Friday, October 12, 2007

Emptying the notebook

Driving home from work tonight, I listened to Alice Cooper's syndicated radio show for about 10 minutes. It's something I've done many times before since moving to a market that carried his show, but it wasn't until tonight that this notion crystallized:

This is a good show. A very good radio show.

Now, I'm not saying it is as good as this cat, but as far as the other alternatives in the vast wasteland of pussified mainstream radio, Cooper rises far above his counterparts.

His show has a laid-back feel, much like a Charlie Rose interview. Cooper is pensive, thoughtful and intelligent. He tells insightful stories and anecdotes, and it's obvious he's got a knowledgeable catalog of rock-n-roll history in his brain.

Stuff that no one else has the knowledge base, time nor inclination to share with listeners. And I think it's important to note he's sharing stories. He's not talking at his listeners, he's having a conversation with them. It's an important distinction.

You won't find him going into offbeat artists the way Little Steven's Underground Garage often does. But he will slip them in; I heard him play some Old 97s the other day. You will also hear him play songs from popular artists you'd never hear anyone else playing.

A few weeks ago, he played Bruce Springteen's "For You."

Tonight, he had a nice anecdote after "19th Nervous Breakdown" about the Stones playing that during their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, which was also their first in-color appearance on American television.

It's that sort of bit that I appreciate.

Elsewhere, I'm "spinnin' round a deal dial," listening to too many yahoos trying to be funny or wacky, snarky or witty. All dumbed-down garbage, watered-down Stern.

Cooper is a refreshing change.


I'll admit that it took me a while to become a regular visitor to Fox Sports' Web site, even after the network hired Mark Kriegel, one of my favorite columnists, a while back.

But I'm in a groove visiting the site, and that has everything to do with the fact Kriegel is in an excellent groove.

He's back. Look out, Lupica.

In recent weeks, Kriegel has weighed in with some good one-liners on the baseball playoffs, a column on Red Sox fans turning into what they hate, a column on white cornerbacks going the way of the do-do bird and more.

Rock-solid work all around.

It's too bad thin-skinned Lupica whined so vociferously about his evisceration on that Leon Carter had to chase Kriegel out of New York.

It's really a shame because Lupica used to be a great columnist. Then he started caring too much about cultivating his "image" and writing fill-in-the-blank October columns off his couch.

Maybe if he would have concentrated more on his work, his act wouldn't have been so tired and Kriegel would still be in New York.

Either way, it's been a long wait and it's good to be back into a Kriegel routine.


When Mrs. VFR and I interviewed at our current location, one of things touted about this area was the wealth of local live music. This appealed to us, big time.

It took 10 months, but we finally got off our arses and heard some tunes.

Last week, we went to The Ark, a small 300-seat place to see The Samples, an excellent veteran rock band based in Boulder. The Samples are a big deal throughout the west. Year after year, they regularly sell out Red Rocks' 9,500 seats.

Here? We were privileged to be among 60 or so people to see them on a rainy Midwestern night. And they put on a hell of a show. They did everything from rock out to meander through some of their more piano-driven songs to perform a heartfelt acoustic tribute to frontman Sean Kelly's mom, who died 15 years ago this month.

At least from the perspective of a fan in the seats, it made it more intimate that it was such a small crowd in a small venue. I don't know that the experience would have been the same elsewhere.

They could have mailed it in given the circumstances. But they brought their best stuff, showed they are still aces after 20 years on the road, and their efforts were much appreciated by those who were there.

The whole thing also made Squawking VFR a little homesick.

It became acute during the song "Indiana," which contains the following lyrics:

I remember the first time I drove
Through Indiana
Watching semis hauling grain
To the west
They're gonna make it all the
Way to Colorado
Where the mountains touch
The sky and rivers bend

The bout of homesickness has lasted a few days now.

Especially since Mrs. VFR enjoyed a short trip back home last week for a wedding shower.


We'll be back with a review of "Magic,"Bruce's new album in a few days. And we promise we'll wrap up our two-part series on our nation's airport shortly after that.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

It's like riding a bike ...

For a long time, I was one of the few people in America who could honestly refute the adage that started with my title phrase and finished with, "Once you learn, you never forget."

I'll admit it. I forgot.

It had been approximately 19 years since my last full-scale bike ride until I hopped on a two-wheeled vehicle last week. The occasion to break the drought came when Mrs. VFR and I traveled to Mackinac Island, a small spot on Lake Huron in between the mitt portion of Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

No motorized vehicles are allowed on the island. It's a throwback to a different time. The only modes of transportation permitted on the island are horse and buggies, bikes and your own two feet. Ferries transport guests from the mainland to the island.

(I found it curious, though, that town officials apparently have made an exception of their ban for fat people who drive their personal carts).

Not being morbidly obese, my transportation options were limited to 1) walking; 2) gagging on the smell of manure on horse-and-buggy rides; or 3) breaking the streak.

To be fair, I have been on a cycle once or twice in the 19 years since a spectacular crash ended my bike-riding career back in the fifth grade. I think there was a shorter Mackinac trip with my parents back in the day and an ill-fated trek around a Moab campground that lasted all of eight seconds.

But this time, there was a need for competence. We had plans to pedal around the perimeter of the island, grind up and down steep hills and down trails that led through a dense forest.

We rented a 1-speed at our hotel. Multiple gears would only be a complication, so that was fine. About an hour after our arrival, it was time for the big test.

It started smooth. Straight worked OK. Turning presented some problems - I couldn't turn sharp enough before hitting the curb. Stopping was a bit of a disaster at first -- I wanted to bail because I couldn't find the brake.

Then I realized the brake wasn't on the handlebars; it was one of those deals where you reverse the direction of the pedals. Soon after that discovery, I am proud to say the rest of the biking was reasonably smooth.

Mrs. VFR took a picture of the maiden voyage downtown after my remedial lesson, which is posted above along with a few others from the weekend.

But first, here's a little of the back story about why I went approximately 19 years without a bike ride: In fifth grade, my yellow-and-black Huffy dirtbike was in the shop. So one day I borrowed my mother's bike, which was considerably larger, for a ride that I had taken many times before.

The route led from our home in downtown L.F. to a trail behind the Cedar Grove Municipal Pool that followed the path of long-forgotten railroad tracks through the woods. These ended near the top of Francisco Avenue, a long road that resembled a mile-long ski jump.

Typically, my friends and I would dive-bomb the hill, reaching speeds of 45 to 50 mph, according to the speedometer on my Huffy. We indeed dive-bombed Francisco Avenue on the day of my tussle with the asphalt.

Being a fifth grader, I hadn't really considered the possibility that my transition from a kid-sized bike to an adult-sized one would make much of a difference. But halfway down Francisco Avenue, I learned I was wrong.

As I reached warp speed, the handlebars started to wobble. This had never happened on my Huffy. They started to shake. They started to shimmy. Before I knew it, I was completely out of control.

I went down hard. The bike fell to the left, and the asphalt tore lots of skin off my face, arm, hip and legs. Inexplicably, I fell on my left side, but broke my right arm.

Mom's bike was totaled in the crash, and I was lucky no cars pummeled me further.

Francisco Avenue was sort of off-limits as far as bike rules in the VFR house went, so I scraped myself off the pavement and lied through my teeth about the location of my accident. (A friend along for the fateful ride later ratted me out for no reason; we weren't friends much longer).

But that meant two bikes damaged. By the time the cast came off my arm, both were growing cobwebs in the back of the garage.

The drought began because of the lack of a functioning bike more than out of any fear. But it nonetheless took root. Nineteen years later, we arrived on Mackinac Island.

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