Monday, August 31, 2009

Broad Strokes

Bath Illinois Bathing Beauties
Redneck Fishing Tournament

Shelbyville Lake Camping Trip
This gorgeous fellow is a frequent visitor here...
And a farmer and a hardheaded stand up guy.

Old Glory

Vibrant sunflower mocking a sunrise.

Sangamon River Adventure
Shadowy characters

Just some of my summer adventures...more to come. Illinois has encompassed me in warmth, sunshine and good times this summer of 2009. These are just a few of the broad strokes in recent memory..
Take care-

Thursday, August 20, 2009

the word on the street

Tornado touches down in Williamsville...the latest breaking news:
People are grateful.

How's that for a headline- think many folks would read it? Nah, me either..but it's true.

Here's the story from one roving reporter-(me)

Jill: Do you think it's a tornado?

Me: Ahhh, I'd have to look, but it sure sounds like some thing's brewing.

Jill: (opening the back door to the cafe)Ha...that's scary looking, let's take cover...

About that time, the power went off, the dark got darker and we were heading for shelter on an inside wall along with Hannah and Justin. The noise was such that we could not hear one another...but only for a matter of seconds. And then, complete calm and silence - the kind where everyone just looks at each other without saying a word...intuitively understanding that the scene outside has changed.

As we stepped timidly at first, out the front door (we were battered all to heck the last time we stuck our head out..) Jill exclaimed how fresh the air seemed. Like we could smell pine and clean air all of sudden.

Jill: Smell that? It's so fresh... (as she gazed out to the grain elevator that was still standing, the sun just coming out and that pine smell- it really was something to acknowledge, like the storm had pushed away all the foul smells that had built up in the summer heat.

Hannah: Mom, you're crazy! Look, the signs are down!

Justin: I'll go pick them up...

And only then did we realize, with our gaze turned eastward- trees were down,electric lines down, people began moving out into the street, the post-mistress who usually has the low down on the upside a good 15 minute before everyone else does, looked bewildered.

Branches, entire trees, trampolines, horse trailers, corn stalks, wooden signs, metal signs, lamp posts, upturned pickups, roofs, bricks scattered just seconds lives were rearranged and the spontaneity of mother nature made everyone present in a moment of absolute clarity. Gratefulness was the word on the street.

Jill and I wandered up the boulevard, towards the gas station- moving limbs and debris out of the roadway, we had to do something. Customers from Caseys, who had barely made it into the shelter of a walk in cooler- were standing, shaken to the core and thankful to be alive. Three young men from the local coal mine, who had just been hired on were very vocal. Judging from their stories and the two ladies who were aided by these young men- it's very likely that these guys saved some lives, not taking no for an answer when they forcibly encouraged everyone inside- NOW! One lady was physically dragged in. She was beyond thankful, if it had not been for their concern- she would have been under the rubble that her car lay mangled beneath.

Jill decided, with all the emergency workers and displaced residents and everyone without electricity- that she could provide food and drinks if a generator could be obtained. It was finally realized that no one could get into Williamsville- so a generator was out of the question, all food was taken to the community center, tables were set up and our kids began to make sandwiches and soups and salads, setting everything up for the locals and the workers to have easy access to.

Five kids, ages seven to nineteen worked a mess kitchen up in moments. Amazing really, why they felt the need to help at all...but there they were doing their darnedest to make things right. A certain volunteer group showed up and things started getting messy- as in they had chicken salad all over their faces, and demanded that the kids make more sandwiches. Turkey was sliced, more bread was obtained, ham and Swiss and everything they could muster to keep up with the stream of people coming in. And the "volunteers" got pretty ugly with the kids when, apparently- they weren't working up to speed or providing enough sandwiches in a timely fashion for this "volunteer" group that had showed up to help out in disaster situations. "They" were to bring comfort, Lily supposed- but what they were doing was seeking comfort for themselves...sitting in the chairs meant for the residents who had lost everything, eating up the sandwiches that the BluCat had provided for those in need, and basically being a hindrance to the hands that were working on behalf of those misplaced by a sudden storm.

Makes you wonder about protocol and maybe people ought to just do the right thing for the right reason, without strapping on a vest with an emblem and just showing up to say "we're here to help!" Actions speak louder than words, and those folks with the vests- their actions were seen by young eyes who no longer believe in their symbol. Thank goodness, after much conversation-the kids do believe in themselves and the calling they felt within to just simply help out in any way they could...and did.

I suspect the day to come will be one of many hands working on behalf of their neighbors, I've already been called to show up with a chainsaw. I'll be heading to the cafe first, cleaning and getting ready to serve whoever whatever the need calls for.

And I have no photos, didn't seem right. All I did was listen, seems like that was what most folks needed...just to be heard and hugged. Hope there's alot of that going around today...

Take care-

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rhythm and Tears

Do you remember the first time that music moved you? That some tune long ago stirred something in you and made you feel that maybe just maybe there was more to you than flesh and bone? Can you recall the song? Perhaps you were a tiny child, I remember Jesus Loves Me from Sunday school- I liked Jesus whoever he was, definitely I was too little to comprehend. But the first song that really kind of got to me, made me look around and see if anyone noticed my excitement and shivers was "Make The World Go Away" by Eddie Arnold. I know, weird huh?! I was like 5 or 6 and I remember his voice was like honey and many times when I couldn't sleep or was scared, I'd think of that song and that voice. And then of course there were others after that, others that left marks on me like brands. I loved the Beatle's I Want To Hold Your Hand, Bill Withers Lean On Me, The Rascals It's a Beautiful Morning, Buck Owens I've Got a Tiger By The Tail, The Jackson Five Rockin' Robin, Melanie's I've Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates, and this list goes on and on in my recollection.

Music has been a beautiful and wonderful freedom, one that I have taken completely for granted. Apparently music is not meant to be shared according to the folks there at BMI and ASCAP and a few other extortionistic strong arms (starting in the 1930's) I believe to respect authors copyrights and original music. That I agree with, songwriters should get royalties and compensation for the masterpieces they create. But did you know that a little Ol' cafe the likes of the BluCat in Williamsville, whose very foundation was built on the hopes of local music, singers songwriters, poets, performers calling the cafe home, exposing talent and lifting the spirits of one and all in an equally humble and beautiful big enough and bad enough to be strong armed by the ASCAP and BMI in such a way that gestapo comes to mind?! They and their wonderful representatives harass, call, come to the business and listen to see if original music is in fact- what is played there. And then, when it is deemed original- they fall back on "But it can't be proven, you have to be licensed." And thus begins the shake down.

So basically, with these folks- you are guilty until proven innocent. All this sounds benign enough, right? The BluCat's charm and extended grace is it's food, limited help (two of us....more help at night )and music- independent, folk, instrumental and open door to many musicians and first time try outs. Money making isn't really the biggest issue with Jill. Sure, she'd like to make a decent living- but her "take home" consists mainly of knowing she's making a good difference in the lives of others. She's very spirited and often feels that this all began to elevate the population, to gather the souls in such a way that folks would respond to one another in greater understanding and tolerance for their neighbors. Really...she thinks like that. She's one in a million in my book.

With just the two of us during the day, we've got it down to an art- we balance and dance around with plates and soup and music playing while the cash register jingles and people at the tables grab plates off my arm and clean up other dirty tables and offer to help those in line with their choices and sometimes, some complete stranger will answer the phone for us...and write down the order. Can you imagine? It is really wonderful to be a part of...heck- I don't even know what to call it or how to describe it- it just is magical. It's amazing to me how many people are drawn to that spot. There is no advertisement, no radio ads, nothing. Yet, here they come. And with all the good, of course there's a down side. We work our patooties off, it's a very physical job- and frankly, I'm getting a little bit too long in the tooth for too many more rounds of lunch crowds. The pay is up to the kindness of strangers, basically. Waitress and cooks make very little money- tips are wonderful bonuses and that's just how I look at it. I don't take it too personal when I've served 50 people and make ten bucks. I know the food is good, I know that I made some of those folk's day...I figure that money is tight these days, and if they could part with the bonus tip, they would. Usually they do. It all works out. Right?!
And then the phone gets real unruly, many orders and stranger's taking them, right?! After awhile every thing's buzzing, we're in the flow, orders are going out five at a time, but coming in twelve at time and CRASH!!!!

"This is ASCAP, let me talk to the owner!"

"I'm sorry, but she's a bit busy right now, could you call...."


"Listen, I don't care if you're Obama, we're busy, it's the lunch hour and you'll have to order some food or call back sister." CLICK!!!

And it goes on something like that everyday. Right in the middle of lunch hour, usually noon. If it's not BMI, then it's ASCAP and they harass and cajole and threaten if miss Jill there doesn't buy a license...from both of them, even if none of their music list is ever played at the BluCat. To the tune of $1,500.00 a year. Even if not one song of the artist's they represent are ever played at the BluCat because with their broad legal terminology and extensive unreasonable, absurd demands, pages upon pages or your business are guilty until proven innocent, in a federal court. And they fine little venues like the cafe thousands upon thousands until they ever even get to court. And it is my understanding- they do not lose.

Jill trembles with futility over this. There is nothing she can do but fork over the money (that she does not have) or let the music and the dream die. For every hopeful musician who walks in that door and is welcomed to step up to the mic (I found my wings again there a few months back, thank God!!)- this means an opportunity to open up and let go

But now...

Flesh and bone. Spirit- be still.

Is this America? Is this the land of the free? Hell, I don't know what to call it anymore. I'd write a song about it, but I sure wouldn't want to get the little cafe owner or the bar owner fined beyond his or her capacity to pay. I wonder if I could just hum that legal?

Goliath seems to have no weakened spots, the little David's all over the US have gone up against him, and lost mightily. Many lost their business for lack of live music. Many new talents never will see the light of day, we can't play their music, they can't play their music...I would have never believed it, seems so wrong- doesn't it?!

Well, this is a problem that seems insurmountable, it's all about money and there seems no way around it. "...The day the music died, we started singing..." Silence is golden. Singing is tarnished. Music is wadded up in dollar bills, rhythm and tears. What have we left to join us all together if not music? What better witness, spiritual, religiously or otherwise- to appeal to one another than with music? I'm at a complete loss here, never did I think I'd see the day when a simple act of playing a song would be considered severe civil disobedience. What next, praying? Is The Lord's Prayer far behind the licensing strong arm? Has it been properly copyrighted and if we sing it, one and all with a few guitars thrown in, are we liable to be fined?!

We're all scratching our heads these days, and certainly looking over our shoulder- Goliath is looming large and potentially dangerous for the BluCat.

Live Music. Ha.

Monday, August 3, 2009

We're not all like that...

There but for the grace of God, go I.

I noticed the man as I was driving into town to pick up my supper. I was lazy, I suppose- I had plenty of fresh vegetables at home to prepare a quick meal, but I was hungry for Mexican- precisely, Nachos Al Carbon. ( I believe that's what they're called.) He was standing under the overpass on business 55, also known as a little jaunt of Route 66. He looked a bit disheveled, loaded down by a backpack, a suitcase on wheels and a duffel bag. He had a dirty old ball cap almost pulled down further than his ears would allow. He had stopped and was looking around as I passed on the other opposite lanes, me heading South, he North. As I passed and looked perhaps a bit to intensely at him, his eyes met mine- he seemed to know I was thinking about him, observing him.

For a moment, my heart went out to this stranger- he was talking to no one in particular to my sight, though I suppose to him his constant invisible companion was a friend or a mentor. Either way- the few steps he would take were followed by a pause, a shifting of baggage and then a conversation with the air. So my concern for him stayed in my head and heart, encased by the safety of my truck cab and I went on with my business of acquiring supper down the road. Of course when I got to the restaurant, giving them a full ten more minutes than they said of the twenty minutes that would be needed to prepare my order-my takeout wasn't ready. I sat and read a local paper, waiting wondering about the man wandering along the road side. I wondered where he was going and how long before the state troopers would scoop him up after finding him walking and talking in his unusual way to the invisible nothing striding along side him.

With my supper secured I headed back home, again wondering if I would see the man- had he made it to the interstate yet? Surely he had, unless his lengthy conversations lasted longer than his actual steps. As I neared my turn off on Wolf Creek Road, I spied the man just then loping across the graveled road way. I deliberately slowed, my heart and head fighting- here was my chance to reach out to my fellow man, give him a lift ( not literally) by perhaps a little kindness in the way of a smile and acknowledgement with a wave. (But my head said "he's crazy- and sister we know crazy, ain't no reasoning with 'em!" So, I kept to the road.) I needed to turn right, he needed to go straight across the road and just then, a jeep came from the east, slowing to stop before entering business 55. The poor wayward man looked for a moment- perplexed. The Jeep posed the problem of his getting across the roadway faster than the he had counted on. He did look up at the driver, with a kind of apologetic gaze, sheepishly he trudged on, purposely giving the duffel bag and suitcase a needed boost, he was hurrying. I was relieved, still some sanity there, enough to act accordingly anyway. I pulled in, the Jeep driver looking mighty P.O'd, as if he had been waiting longer than time allowed. The driver looked at me as if dumbstruck- "Can you believe this guy, this trash?!" And the next thing I know, he burned out of there- spraying the poor man with rocks and gravel and dust. There was absolutely no need in that, none. The homeless man just stood there. I stopped then, just before crossing the tracks. I looked out the window as the dust settled, so wanting to say something, anything to make up for the inhumane treatment my traveling friend had just suffered. Again, his eyes met mine and in the briefest second he conveyed to me a wordless why.
Brother, I just don't know. I mouthed, "I'm so sorry, we're not all like that." I couldn't even smile or wave. I wanted so then to jump out and prove to him that we are in fact, not all like that. That his freedom, his safety, his very being was as precious as any one's, that he mattered. But even the pick ax in my door, hidden by a concave compartment- wasn't enough security to allow me to do something as reckless as picking up a hitchhiker who appeared to be a bit on the schizophrenic side.

All I could do was pray, maybe asking a bit of forgiveness for my powerless feeling. My safety and security were fortified by my remaining in the vehicle of my choice. The homeless man's choice? To be showered by rocks, to wonder why, to wander on...

Sometimes in this world, things happen and I do feel so powerless but I find by doing the best that I can do right here right now, being kind and not only tolerant but accepting of any and all lives, even the ones that are filthy, dirty, beyond my understanding as to the whys of those lives- I find at least some comfort in knowing that we can inhabit this big wide world together. Somehow, we go along to get along- don't we? But right there in my midst, a wrong doing occurred, the strong oppressed the weak, made unsafe an other's journey. Why? The guy in the jeep was at least my age. The man walking, hard to tell- I'd say 40ish. But the point is this, he was doing nothing wrong...he was just on his way. What makes some folks among us so intolerant? We're not all like that...

I hope on that man's journey, someone braver than I can make that very clear to him. Take care-