Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Billy Joel – M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore

Back in January when they announced that Billy Joel was playing at the stadium this summer, I thought I might like to go.  On one hand, I was like, “Hey, why not?”  I mean, who doesn’t like Billy Joel?  He’s like the Sara Lee of music.

On the other hand, the tickets were around $150 a pop, plus I’ve seen him twice before.  The first time was in 1984 on the Nylon Curtain tour, ($13.50) and in 1994 on the River of Dreams tour ($28.50).  So it’s not like I’d be missing out on anything I haven’t seen.  In fact, I saw him in his prime.  He’s 66 now, so who knows how he’d sound?

When I discussed it later with my brother, he was ambivalent about it as well.  His wife wanted to go, but he remained on the fence.  So I said, “Tell her if she wants to go, I’ll go with her.

So that’s how I ended up going to a Billy Joel concert with my sister-in-law.

My brother secured the tickets and a parking pass for us, so last Saturday evening, we were off.  We were concerned about the traffic in the area, because there were some other events going, namely Otakon (Asian pop culture convention), which was taking place at the convention center right across from the stadium. 

We got to the stadium in good time and were on the property, heading towards our designated lot when a parking attendant waved us in another direction.  Next thing we knew, we were back on the street in bumper to bumper traffic.  It took us another 25 freakin’ minutes just to get back to where we wanted to go.  Talk about “pissed.”  Good thing we left early.

Anyway, we got through security and into our seats about 10 minutes before showtime.  We were in the lower bowl, 34 rows up, dead center to the stage.

The stage was set up on what would be the far 30-40 yard line.

The opening act started promptly at 8:00.  Who was she?  I have no idea.  She was never introduced, nor thanked later.  Even Googling it, I couldn’t find a reference.  She sang three Leeann Rimes songs, plus a couple of other covers.  We figured that if it really was Leeann Rimes, there would have been a little more press and/or publicity.  But she sounded good, whoever she was, and ended her set right at 8:30.

Both the lower bowl and upper deck were packed, so we were hoping that the two seats to my left would stay open.  My SIL had a smelly guy sitting beside her and was hoping we could slide down.

I figured the real show would start at 9:00, but at 8:50, Billy Joel fired up the band and ripped into Big Shot.

Is it me, or do you get a little “Wizard of Oz” here?

Unfortunately, as soon as Billy Joel came on, a couple of bro’s came charging up the stairs and into the empty seats.  Next thing I know, I had Fat, Drunk and Stupid (henceforth “FDS”) crammed into not only his seat but a couple of inches of mine as well.  Just want you want on a hot July night… to be mashed hip to hip and leg to leg with some huge, sweaty, drunk dude.

But onto the show… which was fan-freakin-tastic!  Because he wasn’t touring on a new album, all he had to play were his time-worn favorites and occasional chestnuts.  I was happy to say I knew every song he played.

On three occasions he gave the audience a choice; he’d name two songs and determine what to play by our applause.  It was pretty cool, even though I suspect it was a setup.  Each time the crowd went overwhelmingly for the second song.

One of those was “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” after which he said, “So, you guys really know the old shit…”

One of the benefits of seeing such an experienced and confident artist is that you can tell he’s just being himself.  Between songs, he’d tell stories or talk about the songs like he was playing piano for a group of friends in someone’s rec room.  Just very casual but in complete control of the room.

The third song was “The Entertainer,” which featured the lyrics:
I am the entertainer and I may have won your hearts
But I know the game, you’ll forget my name
I won’t be here in another year
If I don’t stay on the charts.”

After the song, he said, “I didn’t know what I was talking about when I wrote that… I haven’t been on the charts in 23 years, but here we all are…”

To me, the show contained three big surprises.  First of all, they bought a sign language guy… or rather, a team.  Right there, at the base of the lower bowl, there we saw a little platform, lit from below, and a guy doing sign language to all the songs. 

It wasn’t just one guy, different people tagged in every couple of songs.  My only beef was that during the instrumental parts, they should have played air guitar.

It was clear that Billy Joel was trying to give everyone the chance to experience the show.  Even his piano revolved.  Well, not constantly, or he might have spun off… but it would rotate 180 degrees every couple of songs, so people on each side of the stage had a chance to see his face.

Second surprise: Billy Joel’s voice was perfect.  I swear, if you closed your eyes, you’d swear he was still in his 30s.  That was jarring, considering how he now looks like a Russian villain from a James Bond movie.

All night long, he never lost a note or wavered; he just hit them all spot-on.  His mid-range was great, and his lower notes sounded even fuller, which makes sense given his current expanded size.  But even on “Innocent Man,” which calls for an insanely high note… well, he didn’t attempt that note from the original record.  But he went just a tad lower, just short of falsetto, and knocked it out of the park.  I was impressed, considering he used to farm that note out to one of his backup singers.

Oh, and the band; they were so versatile.  I mean, his songs come in all kinds of styles and they handled them all, from the perfectly harmonized doo-wop of “For the Longest Time” to the crunch of a heavy metal classic.

Which brings me to the 2nd surprise.  About two-thirds of the way through the show, he said he wanted to bring up one of his roadies to do a song, and we were perfectly welcome to “boo his ass off the stage.”  The guy wanted to do a “religious number,” and it would be up to us whether we liked it or not.  With that, he introduced his guitar tech, this big dude named, “Chainsaw,” and the band broke into a rocking cover of “Highway to Hell.”
I’ll tell you, the guy was good.  He stalked about the stage and sang the shit out of that song. 

About this time, though, we were getting pretty fed up with our “seatmates.” between Smelly Guy spilling his beer on my sister-in-law, FDS standing up and enthusiastically mock-signing with the sign language guy (while smelling like a skunk dipped in beer), and the Woo Girl screaming three feet behind my left ear during every break, we were getting pretty tired of all the local “flavor.”

After the obligatory “Piano Man,” (was there ever a more perfect sing-along song?) and before the encores started, we decided to make a break for it.  Being 34 rows back into the bowl, it would have taken us at least 15 minutes just to get to the concourse.  By that time, we were out of the venue, back to the car and hitting the freeway on-ramp.

I didn’t like missing more of the show, but I would have liked sitting in the parking lot for the next hour even less, especially after the experience we had getting in there.  Instead, we were out the door at 10:50, to my brother’s house by 11:10, and I was home by 11:30.  It was beautiful!

Back in my prime concert-going years, I used to carry a pen and pocket notebook with me to shows, to record the set list (and any other noteworthy events).  Now in the digital age, I used the Notes app on my phone.  So in case you’re interested, here is everything Billy Joel played:

Big Shot
The Entertainer
Vienna, by audience choice, vs Zanzibar.
Say Goodbye to Hollywood. Also audience choice, vs (something from the Turnstiles album).
Movin Out
An Innocent Man
Downeaster Alexa
NY State of Mind
For the Longest Time, by audience choice vs Keepin’ the Faith
My Life
Goodnight Saigon, in which he brought out a dozen Army and Navy vets, to sing along.
Always a Woman
Don't Ask Me Why
Highway to Hell
We Didn't Start the Fire.
River of Dreams
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (one of my favorites)
Piano Man

Uptown Girl
Still Rock n Roll to Me (Both of which we heard as we walked out and even while we were in the car.)
Only the Good Die Young (I’m just assuming he played this one… he always does and it usually closes. But I can’t say for a fact he didn’t play anything else too.)

At minimum, it was a solid two-and-a-quarter-hour show and a damned good one, at that.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Down Home Week Part 2

Wednesday was going to be a big change from our usual repertoire of sitting around all day, grilling and then going out to the bar.  The CFO’s daughter, Kyrie, wanted to take me out on the town… my old college town, where she now goes to school.

It all started back in April, when she sent me a text message, asking me if I’d ever been to a particular coffee shop in Bowling Green.  She said, “I would like to have an afternoon with you to show you my BG that I have discovered since I always knew your BG.”

Are you kidding?  Roll around my old college town with my beautiful niece?  Book it.  It went on from there:

You may recall that she and I have a very close relationship.  In fact, she’s kind of my blogging “muse,” and has inspired a number of my best posts… The Elf and the Leprechaun,  Letter to a 16-year old Girl, Letter to an Incoming College Freshman, The Pros and Cons of the 80’s…

So shortly after noon on Wednesday, Kyrie picked me up and we headed down to Bowling Green.  We started off by walking around the “downtown” section, checking out all her favorite shops.  I kept trying to remember what all the bars used to be called.  There sure seemed to be a lot more of them now, though.  Or maybe I just stuck to my couple of favorites.  You know how I like routine.

She showed me that coffee shop she liked, called “Grounds.”  It was more like a coffee shop/used record shop/used book store/toy store.  Sure they sold coffee and snacks, but there was all this other stuff to look at and poke around with.  And they had this big shelf of classic board games and puzzles.  There was a puzzle in progress on an open table, which apparently anyone could stop by and work on.  It was pretty cool.  I totally would have hung out at a place like that, back in the day.

We also rolled through an antique shop.  I have to admit that it’s kind of jarring when you see relics from your own past classified as “antique.”

Also jarring was this:


The card says, “Fata Manu (death hand).”  I don’t know if those are real hand bones in there, or if it was built from chicken bones.  Looks like the last remnants of Freddy Krueger.

Since we were in the area, we walked by my first apartment, the infamous place from my “3-way of Love” and “Summer of Bow-Chicka-Wow Wow” posts.  The last time I’d been by the place, it looked like a dump.  This time I was pleasantly surprised.

The apartment was all clean and painted up.  There were no more toys and trash lying about outside and there was a For Rent sign posted.

Figuring it was empty for the summer, we walked up for a closer look and I took some pictures.

That addition in the back was the roommate’s room, back in The Day.

Imagine my surprise when someone popped out from the front door and asked if we wanted to come in and take a look around!

They assumed Kyrie was my daughter and we were looking for a place for her to live, but I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity like that!  I explained that I used to live there in 1984 and I’d love to come in and have a look.

What as funny was that there was a trio of college students living there… 2 guys and a girl, which was the inverse of what it was when I lived there.  The place had been all fixed up… the kitchen looked new and everything had been updated. 

They said the windows were still really cold and leaky in the winter, though, just like they used to be.  I remembered trying to put that plastic up over them that you had to tighten up with a blow-dryer.  They said they still have to do that.

When we got out of there, we headed over to walk around campus.  There didn’t seem to be a much of student activity going on, just a lot of construction.  Kyrie took me over to the Student Union, where they had relocated the Commuter Center.  I spend all my non-class time at the old Commuter Center, so I was hoping they had done the place justice.

They hadn’t.

I liked the plaque, but a tiny little walled off section of chairs seemed awfully inadequate to service the entire off-campus community.  Granted, it was nestled amidst a much larger casual seating area.  They should have just called the entire section the Hazel Smith Off-Campus Student Lounge.  I knew Hazel Smith and she deserved better.

Still, that’s just a minor quibble.  I had such fun rambling around with Kyrie.  I told her it reminded me of when she was a little girl of about 4 or 5, and she and her dad and I were walking across campus.  Every time we’d pass a couple of cute coeds, she’d run up and say “HI!” like a tiny, elfin welcoming committee. 

The girls would always giggle and say “hi” back, probably wondering what a cute little thing like that was doing with the least fashionable gay couple in NW Ohio.  I asked the CFO if I could borrow Kyrie one time for a solo stroll, because she worked even better than a puppy.  Who knew it would take 15 years for that to happen?

When we concluded out walk through Memory Lane, we headed back to her apartment.  If I thought it was weird that she was old enough to have a real apartment, it was even weirder when she made me a drink… a vodka and cranberry.

“Hey, Bartender!”

After her boyfriend rolled in, we headed off to meet up with the rest of the crew for our annual meal at Myles Pizza.

And the picture doesn’t even do it justice.  Best pizza ever.

Because the VP had to go out of town on Thursday, the CFO got custody of me for the night, so we limped back there after dinner for a night of ping pong, billiards, and party games.  We stopped by a liquor store on the way, and I spotted this:

STFU!  I should make this my new avatar.

He just moved into a new house earlier this year and I hadn’t seen it yet.  It was real nice… maybe I can retire there, instead of in a refrigerator box in the VP’s garage.

Best of all, I learned that the CFO can work magic in the garden.
Never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Better living through Kellogs.

The highlight from Thursday was going to see the World Famous Toledo Mudhens.  Five of us went: the CFO and his son, Kyrie and her boyfriend, and I. Naturally, they lost again.  It seems like they always lose when I show up.  When I got home, I checked my records and indeed, the Hens are 1-8 when I’m there, including losing the last five.

Then again, it could be the CFO carries the bad mojo.  He never wanted that ballpark built in the first place.

Who’s the movie star?

After the midweek flurry of activity, Friday was just a lay-about day, where we watched movies and worked on the leftovers from the week’s grilling, (which were still damned good!)  We finished off with one last trip to Shawn’s Irish Tavern, the 4th of my stay.  I bet they’re wondering, this week, what happened to all their profits.

Sorry, I had to go home sometime. The VP got me up to Detroit Saturday afternoon, and I enjoyed another uneventful, empty-middle-seat flight.

Thanks guys, for another stellar visit.  If you need me, I’ll be at Betty Ford, drying out.  And to the CFO… I’ll see you and the boy next week, on my turf!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Down Home Week

I spent last week back where I grew up, in the farmland outside Toledo, Ohio, or in other words, my annual Boy’s Week Out vacation.

I swear, it seems like all we did was eat grilled meat and thick pizza, and drink beer.  Well, it doesn’t exactly seem that way; that’s pretty much what we did.

The flight was pleasantly uneventful, and for a further bonus, the middle seat stayed empty.  Score!

My buddy, the VP of Hell No picked me up in Detroit and we landed at our usual haunt, Shawn’s Irish Tavern, within a little over an hour.  There, we met up with the VP’s dad, and my other buddy, the Chairman of Fuck-Off (aka the CFO).

After lunch, we picked up reinforcements from the beer case at Kroger’s and then made way for the VP’s garage, for a night of loud music, stories and a lot more beer.

One of the topics for discussion was how big the VP’s grandson was getting, and how well he’s doing in school.  He’s 12 now, taking classes for “gifted” students, and is even mentoring younger students.  The VP said the boy even had a girl over for dinner.  They told him, “No upstairs and no downstairs.”

I responded, “Was that referring to the house, or his date?”  You never know with 12-year olds anymore.

Sunday, we had the whole circus over for dinner, with the guys’ kids and grandkids in attendance.  The VP grilled up a bunch of chickens…

…and made some Water Cooler Corn on the Cob.

This was our first attempt at this particular method of making corn, but it worked like a charm.  All you do is shuck the corn and put it all in a large insulated cooler.  Then you boil a couple pots of water, pour it in and close the lid.  After 15 minutes, the corn is done.

It really worked out well… it’s a good way to do it when you have to make a large quantity, like the three dozen ears we made.

The next day, the VP had a go at grilling a pork roast.  This one got dicey, as we raced to get the grill going before we had a weather event.

Our little burg is located halfway between Perrysburg and that wall of rain.

It turned out OK, though…

…and the VP turned it into a huge pot of pulled pork.  We barely had enough energy left to make it out to Shawn’s afterward, for the MLB Home Run Derby. 

The CFO’s daughter and her boyfriend came out with us, which was wonderful, but weird.  I’m definitely not used to her being old enough to come out and drink with us, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. Plus, it gave me time to properly interrogate the boyfriend.  (He passed.)

 The CFO is lucky she’s such a good girl; good enough not to pull the prank me and the VP were trying to get her to do.

We saw the CFO down on the end of the bar, talking to some young thing… (“young” being comparative, you understand), who seemed to be giving him the googley eyes.  So we were trying to get her to go down there, throw her arms around her dad and go, “Oh, there you are!  Where have you been?  Don’t you know our baby needs diapers?

Fortunately for the CFO, she was far too skeeved out by that proposition to actually do it.  (And I’m not saying she was wrong; I was only interested in causing trouble.)

Later, the VP was trying to explain to her about how her dad still had needs, which continued to skeeve her out.  I was like, “DudeIx-nay on the eeds-nay!

After the pork on Monday, the VP went for grilling a turkey on Tuesday.  Again, we had to grill through the rain…

…but again, it came out beautifully, full of rich, smoky flavor.

He stuffed it with apples, onions, and bratwurst.

After dinner, we were off to Shawn’s again, to watch the MLB All-Star Game.  Yes, I know we keep going back to the same place, but it’s the nicest bar in close proximity.  I was hoping that I’d run into someone I knew, but that never quite worked out.

Wednesday broke the pattern of grilling out and drinking beer, when the CFO’s daughter made good on her promise to show me around the places she likes in my old (and her current) college town, Bowling Green.  But I’ll have to tell you about it next time or else this will run way too long.

Monday, July 6, 2015

In Praise of the Long Weekend

I really felt like I needed that 3-day weekend; it’s been a trying couple of weeks.

In the middle of June, my company relocated its office to a brand new building in a ritzy section of downtown Baltimore, called Harbor East.  It’s about a mile from the old building and smack on the Inner Harbor.

Sounds great, right?  Well, not really for me.

Sure, it’s a nice, fancy, all-glass, ultra-modern facility.  But they put us in a new “open seating” system.  You know; the worst possible situation for an introvert.

And I’d have some respect for them if they had just come out and said, “It’s the most cost-effective way to put the maximum butts in the minimum space.”

Instead, we got a lot of talk about “collaboration space,” and beautiful harbor views.  They have a number of “focus rooms” and “huddle rooms” and “conference rooms” for people to meet and work together.

I don’t have a job in which I need to collaborate.  In fact, very few people here, save for project managers, have a job in which they need to collaborate.  And it’s not like they couldn’t have provided all the same focus, huddle, and conference rooms while still giving us some walls between our desks.

This is a shot of my area.  But thank goodness I really like my co-workers.  There are 8 of us in that little glass bump-out.

And the view?  Well, I know it sure looks good on the Harbor side of the building.  But on OUR side, the back side, we get a view of the traffic jams on the main artery in and out or the area.  On our other glass wall, we have blazing sunshine in the morning, so the blinds stay down.  Otherwise, we’d be roasting hot and unable to see our computer screens due to the direct sunlight on them. 

The other problem is that my walk from subway station to office just doubled, from a quarter mile to just over a half mile, each way.  It’s not the act of walking that bothers me, but the elements are another matter.  Even when it’s “nice” in the morning, temps in the low 70s, by the time I get to my desk, I’m a sweaty mess.  And just wait until I have to walk in rain, snow, or frigid temperatures.

To make matters worse, the city just cut back on the free bus service they offer along my route.  I’d end up waiting for a bus far longer than it would take me to walk.

Anyway, it’s been a big adjustment.  At least the cafeteria is good.

Last week I decided that Thursday would be a good day to go see the Orioles, because I would be getting out early that afternoon, and would be off on Friday.  At the old building, it was about a 12-15 minute walk to Camden Yards.  Now, it’s on the other side of the Harbor.  Even after taking the water taxi across the Harbor, Google said it was a 25-minute walk.

From our front window, I could see the route I wanted to go.

There’s the water taxi, pulling into the Harbor East dock.  All day, it runs from Harbor East to the Rusty Scupper and back.  You can see the Camden Yards Warehouse behind that tall building.  I figured I’d get off the boat and take a straight shot toward the ballpark.

Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to solve a maze by looking down on it than it is from being within it.  Because as soon as I got off the water taxi, I strode off in the wrong direction from where I thought I was going, heading due south instead of west.

I was 10 minutes out and not seeing anything familiar before I decided to consult The Google to get me back on course.  And that, my friends, is how I deftly managed to turn a 25-minute walk into a 45-minute walk.

Blue line: the way I wanted to go. Red line: the way I actually went.

The map also includes my trying to cut through the parking lots of the Ratbirds’ Stadium, but it was all fenced in and I had to double back.

Luckily, my initial destination was The Bullpen, so I was in a place where I could replenish my fluids.  According to my iPhone, that was a 7.4-mile day.

But all was well.  It was a nice, cool night and I had front row, upper deck seats to watch the Orioles (lose).

And speaking of the Yard, when I got home, I found my newest canvas had arrived.  The last piece of my decorating puzzle was a portrait of Camden Yards, to go on my hallway wall opposite my panorama canvas of PNC Park.

I shot this on 5/30, vs Tampa.

Shows the placement opposite PNC Park and the Hat Wall.

Friday’s big activity was going to see Terminator: Genisys.  I’ve always loved the Terminator movies, so I knew I had to see this one on opening weekend.  And despite the terrible reviews, I loved it.  It was exciting and funny and I was happy to be back in that world again.  Sure, it was kind of complicated, with multiple timelines in play, and the trailer already exposed the biggest plot twist, but it was an enjoyable couple of hours.

You have to give action movies a break… they’re not designed to make sense.  You just have to go with it. 

Saturday was the Fourth, so my brother invited me to go with him and the family for dinner and fireworks at his club.  I had fun, with good eats and beer.  It was too bad that my nephew, Daniel, wasn’t there long.  He was more interested in walking around with his friends than sitting around with the grownups.  And I know that’s how it goes when you’re a 16-year old boy; you gotta be where the action is.  And prowl for babes.

Meanwhile, we had prime seats for the local fireworks…

Sunday was my day of rest, (as if I had been particularly taxed the previous two days).  All I did was a little grocery shopping, then surfed a couple of cable movies before it was time for the World Cup Soccer finals.

I was so proud of our USA women’s team!  They sure removed any sense of game tension; jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the first half, before winning 5-2.  Pens fans, maybe they should sign Carli Lloyd to be a scoring winger for Sid.

Next Saturday I’ll be heading back to Ohio for my annual trip to see my buddies and their families.  Stay tuned for the exciting tales of old men sitting around, grilling stuff, playing music and drinking beer.