Dec 31, 2008

Street Rod Status...

Today Macie and I visited Deron and Dan Shady's shop where the 1932 Plymouth street rod is going to take form. The four-carb intake manifold is temporarily mounted on the engine, a 241 cubic inch hemi V-8 that came out of a 1953 Dodge fire truck. There will have to be a few modifications made to accommodate this manifold with its four Stromberg 97's, but it's going to be gorgeous:

A Delightful Dinner...

Mary Ann and I have a house guest staying with us this week. Macie Rorabaugh, a friend from Waukee, Iowa, flew down a couple days ago and is staying through Friday. She and Mary Ann worked together back in Iowa several years ago and became good friends. In 2005, Macie accompanied us on the Great Race that went from Philadelphia to San Rafael, CA.

On Monday, we went to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!) and followed this up with a Huntsville Havoc hockey match (The Knoxville Ice Bears beat the Havoc 5-2).  Yesterday was cooking day.

Mary Ann and I have been long-time friends of "Microwave Dave" Gallaher, a Huntsville-based blues musician. We thought it would be fun to have Dave come to dinner while Macie was visiting. He graciously accepted, so Macie and I prepared a meal that turned out to be extraordinary -- one where everything turns out a little better than you expected.

The menu:
- Roast pork tenderloin encrusted in a lemon-parmesan-panko crust and served with a garlic cream gravy
- Prosciutto and parmesan wrapped asparagus tips
- Garlic mashed potatoes
- Parisian salad
- Homemade cranberry-blueberry bread
- Vanilla ice cream with warm cherry topping
- Fresh Colombian coffee

The food was great but the company and conversation were even better. Be sure to visit Dave's Web site. Better yet, buy a couple of his CD's and really enjoy his music.

Dec 23, 2008

Christmas Eve at Louie's...

When I was growing up in Schenectady, I worked part time pumping gas.  I worked for Louie Brzoza, who owned a Sunoco service station at 844 Union Street.  It was an odd little place for several reasons.

When curbside gas pumps were outlawed sometime back in the dark ages, the state legislature had "grandfathered in" those gas stations that had existing curbside gas pumps.  So we still had two pumps -- one for regular, one for "high-test" -- right on the curb.  People would simply pull over from traffic and buy a tank of gas.

Another odd feature was that Louie and his wife Jennie and son Jonathan lived in a house on the property.  Their driveway was the route back to the service shop and storage garage that were situated behind the house.  Their front porch had an odd little glassed-in booth at the right end that was where the cash register was located along with a little counter and a telephone and a stool on which we sat when we weren't pumping gas.

I believe my brother Bill and I were paid the handsome rate of 35 cents per hour.  But part of our compensation was the opportunity to learn about cars and engines from Louie, who had been an army mechanic during World War II.  I was probably around 8 years old when I helped rebuild my first Model A Ford engine.  Bill and I both learned a great deal in the little shop that sat at the end of Louie's driveway.

One of my fondest memories of the station is the annual Christmas Eve visit by the subpoena server.  I don't recall his name, but one of our regular customers was the man who served subpoenas for the local courts.  Every Christmas Eve, a ritual took place.  We would knock off work around 3:00 PM.  A group of friends -- Louie, a few customers, my brother and I -- would pull up chairs around the big cast iron stove in the shop.  Somebody would tell a story about their favorite Christmas, another story would follow.  Jen would bring some hot fudge or cookies and hot cocoa out from the house.  And then the subpoena server would show up.

He inevitably had a paper bag that contained a bottle of Jack Daniels that he would share with Louie and any other adults in the gathering.  But our hero was kind of a melancholy drunk with a great burden on his heart, so before long the tears would start flowing.  "I just can't do it," he'd declare.  "How can anybody serve a subpoena on Christmas Eve?"  Every year his lament was the same. And every year Louie would console him.  The subpoenas never got served.  And some poor family in Schenectady was granted a temporary stay of execution.  And the ritual was repeated every year that I worked in that gas station. The Spirit of Christmas even permeated the legal system in those days.

Dec 20, 2008

The Drumroll, Please...

Today we held our first annual Christmas drawing at Ebabe's Gifts.  We gave away a gorgeous Christopher Radko® Winter Wonderland snowglobe valued at $125.  Here is Debbie Galliart stirring up the entries 
and here I am picking the winning entry...
... and the winner is Sharon Moffett of Fayetteville.  Congratulations, Sharon.  
Mary Ann, Debbie, and Sharon Moffett at the official presentation!

And thanks to everyone who came by to enter.  Merry Christmas, one and all.

Dec 18, 2008

A Christmas Poem...

I ran across this poem on someone else's blog.  I tracked it down to a blogger named Michael Marks, who posted it in 2000.   We sure need to express our appreciation to our troops, especially at this time of year.  You might consider an email or a card to someone you know who's on active duty.  If you don't know someone, there are Web sites like the USO site or that will send gifts to troops who have no family.

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight. 
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.

The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know, Then the
sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.

Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.
A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

'What are you doing?' I asked without fear,
'Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!'
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts.

To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said 'Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night.'
'It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.

No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at ' Pearl on a day in December,'
Then he sighed, 'That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers.'
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of ' Nam ',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.

I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother..
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.'

' So go back inside,' he said, 'harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right.'
'But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
'Give you money,' I asked, 'or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son.'

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
'Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.'

God bless our service men and women!

Dec 2, 2008

Loss of a Wonderful Lady...

I recently completed an assignment at a manufacturing facility on Long Island.  From my first day on the job I noticed that the cafeteria was a very well run operation.  The food was wholesome and reasonably priced, the menu was varied and appealing, but these are the things you expect.  The difference in this cafeteria was the attitude of the staff.  Everyone was outgoing, friendly, and extremely proud of what they were doing.  It made all the difference in the world!

The manager was a little lady named Cheryl Fickeissen.  She was a bundle of energy and this energy spread to her entire staff.  She was one of those rare people who could call everyone "honey" or "sweetie" and it sounded natural.  Everyone was equal in Cheryl's world.  We were all part of her family and we were made to feel that way.  I commented to my boss one day, only half jokingly, "If we could capture the attitude of the cafeteria and spread it out, this company would have all its problems solved in a week!"

Cheryl was everywhere at once - checking the coffee urns, signing a receipt for deliveries, tending to the cash register.  But she always had time to be friendly.  She called everyone by name.  It was uncanny how many names she had on instant recall.  And she asked questions that made you know she cared about you.  "How's the gift shop doing?  Did you get home this weekend to be with your bride?"  And this attitude was contagious.  On the day before I left, a lady on the staff named Bonnie made her special potato salad as a going-away gift to me.  The cafeteria was a place you soon expected special treatment from and the staff never let you down.

A few weeks ago, we came to work on a Monday and Cheryl wasn't there.  Her daughter Stacy had stepped in to help out and explained that her mother was in the hospital with an apparent heart problem.  A few days later, the doctors inserted a couple of stents in some arteries and she was soon back at work, the same bundle of hospitality as ever.

I learned yesterday that Cheryl passed away last Thursday of a heart attack.  It hit me as if she were a member of my own family.  I will miss her, and I'm sure I have a lot of company.  Excellence is not reserved for the high and mighty.  Cheryl Fickeissen was living evidence that it exists in the most humble and unlikely places.  God grant you peace, Cheryl. †

Nov 18, 2008


I grew up in a house on a large corner lot, the corner of Union Street and Gillespie Street in Schenectady, New York.  My older brother Bill and I had two major duties -- cutting the grass in the summer and shoveling snow in the winter.  We tried various ways of dividing up the work and no matter how we split things up each of us was convinced that the other one got the best deal.

Thus it was that I rejoiced when in 1948 my father bought a 20" Eclipse Rocket gasoline-powered lawn mower.  Suddenly, I wanted to cut the grass!  For the next several years I was the grass cutter.  I loved that machine.  I tinkered with it, putting a larger carburetor on it.  I filed down the detents on the governor to make it run faster.  I rigged it up with a harness to my old red wagon, and having mounted a seat, I drove it up and down the street.  Mike Leding and I argued endlessly whether reel mowers or rotaries did a better job of cutting grass.  That lawn mower was tough and lasted for many, many years.  Only God knows whatever happened to it.  Part of its legacy is that I still love engines and machinery.  I have, however, outgrown my love for mowing grass.

Recently, I ran across this old ad for that great old lawn mower.

Nov 9, 2008

Another Great Organ Story...

A couple of weeks ago, Mary Ann and I attended a wonderful concert by the Vienna Boys' Choir.  It was part of the annual series of the Huntsville Chamber Music Guild, of which we have been members for many years.  

Before the concert, I was talking to Dr. Wilson Luquire, dean of the library at UAH and President of the Chamber Music Guild.  I was talking about a young organist I had read about recently when Wilson asked if I had been in Huntsville for the Paul Jacobs concert, part of this year's series.  I informed him that I had been out of town and had missed that concert.  Wilson, who has a Ph.D. in organ performance in addition to his Library Science doctorate, then informed me that in his opinion, Paul Jacobs was the best organist he had ever heard, bar none.

I found this clip of Paul Jacobs playing Bach's "We Thank Thee, God, We Thank Thee" from Cantata 29 on the great organ at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.  In spite of his youth, Jacobs is the head of the organ department at the Juilliard School of Music.  Play this clip when you have about ten minutes.  It's only about 9 minutes long, but you'll need a little time to regain your composure when it ends.  It's an astounding and inspiring performance.

Nov 7, 2008

An Organ Story...

Before there was "stereo" there was "high fidelity." In the 1950's, we got our first "hi-fi" or audiophile store in Schenectady -- the "House of Harmony" at 1444 State Street.  Remember that it was a city of nerds, with hundreds of engineers and technically savvy craftsmen, the home of General Electric and the American Locomotive Company -- "The city that lights and hauls the world!" The hi-fi store was an immediate success. It was owned by a young fellow named Bob Griswold, the son of a prominent funeral director. I and my technically-oriented buddies became regular visitors to the store.

Bob Griswold had another passionate interest. He loved theater organs. These were instruments that theater owners installed during the silent-film era to attract more clients. They were bombastic, showy instruments that were capable of a great variety of music coloration. And Bob Griswold went the extra step -- he bought a couple of theater organs, including one of the largest in the world, and moved them to a building in Schenectady!

The Marr & Colton 5/24 Before Installation

The large organ was originally built and installed in 1927 by the Marr & Colton Organ Company for the fabulous Schine's Rochester Theater in Rochester, New York. It had a 5-manual console and 24 ranks of pipes and is therefore referred to as a 5/24 organ. The theater was described as, "with over 3500 seats, the largest theater in America between New York and Chicago. The auditorium featured bronze light fixtures, murals, leather upholstery for the box seats, and an enormous Marr & Colton organ."

Bob Griswold brought the organ to Schenectady in an 18-wheeler over a period of several weekends. I was in high school when I first encountered the project and I got to work on some of the restoration work. It ignited a love for these instruments that I still enjoy.

The second organ was a Wurlitzer that Bob acquired from a theater in Utica, New York.

An image of Bob Griswold tuning the clarinet stop in the "main" loft of the combined
organ as it was being installed in a specially-constructed building.  This image appeared
in the July 4, 1958 edition of the Schenectady Gazette.
A few years after I got to know him, Bob Griswold died in an automobile accident while he was still a young man. I wondered for years whatever became of that magnificent pipe organ after his death. Now, through the magic of the Internet and Google, I know the "rest of the story."

Here's part of an article I recently ran across on the Website of the Puget Sound Theater Organ Society in an article about member Bill Blunk:
In 1961, the 3/9 Marr & Colton instrument was replaced with Bill's new purchase: the 5/24 from the Rochester Theatre in Rochester, New York. It was one of the largest instruments ever produced by Marr & Colton and the only five-manual.

Bill purchased the large organ from Bob Griswold who removed the instrument from the theatre in the early 1950's and installed it in his
Schenectady music store.

The installation in the former Viking Theatre was completed with the help of Leonard Vernon and Dick Chase. Leonard Vernon did the refinishing job on the console.

Bill had hoped that the Viking would be a permanent home for the organ, but in 1964, the building was sold and on May 17, 1964, a final concert was held.

The 5/24 was removed shortly thereafter.
During the Fall of 1965, Bill moved the organ to Portland where it was installed in a private studio which he rented. The instrument was featured at the 1966 ATOE Annual Meeting in Portland. The organ was later moved to Sherwood, Oregon and installed for several years in the Sherwood (Robin Hood) Theatre.

It was removed from this location and is currently in storage in the Portland area having been donated to the Columbia River Organ Club (CROC) by Bill Blunk several years ago. CROC is actively working to find a suitable location for re-installation.

The console as I remember it, in its original white finish
with gold leaf embellishment

It pleases me to know that the organ is still intact, even if not still in use. The experience that I had of working on it and hearing it inspired me in later years to restore a pipe organ for my own church, but that's a subject for a future post.

Nov 5, 2008

Historic Times...

We have witnessed a remarkable moment in the history of this great nation. Let's unite in support of our newly-elected President and offer him our prayers.

The events of the past few months have caused me to reflect on the path that the country has taken within the brief instant of my lifetime.  In 1960 I hitchhiked from Corpus Christi, Texas, to upstate New York.  I purposely took a route across the deep south to witness a culture that I had never seen.  I saw segregated drinking fountains and rest rooms, signs on businesses that read, "No Negroes," and was shocked at some of the rural poverty that I saw.  That experience made a deep impression on me.

In the 1970s, I was living and working in southern Mississippi.  By now, the civil rights act and the voting rights act had brought about enormous change.  Nonetheless, when I invited a black friend to move in with me after he had gone through a difficult divorce, my neighbors let me know they were outraged that I would invite a person of color to live in their "safe" neighborhood.

In the 1980s, I befriended a gentleman who lived in Indianola, Mississippi, in the heart of the delta.  During several visits to his home, I concluded that the Mississippi delta hadn't gotten the word yet on equal rights.  It hearkened back to what I had witnessed in my 1960 pilgrimage across the south.

And yet here we are, a nation that has overwhelmingly elected a black man to its Presidency.  Something of enormous significance has taken place.  I don't understand it, but I welcome it.  This marvelous republic never ceases to amaze me with its resilience and ability to reinvent itself.  I love this land and its people!  God bless the U.S.A.!!!

Oct 26, 2008

An Interesting Trip Back in Time...

This weekend I drove to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum near Vergennes, Vermont. As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I wanted to see the reproduction canal schooner Lois McClure, the type of boat my great-grandfather George Neddo built. I arrived at the museum around noon on Saturday only to learn that the canal schooner had been moved to Burlington a week earlier to be prepared for winter storage. I chose to stay at the Vergennes site for the rest of the afternoon and had a wonderful day of learning.

I asked the volunteer who was at the admissions counter, Lisa, how to best see all the exhibits, especially since it was starting to rain. She recommended that I start with a video presentation describing the Battle of Valcour Bay and that I then proceed to the waterfront to visit the Philadelphia II.

The museum focuses on all kinds of watercraft that have been important in the history of the lake and also on the importance of Lake Champlain in the history of our country. One exhibit that is especially important is the reconstructed revolutionary gunboat
Philadelphia II.  The story that unfolded for me is worth retelling.

In 1775, the colonial separatists attempted unsuccessfully to take the city of Quebec.  The British launched a counteroffensive in 1776 in which they intended to drive south from Quebec and take control of Lake Champlain and thence the Hudson River valley.  This would split the colonies in two, separating New England from the remaining colonies.  Then the British could defeat each half individually.

The colonial army understood the importance of maintaining control of Lake Champlain, so in 1776, General Phillip Schuyler built a small fleet of 16 gunboats in Skenesborough, now the location of Whitehall, New York.  At the same time the British built a somewhat larger fleet at the north end of Lake Champlain.  According to Wikipedia, "The British had adequate supplies, skilled workmen, and prefabricated ships transported from England, including a 180-ton warship they disassembled and rebuilt on the lake.  All told, the British fleet (30 vessels) had roughly twice as many ships and twice the firepower of the Americans' 16 vessels." General Benedict Arnold, who came from a seafaring Connecticut family, was in command of the small American fleet in October of 1776 when the two forces finally clashed.

The details of the battle are described in a Wikipedia article.  The most interesting part of the story is that by nightfall of October 11, the Americans had lost several gunboats, had suffered significant casualties, and were almost out of powder.  Most commanders would have abandoned their ships and escaped into the woods or surrendered to the British.  But Benedict Arnold, one of the colonies' ablest commanders before he became a traitor at West Point, hatched a plan to sneak out of Valcour Harbour under cover of darkness and get south of the British fleet to fight another day.  It almost worked, but the British ships caught up with the American fleet (such as it was) a couple of days later and sank several more ships.  The rest were purposely run aground or burned to prevent their use by the British.  General Arnold and his surviving forces made their way to Crown Point and Ticonderoga and the British fleet returned to the north to spend the winter of 1776-77.

The military significance of this obscure battle was immense.  The presence of this small fleet on Lake Champlain prevented the British from proceeding unchallenged toward New York to divide the colonies.  The resulting one-year delay enabled the colonies to assemble the army that would defeat Burgoyne at the battle of Saratoga and bring France in on the side of the colonies.

One of the vessels lost during the battle in Valcour Bay was the Philadelphia, a 54-foot gunboat.  Amazingly, she was preserved by the cold pure waters of Lake Champlain (in an era prior to the presence of zebra mussels) and was located and salvaged in 1935, some 169 years after being sunk!  Her description is given in the nomination for designation as a National Historic Site: "The Philadelphia's hull is 54 feet in length, 15 feet in beam and approximately five feet deep.  Construction was almost entirely of oak and sap still remained in the bottom planking. The mast, almost 36 feet high, was found intact except for the top portion, and the hull timbers were still in place.  Three shot holes were visible in the hull and in one of them a cannon ball was lodged.  Considering the punishment it took in battle and its long years underwater, the Philadelphia is an exceptionally well-preserved survivor of this important Revolutionary War naval battle."  The Philadelphia is now on exhibit at the Smithsonian -- the only surviving vessel that participated in the American revolution.

The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum built a precise replica of the Philadelphia which is moored at the Vergennes site.  It is amazing to see how small and crude these vessels were that confronted and delayed the British forces.  As I boarded the replica, I was greeted by a couple of museum staff members.  A gentleman named Peter was in full colonial garb as an historical interpreter.  On board the gunboat was a set of artifacts from the period that included eating utensils and other utilitarian objects.  The ship is really a wonderful teaching tool.

I proceeded through several buildings housing other parts of the museum's collections.  All were impressive, but the thrill of the day was learning in such a tangible way about how a handful of courageous colonials in a remote corner of upstate New York changed the course of history for all of us.

Oct 24, 2008

The Great Communicator... More Relevant than Ever

“Are you better off now than you were four years ago?  Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago?  Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago?  Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? … If you answer all of those questions “yes,” why then I think that your choice is very obvious as to who you will vote for.  If you don’t agree; If you don’t think  that this course that we’ve been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.”

-- Ronald Reagan, 1980 Presidential Debate --

Oct 19, 2008

Follow Your Dreams...

Mary Ann's gift shop, Ebabe's Gifts, is now officially open.  Saturday we welcomed our first customers.

It all began because Mary Ann wanted a change from the employment situation she found herself in a couple of years ago.  We discussed what she'd really like to do.  It began as an online undertaking -- an eBay store that delivered fine quality giftware.  She developed a clientele looking for new items at reasonable prices.  Mary Ann's unique touch included personal notes to each buyer, superfast shipping, gift wrapping, and a piece of chocolate included with every item.  The business took off.  Within three months, she was a "power seller" on eBay.  She continues to take her eBay business very seriously and is justifiably proud of her 100% favorable feedback rating.

A little over a year ago we knew we had to do something to accommodate an ever-growing mountain of wholesale merchandise that was taking over the house.  As we were talking about our need to either rent or build a storage building, the property adjacent to our home became available.  If you have been a regular reader of this blog, you have watched and read about the construction and landscaping that have occupied us for the last several months.  And now it has come to fruition.

The merchandise covers a price range from $10 items -- coasters and coozies -- to cookie jars costing over $300.  We carry well-recognized brands that Mary Ann has carefully selected and qualified to carry:  Silvestri giftware, Abas leather goods, Isabel Bloom statuary, Carruth garden sculptures, Camille Beckman skin care products, WoodWick scented items, Knobstopper wine stoppers, Mandy Bagwell ceramics, Our Name is Mud ceramics, Picnic Time picnic accessories and baskets, Maggie Bee fabric goods, Fitz & Floyd ceramics, Christopher Radko Christmas items, and many others.  

The store is a tribute to Mary Ann's vision and hard work.  It's a fun place to be.  I personally hope and believe that it will be a successful business enterprise.

Sep 28, 2008


My father was no fool.  When I turned 16, he knew I wanted a car in the worst way.  My brother and I had worked in a service station for several years and had rebuilt several engines.  My dad knew I was a gearhead and wanted a car.  He offered me a deal.  I could get any car I wanted and he would pay for half of it.  I would have to pay for insurance, gas, and upkeep.  Pretty simple terms.

He knew that I had saved up some money from my newspaper route, working in the gas station, mowing lawns and washing windows, but he also knew I'd find the absolute best deal to be had in a car, knowing that I was still on the hook for insurance and gas.  I started searching for the "right" car.  It didn't take long.

A friend of the family was Judge LeRoy (Roy) Walbridge of Saratoga County, north of my home county of Schenectady.  Roy's Aunt Margaret had a 1936 DeSoto 4-door sedan with 15,682 miles on it.  This was in 1956.  The car had averaged a little over 500 miles per year!  Aunt Margaret was in her 90's and had to relinquish her driver's license.  I was the beneficiary.  I negotiated a price of $100.00.  My brother had to drive the car home from Saratoga since I didn't have my license yet.  And my father was only out $50.00.

For the next couple of months I waxed the car every weekend and drove it up and down our driveway.  It's a wonder I didn't destroy the clutch.  I named the car Alice after my high school history teacher, Alice Holmes.  The car wasn't terribly attractive, was old, kind of dumpy -- well, you get the picture.

I commuted to my high school for the next two years and then drove the car all through college.  When I sold it (her?), her odometer showed over 120,000 miles.  Now that's economical transportation!

The Flavor of Reggae...

In the 1970's, while I worked in southern Mississippi, I had a black roommate named Charlie Carter.  He introduced me to a whole lot of American culture that I probably would have missed, including the delight of barbequed goat.  Today, for reasons unknown, I had a craving for Caribbean food, so I went on a goat quest.

I'm staying in Farmingdale, New York and remembered seeing a couple of Caribbean restaurants a couple of miles south of here in Amityville, so I headed in that direction.  The first one I spotted was the Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill at 777 N. Broadway in Amityville.  There was no turning back; I smelled the sweet fragrance of Jamaican cooking!

I was welcomed by the heavy beat of a Reggae band played way too loud on a Wal Mart stereo system.  Soon, Jimmy Cliff was wailing "Many Rivers to Cross."  It brought back recollections of a rare (1973) but wonderful film, "The Harder They Come."  The Golden Krust was decorated in early spartan with three tables surrounded by chairs.  The menu was a plastic illuminated affair like you'd see in any fast food establishment.  It seemed evident that a lot of their business is carry out.  There was one customer, a young dreadlocked fellow in a hooded sweatshirt who had already eaten and was apparently smitten by the attractive young lady who asked me what I would like to order.

It only took a second to see the magic words -- CURRIED GOAT.  I ordered my entree.  Would I care for fried plantains?  Rice and beans?  Steamed vegetables?  I answered, "Yes, yes, and yes."  The total cost, including a soft drink, was under $10.  I got my drink and proceeded to a table.

The amount of food was overwhelming.  And, the goat was fabulous, as was the rest of the meal.  As I ate, several dozen customers came and went, all with carry out orders.  Charlie Carter would be proud.  As when he used to take me out, I was the only white face in the crowd.  I shall return.

Sep 18, 2008

One Man, Amazing Music...

I have started learning to play guitar. My fingers don't go where I try to put them. The tips of my left fingers feel like raw meat. I feel totally uncoordinated. Then I run across Adam Fulara, a young Polish guitarist. I can't believe what I'm seeing!!!

Sep 13, 2008

Thwarted Plan...

My great-grandfather George Neddo built canal boats in his Whitehall, New York, boatyard.  The history of these commercial vessels is celebrated at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, Vermont.   I had planned to visit there this weekend, but when I heard that hurricane Ike might be causing gasoline shortages, I decided not to go.

One attraction of going to Vergennes is to go aboard the Lois McClure.  The Lois McClure is an accurate reproduction of the kind of canal boats George Neddo built.  She combines the size and shape of an 1860's canal boat (88 feet by 13 feet) with a schooner sailing rig that was used to cross open water.

The boat was named after Lois McClure, the widow of the late J. Warren McClure, newspaper owner and well-known Vermont philanthropist.   The McClures are legendary in Vermont for the  millions they have contributed to charities in their state and beyond.

The canal boat has been used as a traveling museum, recently touring a number of ports in Canada (Fitting, I might add, since the Neddos were really the Nadeaus, who had moved from Canada after George Neddo's father was charged with treason as a member of Papineau's Army in the 1830's. But that's a story for another time, eh?).

Sep 8, 2008

Highly Recommended!!!

I stayed home last week. A few months ago Mary Ann had given me DVDs of the HBO miniseries John Adams. We watched the whole series over the course of three nights. This is a fabulous work of art based on David McCullough's Pulitzer-prize-winning biography of our second president. I recommend it to all.

Aug 28, 2008

My Anniversary Gift to Mary Ann...

Nothing says "I love you" like a flying pig.

A Project for a Friend...

Years ago, Tom Morgan, a skilled luthier from near Dayton, Tennessee, built me an autoharp of Brazilian rosewood and hundred-year-old spruce. It has since then been my favorite instrument (...and I've owned a lot of autoharps.). More recently, Tom brought me some Brazilian rosewood and spruce and asked me to build a dulcimer for him to give to a friend. I'll probably finish it this weekend.

Aug 17, 2008

A "Relatively" Great Outing...

Image from the PHENIX experiment

This weekend I stayed in New York and did some work on Saturday. This morning, I decided to check out a newspaper and just see what looked interesting to occupy the day. The resulting outing took me to the Summer Open House Series at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The event featured a tour of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). The people at the lab actually pronounce the acronym as if it were "Rick." This national research treasure is described on their Website as "a world-class scientific research facility that began operation in 2000, following 10 years of development and construction. Hundreds of physicists from around the world use RHIC to study what the universe may have looked like in the first few moments after its creation. RHIC drives two intersecting beams of gold ions head-on, in a subatomic collision. What physicists learn from these collisions may help us understand more about why the physical world works the way it does, from the smallest subatomic particles, to the largest stars."
The tour took us to the 2.6-mile main particle accelerator, as well as to the sites of two major experiments -- PHENIX (Pioneering High Energy Nuclear Interaction eXperiment) and STAR (Solenoidal Tracker At RHIC). The scale and complexity of these facilities are overwhelming.

We went underground into the tunnel that houses the accelerator. A staff physicist described the equipment, its origins, function, and purpose. He answered several questions ranging from "Is this tunnel radioactive?" to "How do you make sure no one is left in the tunnel before you activate the equipment?" We also saw a static display of a section of the "tube" that carries the ionic stream and the magnets that guide the beam. It must have been a challenging construction project, and we were informed that it was the only project in recent DOE history that was completed on time and within budget.

The experiments were both undergoing maintenance, so we were able to see their "innards." These are gigantic structures that normally surround a segment of the collider.

The facility is used to study high-energy subatomic particles. In a typical experiment, clusters of ionized gold atoms are accelerated in opposite directions to speeds of 99.995% the speed of light. They are then allowed to collide and disintegrate into thousands of subatomic fragments. The experimental equipment attempts to record the identity and paths of the constituent pieces. These are then studied by the experimenters to try to gain insight into what goes on at these energy levels and conditions. The results have surprised the researchers. The Website describes much more than I can describe here.

Needless to say, I was impressed. Almost exactly fifty years ago, I was a semi-finalist in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search as a result of my interest in the nature of subatomic particles. My project was the design of a liquid freon bubble chamber. That would have been the state-of-the-art way of observing subatomic particle tracks in 1958. Today, bubble chambers only exist in museums and memories. How times change!