Des Moines, IA

I’m off on Leaf 2! Or, I should say, we’re off. My friend Jong-hun from Korea is accompanying me for the first couple weeks of my trip this time around. Awesome. Opportunity to see America, gas subsidization, positive emotions all around.

On our way to Des Moines, we saw signs for… a windmill!

A windmill!

Why not? It was 6 miles off the beaten path (by which I really mean the paved, controlled-access path), which isn’t far due to modern inventions like the car.

Jong-hun and... the windmill!

Speaking of cars, the Lovemobile has been doing a great job of carting me all around the country. Here we are, veterans of Leaf 1, next to… a windmill!!

Guess what was made in 1846?  Hint: not my car.

So, following the exciting trip to see a really old windmill, we drove to Des Moines and met a guy who has a great horned owl living on his property. It was my hope that I could record this owl hooting or squawking or whatever it does.

The guy was Nathan Stueve, cool guy and motorcyclist. We followed him

Follow, follow, follow the motorcycle.

to his house

The home of Nathan Stueve, motorcyclist and cool guy

and went to his backyard,

A backyard, home to owls.

where we proceeded to listen for a large owl sound. Nathan was a good storyteller and kept us all entertained while we waited for the owl to squawk. We also enjoyed some fine brats and beer, freshly grilled outside (meaning the brats).

We listened

and listened

and listened

but no sound did a great horned owl make. We heard plenty of owls, but Nathan waved his hand in dismissal, calling them “puny grey owls” and claiming they were a “dime a dozen… they’re everywhere in Iowa.”* Needless to say, I definitely did not record those insignificant owls, but kept waiting for Mr. Big Guy.

Mr. Big Guy kept us waiting, which is stylish, but he never appeared, ever, which is totally not stylish at all. By 9:00 or so we packed up and left. But our thanks to Steve and his awesome girlfriend Erica for offering their owl to us.

Then it was off to meet my host, Aaron Wiese. Aaron has cool stories from touring around with a rock band. What would be cool is if his band name was The Windmills. But it wasn’t.

Aaron lived in a house with like 6 other people, but they were evidently in and out at all times and there were only ever 4 people sleeping there, so by and large that translates to free beds. JH and I slept on various free sleeping-type places throughout the house.

A sleeping-type place.

JH and I had a great time chilling with Aaron and his roommates and random friends that would come over. The next morning, Aaron and JH and I were off to eat lunch with Julie Courraud, a charming girl from Nantes, France. We had a fine meal at El Bait Shop, which is kind of like a Mexican BBQ/seafood joint. I had tilapia tacos. FACT: it was awesome. I’ll stick a picture here if Julie sends it to me.

“What happened next?” asks a nearby onlooker.

Okay, that was a totally unneccessary narrative device. I was just about to say what happened next.

“So… what was it?” he asks, continuing to look on.

*sigh* Next, Aaron and I recorded some guitar!

Aaron laying down the mad guitar trackz.

Aaron came up with a sweet part for one of my songs, and then it was time to move on to Chicago!

NEXT: Chicago. Or, something else.

* Those quotes are actually paraphrases but make for better storytelling as quotes.

The Last Asian Wednesday

No, this is not a short story about Asia being destroyed on a Wednesday, or switching over to some crazy calendar that doesn’t have Wednesdays (although you are welcome to write one in the comments… I will give you a dollar if it’s good). Rather it describes an event, known as “Asian Wednesday.”

They are like stairs!

“Tell us about the origin of Asian Wednesday!!” clamors a mob of nearby teenagers.

Well mob of teenagers, Asian Wednesday has a long and glonous tradition — and cultual. Tuk under thurnb and held firmly.

“WHAT?!” they yell angstily.

Now you can pick up anything! …never mind. When I returned to Omaha from Seoul last March, I met up with my Korean friend Jong-hun, who had come over to Omaha to study English. He ended up living at an awesome place called Capitol Court, which is kind of like a dorm for international students, where he met many other internationals, such as Mina Kang and Rumiko Niijima:

A chingu and a tomodachi.

I and some of my friends decided to have a get-together with these people every Wednesday, wherein we would eat food and watch Asian videos. President Bush, upon learning of our weekly outing, said, “I like to say, if America can’t have Asian Wednesdays, it’s not the America I know.” The name stuck.*

President Bush talking about possibly instating Asian Wednesdays as an American holiday.

Last Tuesday (yes, Tuesday) we had a special Asian Wednesday — the last one of its kind. Mina was leaving the next day on a two-week vacation to see America before she goes back to Korea, and I was about to leave on my second Leaf. What’s more, Jong-hun is going to accompany me for several weeks of this Leaf, and Rumiko moved from Capitol Court just two days prior. It just goes to show that Things Change.

Some things, however, don’t change. For example, men like cars:

Nice car, Shusei!

Even better, cars and girls!

Fast car, Asian girls.  Idyllic scene?

And pretty much everyone likes great food.

Delicious food, Asian girls.  Idyllic scene.

We ate at a place called Jam’s American Grill. Not only was it ranked highly on websites about Omaha restaurants, but it had the word American in the name, which made it an excellent place to take international students for a final, special outing.

I posed them, like plastic toys!  But one of them moved.

I would like to mention that Rumiko is an excellent girlfriend. She has been my girlfriend for a while now, and I am her boyfriend number two, after Kim Jong-Il (President of North Korea). My efforts to oust Mr. Kim have thus far been unsuccessful. She is always interested in more boyfriends, so if you are interested let me know and I’ll submit your information to her. Unqualified applicants can expect to be boyfriend 500 or more, but applicants with appropriate qualifications (lots of money, President of a totalitarian nation) can expect to rank higher. Rumiko reserves the right to reject all applicants for any reason.

Rumiko is also a popular toy! Everyone likes to play with Rumiko.

Following our adventure eating at Jam’s, we went to the Shark Club. We were totally not sharks, but they let us in anyway. We played a fun game known as “pool.” We tried to act like sharks while we were there.

Rumiko the Pool Shark.

We also sometimes acted like humans.

Asian Wednesday's Asians

And aliens.

"It's like E.T." -Jong-hun

It is my wish that the spirit of Asian Wednesday will live on.

How to Have Your Own Asian Wednesday

  • Find an Asian.
  • Eat some food with the Asian.
  • Maybe watch a movie or something.

That’s it! Note that it does not even have to be Wednesday. Good luck!

* That part about the President is a lie.

Serb Fest!

In the tent by the beer garden which was hot.  Meaning being in the tent was.

Hundreds of people thought I was Serbian last Saturday.

“Why?” asks Attractive Girl while eating a delicious snack.

“Ooh, what is that snack?” I ask.

“It’s 호떡!” she says, smacking her oh-so-kissable lips.

“Oooh, I love 호떡!” I say. “Can I have one?”

She assumes a flirtatious motherly pose. “Only if you answer my question.”

Fair enough. The reason people thought I was Serbian is not because I’m Serbian. I’m not. It’s because I drummed for a Serbian folk music band (Majstory, pronounced like my story) at Omaha’s Serb Fest on Saturday! We were basically the dance band for the evening.

“What is Serb Fest?” asks Attractive Girl, handing me a nice greasy 호떡.

Besides being the reason I had to come back to Omaha, it was an all-day party for, of, and about Serbian things! Things including music, history, food, and of course, people. There were tables with Serbian items on them, interesting historical trivia about Nikola Tesla (he was Serbian by the way) and the Serbian Orthodox Church (priests must marry and grow beards), and singing Serbic children:

Serbs listening to Serbian childs singing Serbian songs in Serbian at Serb Fest!

Also, these children danced. Serbishly.

Serbian children can feel 7/8 just as well as adults!

You can’t see any shots of me playing with the band (I forgot to ask someone else to take pictures), but you can see our stuff set up there behind the childs. There was also a ton of super delicious Serbian food.

“What did you eat?”

Roast lamb. I think I should say it again: roast lamb. It was roasting for almost an entire day. Super good. Hey, you’re drooling!

“Oops! *slurp* But… I want to eat roast lamb!”

Don’t we all!

“Actually,” says a passing vegetarian, “I don’t.”

Well… um. Okay. But all normal, omnivorous people want to eat it.

“Are you saying vegetarians are abnormal?!”

Um… no. Dang it, I don’t even know who is talking anymore! Narrative devices aren’t supposed to be confusing! Let me talk more about Serb Fest.

“Okay.”

So there was food, and drink, and history, and tours of the church, and dancing, and music. The music was provided not only by Majstory but also by an acoustic group, pictured both above and below.

Play, play, play the Serbian folk tune!

That guy playing the upright bass is also the bassist for Majstory. What’s more, he is named Joe Brudny and he came over to my house yesterday and recorded some of that medium-sized guitar (which is actually not a guitar per se but rather a Serbian instrument called a brač) for me. Awesome.

IMPORTANT NEWS: I’ll be drumming again with Majstory for a similar event in Kansas City on September 13th! Come on over! Say “shta radish tea!” to people and they will think you’re Serbian too.

Now I am going to go before Attractive Girl or Vegetarian Girl confusingly interrupt again.

Peoria, IL

I am pleased to report a successful completion of the first Leaf of the Tour. I am writing now from my room in Tour HQ (Omaha), where I will be for the next week as I prepare for Leaf 2. This will be my final post dealing with Leaf 1. The Peeps page has been updated to include all participants, and I will now discuss the final city in which I spent time: Peoria.

A disappointing shot of a totally not disappointing view.

Peoria! They say if it’ll play in Peoria, it’ll play anywhere. They really say that; ask them. Peoria comes out of nowhere when you’re coming in on 74W — you’re in the middle of nowhere, you crest a hill and suddenly you can see in the distance a bridge across a river with a city on the other side. It’s a nice sight, and elicited an “ooooh” from me. In fact, I instantly liked Peoria for that reason.

But Peoria got better. When I got there I met my zany friend Dave Costenaro at his hotel. (He’s one of those people where you have to use the word zany and not the word crazy.) We met up with another of his friends who was in town also. It was fun; three people, all not from Peoria, hanging out in Peoria. We walked around downtown and had some late lunch at the Riverside Tavern, or Tavern on the River, or something.

“Okay, wait. I’ve got too many questions now not to interrupt you.”

Okay, what are your questions, A.G.?

“First, haven’t we seen this Dave guy before? Second, what? He owns a hotel? Third, you are totally bad at remembering the names of things by rivers aren’t you? Fourth -”

Hold on there. Let me answer those three. Yes, no doubt you remember Dave from such posts as: Indianapolis, IN, in which he appeared as a zany dude playing with candy. Second, no he does not own a hotel — he was there on business so he stayed in a hotel, and I hung out with him there. Third, yes, I am. Also, I’m bad at remembering the name of Dave’s friend.

“It’s okay… I’m sure she would understand, since you met like 5000 people over the course of this Tour so far.”

Yes, I think she would be understanding. What was your fourth question?

“When are you going to tell us about the musical recording goodness?”

Hold your horses, A.G. I was in the middle of explaining why Peoria got better. So we were eating lunch on an outdoor patio which was actually on the river (which was definitely indicated by the name of the place, whatever it was), and I was seeing an old friend, making a new one, enjoying fine pizza and fine beer, and the weather was fabulous. Also, Peoria, unlike many cities, doesn’t have an ugly riverfront. It is instead rather quaint and Midwesternly charming. It was one of those “life is good” moments.

Now, recording. Dave put down some guitar and, on a lark, some super awesome freestyle beatbox. I’m pretty sure it will end up in the final project, it is so awesome. After that, we went to check out some LED streetlights. Evidently some place in downtown Peoria put up a few LED streetlights in their parking lot.

Unfortunately, in pictures they kind of look exactly like normal streetlights.

A closer shot gets rid of some of the halo so you can at least make out that there are four separate LEDs.

It's a bird!  It's a UFO!  It's -- wait, why would you think that's a bird?  Weirdo.

If you don’t understand why this is awesome, allow me to elucidate: it is pretty awesome because they are waaayyy more energy efficient, and they last forever. They are, however, much more expensive.

“Totally interesting!”

I know, right? The only downside of converting to LED streetlights is that one of my songs (“Watching the Streetlights”) would become irrelevant since LEDs don’t flicker, burn out, or otherwise indicate they’re not long for this world. That’s a bummer I’m willing to live with if the world is all better and stuff though.

Anyway, Dave works for an energy company and is totally interested in this stuff, and I thoroughly enjoyed picking his brain about stuff like this. He has some great ideas for helping humanity and making the world a better place. I think everyone should copy (or at least be influenced by) his great worldview. He is considering making a blog called Dave’s Awesome Ideas (actually I just made that name just now but that’s what it would be about), which I will definitely link to if he actually makes it.

Me with Dave, Haver of Awesome Ideas

Also, the LED streetlights looked totally cool in person. They looked like Science. The pictures just fail to capture the excitingness. To compensate, on our way back I snapped a shot of this, for no reason in particular other than the slightly odd title and the high Musical Interestingness Index.

Musically interesting!

Next morning, it was off to meet with songwriter/actor/musician Slyman Dan. First I thought it was a nickname, then I found out it’s nis name: Dan Slyman.

I found him like this...?

Okay, so he doesn’t actually sit around in his house like this. But it was so surreal to actually be recording a guy bound in chains that I had to take a picture. He is a prolific singer-songwriter himself, and he was chock-full to bursting with awesome production ideas, so I spent most of my time with him talking through the songs and brainstorming, which was fantastic. He had so many crazy ideas to try. (Actually, I think he’s more insane than crazy. I would consider myself crazy, but Dave is definitely zany and Dan is definitely insane. Oh semantics.)

“No seriously. Why the chains?”

We were recording them, of course. He was simulating a person bound in chains for maximum authenticity. Anyway, I got loads of great ideas from him for Leaf 2. Fortunately, we also had time to record some stuff. Not only did he do some fun voice acting, we also recorded a bunch of random other things, from rattling chains to a coffee percolator to a Speed Racer toy.

“So he only recorded bizarre household noises?”

No, he also laid down several tracks of nice vintage electric guitars, as well as a track of cornet (from the basement).

Dan learning one of the tunes.

I had a blast the whole time working with Dan because of his great outside-the-box ideas, which somehow still respected the songs. I listened to some of his own tunes with him, and came to realize that we think similarly in enjoying things that are edgy without losing form. Speaking of Dan’s tunes, he’s very involved in music. I recommend you check him out in more detail.

NOTE FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO RECORD A COFFEE PERCOLATOR: On tape, coffee percolators do not sound like coffee percolators until the very end. Before that, they sound like something else entirely. Something awful. Save yourself some time and just start recording at the end. With the cover on. Trust me.

Noblesville, IN

So last time I lied. In the title. It’s not actually Indianapolis, it’s Noblesville, which is a bit north of the actual city of Indianapolis. But I’m pretty sure everyone there still calls it Indianapolis when talking to non-natives. Which most of you are, no doubt.

If you are like most people, you’re probably wondering why I stayed in Noblesville for like 5 days. The answer is because there were tons of select musicians from all over the country gathered in one building for those days, before they launched roughly seven bands on tours. Every night two of the bands would give a concert (a “dress rehearsal”) before leaving the next day to start their tour.

One such concert.

“What were they gathered for?”

Dude… are you Bad Grammar Girl?

“Hey man — note the quotation marks. This is spoken English, and therefore ending sentences with prepositions is A.O.K.”

Oh OK, you’re still attractive then. Glad to see you’re feeling better. To answer your question, all those musicians are part of Keynote, which is an organization that assembles bands from talented college students and sends them out on summer tours, where they perform mainly covers, and share a bit of good news about salvation through Jesus and such. They also seem to have a ton of fun.

They banged on this table for like 20 minutes and it was awesome.

There was an acoustic rock group, a hiphop group, a pop group, a punk group, a gospel group, a Latin group… lots of great musicians just hanging out in this building. And I had an opening because the aforementioned Sam is part of this organization.

“So did you record them all?”

No, because they were all super busy preparing to tour. Trust me, I know how that goes.

“Did you at least record some of them?”

If by “some” you mean “three,” then yes.

I first recorded Seth Irby, who is a talented songwriter and a great guitarist.

Seth had a mic stand!

He and his awesome wife Laura were also my hosts for most of my stay there. They were incredibly kind and even hooked me up with some delicious food on more than one occasion. (Definitely a boon.) Also, check this action:

Best air mattress ever.

I normally dislike air mattresses because I inevitably end up in a little valley and can’t turn over without rolling uphill. This mattress, however, was awesome. It made me wonder why anyone even makes those other air mattresses that everyone seems to buy. I think I slept better on this than I do on my own bed, it was that awesome.

Seth has a cool fingerstyle approach to guitar not unlike my own, but he’s picked up a different bag of tracks along the way than I have, so it was really fun having kind of a “guitar exchange” with him while I was there.

Seth tracking some delicious guitar.

He also showed me some of his own stuff, which is definitely worth a listen. We recorded one of his tunes too, which even has some “Edward Gerhard moments” on the guitar. Very nice.

The rig set up in Seth and Laura's house.

Several days later after lots of failed but enjoyable networking, I recorded a girl named Arwen. Her last name is a mystery which I intend to solve. She did some very fun tracks for me (she nailed a spoken word part with kind of the “customer service girl that they use for the commercials” voice, sometimes known as the “Starcraft medic” voice). We also recorded one of her own tunes.

Arwen has a great voice, but more than that she was super fun.

I almost recorded a group vocal with the gospel group Soul Seed, which would have been awesome. Sadly, that didn’t pan out, but I did manage to get their drummer Deron to play some bass for me. Turns out bass is his primary instrument, and he’s going to Berklee. Sweet.

Deron laying on some funk.

All in all, the stay in Noblesville was a bit frustrating, because there were many good players all hanging out, but next to none with free time. However, I did meet lots of great musicians, get to see lots of free concerts, and get free snacks (at the concerts). Anyone want to say anything about the high value of treats? Anyone? (Laura Dittmer, I’m looking at you.)

Deron and Rolland listening to to the aural treats.

Indianapolis, IN

Indianapolis is a city in Indiana whose name literally means Indiana city. Amazing. And perhaps Indiana was named after Indians, which were erroneously named after India. And India was named after some ink. It is also the home of a famous car race where drivers demonstrate their amazing ability to turn left for an entire day.

But I’m not here to talk about Indianapolis. Not this time. I’m here to talk about a wedding.

A Wedding

Sam and Arlee tying a metaphorical knot.

My reason for swinging all the way down to IN, which otherwise wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, is because I was playing piano for the wedding of my good friend from WU, Mr. Sam Leo.

If I recall correctly, Sam has this thing about never having normal smiling pictures taken of him.  If so, this wedding was his downfall -- he was just too dang happy.

Sam and I lived together back at school, played together in bands, and have stayed in touch since then, so when he asked me to play piano for his wedding I was stoked. Like a fire.

They had a bunch of bizzarre songs they wanted me to play, like Dancing Queen, Stayin’ Alive, songs by Coldplay and U2 and Cake and the Foo Fighters, and even Christmas music (in case you didn’t know, it’s July). Also, they wanted the first song after the wedding to be “Let’s Get It On.” Weird, right?

Fortunately for them I specialize in weird. Look at how weirdly I was playing:

I know, so weird, right?

Yep, that’s pretty weird. I also snuck in a couple Shiina Ringo songs, because she is weird too (not to mention probably my favorite songwriter). Flash forward: when I got to the reception, I realized that Sam and his awesome new wife Arlee are just about the coolest people ever:

The wedding cake...?

Remember earlier, how I said Love = Donut? It’s true. I even taught my students in Korea with a simple picture — a heart, an equals sign, and a donut. Love equals donut. And now here are Sam and Arlee with a donut cake at their wedding. !!! I repeat, !!! Their love is definitely something special. The donut shape symbolizes eternity, did you know?

The 'cutting' of the 'cake.'

I also hung out with some other excellent weirdos that I knew from back in my WU days. In particular, Dave Costenaro and I had good times playing with candy, and the others had good times taking creative pictures of us playing with candy. We seriously were quite entertained by this.

I wield the power of the kisses! It's like Jenga.  And Dr. Mario.  Except with no goal. Checkmate! The finished project.

All the pictures in this post were snapped by my good friend who you will meet in Chicago later, Karyn Kim. Thanks Karyn for being a picture-taker.

That was Saturday. It is now later than that and I’m still here.

“Why, what are you doeeg?”

Sorry… who are you?

“Oh, I’b Attractib Girl.”

I didn’t recognize you.

“I’b fighteeg off a code.”

Sorry to hear that. Hope you get better soon!

“…”

Oh yeah, well, due to some fun connections I’ll tell you about next time, I’ve met about 60 musicians in town, all super busy with a project, and I kept thinking they would have a window of free time to record with me. Most of them ended up not having time, but some of them actually tried to make some time but still couldn’t do it. A tiny handful of musicians were still able to record though.

Next on Hit the Road, Zach: I’ll introduce you to my awesome IN hosts and the awesome IN musicians I was able to record. Stay tuned!

Anyone who doesn't think this is cool has a faulty paradigm.