Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rockin Robin

Not long ago, one of my internet friends admitted that she has switched from NPR and CNN to Twitter as her main source of news.

For some reason, her comment reminded me of a song that Simon & Garfunkel released in 1968, titled “The Only Living Boy in New York”

One of the refrains on the song is this one:

“I can gather all the news I need on the weather report”.

If you updated that refrain to today, it would have to be “I can gather all the news I need - on Twitter”.

Although a DO have a profile page on Facebook, I have so far resisted the urge to join Twitter, a company that really only started doing business three years ago.

When I read that she tweets on a regular basis, the first thing that came to mind was the song that was released by the late Bobby Day
way back in 1958:

In 1972, the Jackson Five did another version, and the main performer in their version was a young man named Michael, who was born on August 29, 1958 (the year that the song was originally released.)

I already spend more time than I should on the computer, so it’s not likely that I’ll start tweeting anytime soon. However, if you are inclined to join the latest “social networking” phenomenon, all I can add is this:

“The early bird catches the worm.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's Not About the Goat

The family of Joe Ricketts, an Omaha billionaire, recently finalized the purchase of the Chicago Cubs from the Tribune Company for $845 million, which gives them a 95% ownership in the team, Wrigley Field, and its broadcast assets. That amount is roughly 3 ½ times the Cub's 2008 revenue of $241 million.

When the Tribune Company purchased the team from the Wrigley family in 1981 for $21.1 million, the team’s financial performance, as well as its performance on the field, was a lot less rosy.

Although the Steve Bartman incident is a more recent example of the Cub’s star-crossed history, no story captures the history of the team better than a song that was written in 1983.

With apologies to Lance Armstrong, whose first book was titled, "It's Not About the Bike", there's a whole lot more to the Chicago Cubs than the story about Sam Siannis being unable to bring his goat to the game in 1945, forever condemning the Cubs to DECADES of continuing futility.

The late Steve Goodman is best known for the song that he wrote titled "City of New Orleans", which was popularized by Arlo Guthrie, and has also been performed by Willie Nelson, John Denver, Johnny Cash and The Highwaymen.

Willie’s video has the best pictorial presentation of the song:

However, Steve's most lasting legacy will always be the tribute song that he wrote for his favorite baseball team in late 1983, less than a year before his death at the age of 36.

I've attached a copy of the song below. Not only does it explain a lot about the reason that most people root for the underdog, it also helps to explain the emotional attachment that folks develop for a town named after an onion.

Steve died on September 20, 1984, almost exactly 25 years ago. Just four days after his death, his beloved Chicago Cubs clinched the Eastern Division title in the National League for the first time ever, earning them their first post-season appearance since 1945, three years before Goodman's birth. Eight days later, on October 2, the Cubs played their first post-season game since the 1945 World Series.

His ashes were scattered at Wrigley Field in April of 1988.

The song debuted on Roy Leonard's WGN radio show on March 16, 1983, when Steve Goodman and Jethro Burns walked into the WGN studios around 11:00 a.m. They had just finished a weekend at Park West and Steve said he had introduced a song the night before that he would like to sing on the radio for the first time. With Jethro on mandolin and Steve's guitar for accompaniment, A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request was heard on the radio the first time.

A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request

By the shores of old Lake Michigan
Where the "hawk wind" blows so cold
An old Cub fan lay dying
In his midnight hour that tolled
All around his bed, his friends had all gathered
They knew his time was short
Up on his head they put this bright blue cap
From his all-time favorite sport
He told them, "Its late and its getting dark in here"
And I know its time to go
But before I leave the line-up
Boys, there's just one thing I'd like to know

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground?
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League

He told his friends "You know the law of averages says:
Anything will happen that can"
That's what it says
"But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant
Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan"
The Cubs made me a criminal
Sent me down a wayward path
They stole my youth from me
(that's the truth)
I'd forsake my teachers
To go sit in the bleachers
In flagrant truancy

And then one thing led to another
and soon I'd discovered alcohol, gambling, dope
football, hockey, lacrosse, tennis
But what do you expect,
When you raise up a young boy's hopes
And then just crush 'em like so many paper beer cups.

Year after year after year
after year, after year, after year, after year, after year
Until those hopes are just so much popcorn
for the pigeons beneath the 'L' tracks to eat
He said, "You know I'll never see Wrigley Field, anymore before my eternal rest
So if you have your pencils and your score cards ready,
and I'll read you my last request
He said, "Give me a double header funeral in Wrigley Field
On some sunny weekend day (no lights)
Have the organ play the "National Anthem"
and then a little 'na, na, na, na, hey hey, hey, Goodbye'
Make six bullpen pitchers, carry my coffin
and six ground keepers clear my path
Have the umpires bark me out at every base
In all their holy wrath
Its a beautiful day for a funeral, Hey Ernie lets play two!
Somebody go get Jack Brickhouse to come back,
and conduct just one more interview
Have the Cubbies run right out into the middle of the field,
Have Keith Moreland drop a routine fly
Give everybody two bags of peanuts and a frosty malt
And I'll be ready to die

Build a big fire on home plate out of your Louisville Sluggers baseball bats,
And toss my coffin in
Let my ashes blow in a beautiful snow
From the prevailing 30 mile an hour southwest wind
When my last remains go flying over the left-field wall
Will bid the bleacher bums adieu
And I will come to my final resting place, out on Waveland Avenue

The dying man's friends told him to cut it out
They said stop it that's an awful shame
He whispered, "Don't Cry, we'll meet by and by near the Heavenly Hall of Fame
He said, "I've got season's tickets to watch the Angels now,
So its just what I'm going to do
He said, "but you the living, you're stuck here with the Cubs,
So its me that feels sorry for you!"

And he said, "Ahh Play, play that lonesome losers tune,
That's the one I like the best"
And he closed his eyes, and slipped away
What we got is the Dying Cub Fan's Last Request
And here it is

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground?
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League

As of this morning, the Cubs were in second place in the National League Central Division, with 38 games left in the regular season. To quote the late Mr. Goodman, “anything will happen that can”.

Although there may still be time to get your 2009 World Series tickets featuring the Cubs and an undetermined opponent, it’s best to save your money for a rainy day.

Just stop blaming the goat.

Friday, August 21, 2009

How to talk Minnesotan

In my lifetime, I’ve studied six languages: English, Latin, Spanish, German, American Sign Language, and Mandarin, and my father also taught me the basics of Pig Latin when I was a wee lad.

It wasn’t until 1981 (when we moved to Wisconsin) that I learned that I also had the ability to speak ANOTHER language that is foreign to most of the rest of the country: Minnesotan.

At our going away party in Minnesota, one of our friends gave me a copy of a book titled “How to Talk Minnesotan: a Visitors Guide”, written by a man named Howard Mohr. Although it was published a while ago (1987), you can still find it on for about $11.

When we moved to the Chicago area in 1986, a number of people accused me of having an accent, to which I replied, “I don’t have an accent. I’m from Minnesota”.

After a while, I came to realize that people from Minnesota DO talk a little differently than the rest of the country. That point was really driven home when all of us watched the movie, “Fargo”, which was released in 1996:

As we watched the movie, we came to the realization that a LOT of our family and friends “back home” sounded a lot like the characters in the movie.

Not many people know that Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) interviewed Sarah Palin during the Presidential campaign last fall.

THAT interview can be seen below:

For most of my stay in Minnesota I lived in St. Paul, but the majority of my jobs were in Minneapolis or its suburbs.

Although BOTH of the Twin Cities have an interesting history, I recently discovered that Minneapolis, in particular, has some interesting “claims to fame”:

1 - The average annual temperature of 45.4 °F (7 °C) gives the Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan area the coldest annual mean temperature of any major metropolitan area in the continental United States
2 – Minneapolis has the 4th highest LGBT population in the country. If you’re not sure what that means, I’ll just tell you that it represents a LARGE group of reconciling couples, and the initials stand for “let’s get back together”
3 - Availability of Wi-Fi, transportation solutions, medical trials, university research and development expenditures, advanced degrees held by the work force, and energy conservation are so far above the national average that in 2005, Popular Science named Minneapolis the "Top Tech City" in the U.S.
4 - The region is second only to New York City in live theater per capita and is the third-largest theater market in the U.S.
5 - In 2007, Minneapolis was named America's most literate city. The study, conducted by Live Science, surveyed 69 U.S. cities with a population over 250,000. They focused on six key factors: Number of book stores, newspaper circulation, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment and Internet resources. In second place was Seattle, Washington and third was Minneapolis' neighbor, St. Paul, followed by Denver, Colorado and Washington, D.C.
6 - The Minneapolis park system has been called the best-designed, best-financed, and best-maintained in America
7- Minneapolis ranks second in the nation for the highest percentage of commuters by bicycle.
8 – Minneapolis/ St. Paul has been rated the 13th healthiest place to live in America

Although I’d definitely recommend buying Mr. Mohr’s book on, you may also want to consider simply checking out a copy at your local library, which is exactly what I did a few days ago.

The book itself is spread over 26 chapters, ranging from “Getting Started in Minnesotan” to “The Minnesota Long Good bye”.

Naturally, there’s a chapter about Lutefisk, but he also passes on a few words of wisdom about “talking cars in Minnesota”, “your winter vacation in Minnesota” and “Oh, for and Heckuva deal”

Do I think that you’ll enjoy the book?

You bet.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I'd walk a mile for a Camel

Camels, the first commercially available cigarettes sold in America, were introduced in 1913 by a man named R.J. Reynolds.

The cigarettes were more flavorful, and less expensive, than the other cigarettes that were then on the market. Within a year of their introduction, the company had sold 425 million packs of Camels

In the early days of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, they adopted the advertising slogan, “I’d walk a mile for a Camel”, and they used it for decades.

I haven’t smoked a cigarette since my college days (and THAT was a long time ago), but I’d venture a guess that there aren’t very many people today who would walk a mile for a Camel.

I’d also venture a guess that there aren’t many people who would ride 42 miles on their bicycles for a Reuben sandwich, but here’s a little secret:

I’ve done EXACTLY that!

For roughly six months of the year, I’ll ride one of my trusty old ten speeds north to Wisconsin.

If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll ride all the way to the The Brat Stop, which is located on Highway 50 just west of I-94 in Kenosha. From Evanston and back, it’s almost exactly 100 miles round trip.

Most weeks, though, I’ll take a slightly shorter route, so that I can sample a variety of different restaurants. Truth be told, my favorite restaurant in Kenosha is a little place called House of Gerhard a family-owned German style restaurant that has been in operation since 1964.

The restaurant was started by a German native named Gerhard Dillner, who moved here from Germany in 1954. Although it may not be as fancy as some of the German restaurants in Milwaukee, the food is good, and the place has an infinite amount of old world charm.

Today, the restaurant is run by their daughter Angie, and son-in-law, Dick Rudin, and their children, Sabine and Kyle, also help out on a regular basis.

Due to the quality of the food, and the hospitality at the restaurant, the House of Gerhard was selected as the 2009 Wisconsin Restaurateur of the Year

On my visit last week, I had the Reuben, but I’ve also enjoyed the Rouladen and the Grilled Bratwurst platter, all of which have been preceded by a large Hacker-Pschorr Weisse, a brew that is VERY satisfying after a long bike ride.

You probably aren’t as crazy as me when it comes to exercise, but one thing that I know we’d agree on is the fact that you won’t regret going a little out of your way for some really good German food.

Guten Appetit !

Sunday, August 9, 2009

the dark side of chocolate

We recently added a new manager to the management team at
The Autobarn.

His first name is Vasco, but it’s pronounced a lot like “Bosco”.

When I first heard his name, I immediately thought of the chocolate syrup that I used to use when I was a kid.

For some reason, Bosco syrup, when stirred vigorously into vanilla ice cream, was a particular treat.

At about the same time that I was turning vanilla ice cream into chocolate mush, Alfred Hitchcock released a movie called “Psycho”. Although Mr. Hitchcock is well known for the show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, which was on the air from 1955 to 1962, he is probably best known for “Psycho”.

The most famous scene from the movie is the shower scene, which you can watch below:

original Psycho shower scene

The late Janet Leigh was the victim in the shower scene. According to reliable sources, she (and thousands of other people) were no longer able to take showers after viewing the movie.

Bosco chocolate syrup has been produced since 1928. Although it is still produced to this day, a little known fact is that the fake blood used in the shower scene of “Psycho” was actually Bosco chocolate syrup. It was also used in the 1968 cult horror classic “Night of the Living Dead”.

Another little known fact is that Bosco syrup, when used in an artistic fashion, can be worth a LOT of money.

Vik Muniz, a modern artist, is famous for recreating well-known works of art, such as The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci entirely in Bosco Chocolate Syrup. A Bosco portrait by Muniz sold for $110,000 in 2007.

After looking at this painting, all I can add at this point is the famous Jackie Gleason phrase:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

McCormick Place in Chicago, with its 2.2 million sq. ft. of exhibition space, is the largest trade fair site of North America.

Annually, McCormick attracts 3 million visitors.

By far, the largest number of attendees was for the Chicago Auto Show, which is the largest auto show in the country, although there also was a significant number of attendees for several pure “trade shows”, like the Hardware Show of Chicago

The 91st Chicago Auto Show (in 2009) closed with an all-time record attendance of 1,215,734, surpassing the previous mark by more than 135,000.

The Las Vegas Convention Center, which actually has more TOTAL space than McCormick Place, is the home of the Consumer Electronics Show,which is considered to be the largest TRADE show in America, with over 100,00 visitors in 2009.

The Consumer Electronics Show runs for a total of FOUR days. In 2009, the dates were January 8-11.

If you reach back through time to a period known as “long ago”, you’ll discover that there WAS a time when trade fairs were MUCH longer than modern trade fairs.

During a time when religious extremists (western Christians) were waging a protracted “holy war” against the most advanced civilization in the world (the Muslims), King Henry III of England granted a charter to the ancient seaside town of Scarborough to hold an annual trade fair.

The first fair was held in 1253. In keeping with the traditions of the time, it started and ended on religious holidays. Opening day was August 15 (Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and ended on September 29, (the Feast of St. Michael).

Although initially tremendously successful, competition from the fairs started by other towns gradually eroded the prosperity of the Scarborough Fair, and it ended for good in 1788. Low key commemorative events are still held each year in September, so the fair DOES live on in spirit, if not in fact.

The song made popular by Simon and Garfunkel is actually based on ancient Scottish ballads that go back to at least the year 1650, and possibly earlier.

Paul Simon learned the song from Martin Carthy when he was in London in 1965. Art Garfunkel added the echoing refrain canticle, and modified it to include anti-war lyrics, at a time when the Vietnam War was being escalated by President Johnson.

The duo also used the same technique on "Silent Night-7 O’clock News", which they released a year later:

Silent Night.

Although our cupboards contain parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, I’ll have to admit that I never knew (until today) that they have been symbolic herbs since the time of the Middle Ages.

Parsley, which is still used today as a digestive aid, was thought to take away bitterness in taste, and also to be spiritually beneficial.

Sage has been known to symbolize strength for thousands of years

Rosemary represents faithfulness, love, and remembrance. Many brides in England still wear twigs of rosemary in their hair on their wedding day.

Thyme symbolizes courage. When the song was first written, knights wore images of thyme on their shields when they went off to combat.

Simon and Garfunkel were some of the most prolific song writers of the 1960’s, as evidenced by the alphabetical listing of their songs, which you can see by clicking on the link below:

Simon and Garfunkel songs

The late Jimmy Durante always used to close his shows with the phrase, “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are”.

In that same vein, I’d like to close out this story by saying,

“So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”.