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I just had a tire patched on my KIA Soul.

Flat tires are a good example of life’s little interruptions.

Last night after work, there it was. Not exactly a welcome sight at almost midnight – or any time for that matter. My girlfriend’s nephew discovered that there was a nail firmly embedded in the tread of one of my new tires. He and Brenda also work where I work.

My Soul did not come equipped with a spare tire, not even a “donut.” Instead, there is a little kit under the storage compartment tray containing a small air compressor and a tank of sealant. I was not aware of this until my brother informed me a while back. He also has a Soul.

Brenda flagged down our friend Collie, and he was gracious enough to help out not only by manning the compressor but also by following us home, which thankfully was on a route to his house.

That little compressor did its job.

I know from previous experience that one should avoid using the sealant. I don’t know why, but I heard it was not a good thing – and that once it is used, a tire will likely need to be replaced.

We made it home.

As expected, the tire was flat this morning – so I used the little pump again. Before I hooked it up, my friend and neighbor Victor pulled in and immediately came over to see if he could help, offering his pro-quality air compressor. I showed him the small one, and he stayed, eyeing the gauge until the tire was full.

I realize that a flat tire is not usually a life-altering event, but I am grateful for my friends.

Since I bought the tires at the dealership, off to Myrtle Beach KIA I went. I didn’t call ahead. I just showed up.

In no time at all, James was handing me my key. I was good to go.

There is something to be said for relationships.

Interruptions come daily, and it’s how we react to these events that make a difference.

Leon Russell by Thomas Copi

My piano playing is a conglomeration of ADHD, trial-and-error and muddling through. Somebody taught me a few tricks years ago. I tried to be a music major at Los Angeles City College – but the chair of the piano department at the time, the late Dr. George Hollis, told me to my face that I had learned so many bad fingering habits that it would have been harder to try to teach me the right way.

That sucked. But at least I knew.

I run out of fingers…

Somehow, though, I believe there is still time to unlearn some of the ridiculous things I do at the keyboard. After all, I’m still alive.

But the better question is this: Will I ever do that?

That remains to be seen.

That somebody who taught me a few tricks was a guy named Gordon Mogden. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t play any better than I did as a teenager.

I am trying to find out if he’s still alive.

Mogden via Twitter

Gordon was an interesting man. My brother and I met him because we were pals with his girlfriend’s son. Eileen, aka L.E., stayed at the Magic Hotel in Hollywood with her son, Jeffrey in the late 1970s. L.E. worked at Wally Heider Recording, at that time one of the most renowned recording studios in Hollywood.

After hanging out with Jeffrey and getting to know L.E., we eventually met Gordon – a big, friendly guy whom we found out worked for Leon Russell at Russell’s recording complex, Paradise Studios.

Apparently, Gordon led a life immersed in music. I know he was an audio engineer. Perhaps he was also a roadie. His mantra was “more of everything,” – and when he said that to my brother and me, we knew what he meant. Hell, we were like 14, and were longing for entrée into the world of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Gordon and L.E. were kind to us – and we became fast friends with Jeffrey, who was a couple of years younger than we were. I remember a Wally Heider company trip to Disneyland on a bus with young music workers and their families – or their squeezes. That was fun, although I remember feeling a bit of social anxiety. Thank God I had Jeffrey and Chris to run around with.

The seventies, man. Think for a minute about a bus trip with music types to “The Happiest Place on Earth” at that time, and let that sink in.

But what does any of this have to do with my piano playing…?

Gordon was a monster piano player. I once heard and watched him play Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and was blown away.

But this was after he changed my life…

One evening, Gordon invited us to tag along with L.E. for a visit to Paradise Studios. I must admit I had no idea at the time who the hell Leon Russell was, but a visit with the grownups to a recording studio was something we always down for. Plus, it felt cool to be included. I don’t know if Jeffrey came with us, but L.E. was a single mom, so he likely did.

Paradise Studios was a compound on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank. More than simply a recording studio, the facility also featured a sound stage and accommodations for visiting musicians – like a small motel building. There was also a remote recording rig on the grounds.

The place was rarefied air, and we knew it.

Gordon showed us around for a bit, and then invited us to play on the stage. There was a drum kit set up as well as a Yamaha CP-80, the kind that Elton John played much of the time back then.

What? It’s OK for us to play up there? Sure!

My brother and I played a couple of songs up there, with sound booming up through the metal grating that served as the stage platform. Our nascent music never sounded better. To this day, I feel like Gordon did us a huge solid by allowing us up there. It’s something that I feel bolstered our self-confidence and gave us hope. Everybody needs that.

Did I mention that we met Leon Russell and his wife that night? We did, as he was heading into another part of his compound. I knew he was important, but I didn’t realize how important he was at the time. The fact that Elton John found him intimidating was something I only recently found out – and there’s another blog post to be written about Leon’s influence on Elton and how Elton later saved Leon’s career.

The man himself was soft-spoken. When I shook his hand, it was the classic “limp fish” handshake. I’ll never forget that.

Somehow, Chris and I found ourselves sitting in the control room with Gordon, L.E., Leon, his wife and a couple of others as they listened to a playback of a song called “Back to the Island.” Why we were listening to that track I have no idea. It’s from a 1975 album called Will O’ the Wisp. Was he remastering it for some reason?

To this day, I don’t know why we were able to be there for that. Gordon must have thought a lot of us.

He must have also thought that I needed a leg-up when it came to my piano playing, which at that point was stilted and not-so-hot. It was more utilitarian than anything else – something I could sing to with my brother as we wrote songs and learned covers.

Gordon told me that he would show me a couple of things, and I arranged to meet him at Paradise for a few one-on-ones…

I remember boogie-woogie lessons at the Roger Williams Piano School in Miami when I was like 8 – you know, a walking bass in the left hand and one-four-five pattern on top – but Gordon showed me the most important thing I had learned to date: The Blues Scale, aka the Pentatonic Scale.

So – he told me that if I could learn that scale in as many keys as possible with walking bass lines he also showed me, I’d be miles above where I was at the time…

And he was right.

Over several visits, Gordon also taught me a couple of blues turnarounds.

Forty years on, I am grateful to that man, my de facto musical mentor, for taking the time to help me out.

And one more thing…

The piano Gordon taught me on was the very same piano Leon Russell used in The Concert For Bangladesh.

For more stories, check out The Yale Brothers Podcast. We’re having fun with it.

Larry David Photo: Sports Illustrated

I have written before about the fear of my intentions being misunderstood, and some of my friends responded that they felt the same way about theirs. It’s a thing, and there must be a basic human need to be understood. We have societal structures in place: language, manners and nonverbal cues. These things can help us avoid being misunderstood.

But it happens to me quite often.

Just when I think I have gotten over one misstep, another one comes along to start me back down the rabbit hole of uncertainty, overthinking and loss of sleep.

I believe in being positive, but I also aim to be truthful about this. I don’t want to sweep this under the carpet or grit my teeth and try to will it away.

Related to this phenomenon are what I call Larry David moments. These are not so much about being misunderstood, but rather the awkward moments, mistakes and misfires in my daily life that make me want to crawl under a rock.

These are not game-changing life events, either.

I know from experience that many of these moments are mountains-out-of-molehill situations, but for me the discomfort is very real. And because I am sober, I need to find ways to deal with them.  Maybe writing about them will help.

Here are a couple examples of what I am talking about from the past week or so – but there were more than just these two.

THE WRONG WRIGHT

My last blog post, “Is 56 the New 12?” featured an excellent rendering of Harry Potter’s Professor Snape with my face edited into it by my friend and fellow writer Brendan Wright.  I credited another friend, Bill Wright, with the photo. It was only after Brendan saw it and reminded me that he had created it did I remember where and when he first showed it to me a couple of years back.

The memory is a funny thing, and to say I was chagrined is an understatement.

In my mind, coming back from something like that is tough. For other people, an apology would suffice. For me, the need to overexplain reigns supreme. Of course, I apologized and made a quick change to the post, but that’s not the point. For me, the damage had already been done.

I lost face. The only logical end to this would have been for Brendan to cut off my head after I gutted myself. Seppuku.

Why didn’t I remember…

SOMEBODY STOP ME: THE MASK INCIDENT

Photo: Brendan Wright

I was taking a break at work the other day, sitting in the closed cigar lounge at Tinder Box Myrtle Beach with my girlfriend, Brenda. A mask was dangling by a loop my right ear.

“So what,” you might say…

Here’s what sent me into a tizzy:

Our friend, Meghan, came to see us. She was outside lounge door, which was locked. Brenda let her in while I remained seated.

Meghan made some awesome masks for us to help us through this time of social distancing, and we’re grateful for them – but when she came in that day, the mask that was dangling from my ear was not hers. Rather, it was made by another friend, Karan, who was kind enough to send us a few great masks as well.

Based on my anxiety level, you would have thought I got busted sleeping with somebody I shouldn’t have been sleeping with.

I was speechless and my mind was racing. What course of action would be best? All I could think to do was quickly unhook the mask, let it drop it into my seat and try to play it off the best that I could.

What was my motivation in that moment? Why was I so awkward?

Did Meghan notice? I don’t know, but I continued to babble. I realized even then that I should have addressed what was, to me, the elephant in the room.

Seppuku, anybody?

Why didn’t I just say something…

Like, would Meghan really care that I wasn’t wearing a mask she made and opted for one of Karan’s that morning? Unlikely.

Would Brendan lose sleep over the fact that I made a mistake about a photo he made for me in fun? I wouldn’t think so.

Nothing in these events would indicate that my friendships with Meghan or Brendan would suffer – but in those moments, I feel like it’s curtains for me.

I asked my daughter to take a look at a draft of this post, and she said, “Wow. I really am your daughter.” She went on to tell me that she once texted an apology to a friend who didn’t even realize there was an issue.

My Larry David moments border on the pathological.

Does anybody else feel this way?

Photo: City of Myrtle Beach

Last week, I had the opportunity to play a very interesting and serendipitous show with my brother at a really cool venue in the heart of Myrtle Beach.

The Historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot is a landmark brick structure that was built in 1937 and for 30 years welcomed both passenger and freight trains to the area. It later belonged to a beverage distributor and almost fell victim to the wrecking ball until the community went ballistic.  After painstaking restoration, it opened in its current beautiful state in 2004 and is now rented out for events.

 I officiated a wedding there not long ago, and was also on hand for the inaugural CreateSouth conference there more than a decade ago. I also played a fundraiser there with Sick Stooges, a cover band that I co-founded and played in for ten years.

Sick Stooges at the Train Depot (the longhair on the right is yours truly)

This wonderful setting is also home to the South by Southeast Music Feast – a regular gathering hosted by a nonprofit called South by Southeast (SXSE), which provides assistance and support to local music education programs. The organization is all about helping young people offset the costs associated with this – and as their website says – “to help young people in their pursuit of all the joys of music.”

South by Southeast was founded by Jeff Roberts, a guy I was happy to meet when I moved here. Sadly, he passed away in 2009. Ask anybody who came into contact with him, Jeff was the fountainhead from which a torrent of musical knowledge sprung. He owned a couple of longstanding independent record shops here, and one of his isms was, “You gotta hear this…” He was irreplaceable.

Roberts’ son, Hunter, was at the event. That was a full-circle situation if ever there was one.

Jeff invited us to play an opening slot at the music feast on the bill with Dangermuffin years ago – and we did 30 minutes of Chris’ original music – much like we did this time.

In October, The Yale Brothers did a fundraiser called Wicked Wishes at the Wicked Tuna in Murrells Inlet to benefit Make-A-Wish South Carolina. We were glad to see that our old friend Seth Funderburk was running sound for the event. Seth is an entrepreneur in his own right, with several businesses in operation as I type this. He’s also an organizer for the Waccamaw Getaway Festival and the IrieSun Reggae Festival. He’s also been involved with SXSE for as long as I have known him.

Fun fact: Funderburk and Roberts went way back – and Funderburk worked in his youth for Roberts at his first shop, Sounds Familiar Records.

When we finished our set at Wicked Wished, Seth invited us to play the SXSE show. We were excited about the prospect.

The idea of playing only originals was appealing, and the serendipitous part of this was the fact that we would be opening for a duo called Admiral Radio, made up of Becca Smith and Coty Hoover – both of whom attended College of Charleston and both of whom know my daughter, Taylor, through our friend Clyde Moser, who studied there as well. Admiral Radio recently played a series of shows in New York – and Taylor and Clyde saw them there. This in itself is cool, but the fact that we randomly got invited to play with them here is proof that this is indeed a very small world.

The Yale Brothers Photo: Tami Sluss Ashley

The vibe at a SXSE event is refreshing; the people come to actually listen to the music offered – and this coupled with a preshow potluck and New South Brewing‘s Chris Barnes set up at the back of the room with beer and wine makes for a welcoming experience for the musicians as well as the audience.

WAVE 104.1 radio personality and program director Scott Mann, our brother from another mother, introduced us in a way that solidified that point – and off we went. It was gratifying to feel the love from the folks in attendance, who responded enthusiastically to each song.

Admiral Radio delivered a great first set with originals and thoughtful covers. Their harmonies were ethereal and stirring. These two are seasoned pros, and it was an honor to share the bill with them. I am sure their second set was great, too.

It’s always nice to play a show in the presence of like-minded people, to reconnect with friends and to make new ones.

For more about SXSE, click HERE.

The Yale Brothers with Admiral Radio / Photo: Seth Funderburk
Roger Yale with Scott Mann and Seth Funderburk / Photo: Chris Yale

Andre Pope – Photo: Scott Smallin

On Tuesday, the world lost a real gem – Andre Pope.

I met Pope with my brother on the same day we met veteran podcaster Dave Slusher, whom Chris had arranged to meet after listening to his podcast and discovering that he lived in Conway. I had agreed to tag along that day probably 12 years ago. We got together at Bummz Beach Café in Myrtle Beach.

I knew nothing about both of those guys, except for the fact that my brother always mentioned Slusher when he talked about podcasts. I was still relatively new to the Grand Strand, having moved here in 2005.

Andre must have been like 27 then, although I perceived him to be younger than that. He was cordial and kind – and as I would find out would be a through-line in our friendship, always willing to help.

He told me that he was then a partner in an outfit called 803 labs. We talked about blogging, podcasting and social media – and it wasn’t long before the subject of tech meetups came up – and how cool it would be to launch an event in Myrtle Beach.

I’ll be damned if those guys and others didn’t put together an event called CreateSouth, which took place for several years.  My brother and I provided the entertainment for two of these. Another friend, Paul Reynolds, helped me get set up with my first Blogspot blog.

Andre leaves behind a wonderful wife, Heidi, and two awesome kids – Memphis and Ryder.

I’d have to say that Pope was a renaissance man, and somebody else recently referred to him on Facebook as a doer. He was a major proponent for cycling in our area, an expert pit master, entrepreneur, designer and family man. He taught graphic design at Horry-Georgetown Technical College and was creative director at a graphic design/marketing/advertising firm called Design Cypher.

At Bummz circa 2007 – Seated: Andre Pope, Dave Slusher / Standing: Roger Yale, Chris Yale

Early on, he invited me to lunch at Magnolia’s at 26th, a southern-inspired buffet here in Myrtle Beach. The man genuinely loved meeting and getting to know people, which is why I wasn’t surprised that he was also involved with a coworking space called Cowork MYR. He was a consummate connector.

Andre was one of my go-to sources for stories, especially during my time writing for Weekly Surge, a McClatchy product and local alt-weekly under the umbrella of The Sun News – and this covered a variety of subjects from tech to social media to cycling and more. He was a busy guy, to be sure, but never once did he turn down an interview request. He provided credibility to whatever piece I was working on, was always patient and never failed to teach me something.

For a while, he would look slightly different every time we saw him – perhaps with low sideburns at one time or a totally different getup the next – so much so that my girlfriend always told him that she was never sure if it was him. That was a trip – and I wonder if anybody else noticed that over the years.

Pope at a meetup at Liberty Tap Room & Grill Circa 2008

He was also a part of a group that I call the “yeah, man” guys – meaning that this was his way of saying “you’re welcome.” I loved that.

When I last saw him, he was resting in a camper outside The Boathouse in Myrtle Beach, where a packed benefit was going on in his honor. My brother, his wife and my girlfriend and I only visited him for a few moments. I gave him a hug and a peck on the top of the head and told him I loved him.

I swear to God, the man said to let us know if there was anything he could do for us.

That was Pope for you.

My heart goes out to his sweet family. Andre leaves a void that can never be filled. I will miss his intellect, his humility and his “yeah, man.”

Two of my friends died recently. Both were excellent musicians, and both were doing what they loved right to the end. One collapsed onstage at Wild Wing Cafe in Myrtle Beach, and one died in his sleep.

They were roughly the same age, give or take – and I was closing in on them.

My dear friend Tim Hoback was also a former member of Sick Stooges, the Grand Strand-based classic rock outfit of which I was also once a part. His passing sent ripples of shock and grief across the music community here.

The other friend was Nick Walusko, a guy who was always obsessed with Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. I always found this fascination curious when we were young men in Hollywood. If there was anybody who knew all there was to know about Wilson, it was Nick. I hadn’t seen him in years, but damned if he didn’t wind up playing in Wilson’s band for many years. He was still playing guitar with Wilson when he died.

It’s tough to get my head around this – my friends dying – and the last thing I want to do here is to go off on a self-serving existential tangent or start lamenting the march of age. The idea here is to honor my friends.

Let’s start with Hoback. I called him Hoback, and many of us did. It seemed incomplete to just call him Tim.

Tim Hoback, Tim Dyer, Barry Allen, Kenneth Auerbach, Roger Yale

Hoback joined Sick Stooges after the departure of bassist Steve Panetti (yes – we called him Panetti (there is a through-line of middle school-style last-name calling), who left to work with a band called One I Open.

A left-handed bass player who was quick to laugh and smile with a gravelly voice and wicked sense of humor, Hoback was from Southwest Virginia like my girlfriend – and this was a great source of bonding between them, even down to calling each other “bitch” when they saw each other. “Hi bitch…” “Bye, bitch…” You had to be there. In their accents, it sounded almost like “beach.” Hilarious.

He was a monster bass player – just as comfortable with classic rock as he was with R&B and funk – and he knew his theory, too. Much of that was over my head, although I was a music major in junior college – like, don’t tell me about, the circle of fifths and relative minors. This was a classic rock cover band – and I wanted to party like a rock star.

Hoback did too, and so we did. Thankfully, that distracted him from explaining a turnaround to me.

I have been sober now for more than five years – but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my fun.

Hoback was a sweet soul. What confirmed it the most to me was when he was talking to one of my neighbors about a guy they both knew in Roanoke who had died. After a while, Hoback became overcome and started crying midway through a sentence. I will always remember that moment. He loved his friends. He loved me. And I loved him. And he knew it.

Nick Walusko was a sweet soul too. When we hung out with him in Hollywood, he still lived at home with his parents, who I believe were Russian immigrants. He was all about music – production, history and culture – and from what I remember was not only big on the Beach Boys, but also British Invasion bands. He too had a wicked sense of humor.

In the circle of friends he hung out with, my twin brother factored in to this much more than I did – as did other friends like Steve Kobashigawa, whom I knew since my brief days at Hollywood High. He was also, briefly, a bandmate in one incarnation of an outfit we had in Hollywood with my brother. Another friend, Darian Sahanaja, formed The Wondermints with Nick.

The Wondermints were lucky enough to have contributed to the soundtrack of “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”  And they were ultimately hired on by Brian Wilson.

Darian is Wilson’s keyboardist and musical director.

Nick wasn’t a partier, preferring lofty conversation and music over such nonsense. Nonetheless, he had an almost pathological aversion to the police. I never really understood why, but usually found this vaguely entertaining. I wonder what made him feel funny about that.

But he was tolerant about the excesses of others and never judgmental. I am sure he put friends first. Well, at least second to Brian Wilson.

I hadn’t seen Nick in almost 30 years, but Chris and I got an email from him, inviting us to Raleigh to see the Brian Wilson Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Show in 2016. We both declined because of our schedules, but Nick’s last words vie email to me were, “Let’s keep in touch, please.”

I said yes, but, to my regret, I failed to do so.

I will miss these guys.

Kingston-Throop Station/Brooklyn

The Sunday of our New York trip was a “free day,” a day to knock around with no real agenda.

My daughter came up with a lunch plan, though – and it involved Brenda and I taking the subway to Brooklyn this time. The idea was to meet up at the DeKalb Market Hall – a bustling spot boasting 27 thousand square feet and more than 40 diverse food vendors, all under one roof. Our friend Rachel was coming along too.

Photo: Eater NY

Once again, we made it with no issues – and we were amazed. This was like a food truck festival sans trucks, offering culinary choices with names like Bunsmith, Forager’s Market, Hana Noodles, Paella Shack and so much more – the aromas and colorful signage and lighting from the little kitchens merging to create a mélange of sensory pleasures. The folks were friendly and ready to help or to explain the items on their varied menus. Some menus were pretty straightforward, though.

At that level of the mall, there was a Trader Joe’s. This is where Taylor sometimes went shopping. I was happy to know this because now I had a visual reference for when she calls me while out and about.

I opted for conventional pirogi. I am a sucker for those things, and I can’t say there are many eateries in Myrtle Beach that serve them. I shared with Taylor, who in return shared her excellent, hand-pulled ramen.

We all wound up at Target on the upper floor of the shopping complex. Go figure.

We all hopped the “Q” [damn, what an urbanite expression] to Prospect Park and then hoofed it to Rachel’s apartment nearby. It was nice of her to invite us – and we had the chance to meet her roommate, filmmaker Bruce Wemple. I found out at this moment that a couple of his shorts are on Amazon Prime. I will be watching those soon.

Bruce also built a bar – and it was there in all its glory in their living room. Impressive. I don’t drink anymore, but I kept eyeing his bottle of Havana Club with envy.

Rachel suggested we walk around Prospect Park and told us that it was designed by the same pair that gave us Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. For whatever reason, we didn’t go. And we didn’t go to Central Park Either. Next time.

But we were on our way to Bed-Stuy – walking along Flatbush Avenue with Taylor. It seems every neighborhood has its own vibe. We ducked into a very nice independent shop called Greenlight Bookstore. Well-stocked, well-lit and welcoming – it was one of two locations in Brooklyn. It’s comforting to walk into a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Familiar. No matter where you are.

https://greenlightbklyn.tumblr.com

Last visit, Taylor and I spent an hour or so checking out Strand Book Store. That place blew my mind. Before that, the last one I visited was Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston when Taylor was still in college.

Fun fact: My daughter told me recently that we got off the train at the very station where Michael Jackson’s Martin Scorsese-directed video for “Bad” was filmed: Hoyt-Schermerhorn.

The human memory is a damned unreliable source, and I’m afraid too much time has gone by for me to remember whether or not we took the train at all on the way back from Rachel’s – but my daughter confirmed that we took the Franklin Avenue Shuttle to another train that took us to Bed-Stuy. At any rate, we got to Taylor’s brownstone on Halsey Street, which was built in 1899. I was happy that Brenda had a chance to see it. As I mentioned in a previous BLOG POST, Taylor’s roommates are also her friends – and one in particular, Catherine, has been Taylor’s friend since middle school in Myrtle Beach.

We were all hungry – so after hanging out for a bit on Halsey Street, we set out to dinner with two of her roommates, Kaja and Jacob. After arriving too late at our first choice, Zaca Café (American/French fusion), we wound up at a snug little Mexican eatery called Tepache, also on Halsey Street. Perfect. I ate a chimichanga the size of my head.

Taylor pointed us in the direction of the correct subway station with instructions, and we arrived back in Hell’s Kitchen in time to wander around the Theatre District. We felt emboldened in our new surroundings, and ended the evening by grabbing a couple of slices of cheesecake at Junior’s and bringing them back to our hotel, Row NYC. We will never be the same again.

We tried to pack as much as living as we could into our four days in New York City. Top of mind as we embarked on day two was the Elton John concert at Barclays Center later that night. Read all about that show HERE.

Before the trip, I happened to find a pair of low-top, old-school Adidas on the clearance rack at a shoe store and picked them up immediately. Divine providence, I figured, had sent me those shoes – just like the ones featured in the Run-D.M.C. video, “My Adidas.”

Now those fucking shoes were killing me, and I didn’t think to bring another pair. The toe boxes were so narrow that my toenails were digging into the sides of the adjacent toes. All I could do was stick Band-Aids on some toes and keep stepping, as it were.  

Some people gird their loins. I girded my toes, preparing for the frenetic pace about to be set by the taskmaster, AKA my daughter.

We woke up a bit late, considering the fact that we were supposed to be exploring – and the first order of business was coffee. As I mentioned in the first installment, there was no coffee maker in our room. So we did what most Americans do in any city. We found a Starbucks down the street from our hotel. Really , we would have ducked into any coffee shop – but lo and behold, Starbucks was the first one we saw. Big surprise, right?

Don’t judge. It did the trick – fortifying us for our stroll to Macy’s, a place Brenda wanted to check out. Hell, we still watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – and since I have heard the expression, “Kiss my ass in Macy’s window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses” so many times, I didn’t mind checking it out either. Incidentally, that quote is attributed to Lyndon Johnson.

I let my daughter know that we were headed in the direction of Macy’s, and she was heading in from Bed-Stuy to meet us.

It felt interesting to be planted in New York – following my GPS toward the iconic department store. I think we headed down 6th Avenue toward 34th Street. Pretty sure memory serves that I saw Radio City Music Hall down 6th in the other direction. Nonetheless, the walk was awesome. So much to take in. I now wish I took notes.

We made it to Macy’s, but Taylor hadn’t arrived yet – so I went back outside to vape and wait for her while Brenda struck up a conversation with a lady in fragrances.

Side note – that brings to mind Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – when Mrs. Maisel, going through a divorce, had to work at a cosmetics counter at a huge department store in New York in the late 1950s. I highly recommend that show. Snappy dialogue (I actually appreciated the subtitles turned on in this case), fast-paced writing and a great ensemble.

Rachel Brosnahan as Mrs. Maisel / Amazon Studios

I am sure somebody will take offense – but Macy’s was, well, a department store. Perhaps the multiple floors and the sheer amount of upscale branding coming at you was interesting. My favorite part about the visit was watching Brenda interact with the fragrance lady, who had been to Myrtle Beach on vacation. She planned on coming again. It’s funny, and as evidenced by Carolina Forest – so many New Yorkers want to make the Myrtle Beach area home. Brenda got herself a bottle of Versace Bright Crystal and we ducked out.

Somehow I am over department stores, as I believe most Americans are.

Taylor, trouper that she is, got us to the Staten Island Ferry. We decided to take a ride back and forth and catch a glimpse of the harbor and the Statue of Liberty from that vantage point. We thought about going on the actual tour of both Liberty Island and Ellis Island, but we figured this Ferry would work for our purposes.

I must admit that I thought of my father arriving by ocean liner from London when he moved here in 1956. He was, like I am, prone to a good cry – and he told me he sobbed when he first caught sight of Lady Liberty. He loved America and everything he thought it stood for. Always called presidents Mister – like Mr. Nixon or Mr. Reagan. Such a wonderful guy. There was nobody else like him.

There were so many people gathering to take the ferry across that I got worried that we would have to push for seats. This shows how little I knew about the sheer size of those vessels. Unbelievable. Room to spare – and I spend a lot of time walking around onboard as well.

When we got to Staten Island, I was kind of pissed that we had to get off. We wanted to go right back across. But we hung out for about 30 minutes inside the terminal. I bought Taylor a beer and went outside to vape, of course. When I was out there, I saw some dude get out of an Uber and drop a shopping bag. He was grateful when I told him about it.

I thought to myself, where were all of the rude people?

Time seemed to compress. I think it was because we were getting excited about Elton. By the time we made it back to Midtown, it was time to grab a quick bite and change. We decided to pop into Shake Shack in the Theater District and take some burgers and fried up to our room – with Taylor, of course.

We took a train together to the Barclays Center stop, and I was amazed about how convenient that trip was. Tay ran off to have a drink with her friend Rachel Feldman, who lived nearby and was at a local watering hole. We hung around outside Barclays for a time, marveling at the huge digital sign at the arena touting the sold out show. The crowds were arriving from everywhere.

An employee directed a bunch of folks toward other entrances – and Brenda and I noticed an entrance for American Express Cardmembers. What the heck, I only have a Green Card, but that was enough – and we slipped into the arena. I guess we all didn’t have to be Tina Fey to enjoy a bit of a perk.

I bought myself a tour shirt and one for Taylor at 40 bucks a pop. At the end of the day, that didn’t seem nearly as outrageous as I anticipated. We found our seats, and Taylor met up with us in perfect time to make the beginning of the show. She was wearing an awesome red sequined blouse. Reg Dwight would approve.

For the next three hours, forget it. I cried from the downbeat, Hell, I cried when the place went black – that all-too-familiar anticipation. Hooted. Hollered. Cried again. Tried my best to be in the moment. This was the last time I would see Elton John play live. Read about it and see video HERE.

What a night!

Since Taylor lives in Brooklyn, there was no reason for her to have to escort us back to Midtown. We said goodnight at the subway station, and Tay went to the other side to wait for her train.

Brenda and I made it back with no problems. When we emerged from the subway, I swore I heard somebody calling me. Sure enough, it was Clyde Moser, who had come with us to Marie’s Crisis the night before. He and a friend had just gotten out of a show. In a city with more than eight million people, moments like this are priceless.

After a quick selfie, Brenda and I went to a corner pizza place and had a slice. We never say “slice” in Myrtle Beach.

We unwound in our room at Row NYC, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” still ringing in our ears.

Earlier this month, we spent four days in and around New York City. The trip was much anticipated, and it came about because of Elton John.

I’ll explain…

In February 2018, my daughter and I were having a back-and-forth on Facebook messenger – discussing  Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. New dates were about to be added, including Brooklyn and Columbia, South Carolina.

Taylor lives in Brooklyn and I live in Myrtle Beach. We discussed the possibility of her coming here for the Columbia show, but she would have had to return to her work in New York quickly – which would basically give her only a couple of days here. In short order, a new plan gelled. How about we (with my girlfriend, Brenda) come up there…

That was it. The show would be more than a year later, and we figured it was doable. We could spend time together, see the City and catch Elton at Barclays Center. See my post about that show HERE.

When all was said and done, we packed a lot of living into those four days.

DAY ONE

We flew into LaGuardia via Spirit Airlines on March 8. My daughter gave us two tickets as a Christmas present. I had only been in New York once before over Memorial Day Weekend in 2017. At that time, I flew into JFK on American Airlines. Taylor met me there and we took a couple of trains into Brooklyn without any problems. I stayed with her at her place in Bedford–Stuyvesant.

Quite frankly, I heard a lot of negatives about LaGuardia – from ongoing construction issues to delayed flights and transportation snarls. Add to these the fact that we would have no clue about the lay of the land and you would be right that I didn’t think I’d want to deal with any of that.

We must have gotten lucky, because flying in and navigating the airport was fine – and Taylor opted to greet us at the airport. Strangers in a strange land, as it were – it was good to see Taylor get off the bus at the terminal. We got immersed in the MTA system immediately; first with a bus and then a train into Manhattan.

First up was a tour of Taylor’s work, SPOTCO, an entertainment advertising, marketing and branding agency in Midtown. I was taken with how genuinely nice the people were – to me and in what they had to say about Taylor. The offices were smart, inviting and no doubt conducive to productivity. What a great vibe! I am by nature a hugger, and many of her coworkers were huggers as well. For those that weren’t, I was on a roll and hugged just about everyone anyway.

At Ivanna’s Desk at SPOTCO

SPOTCO represents a dizzying array of clients, currently including “Kinky Boots,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Beetlejuice,” “Mean Girls” and much more. I am thrilled that my daughter is involved with such an awesome organization and so many wonderful people.

But we had places to go. Taylor and her friend, Erin, helped us over to our hotel with a couple of boxes of clothes we shipped to avoid having to check them on Spirit. That was too kind of them both – they wouldn’t let us carry them. Thanks, Ladies!

Row NYC is on 8th Avenue just off Times Square in a neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen. It boasts 27 stories and more than 1300 rooms and opened in 1928 as the Hotel Lincoln. In its long history in good times and bad, it was also called the Manhattan Hotel, the Royal Manhattan and the Milford Plaza.

During renovations in 2013, the building was briefly named the Milford New York Hotel before it became Row NYC in 2014.

Whenever I book a hotel, I am a bit hyper-vigilant and sometimes afraid to hit the button to finalize the purchase. I looked at too many reviews of Row NYC and other properties around Times Square. To my satisfaction, the room was just what we thought it was going to be. Recently-renovated but tiny. Modern. No coffee maker. But decent city views and a comfortable bed. We were going for economy, of course – and we had no complaints.

We wanted to be in Times Square because Taylor’s work was nearby. We considered staying in Brooklyn but preferred to be right in the thick of things – ideally to have the freedom to mosey around from this centralized location. All good.

But this was just the beginning. Taylor had it all worked out: We would go eat pizza and then head to a place far from Kansas but close to “Oklahoma,” as we shall see.

Prince Street Pizza is located in the Nolita neighborhood – or “North of Little Italy” – on, well, Prince Street.   We waited quite a long time to get in – and the place was tiny – a counter up front and a small section to stand and eat if you could get a spot. We crammed in as best we could after receiving our pizza – their famous “Soho Squares” and chowed down. The pizza was gooey with scalding mozzarella, “old world” pepperoni and thick dough. Simple and delicious.

Whether or not this trumps any pizza slice I have ever eaten is certainly up for debate. When I brought that up later, Taylor got annoyed – but there it is. Photos of celebrities lined the wall where we ate, and even at close proximity, other customers were friendly enough. Nobody was rude.

We said our goodbyes to Erin, and then it was off to the West Village to a spot very near the Stonewall Inn, the epicenter of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a watershed event in the fight for LGBT rights.

The spot in question was Marie’s Crisis. An online reviewer summed up the place like this: ”Marie’s Crisis is a basement piano bar with cheap drinks and the opportunity to sing unlimited show tunes.”

Thomas Paine Died in this House

Marie’s Crisis is just off Christopher Street on Grove Street. I went there once before with Taylor on my previous trip. It’s tiny. With an upright piano surrounded by an enclosure and a bar to its right – folks are squished together and it is mandatory to check your coat.

But that place – that place might be the happiest place in New York – especially when the piano player starts in with the showtunes. Even the surliest, meanest looking motherfucker becomes angelic as he belts out “Corner of the Sky” or “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” Maybe it’s a tune from “Rent” or “Wicked” that does the trick.

For me, it’s almost anything from “A Chorus Line.”

We met up with three of Taylor’s friends – Rachel, Clyde and Mary. Thank God they let us get in line with them, because the line was getting longer as we arrived.

Taylor went to the College of Charleston with Rachel and Clyde, which is amazing in itself – I mean the fact that the three of them now live and work in The City.  I am happy to also call them friends. And it was great to meet Mary, too.

We spent a couple of hours at Marie’s – singing our hearts out. Rachel and I had spoken about our affection for “A Chorus Line” many times – including when she visited us in Myrtle Beach years ago. I am not sure if it was Clyde or Rachel that put in the request for a series of songs from the show – but singing together brought me so much joy.

I blogged about a production of “A Chorus Line” that Taylor and I went to see in Charleston in 2016 – with none other than Clyde in the part of Bobby Mills. Read that post HERE.

I am happy that Brenda got a taste of all of this too. Musicals are a part of my DNA – and now, thank God, they are part of Taylor’s.

We rode the train back to our neck of the woods with Taylor and friends. They went off to her favorite Bar, Hold Fast, which I will be blogging about later.

Brenda and I got some snacks at Duane Reade near Times Square and moseyed to our hotel.

I’d say this was a good day.

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Sunday, I bid my son farewell before he headed back to base in Virginia.

Wes had been overseas for seven months, and was able to spend the past two weeks on leave here in Myrtle Beach.

As he pulled away, the reality hit me again, as it often does, that my son is a United States Marine. A Devil Dog.

Teufel_Hunden_US_Marines_recruiting_poster

Surreal.

I was also astonished to think about all he had done in the time he was here – a testament to squeezing as much enjoyment and quality time that you can out of a limited visit to a particular place.

The iffy thing for parents, spouses and loved ones of active duty servicemembers is to nail down exactly when they will be arriving, despite what they tell you. We have all heard horror stories of military delays, last-minute changeups and other logistical snafus. This can suck when it comes to airline reservations – particularly because there is really no way to get the best deals – not only for the servicemember, but also for family that might also want to fly in.

In this case, that family is my daughter and his twin sister, Taylor, who flew in from New York City the following weekend.

We also wanted to make sure that Wes had the proper welcome home that he deserved, and once we knew for sure that he was set to arrive, I got in touch with several of his friends to make sure that he had a greeting party ready for him at the Myrtle Beach Airport.

An outstanding group of friends from Tinder Box Myrtle Beach rallied as well – and we had an impromptu reception at our humble apartment here in Myrtle Beach afterwards.

I am beyond grateful to Stephen Shuessler of CrossFit Myrtle Beach for putting the word out at his box [CrossFit lingo for gym] – and helping to gather a group of Wes’ CrossFit family. It warms my heart to feel the love.

His Uncle Chris [my twin brother and musical accomplice] and Aunt Betsy [my sister-in-law] were there also – as well as Wes’ best friend and de facto brother, Xavier Pringle – and we wore the amazing tee shirts my dear friends Tonya and Kenny [A Plus Screen Printing] made for Wes’ graduation at Parris Island 16 months ago.

Here’s a laundry list of what he was up to:

CrossFit. A half-marathon in his 30-pound flak vest, or Modular Tactical Vest [I guess he did want his MTV]. Multiple trips to Chipotle. A dinner out, looking awesome in his Dress Blue Deltas. A walk on the beach with yours truly and his twin sister. A jaw-dropping new tattoo from the master, Shay Haf-Ded, at Red Raven Art Company.

The young man took the time to catch Yale Brothers gig at Liberty Brewery and Grill in Myrtle Beach. That meant a lot. We dedicated the night to him and he was received enthusiastically.

I had a bet with my girlfriend Brenda as to how long it would take before he and Taylor bickered about something. Answer: Not long – and it was music to my ears. Being a twin myself – I understand the dynamic. The old cliché’ stands: They might bandy about all day – but don’t get it twisted. They have each other’s backs.

My regret is that Taylor’s job required her to be back in The City – and she was only here for a weekend. But she was here, and that was awesome.

My adult children. Who knew?

My main man. My son. My Marine.

Semper fi, son!