March, 2008:

Translating Eliot Spitzer Resignation Speech

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I feel the need to provide a public service. Eliot Spitzer, Governor of New York, resigned today. He gave a heart-felt speech, that was carefully crafted to communicate as clearly as possible with everyone in the country.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the appropriate decoder ring necessary to un-craft the true meaning of his message. Thankfully for the rest of you, I have one. I ran his speech through the magic decoder, and here’s what came out:

In the past few days I’ve begun to atone for my private failings with my wife, Silda, my children and my entire family.

In the past few days, I have been very quiet, and have allowed my family to look at me with horror and disbelief. When I break the law, it’s a private failing, when others broke the law, I was there to demolish them.

The remorse I feel will always be with me. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the love and compassion they have shown me.

I know that this will forever be on the Internet for all to see. I am grateful that my family hasn’t pulled off my fingernails, at least not yet.

From those to whom much is given, much is expected. I have been given much - the love of my family, the faith and trust of the people of New York, and the chance to lead this state.

I have been given much, and have taken a lot more, from many people. I deserved it all, and if I crushed people along the way, including innocent ones, I was on a mission, so it was all necessary.

I am deeply sorry I did not live up to what was expected of me.

I am deeply sorry that I was caught. Being Governor certainly wasn’t the last stop on my road to ultimate power, though now it looks like it might be.

To every New Yorker, and to all those who believed in what I tried to stand for, I sincerely apologize.

To everyone, I couldn’t stand for anything in an honest manner, but at least I tried to appear to stand for something. For the fact that you now know that I was more of a do as I say and not as I do kinda guy, well, I’m very sorry you found out.

I look at my time as governor with a sense of what might have been,

I look back, still remembering what it was like before I was caught, ah, the good old days.

but I also know that as a public servant, I and the remarkable people with whom I worked have accomplished a great deal.

I’m sorry, but I can’t leave in complete shame, I simply have to take another bow, pat myself on the back, and throw a bone to some people who I hope don’t completely abandon me in the coming days.

There is much more to be done and I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people’s work.

I had more to do (privately and publicly), but now that my private crime spree has become public, my work has been disrupted.

Over the course of my public life I have insisted, I believe correctly, that people, regardless of their position or power, take responsibility for their conduct.

While in power, I have insisted that people cave to my every whim, I believe correctly. It served my personal purpose. I made them take responsibility for everything, whether they committed a crime or not.

I can and will ask no less of myself.

Now that I have been caught, I have decided to hold myself to a similar standard, given that I would have been held to that standard by others, if I didn’t do it first. Of course, not exactly the same standard, since I didn’t resign immediately and I certainly don’t intend to go to jail. It’s not like I actually knew I was doing anything wrong before I got caught, so it’s really OK that I didn’t hold myself up to that standard a tad earlier.

For this reason I am resigning from the office of governor, and at Lt. Gov. David Paterson’s request, the resignation will be effective on Monday, March 17, a date that he believes will permit an orderly transition.

Don’t be mad at me for not resigning immediately a few days ago, nor for hanging in there for another few days. Other people urged me to take this route, and you know how much of a giver I am, I simply couldn’t refuse them.

I go forward with the belief, as others have said, that as human beings our greatest glory consists not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.

The people that I put away, or nearly ruined, had no redeeming qualities. I, on the other hand, will rise to greater heights shortly. Stay tuned!

As I leave public life, I will first do what I need to do to help and heal myself and my family,

As I leave public life, I will duck and hope that I survive the coming storm at home,

then I will try once again, outside of politics, to serve the common good and to move toward the ideals and solutions which I believe can build a future of hope and opportunity for us and for our children.

I will then try and assert my two-faced moralistic views on the rest of you, but I’m not sure exactly how just yet, given that I won’t be in a position of authority. That said, I’m a clever and very rich guy, and I have little doubt I’ll figure it out.

I hope all of New York will join my prayers for my friend, David Paterson, as he embarks on his new mission and I thank the public once again for the privilege of service. Thank you very much.

It’s unfortunate that David Paterson will now enjoy everything that is rightfully mine, but please, join me in a golf clap for his ascendancy to my throne.

Brooke Miller

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You know that I love acoustic music, and more specifically, acoustic guitar. I have written about a number of great acoustic guitarists in the past few months, among them Andy McKee and Don Ross.

I had heard that Don Ross’ wife was a musician as well, but I didn’t have the time to check her out. Yesterday, as a result of some of my posts on Andy and Don, I received an email from someone who is associated with Don’s wife (he fully disclosed the relationship in the email), pointing me to her new CD release, including links to a few YouTube videos of her.

Her name is Brooke Miller. You can read an interesting bio of her on her label’s site Candyrat Records. That’s the same label that Andy, Don and a number of the other acoustic guitarists that I love record on. I’ve also written about the label, separately, in this post.

So, the first thing I did to check her out was watch a YouTube video of the title song of her new album, You Can See Everything. A number of things immediately spring to mind when watching it. She has a lovely voice, she plays the guitar beautifully, she’s attractive (no, that’s not important, but it doesn’t hurt either, if you’re watching a video). 😉

But, what’s more striking, is that she’s a wonderful lyricist (that’s songwriter for you folks that prefer my usually lower-brow vocabulary). What I really like is that the imagery is rich and deep, without being forced (like someone looking up rhymes in a dictionary). It flows from her and really works.

As an example (a tiny, but beautiful one to me!), the phrase that immediately precedes the title phrase is (together with the title phrase):

A heart can travel, given the right set of wings, you can see everything

I then watched two more YouTube videos (Two Soldiers and Country From The Dome Car). I think that’s all of the videos currently available. All three of the songs are on the new album.

You Can See Everything is a love song, written for her husband, Don Ross. It seems only fitting that he should respond (OK, I don’t know the order they were written in, so perhaps it was she who was responding to him). His is instrumental though, so you can feel his love for her, whereas you can decipher the imagery in her song more directly. Here’s a YouTube video of Don playing (amazingly!) Brooke’s Waltz.

So, I assumed (I know, I know, don’t assume) that the CD was like the videos, meaning, Brooke singing and playing the guitar solo. That would have been fine, and made for a beautiful CD, but I’m not sure I would have rushed out to buy it. Instead of living with my assumption, I went to the Candyrat page for the CD and listened to clips for every song (the links are on the right side of the page).

While I wish that Candyrat followed the lead set by Magnatune in allowing every song by every artist to be streamed for free, an unlimited amount of times, they don’t. What they do (at least on this album) is give you roughly 60 seconds per song (some even more), which is significantly more than the 30 seconds on Amazon. On each song, it’s more than enough to give you a great flavor of the song, music and lyrics.

Wow! I liked her solo, but on the CD, she has a band behind her (including electric guitar, bass, drums, and occasionally what I believe is a violin). There are also rare snippets of harmony, which I guess is Brooke’s voice dubbed in a voice-over. It’s gorgeously produced (I think by Don!). It’s a lush sound, built on top of fantastic songwriting (both lyrics and music). In other words, more exciting than the solo performances on YouTube, not that there’s a single thing wrong with the solo performances!

Now the dilemma, how to buy it? This comes back to my original post about Candyrat. They are a great label, promoting fabulous artists in creative ways, and distributing their music widely in DRM-free packages. Nothing to complain about. But, to download a CD on their site (yes, I’ve bought from them before, and written about it), I have to pay more than to download the same album from Amazon.com.

On Candyrat, this CD is $9.95 to download. On Amazon, it’s $8.99. I still can’t understand that. If there was a definitive statement that the extra $0.96 went exclusively and entirely to the artist, I might happily pay the difference. But, if it’s going to Candyrat, I don’t see why I should pay more, especially since Amazon packages it better, so that it auto injects the album into my iTunes library.

Strawberry Fields at BB King

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I love The Beatles, always have, always will. Every Saturday, there is a brunch concert at BB King in NYC that features a Beatles cover band called Strawberry Fields. We have never been to see it, but I’ve threatened Lois on numerous occasions that I had an interest in going.

One year ago, we went to the regular Sunday brunch concert featuring the Harlem Gospel Choir. We went with friends of ours and their three young kids, and had a blast. Almost two months ago, we set a date to go with them to the Saturday brunch, but we had to cancel when something came up. That’s very rare for us, and we felt terrible, including that I was going to miss out again on seeing the show…

This past Friday, toward the end of the afternoon, I got an email newsletter from the BB King site announcing that on Sunday (last night), they were holding a free concert for fan appreciation, featuring none other than Strawberry Fields! Tickets purchased at the door would have a nominal service charge of $2.00. Tickets purchased online would be slightly more expensive, due to Ticketmaster charges.

I went online and bought two tickets. With all of the charges added on, it cost me $9.37 for the free show. No complaints, but it’s funny nonetheless…

We drove in from the house yesterday morning and spent the day in the city. We went to the club early, as it’s a general admission, first-come-first-served place. We got great seats and relaxed and ordered dinner. The food at BB King is always good, and I enjoyed mine thoroughly. I also enjoyed my Lucille (their name for a type of chocolate martini). 🙂

It took a while for people to start coming in (a little surprising, given that they were advertising on the outside marquis that the show was free). While they never sold out, or even came close to filling up (again, quite surprising), there was a very healthy sized crowd. BB King holds 400 at capacity, and I’m guessing there were roughly 250 people last night.

Strawberry Fields came on at 8:03 (late for BB King which typically starts exactly at 8pm), but obviously, right on time for most venues! They were dressed like the original Fab Four, in black suits. They played the early songs, and played them well. Unfortunately, the microphones were set to a way lower volume than the instruments, and you really had to concentrate hard to hear their voices. Of course, given that every note of every Beatles song is etched on my brain, I could fill in the gaps without thinking about it, but still, it was annoying…

Two times, the band quickly said something to the sound engineer, but it never got better (in fact, for a second or two, it got worse, where they were nearly turned off). Still, it was fun, just not as cool as I had hoped.

They played for 50 minutes, and then announced a break. A few people left at that point. It wasn’t clear whether they left because they misunderstood and thought the show was over, or they didn’t enjoy it, or they got their money’s worth, etc.

The break was longer than expected, lasting 30 minutes! When they came back on, it was in full Sgt. Pepper’s regalia. They played music from that era. The microphone situation was worked on during the break, and it definitely got better, but it was never quite right. While disappointing, it wasn’t that bad. Their voices never miss a note, but they don’t exactly have great voices either.

They did a final costume change during the performance (the waiter told us that sometimes, they take a second break to do that), and played music from the end of the Beatles dressed like they looked then.

When they came on for the second set, the announcer said something that I was unaware of. According to him, The Beatles never played the Sgt. Pepper music live! The one exception was that they broadcast a live performance with a full symphony orchestra.

Strawberry Fields recreates that experience by having prerecorded music of the orchestra (horns and all), which they sing and play along with. You have to be pretty good/tight to pull something like that off, because the recording doesn’t stop if you mess up, etc. One of the greatest bands in history, The Who, used to do that whenever they played Quadrophenia live.

Anyway, Strawberry Fields pulled it off. Even in the first set, the guy who plays George Harrison (Mark “Farquar” Vaccacio) proved to be an excellent guitar player. The guy who plays Paul McCartney (Billy J. Ray) plays the bass extremely well, and left handed no less, just like Paul. The guy who plays John Lennon (Tony Garofalo) played rhythm guitar mostly during the first set, well, but it was hard to tell whether he was really good or not. Finally, the guy who plays Ringo (Gerard Barberine, Jr.) was really good on the drums, even though he was playing on the more minimalist kind of drum sets used by the original Beatles.

In the second set, which was more heavy rock oriented, “Farquar” really went to town. He’s quite an accomplished lead guitarist, and we both thoroughly enjoyed his many riffs. Toward the end, Tony Garofalo (the founding member of Strawberry Fields) started taking more leads. He’s really excellent too!

Toward the end of the show, they brought a birthday cake up on the stage, and Tony/John called up his wife (or significant other) Sandy to the stage, to wish her a happy birthday. She was very reluctant to go up, but Tony (and the crowd) prevailed upon her to do it. He called her his soul mate, and it seemed fitting that the John Lennon character, so smitten by Yoko Ono, would be the one to bring up his soul mate on the stage. 🙂

Then, to top off the show, as a thank you and homage to BB King the person, as well as BB King the club, they did a rocking blues number (both guitarists took fantastic solos, and it was one of the numbers that showed me what Tony can bring!).

Anyway, by the time the show was over, it was 10:30pm! So, they played for nearly two full hours, not including the break. Very cool, and very classy to do for a free concert where you could hardly complain if they didn’t give it their all and cut it a bit short.

We were very glad to have gone, and the only regret was the poor handling of their microphones, something that isn’t typically a problem at BB King.

We’re back at BB King this coming Saturday night to see Jerry Jeff Walker, then again on April 4th to see Dave Mason (again). I’m sure they will have the sound problems worked out by then, or least, I’m anxiously hopeful that they will!

Dave Mason at Blend

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Last night we saw Dave Mason play at Blend in Ridgewood, NJ.

Some things about last night were perfect, others far from it. Since I acquiesced to Lois when similar problems occurred at Canal Room in NYC (covered in this post), I’ll do it again, and cover the music (the perfect part!) first, so you can ignore all the peeves later on.

I have loved Dave Mason from the very start (I was a fan of Traffic, as well as the Dave Mason Band, forever). I still actively listen to both bands on my iPod. Lois doesn’t know Traffic, and until recently, didn’t know Dave Mason well either (though some of his stuff is so famous that she knew it, but didn’t know whose song it was).

When I noticed that Dave was playing at Blend (more details on that in the negative section), I played one of his albums for her in the car, so she too was excited to see them last night.

There are five guys in the band. I linked to the band section of the site above, rather than to the home page (which doesn’t seem to be particularly up-to-date). You can certainly read the bios on that site better than I can summarize them here, but I want to mention at least something about each member of the band.

In their order on the stage, left-to-right:

  • John (Johnne) Sambataro played both acoustic and electric guitars. He was fantastic. When it was his turn to wail, wail he did, leaving the crowd in a frenzy. But, he’s no hog, as he supported the entire band when that was more appropriate.
  • Bill Mason played the organ (electric piano). He was solid the entire night. On a few numbers, Dave turned it over to Bill for long solos. He was incredible on all of them. Like Johnne above, he brought down the house whenever the spotlight was on him.
  • Alvino Bennett played the drums. Super solid, perfect rhythm all night, just the right amount of flare. They never gave him a real solo, so I don’t know how he cooks when it’s all about him, but I have no doubt that he can cook. His sense of timing is exceptional. My only complaint is that he’s a little too unselfish, a little too the glue that keeps the band together. Suffice it to say, a great drummer!
  • Alex Drizos played bass. Basically, everything that I said about Alvino above regarding the drums applies to Alex on the bass. So solid it was wonderful to watch and feel the bass lines that he was laying down. Nothing flashy, ever, but always there to keep the bottom perfectly with the entire band.

Both Johnne and Alex sang incredible harmony with Dave all night. Bill sang on at least one number that I noticed, but certainly not many.

Here are photos of the band, sorry about the quality:

Johnne Sambataro and Bill MasonAlvino BennettAlex Drizos

On to the star, Dave Mason himself. I was a tad nervous going in for three reasons:

  1. Would he still have it? (If you recall, I briefly mentioned how awful the Jefferson Starship were in my uber-post on rediscovering live music.)
  2. Would he play the old big hits, or just do new stuff (and if the latter, was his new stuff any good)?
  3. Even if he played the old stuff, and even if he was flawless, would he play them the way I expected to hear them, or would he tinker too much?

I have definitive answers to all of my questions (and perhaps yours) coming up right now! 🙂

Dave Mason is awesome. That answers #1 above. His voice is excellent (as always), and he can hit the full range of notes required to make his hits come alive, which is not unimpressive, since there are some pretty high notes in a number those songs. Whew!

His fingers still fly on the guitar. He doesn’t miss any notes, and he’s as soulful on some of the leads, while rocking the house down on others. Quiet when appropriate, driving at other times. A master of the guitar. On a number of his big hits, he played a 12-string guitar, and the sound of that is just wonderful as well.

Here’s Dave on the 12 string guitar:

Dave Mason on the 12 string guitar

On to #2. The answer is both! He played quite a number of his giant hits, opening the show with World in Changes and Let It Go, Let if Flow. During the night, he also played All Along the Watchtower, Every Woman, We Just Disagree and a couple of other favorites. He also played the title cut from the first Traffic album!

But, I said both above! He also played new tunes that I have never heard. They were awesome! While I would have been wildly disappointed to not hear any of the oldies, I have to admit, if he only played new stuff, and it was as good as the (at least three) numbers that he played last night, I still would have considered the show to be fantastic!

Finally, #3 above. If you watch any TV, you may know the slogan for Simply Orange (it’s an orange juice company). Their slogan is: 100% Unfooled Around With! That should be Dave’s motto with regard to playing the crowd favorites. He couldn’t have delivered better. Whew! 🙂

Dave was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. That was based on his being part of Traffic. For my money, he could be inducted again, just for good measure, on the basis of his Dave Mason Band work, including his new stuff!

Two of his new numbers were played relatively early in the show, and both were electric numbers. Here’s a YouTube video of one of them (from a previous show, well done, but much cooler last night). He only plays a drop of guitar on that number (but still beautifully), and it doesn’t stretch his vocal capabilities, but it’s such a fun song! The catch-phrase line is: Ain’t Your Legs Tired Baby, ‘Cause You Keep On Runnin’ Through My Mind! 😉

As a group, they are extremely tight. No one ever overwhelms the others and the sound engineer keeps the relative volumes correct throughout. His name is Chris Curtis.

They played for 75 minutes, then left the stage (extremely briefly) for the obligatory encore. When they came back out it was just Dave and Johnne with acoustic guitars only. They played another new number that was gorgeous! Then the entire band rejoined, and they played Dave’s money song, Feelin’ Alright. They jammed it perfectly with Dave and Johnne playing lead guitars that reminded me of some of the great guitar duels performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Total time on stage was almost exactly 90 minutes. It left me with a strong taste for more, but it was completely satisfying at the same time! Bravo Dave, Johnne, Bill, Alvino and Alex, you were simply awesome!

They’re playing on April 4th, 2008 at BB King. I’m only telling you this because I just grabbed two tickets, so I’m no longer worried about him selling out (last night’s show was sold out). You are now forewarned that if you don’t go see Dave, you’re missing out on a great show! 😉

OK, this post is already long, but has only been positive. I have a ton of negative things to say about last night, and it won’t be short either, so this post will be horribly long when it’s all said and done. Please feel free to stop reading if you only want to bask in the glory that is the Dave Mason Band, as they were truly as good as it gets…

<Rant>

As you already know, last night turned into YAAWTEW (Yet Another All’s Well That Ends Well) evening. While I can’t complain about the end, and therefore the experience in its entirety, there is plenty to complain about along the way. 🙁

I had never heard of Blend before. They use at least two separate tickets agents, TicketWeb and Ticketmaster. I have accounts with both, and one of them must have shared my email with Blend. I don’t mind that. A month ago, I got an email from Blend promoting a specific show. I never heard of the band, and I didn’t particularly care to discover them (we have an insane schedule as it stands).

But, I quickly scoured the list of upcoming acts, and noticed that Dave Mason was playing there on March 6th, 2008! Wow, I thought that it would be cool if we could swing it. Unfortunately, at first blush, it wasn’t looking all that likely. We were scheduled to be in VA that day. It was also likely that we would be heading home that day, but I couldn’t be sure a month in advance, so I sat on the email, but left it visible in my inbox to annoyingly remind me each day.

After two weeks, we were about to leave for VA, and I realized that if we wanted to do it, we could swing it. I asked Lois. As noted above, she wasn’t really familiar with Dave’s music, but she’s a genius, and realized that I was more excited than a casual “Hey, do you want to see some band I used to listen to?”

She encouraged me to get tickets. As I noted in my recent post on Dan Tyminski Band at the Birchmere Theater, I get nervous going to new venues, in particular when they are first-come first-served type of places. If you read that post (or have ever been to a show at Birchmere!), then you know that my fears regarding Birchmere were 100% unfounded, as the place is nearly perfect in all respects!

What’s the opposite of Birchmere? Blend! 🙁

We called two weeks in advance, to ask some standard questions (OK, Lois called, at my request, to get my standard questions answered). 😉 She asked if they serve dinner, they said yes. She asked if it was in the room where the show was held, they said yes, but that they also serve dinner in a more formal dining room. Lois asked again (I heard it with my own ears!) whether we could eat in our seats in the theater where the show would be, and again, she was told yes.

She was told that the doors open at 7pm for the show. The rest of the rooms (bar and restaurant) open closer to 4pm I think, so if we showed up really early, we could eat first I think. But, we were planning on leaving from Zope, so we would be driving straight from VA, and likely getting there at around 6:30pm.

For many reasons, we decided to leave on Wed from VA and head home. We got out later than we had planned, and arrived home at 10pm. We worked all day and left for the show at around 5:45pm. We got to Blend at 6:25. I dropped Lois at the door so that she could pick up our tickets (they were held at Will Call) and get on line for the 7pm opening.

After circling to find parking, I walked in the front door at 6:35. Lois was nowhere to be found. I had to wait for a number of people to be seated in the restaurant (including Jay Gold, if you know who that is!). Then I got to ask about Lois. They had no idea who I was talking about, but told me I was welcome to walk around and look for her…

I did, and I spotted her in the restaurant sitting alone at a table. I was surprised, to say the least. She told me that they informed her at the door that they would not be serving in the show room. It was now 6:45. We were more interested in good seats than in dinner, but I was pretty hungry nonetheless. When the waitress came by to ask if we wanted drinks, we told her that we were still trying to decide what to do.

We made one mistake which I am truly sorry for, and that is that we stood the entire time. While we weren’t directly in anyone’s way, the mere fact that we didn’t sit at our table was already a distraction to the rest of the diners. It also caused more of the staff to pay attention to us (which part of the reason why we didn’t sit).

Another hostess came over to ask what the problem was. We explained, and she asked “Who told you that they would serve dinner downstairs?”. Huh? So, either we’re liars, or you’re going to spank the person who gave us the bad information? Either way, you aren’t close to solving the problem. We explained our situation again, and she said she needed to check further and left.

A minute later, the manager came by. We explained (again). He said “Of course they are serving dinner downstairs, you’re welcome to just eat there!”. Lois was satisfied, but I said “Great, but that’s not what the hostess said.” Oh oh. You could see him turn white as a ghost, and he immediately backtracked and said “Uh, wait, let me check.”

He left, and Lois left with him. A few minutes later, a woman named Lori (sp?) came over to talk to me. She was marginally prickly, but I could understand, as we were borderline causing a scene (just from the traffic at our table). I explained our situation (again). She said that there was no food being served downstairs, but that occasionally, they do, when there is no separate seating and standing areas.

I told her that we called and asked specifically for this show and were told that they would be serving. Clearly, she thought I was lying. Again, wonderful customer service. Now it got weird…

I told her that all we cared about was getting good seats downstairs. I told her that my wife wasn’t really that hungry, and that she was willing to wait on the line for the doors to open at 7pm, and that I would order and eat here at the table, problem solved!

Amazingly, she says to me “What makes you think the doors open at 7pm? The doors open whenever the artist, in this case Dave, is in the mood to play!” Huh? Did the person we called also get that part wrong? Are the show times as listed on the site just guesses? If the artist wants to start playing at 6:30pm is that OK too, or just late starts are acceptable? This was getting surreal.

At that moment, Lois returned, in a reasonable huff. That was unfortunate, because Lori clearly had a hair trigger as well, and Lois was as close to that mood as possible. She told me to go with her, that indeed they were serving food downstairs. Lori lost her cool. She said “Maam, I’m the owner, and I’m telling you that they aren’t serving food downstairs!”. Lois said “I was just down there, and people are eating, and the bartender told me that I was welcome to come in and order!”

The fireworks started for real now. Lori called someone else over and told them to go downstairs and make sure the door was locked! Very nice touch! She then explained that the food was being served to the band, not the public. When Lois again said that the bartender told her she could come and eat, Lori said that we were welcome to eat standing at the bar, but not until the doors opened for the public, which would be very uncomfortable.

When she saw how amazed we were to be treated this way (by an owner no less!), she offered to refund our money. We politely declined. We walked out of the restaurant, and went around the corner to a Quiznos. This was my first time in one, and I had a very nice Mesquite Chicken sandwich on toasted whole wheat. We were back in the place by 7:05pm!

We went downstairs to pick up our tickets. There were already roughly 20 people ahead of us crowding the door (which was indeed locked!). We were given green paper wristbands, signifying that we had seats (not specific ones, just that we were allowed to sit in a chair). Standing room only people had orange paper wristbands. We were crowded in like cattle, in a tiny area, waiting for the doors to open. People were piling down the stairs to get on the line. This couldn’t end well…

It got extremely hot down there. Lori showed up and announced that she would turn off the heat, and I think she did, but it didn’t get cool, it just stopped getting hotter. The doors didn’t open until nearly 7:35pm.

When we walked in, we saw that there were roughly eight or nine rows of chairs tightly packed together, and then open space from the last row to the door. We could have gotten aisle seats in the first few rows, but I grabbed two seats in the fourth row, dead center. So far, so good. The seats were hard plastic, and were reasonably uncomfortable to sit on for hours, but that was hardly the low point in the evening.

The temperature in the room was close to absolute zero! While I only had a T-Shirt on, I also (cleverly) declined to check my coat in the sauna area, so I was able to get comfortable quickly. A number of people commented to me that I was indeed a very smart guy to bring a parka-like coat to the show. 😉 Over the course of the evening, it got marginally warmer. I never took my coat off, but during the encore, I was mildly on the warm side…

So, I was prepared for the show to start late, after all, nothing in this place was as advertised, so why would I expect 8pm to be a firm time. A little to my surprise, someone came on the stage at 8:09, perhaps to announce Dave?

Nope. The person came on to announce an unlisted warm-up group. Well, group is a stretch. Two people, both locals that play in the upstairs bar at least twice a month. Nikki Armstrong and Dave Fields. Nikki is a blues singer, and Dave is blues singer/guitarist/producer.

Dave’s guitar (an acoustic one) wasn’t mic’ed correctly, so that delayed the show. While they were trying to sort that out, Nikki was freezing on the stage, and she was wearing a coat! They gave up (thankfully, reasonably quickly) and Dave switched to an electric guitar, which worked.

As I’ve mentioned before, not communicating effective and correctly with your customers is not a great strategy. These people were not listed on the site. Aside from the surprise angle, their music wasn’t a great match for an act like Dave either.

They played six songs. Most of the people that were seated were polite. We were quiet during the songs, and clapped after each one. The people who were standing completely ignored Nikki and Dave. They couldn’t have talked louder if you egged them on to try. Honestly, I can’t even blame them. No one came to see them, and there was nothing about their music which was compelling enough to grab our attention.

Basically, they have some talent (certainly tons more than I have, so who am I to talk?). But, they are more like a lounge act (in my opinion), that is expected to be there in the background, for some people to focus on a bit here and a bit there, but for others to continue to converse while the background music fills the room.

Dave plays the guitar respectably, but considering the string of simply amazing guitarists that we’ve seen in the past six months (Bill Cooley, Joe Don Rooney, Keith Urban, Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour, Craig D’Andrea, etc. – all linked in the tags section of the post), it was a disappointment.

In general, it was a time-waster and a disappointment. Of course, at that point, we were wondering whether this was just par for the course for Blend, and whether we should have taken the refund. The show was sold out, so offering us the refund wasn’t all that generous (it certainly was offered with derision, not apology), because Lori could have sold those tickets five seconds later.

They left the stage at 8:45pm. I assumed that Dave would be on at 9pm. All of the equipment was already fully set up. Wrong again. They came on the stage at 9:12pm.

You already know that from that second onwards, it was a perfect evening. Of course, we didn’t get home until 11:30pm (yup, we’re old folk, so that’s late), when we could have been home by 10:30 if they had put Dave on at 8pm…

The only good news (not counting the concert itself) about Blend is that they didn’t get a dime of our money, even though we started out wanting to support the place. We wanted to have dinner there, but I ended up eating at Quiznos. I wanted to drink there, but ended up happily passing (even though waitresses were serving people drinks from the bar at the seats). I simply was happy not to give them any more of my money, even if it meant missing out on a chocolate martini. 😉

</rant>

Random Madness

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I’ve written a number of times regarding my frustration at the apparent randomness of many computer programs/processes. In some cases, it’s simply not explainable (from the user’s perspective). In some cases, it almost feels rigged, but then something else happens, which even casts doubt on that theory…

Regular readers already know that we love Bluegrass and Country music. They also know that Alison Krauss is one of my favorites (along with Union Station). When her new album with Robert Plant came out (Raising Sand), I immediately bought a copy (downloaded from Amazon MP3). I listened to it once, thought it was pleasant, but I liked her stuff with Union Station more.

We recently started watching a drop of CMT and GAC (country music television stations) and have seen the video of Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) a number of times. It’s fun. I then listened to the album again, and I’m still not nuts about it, but it’s not bad either.

We then saw that they were going to be appearing together at the WAMU Theater at Madison Square Garden (MSG). We’re on a number of early access lists. For most (perhaps all) MSG/Beacon Theater/Radio City Music Hall events, we get early access through American Express. Typically tickets are available as much as a week before they are available to the general public.

In the case of Alison Krauss, Lois is also subscribed to her newsletter, and we get a password for early access directly related to the Alison Krauss fan club. So, two separate shots to get good tickets.

I was on the site within a minute of tickets officially being available. There simply weren’t any great seats left. We could have sat in the second to last row. It certainly didn’t feel special. 🙁

We decided to pass. We know that we would definitely enjoy seeing them, but it simply isn’t that big of a deal, and we decided to ignore it.

A few days ago, Lois gets another email from the Alison Krauss site, informing her that because tickets sold out in a matter of minutes (no, really?), they were adding a second night. Those too would be available using the password, starting at 10am yesterday.

I was on the site at 10:01 (yes, I’m slow, I know!). No tickets anywhere near the stage. Yuck. I tried a few more times, and nothing good was available. I decided to simply put this concert out of my mind.

Then yesterday afternoon (long after my failed attempt) I received a separate notice from the MSG/Amex side of the equation, announcing the second date, and the early access for Amex holders would start today at 10am. I have to admit that I chuckled to myself. After all, the super connected Alison Krauss fan club had access to these tickets a full day in advance, and nothing good was left.

Still, this morning, at roughly 10:03 (I was in a meeting, and I missed the exact 10am deadline), I logged on to Ticketmaster using the special Amex link, and searched for tickets. While I was able to get two seats that were better than the day before (which was quite surprising), they still weren’t good. I hit the “search again” link, though I can’t really explain why I bothered…

Hola! This second search produced wildly better seats. Seven rows from the stage, on the left, but not too far left. I grabbed them, so we’re going to the June 11th show.

That’s cool, no doubt, but, it also annoyed the daylights out of me. In all cases I clicked on best available. In this case, I can likely guess the scenario, so it’s not really accurate to call it computer randomness (meaning, the program is not to blame, but life’s randomness is).

I think that when I searched the first time, someone else started a search before me. They were assigned the good tickets, but were given 2:15 to complete their transaction. For whatever reason, they didn’t complete the transaction in time. I then got lucky in that I searched again, at exactly the right moment in time, and was able to get those tickets.

I’m happy at the end result, but why weren’t those tickets available the day before? On that day, I tried at least five separate times, in some cases waiting 30 minutes between searches. At some point, I would have thought that these tickets would have been available, unless, they were reserved for Amex only, all along.

Oh well, another all’s well that ends well story… 🙂

On a separate but related topic, perhaps someone out there can explain the following head-scratcher to me. Ticketmaster is one of the few outfits out there that charges zero to snail mail real tickets to me, but charges for me to print the tickets myself. I simply don’t get it. How could they not want to incent me to print it on my printer, and avoid the printing, handling and postage costs?

Whenever there is enough time to have them safely mailed (June 11th certainly qualifies), I always have them mailed to me, because I hate incenting bad behavior on the part of any vendor. I always print my own tickets when that is the cheapest (usually free, but not always!) choice.

Folks, please explain to me what I am missing in this equation, even if your theory is kooky! 😉

ejabberd 2.0.0

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I have been running ejabberd 1.1.3 since I christened my current server nearly a year ago. In this post, I reported on some of the problems I had getting ejabberd to work with the Python-based ICQ and AIM transports. All of the problems were mine, and not the fault of the software.

The above link to ejabberd is to the company behind it. Here is the link to the community site.

What I didn’t mention in that post, and didn’t bother writing about in a separate post later on, was the trouble that I had with the pre-built binary installer for Linux. No matter what I tried (and I tried many things!), I couldn’t get it to work. It’s important to have a binary installer, because ejabberd requires Erlang, which is not typically installed on most Linux distros.

It turned out that the first download that I tried had a problem in that it didn’t have SSL support compiled into the Erlang binary, so even if I could have wrangled it to work, I wouldn’t have been happy, since I always use TLS (previously SSL) in my Jabber communications.

In the end, I downloaded and compiled Erlang, and then downloaded and compiled the ejabberd source as well. I got it working, but it was way more painful than it needed to be. A number of months ago, ejabberd 1.1.4 was released. It included a number of changes that I had no need for. Still, I downloaded it to see if the binary installer would work for me. It didn’t. I spent a bit of time really trying, and again, failed. This time though, it wasn’t worth going through the entire dance, since I had no need for the newer updates.

Two weeks ago, they released ejabberd 2.0.0. This was significant enough to warrant an install. I shuddered to think that they hadn’t fixed the binary installer problem, but I was prepared to slog through a full source install if that was the case.

My fears appeared to be justified. After installing, I received an error message that the installation failed. However, I tried running it anyway, and happily, I can report that even though the message claimed failure, ejabberd 2.0.0 worked perfectly once I tailored the default configuration file! Yippee!

I installed it last Friday, and it’s been running happily for four days now. It’s too early to be sure, but it’s possible that it has solved another problem. A few months ago I started having sporadic problems with the AIM and ICQ transports (I use the Python-based ones). One or the other one would fail, on occasion, and log me out. It was happening frequently enough for me to write separate init.d scripts to stop and start each separately, but not frequently enough for me to seriously considering investigating alternatives.

I have switched a number of times between Gajim and Pidgin (the new name for GAIM). There’s something that I like about Gajim, but somehow, every time, it ends up disappointing me or annoying me in some way. When I switched back from Gajim to Pidgin, the transports became slightly more stable, so I was a little happier, and committed (at least for a while) to just sticking with Pidgin.

Anyway, for the past four days, not a single problem with the transports, so it’s also possible (but too early to be sure) that ejabberd itself was somehow involved in the equation (perhaps it was too sensitive to problems in the client). I’m certainly crossing my fingers that the transport problems are behind me.

Welcome ejabberd 2.0.0! 🙂

Dan Tyminski Band at the Birchmere Theater

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I’ve known about the Birchmere Theater for at least six months now, perhaps a little more. For the past seven years that we’ve been coming down regularly to Fredericksburg, VA, we weren’t paying attention to the live music scene here, spending all of our music time in NY. That all changed when we saw The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge in Charlotesville, VA on November 17th, 2007.

Ever since that event, I have at least paid a little attention to what’s going on in VA when we’re down here. Over time, I noticed that lots of artists that we truly love play the Birchmere. In reading about it, it sounded like a great place to see a show, and many famous artists claim their start at the Birchmere.

We nearly went there a few months ago, I think to see Ricky Skaggs (one of our favorites). One of our hesitations was that it was a general admission type of place. That can always be a risk. Many of our favorite places in NYC are general admission as well. While it can be annoying (and at times even painful), at least we know the drill at those places, and we play whatever game we need to in order to get good seats (most of the time). In the end, we decided not to risk it for Ricky, with other factors tipping the scale as well.

A while ago, I noticed that the Dan Tyminski Band was scheduled at the Birchmere on March 1, 2008 (last night). We love Dan Tyminski. He’s the primary guitar player in Union Station of Alison Krauss and Union Station Featuring Jerry Douglas fame. He’s also the voice of George Clooney (well, the singing voice) 😉 in the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

We saw Alison Krauss and Union Station at the Beacon Theater. Dan Tyminski was awesome that night, as were all of the members of Union Station. That included the bass player, Barry Bales, who is now the bass player for the Dan Tyminski Band as well. Not only is he an incredible bass player, he sings harmony on many numbers and his voice is fabulous!

We decided to take the plunge and get tickets. The night before we saw the Jennys at Gravity Lounge, we had dinner with two of the single employees at Zope Corporation. We asked them if they wanted to join us for the Jennys, but both had plans. They both indicated interest in being invited to a future event.

So, when we decided to see the Dan Tyminski Band, Lois send out a blind invitation to a number of the single people in the company that had expressed an interest in live music in the past. Two of them were available and interested, so we bought four tickets.

Because I didn’t know anything about the Birchmere, I made some assumptions, which (of course) turned out to be wrong. I gathered a list of 10 restaurants that were all very close to the theater, and sent links to three of them to the two guys. They both picked Lilians (which was likely my first choice as well). Here is how the one review (linked above) begins:

This place is rad. Imagine a squad of fine latin women dressed in short black skirts and revealing tops serving drinks and awesome Salvadoran and Mexican cuisine.

When I mentioned this to another friend of mine, he said “Sounds like a Spanish Hooters!” Indeed, I wonder why two single guys, roughly half my age, would have any interest in eating at Lilian’s? 😉

Yesterday morning, I did something that I should have done before I asked them where they wanted to eat. I went to the Birchmere website, and read their FAQ. I immediately found out that this place is like most of the general admission places in NYC, meaning they serve dinner at the place. That’s one of the few positives about general admission. You have to show up very early, but at least you can relax, eat, drink and enjoy yourself without then rushing to make it to the show.

Unfortunately, we never got to experience the Spanish Hooters directly, but perhaps, some day. I love Mexican food, enjoyed the one Salvadoran meal I’ve ever had, and now feel the overwhelming need to report back to my loyal readers whether the rest of the review is accurate as well. 😉

So, we picked up the two guys and headed north, early. My plan was to get there by 5pm when the ticket doors open, then perhaps wander around the neighborhood a bit, returning at 6pm when the theater doors open. The best laid plans…

I have a GPS (I’ve written about it before, when mentioning that it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given). I set the address and off we went. When I was coming up on the exit, I was telling a story. I heard the GPS telling me that I needed to make a left, but she’s often a little late with the voice prompts, and I was certainly late in following the directions. I missed the exit. No biggie, because the GPS always tells you what to do.

The only problem was that we ended up crossing the Potomac River into Washington, D.C, before she guided us back (yes, since the voice in the GPS is female, Lois and I believe that the GPS itself is a woman) so the detour was much longer than expected. We didn’t get to the theater until roughly 5:15pm. We received ticket number I11, and had no idea whether that was good or bad.

Different than all of the other general admission places that we’ve been to in NYC, there is a very large indoor space at the Birchmere, where you can comfortably wait until the 6pm doors open. There is a bar, but no pressure to buy any kind of drink. Lots of seats (tables and benches). What an incredibly nicer way to treat your early arrivers than in NYC, where we stand like idiots in a line on the sidewalks outside of our favorite clubs…

We relaxed and chatted. The 45 minutes passed quickly. At 5:57pm, they announced how the numbers (our I11) worked. They called out every single number, in order, so there was no reason to rush the door. Wow, exactly as the FAQ explained it, and on time like clockwork. Regular readers will know that my appreciation for this type of behavior is over the moon.

The Birchmere understands the two most critical rules of customer service:

  1. Communicate clearly with your customers and prospects (set expectations!)
  2. Deliver the exact experience that you communicated

Could it be any simpler than that? No, but it’s the rarest of companies that delivers even #1 (the easy one!), and you can count on one hand the number of companies that then deliver #2…

They started last night with H49. That meant that we would have a bit of a wait to be called, but it shouldn’t be too brutal. That was correct. H49-H99, then I00-I11. Roughly 15 minutes, I think. But, we were indoors, seated, and knew exactly when we would be called. More than acceptable.

When we got into the theater, we immediately liked what we saw. The layout was similar (with some very significant differences) to BB King in NYC. Lots of tables, most seating 12 people (some smaller tables as well). Nothing was left near the stage, but there was an empty table for 12 2/3’s of the way back on the left side of the stage, with what appeared to be a fantastic view of the stage. We grabbed the first two seats on either side of the table and settled in.

We ordered drinks and food (mostly comfort food, burgers, BBQ, chili, salads, etc.). Food was wonderful (I had the pulled pork BBQ sandwich with homemade chips and spicy coleslaw). Everyone liked their meal. Service was excellent.

I am pretty sure that the concert was sold out, but there was a seat or two empty, likely from people who ended up simply not showing up after buying their tickets. I tried to guess the number of people, and my guess was 600 tops, but definitely between 500-600. BB King seats 400, and this place seemed to seat more (not that it was larger, but BB King has the bar inside, where the space at the Birchmere was filled with tables).

The show started at exactly 7:30pm, as advertised. The band came out to wild applause, and began playing fairly quickly. They were instantly awesome. Five people on stage. I’ve covered two of them already (Dan and Barry Bales). From left-to-right, here were the remaining three players: Ron Stewart, Adam Steffey and Justin Moses.

Ron Stewart primarily played the banjo (amazingly), but also played a mean fiddle on a couple of tunes. Ron reminded me of poker superstar Daniel Negreanu, and I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of a poker-playing banjo player. Ron talked a bit, but never sang a single note. Ron is one of the best banjo players I have ever seen/heard. Bela Fleck is perhaps considered the best, and we’ve seen him, and perhaps he’s better, but Ron is close. We’ve also seen Ricky Skagg’s banjo player, and he won banjo player of the year six times.

Adam Steffey played the mandolin, brilliantly. He was also incredibly funny, reminding both Lois and me of Bill Engvall. He only sang on one song (lead!). He was great, with a very deep voice, but perfectly pitched. It was surprising to me (after hearing him) that he didn’t participate more in the vocals. Adam is one of the greatest mandolin players I’ve ever heard/seen. He is so clean it’s amazing. He’s fast too.

Unlike the Ron Stewart vs Bela Fleck comparison above though, I think that Chris Thile is even more incredible than Adam. That’s not to take anything away from Adam. It’s like comparing Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson. Phil’s no slouch, and neither is Adam. 🙂

Justin Moses played the fiddle (mostly), but also played the banjo and the dobro. He was masterful on all three, but in particular, was amazing on the fiddle. He sang harmony all night with Dan and Barry, and hit a lot of high notes perfectly.

Steffey, Bales and TyminskiRon Stewart and Justin Moses

The five of them are all amazing talents individually, who blend together to form a perfect bluegrass band. I should mention that Dan sang his heart out all night. He is also an extraordinary guitarist, but last night, he gave 99% of the solos to the rest of the band, and only played lead guitar in two or three numbers, and those were short licks. He anchored the music with great rhythm guitar all night, along with Barry’s amazing bass playing.

As amazing as Union Station are (and they are truly amazing), many of Alison Krauss’ songs are very slow, and sometimes quiet. Talented musicians can shine on those numbers as well, but more up-tempo numbers give them more opportunity to show their wares.

Last night, there wasn’t a slow song in the bunch. Every single song had a driving beat (with no drum in sight!), with energy that had every person tapping their feet or swaying their heads, that had them sweating their little hearts out on stage. It was simply fabulous.

The crowd erupted into a standing ovation at the end of the show, and they played one song for an encore without leaving the stage in between.

I went up to one of the staff after the show and asked what the seating capacity was. 500, so I was correct on my estimation of the range. 🙂

After the show, Lois bought two DVDs (one by Ron Stewart and the other by Adam Steffey), and three CDs. None of these merch items are cheap, but it’s one of the most direct ways to support the artists, so we try to do it! Lois then stood in line (she was roughly 15th in a line that ended up getting very long!) and got all five of our goodies signed by the respective artist. Of course, since she’s so unselfish, she had each of them sign it To Hadar. Awwwwww, she’s so sweet. 🙂

Signature Party at Birchmere Theater

We had a fantastic time. We would go see the Dan Tyminski band or any of the individual members again in a heartbeat. We will definitely go again to the Birchmere. It won’t be hard to find a reason to go there, since they have top act after top act. For example, one week ago, David Bromberg and the Angel Band played there. Al Jarreau was there on Feb 12th (two days before we saw him in NYC). Acoustic Alchemy was there in early February (one of my all-time favorite groups) but we were in NY and couldn’t make that show.

Meaningless Opinions

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Once again, The New York Times proves how relevant and in touch it is with the country. Today, they ran an editorial which gives voice to eight former presidential candidates.

I couldn’t bring myself to click through to a single one of these. I’m not saying that the issues aren’t important. I am saying that none of these people has anything to say which can possibly affect this election.

Between the eight of them, they probably sewed up 37 delegates (or was that votes?), so clearly no one cared what they had to say before. (No, I didn’t actually check how many delegates they had collectively, it was a joke, that was directionally accurate…)

Thank goodness we have The New York Times to ensure that also-rans get a megaphone to scream that their opinions are still relevant, when millions of people have made it clear that they are not.

All we need is hope and change, we don’t need no stinking issues. Don’t make us think, let us dream!

Old Shoes

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A long and busy week at one of our portfolio companies is finally over. For Lois, all of the days were chock full of chores, but yesterday, February 29th, 2008 was particularly hectic and draining.

While not normally a superstitious person, I have a strong feeling that Lois is feeling happy that it will be four years before she has to experience a February 29th again. 😉

Here was the culminating event of a tense day (for her). We were supposed to leave for Richmond at around 3pm. At 3pm, Lois was not at her desk, but I didn’t think about it as I was deep into something and I had my headphones on, so I was basically oblivious to what was going on around me.

One of the employees had a medical emergency. Lois was with him the entire time, waiting for the EMTs to arrive. When they took him away to the hospital, she finally came back to her desk. She asked if I had any idea what was going on, which you already know the answer to.

We packed up to leave, but Lois wanted to go to the hospital first, to check up on him. We gathered the things that he left in the office, and gave them to another employee that was headed to the hospital a few minutes before us.

Once we left the office, we loaded our car (as we always do). That included Lois putting things way in the back of the SUV. I then started driving toward the hospital. When we were roughly 10 blocks away, we heard things sliding around in the back (not that unusual), but also thought we heard a thud, which was not as usual.

Lois looked back, and noticed that she had never put down the rear door/window. Oops. Clearly, she was unnerved. I pulled in to a gas station, and Lois ran around to the back. She declared that nothing fell out, which seemed miraculous.

A quick digression, to set up the remainder of the story…

The day before, I mentioned to Lois that my shoes were starting to go. They might have had a ton of life left in them, but it could also be five minutes. I bought these shoes (Timberland) in San Francisco, in May 2004, on the remnant rack. They have been my favorite shoes ever since, even though they were 1/2 size too big. They were comfy, and (until now) virtually indestructable.

Lois decided that we would head to Walmart to buy new shoes after work that night. We did. I couldn’t find any shoes I was happy with. We headed from there to Super Target (1/2 a mile down the road), and while their selection was way smaller, I found a pair of shoes ($17!). I’m pretty happy with them (having worn them for two days now).

But, when we left the hotel in the morning yesterday, I asked Lois to put my old shoes in the back of the car, so that if the new shoes hurt, I could put the old ones back on.

OK, back to our main story…

When Lois declared that nothing had fallen out, I asked whether my old shoes were back there? She went back to check again, and sure enough, my shoes were not there. I didn’t care too much about those shoes, since the new ones seemed fine, but I pointed out that if she didn’t know the shoes were gone, perhaps she didn’t really know everything that was back there.

So, we decided to double back. Along the way, I was looking in the street on the opposite side that we were driving on (the side we had driven on with the door open). Nothing. Just as we were hitting the corner where our company building is, I noticed a guy walking away from us with my shoes in his hand!

I came to a quick stop, and Lois jumped out of the car and ran after the guy. She told him that those were her husband’s shoes, and he looked at her quite quizzically, but gave them to her. She then asked if anything else had fallen out, and he said no.

I then turned around, and we headed back to the hospital. I wasn’t allowed in to see the employee, because only two people were allowed at a time, and the other employee was already there, so Lois joined them while I listened to a bunch of music in the waiting room (mostly Girlyman, surprise!).

We then headed to Richmond. Along the way, Lois is now not so sure we didn’t lose anything else, but she’s at least sure that the critical things are still there, so that’s a small comfort.

The good news is that the employee is now feeling much better. We’re heading back from Richmond shortly, and will be seeing him later this afternoon again.

The only good news about the shoe incident was that it released a ton of Lois’ anxiety and pent up nervousness, as she couldn’t stop laughing about the absurdity of chasing down a man carrying my old shoes on the street. In fact, she was laughing so hard and uncontrollably, that she was extremely close to a full bore cry!

All’s well that ends well in this case. Whew! 🙂