Gertrude the Great

My good friend Walter’s mom Gertrude passed away last weekend at the age of 78, after a long and valiant battle with ovarian cancer.

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Most of my friends and I are now at the age where parent departures are happening with more and more frequency. Most of my buddies have lost at least one parent; many have lost both of them and are now middle-aged orphans, as am I. As Walter said in his email, Gertrude had a wonderful life. Given her age and her cancer diagnosis, her departure wasn’t really a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to the folks who raised you.

Walter has led a very Forrest-Gump-like life. When he was a young kid, his parents were good friends with Tom Cruise’s parents – Walter has a picture of Tom Cruise at his 6th birthday party. In high school, he was a star defensive back for a team that won state, and also had a bit part in the movie Stripes, appearing in the opening scene as one of two kids who run away without paying after getting a taxi ride from Bill Murray. He was in ROTC at Xavier, and has dozens of great stories from his summers at Army training camps. He graduated from the University of Kentucky law school, worked as an attorney in Horse Cave, KY (more great stories from this era), got his Masters in tax from the University of Denver and worked for big accounting firms in Minneapolis and Cleveland, then became a border patrol agent before returning to Louisville to teach high school and coach football. Now he’s a practicing attorney and still does some tax law work on the side.

Walter was also one of the groomsmen in my wedding in June of 1997. He had to race back to Fort Wayne, Indiana on the night of our wedding because his father had suffered a massive heart attack. Sadly, his dad died a couple days later. So June 21st, 1997 is a day that is etched into both of our memories, for polar opposite reasons. 

I met Wally during our freshman year of college, way back in the Jurassic Era (a.k.a. 1982). He’s always been one of those guys that you felt comfortable talking to, even about the most difficult subjects. With Walt, you can always have a discussion that is deeper than the typical guy conversations about sports and… other sports. I think a lot of Walt’s simpatico in that area comes from his mom. After her first career as a mother, she spent more than 20 years as a counselor, seminar leader, speaker and workshop facilitator. She always had a deep spirituality about her and she passed that on to her kids.

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Here’s an excerpt from her obituary:

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Whenever a parent of one of my friends dies, I like to pass along the Ray Bradbury short story called “The Leave-Taking,” partly because Ray Bradbury is the greatest author that ever lived, but mostly because truer words have never been spoken than the line in the story that says “no person ever died that had a family.”

Tomorrow I’ll make the 90-minute drive down to Louisville to pay my last respects to Gertrude Martin, but her spirit is so strong that I know there ain’t no grave that can hold her body down.

Lucius, looming large

I’ve blogged about the band Lucius before. And I’ll do it again. Because they’re just so darn good. They’ve had quite a run lately. Last weekend they sang with My Morning Jacket and Roger Waters at the annual Bridge School Benefit concert put on by Neil and Pegi Young.

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And on Tuesday they knocked it out of the park with this incredible performance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, showcasing not just their vocal range but also their emotional range (and their fabulous matching outfits, as per usual).

Their fall tour started today. Here are all the dates… if they come anywhere near your town, check ’em out.
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Get on the bus

I’ve ridden public transportation (or my bicycle) back and forth to the jobs I’ve held for 19 of the past 20 years. And the one year where I had to drive to my job at an ad agency in the ‘burbs, I hate-hate-haaaaated the daily commute. White-knuckle wheel gripping, getting stuck in rush hour logjams on I-75, watching all manner of reckless driving (and mind you this was two decades ago… texting has take distracted driving to an entirely new level).

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Riding the bus is so much less stressful. I’m blissfully unaware of traffic as soon as I take a seat, put on my headphones and bury my nose in a magazine or book. It’s not a bus, it’s a chauffeur-driven limo. It’s my Uber, only cheaper.

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When people try to guess my age, they usually guess quite a few years lower than I actually am. Some of that is genetics (none of it is Just For Men, I swear), but I think some of it can also be attributed to the fact that my daily commute has been considerably less stressful.

Because I’m a tree-hugger, I also like the fact that public transportation is also better for the environment.

Because I’m a cheapskate, I like the fact that riding the bus saves me cash on gas, parking, insurance and wear and tear on our cars.

Because I grew up in Arkansas, where snow was a rarity, I feel much safer riding inside a ten-ton machine instead of driving a puny car when winter weather hits.

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But retired police officer turned urban living/mass transit advocate Derek Bauman brought up an interesting point that I’d never considered about public transportation: it also saves lives. Please read his great CityBeat article here (a quick excerpt is below). It’s written about Cincinnati, where we just added a streetcar to our public transportation options, but it applies in any major metropolitan area.

Buses and trains have fatality rates far below cars and trucks. A 2013 study in Research in Transportation Economics titled “Comparing the Fatality Risks in United States Transportation Across Modes and Over Time” found that busses and trains have a fatality rate of between .11 and .15 per billion passenger miles, while cars and light trucks have a fatality rate of 7.3 per billion passenger miles. 

What’s Beach Slang for “really good band”?

Beach Slang has my favorite album of the moment, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings.

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If you have a half-hour to spare, you can check out the entire disc here (or click on the image below). If you like earnest, guitar-driven, punk-tinged rock, it’ll be time well spent.

To me, Beach Slang has a great early-era Replacements sound to them. And their lead singer James Alex seems like he pours his heart and soul into the music, based on this interview. A few key quotes:

“And we play our guts out. That’s what we do every night. Even if we play for one kid, that could be the one kid who sparks this whole thing. Every kid matters. If it’s one person or thousands, we’re gonna play just as hard.”

“I had a wrecked childhood, so you look for family when you don’t have one. I found that in punk rock, in the scene, my friends were my family and I want to shout that out for all the kids who are lost and looking.” 

“There’s something very romantic and necessary about rock and roll not being handed to you. It’s a blue-collar job and you have to work hard for it. If it means enough to you, you’ll do anything for it.”

“Sweat, urgency, unpredictability and danger. Rock and roll needs to have that. No two shows should be the same.”

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Lost their home, not their sense of humor

Just east of downtown Cincinnati, alongside Interstate 71, there’s a dense, jungle-like thicket of trees and shrubs along the hillside leading up to Mt. Adams. The multi-acre site has been a favorite haunt of homeless people for many years. I’m guessing  one or more of them modified this sign to read “Trespassers will be pros.”

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