Monthly Archives: September 2008

Shine A Light

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Well, something was likely to shake me out of my Joe Cocker phase — turns out it would be The Stones. Finally got to see Scorsese’s new Rolling Stones concert movie “Shine A Light,” and it is brilliant. I hereby promise to throttle anyone who says anything about the Stones performing with walkers — I’ve got fewer years under the belt than Mick, and I couldn’t begin to do what he does on stage (and definitely couldn’t walk the next day if I did). The filming is excellent — wonderful color, great use of depth of field — just beautiful work. The sound is unbelievable, with some very sly editing to match the visuals. And the boys — well, they really seem like they’re having the time of their lives up there. It’s hard not to like a band that likes to play as much as they do, and that does it so well. It’s a shame not to see Bill Wyman up there anymore — leaving just the three original Stones (Mick, Keith and Charlie) and long-timer Ronnie Wood as the focus of the film, but what a show they put on. The interplay between Keith and Ron is fascinating, and really reveals things about their sound you just don’t get from the records. I’ll be busy ripping the DVD into iTunes all morning. I just regret that I didn’t get to see it in Imax — that would have been unbelievable.

Reflections on a season

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No question, the cycling season is winding down. My hard-ass commitment to the 100+ mile week, tough to maintain under the best of circumstances, dwindles away as the sun gets lower on the horizon and stops providing sweet warmth. Even on a calm day, the temperature’s not getting too far into the ’60s and that 20mph headwind (or more, depending on which way you’re headed) starts to make a difference. The sleeves come on and get rolled down and back up several times in a ride. The leggings are ready for deployment, and early morning and late day rides on busy roads now have to factor in the angle of the sun and glare on windshields.

It’s okay, it was my best riding summer ever, and it’s time to scale it back. I found entirely new roads, just miles from my home, that I’d never tried before. I found fresh pavement on some old roads that I’d given up as too rough to ride anymore. I made up a number of new circuits, and where in previous years I had gotten bored by riding the same course with any frequency, this year I learned to love the freedom of not really having to think about where I was going — just to pick a distance and a general compass direction, whether I wanted some hills or a lot of hills, and then just let my mind go because my legs knew the way.

I got in some nice distances, and climbed up some substantial new hills — Taborton Road up to Dutch Church Road is a fantastic climb, steep and long and hard, with a rewarding but fleeting trip back down. I got over an early bout of flats, though I later felt the wrath of hail twice. It didn’t feel good either time. I got out of the habit of carrying a map, and as a result I got lost — the best way to find a new route — a lot. I found pleasant cycling in the unlikeliest of suburbs, and found some new ways through the urbs, but mostly I bombed around the hills of Rensselaer County at an average speed that was always touching 27-28kph, and I pushed my normal distance up from 50K to 70K.

So now it’s time to grab the days when they’re pleasant, to launch rides while the kids are in ballet, to work up a few more major hills while trying to stay warm in sleeves and tights. Once the temperature gets below 50, it’s hard to be comfortable for a couple of hours, but if the sun is out, it’s possible. I generally ride regularly right up until Thanksgiving, and then put it on rollers until St. Patrick’s Day or so.

So, it’s the beginning of farewell to the bike season I always hoped I’d have.

Things have changed

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I guess one of the privileges/obligations of getting older is the right/requirement to tell your kids How Things Used to Be, so that they have an understanding that, not only the world, but day-to-day life used to be very different, and it wasn’t so very long ago. Sometimes this is an attempt to let them understand a little bit of what their parents’ lives were like as children, sometimes it’s a bit of nostalgia for a fondly remembered, perhaps better, way of life. I wonder if it’s also a way of preparing them for how much more things could change in their lifetimes — as hard as that would be to imagine. It’s not just the obvious things like three TV channels, the noncomputerized world, telephones attached to walls, and freezers that were barely bigger than the ice cube trays. It’s that our whole pattern of life has changed — our communities are completely different. Nearly every one of our local stores are gone; the very idea of a local store is gone. In most places, the idea of walking to a store is gone, not even possible.

A couple of things came to my attention this week that really drove home how much the world I grew up in has simply vanished. First, an odd little site called Syracuse Nostalgia, really more about the suburbs and their malls than the city whose retail they wiped out, features a newspaper supplement from 1975, when the Shoppingtown Mall in DeWitt was re-opened as a “modern” enclosed shopping mall. (This came several years after the two big Capital District malls opened, Colonie Center and Mohawk Mall, and they were a few years after the mall trend had really blossomed). Of the 74 stores that were present when Shoppingtown Mall opened, a number were small national chains (Thom McAn Shoes, Tops ‘n’ Bottoms, Fanny Farmer Candies), but there was only one national anchor, J.C. Penney’s, though a short-lived W.T. Grant’s would open soon thereafter. The other department stores were all local or regional — Dey Brothers, Addis Company, Flah’s — and the smaller shops, such as jewelers, record stores, clothing boutiques, were mostly owned locally. There were three fabric stores and a yarn store, plus fabric departments in at least two of the department stores; with the recent closing of Alfred’s, there’s now one sizeable fabric store serving the entire Capital District. Of the 74 stores that opened 33 years ago, whether local or national, I think 5 survive: Baskin-Robbins, CVS Drugs, J.C. Penney, Orange Julius, and the retailer that can survive nuclear war, Hickory Farms. And the idea that a mall might have (or even want) locally owned stores? That went out with buggy whips.

Second, and reaching further back, I came across a 1928 Polk’s Directory, the precursor to phone books that listed every business and residence in a city. In this case, I found the listings for the City of Rensselaer, the northern fringes of which I live just beyond. Rensselaer was always small to be called a city, just a few thousand people, but it had some significant industry — the Bayer aspirin plant (later Sterling Pharmaceuticals, now gone), the Huyck Felt Mill (later Albany International, now also gone), and the Grasselli Dyestuff Corp., successor to part of Bayer’s operations, which later became GAF, then BASF, then (of course) nothing. In 1928, this tiny city had 40 grocery stores — most of them no doubt tiny closets by modern standards. There were five A&Ps scattered throughout the city. Today, allowing for a convenience store and a couple of bodegas you wouldn’t dare set foot in, there may be six — but there’s really only one grocery store you’d recognize as such. There were 19 places listed as “confectioners and ice cream” — 19 ice cream stores. Nine dressmakers, four florists, 10 meat markets, and five laundries (two noted as “Chinese”). Today? None of that. All that thriving, flourishing, creation of wealth, all that community — all those jobs and lives and families bettering themselves, all gone. There is nowhere to walk to. We have to get into a car and drive to a megastore to beg some bored cashier to take our money which gets sent off to who knows where. There is no business left to support our communities, our athletic leagues and ball fields; there are almost no local banks that have any stake or concern for how our economy is doing.

I grew up in the kind of village where you could walk anywhere and get most things you needed right in the village (and that particular village is still very much that way, almost frozen in time). I had hoped to pass some of that experience along to my children, but things didn’t work out that way. Will they miss the Target when it’s become something else? Will they have fond memories of the box theater whose name changes every couple of years? Will the Dunkin’ Donuts (or one of the five in our little town) be their version of the Hometown Bakery? Hard to imagine. One way or another, time will tell.

A stroke of genius?

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Apple has added a “Genius” selection to its newest version of iTunes, largely similar to Amazon’s recommendations (though years later), designed to drive you to the Apple store and buy music that’s similar to or related to what’s already in your library. Fair enough, and you never know what you might discover, so I’m cool with it. It also offers you the ability to build a playlist from a single song in your library — it’ll pick out songs that, based on only Apple knows what, somehow relate to the song you’ve chosen and build a new playlist. Might be interesting, might be odd.

So I picked the song that is pretty much the only song I’ve been playing lately, Joe Cocker’s “Delta Lady” from “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” just to see what the “Genius” recommended. Here’s the playlist it came up with:

  • Heart Full of Soul (sitar version) The Yardbirds — okay, interesting.
  • Border Song Elton John — Hmm, must be because it’s the ’70s.
  • I Saw Her Again The Mamas and the Papas — lotsa vocals? Is that the connection?
  • Look Through Any Window The Hollies — No clue.
  • World Turning Fleetwood Mac — I barely even knew this song, and it’s kinda like the Peter Green style, so, yes, okay.
  • With a Little Help from my Friends Joe Cocker — well, duh.
  • Celluloid Heroes The Kinks — wha?
  • I Can’t Explain The Who — double wha??
  • Out of Time The Rolling Stones — something just a little more funky.
  • Pleasant Valley Sunday The Monkees — total WTF.
  • Born Under a Bad Sign Cream — okay, yes.
  • What Is Life George Harrison — Definitely. Very similar sound.
  • The Letter Joe Cocker — Can’t go wrong picking songs from the same album.
  • Roll Over Beethoven ELO — One I would never have picked to go with “Delta Lady,” but you know what? It works.
  • Country Road James Taylor — Now the Genius is just screwing with me.
  • San Franciscan Nights Eric Burdon & The Animals — sorta.
  • Spill The Wine Eric Burdon & War — well, of course.
  • Every Picture Tells A Story Rod Stewart — Definitely, the connection between Stewart and Cocker is clear.
  • Polk Salad Annie Tony Joe White — in fairness, this song is always a great WTF. But a great one.
  • Kicks Paul Revere & The Raiders — Hmmm. Well, an interesting choice.
  • It’s All Over Now The Rolling Stones — yeah, kinda, yeah.
  • Ride My See-Saw The Moody Blues — A natural follower to the Stones, it turns out.
  • Carrie Anne The Hollies — um, no.
  • Guinevere Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — yes, but: this can NEVER be the last song on a playlist. Way too down. What is the Genius thinking?

Ahh, September

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Kids are back in school as of today, and the dancing starts tomorrow. Days are bright and sunny, nights are cool (though they were in August, too), though the sun is getting lower every day. Nice bike rides (though honestly, I don’t need to be introducing major climbs 60K into a 70K ride). Fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, a little rosemary. Slowly perfecting the recipe for pretzels, which are a lot of fun to make (though still sticking to the parchment paper . . . hmmm). New memory in the computers so we can squeeze a little more life out of them. Checked out a new paddling spot with a narrow passage through an ancient bulkhead and a requirement to read the tide charts.

My Joe Cocker phase continues — the “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” DVD did not disappoint (“Is Joe Cocker ready for Plattsburgh — that’s the question”), and I’ve ripped all the songs into my iTunes, as they’re all different from the LP version. The kids have been into watching the Austin Powers movies, and in order to avoid endless interruptions, I told the younger one, “There are lots of sexual references in this movie — just ask your friends at school what they mean.” So now we walk around commanding “Get In My Belly!”

Soon the days will get cooler and it’ll be time for rye toast and The Left Banke, fresh McIntosh apples, a couple of last days on the water, and my exhortations to get outside because “it’s the last great, beautiful day of the year!”