and the feeling that my childhood home, to these kids . . . is home.

It’s the one thing that gets me through the summer.  Where they are far away, they are so happy and cared for.  I’m happy they have such an amazing summer ahead of them.

And perhaps I’m a little jealous.

It’s Gonna be a Long Long Time

I sit here, now, in the Denver International Airport, a woman lying on the floor to one side with painted toes and her best Jackie “O” sunglasses on hoping that I notice her trying not to be noticed while we survived the drunken sot who thought the best way to survive getting on an airplane was to drink himself to oblivion rather than a Xanax or a Benadryl, which would have been cheaper and let him stay on the airplane, and I realized things are hard, maybe harder than ever, but it could be a lot harder.

My whole point of going home to see my folks, brother, and avoid the anniversary of my wife, Andrea’s, passing was to get to a place where we could avoid being around the mass of people who might mean well but would inundate us with thoughts and well-wishes. In reality, though, we got inundated anyway and we looked at all the message because we just couldn’t help ourselves. It’s too easy to wallow in misery and hope that it feels that much better when you stop. The problem is, it doesn’t stop and you don’t feel better.

One thing that did cross my mind, though, as we walked down the security passageway at Eppley Airfield, was that it was harder to go back to California than it was to come to Nebraska and face the anniversary of what we lost. The day came and went, the kids surviving OK – partly because of the exercise of our video – and we weren’t better or worse. We were the same. The reality that hit me is how much I miss my family and the peace of mind of just being near home.

I don’t dislike California, let’s get that straight. My father has a soaring loathing of the state and all it stands for. He visits and stays there because of us and that’s all there is. At his age, hating to fly, driving to see us may not be an easy prospect for much longer. The kids go out every summer and spend a couple months with them. It’s not that I miss the break or want my parents to wait on me. They don’t, nor would I let them – and God help me if I thought to tell my Mom that I wanted her to. You’d find pieces of me floating in the Elkhorn River a few years from now. But I was able to endure and stand up, just like they helped me one year ago when I needed it.

I should never have made any decisions in the hours, days and weeks following Andrea’s death. So many of them had to be made, though, and as hard as it was for my Dad to be there and endure the grief and sadness that hung over our lives like a fog he knew it was easier to help me than to make me decide on my own.

This last week was no exception. I could have stayed home, taken the days off, sat there and wallowed, but I knew that’s exactly what I would do if I stayed. Leaving the checkpoint to the gate was harder than the week itself because I felt the distance weighing on me. My kids see where we are as home. That’s what matters and is most important. If the didn’t, I’d have probably moved home in a heartbeat. The offer was even on the table. My Dad didn’t see too many options before I got my new job. . .neither did I.

So as I left, knowing I had to, I realized it’s going to be a long time before I move on. Before we move on. I cannot tell you the things that trigger my sadness. The clock chiming 9pm in O’Neill reminded me of leaving my wedding reception on that day. Watching a documentary on the band “The Swell Season” makes me tear up and get goosebumps because it touches me in the same spaces that are still bleeding from losing that piece of myself when Andrea left. But a simple day, the turning from 11:59pm to Midnight did not, and I was up until then. Yet that night, remembering my wedding night, the lack of humor I had that night, being angry at her being hungover and then too tipsy on the limo ride to the hotel . . . those things weigh on my mind.

As I said, it will be a long time before I can exorcise the demons from my marriage, the pieces I wish I could forget but seem seared into my grey matter like a cattle brand.

So I sit in the airport seats, looking at my children moving on through the day, and I realize I don’t have it so bad. I could be one of the people I see walking around, tattoos in places that peek through like they’re trying to hide, but really hoping to get attention. The single people who look woefully depressed to be alone at the airport and realizing I had it good for awhile. The woman next to me, lying on the floor, trying so hard to act like she’s inconspicuously aloof but peeking through her sunglasses hoping others will notice her.

Me, I want to get through the day, knowing full well that for now – maybe I never will – I cannot see a moment tick by without thinking about her in sadness. I look forward to the day that I can be reminded of our wedding day and not see it as the day our marriage started and ended together.

But it’s going to be a long, long, time.


Andrea’s Airplane Music . . .

I had mentioned an old mix tape before thought it might be fun to list the tracks for you. Some are as subtle as a 2×4 and others…well I don’t know what my mind was thinking 20 years ago.

Rush : Dreamline
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Couldn’t Stand the Weather
ERic Clapton: After Midnight
Steve Winwood: One and Only Man
ERic Clapton: Forever Man
Doobie Brothers: Dangerous
ZZ Top: La Grange
Eagles: Victim of Love
Joe Walsh: All of a Sudden
Led Zeppelin: Ten Years Gone
Pink Floyd: On the Turning Away

Side 2
John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers: Made Me Wanna Go
Allman Brothers: One Way Out
The Who: Magic Bus
Robert Cray and the Memphis Horns: Consequences
STevie Ray Vaughan: Tightrope
Vaughan Brothers: Telephone Song
Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same
ZZ Top: waiting for the bus/Jesus just left Chicago
Eric Clapton: just like a prisoner/behind the sun