Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Looks Like It Might Be One of Those Weeks...

It's been quite an, umm, "active" past several days: Gigs on all three days of the weekend, a Rangers game nestled in between two of them, and another gig tomorrow night, which puts my first "time off" in the evening around Friday afternoon sometime (the teaching day only cut short because of an appointment with the knee doctor). I feel, as often happens during the year, like a perpetual motion machine.

The long and short of it is that, while there are plenty of things to blog about, I'll be lucky to even get the posts started, much less finished. So pleae be patient with me this week, and I'll try to have new things up from time to time. And with a four-day weekend for the public schools on the horizon, I should be able to get caught up once I get a little breathing room.

Monday, September 28, 2009

New Urbanism at Night

I've sung the praises of the Shops at Legacy many times on this blog, so it should come as no surprise that I don't need too many excuses to stop there when I'm in the area. Saturday night, with a gig about five minutes away, provided me with that very opportunity.

Most of my Legacy stops have been in the afternoon or early evening, so it was interesting to see the place this late at night (I stopped at Starbucks to do some reading, and they were open until 11:30). And what I saw impressed me a great deal; the place was absolutely hoppin' at that hour. This makes sense upon further review; unlike, say, Firewheel, which is mostly organized around shopping, there are an abundance of full-service restaurants at Legacy, many of which stay open late. (There is one corner of Southlake Town Square which almost fits the same bill, but it's not densely populated with restaurants in the way that Legacy's Bishop Road is.) I would have loved to take the "picture that's worth a thousand words" to demonstrate the vibrance of this place, but there really were too many cars on the street to do it. At 11:30 at night. In the suburbs. Take that, "I Won't Go North of LBJ Because There's Nothing There" snobs.

(Happy moment of the night: Seeing a new Sambuca restaurant in Legacy. Sad moment of the night: Hearing music that was about as far removed from jazz as you can get, coming out of that same Sambuca. I'm sorry these guys have abandoned their roots, and, while I really like the food, I can't justify paying those prices if I'm not going to enjoy the music. Ahh, for the days when I could hear the likes of MIchael Brecker or Pharoah Sanders at one of their locations...)

As I said in a few recent posts, I'm a huge fan of New Urbanism, and, were it not for the musician's dilemma of needing to not share walls with anyone else (and, OK, the musician's dilemma of needing more money), I'd choose this lifestyle in a heartbeat. But in the meantime, I'll certainly enjoy the amenities it offers to the outside world and support such developments as much as I can.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Progress Comes in Baby Steps...Or Are They Bigger Than Imagined?

Time for another update on my knee; these things come fewer and farther between, as it should be.

I went in to physical therapy this morning for the first time in a few weeks. Even though it seemed to me that the improvement was coming at a much slower pace than it had in the past, I was quite happy with how much had actually gotten better.

The biggest difference was on the stationary bike. Last time, I was doing the same half-revolutions that I had been doing at the previous session, but I wasn't quite able to make it over the top for a full turn. Even though I had not been able to make any more attempts since then (the gym at school closes before I get done teaching), I stepped right on there, went over the top on the first attempt, and proceeded to ride that bad boy for over ten minutes!

I've also started working with some other machines, and those things also went well. The biggest things I need to work on now are balance (I'm still trying to stand on my "bad" leg for over 30 seconds) and going against the grain when ascending or descending stairs (I've been leading up with the "good" leg and down with the "bad" one, and after five months of doing that, it's hard to do the opposite).

So it would appear that things continue to chug along; this wasn't the first time that I've gone to PT and come out feeling better about my progress than I did going in. I go to the orthopedist again next Friday, and, with any luck, the treatment will start to wrap up before long.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And Once Again...

...I'm all caught up, for now Here are some posts that have been recently completed:
  • A lot of ink (and pixels) has been used in some circles to decry New Urbanismthese folks--who actually live in such a development--like it quite a lot. (Also, I've discovered my new "lottery neighborhood.")

  • An unusual tribute to Miles Davis, created with vintage video game sounds.

  • I weigh in briefly on the NEA "conference call" kerfuffle.
Hopefully, I'll have more new stuff up soon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Government Supporting Art = Good.
Government Using Art as Propaganda = Bad.

I'm a few days late to the party on this one, but it bears mention, since so much of this blog is about music and the arts.

There's been a big scandal brewing over a recent conference call co-hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts that just smacks of partisan propaganda no matter how you slice it. Here's an overview:
On August 25th 2009, Big Hollywood’s Patrick Courrielche broke the story of a conference call he attended with other “rising artist and art community luminaries:
On Thursday August 6th, I was invited by the National Endowment for the Arts to attend a conference call scheduled for Monday August 10th hosted by the NEA, the White House Office of Public Engagement, and United We Serve. The call would include “a group of artists, producers, promoters, organizers, influencers, marketers, taste-makers, leaders or just plain cool people to join together and work together to promote a more civically engaged America and celebrate how the arts can be used for a positive change!”
The email invite came directly from Yosi Sergant, then-Director of Communications at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and it advised this hand-picked group that the call was about laying “a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda – health care, energy and environment, safety and security, education, community renewal.”
Ugh. That doesn't sound good. Read on:
Courrielche describes the call this way:
Backed by the full weight of President Barack Obama’s call to service and the institutional weight of the NEA, the conference call was billed as an opportunity for those in the art community to inspire service in four key categories, and at the top of the list were “health care” and “energy and environment.” The service was to be attached to the President’s United We Serve campaign, a nationwide federal initiative to make service a way of life for all Americans.

It sounded, how should I phrase it…unusual, that the NEA would invite the art community to a meeting to discuss issues currently under vehement national debate. I decided to call in, and what I heard concerned me.
Within 48 hours of this phone call, 21 arts organizations endorsed President Obama’s health-care reform plan. Within days, Rock the Vote started an all out blitz that included a “health care design contest.”
And here's the worst part, according to the Washington Times:
On August 12, a group of 21 arts organizations endorsed President Barack Obama's health reform plan only 48 hours after a conference call in which a top National Endowment for the Arts official asked arts groups for help in advancing the administration's policy agenda, including health care.

One reason the arts organizations may have been so swift to follow the administration's suggestion is that 16 of the groups and affiliated organizations received nearly $2 million in grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in the 150 days before the conference call. According to a Washington Times analysis of NEA records, more than $1 million of that total came from the stimulus package.
Read the whole thing. It's interesting to watch how some of the organizations involved, including the NEA, have backpedaled with regard to their involvement in this call once this story broke.

As an artist--albeit one who brings in the vast majority of teaching, rather than performing--I can't totally slam the NEA; the've done some good things over the years. And while I'd certainly like to see more private funding of the arts (which would be easier to do for more people if the government didn't take so much of our income in taxes), I don't have a problem with government taking on part of the funding of the arts...until it crosses the line into propaganda like this.

As someone who's, well, out making art and teaching others to do so for around 12 hours a day, I don't really have time to blog about this in even a fraction of the detail that I'd like to do. For more on the subject, go here, here, here and here. Hopefully, I can chime in a little more on this subject later on.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kind of Bizarre...But I LIke It

Having, as I do, a bunch of friends who are hardcore gamers, I'm pretty sure that I already knew that there were people out there making music out of vintage video game system sounds. Chiptunes, they call them, or 8-bit music. But I didn't know that several artists, coordinated by Andy Baio of waxy.org fame, had collaborated on a complete 8-bit remake of Miles Davis' classic Kind of Blue album. The result is called Kind of Bloop (heh), and it's actually pretty well-done. (You can hear samples of each track at the link or buy the whole thing for a mere five bucks.)

I actually bought the thing, and it is indeed clever. Purists will scoff, of course (isn't that part of a purist's job?), but I found the thing to be a reasonable interpretation of the music using that particular medium--certainly no more irreverent than the synthesizer reworkings of classical music by Isao Tomita that I listened to as a kid. There are only a few noticeable deviations from the spirit of the original (a note in Miles' "So What" solo is missed--hey, a guy who's transcribed that and assigned it to dozens of others over the years will catch stuff like that--and the intro to "All Blues" is done in 11/8, which makes me want to try the whole thing that way), but again, it comes off as much more of a tribute than a parody.

More information on the project can be found here, including a vigorous debate in the comments as to whether Miles would be spinning in his grave over this or not. (I"m the "Kev" who commented a few days ago, but you'd probably figure that out from reading what I wrote.)

(Hat tip: My webmaster, Nate, who didn't like it nearly as much as I did.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

These Folks Say "Thumbs Up" to New Urbanism

I've talked a lot about New Urbanism on this blog, and longtime readers will know that I'm an unabashed fan of the concept. (Why? I'll repeat my reasons one more time: 1) I love the old-school architecture; 2) I love the walkability that's promoted by these places; 3) I love the vibrancy of the mixed-use layout--usually some combination of retail, residential and offices--without having to deal with the "grit" of true urban areas; 4) Because there's more land to use in the suburbs, there's often a lot of green space that's not always available in traditional urban settings.)

It seems like New Urbanism is always having to be defended from attacks by snobby city dwellers--let's call them Old Urbanists for now--who tend to believe that anything outside the city center is but a vast expanse of soulless wasteland; they'd like nothing more than to require everyone to live in the same neighborhood density that they do. (Never mind the fact that the suburbs tend to be a much better place for raising kids, and many of these same people will flock there in a [non-] New York minute once little Breanna or Chase arrive on the scene. The urban lifestyle has its appeal, for sure, but kids need space and good schools, which many urban areas tend to lack.)

But even though I'm a big flag-waver for New Urbanism, I can't exactly put my money where my mouth is, because, well, the money part is a little lacking; as a jazz musician and educator, these types of places are beyond my budget at the moment, though that still doesn't keep me from patronizing and enjoying them. (There's also the issue of practicing--something for which I really need my own four walls, at least until I can afford a Wenger module; again, see the money part above.)

Still, the idea is catching on, and yesterday's DMN profiled some couples who have put down roots in one of my favorite New Urbanist oases: Watters Creek in Allen, which I first posted about (and later added some pictures) a little less than a year ago. One couple, Jana and Mike Brosin, like the convenience of the loft lifestyle:
"It's kind of our mini Manhattan," Jana says from her fifth-floor unit overlooking a meandering man-made waterway and the Blue Fish Japanese restaurant. "The greatest benefit in renting is that you don't even have to change an air filter. There's no lawn, no maintenance."

That was the main draw for the midlife couple. They wanted a lock-and-leave lifestyle because they plan to travel and buy a vacation house at Cedar Creek Lake. Wanting to avoid the hustle and bustle of downtown Dallas, they chose the Allen development for its proximity to restaurants and shops as well as their longtime church and Crest Auto Group, which Mike owns.
Meanwhile, their neighbors, the Pates, who have spent some time in Europe, were drawn to the European-style vibe of the place:
"It's so much easier," Nichole says. Watters Creek houses DSW, Ann Taylor Loft, Sephora, Victoria's Secret and Mi Cocina, among others. And, she says, "We don't even have to drive to get groceries." There's a Market Street supermarket on-site.

The Pates share one car. With Nichole's flexible schedule as a personal fitness trainer, she drives Michael to and from the nearby DART rail station in Plano every day.
A lot of the articles I've read about suburbs tend to be of the "bashing" variety, so it's nice to see that there are folks out there who would best be described as "city people" who are thriving in New Urbanist environments. (Again, these two couples are both empty-nesters; I'd be interested in hearing from couples with kids who are living in this way, but again, the suburban school systems such as Allen's would certainly be a draw for a lot of parents.)

As I said, I'm a fan of this concept, so I'm happy to help spread the good news even if I can't quite yet do this lifestyle myself.

I'm down on with the Farm: When I first posted about Watters Creek last year, I called it by its full name: Watters Creek at Montgomery Farm. Remembering the days when there was an actual farm at the site, it didn't sink in that Watters Creek was in fact just a small (if vital) part of a much larger development. But as a matter of fact, Montgomery Farm refers to pretty much the entirety of the area along Bethany Road, all the way to its western terminus at Alma. The area includes several small neighborhoods of homes, an office park that's about to take shape, a ton of open space, and even a partnership with the adjacent Connemara Conservancy (all new residents get a year's membership for free).

Browsing the site last night, the area that looked most appealing to me was The Park. As the site describes it,
Defined by vintage-style architecture and traditional front porches, The Park promises the charm of historic details paired with the livability of modern conveniences. This unique neighborhood of 90 homes offers the best of all worlds – natural green spaces and hiking and biking trails combined with proximity to shopping, dining, entertainment, and employment centers.
The architecture was immediately appealing to me (see a picture at the link), so I knew that I had to check this out on my next Sunday drive (yes, we do research for this blog!). Today being a Sunday and all, that's exactly what I did.

The minute I drove into The Park, I was in love. Enamored. Smitten. Besotted, even. Now this was what I call a neighborhood. I could totally see raising my (theoretical, at this point) kids in a place like this. For one thing, I'm an architecture nut, and these houses are the antithesis of the typical North Dallas Special/McMansion type usually found in the 'burbs. But this neighborhood just gives off a certain vibe to me that says things like "wholesome," "All-American," "reminiscent of a better time" to me. Sure, you'd have to have a car to get around here, but it's also within walking distance of an elementary school (for those theoretical kids)...and, on a good day, of Watters Creek as well. WIthin rock-throwing distance of New Urbanism, but still with your own four walls. Sounds like a winner all around in my book.

Granted, the houses here cost four times what mine does--for more than double the square footage, mind you--so this is not in my immediate future. But my Lottery House has a new address. (And if I were to win said lottery soon, that address might be here or here; visit these links while they're still live--i.e. until someone buys the houses--and see why I fell in love with the area.)

Meanwhile, up the road...: I also took the time to drive by some of the new shopping areas at 75 and Stacy Road--the Village at Allen (mostly open) and the Village at Fairview (mostly still being built), known collectively as The Villages. The Allen side is mostly big boxes with restaurant pads, but it's tastefully laid out and includes a forthcoming arena that will evidently house a minor-league hockey team. The Fairview part looks to be in a mostly New Urbanist design when it gets done, including the obligatory luxury apartments and lofts. I'll post again about this place when more of it is completed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Tag on the Bush Is Worth Two (Fifty-Six) in the Hand

Needing to run an errand in the Arlington area today, I was able to do something new: Traverse the George Bush Turnpike in its new entirety, including the recently-opened extension of State Highway 161. (I realize that the latter is not technically part of the Bush facility, but there's been talk of giving that name to the entire proposed outer loop system, possibly even uniting it all under the number of Loop 41, for the president which it honors--remember, it's named for the father, not the son.) The trip is very convenient, but, as i noted in a recent post, it comes at a (literal) cost, since the toll rates (mostly) went up.

As I said earlier, the new system is at least attempting to be more "equitable," as the rates do vary quite a bit depending on the distance between the on- or offramps and the nearest mainlane plaza. This makes for a confusing commute, but I suppose that it's a lot easier to do this now that nobody has to pay in cash anymore.

So here's how the tolls stack up for the entire length of the road (using a TollTag), from the beginning in Garland until the end of the tolled section of 161 just north of i-30::
  • Shiloh Main Plaza: $1.00

  • Coit Main Plaza: $1.08 (sorry, but I still don't see the need for the extra eight cents)

  • Frankford Main Plaza: $1.00

  • Sandy Lake Main Plaza: $0.80

  • Belt LIne Main Plaza: $0.46 (this was a pleasant surprise)

  • SH 161 Main Gantry: $0.78
Doing the math (which the NTTA also does for you here and here) the total comes to $5.12 for a one-way trip from Garland to Grand Prairie. That might be a little rich for some folks' blood, but it's still cheaper (by $2.56) than the $7.68 it would cost if you used ZipCash instead of a tag.

And the thing about the looped nature of the road means that it's still possible to use it in combination with free roads for a lower fee while saving some time vs. using the free roads alone. (For instance, I could get to the same place--I-30 and SH 161, which was built over the footprint of NW 19th St. in Grand Prairie--by going through Rowlett and hitting I-30 west. I wouldn't spend a dime on tolls, but I'd also have to deal with downtown Dallas and the seeming interminable construction on I-30 west of there. At some times of the day, the I-30 traffic would be bad enough that using the tollway would seem to be a no-brainer.)

Perhaps sometime in the future, I'll do the one thing I didn't do yesterday (because of a lunch stop): Actually time the trip, and eventually do so on the nearest free route as well. I don't know for sure that the tollway would always "win" that competition, but from where I sit, anything that keeps me off LBJ Freeway as much as possible is a good thing.

And the road goes ever onward: Since I had a little time, I went ahead and followed the 161 service roads all the way to their terminus at I-20. Even though there are a few stoplights along the way, the mere presence of these roads will certainly take a bit of the pressure off Loop 12 and SH 360, and things will only get better once the mainlanes are completed. The slight interruption in downtown Grand Prairie (where drivers have to detour a block to cross a set of railroad tracks) is a bit of an annoyance, but otherwise, it's a straight shot now to I-20. I'm sure this will be a shot in the arm to the whole area, as most of the land through which it passes is undeveloped. (For an overview of the 161 project, go here.)

And the Word of the Day Is...


I'll have more to say later (not in pirate, in all likelihood), but I'm judging some auditions this morning and have an errand or two to run later in the day. Maybe I'll get to StARRbucks or Super T-ARRget at some point. Hope you enjoy this weird "holiday" as well.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Farewell to a Fun Old Tradition

On my way back to the college from dinner last night, I noticed that the Krispy Kreme on Central Expressway in Plano had closed. While I guess that wasn't a complete surprise, since I never really saw the parking lot full of cars on many occasions, it was still disappointing; it's nice to have that occasional treat nearby when you want it.

Today's Dallas Morning News made note of the closing and also mentioned a few other recent ones for the company:
The Krispy Kreme on Central Expressway in Plano shut down this week, the latest of three underperforming local stores to close, said spokesman Brian Little. The Irving store closed in June, he said, and the Frisco store on Preston Road closed earlier this month.
Oh noes! Not the Frisco store!!

So why would I be concerned about a donut shop that's over 20 miles from my house? Well, there was this thing called the Trifecta; it warranted many posts in the early days of this blog. It involved my three favorite food indulgences in one sitting: Chipotle, Krispy Kreme and Starbucks. The "rules" stated that the three had to be within walking distance of each other, which also helped to counterbalance the extra caloric intake. To my knowledge, there were at least two places in the state of Texas where a Trifecta could be done: Frisco, just to the north of Stonebriar Centre; and Round Rock, near the intersection of I-35 and what's now known as the SH 45 Toll Road. (The Round Rock setup carried the distinct advantage of having the Chipotle located quite a bit farther from the other two, whereas the Frisco walk was shorter.)

There was even a protocol as far as order was concerned: First, a normal burrito dinner was consumed at Chipotle. Then, we would walk over to the Krispy Kreme and Starbucks (which, in both places, were within rock-throwing distance of each other). Donuts would be procured, then taken over to Starbucks to be consumed in tandem with the coffee. The Starbucks portion was usually the longest and most relaxing part of what was always a great hang.

Now I'm sure that any member of the Food Police reading this blog would immediately harp on the unhealthiness of all this. My reply would be, "well, duhhh; that's why we only do it a few times a year." And this was true; it was generally part of a birthday celebration, with the honoree not having to pay for anything during the event. There were maybe four of us who did this on a regular basis, so it was a fairly infrequent occasion, since our birthdays are spread out during the year. (Not to mention that one of the guys, who preferred Panda Express to Chipotle, would take advantage of the Panda located right between the Starbucks and the Krispy Kreme in Frisco to have a "Chifecta" when his birthday came up.)

In the past few years, as life has gotten busier, the trips to Frisco became fewer and farther between (one friend and I figured we were at least two Trifectas behind apiece). In the meantime, the Round Rock Krispy Kreme closed and was replaced with a jewelry store (I'm assuming they didn't keep the drive-thru), so that option--usually taken advantage of on trips to State Solo and Ensemble--went away. And with the news of Frisco's closing, I guess that pretty much shuts the door on future Trifectas, unless we find somewhere else that we all happen to be where this delicious convergence takes place.

Incidentally, the linked article notes that the remaining DFW area Krispy Kremes are in good shape (including the original area location in south Arlington, home of many a stop after a Rangers game). The company is hoping to have these outlets purchased by a franchisee, and it would not be until then that any possible expansion would take place. (If that happens, I'd encourage them to build one in Firewheel, where a Trifecta would be within walking distance of my house. And make no mistake--I would likely walk if it were that close.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I was just browsing the news, and I couldn't believe this one: There's been yet another wrong-way crash on the Dallas North Tollway. Like most of them, it's on the older section of the road between downtown and LBJ, and, like virtually all of them, it involved a suspected drunk driver:
Isidoro Camacho of Dallas was driving a white Pontiac Sunfire and heading north in the southbound lanes for about a mile when he collided with a black Chevy Cobalt about 3 a.m., authorities said.

The Cobalt driver, Holly Harding, 23, of Lewisville saw the Pontiac and was able to take evasive action to avoid a true head-on collison, said Trooper Lonny Haschel, of the Department of Public Safety.
Thankfully, this one wasn't a fatality. And granted, the biggest problem in a drunk-driving crash is, well, that somebody was driving drunk. But what is it about this section of the Tollway that causes this to happen so much more frequently than anywhere else?

My theories? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the "older" section of the Tollway has below-grade crossings, so the intersections with the offramps (since there are few true service roads in this section) look just like any other intersection; you can't necessarily see that the Tollway is below you. Does that cause people( (especially at night, especially while impaired) to automatically assume that they can turn left at any stoplight, and then do so? Sure, they have big DO NOT ENTER and/or WRONG WAY signs posted at the intersections, but do they need to be bigger? Transportation experts have said that the "cattle guard" method, where a wrong-way vehicle's tires would be punctured, don't work at freeway (or even offramp) speeds.

Is everyone missing something here? Is there a solution that nobody has thought of yet? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

One of Those Weeks

I seem to be mostly over the allergy crud for now, but time is still at a premium for a while. I'll blog when I can during the week, but I may have to catch up on weekends here and there (until those get busy too, LOL). Have patience, and try following me on Twitter for more frequent updates.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Please Don't Rain On My Parade...

...or my baseball game, or my picnic, or my football game, or my trip to the grocery store, or...well, you get the idea. But this weekend, there was a good chance that your outdoor activity was indeed so affected.

This is the rainiest four days I've seen in recent memory. Sure, we were behind for the year (and down at my sister's place in Austin, they were--and still are--way behind, and it's been wet there this weekend as well), but it's crazy to see it all come down at once like this. I also can't remember the last time I heard of an actual flood warning on the radio as opposed to the "flash" variety. (Speaking of that, it was nice to hear Tom Hale--still a great weather name if you say it out loud--in the studio on KRLD instead of depending on the TV people like they do so often during the week. But I still miss Brad Barton...)

Did the weather mess up your weekend plans? I took a pass on attending the UNT football game because of it (and because I'm a bit, well, under the weather already with allergies this weekend), and, watching the fourth quarter on TV, I was glad I didn't go up there, since it appeared that everyone in the stands was wearing a poncho. Beyond that, getting around in general was somewhat annoying, because--as I said in the spring--a cane in the rain is mainly quite a pain, especially when balancing an umbrella in the other hand and having to carry anything else--newspaper, coffee, what have you.

Anyway, to all the locals, or anyone else who was under this downpour--I hope you made it through the weather relatively unscathed. From the looks of the freeways today, not everybody was quite so lucky.

They were lacking some street smarts: I do have one gripe for the city of Bedford: If you're going to close a road because of high water, it's best to put the sign saying so at the entry to the subdivision (as you did at Jackson and Cheek-Sparger), rather than a few blocks into it (as you did at Martin Parkway). I'm just sayin'...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

(Mostly) All Caught Up

It's been a busy first few weeks of school; even this four-day one had taken its toll on me by the time yesterday afternoon was done. When I have weeks like this, weekday blogging is one of the first things to suffer; thankfully, I usually end up with some time on the weekends to catch up, and this is no exception. Here are a few posts that I started recently and finished today:Looking back in the list of posts, I still have a few unfinished ones from several weeks ago, but I'll get around to those soon enough. In the meantime, as I always say, I'll try to be better about this in the future.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Where Were You...

...eight years ago today when you heard the news? I've posted my own take on the day pretty much every year since I've been a blogger, and I'll do the same this year:
I was on a break from teaching, like every Tuesday, and actually spent the time of the attacks in blissful ignorance at a nearby Starbucks. I had CD's on in my car instead of the radio, so I totally missed the news on both the way over and the way back. I did hear someone listening to a radio on the Starbucks patio and they were talking about "the second plane," but it didn't register with me at all. (It amazed me later that nobody walked inside and told us about it.)

When I got back to the school, the flute teacher stopped me in the hallway and asked me if all my students were being pulled out of school (evidently hers were). I said, "No, why?" and she told me what had happened. I spent the rest of the day like everyone else, in shocked, depressed amazement, catching the news when I could. There I was, not even two weeks into being a homeowner, and the world suddenly felt so different. It added to the pall cast over everything when I found out that the sister of a girl I graduated from high school with was on Flight 93, the one that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. (I know that there have been quite a few lists of names read aloud today, so let me share hers: Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas. May she rest in peace...)

The whole thing felt so surreal; how could anyone hate us that much? The concept of the suicide hijacking was unprecedented as well (before that, hijackers just usually wanted to go to Cuba, and that's why airline personnel were taught to cooperate with them rather than try to subdue them).

I know there are still terrorist plots being hatched, and people capable of carrying them out...but I hope nothing like this ever happens on U.S. soil again. Or anywhere, for that matter.

For those who may be new to reading this blog since then, I'll invite you to share your recollections in the comments to this post.

As I've said for several years now, I hope nobody tires of talking about this every once in a while, because if we stop talking, we might forget, and this is a day that need not be forgotten anytime soon.
Obviously, the blogosphere is full of tributes today; let me share a few of my favorites:
  • Forbes Magazine has an archived interview with Thomas Burnett, one of the heroes of Flight 93, just a few days before he would enter into history.

  • Instapundit links to his entire offering of posts from 9/11 week. It's interesting to watch this all unfold through his eyes, and amazing to remember that there was a time when his blog getting over 5000 (total) hits was a big deal. (Contrast that with now, when he averages 80 times that many hits per day.)

  • Here's a first-hand account from a Wall Street Journal reporter.

  • Here's a 2006 interview with Jack Grandcolas, widower of Lauren, my classmate's sister mentioned earlier.

  • And another eyewitness recollection from blogger Allahpundit.

  • Dave Barry puts humor on hold for a moment at his blog, and the commenters weigh in with tributes. (Also in the comments are links to Dave's columns on 9/11 and Flight 93.)

  • Here's a video that's worth your time.

  • And as always, James Lileks posts his own moving video montage at the bottom of today's Bleat (keep scrolling down).
As I've said before, I never grow tired of posting this every year, because without constant reminders, we might forget...and this is something that always needs to be remembered.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Last Night, We All Got Wiested

As is my semesterly tradition, I made the trek up to Denton last night to see the One O'Clock Lab Band's CD release at the Syndicate. They traditionally play there the first week anyway, but it's the first time in recent memory that the new CD, recorded at the end of the spring semester, was ready to go this early. And in celebration of same, director Steve Wiest had the band work up the entire CD in about a week--a somewhat tall order, considering about half the band was new, including the entire rhythm section. But the band, if anything, sounds more "together" at this early stage than it did a year ago.

Let's talk for a moment about the confluence of "nines" that occurred last night: The CD is called (of course) Lab 2009, and it features a huge "9" on the cover. It was released on 09.09.09, which was the ninth day of the fall semester at UNT. The concert started at 9 p.m. (Wiest said that they had pondered waiting until 9:09 to start the show, but they were too eager to get started.) The One O'Clock is tops among the nine lab bands at UNT. There are nine tracks on the CD, and the last one is a Wiest original called "Ice-Nine" (kudos to those who get the Vonnegut reference). Those were the planned ones, and the last one was really odd: Wiest announced that a band member's mother's dinner order on the way up to the gig last night came to a total of $9.99. Heh.

At any rate, this was a most enjoyable evening. The nine tunes on the CD were divided equally between the three sets, which were filled out by a combination of earlier One O'Clock tunes (such as Lab 2006's "Foe Destroyer") and big band classics (Thad Jones' "Three and One" and Willie Maiden's "A Little Minor Booze," made famous by Stan Kenton). As has been the case since Wiest took over the band (and as I said in the spring, it was great to see the word "interim" removed from his title of director), the big difference boils down to two things: The little touches that altered the tunes ever so slightly (as when Wiest walked over to the rhythm section and cut the solo section down to, say, just soloist-and-bass or soloist-and-drums, bringing everyone back in at just the right time), and the fact that Wiest continues to have so much fun up there in front of the band. It's a great start to the fall Syndicate season; here's hoping for a great contribution from the rest of the program in the weeks ahead.

If you missed last night the CD is available by mail-order by visiting this page. (And a special shout-out to my buddy J-Guar for getting an original tune of his recorded on the album!) By the way, if you're in the Dallas area and a trip to Denton isn't usually in the cards for you, the band will be playing its annual concert at UT-Dallas in just a few weeks.

I don't want to jinx this, but...it seemed as if things had calmed down a bit at the Syndicate in comparison to a year ago. You couldn't always hear a pin drop in there, but any conversation that did happen was kept to a minimum, and nobody was going around "shushing" people. It looks like they may have achieved the balance that I was hoping for in last year's posts on the subject.

A trek north again: If memory serves, this was my first trip to Denton since the accident. It was nice to be back up there again, and I was happy to see that the long-lasting Loop 288 construction near 35E was nearly finished, I also enjoyed getting a good look at all the new choices for eating up there; it's a massive improvement over how things were even in my grad-school days. I still miss The Tomato, though...

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Yes, it's that day again--the one time during the year that not only do the day, month and year get to be expressed by three sets of the same digits, but they do that everywhere in the world, even the places that would write tomorrow's date as 10.09.09.

We have three more years where this can happen, and then, once 12.12.12 is over, it won't happen again until New Year's Day, 3001. (Today's also the last day of repeating single digits till that day.)

So are you doing anything to celebrate this unusual day? You could buy the remastered Beatles box set today, or get their edition of Rock Band. Me, I'm going to see the One O'Clock's CD release party tonight.

It's still a busy week, but I had to make note of today, just as I've done for the past four years. (It was funny to note that, on 05.05.05, I mused--because that's what I do here--that I'd probably still be blogging about this triple-number phenomenon on 12.12.12; this seems even more likely now.)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

These New Policies are Taking a Toll On Me

I've been a staunch defender of the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) in the pages of this blog, But I do have to say that I'm a little distressed by two recent developments.

First of all, the toll rates went up last week. I knew that was coming, but I didn't know the extent until I went through a main plaza on the George Bush a few days ago. (In fact, I was really confused at first; the rates at the ramp booth closest to my house--the one I use frequently when grocery shopping or visiting my friend one suburb over--actually went down when the changes took place.) Seeing the rate at the Renner plaza rise to a dollar for TollTag customers (from 70 cents) made me do something I'd never done before in the entire time I've used NTTA roads: Decide if the trip was really necessary or if I could go another way.

I'm also somewhat confused by the sliding scale at the different booths and plazas. I guess it makes sense that a shorter trip equals a cheaper toll, but I never expected a ramp plaza to almost equal the cost of a mainlane plaza in some places. And on my trip to Legacy a few days ago, I was very surprised to see that, while the Renner plaza costs a dollar to pass through, the Coit one is now $1.08. What's up with the extra eight cents? It seems like all the mainlane plazas out to be the same price, as they have been throughout the history of the system. (UPDATE: On a trip to Denton the day after this post, I noticed that the Frankford plaza is also a dollar, which makes the extra eight pennies at Coit even more of a mystery.)

The other unnerving thing is the speed limit increase on most sections of the system to 70 mph. It's not that traffic is going too fast, but rather the opposite problem: Nobody's speeding up! I'll admit that, I'm generally in favor of this increase, as I was always having to stifle the urge to go 70 in a 60 zone in the first place, and, ironically, now that it is, I have to remind myself of that, since I seem to be on auto-pilot to do 60 after all these years.

But it was very hard to go 70, at least on the Bush this past weekend. I'm not sure how much of that can be chalked up to either the newness of the increase (everyone else is on autopilot at 60 like I've been) or the fact that the past two days were a Sunday and a holiday, respectively, but it's going to be hard to maintain the higher speeds if nobody else is doing so.

If you're an NTTA rider, feel free to chime in about either the increased tolls or speed limits and how they're affecting your commute.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Just Another Old-Fashioned Holiday Street Festival in the City

There were live bands, food tents, streets closed off so that people could walk around unhindered by traffic, and every restaurant's patio seating was full of people--an urban delight at its finest.

Except in this case, the city was...Plano.

I originally went to the Shops at Legacy's "Labor Day at Legacy" event to see a friend play in one of the bands, but I ended up staying for quite some time after the people I was with had left. The festival was at least partiallly intended to show off the newest section of the area's North End (across Legacy Dr. from the original section), but it turned into a great place for people to hang out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. There was just enough shade under the large office building to the west of the stage to accommodate band-watchers who didn't want to spend too much time in the sun, while the new fountain (inspired by the one at the Bellagio in Las Vegas) served as both a sunny vista and a place to literally get one's feet wet:

(I can't begin to tell you how many times I tried to get a shot of the fountain in all its choreographed splashing glory, but, as Maxwell Smart might say, I missed it by that much.) By the end of the afternoon, the shade had enveloped the entire area, and the rim of the fountain was nearly full, as it had become the go-to seating area for catching the last band.

I've spent a decent amount of time in the southern half of Legacy (home of Half Shells, Taco Diner and the like), but I'll admit that I'd never ventured across the street until today. From the looks and smells of things, there are definitely some restaurants that warrant my attention later, and I'll need to make a much longer visit to Legacy Books than my ten-minutes-till-close overview today. The highly-touted two-and-a-half-level independent bookstore--there's a mezzanine tucked in between the first and second floors--looks very nice and seems to be chock-full of interesting stuff. (I do have to say that, especially after all the time I've spent in this blog lamenting the rapidly-shrinking CD sections of the Big Two bookstores, it was somewhat jarring to see a store of similar size without a music section at all. But bibliophiles will have a field day in there, and it warrants further attention.)

As I've said on many previous occasions, I'm an unabashed fan of New Urbanism, and, if I had a lot more money (and a Wenger module for practicing), I'd seriously consider living in a place like this. Certain city dwellers may thumb their noses at the suburbs for their car-centeredness and generic, boxy buildings and cookie-cutter McMansions, but to me, something like Legacy combines the best elements of the city (mixed retail and residential, green space, walkability) with the best elements of the suburbs (safety, convenience, proximity to good schools); it's a win-win situation.

Hopefully, today's festivities weren't a one-off meant only to launch the new section, but rather the start of an annual tradition. I'd certainly come back, friend in the band or not. Yes, there really is culture to be found (way) north of LBJ Freeway, and it was on display in droves today.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Unbraceable Me

For the first time in four months and sixteen days (but who's counting? LOL), I ventured into the outside world without the aid of a knee brace today. Although I'd been going without it most of the time around the house (including, thankfully, while sleeping and showering) for the past week and a half, this was the first day that I had done so for the full day and outside the house. I picked a day when I was going to physical therapy anyway to try this, and there have been no issues whatsoever.

I still have a way to go before I can bend my knee completely back, and it'll take a while to regain a normal gait (which I may not have had for a while before the accident; I've noticed over the years that my shoes wore out at the heels before anywhere else, which is obviously not supposed to happen), but I feel more and more like I'm joining the "regular" world again.

So while I'm not yet able to run, jump or play racquetball quite yet, it's still great to be free of yet one more assistive device (having gone through crutches, a walker and a cane in addition to the brace, only the cane will accompany me for the foreseeable future). It's a challenge to do the menagerie of exercises prescribed by the therapist as teaching gets busier in the fall, but the results I've seen from one session to another make it all worthwhile.

The multitaskmaster: One of the things that amazes me at physical therapy is how the therapist manages to juggle up to three people at a time without anyone feeling neglected. It's timed just right so that as one person is being worked on, the other(s) are doing, say, thirty reps of a particular exercise or spending time on some sort of machine.

I pondered whether or not such a skill could ever be transferred to what I do, but I realized that there was really no way I could teach three people music lessons at once. Sure, my equivalent of the thirty reps could be "practice your Dorian modes for ten minutes," but therapy takes place in a big open room, which means that the therapist can still observe everyone while working on one person. In order for me to do that, I'd either have to have practice studios with clear front walls, or a big open space that would be N-O-I-S_Y. So I guess I'll stick to the traditional method for now.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Tonight, the Green are Mean Again

I had almost forgotten that my alma mater was opening its football season tonight; it's not like I could watch the game, teaching a late night class as I do. But I remembered to check the score just now, and I was more than pleasantly surprised at the outcome: North Texas beat Ball State 20-10 tonight, in a game in which the Mean Green were 16 1/2-point underdogs. New starting quarterback (and coach's son) Riley Dodge evidently had a very good night, throwing for over 200 yards (and a touchdown) and running for nearly 75 more.

UNT plays more home games this season than they have in about 15 years, and, now that I can sit comfortably in stadium seats again, you can bet i'll be at quite a few games.

It's a late night and a busy week, so that's all for now. Go Mean Green!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What We Have Here Is a Lack of Communication (But Some of It Might Be Restored)

I've never been shy about calling out school districts on this blog when they implement policies that really don't make sense. In this particular case, I wasn't aware that the policy had already existed, but I'm glad to see that McKinney ISD is giving this a second look.

As reported in today's Dallas Morning News, the district is reconsidering a ban on all electronic contact--email, texting and Facebook-- between teachers and students:
[T]he tough new policy – aimed at limiting chances for inappropriate contact – brought protests from parents, teachers, students and even school board members.

And now the policy is under review.

"There's obviously a groundswell in the community of people that feel like this [policy] is going overboard," said Cody Cunningham, spokesman for the McKinney ISD.

"We certainly need to revisit it."

Trustee Mark Rude is among those who say the policy goes too far, curtailing legitimate communication about homework, band practice, athletics scheduling and more.
He's right; this seems like a "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" type of situation, where all the good aspects of electronic communication get cast aside because of the possibility that something bad might happen. The scheduling/practice aspect alone would be enough for me to be in favor of the policy; suppose a band contest's time got moved up? Imagine if the directors had to call every student in the band! (Now imagine this at Allen High School, where the band numbers nearly 600. Even with multiple directors, the time consumed by calling--even with a phone tree, even with multiple directors--would be a huge waste compared with the simple act of an email or a mass text message.)

But administrators don't always think about "simple"--or about what's best for students and teachers--when they make policy. Far too often, it seems that most rules of this type are meant to do one thing, and one thing only: Protect the school from a lawsuit, no matter what the cost to the educational process. (I'm not saying that people should go off half-cocked and expose the schools to real problems, but I am saying that running around in fear of lawyers 24/7 isn't living; it's existing, at best. Do we want to just exist all the time?)

And it appears that a lot of the problem starts at the top here:
Tom Crowe, McKinney ISD superintendent, defended the policy at a recent trustees meeting. "I would rather start with zero tolerance and ease up," he said, though he said he supports the review that's under way.
In a word, no. As I've said here many times before, "zero tolerance" equals "zero thinking," and it also allows administrators to hide behind rules--which they elevate to a status even higher than that of the people the rules are supposed to protect--and avoid making the difficult decisions which they were hired to make in the first place. If you don't have the courage to do that, get another job.

I don't directly have a dog in this hunt, since I don't teach in McKinney, but I shudder to think how much more difficult things would be at times if my own district had a similar policy. It's not that I'm getting emails and texts from students all the time, but it's come in very handy on occasion; thanks to a well-timed text message, I've managed to avoid unnecessary trips to schools because someone was sick that day, as well as get there on time instead of late when a school went on activity schedule at the last minute. Sure, going through the parents is usually the best idea, but in the cases I've just cited, I might well have not gotten the message on time (I don't know that many parents who text, for one thing). And Facebook is not a problem for me at this immediate moment, as I'm not a member yet; having this blog, a website, a MySpace and being on Twitter is enough for me right now. (And yes, some students have hit me up on MySpace at times, but that's less of an issue, as 1) it's a musician's page, and there's nothing wrong with having students as "fans"--in fact, I'd love to see them at my gigs; and 2) I'm smart enough to not post anything worse than PG-13 in any online forum.)

So what do you think--is the current McKInney policy an overreaction? I for one am very happy that they're revisiting it, and I hope that common sense prevails in the end.

And I love this quote from the linked story: "Some McKinney ISD students created a Facebook page to organize opposition. Parent Bobette Hilliard used her blog to criticize the policy."