Mowing down some food

I’d like to think that the part of town in which I live, Mt. Washington, isn’t hillbilly. But then I’m confronted with the harsh reality: a guy on a riding mower at the Wendy’s drive-thru.

I don’t think he understands the concept of “grass-fed beef.”

Maybe he’s trying to “cut” his caloric intake.

He’s been waiting for his order for a few minutes, but it won’t be “lawn” now.

He wants “mower” ketchup packets for his fries.

I’m not a Karen… I’m just carin’

In my dotage, I’ve become “that guy”…

OK, I haven’t taken to yelling at clouds yet, but I DID write to the City of Cincinnati to school them on the many benefits of the “zipper merge” when they had traffic barrels set up on the road I take to work.

(Sidebar: the Zipper Merge deserves its own post… study up here.)

And I used the Fix it Cincy! app on my phone to complain about the sinkhole forming near a drain on the baseball fields near our house. Because if someone were walking there after dark, they could break a leg. And not in the Broadway sense.

The city put up the caution tape first, and filled the sinkhole shortly thereafter.

And I also used the Fix it Cincy! app to get a Grand Canyon-sized pothole filled on a busy street near our house.

I sent in my request on a Thursday night, and the pothole was repaired by Monday afternoon. (And yes, I filled out the feedback survey to let them know I appreciated their prompt response – I can do compliments just as well as complaints.)

You can’t fight City Hall. But you can ask them to be wise stewards of your tax dollars, and fix what needs to be fixed. And if you don’t reach out, you’ve got no right to complain. But feel free to yell at clouds all you want.

Super United

I’ve never been a fan of the two week gap between the NFL’s conference championship games and the Super Bowl. It was two long weeks of seeing and hearing every sports journalist lionize Tom Brady (he’s the G.O.A.T., not a lion!)… and seeing Patrick Mahomes ad infinitum (a Latin term meaninng “an endless number of State Farm commercials).

Sneaker-selling season started earlier this year…

But this year, the Cincinnati Bengals are in the Super Bowl. (Spell-check just underlined the last sentence… even computers can’t believe it happened.) And I’m really digging the two-week gap. It’s an extra week for the citizens of this city to bask in the warm orange glow of a long-awaited Super Bowl appearance.

Photo credit: Personal work of Jeffrey Dean.

An extra week to hope, to dream… to believe.

An extra week to rally around a common cause, rather than dwelling on the differences that seem to divide us. There’s no red vs. blue… just orange and black. Instead of yelling at strangers on the internet, we yell “Who Dey!” together.

Of course the phrase came from beer… would you expect anything less from us?

We have more in common than we think… but sometimes it takes a sports team to help us realize that.

Heads I win, Tails I Kinda win

I went to my first-ever NFL playoff game yesterday. (Uh, to be clear, I was merely a spectator… although I could’ve been an All-Pro defensive back except for one minor thing: a complete and utter lack of skill.)

Las Vegas Raiders (still feels weird typing that) versus the Cincinnati Bengals. The team I’ve loved since I was six, against the team from my adopted hometown, the place I’ve lived for more than 30 years.

True story: my co-worker moonlights as the Bengals mascot, Who Dey

The “more than 30 years” is significant because the last time the Cincinnati Bengals had won a playoff game was 1991. So while I was rooting for my long-suffering Raiders — they haven’t won a playoff game in 20 years — part of me wanted the “Bungles” to end their drought.

My Raiders have had to deal with a ton of off-field issues this year. Their former coach, Jon Gruden, resigned mid-season after reports emerged of him using homophobic, racist and misogynistic language in emails from several years back, while he worked as an ESPN analyst. In early November, their 2020 first-round-draft-pick wide receiver Henry Ruggs III killed a 23-year-old woman and her dog while driving drunk and going 156 mph, and was released from the team. A week later, another 2020 first rounder, cornerback Damon Arnette, was released after posting a social media video where he was waving a gun and threatening to kill someone.

Yet somehow, some way, the Oakland… er, Los Angeles, er, Oakland, er, Las Vegas Raiders managed to eke out victories in their final four regular season games and make the playoffs. Sure, now that they were in the playoffs, I wanted them to win, but to use a term popular in their latest hometown, they were “playing with house money.”

Watching the game was a blast… and not just because my friend Whit got free tickets in the Miller Lite Who Dey party deck, although free tickets, free food and free beer never hurt.

The game was fairly close throughout, and with 30 seconds to go, the Raiders had first and goal at the Bengals 9-yard-line, needing a touchdown to tie the game and send it to OT. But on 4th down, the Bengals intercepted a pass at the goal line to seal the victory.

The fateful interception. Photo credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Cincinnati Enquirer

Watching your favorite team lose is never easy, but this was probably the easiest loss to take ever. Because watching 70,000+ Bengal fans cheering and high-fiving as their team exorcised decades’ worth of demons was pretty cool. And if you listened closely, you could hear the entire city breathe a sigh of relief.

Photo credit: Albert Cesare/The Cincinnati Enquirer

Or maybe that was just the free beer talking.

For Those About to Folk Rock, We Salute You

Ellis Paul celebrated his 57th birthday last night with a few dozen friends. Pretty standard old guy stuff. Except Ellis was on a stage, at a small theater, and his friends were in the audience.

Ellis Paul is a singer-songwriter. A folk musician. A traveling minstrel, really. He’s been doing his thing in similar settings for three and a half decades.

No strobe lights, no smoke machines, no flash pots, no video projections. Just Ellis and his acoustic guitars. Here’s the thing: Ellis Paul doesn’t need all the rock star stage frippery to blow an audience away. It’s the songs, the stories, the music… connecting with the audience at their souls, instead of on the surface. That’s what really matters. And Ellis Paul delivered in spades last night, as I’m sure he does every night.

He’s a kid from rural Maine — potato country, apparently — who went to Boston College on a track scholarship, hurt his knee, picked up a guitar, and never looked back. All those open-mic slots on the Boston folk scene decades ago helped him hone his craft. It’s great that artists like Billie Eilish can release albums from their bedroom, but they’re not learning the nuances that can only come from a live setting. Mic technique, vocal dynamics, the pacing of a set, when to throw in a joke, when to break out the most popular song.

Toward the end of his set last night, Ellis unplugged and wandered out into the audience to sing “Annalee”…. so simple, yet simply amazing.

It was Ellis Paul’s 57th birthday, but the folks in the audience are the ones who got the unforgettable gift.

I went to the show with my buddy John Sandman, who often will go up to the artist at the merch booth and give them some cash, saying “I listen to your music on Spotify, so here’s some cash to replace what I would’ve spent on your albums.” Not a bad philosophy – if Spotify isn’t paying much in royalties (and they aren’t), we can!

Touring and merch sales are how indie artists survive, and gigs have been few and far between these past couple of years. So if you go to a show and love it, give the artists some “certificates of appreciation.”

The true spirit of the season

If you’re looking for the true spirit of the holiday season, here it is:

Uh, I’m not saying that the true spirit of the holiday season is to gain 10 pounds from gorging on delicious baked goods. Although the bathroom scale at my house might beg to differ.

These homemade goodies came courtesy of my co-worker Kelsi and her husband Tommy. Last week, they baked, boxed, and delivered similar batches to nearly a dozen friends all over town, with no expectations of reciprocity. Just because.

That alone is pretty cool, but Kelsi and Tommy have really and truly embodied the spirit of the holiday season all year long… even longer, actually. When the pandemic hit, they started making similar “Baked Boxes” (as they dubbed them) once or twice a month, and distributed them to friends and co-workers in exchange for a donation to Crayons to Computers, a local non-profit that provides free educational supplies to teachers, many of whom would otherwise have to dip into their own pockets to purchase them for their students.

Yep, for months on end, Kelsi and Tommy spent their own money, and their own precious time, making goodies for others… while raising funds to help low-income students get the school supplies they need. Bringing joy to friends, bringing joy to teachers, bringing joy to students. If that doesn’t make your heart grow three sizes, you might want to see your cardiologist.

Imagine what a difference we could make if all of us opted to forgo — or at least downsize — our own holiday wish list, and instead redirect those funds to folks who truly need help. Giving over receiving. Other’s needs over our own wants. Sounds like the true spirit of the season to me… thanks, Kelsi and Tommy, for showing us the way.

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