Change of Plans – in Victoria, British Columbia

August 5, 2008

As I was leaving Vancouver yesterday to drive to Seattle, I found out my Austin music was cancelled.  So, instead of driving south, I drove east and took the ferry over to Vancouver Island and went to Victoria.

This weekend, and especially yesterday, BC is celebrating their 150 yr anniversary, and Victoria is the provincial capital of BC.  Needless to say, it was a madhouse!  I had heard there was a music festival going on…which is always good, but oh goodness.  You know what it’s like when a stadium event lets out?  Well, that is what it was like there.  It’s a town of approx 75,000 people, and they claim over 100,000 were there, packed into the city center.  Good thing I had my bike, cuz I had to park wayyy aways and then cycle into town.

Burton Cummings played – from The Guess Who [No Sugar Tonight,  These Eyes, American Woman…].  Sarah McLachlan played for a whopping 30 minutes.  Others I can’t remember…the last act was Fiest.  I hadn’t heard of her but apparently [in Canada] there is an ipod advert on tv where someone is singing “one, two, three, four…”.  If you know what I’m talking about, this is her.  Bubblegum pop to me.

I am unsure 100% re what my plans are.  I need to go back to the Victoria city center too see how it is without the crowds, but yesterday my thoughts were that it was just ok…I little too touristy for me.  A female cop laughed at me when I asked her for a non-touristy, “character” place to have lunch.  In the city center???  Ha ha ha.  She was right.  I had such a hard time finding a place to eat [besides $4 scoops of gelato], that I actually went to the downtown mall’s food court.  Imagine that.

I have been invited to dinner Thursday nite by a woman [Meredith] I met last nite.  So, I most likely will travel around Vancouver Island for the next couple days, have dinner with her and her friends Thursday nite…then head/ferry it to Washington.

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Appleton, Wisconsin

July 11, 2008


I certainly made the correct call yesterday in coming to Appleton for music.

I got in and scored a room at this huge, historic Victorian home a block from the main downtown drag.  The room also has the Emergency Exit for the floor, which means I can open it to the screen door, open the windows and be in Nirvana with the wonderful breeze.

I have found the coffee shop that I could live in – Brewed Awakening.  It has wonderful looking baked products, quiche, healthy salads and panini’s, cool music, outside seating in front and in back, great stuffed chairs…they even sell gelato AND they have Nutella as a flavor!!  They even have a liquor license.

There are 2 raised window display areas, one each side of the entrance door.  Each with a great stuffed chair and neat table.  So, I sat “on display” and ate my artichoke and cheese panini!

After my late lunch/early dinner, I walked over to Houdini Park, where there is a free concert starting at 5.30.  It looked like it was going to start raining, and as I walked into the park a lady yelled “ok everyone…I’m calling it!”  She called the outside music due to rain, which means it would take place in the designated inside venue, which this week just happens to be the same venue I was planning on listening to music at later.

The venue was packed.  The band was fun.  When they took a break, I hopped on the free trolley that they have on Thursday nites [and the weekend] that takes you around various parts of town.

This town too was built along Fox River, and is a logging/paper mill town.  Some of the old mills have been refurbished into apartments.  The lady driving the trolley said they were very nice, but expensive.  Unsure what her version of expensive means.

After the trolley tour, I went back to listen to the second set by the band.

After that there was a band “from New York City” next.  Watching them set up, it was a very motley group of people – they didn’t look like they would be in the same band at all.  I spoke to the woman, and she said they are 4 singer songwriters from Brooklyn, who are sharing a backing band, and traveling around together.  I asked her what type of music they play, and she says: alt country and Alejandro Escovedo is their God.  GASP!!  I am so psyched!

Just moments before that, I was talking to 2 guys who seem to listen to a lot of music – bigger acts.  They asked me what kind of music I like, and I said alt country/Americana/singer songwriter.  They asked me to name someone, and I said Alejandro.  They had no idea what I was talking about [besides singer songwriter].

So, I was keyed up.

When the first guy sang just 2 lines, I could see their [2 guys] faces light up and they asked me to write down names of other artists who play this kind of music.

They weren’t as good as I had hoped they would be, but it was nice to hear the kind of music that I like.  I did buy 3 cds, cuz it seemed that they were in need of $10 [a pop] more than I.

And the band that I originally came to town to see…which started at 12.30, wasn’t all that good…I didn’t like their sound and I think the lead singer was strung out.  Mind you, IF I liked their sound, I wouldn’t care so much if he was strung out.  Ha.

So, all in all, a wonderful music evening.

I decided to stay another day, and have been basically lazy pretty much all day today. Hanging out for lunch, hanging out at the coffee shop, walking around, going to the library…  I will soon get on my bike and explore more than I already have. 

They claim that the first electric house [via hydro electricity] is here.

Appleton is smoke free!

Bus fare is free to the library.

Last nite when I was talking to those 2 guys…when I leaned in closer to talk to this one guy, between him and I was this heater that was blowing hot air.  Strange, since the rest of the place had a/c.  After a while he went to the men’s room and when he came back, our configuration of 3 changed, and then…so did that heater.  Each time I leaned it I got a blast of heat.  I then realized that it’s him!!  He is radiating heat like you wouldn’t believe it.  He said “ya…in the summer their king size bed isn’t big enuf for his wife to escape his heat.”  I can only imagine.

Heater man said that the craziest people in the state live in Fond du Lac and Sheboygan.  He said that if there is a crazy story about someone doing something “stupid” that it is usually someone from one of those 2 cities.  From now on, when I read “News of the Weird” stories/articles, I will look for those 2 cities.

Houdini was raised here.  All over town they have plaques telling tidbits about him and his family.  I’m going to his museum tomorrow.

There is a plaque re Andy Jimos, who had a hat cleaning business on the main street for 65 years…from 1927 to 1982, when he passed.  My, how times have changed.

Am off to cycle.  I’ll go listen to music tonite, but my expectations are low…I’ll be going to a pizza place.

Tomorrow I head for Osh Kosh [B’Gosh] and Fond du Lac.  2 places that I have yet to find anyone in this state who thinks I should visit.  However, I can’t leave WI without going to these places.  Heater man from last nite is from Fond du Lac, and even he was adamant that I NOT go.   Oh well.   

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Clarksdale and Oxford, Mississippi

June 4, 2008

I left Clarksdale after I had lunch at Ground Zero, which is the blue venue and restaurant owned by Morgan Freeman and a wealthy Clarksdale man.  I had a fried green tomato sandwich.  It was just ok.  I had heard of fried green tomatoes, but hadn’t eaten one before.  I’ve noticed on the menu in the past few days, there is something called “comeback” sauce.  I’m sure there are readers here who know what this is, but I’ve asked 2 waitresses and both couldn’t really tell me…kind of like 1,000 island…it’s mayo with something in it that makes it red. People seem to eat it on salads and a dressing for salads.  I had it “on the side” and wasn’t keen on it.


At Ground Zero I met Abraham, who is security and a carpenter/maintenance man for GZ.  He said they have 8 hotel rooms above the venue.  He took me up there to see, and they are NICE.  Most are 2 bedroom suites that go for $100.  The one bedroom suite is $75.  The eclectic dump I stayed in was $70.


I headed towards oxford.


I loved oxford.  Loved it so much that I tried to find a place to come back and stay for a few months…before the students come back.  But there doesn’t seem to be any place that will rent to me for 2 or 3 months.  I need to call the university to see if they rent out dorm rooms for the summer.


Oxford has a lively square with a courthouse in the middle.  There were no chain stores. 


Oxford, too, has what I would call really nice houses, and nice yards.  Lots of flowers.  Very green. Hilly.


At dusk, there were lots of people out and about…very lively. I rode my bike around the square and residential neighborhoods for about an hour and saw people in their yards with their kids/dogs, parents strolling their kids, teenagers walking, people on their front porches…people living.  THIS is what was missing from Natchez.


Between that hour and an hour of cycling the next day, I saw probably less than 10 houses for sale.  I didn’t find the poorer part of town [which I did in Natchez].


Oxford is non smoking.


Oxford is the home of William Faulkner.  There is a walking tour of his homes.  I am not familiar with his work, but I gather he used Oxford [under a diff name] as the setting for some of his work.


At nite I walked to Proud Larry’s to listen to some blues.  Of course there were kids in the crowd, but the adults were people that I would like to talk to/get to know.  I met a guy who’s working on a screenplay.  He was just exhausted [and needed to sit down] from his tough day of typing all day and then bowling 5 games with a friend.  Ahem. 

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Clarksdale, Jackson, Greenwood and Yazoo City, Mississippi

June 3, 2008

It is Tuesday nite and I am in Clarksdale, which is in the NW part of the state – home of the blues.  This is where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for the mastery of the guitar, in the crossroads.


Today I was going to leave Jackson and head to Oxford, which is the home of ole’ miss, and William Faulkner, and about 3 hours from Jackson.  I think John Grisham grew up there also.  I’ve heard good things about Oxford…small university town.  Where I slept tonite would depend upon how much I liked Oxford.  If I wasn’t keen on it, then I would drive another hour and spend the nite in Tupelo.


I started the day going to the state capitol…which was highly recommended to me.  This was correct.  The capitol is really pretty, quite impressive.  The people there were really nice and let me wander wherever I wanted, even though there were all these signs stating that only people with proper ID could go beyond a certain point.  Some people even wanted to join me.  At first I thought it was the ol’ “yes you can go there, but I’ll just go with you to keep an eye on you”, but the people who accompanied me seemed to want to answer any questions I had.  They were unusually nice and helpful.


I went into the area of the old library and Supreme Court…another area that was off limits per the signage.  I got to talking to a woman who is from the delta area.  Now, showing my ignorance, I thought the delta blues came from down south….near New Orleans.  But apparently the delta part of MS is up NW.  So, she was telling me places to explore.  Then this really attractive, friendly man with a VERY strong southern accent came up, and he’s from the delta also, and they both educated me.  He’s a state rep.


So….my plans changed.  I was now headed northwest and going to go to Greenwood and then to Clarksdale [and possibly some other cities].


I didn’t make it to Greenwood because they didn’t have a sign telling me to get off the 2 lane highway to go downtown.  I figure if a town isn’t smart enough to inform me where their downtown is, I’ll take my money elsewhere.


I did stop in Yazoo City, which was smart enough to have a sign.  It has a lot of really nice houses, but also a lot of poverty.  They have a pretty big downtown area [for a small town], which had several blocks of these really cool 2 story buildings.  From a distance [of a block or 2] it looks really neat.  However, like most of these downtowns, half the buildings were vacant/abandoned.  For some reason, it seemed like the outside of the buildings were taken care of, but nothing inside.  I see great potential for this little town.


I arrived in Clarksdale.  I had asked 5 different people where I should eat [including the state rep], and everyone said Abe’s BBQ…which is located at the crossroads [intersection of 61 and 49]. So…I went to Abe’s.  I was hoping they had a bunch of “sides”, including a baked potato, but no.  So, I had baked beans and fries.  The only veggie items on the menu.  It was good.


At dusk I got my bike out to ride around town to check it out in better detail, and figure out where I want to go to eat dinner and listen to the blues.  A couple years ago I had read [or maybe it was on “60 Minutes”] that Morgan Freeman opened a music venue here and had quite the draw, but it is closed [except for lunch] early in the week.


The town is 100% dead.  It’s a bigger downtown area for a town of this size, and nothing is open.  Nothing that I could tell.  There would be 5 – 7 cars/trucks clustered together, but I couldn’t tell what establishment was open.  And, they were either all trucks, or “beater” trucks/cars.  So, even if I could figure out what was open, there was no way that I was going in. 


About half the buildings in town are empty.  Of the other half, there are about 8 – 10 music/restaurants, and the rest sell “junk”.  Thrift stores, or stores called “hidden treasures” and have a whole bunch of pillows in the window.


So, between nothing open, and getting a lot of “hey baby” cat calls from guys in cars just driving around, I decided that it’s best if I grab some fruit at the grocery store [Fred’s] and hang out in my room.


Fred’s is closed [at 8].  Ahem.


I am staying at a very eclectic place.  The state rep highly recommended it.  It’s called the Shack Up Inn, and they are stand alone log sharecropper’s shacks.  There are about 6 of them.  And they are decorated…well, with lots of junk from a downtown store. 


Oh, and the 2 guys who run the place have never heard of the state rep.  hmmmm.


Tomorrow I head for Oxford.


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Lake Charles and Alexandria, Louisiana and Natchez, Mississippi

May 31, 2008


As of a few days ago, I had planned on visiting Louisiana and Mississippi during this next week.  Even though I have been to Lafayette, Shreveport and Baton Rouge, I can always come back to those places and check them out again.    I decided to drive to Alexandria, LA, which is located directly in the middle of the state, to see what that city is like.  And then I wing it from there…stay in LA or go over to Natchez, and start exploring MS.  If I have my fill of MS, then I will go and check out Lafayette and Baton Rouge again.


I left Lake Charles, LA this morning.  I did go and check out their downtown, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be!  If Lucinda Williams can write songs about it…how bad can it be? Ha.  They have a boardwalk along the lake, and this really cool “fountain” that kids can run and play in.


I got to Alexandria, and I should have skipped it. Nothing is going on here.  I did want to check out the Bentley Hotel, which is supposed to be where Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley… pow-wowed back in ?? 41-42 while army troops trained at the nearby army base.  But alas, it is now closed.  However, I looked in the windows, and all the furniture and everything is still there.  It would have been a splendid fancy hotel, with a majestic lobby with chandeliers, nice tile flooring, murals on the ceiling, fountains…


There is a Dollar General store [with a bunch of cars in front] in every little town that I go thru. 


I then made my way to Natchez.  When you cross the MS River and arrive in Natchez, the visitor center is right there.  I got there exactly at 5 pm and they were locking the doors.  I grabbed some info but found the curse of my travels…Saturday nites and finding a place to stay. 


I’m ended up staying at this historic hotel downtown – Eola [which claims that the flag in the lobby is the first flag draped over Grant’s casket].  I paid up for a balcony room and enjoyed sitting outside on the balcony listening to the fountain in the courtyard.


Natchez IS really pretty, however, they lack nite time activities.  They were actually putting on Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, which started at 8pm.  I really like that opera, and would have loved to see it, but I chose to ride around and explore the town on my bike.


I had forgotten how much I love to ride my bike around town.  It is so much fun and I cover a lot of ground.


There were 2 music options for the evening.  One was a guy with his guitar, but he was smoking a pipe.  Sheesh. The venue was named “biscuits and blues”.  Now, I can dig that name.  However, they only had one type of biscuit…mushroom biscuits.  Yuck…even though I didn’t try any.


The other place for music is the saloon, “Under the Hill”, which is in an historic area.  Natchez is on the river, but it’s up on a bluff, very high from the water.  The Louisiana side is even with the river.  When Natchez was a booming town and lots of river activity, down by the water front is where all the illicit activities took place.  And the building where Under the Hill is, apparently has been around for a long time.  Unsure as to how long, since most or maybe all of the places have eroded away.


Inside, the place was packed and it seemed that everyone smoked.  A local couple tells me to go in and look in the back room.  This is a cool room with lots of “memorabilia”, and had plants growing out of the walls.


There were 2 guys and a woman [probably in their early 20’s] playing darts.  The woman asked if I wanted to join them.  I said sure.  So, we’re playing darts, and I start getting this “weird” vibe from the woman, but didn’t think too much about it.  Then she starts playing songs on the jukebox…and starts singing and dancing.  Do you remember the Jodie Foster character in the film “Accused”, and how she looks and how she’s dancing at the bar?  Well, that is her.  She’s dancing with the 2 guys, and dancing for me.  Ding, ding, ding in my head.


Back outside…I asked a woman working there what kind of music the band plays.  She replied “good music”.  Getting more specifics was difficult.  I spoke with a local couple outside for a bit when a guy walked up carrying a guitar.  I asked him what type of music his band plays, and he replied “good music”.  Ahem.


When they did start up, it was a not so good cover band that was incredibly loud.  So loud that I couldn’t talk to the couple anymore… we were outside and the front door was closed.


They rent out 3 guest rooms, located above the saloon.  On the brochure it is written: “weekend entertainment in the saloon is not overpowering, but one demanding complete silence before 2 am should probably stay elsewhere”.  I would say this is NOT accurate.


I then meandered to the casino/steamboat which was docked nearby.  I don’t gamble, but thought I would check it out.  The place was packed.  I ended up deciding I would give the casino a buck.  So, I found the penny slots…there were lots of them.  And bet on five lines at a time…so I was betting 5 cents a shot.  Yes…big spender.  After a bit I won something and then had 101 “credits”.  So, since I was ahead by a penny, I decided to take my winnings and cash out.

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