Saturday, March 21, 2009

Home of Sliced Bread

Within a 50-mile span of Highway 36 that stretches across north-central Missouri, you can stop in on the boyhood homes of J.C. Penney in Hamilton, Gen. John J. Pershing (WWI) in Laclede, and Walt Disney in Marceline. And to top it all off you can pull over for a sandwich in Chillicothe, the "home of sliced bread." So much history in such a short distance.

Claiming to be the home of sliced bread is pretty bold, like declaring to be the birthplace of iced tea. But the citizens of Chillicothe have so brazenly seized this fame, that they have painted it on the side of a building on Main Street.

Here's what the town's website says about it:

"It was recently discovered that sliced bread was first offered for sale - ever - in Chillicothe, Missouri. A product of the Chillicothe Baking Company, it was sliced on a machine called the Rohwedder Bread Slicer. Invented by Iowa inventor, Otto Rohwedder, the bread slicer was put into practic
e in 1928 in beautiful downtown Chillicothe."

Also on our recent tour, we had the honor of performing at Walt Disney Elementary in Marceline. Right there in the front hall of the school is Walt's first grade desk enshrined in a glass case. Pretty cool. And you don't have to look too closely to see the big W.D. carved into the desktop. A daring prank for a first-grader. Walt must have been a bit of a rebel. I can just see present day first-graders trying to etch their name in history by carving up their desks just in case they become famous some day. If Walt did it, then...

That evening in Brookfield about 500 people s
howed up to rock the elementary school gym. And then the next night we performed in Laredo to an audience of about 70 -- pretty impressive for a town of 250. Thank you Parents As Teachers! You really know how to promote an event.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chicken Fried Romance

When the hostess at the hotel restaurant informed us that the "theme" of the evening's buffet was "Ozarkian", I admit that it didn't conjure up many delectable images, or even many edible ones.

"Would you like to see what we have?" she offered. Of course, I've gotta see this...

The first thing she unveiled was "chicken fried chicken." Those were her exact words.

Stop right there. Enough said. That's all this grease-averse vegetarian needed to hear. If someone has to qualify that fried chicken has been "chicken fried," that implies that there are going to be other similarly fried items down the line. Chicken fried steak. Chicken fried squirrel. Chicken fried possum tail. Chicken fried skunk fingers. Who knows? I wasn't the slightest bit curious to find out what "Ozarkian" fried things lurked behind doors #2 through 5.

I had the veggie pasta dish. Call me boring, but at least I knew what I was eating.

That was our brush with haute cuisine, as Jeni and I spent two informative days and a relaxing night at Tan-Tar-A Lodge at the Lake of the Ozarks in south-central Missouri. We were there for a gathering of the The Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals. The kids were at the grand in-laws, so we made it our "date weekend."

Nothing says "romantic dinner for two" like breaded and fried mystery substances.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Keepin' it real in Iowa

I suppose every entertainer needs a humbling performance now and then -- just to keep us...well...humble. I had one today at Merle Hay Mall in Des
Moines, Iowa.

A lovely crowd, a helpful and gracious host, a beautiful day, and I got there with plenty of time to set up. All the makings of a great show. But, from my standpoint, it was not a showcase event. Aside from my second-string guitar
fritzing, batteries on guitar transmitter going out (amateur mistake), a daddy-weary voice, jangled nerves from the three-hour drive up there, and botched lyrics, it was, after all, the kids who made it truly wonderful.

Even on my off days, I have the best job in the world. The kids had fun; the parents were in to it, and all is well. And I learned (again) some lessons in preparedness.

I must say here -- for the record -- that I love Iowa. I've been performing there a couple of times a year for the past eight years and it's a refreshingly progressive state (much like Minnesota and Wisconsin) whose citizens seem to place importance on education and the arts as essential cultural pillars. And Jack Kerouac was on to something when he wrote in
On the Road “... the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.”

Moines trivia: Merle Hay was the first Iowan to die in action in WWI. He probably couldn't even comprehend the concept of a "mall." Now, he's got one named after him.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Where in the world is Kentuckiana?

When you arrive at the Louisville (KY) International Airport you'll be greeted by the voice of Mayor Jerry Abramson welcoming you to the 16th (or is it 14th?) largest city in the United States. Impressive. Who knew?

Whenever I hear statistics like that tossed around, my dormant journalistic ears perk up because I always want to know how accurate they are. When I heard the mayor of "Possibility City" (that's the town's nickname) toss out his claim, I immediately thought, "Really?! Is there a remote possibility that this is true?" And I think most people, including me, are willing to cut a guy like Mayor Abramson some slack, even if he's stretching the truth a little, or even using some slightly outdated statistics.

Folks, Jerry must be using some numbers from the Confederacy, because he's not even close. According to the US Census Bureau, Louisville-Jefferson County, KY, is the 26th largest city in the US, and the metro area (including southern Indiana) ranks 42nd. (For the record, the 14th through 16th largest cities are San Francisco, Columbus, and Austin.)

I've just returned from Kentuckiana -- that's what the local news stations have dubbed this verdant and burgeoning metroplex of the mid-south that is bisected by the Ohio River.

I spent nearly a week performing at the beautiful Ogle Center on the campus of
Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, on the northern bank of the Ohio River. Each afternoon, as I'd head back to my hotel, I'd gaze across the water at the Louisville skyline pondering why on earth the mayor of a very cool, fully respectable city would simply make up stuff to impress visitors.

Mayor Jerry, you don't have to dupe us into being impressed by Louisville. You've got Churchill Downs -- home of
the Kentucky Derby -- "the most exciting two minutes in sports." (I've been to the "run for the roses" and it's one of those awesome must-see-events-of-a-lifetime.) You've got Muhammad Ali and Pee Wee Reese. You've got the birthplace of the song "Happy Birthday to You." You've got the Louisville Slugger factory and museum -- every baseball fan has got to go on this tour! You've got the University of Louisville Cardinals who, as of today, are ranked sixth in NCAA men's basketball. And you've got a very cool minor league baseball stadium.

Dude, you've got a great city. Flaunt what you've got, and quit making stuff up.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Viva Las Vegas!

Welcome to Binky Town! That's my new name for this "adult pacifier" capital of the world. They've got all the popular binkies -- alcohol, gambling, gluttonous buffets, tobacco, and "escorts." The past few times I've visited Las Vegas, I couldn't wait to get out of there. Other than the beautiful people I met and worked with, this visit was no different.

I was invited to deliver a key-note address at the Wynn Hotel for the national meeting of ARCOS -- The Association of Residency Coordinators in Orthopaedic Surgery (that's a mouthful). Other than experience with three knee surgeries, you may be wondering what a dude with stinky feet has to offer such a group. I spoke with them about the lessons I've learned from my work with kids, and how approaching everything in life in a childlike (not childish) way can lead to great success -- at home and at work. Kids have always had the key to living joyful lives by being present and full of wonder and astonishment. So, we laughed and sang some songs and all vowed to start thinking and acting more like children. Ahh, wouldn't we all be better off?

And, as for the city of Las Vegas, it could use a little injection of childlike energy -- something, anything, to offset the adolescent frenzy of it all. Lights, smoke, blaring music, t-shirt shops, billboards, silicone enhancements, gold chains, and the incessant clanging of bells -- enough already!! The sensory overload left my brain a bit jittery. I did get a lot of excercise, though. Gone are the days of crossing the strip like you used to. Now, to get across the street, you have to walk two blocks, go up an escalator, cross a bridge, down another escalator, and walk another two blocks to reach your destination.

What a relief it was to see the majesty of the Grand Canyon out the airplane window on the way home -- something naturally beautiful to bring me back to reality.