While I Was Away

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Good heavens, beloved readers, an entire riding season has passed since I last posted here! It was never my intention to be so quiet for so long. Time just got the better of me. I won’t let that happen a second time. Here is a recap of things that have transpired since I last wrote to you.

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The new job I started last fall with Diaz Group LLC has continued to expand and evolve. The people there, at all levels of the organization, are top shelf and having spent so many years in the facilities maintenance, snow and ice management, and green industries, I’m definitely in my element. Although my title has not yet changed, my role with the company has become increasingly strategic in scope. This has become a unique opportunity that almost makes me want to thank my last employer, whose name does not even deserve mention on my pages anymore, for having decided to part ways with me. Of course anything can happen, sometimes without warning, but for now I am exactly where I want to be.

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With my shoulder replacement completely healed, I was able to resume riding again. Getting the rust off my riding skills took me longer than I expected, in part because the layoff had been so long, but also because something that has changed between my ears. Even though my severe shoulder injury occurred while walking, not riding, just getting hurt so badly has made me aware of my vulnerability. That’s something on which I must continue to work because the wrong kind of fear can be dangerous when riding.

As I do every year, I kicked off the riding season at the beginning of May by attending Motorcycle Sunday in Aurora. This year’s event was made extra special when my son came in from the Quad Cities to attend with me, meeting up with another dear friend to hang out together, and then my daughter and her boyfriend, non-riders, came over to hang with the three of us for a while.

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From spring through fall, I did much grilling, both at home with family and with my dear friend Ann up in Wisconsin, who like my son shares my love for cooking and is a very skilled cook in her own right. I used my little smoker a few times as well. Some dishes were better than others but all were quite flavorful and there were no total failures.

The smoker is new for me and a welcome addition to my culinary arsenal. Smoking foods, however, is far from a foolproof endeavor. In short order, I have already learned a couple of fundamental lessons. First, that just like any other type of flavoring, woodsmoke can be overdone. The smoke flavor should complement all the other flavors in play. Overdo it and you may end up with an unwelcome bitterness that overpowers all the other flavors. The second lesson I learned in a hurry is that you can’t hurry. When you’re slow cooking with a smoker, time is your friend, your ally. For best results, don’t shortchange that friend.

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Last June, for the first time in years, my son joined me for the annual Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run, which benefits the Middle East Conflicts War Memorial. I was grateful to have my son along. I only wish the weather had been more favorable. Despite the Freedom Run being a rain-or-shine proposition, and with significant rain in the forecast, attendance for the 2019 event was a fraction of what I’ve witnessed in past years. Indeed, we were hampered by an extended torrential downpour at the starting point. Still, I would like to have seen a better turnout. This cause deserves a better turnout. That’s why I was there, as was my son. In fact, I have been trying to get Ann to come down for this event since we began riding together — about four years now — but she has always had a conflicting commitment during that weekend in June. As it turns out, this was one time I was glad she couldn’t come. Not because I didn’t want her along for the ride — I always want her along — but she would have been miserable in that rain and the turnout would not have impressed her at all. Maybe next year.

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July brought about two fantastic road trips. The first was a very long day trip with my wife Karen. The only thing that kept it from being an overnighter was that we couldn’t get anyone to take care of the pets. Ah, but it was a fantastic little road trip! We went to the Quad Cities to see Holiday Inn performed at a dinner theater called Circa 21, where our son John had been working as the theater’s Technical Director. As such, John was able to get us good seats, ate dinner with us and sat with us for the show, introduced us to the theater’s Operations Manager as well as some of the cast and crew, and then after the performance, gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the theater. Karen and I returned home sometime during the overnight hours, tired but happy and more than a little bit proud, too.

As a venue, Circa 21 is a great theater. Actors come in from across town as well as across the United States to perform there. Dinner, served buffet style, is exceptionally well-prepared. We enjoyed a bottle of wine with our dinner and the bar also sells a variety of cocktails, including ice cream drinks. The show itself was excellent and was preceded by performances by the waitstaff. For the money, one would be hard-pressed to find any better theatrical entertainment value.

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After missing the Midwest Motorcycle Rally last July due to my broken shoulder and subsequent replacement surgery (see My Summer Interrupted, Part II if you haven’t read the shoulder saga), I picked up Ann on a sunny Wednesday morning and we headed to Winona, Minnesota for a few days. What an awesome time we had exploring the area, on our own as well as with other rallygoers on the guided tours for which the MMR has become famous.

This year’s trip was particularly enjoyable for several reasons, not the least of which was that this was my longest trip of any consequence since I’d had my surgery a year earlier. The recovery period for shoulder replacements is measured in months, not days or even weeks. Most people don’t know this but during the first two months of my recovery, during which my physical activity had been severely restricted, Ann would “take me with her” on her daily walks by sending me photographs from the nature trails, river walks, lake shore, marina, farmers market, and more. She did her darnedest to keep my spirits up during what were some pretty dark days for me.

Besides getting to visit the rally’s new venue in Winona, Ann and I had also gone Dutch on a pair of matching Bell helmets with Bluetooth® communication headsets. This allowed us to talk to each other in a near-normal tone of voice wherever we went on the bike. Fantastic! Our Bell helmets also cut down on the wind noise in our ears, reducing fatigue as well as possibly some hearing damage, which for a half-deaf gent like me is important.

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Labor Day weekend brought about one more road trip, which may seem like something but was still well below average for me. I picked up Ann on Friday morning and we headed for Cedar Rapids, Iowa with a stop in Rockford to see the Anderson Japanese Gardens. I had been there once before, years ago, and it made such a lasting impression on me that I felt compelled to share the experience with Ann. She loved it! From there we took Highway 2, a very pleasant motorcycle road, down to Dixon and then endured some endless road construction until we hit Interstate 80. Following a burger stop at Cerno’s Bar and Grill, a historic bar imported from Belgium and built by Pabst Blue Ribbon in 1898, we continued on to Cedar Rapids, arriving at our hotel that evening. My son John departed from work later in the day and joined us at our hotel that same night.

Our Saturday was a full one. A delightful friend of John’s named Marjorie, who hails from elsewhere in Iowa, met us in the hotel parking lot for a day of two-up motorcycle touring. We began with a hearty family-style breakfast at the Ox Yoke Inn in historic Amana. After everyone had eaten their fill, we strolled through the town, visiting the shops, tasting wines, etc. before gearing up and riding northwest to Anamosa, home of the National Motorcycle Museum and J&P Cycles retail store. We then went into nearby Stone City for supper at the General Store Pub. In hindsight, I guess we went pretty high on history that day.

On Sunday morning John, Ann, and I saddled up and rode into Illinois, stopping for a few hours in historic Galena, where we met up with another old friend of ours for a few hours before heading home. At that point, John and our friend Vern headed toward Chicago while Ann and I meandered back to her home in Wisconsin before I turned south and headed back home myself. We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.

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A week later, Karen and I were making our annual excursion to the Sandwich Fair, which is hands down the best county fair for miles around. We tried to get the now-grown kids to join us, as they used to do when they had no choice in the matter, but getting four or more adults to rendezvous at the same place at the same time can be challenging. Still, Karen and I had our usual fun time. Can’t wait ’til next year.

In September, my son John and I met up after work and went to the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago for a night of fantastic reggae/ska/club music. The opening act was Steel Pulse, a UK-based band that was the first non-Jamaican group to win a Grammy for Best Reggae Album. They were astounding, to say the least. I walked in not knowing who they were and walked out a fan.

The next performer was Shaggy, a Jamaican-born musician of whom both my son and I are great fans. Exactly how this artist has bridged the generation gap between John and I is not exactly clear, but we were beeboppin’ into the night.

The headliner was UB40, a group whom I have adored since the 1980’s. As Ann has also appreciated a number of their songs, I had hoped to entice her down to Chicago for this event, but as the show occurred on a Wednesday night and a late one at that, it was not to be. Hey, I never expected to see UB40 in person myself and my son John never thought he’d ever see Shaggy live and in person. I submit that the possibilities are indeed possible, so who is to say that Ann and I won’t see UB40 in concert sometime in the future?

For the sake of time and space, I have omitted several other highlights, but suffice it to say it’s been an awesome year so far. Soon the snow will be falling, but I may still get another ride or two in. Time will tell.

I know, it’s been a long post. If you’ve continued reading this far, as always, thanks for hanging with me.

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Coming Soon: The Rendezvous Run

Rendezvous

My wife took this photo one year ago, to mark the first day in the 2016 riding season that my son, John, and I had ridden together. John had recently flown home to Chicagoland from his temporary home in Portland, Oregon, where he had been a student of the Portland Actors Conservatory. Less than a month later, John and I rode our motorcycles to Portland, along with a good (and experienced) riding buddy of ours named Eddie. We also had a chase vehicle, aka my wife and eldest sister following along in the family minivan. After showing us around the surrounding region, my son and his bike stayed behind in Portland, while the rest of us returned home. That had been an awesome trip, my longest to date. In all, I had ridden roughly 4,800 miles and enjoyed nearly every one of them.

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John and I have not yet ridden together this season, but that will soon change. You see, he has now graduated from the conservatory and although he plans to remain in Portland for a while, he has secured work—as in professional (read: paid) work—with the Mississippi Bend Players, a new theater group in the Quad Cities. The Mississippi Bend Players will be performing at the new Brunner Theatre Center at Augustana College in Rock Island.

A few interesting points are in order. First, John graduated from Augustana in 2015 with a double major in Asian Studies and Theater Arts. Second, there is a little-known story involving a chance acquaintance between my son and an individual who would become a benefactor of the Brunner Theater Center—so you could say that John was at least indirectly influential in bringing this new theatrical venue from a concept to a reality. Third, while working in the Quad Cities, my son will be directly involved in the technical aspects (sets, lighting, and sound) of three MBP productions, plus he will also be a featured performer in one of the three, a production titled Wait Until Dark. Finally, Jeffrey L. Coussens, who directed a number of stage productions in which John performed, worked tech support, or both as an Augustana College student, will also be the director of Wait Until Dark.

On a personal note, I had the extreme pleasure of meeting and speaking with Jeff Coussens during John’s years at Augustana. Jeff’s insights were always of interest to me and I do hope I get the opportunity to exchange thoughts and perspectives with him again this summer.

 

2016 Bonneville

John and I, along with our good friend Eddie, had ourselves a great time last year, during our epic journey to Oregon. When I first heard that John was planning to ride his bike from Portland to the Quad Cities this year, I suggested a similar escort, but the boy wasn’t too choked up about that idea. He was, however, fine with the notion of meeting at some halfway point—and thus the 2017 Rendezvous Run was born.

At the beginning of this month, at an annual Motorcycle Sunday event which I am known to attend, I mentioned the possibility of a midpoint rendezvous to my friend Eddie. His immediate response was, “If you want company, let me know; I’d love to join you guys again.” So naturally, I texted my son and let him know.

John’s response? “Cool, just like old times! You might want to ask Vern, Too.”

MGD + Vern 2016

My friend Vern, just like Eddie, is a friend from way back, and he just happened to be walking beside me at the Motorcycle Sunday event when John texted me. So I turned and told him what was up.

Vern stopped in his tracks, laid one arm across mine for emphasis. turned to me and said, “You just tell me when and where.”

I texted John, “He’s in.” John was working at the time, but it didn’t take him long to respond.

“Oh boy, now we have to plan. It’s a party of its own!”

2017 Rendezvous

And so our 2017 Rendezvous Run is on. One week from today, John Will depart from Portland Oregon, while Eddie, Vern, and I head west from a predetermined starting point In Morris, Illinois. John will attempt to make Twin Falls, Idaho that evening, while my party and I aim for Lincoln, Nebraska. We have the easier route, believe me.

On Wednesday, June 7, if all goes as planned, we will rendezvous in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The exact halfway point is somewhere west of Cheyenne, but after some investigation, John and I agreed that the exact halfway point was in the middle of nowhere and was therefore not a suitable target. So Cheyenne it is.

Once we are reunited, we will celebrate in Cheyenne and then all head east together the following morning. If all goes anywwhere near as planned, it will be epic.

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Needless to say, I intend to chronicle the whole thing right here on my MGD Time blog site, with regular updates posted to my Facebook page. Please feel free to follow our journey via either channel.

I look forward to sharing our adventures with you. See you on the road!

 

A Nice Little Burger Run

Miss Scarlett and Me

This burger run was nearly called on account of rain. It had been an on again, off again thing all week long, as the weather forecast flipped from partly sunny to a 30% chance of rain to a 70% chance of rain and then back to a 30% chance before settling on “mostly cloudy with rain toward evening” by the time today actually arrived. That was good enough for my friend Ann and me, who had been itching to go riding together since last November. As circumstances had it, Saturday had been the far better day, weather-wise, but Sunday was our only mutually available day for riding. It isn’t always easy when riding companions live over 100 miles apart, but then I’ve never been intimidated by distances. And so we watched the weather forecast evolve daily until today, when our story begins.

Kenosha, Wisconsin has proven to be roughly equidistant between Ann’s home and my own. When the days are shorter, as is the case in early spring and late fall, we sometimes arrange to meet and begin our riding from there. Today we met up at 11:00 AM in a large parking lot just off Interstate 94, beneath an endless canopy of steel gray clouds. The ambient temperature was 52 degrees and climbing. We would have felt much warmer at that temperature had the sun been shining, but as is the case with most things in life, one must play the hand that has been dealt. We had been dealt a cold start to our morning and the promise of rain before suppertime, so we planned a short run centered around lunch and a walk. Not being strangers to riding, Ann and I both arrived dressed in layers for warmth and adjustability. Within minutes, we were on the bike—my full dresser Victory Vision Tour, affectionately named Miss Scarlett—and headed for the unlikely destination of Burlington, Wisconsin, home of one Fred’s World’s Best Burgers, also known as Fred’s Parkview.

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I have to admit, having married a girl from Kenosha, I’ve been visiting and traveling this region for decades. Over the course of all those years, I’d always known where Burlington was, but never knew much about this community, nor had I ever felt compelled to go there. Until now. Boasting the “World’s Best Burgers,” this establishment known as Fred’s sits on the northeast corner of Milwaukee Avenue and North Pine Street in downtown Burlington. The founder and owner of Fred’s is a woodworker by the name of Fred Mabson, who used his craft to create a unique atmosphere in which to enjoy this family-friendly eating and drinking establishment. As soon as we stepped through the doors, Ann and I were surrounded by tastefully finished knotty pine and a lot of smiling faces. Their corner location is rather large on the inside, with a fair number of dining tables filling two rooms. We had arrived shortly after noon and, in addition to some seats at the bar, there was exactly one table open, which we immediately grabbed for our own.

As Ann and I approached from the outside, and having never been there before, I had assumed Fred’s was a corner bar that served a pretty good burger. But once inside, I saw a higher percentage of tables filled than of bar stools. I also saw families—you know, the kind with kids—as well as friends, all eating, drinking, talking, laughing and otherwise having themselves quite a time on an early Sunday afternoon. In short, Fred’s is the kind of place where one can feel good just by stepping inside. And then there’s the food.

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As you might expect, Fred’s menu focuses on their burgers, but looking beyond that for a moment, this little place has got a pretty extensive menu! We opted to keep it simple, with a couple of cheeseburgers. Ann got the quarter-pound version, while I opted for the half-pound burger. Our toppings differed, but our experiences were quite similar. What comes to the table is a fresh, hand-made burger, cooked to your liking, served on a fresh, buttered and grilled bun and topped with equally fresh ingredients. The homemade fries are curly cut; the homemade chips are ribbon cut. It’s all very tasty and it would take a number of visits in order for me to try everything that I’d like to try off of that menu. So you see, there’s an awful lot going on inside that corner establishment in downtown Burlington.

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As is usually the case, Ann and I wanted to take a walk after we had finished our lunch. In many instances, this has involved riding to another location, usually a park or state forest destination, where we could walk off our meal and enjoy the scenery. On this particular trip, all we had to do was cross the street a few times in order to visit three riverfront parks. First, we walked through Echo Veterans Memorial Park on Echo Lake. Then we crossed over to Riverside Park, which runs along the Fox River for quite a while. Before we had gone too far, we crossed a footbridge into Wehmhoff Jucker Park, on the opposite bank of the Fox, before heading back to the parking lot where we had left Miss Scarlett.

At that point, I began to notice that the cloud cover had gradually grown darker toward the west. That suppertime rain threat should still have been hours away, but something told me it was time to carry Ann back to her car, and quickly. After all, I had promised her a day free from rain or snow. Although it never rained on us as we sped back toward Kenosha, the sky did spit on us a few times. So once I had gotten Ann back to her car, we quickly said our goodbyes before she headed north and I high-tailed it back to Illinois.

It had been a glass-half-full kind of day. Sure, I could have moaned about how short our burger run had been, or about how Mother Nature had robbed Ann and me of another hour or two of walking/riding time. Nah. Given that it was only April 2, we were lucky to have gotten the bike out at al. Besides that, we had discovered a really neat lunch stop that I’m sure we will revisit someday. And so rather than moan or complain, Ann and I will enjoy the memories of another great little run, all while planning our next one.

Life is good. Thanks for hanging with me.

She Likes Watching Birds

Leia Walking

Our family pooch is a German Shepherador Retriever mix named Leia, although I also refer to her as the black princess. She’s sort of a self-contradicting mixed breed, as Labrador Retrievers love the water and German Shepherds do not. Leia takes an interest in bodies of water, while firmly planted on dry ground, yet she despises going out in the rain and literally screams when being bathed.

Leia loves going for daily walks with me. When I come home from work, she bounces around the house, hooting, crying and vocalizing in general until I am ready to go and produce a leash. Once the leash is secured, we head off on a walk that usually takes us around four, six, or nine blocks. On long walks, we take the nine block route and add on a side trip to a local dog park, for a grand total of 2.75 miles, but during the cold months, when days are shorter, we have generally kept it down to circumnavigating six blocks.

While we are out walking, like any healthy dog, Leia loves to sniff where other dogs have recently been. As such, we religiously stop at area trees, mailbox posts, street lamps, and fire hydrants, for these are the social media of the dog world. Indeed, the way she keeps her nose to the ground as we peruse the parkways of southern Plainfield, one would think there is surely a bit of bloodhound in the mix. but it’s all good and truth be told, we both enjoy our walks, most days.

Doves

With the approach of spring, we began to see more and more animal life while we were out and about. Squirrels, rabbits, birds, and other people with dogs all became more prevalent and the days have grown longer. We have also encountered dogs without their people, but save the inconsiderate, careless, and sometimes just plain stupid members of our community as a topic for some other time. Now Leia has always shown an interest in the animals around us. I have occasionally had to correct her for trying to yank me right off my feet in her effort to give chase to a rabbit with me in tow. One time I watched her try to leap into a maple tree after a robin that had just flown up there. I must admit, I admired her enthusiasm, but she was tethered to me at the time and I really had no desire to follow my dog up into a maple tree that day.

Duck Duck Goose

Now lately, my young gal has taken an interest in larger birds, if only because they are substantial enough to distract her while she is tracking the urinary trail of a previous canine contributor to the social media content that lines the broad parkways of Feeney Drive. We pass several retention ponds and a culvert or two during our normal walks and lately, these small-scale wetlands have been frequented by ducks and geese. So far, the geese have been  Leia’s favorite, perhaps because they seem large enough to be potential playmates. They also don’t act terribly afraid. They sometimes hang out by the sidewalk above one of the retention ponds and simply walk down to the water, slowly, once we are within a quarter block of them.

Hawk

We have also seen numerous hawks and even a few crows—or perhaps ravens; I’m never sure. Now these are of little interest to Leia. They are never very close and if they are ever on the ground they are not there for long. In all candor, the only time I have ever seen a hawk on the ground, it was in the process of killing and eating a small mammal or another bird. Those few times I have witnessed that, Leia was not with me. maybe that’s for the best. I can only assume the crows hang around to clean up after the hawks.

DucksMore Ducks

Lately, the ducks—Mallards actually—have given us the most viewing pleasure. They are more active than the geese, at least when Leia is around. We have witnessed water landings as well as sudden take-offs, the latter of which really got Leia’s attention one evening.

 


I would be lying if I said I didn’t get something out of these excursions as well. The truth is I do so on several levels. Besides the obvious benefits of daily exercise, I also use these opportunities to bond with my dog. In addition, there is something to be said for communing with nature, wherever you happen to find it. I usually take these walks during my first hour after returning from work. You might say that this is just one more way for me to destress toward the end of the day. However one chooses to look at it, I do believe I benefit from my daily walks with Leia.

Thanks for hanging with me!