How I Learned to Drink Tequila

on Saturday, June 20, 2009

My friend Chuck loves tequila. During trivia one year, he drank one shot per hour for the whole 50 hours, he said after a while he didn't get any more drunk, he just leveled off. I, on the other hand, don't like tequilla so much, I find the taste to be somewhat unpalatable, but I think the same thing about J├Ągermeister and drink it anyway.

Only once did I ever have a truly exceptional tequila. My friend Jeff had been in the wedding party of a college friend who married a Mexican girl whose family business was making the stuff and each of the groomsmen received a silver hip flask filled with the family's private reserve. That stuff tasted like ambrosia! It was smooth and delicious, there was no need to pollute the taste with salt and lime. If I could get a hold of some of that again I would do so gladly.

Back to Chuck. For several years in a row he would show up at my birthday party with his bottle of tequila in hand and would insist that I do a shot with him. I hated it and avoided it for as long as I could, but he would insist and he would persist until finally I would do a shot just to shut him up. Finally, after the third or fourth year of this I had had enough and when he walked through the door the next year I grabbed a shot glass and said, "Let's get this over with right now so we can both enjoy the party."

I think he marked that day as a success because he hasn't had to badger me since.

This training paid off one day at a gig at the Mendakota Golf Club, which remains my least favorite place to play. The place is full of egotistical rich bastards and their trophy wives...

I got rid of that bitch and married me a young one," said one, speaking on relationships.

They've got money, they want to show off to their friends and they treat the "hired help" like non-people. For the most part.

One guy, who was avoiding the speech section of the evening's whatever ceremony (the grand prize was a set of golf clubs, I remember that) engaged us in conversation -- in fact, I think he was the one who said that lovely thing about his ex-wife -- and finally offered to buy the band a shot. We learned long ago to accept such offers.

We all head off to the bar and he orders a bunch of shots of Cuervo 1800, the bartender pours the shots and starts gathering limes and salt shakers. I grabbed my shot, downed it, said, "Thank you," and started to walk away.

"Wait!" he says, "You have to do the salt and lime!"

"Thanks, but that won't be necessary," I replied.

Inside I was thanking Chuck for getting me out of that situation.

I still don't really like tequila, I will never order a shot for myself. Once in a great while I'll take a pull off a bottle if one happens to be near, it is, after all, the social thing to do. I'll stick with beer, if you don't mind, but at least now, thanks to Chuck, I know I can drink with the big kids.

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The Bob Hope Story

on Monday, June 15, 2009

This has to have been almost 20 years ago now, it was a whole career ago for me and I was still driving a delivery van for the St. Cloud Times so I'd have to put it in the early 90s, I got a call from a friend of mine asking if I wanted to play a "pick up" gig in Montevideo, MN backing up Bob Hope. Who wouldn't say yes to that?

A whole bunch of us from St. Cloud piled into a van and drove there for an afternoon rehearsal led by Mr. Hope's musical director named Jeff. We only saw Mr. hope for a few moments at the end of the rehearsal to run a gag he'd do during the song Buttons and Bows.

As Music Director Jeff explained it, the gag went like this: the band would kick into Buttons & Bows and vamp the first four measures while Bob would talk to the audience, Bob would then cut off the band, tell a joke and count the band off again. This would happen as many times as Bob saw fit, and then he'd continue with the song. Near the end of the song there was another vamp which Bob would cut off, he'd tell one last joke and we'd finish out the song.

As I explained before, this was almost 20 years ago which would put Mr. Hope one side or the other of 90 years old, and he'd recently gone through some health problems that kept him off stage for a while. The Montevideo show was his first in quite a while, which would explain what happened that night.

The show is going along just fine, Mr. Hope is charming, Delores Hope, his very lovely wife, sang beautifully and the audience was thrilled -- as was most of the band -- to spend an evening with a true comic legend. It comes time for Buttons & Bows, the band starts playing, Bob talks to the audience about where the song came from (the movie The Pale Face) and comes to the point when it's time to cut off the band and tell a joke. He cuts off the band and -- he goes blank.

He looks over at the Music Director and says, "Jeff, give me a joke."

Jeff suggests, "The one about the [insert joke subject]."

Bob tells the joke, the audience laughs uproariously, the band starts again, Bob talks some more. He cuts off the band a second time and -- he goes blank.

"Jeff, give me a joke."

"The one about the [insert joke subject]."

And it happens again. And again! He must have stopped the band six times or more with the same result. I was on stage as a true comic legend was "going up on two wheels!"

Finally he sings the song until the moment when the last gag is coming up. He cuts off the band, looks at Jeff, Jeff shrugs -- he's out of jokes! But Mr. Hope, the consummate professional just continues the song to the end.

[Joke subject:]

A guy goes to the doctor for a checkup, the doctor says, "You've got to stop having sex. In your condition, if you have sex again you'll die."

So the guy goes home and explains the situation to his wife, "Just to be on the safe side, I'd better sleep downstairs on the couch."

Halfway through the night he's getting so hot and frustrated thinking about how much he'd like to be making love to his wife. Finally, he can't stand it anymore and starts to climb the stairs to the bedroom, halfway up he's met by his wife.

"I was just coming upstairs to commit suicide." He said.

"Really?" she replied, "I was just coming downstairs to kill you."

And so it went... each joke had a similar theme, a guy going to a doctor and the result having some impact on his marriage, but that's the only one I remember. I'm sure Mr. Hope told it much better than I wrote it.

The rest of the show went just fine, the audience was thrilled, I got to add a line to my resume and apart from getting a speeding ticket, we made it home safely that night -- just before I went to work. It was an experience I'll never forget.

Itasca State Park - June 2009

on Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Itasca State Park trip didn't start the way I wanted it to. I got up and cleaned the house as planned, took care of the cat box, recycling, got the garbage out to the alley and just needed to run a few errands in order to be out of town by 1 or 1:30.

I gassed up my car, took it in for an oil change, ran to the roastery to pick up a few essentials and then headed to the grocery store and liquor store to provision up for the trip. The last thing I bought was a 20 lb. bag of ice which I put it in my trunk, all ready to go home and pack up the cooler. I got into my car, turned the key and was met with a click.

"What the fuck?!" I wondered, and turned the key again. Click. "No fucking way!" My car wouldn't start.

I'd had a recent bout of forgetting to turn off my headlights and draining my battery -- twice in one week, so that was the first thing I checked. There was no way I could have been in the grocery store long enough to drain the battery, and sure enough it seemed just fine.

It was in the ensuing moment of panic that I was almost reduced to tears. This was supposed to be my vacation! I was going to see Kate and wanted to get there as soon as I could. Car trouble was not part of the plan!!

I ran down the list in my iPhone and tried calling several people to see if they might be able to help me, which wasn't easy because it was 1 pm on a Thursday afternoon and I had to think of people who probably wouldn't be at work. I talked to several answering machines and a couple of people who just couldn't get away to help. Finally I thought, "I have to at least get my perishables home and into suitable storage, then I can figure this out."

For some reason, my friend Bobbie popped into mind, she's retired and she doesn't live too far from the grocery store, maybe she could help me get my stuff home, so I called her. It turns out she was at the very same grocery store at a different entrance. She came around and helped me get my ice, butter, milk and beer home and asked if I'd like her to call AAA for help.

So it was back to the grocery store and she called the AAA number to get some help. Unfortunately, the people there assumed we were having battery trouble and sent out the "battery truck," a small-sized pickup truck that's ready to either give you a jump or sell you a battery out of the back. We needed a tow, not a jump. He ran a battery check and as suspected it was just fine, but he also noticed a wire hanging from where the starter attaches to the engine.

"That's probably your problem right there." he said.

He called a tow truck and we were soon at R&L repair. Sure enough, the only problem was that the ground wire that runs from the starter to the ground had fallen off.

"Did we do this job?" asked Matt, the mechanic, "Because if we did, someone is in trouble."

I assured him that R&L hadn't done the job and he stated that he'd never seen such a shoddy job in his life. Rather than using a wire connector to run the ground wire, the previous owner had used electrical tape, the engine's oil had eaten through the tape's adhesive and when I got the oil changed it got bumped and disconnected.

R&L properly reconnected the wire, and while they had the car on the lift quickly rotated my tires. The whole thing ran me $20 and I after stopping at home to pack the cooler and my things, I was finally on the road by 4:00 pm.

I arrived at Itasca several hours later than I had planned, but Kate and I got to take the wilderness drive and climb to the top of the 100 foot fire tower on the park's western end in time for sun set. What a view! And the music of the woods was quite a thing to hear with frogs croaking everywhere, loons calling in the distance and birds of all types singing their evening songs.

The next morning we headed to the U of M research station where Kate is doing her internship and grabbed a canoe. We took a trip around Schoolcraft Island, the far side of which Kate informed me had a loon's nest that was easily seen from a small bay on the far side. When we got there the wind caught the canoe and we wound up rowing into the bay backwards, because I couldn't see exactly where we were we suddenly found ourselves within only a few feet of the nest! The nesting mother was instantly in front of the canoe taking on a very aggressive posture and shrieking excitedly!!

"Let's get the hell out of here!" Kate yelled.

"I'm working on it," I replied, but briefly looked to see where the nest was and spied two leathery brown eggs about the size of a hand ball. We booked it out of there and apologized to Mama Loon, but I mark it as one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

We continued our canoe trip to the headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi River. I've seen it before, but that doesn't diminish the wonder of the spot. Every drop of water that falls over the rocks that children clamor over at that point travels over 2300 miles, and takes approximately 90 days to get to the Gulf of Mexico. Cool!

We canoed back, had lunch at camp and then hiked a couple of miles through the woods, saw the pioneer cemetery and returned to camp as the sky in the west grew darker and darker. There was an afternoon squall that took the heat out of the air and made for perfect napping weather. After dinner we drove down to Peace Pipe Vista and watched as the sun sank toward the western horizon. We had a nice evening watching flames dance in the fire pit, drinking tequila and laughing about the simplest things. We went to bed early and set an alarm for 4:30 AM in hopes of traveling to the fire tower again in time for sun rise.

Unfortunately, we were about 5 minutes late, but we enjoyed the view regardless (the photo above was taken at that time). We headed back to camp and slept for a couple more hours while an intermittent light rain pelted the tent, and the campgrounds awakened.

The on and off rain, coupled with our sore bodies made today a low key day. I broke my coffee maker brewing up some Camping Blend, but was able to salvage a couple of good cups and we stuck close to the "tourist-y" areas of the park, the swimming beach and the museum. Finally, it came time to say goodbye and Kate headed back to her life up there and I drove the three hours back to St. Cloud.

I really wish I could have gotten there as early as originally planned, but my car had other ideas. It's hard to pack a weekend into 1-1/2 days, but I think we did pretty well.

And I can't wait to see Kate again. Just a couple more weeks.

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