Monday, June 25, 2007

Houston Photos

Houston Photos
Monday, June 25th

Before we get to the photos from Houston, I would like to take some virtual space to congratulate the newest member of Actors Equity: Shannon O'Connor. Last week, Shannon opened Gateway's production of My Way as Production Stage Manager. She got the entire summer stock gauntlet of challenges thrown at her, and faced them all with aplomb. She can now, officially, be referred to as "An Old Pro." (She also thanked me in her bio *blush*. You can read it here.)

Another roll of film from Snapfish became available on-line this evening. The complete roll (all from Houston) is here. Some highlights:

Darryl balancing on two pool floats!

Amy and Julie are defeated by gravity in their attempt to perform double splits...

Erik and Gurr at the Ragin' Cajun (please pause to enjoy the crawfish print curtains...)

Nigel recognizes the camera.

A very sweaty Jovon and his equally sweaty steed, Simba

An incoming "Throw'd Roll" at the Potatoe Patch

Some more Houston photos (stolen from Francesca):

The "Jersey Boys" at the Sopranos Party: Robert, Matt, Tony & Jeff

Siobhan (atop Patrick) takes on Angelina (atop Nigel) in a game of Chicken (this is before they started pulling hair).

At Goode Company Barbecue

With the giant armadillo outside the Armadillo Palace. This is my favorite picture, thus far, from Texas (aside from the great picture of my wife with the gardenia behind her ear). Why does the armadillo have steer horns? Why is it humping that rock? Is Ken scratching the armadillo's chin to calm it, or is that why it's on the rock? That goodness Francesca had her camera handy!

This morning, my Aunt Melody and Uncle Colin collected me from my hotel and took me out on the town. We headed over to see the JFK Memorial here in Dallas. Weird. It's a giant, white box, open to the sky on top, that appears to be floating just above the ground. In the center is a low, dark, granite square inscribe with "John Fitzgerald Kennedy". That's it. It was designed by Phillip Johnson as a place of "quiet contemplation". It just felt a little arbitrary to me. Then we sat on a patio in the West End and had a drink while we waited for the Sixth Floor Museum to open.

As we walked to the Sixth Floor Museum, we passed through Dealey Plaza. It was surreal to stand in the place I had seen so many times, but never actually been. It looks just as I expected it to. Very little has changed since November of 1963. Even the wooden fence still stands atop the grassy knoll. I could easily imagine that blue convertible limousine passing down the street and toward the triple underpass. It is also an everyday part of the streetscape of Dallas. Cars passed through carrying people about their daily business. They drove right over the big, creepy white "X" in the center lane that marks the spot where the 35th President was killed.

The Sixth Floor Museum is in the infamous Texas Schoolbook Depository. It not only relates the events of November 22nd, 1963, but begins with the national mood at the time of Kennedy's election and attempts to describe both Kennedy's legacy and the long term impact of his murder. While it didn't have lots of new information, the museum was (to my eye) thorough and respectful. There was information on the various inquiries and the discrepancies in their reports. Being a faithful viewer of Law & Order and CSI, it was surprising to me how slip-shod the immediate investigation of the central crime now appears. I can't imagine the amount of emotion involved, but the sloppy notes from the autopsy (conducted a day later and 1,400 miles away), the way the "sniper's nest" was disturbed and then "recreated" for photos, and the lack of any notes on Oswald's interrogation (despite representatives from at least 3 different law enforcement agencies being present) are sort of shocking details in this age of DNA evidence. Most shocking of all, though, is that Jack Ruby could come and go several times from the headquarters of the Dallas Police Department with a loaded gun and just push his way through to the alleged perpetrator of such a massive crime without anyone noticing or objecting. That such an enormous event in our history still has so many obvious questions surrounding it made me uncomfortable, but was also informative in itself.

I spent some of the time in the museum reflecting on the very existence of the museum itself. This is a major tourist attraction. There were people photographing Dealey Plaza from every angle and a sizable line to get into the museum. It put me in mind of the World Trade Center site. In the immediate aftermath, the people coming to see the Trade Center site made me angry. I wanted them to stop taking pictures and to go away. I felt strongly that it was a completely inappropriate tourist attraction. I especially hated the people selling stuff on the sidewalks. As time has passed, I began to understand that many of the people who went there as tourists (and who continue to come) just wanted to experience the place, to take it in and try (maybe) to understand it on a personal level. I hope that when the inevitable memorial and museum is built in Manhattan, it comes out something like the Sixth Floor Museum. I did feel a little ghoulish, especially when I approached the corner window where Oswald is alleged to have fired from. I was glad the area is partitioned off with plexiglass and that you can see the scene, but not stand in his place and look through the window. (Just looking down from the other windows onto the plaza is creepy enough.) I worry, however, that we're not going to separate ourselves far enough in time from 2001 to be able to achieve something like the Sixth Floor Museum. (The museum in Dallas opened in 1989.)

After the museum, Colin and Melody took me out for a late lunch / early supper at Matt's Rancho Martinez. We enjoyed some delicious tex/mex at one of Dallas's most popular spots. My chile relleno came topped with a spicy tomatillo salsa, Texas raisins, and pecans. All three of us wolfed down our dinners and then dug into some sopapillas.

I really enjoyed my visit with Colin and Melody. They've lived in Texas as long as I can remember, so we haven't spent a lot of time together (I've never been to their home!). The time I spent with them today was certainly the most one on one (or would that be one on two?) time we've shared. While they're not strangers by any stretch, it was fun to really get acquainted with them. Everyone has always talked about how much my brother, Casey, is like Colin; but today it became obvious how much my Mom and Colin have in common!


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Good Vibes Needed

Good Vibes Needed
Sunday, June 24th

So it’s been a rough week for the Spamily. On Tuesday, Jaki (one of our dressers) was feeling so ill, that she had to go home at intermission. She continued to feel poorly and missed the shows on Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday night, during the show, Jaki was leaning out her 6th floor hotel window when she fell. She fell to the roof of the hotel’s courtyard; breaking her leg and several ribs. As of Sunday morning, she’s still in intensive care and breathing with the help of a ventilator. Surgery to put her leg back together was successful and the doctors hope to move her out of ICU early in the week. Of course, we all send her love and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Spamalot's favorite wee-Scot: Get well soon Jak.

In happier developments:

The welcome extended by our presenters here, The Dallas Summer Musicals, could not be warmer. Each of the actors was welcomed to their dressing room with a floral arrangement and a card. The President and Managing Director greeted the Company at half-hour on Tuesday. Following Tuesday’s performance, we were all invited to an opening night party complete with food, drinks and gift bags. They offered everyone in the Company a free pass to the 6th Floor Museum and to Six Flags Over Texas. To top top it off, the volunteer guild caters in food between all of our matinee and evening shows. Yesterday it was Texas Barbeque (with peach cobbler) and this afternoon it was barbequed chicken. They really are striving to make us feel at home here in the “Big D”.

We welcomed a new company member this week. Sabra Lewis will take over the track left vacant when Jamie Karen leaves us at the end of next week. We’ve been busily rehearsing her in the afternoons and having her track the show backstage in the evenings. (Sabra was a Rockette my first years at Radio City.) After Friday’s rehearsal, Graham and I went to dinner at the Rembrandt Café. It’s owners are Dutch and wanted to bring a bit of their homeland to Dallas. We had a nice meal (I had some very tasty baked mussels and frites) and mean to go back after the show to sample their interesting beer selection.

This afternoon Mike Berg and Keith Martin introduced me to the “Triple Fudge Bourbon Brownie Ala Mode” available across the street from the theatre at the Exposition Park Café. Wow. I’m glad we have two more weeks in close proximity to this delight.

During our load-in, the Dallas Morning News was here. They interviewed several people and photographed many of our preparations for show time. (There’s an extended interview with Ken, my boss.) Some of the photos are great and the video gives you a better sense of how some of the scenery goes together than my “How We Do It” blog was able to. The link to the piece is here.

Dallas’s downtown has more after-work life in it than Houston’s. They’re farther along in getting people to live (as well as work) in the city’s center. This translates into a more welcoming experience for us! While there is still a lot of revitalization work underway downtown, there are still plenty of restaurants and late night spots near the hotel. There is also a nice grocery store and the farmers’ market is nearby. I walked over this morning and came back with some fresh peaches and strawberries and enjoyed an al fresco lunch along with my people watching. While it’s true that both of these cities spread out for miles in every direction, the piece close to our hotels is a lot more inviting. (Of course, the theatre here is driving distance from the hotels….)

I’m really looking forward to the day off tomorrow. My Aunt Melody and Uncle Colin are picking me up in the morning and taking me to the 6th Floor Museum and then out for some Tex-Mex at one of their favorite places in Dallas. It’s always fun to have someone local show you their town.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Long Live the Baseball Tour

Long Live the Baseball Tour
Thursday, June 21st

First, an important announcement: Elaine Jarzabski ROCKS! You can tell her I said so.

In the three weeks that Spamalot is in Dallas, there is precisely one Texas Rangers home game that we could get to (without calling in "sick" and missing a show). That game was this afternoon; the aforementioned Texas Rangers hosting the Chicago Cubs at 1:05. Elaine (one third of our touring hair department), through some family connections, set us up with 6 comp seats, 10 rows from the field behind 3rd base. The only thing that makes an afternoon at the ballpark nicer is free seats. Awesome.

I went with Jeff Dumas (a life-long fan of those "lovable losers" from Chicago), Michael Siberry, Matt Allen, Mike Berg and Cuz. How else, besides a wacky national touring situation, do an Angels fan, Cardinals fan, Rockies fan, Cubs fan, Yankees fan, and a fan of cricket (Michael's from New Zealand - they play cricket there, right?) all get seated in a row at the Rangers' Ballpark in Arlington? (I will adopt the local custom and ignore that someone paid a lot of money to name it Ameriquest Field.) It was fun to hear us sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame: "For it's root, root, root for the (overlapping) Cubbies/Yankees/Cardinals/Home Team..." We missed seeing Sammy Sosa hit his 600th homer by about 18 hours - in fact, Sammy didn't set foot on the field today - but we had a great afternoon. (Fun fact: Sosa hit his first ever, big league homer on June 21st, 1989 in his debut as a major leaguer and a Texas Ranger. The pitcher: Roger Clemens. His 600th homer was 1 day short of 18 years later.)

It was cloudy and threatened rain all morning. It was not especially hot, for Texas, at 80 degrees at game time. The humidity, however, was plenty to keep us sweating. A pretty nice afternoon to sit outside; I'm glad the sun didn't ever, really get out from behind the clouds and cook us all.

The ballpark is nice. It's gi-normous in that way that all sports stadiums built in a field by the freeway can be. Without having to jam a ballpark into a city lot, they can make the outside of it completely square and shape the field however they want. No need for a Green Monster or a gap in right where a fan can watch the six train rattle by every couple of minutes. In fact, beyond the center field wall in Arlington, they built a four story office building right into the ballpark! The side facing the field is floor to ceiling windows with balconies. The top floor is the Rangers' executive offices, and the first floor is ticketing and other ballpark related stuff, but the second and third floor are offices for rent. I need to start some sort of Arlington based touring office or something! They tried hard to give the place some baseball character. They're very proud of their "home run porch" in right center. It's inspired by many of the old parks that we've torn down to make room for the era of luxury boxes (coming soon to New York - curse you Steinbrenner!!!!). That portion of the park reminded me a lot of Tiger Stadium.

An aerial view of the Rangers' Ballpark at Arlington. What's missing from this photo are the miles of parking lots in all directions. They're building the new stadium for the Cowboys on the other side of the parking fields. Six Flags over Texas is on the west side of the parking lots.

The inside of the ballpark. and the "home run porch" in right field.
You can read all about the ballpark at:

In any event, it was a good game. The Rangers took an early lead, but the Cubbies fought their way back in the middle innings only to succumb to some good baserunning and hitting in the bottom of the ninth to lose 6-5. I think there were more Cubs fans in the park than Rangers fans. The "Let's go Cubbies" cheers were loud and proud.

Unlike Houston, we did get to see the Rangers' home run celebration. No trains in Arlington; the Rangers celebrate a home run with fireworks. They shoot out of a cut-out in the shape of the state of Texas above center field and out of the top of the light towers in left-center and right-center. Of course, with the humidity and not much breeze, the pyro smoke swirled in the stadium for a bit.

A nice afternoon in the sun with a good bunch of guys! Pictures coming soon.

I don't know what's up with baseball in Texas. At both parks I visited, the beer is cold, the peanuts are appropriately salty (though the vendor handed them to me today rather than the traditional toss), and I even sort of enjoyed singing Deep In the Heart of Texas, but the hot dogs SUCK. I will elaborate:
1) They're not hot dogs. This is my major objection. They're some kind of beef sausage. Tasty, but not a hot dog. Ballpark Franks, Hebrew National and (the shining example) Nathan's Famous: these are hot dogs. Pink, finely ground, unidentifiable meat: that is a hot dog. I enjoy sausage, but not when I've ordered a dog.
2) They don't come through the stands with them. You have to leave your seat to get them. Stupid. Many of you may know that I am convinced that a hot dog brought to you by the hot dog man at Yankee Stadium tastes better even than the same dog purchased at the concession stand. There are two reasons for the better dog: (a) they brought it to you and you missed none of the game (b) it was floating around in the crack-infused water of the carrier not rolling on a 7-11 style hot dog warmer in the concession stand. The man (it's always men carrying the heavy steaming hot dog pots) should ideally spear it with a long fork. I also believe that they get better as the game goes on and the water gets more hot doggy.
3) They want to put a bunch of extra crap on the "hot dog". Cheese sauce, grilled onions, chili: while these are all fine condiments, they don't belong on a ballpark dog. Your condiment choices should be limited: ketchup and mustard (if they bring it to you) one packet of each - or maybe sauerkraut and relish if you go wait in line like a fool.
4) They want you to use a knife and fork. This is outrageous. This is also because they want to serve you the footlong version. (In Houston, my regular size "hot dog" was a special order. I had to wait for it to be made. There were tons of giant Astro Dogs ready to go, but no human-scaled "hot dogs".) A proper dog comes swaddled in a napkin with the mustard and ketchup tucked into the bun, self-contained, not on a plate overflowing with cheese-wiz.
5) The buns are wrong. Ball park dogs come in those split top rolls that are baked together in great sheets. They have to be pulled apart. (Hopefully the man uses the same fork to separate the buns, open the slit and then stab the dog. This is an art form.) The bun should never be round and brown on all sides. This isn't a picnic, it's a baseball game.

Rant over, but it had to be mentioned.
I miss Yankee Stadium.

Things are looking up for the baseball tour in the coming weeks. There are a couple of minor league teams in the Dallas metro area that I need to compare schedules with, but I've been sated in my lust for Texas baseball (and did I mention that the hot dogs are terrible?). The Tulsa Drillers (AA Texas League affiliate of the Rockies) play only night games while we're in town, but the Iowa Cubs (AAA Pacific League affiliate of the, guess who, Cubs) play a Monday night game on the night we arrive in Des Moines. Then, in St. Paul, we hit baseball gold: Monday, June 30th v. Kansas City; Thursday, August 2nd v. Kansas City; & Monday, August 6th v. Cleveland. Kansas City hosts the hated Blue Jays (VERNON, YOU SUCK!) on Monday, August 13th at their park with the waterfall in center. In Portland, the Beavers (AAA, San Diego) host the Las Vegas 51s (Dodgers) on Monday, August 20th and Tuesday the 21st (opening night in Portland is Wednesday, so I can catch a game on Tuesday!). The Salt Lake Bees (AAA, Angels) will host their final game of the season against the Las Vegas 51s on Monday, September 3rd at 2:05 PM and if I take the crew flight, I just might make it to town in time... There's a 2:05 game at Coors Field on Thursday, September 20th (Rockies v. Dodgers) to wrap up the season (provided there's no Thursday rehearsal). It seems unlikely that even if the Rockies or the Mariners made the post-season that there would be any tickets or any afternoon games, but a boy can dream of more baseball...

Wow, re-reading that last paragraph, it's clear that I've gotten a little obsessive about this project. Still and all, that's at least one possible baseball game in every city except Tulsa. The sad part about all this, however, is that the Yankees (or even their affiliates: AAA Scranton, AA Trenton, High-A Tampa, Low-A Charleston & Staten Island - the Columbus Clippers "ring your bell" now belong to the Nationals) don't appear anywhere on the schedule. I will have missed an entire season of in-person Yankee baseball. Sad Face. Thank heaven there's satellite radio. Not only do they bring me John Sterling's wacky antics ("A thrilla from Godzilla!") but I can even hear Bob Sheppard on the Yankee Stadium P.A. ("Number Two-o-o, Derek Jee-tah."). A moment of respect, please, for Bob Sheppard: public address announcer for the New York Yankees since 1951, 22 world series and more than 4,500 games. (Fun fact, in his first game, Yankees v. BoSox, Shepard introduced a total of 8 future hall of famers: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and Jerry Coleman for the Yankees along with Ted Williams & Lou Boudreau for the Boston.)

Bob Sheppard. He has the best job in the world. After Mr. Sheppard missed opening day in 2006 with a broken hip, Derek Jeter asked the Yankees to record Bob's voice saying his name for use in any future such emergencies.

OK, enough baseball. I better go find something to eat!


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dallas, TX

Dallas, TX
Tuesday, June 19th

So, I had sort of forgotten that I am working for the National Touring Company of Monty Python's Spamalot. It all came back to me on Sunday night when it came time to pack up the show and move up the street to Dallas.

We're loading into the Music Hall at Fair Park today. The Music Hall opened in 1925 on the Texas State Fairgrounds. Yet again, the architecture is Moorish-inspired. The building was renovated in 1972 (a couple of restaurants and a new lobby were added) obscuring most of the original building. Still, at 3,400 seats, it's an impressive venue. It's smallish on-stage with a spacious loading dock tacked on upstage to give us enough room to layout the show. The dressing rooms flank the stage with two levels on either side. The 1970's addition (loading dock, dressing rooms, green room) is sort of charmless - more like a high school or YMCA (Francesca's impression).

The Music Hall

The really cool part about the place is that it sits on Fair Park, home to the Cotton Bowl and the Texas State Fair. While the fair doesn't get going until September, the grounds are still neat. Most of the place is built in the Art Deco style. It seems like it would be a cool place to hang out when it's all decked out for fair-time. (The 1962 movie of State Fair was actually filmed here.) The centerpiece at fair-time is "Big Tex" a 52' tall cowboy (he wears a 75 gallon hat and size 70 cowboy boots). Sadly, they only put him up for the fair (as his cloths are real) so I can only imagine how cool he must be. If you go to the Texas State Fair's website you can "hear big Tex."

I'm glad for the change of scenery (4 weeks in Houston was enough). I'm planning a trip to see the Rangers take on the Cubs this week, my Aunt and Uncle are going to show me around on Monday, and Sheila Marie's coming to town to celebrate the 4th of July. Plenty to keep me occupied for the next three weeks in Dallas!


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Houston Catch-Up

Houston Catch-Up
Saturday, June 16th

First, some photos from Louisville and the first part of Houston are here.

Some highlights:

With my "derby dog" and Mint Julep at Churchill Downs

A river tug pushing 8 barges of petroleum outside my window in Louisville.

Piper and her big bucket 'o margaritas at the Monday barbecue in Houston.

Pool Football

Francesca, pool-side.

So, it’s been forever since my last post – many apologies. The third week in Houston was much like the first two: hot and quiet. I discovered the “Red Box” DVD machine in the near-by McDonalds, rented several movies ($1 a day!) and mostly laid low. I watched The Pursuit of Happyness and was really affected by it. As expected, you saw the whole movie in the previews, but it was still enjoyable. The film really brought home how economically vulnerable so many people are. So many of us live pay check to pay check and can’t survive an emergency. Add to that impression the large numbers of homeless people I’ve seen in every city on the tour (even in the smaller cities) and it really got me thinking.

Happier topics:

Saturday between shows, several of us headed over to Goode Company Barbecue for some Texas-style barbecue. While Texas barbecue is not really my thing (I’d rather have Carolina-style and I believe a pig should be involved in barbecue), the food at Goode’s was tasty stuff. I had the brisket (the Texas specialty), spicy pork and sausage. The brisket was appropriately smoky and tender. The highlight of the meal, though, was the pecan pie. While pecan pie often has a layer of pecans and a similarly thick layer of goo underneath, the layer of goo at Goode’s was twice as thick as the pecans. The result was delicious!

Mounted on the wall inside Goode Co...

Monday, I rented a car for the week. I picked up a Chrysler Sebring convertible. I spent most of the week zooming around Houston with the top down. (Even with the top down, 95 degrees with crazy humidity is still wicked hot!) I was so anxious to get out of downtown that I picked up the car and took off toward the water. I ended up in Keemah down near the Gulf. It seems like a fun town – but not on a Monday morning. I was back in Houston in time for lunch at the Ragin’ Cajun with Chris Gurr and Erik Hayden. The place was appropriately Louisiana low country, low-rent feeling. My favorite part was the crawfish curtains. Between us, we did some major damage to the shell-fish population of the gulf. Oysters, crabs and crawfish were all consumed in large numbers. Yum. Afterwards, I hid out from news of the Sopranos finale in a movie theatre (Oceans 13 – enjoyable). That evening, Ken came over and we puzzled over the last episode ever of the Sopranos together.

Tuesday, I had more bayou food, this time it was the Mardi Gras Café with Piper. The food at the Mardis Gras was equally as delicious. (Why, oh why, isn’t the tour playing any dates in truly Cajun country?!?) After some more oysters, I had crawfish both fried and in etouffee. The spice in the food seemed to suit the heat in the air. It is nothing but hot down here. Hot and sticky everyday without even really cooling off at night. The last several days there’s been a big afternoon thunderstorm (some of them spectacular) that lowers the temperature a bit, but does nothing for the humidity. Brutal.

Wednesday, I organized the Spamily for a horseback riding adventure at Cypress Creek Trails. About a half an hour north of Houston in Humble, Texas; the trails ran along Cypress Creek and through the woods with an occasional straight-away along a Bayou. A dozen Spammers went for a two and a half hour ride. The owner of the outfit, Darolyn, was one of our guides and she took tons of pictures of all of us. We had a blast. By the time we were done, it took us all a minute to get out feet back under us!

Darolyn recommended a little place up the street for lunch: The Potatoe Patch. The Potatoe Patch (their spelling, not mine) specializes in “Comfort Food”. We ordered lots of chicken fried steak, chicken and dumplings and pie. They are also the home of the “throw’d roll.” The servers’ tee-shirts said: “If a roll aint worth throwin’ it aint worth eating.” Sure enough, a server wandered through the restaurant shouting “Hot rolls! Hot rolls!” and if you raised your hand, he’d toss you one! They also wandered through the restaurant with blueberry muffins, fired okra and fried green tomatoes. You can probably guess how I felt about all of this!

Thursday at noon, I got a call from Jeff Dumas: “Hey buddy, I’ve got five tickets to the Astros game this afternoon. Interested?” I got around in a hurry and was waiting for him outside the will call window at 1 PM. After some struggles with the box office (did I mention that the tickets were FREE?!?! Jeff threw out the first pitch earlier in the engagement.), we headed to our seats in the 12th row behind third base. It was a great game; the Astros finally surrendered the go-ahead run to the A’s in the top of the 11th inning. We didn’t get to see the Minute Maid train make a homerun lap, but we were able to keep up on the prices of oil and natural gas during the game (NYMEX has a ticker on the right field wall). I also learned that after one sings Take Me Out to the Ballgame in Houston, one follows it up with Deep in the Heart of Texas (with appropriate clapping). “Star Dogs” (as the hot dogs are known at Minute Maid Park) have nothin’ on a Nathan’s Famous from Yankee Stadium. Firstly, they don’t walk around with them floating in the crack-tainted water at Minute Maid, you have to leave your seat and go to the concession stand. Secondly, a Star Dog is more of a sausage and less of a dog. They had the roof closed on Thursday. It was weird to watch a baseball game with the air conditioning on…

The Homerun Train at Minute Maid Park. Its tender is full of oranges...

Thursday night, a dozen of us returned to the Pittsley/Dumas/Petkoff ranch and squared off in a Texas Hold’em Tournament. Though I wasn’t the big winner, we had a grand time. We played two separate games, so the whole thing didn’t go on too late. Hopefully, this will become a more regular thing.

This afternoon between shows we had lunch at Café Adobe. I enjoyed stuffed shrimp wrapped in bacon and fried (you can imagine my happiness). We went in celebration of Ken, Karl and Francesca’s birthdays (all of them had birthdays here in Houston) and had a really enjoyable, relaxed time.

Tomorrow I have to repack my suitcases for the move to Dallas on Monday. It’s been a delightfully long time since I’ve packed a suitcase! Friday I went to the Samsonite outlet and bought a new (gigantic) duffel bag to replace the brown suitcase we bought on 180th street that has been leaving pieces behind in every airport on the tour thus far…

- - -

#1 Texas Lesson Learned Thus Far: There is no irony in Texas. The “Don’t Mess With Texas” motto is not a joke. There is no humor involved when men at the bar do a shot of whiskey and shout: “Yee Hah!” They are not driving their enormous pick-up trucks, wearing their cowboy boots, or carrying their concealed fire arms with even any unintentional humor. They mean it. You are not supposed point out and laugh at the signs outside every bar about the amount of jail time that could result from carrying an unlicensed gun. What ever you do, DO NOT mess with Texas.


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Photo Catch Up

Photo Catch Up
Wednesday, June 6th

An album of Indianapolis photos (beginning with more from Mitchell's party then on to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Denise and at Churchill Downs) is here.

Some highlights:

Throw me something, Piper! (Robert, Piper, Paula & Esther at Mitchell's party in Indy.)

JV & Denise in the lobby at the Galt House

W/ my mint julep at Churchill Downs

Graham, Piper, Callie & Darryl trackside.

Between shows on Sunday, a bunch of headed over to a restaurant in Midtown called the Front Porch for a crawfish boil. We sat outside on their deck and dug into big pots of crawfish, corn and potatoes with spicy cajun seasoning. The buckets were filled with crawfish by the pound - $3 for a pound! Piper, being our resident Louisiana girl, instructed us in the fine art of dismembering the river bugs and "suckin' the head". If only we didn't have to go back to work! It was messy fun & I smelled like crawfish for the rest of the day...

For our day off on Monday Tony, Robert and Jeff hosted a barbecue. They rented a townhouse out near the Galleria for the duration of our Houston engagement. Having seen both Angelina and Siobhan's place and now the boys' townhouse, I'm convinced that on some of these longer stays I should investigate other housing options. I really dig the Residence Inn, but the guys' place was amazing AND they're paying way less than I am. That said, we had a blast. There were several grills next to the pool, a big cooler in the garage for the beer, and lots of smiling faces in the Texas sunshine. We lounged by the pool watching some of the guys chase the football around in the water and enjoyed Siobahn & Angelina's chicken fight (highlight: Siobahn giving up and going for Angelina's hair in desperation). Upstairs, lots of people took turns at the keyboard. It was a really wonderful (and relaxing) way to spend the day off. I hope some of my pictures capture the easy vibe of the whole day when I get them back.

Yesterday, we welcomed Ken back to the show & celebrated his birthday with cake at intermission. It was Suzanne's turn to buy the cake (we have a birthday club: whoever's birthday was most recent buys the cake for the next person's birthday and the company reimburses). Just before he left for vacation, Suzanne gave Ken a haircut and nicked his ear. He bled for hours afterward. So, his cake was in the shape of an ear with frosting blood all over the top. Francesca completed the look with a candle for an earring. It was a big hit! The cake was delicious (raspberry filled with buttercream frosting). How often do you get to say: "Have you tried the bloody ear cake?"


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Week #2 in Houston

Week #2 in Houston
Saturday, June 2nd

Thursday, I rode Houston’s light rail train down to the zoo. I had two goals for my visit to the zoo: (1) to see a real live armadillo. (2) to take a picture of the pygmy marmoset – Sheila Marie’s favorite animal. When I arrived at the zoo, around noon, literally all of the animals were sleeping. Of course, I would be sleeping too, if I were stuck outside all day. (Thursday it didn’t rain at all and it was sunny and hot.) Even finding some of the animals was a challenge: the tiger was asleep behind a big rock all the way at the back of his enclosure. The spectacled bear was hanging out in his pool with just his head above the water. Turns out, that armadillos are nocturnal; the one armadillo in the zoo was asleep inside a log. I only got to see his sleeping back. The pygmy marmosets had recently had babies, so they were off in the nursery. I had a nice afternoon, however. (I even looked at all the creepy snakes!) The zoo always leaves me feeling a little conflicted, though. While it is undeniably cool to see all the crazy animals, and while I’m sure that the folks at the zoo do everything they can to make sure the animals are entertained and comfortable, I do wonder if the animals are happy there. How much fun can it be to be an alligator resting on a heating pad and having kids bang on the glass to get a reaction from you?

Thursday night, Siobhan and Angelina hosted a Sopranos inspired evening at their apartment. They baked up an enormous amount of ziti, quiche and sausage and peppers as well as a couple of cheesecakes and invited us all over. Several company members showed up dressed in the height of North Jersey fashion. Lots of dark suits, wife-beater tank tops and slicked back hair for the men. The girls were in their tallest stilettos. Piper even armed herself with a “shotgun” (a water pistol filled with vodka). The food was tasty and the company was fun, but I didn’t stay too late.

Friday I ventured out to the visitors’ center in despair. I asked the nice lady behind the desk: “I’m here for another two weeks without a car. What is there to do downtown within walking distance?” “Well,” she said “there is a walking tour of downtown leaving in just a minute.” Perfect. I have dubbed the tour: Grandpa’s Walking Tour. My guide was a little, older man (he was at lest 70) who took us on a “Tunnel Tour”. Many of the buildings in downtown are connected by private underground passages. Some of these passages are lined with restaurants and little stores, but some are just wide hallways. As part of our tour, we (myself and a woman from North Dakota who was here with her husband for an insurance conference) stopped to pick up his tickets to the ballet and make a dinner reservation for our leader’s anniversary dinner (running errands with Grandpa and paying for the privilege!). Our guide did have some interesting history to impart and knew a little bit about the architecture of Houston’s skyscrapers. After two and a half hours (and a stop at the Smoothie King) the lady from North Dakota had about enough. When are guide actually said: “Hmmmm… What else can I show you?” she bolted.

A map of downtown's 7 miles of tunnels. It should be pointed out that they have these tunnels because it's too darn hot for human beings to be outside. Sadly, the tunnels are closed after business hours and on weekends.

Friday night, in celebration of Suzanne’s birthday, a group of us headed out to the Armadillo Palace to go “boot scootin’”. The Armadillo Palace was all that its name implies. A giant silver armadillo stands out front. Inside, the bar stools are shaped like saddles and the band holds court over a dance floor at the far end of the room. There were a couple of tequila shots involved, and we all had a really good time welcoming Suzanne’s birthday and soaking up the uniquely Texan atmosphere.

The giant armadillo outside.

This afternoon, while Brian and Francesca ran the show, I was able to sit in the back of the house and listen in on the spotlights. We travel three electricians. One (Mike) works on the deck during the show. A second (Mark) runs the light board – he’s the one pushing the “go” button. The third (Eric) is in charge of the spotlights. Two more local electricians work behind spotlights during the show. Eric not only runs his own spot, but calls and supervises the other two. While he’s doing his own cues, he’s calling out their cues (while simultaneously listening to the stage manager call the show). He’s giving them all the info they need (who they’re lighting, where to find them, what intensity, how fast to fade up or down and what color to use in their lamp). I can’t imagine what it must sound like on an opening night in a new city with guys who’ve never seen the show! It reminded me how much is involved in our little show.

Today, between shows, I went with Suzanne and our hair department local to a delicious, dive-y Mexican restaurant: The Last Concert Café. The restaurant is actually several small building grouped around an enclosed courtyard, and we sat in the middle. There was sort of a carport-type roof over us that let in plenty of light (there was a tree & some sort of flowering vine growing inside). We could watch the sudden downpour but still enjoy our enchiladas. It was a just the right amount of low rent authentic. It seems like it would be a great place to see a band and hang out for an evening.

The indoor patio at The Last Concert Cafe.

No big plans for the next couple of days. Casey has to work on Monday and Tuesday, so I don’t think I’m headed over to Austin. Ken will be back on Tuesday, so I’ll happily turn all the personal day requests, vacation schedules and general administrative work back over to him. Playing PSM for the week was fine – but I’ll be glad when our fearless leader is back in the hot seat! It's been great to have Brian here for the last week and a half. His energy has been welcome in the office and onstage. He and Francesca are a great match.


Friday, June 1, 2007

In the Heights

In the Heights
Friday, June 1st

When I need a WaHi fix, I can get it on the web! First, Google Earth let me fly around NYC and zoom in on my home from a satellite. Now, Google maps will take me right down to street level. Click here to see what I mean.

The link should drop you right outside 44 Pinehurst. You can virtually "drive" down all the streets in my neighborhood. Click anywhere on the map to zoom in, then you can tilt and pan the image. It's all there: Jin's, Jesse's, even some neighborhood types out and about on the street. Pretty cool stuff! It's all street based, so you can't tour the parks or check out anything not visible from the road (very few of my favorite neighborhood spots are in the middle of the street...). It all also apears they shot WaHi on a cloudy day, but at least the trees are all green!

I changed the format of the blog a little bit. From the main page, only the latest entry will load. All the older entries are still here, just use the index on the left. Hopefully, this will let the page load faster as you won't be loading the last seven entries all at once. I also added a map of the tour to the bottom of the page. It only shows the cities I visited on the tour (in red), the cities I plan to visit (everything through the beginning of '08 is in blue) and the city I'm in now (in purple). I stole the original map from the Spamalot official website (Visit Spamalot on the web) and did a little editing...