Spokane, WA

Washington, unlike Montana, was full of happening peeps. In fact, it was pretty amazing just how many happening peeps happened to be happening in Washington. The first of such peeps was a fellow in Spokane named Steve, who plays a mean guitar.

“How mean?” asks a nearby international student. “Does it trip the old lady and shout at the passing child?”

What a great sense of humor you have, international student. Anyway, Steve, of whom I forgot to take a picture, has his own little music room (about the size of a king-size bed) which is crammed full with a drumset, guitars, amps, and recording equipment. Totally awesome.

“Which guitar was the mean one?” asks the international student.

Um, it’s not as funny the second time.

“Excuse me? I just want to know which-”

Yeah. So Steve and I spent a pleasant evening together recording and listening to each other’s stuff. Steve leans heavily in a metal direction, and he can shred in a way that actually sounds musical! Which is a pleasant surprise because I wasn’t sure if it even could be done. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to work up any harmonized butt-rock guitar solos, but we did put down a handful of various electric guitar tracks.

I had quite a few potential hosts in Seattle, but none in Spokane, and by the time Steve and I finished, it was too late to make a run to Seattle, at least not if I hoped to stay with someone. So, it was Car Night #4. I found an out-of-the-way spot in some incredibly scenic mountains (

Montana's mountains were rugged and dirty.  Washington's were lush and cold.

). It was like a little turn-off had been made for my car.

Probably two cars drove by here during the entire night.  And it only took me five minutes to get back out on the highway from here.

Also, there was entertainment in the form of this sign:

What I love about this sign is that if you read it the right way it means the opposite of what they want it to mean.  Yay English!

This is when I realized several important things:

  • My tour has taken longer than originally planned. This was meant to be a summer project, where I could always wear shorts and get a nice tan. Not freeze to death while trying to sleep in my car. Which I pretty much did.
  • It’s good that I did the eastern half first. That way I could be impressed by the Adirondacks and the Smokies. Then, when I got to the northwest, I could be doubly impressed by the real mountains.
  • The international student actually thought the guitar was mean! I’m sorry, international student — “he plays a mean guitar” is an idiomatic expression meaning that he plays guitar really well.

    “Ohhh! Thank you!”

    Don’t mention it.

    “Sorry.”

    No, I mean… you’re welcome.

NEXT: If a peep is happening somewhere, he’s likely to be happening in Seattle!

Montana

Montana! I’m pretty sure that if it had an ‘ñ’ instead of just an ‘n’, it would be Spanish for mountain. Which is appropriate, considering that Montana had a bunch of those.

I was driving in the vaguely hilly, sparsely vegetated land of Wyoming for a while, then went up towards Billings, and then things took a turn for the west.

“As bad as that pun was, I think I have to give you some grudging respect for it,” confesses Attractive Girl, her brow furrowed cutely.

How grudging?

Very grudging. So grudging that I will require years of therapy.”

Wow. I will endeavor to use less respectable puns in the future.

“You know, it’s better if you don’t use any.”

But I’m an English teacher, I have to use puns.

“Oh, why didn’t you say so?” She looks at me in newfound wonder. “Because in that case my repect is not grudging. Teachers can make the stupidest puns ever and still be pretty cool.”

Yeah, so I was driving along westward for a bit when suddenly (and by “suddenly” I mean “very gradually”) I came upon a bunch of mountains!

There they are, suddenly approaching.

From here on out it was mountains, mountains, mountains.

My First Mountain (by Fisher-Price)

And bugs, bugs, bugs.

Think this is bad?  It will get much, much worse.

Unfortunately again, no one from Montana had contacted me about recording, but I did manage to find a host: one Jeffrey James. He owns some property north of Missoula, whereupon he lives, raises chickens, builds his own mini-golf course, and sells cars. More information about his property here (in particular, check out that mini-golf course; it’s pretty amazing). He also built a tiny little guest house for Couchsurfing visitors to use!

My home away from home which is also slightly away from my host's home.

It was the first time a Couchsurfing host has set me up with an entire building all to myself! The funny thing was that the weather was at the point where the warmer interior of the room was attractive to insects at night, but when the sun was shining it was too hot for them. And there were evidently a few little places where crawly things could find their way in, because I woke up to this:

Which one is their lord?

It was pretty awesome, and I’m wishing now that I would have recorded it. It was constant erratic buzzing.

This dude gave me the mad hookups. I spent the evening eating a terrific burrito and lounging in a hot tub under the Montana stars. The following day I got the grand tour of his property, which is located in beautiful mountainous countryside,

Said beautiful mountainous countryside.

including chickens,

b'CAWW!!

both a limo and a bus,

Limousine, bus, tree.  A still life by Zach Bardon.

and a Mystical Rock. He found the rock buried in the ground when he was running some new pipe or something, and decided he would pull it out and stick it in his yard, aligned perfectly with the highest mountain visible from his property. Ooooh.

Jeff on his Mystical Rock.

And that was that. Next thing I knew, I was headed into Washington.

NEXT: Heading into Washington.

Wyoming

I finally arrived at my host’s place in Sheridan, WY at about 10:30pm.

Who is this host? Why, none other than my cousin Marla Hinrichs!

My long lost cousin Marla!

I haven’t seen her in several years, what with me being in Korea and her being in Wyoming, so it was good to reconnect with her. She is a teacher, but she has also become quite a photographer, as well as the owner of an interesting bookshelf.

(Couchsurfing tip: if you want to get a good night’s sleep, never look at the bookshelves of your hosts. Hosts have good books.)

No musicians had contacted me to record from the entire state of Wyoming, so that was that. From there I was off to see if anyone wanted to record in the state of Montana.

Thanks Marla for all the granola bars! If you can believe it, I ate the last one just now as I was writing this!

(Road tripping tip: granola bars make great mobile snacks that are relatively unaffected by the massively fluctuating climate changes in your car.)

“Wait a minute,” says Attractive Girl. “What was that you said before about your friend Ming choosing the 15th letter of the alphabet?”

Oh… I was just going to ask her “Why ‘O’, Ming?”

The mob of nearby teenagers laughs vigorously.

NEXT: A swarm of flies, a flock of chickens, a bus, a limousine, and a magic rock.

South Dakota, Part 2

The next day I was headed out of Mission on to Wyoming.

In South Dakota, the world is flat.

Teresa had recommended that I make a small detour through the Badlands to experience some highly scenic scenes. I didn’t really need to, since I saw some nice views just on the highway out of Mission:

NeeeROOOM!

But despite these other nice views,

The view that keeps on going, and going, and going...

though they were quite scenic,

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way.

I took her recommendation (Couchsurfing tip: take all the recommendations of your hosts unless you are 100% positive you won’t like it. Hosts know what’s up.) and saw an incredibly scenic bunch of scenes in the Badlands. You’ll want to be clicking these.

They should be called the Baddlands becaause they are badd to the bone. The Lovemobile taking in the sights. Oooh, stratification! More wrinkles than a naked mole rat. Thinking about it, "echelonification" would sound cooler. A typical Badland skyline. The road sometimes wound around on the lower plain, between all the eroding hills. If there were such thing as a Man on the Earth visible from space, these would be his "concentration wrinkles." Earth, Sky Are you bored?  Because I wasn't. Those are some nice echelons. I passed some antelopes or something.  So I took a rear-view mirror picture of them. Sunset + Badlands = Sexy Contrast It's like there was a worldwide flood of yellow stuff or something. Light!  Dark!  Light!  Dark! Are you enjoying my captions? Ok, so that other view did not keep going and going.  THIS one did. An ibix! Lookoutte Pointe How is the earth like a seashell?  Give up?  Crenellations!

Then I and the Lovemobile took one last long look out over the Badlands before saying goodbye.

This is going to be my new top image, no doubt.

But wait! There’s more! I was headed to Wyoming and passed through Rapid City. I seemed to recall Mount Rushmore being in Rapid City, so I started following signs for Mount Rushmore. I also saw a sign that made me feel at home.

Home away from home!

It turns out I was wrong. Mount Rushmore is like 20 miles south of Rapid City. But by the time I realized this I was too far along to turn back. So I ended up being later than I would have liked to my host in Wyoming, but I did get to see the Mount… from afar. I approached from the side,

Coming up on the faces.

then realized I’d driven around and was on the way back down!

In South Dakota, George Washington leads a rocky existence.

I wasn’t about to pay the ghastly fee just to park for a couple minutes, so I pulled over by the entrance to the lot and grabbed this super-zoomed in shot before I left. Sorry, it’s the best I could manage in those conditions.

The frontal facade of the famous foursome formation.  Forealz.

NEXT: I ask my friend Ming what reason she had for choosing the 15th letter of the alphabet!

South Dakota, Part 1

Due to the aforementioned delays, I was behind schedule for Leaf 3 and I had to compensate by booking it out west at an uncomfortable clip. I did about 8-10 hours of driving per day, and sadly I had to skip North Dakota. Sorry North Dakota! Nothing personal — just maybe try and get a few more residents, OK?

The first day, a remarkably friendly Couchsurfer by the name of Teresa Dzieglewicz gave me a call while I was driving aimlessly through South Dakota, and offered me a couch. She was in Mission, SD.

“Where the heck is Mission, SD?” asks everyone. Answer: here.

You might also notice that it is smack dab in an Indian reservation. What you may not notice from the map, however, is that Teresa and her roomies are all teachers with Teach for America, which places teachers in under-resourced areas to make the world better.

“How could we have noticed that from the map?” asks Attractive Girl.

Well, you couldn’t have, of course.

“So why… you know what? Never mind.”

Whatever. On the way there I saw tons of signs for South Dakota’s famed Corn Palace! There were tons of signs, saying such things as:

ONLY 15 MILES TO GO! CORN PALACE

and

SEE THE CORN PALACE! MITCHELL EXIT 332

and even

WE’RE ALL EARS! MITCHELL CORN PALACE

so I thought I may as well. It turns out those signs were a tad misleading.

The Corn Palace is only partially either corn or palace.

See? It’s just a regular building, covered in corn. I was expecting a building actually made of corn. They totally should not have hyped it so much.

This is pretty neat though.  It's corn.

“Ooh a fresco!” says the unattractive passerby.

“No, its a bas-relief!” argue several of the teenagers. “Frescoes are done in paint!”

Wow, how did you-

“Actually,” points out one of the nerdier teenagers, “since the entire ears of corn are protruding it would be more of an alto rilievo.”

Um, guys. It’s Mount Rushmore, depicted on a wall using ears of corn.

In Mitchell, George Washington is all ears.

I arrived late and Teresa and her roomie Sara Kock were busy preparing their lessons and such for the next day, along with another teacher friend who had an awesome name.

“Was his name Attractive Guy?” asks Attractive Girl hopefully.

No, those sorts of names only exist in the bizarre narrative-devices-with-personalities-infested world of this blog. His name was Zach.

“That is a pretty awesome name,” you agree insightfully.

We spent a pleasant evening hanging out with our laptops, arguing about interesting topics, reading about life-changing inventions, and suddenly

MPM: BUT ALL THAT WAS ABOUT TO CHANGE…

Wow. He totally interrupted me. Anyway, suddenly, it came up in conversation that tomorrow would be the day when all the kids sang the Flag Song around the flagpole after school!

I was highly interested, and upon inquiry they informed me that the Flag Song is roughly the Indian equivalent of the National Anthem. They sing it in Lakota, the primary language of the Sioux being spoken today. It is a song of national pride and identity. I ask you, is there anything that could fit better into a nationwide recording of all of America’s many peoples?

“Pretty much nope,” says one of the teenagers.

Um… you weren’t supposed to answer. That question was supposed to be rhetorical — it’s an obvious no.

“Whatever, dude.”

I mean, seriously. That answer was so inappropriate.

(Here is where I go get a drink.)

So I figured an hour early would be plenty of time to introduce myself to the powers that be and clear it with them, set up my equipment, and give it a go. Nothing formal, you know, just some dude recording an off-the-cuff song sung by students after school. So, one hour before sing time, I headed over to South Elementary, where Sara taught.

Attention lawyers!  No students are recognizable in this photo!

This is where America, land of liberty, made me sad, as I was unable to record these children’s singing as part of my project.

The school leaders did not object. They thought the project was a great idea and were very helpful as I tried to get it to work. In particular, one of the staff named Carmen Eagle Pipe went around with me introducing me to people and trying to help me make it happen.

The song was public domain, available for recording without permission. Carmen called somebody in the know, and was told that the Flag Song has been recorded both informally and formally many times. People at their powwows over in Sioux Falls were always recording that song.

The parents and students didn’t object.

But. But. One of them might. One of them might object strongly and bring legal action against the school. And one hour was not enough time to ask all the parents. Had I shown up a week ahead of time, the school could have sent home permission slips with the students, and those students with signed permission slips could have participated in the recording (which was audio only, by the way, no video).

So the problem was lawsuits and fear of same (I actually heard the phrase “lawyers breathing down my neck”). The problem was parents solving educational dissatisfactions with litigation rather than discussion. Ensuring their child’s safety with threats rather than trust. Taking from the educational system rather than contributing.

I am not talking specifically about the parents of the children at this school. Nor am I even talking about most parents. I am talking about that vocal minority of parents and organizations who sue schools over ridiculous issues and cultivate an attitude of fear among educators.

What happened at South Elementary is a very small, rather insignificant example of a large problem. I’m not sure if there is a good way to remedy a situation that has been reinforced by judicial precedent. But I do know that something is wrong when American teachers cannot even give their students side-arm hugs.

Note to American parents and “concerned” organizations: suing a school is a socially irresponsible act. If a school does not deliver the education you want, I assure you that taking that school to court will not help it improve. How can teachers share knowledge confidently when there are thousands of things that could make them lose their jobs? How can students learn in an atmosphere of fun when teachers teach in an atmosphere of fear? In this particular case, students lost an opportunity to know that the larger world values them and their culture because of that fear.

My teaching experience in Korea was highly gratifying. I helped students learn skills that would be valuable to them in the future. My greatest triumphs were those students in whom I helped instill or reinforce a love of learning itself, an engagement with life, a joy in discovery. But the atmosphere there was one of pressure, not one of fear. I felt like I had to take many steps where a normal mortal would take one, but I never felt like any step might be my last. Rather than walking on eggshells, I was trying to leap buildings which were a little too tall. Neither is the best environment for a teacher, but I know for a fact which one gets more done. When I asked Korean teachers about discipline issues, hitting the students was the most recommended solution. But, they explained, that is what the students understand and expect. I even asked the students and they told me I would have better results with them if I hit them when they misbehaved! (I never could quite bring myself to do it though.) When teachers and students had difficulties, the parents would thank the teacher for their patience in dealing with the child. Students and teachers would freely exchange hugs. Students would come climb on my lap while I was preparing lessons. In fact, students would occasionally mug me. I could talk with students about my religious beliefs. I could post pictures of my students on the internet. I could have email and phone/text conversations with my students without fear of it being monitored.

Not so America. American schools as dictated by watchdog organizations attempt to keep the educational environment unnaturally sterile, which in the end leads to greater vulnerability to the world’s social ills.

This particular situation absolutely did not warrant my lengthy reponse. If I were responding just to my inability to record kids singing without permission slips, I would be completely overreacting. Permission slips are not that big a deal, and help make sure everyone is OK. I understand why I couldn’t record them and I’m OK with it. But I don’t think I am overreacting to the fearful attitude I felt there and elsewhere from other friends who are teachers in the US.

As an excercise, let’s imagine a school made parents sign this release form before enrolling their child:

In signing this form, you agree to the following treatment of your child. We will discipline your students as they require, including the possibility of corporal punishment and/or public humiliation. We may publish images of your child in news, personal, and nonprofit publications. We may take your child on educational day trips which will be listed on the school calendar. We will allow frank discussion of issues about which people have varying beliefs, such as intelligent design and evolution, racial backgrounds and different cultures, the history of western civilization from various vantage points, and religious beliefs, so long as one view is not taught to the exclusion of others. If you or your child are offended by the existence or presentation of any of these views you may voice your disagreement but not take any further action against the school unless the view is itself represented inaccurately. We will not treat your child as special — all children will be encouraged and disciplined following the same guidelines. Teachers may use their judgment to resolve teacher-student issues. Teachers may hug and otherwise show normal adult-child physical affection to your child. Teachers and students alike are responsible for their actions. We reserve the right to fire teachers who violate laws rather than be legally liable for them. We reserve the right to expel students who continually refuse to adhere to the school’s policies.

I wonder how many parents would put their children in such a school. One permission slip at the beginning, minimal lawsuits. Would you? Why or why not? If you’re agreeing in principle but not in method, which sentence(s) would you change? Discuss.

But I digress. I digress hardcore. Sorry about that.

I would like to thank the staff of South Elementary in Mission, SD for their willingness to help out and their friendliness in trying to work out a solution for me. They are making a positive difference in the lives of students despite the world’s system not working for their benefit. I would like to extend grateful thanks to Teresa and Sara for their incredibly positive and hopeful outlook and their genuine caring for their students — and by extension, all the teachers of Teach for America that share those qualities, which I feel most must.

I’ll leave you with a shot of the flagpole around which I almost recorded lots of students singing a song in a very old Amerindian language. The person has been blurred out because even though he looked older he may be a student and he did not sign a permission slip and the staff asked me not to publish any pictures that included students.

The flagpole around which many awesome unpictured children sang an awesome unrecorded song.

Frustrations in Omaha

After two very long months on the road traveling and recording and scheduling and etc. every day, I was more than ready to take a break. I looked forward to my week in Omaha between Serbian gigs with eager expectation.

Not that I could afford to only rest. I had the next Leaf to plan, some car maintenance to take care of, songs to mix down, other songs to scratch out, etc. ad nauseum. But I wouldn’t have to worry about where I would sleep that night and I could unwind a bit without the pressure of daily travels.

Unfortunately, I could neither rest nor take care of business.

“Oh no!” interrupts Attractive Girl sympathetically. “Whyever not?”

My computer had been acting up more and more since installing Service Pack 3 somewhere around Georgia. It is a very nice HP laptop which I got in Korea. It originally came with Vista but I wouldn’t go near Vista with a ten-foot pole if it were the last OS on earth, among other idioms. So I asked the shop if I could get it downgraded to XP, which they were magically able to do. I say magically, because as you will see I was not able to do the very same thing.

By the time I was in Memphis, it was so bad that it was interfering with recording. Constant BSOD’s are annoying when you are trying to record musicians in a limited time frame. This problem needed to be fixed, ASAP, or the Tour would be cancelled.

So I spent my entire week in Omaha trying to get my dang laptop working again. After hours and hours on the phone with HP support, it became apparent that I could get no help from them unless I installed the original OS, the name of which I have used too many times already in one day so let’s just say it loosely rhymes with Batista, and seems to have similar dictatorial habits.

“Are you talking about Vista?” asks the unnamed, unattractive passerby.

DON’T SAY IT!! Saying it gives them more power. It is the OS Which Must Not Be Named.

“Oh OK. I’ll call it You-Know-What then.”

Fine. So after getting little help from HP’s friendly tech support staff in India, I was on my own. I have had some luck previously doing a repair install of XP. But when I popped in my XP CD, I discovered that it couldn’t even recognize the hard drives; in order to see them I would have to a) buy a USB floppy drive in order to provide SATA drivers during the install process, or 2) burn my own XP install disc which included the drivers. Option 2 was free, so after downloading nLite and SP2 (didn’t want to risk SP3 again just in case), I made my own XP SP2 disc with SATA drivers using my existing XP disc and nLite, which is by the way a marvelous tool for XP users when they face the (inevitable?) reinstall.

This process (phone calls, research, burning) took six days (and six nights). The burner in my second computer crapped out along the way so I had to get creative with a live Linux CD (yay Knoppix) to be able to burn CDs from a nonworking computer. The planned departure date for Leaf 3 came and went.

Two days and three installs of XP later, I had a semi-stable XP SP2 up and running. I had tracked down various drivers from Intel, HP, an online guide, and even a Korean online guide.

Maybe I didn’t get the right combination of drivers, however, because I’m still getting random blue screens, even with non-crucial devices disabled. Java in particular seems to provoke a crash of either the program (Opera is guaranteed to crash on the new Facebook, and another Java tool I use will occasionally disappear mid-use) or the entire OS. Anytime I do anything disk-writing intensive, I’m guaranteed a crash, which is great fun when I get a BSOD while an install program is in the middle of writing to the registry. Downloaded files are sometimes corrupt and I have to re-download them. Other times it crashes seemingly randomly. The event log provides no clues.

ARGH. If only there were an alternative to Windows-only Sonar that I could seamlessly transition to. But I love my Sonar — it’s the best “total package” audio production tool I’ve used, particularly from the usability standpoint. You don’t need to read a manual just to get simple things done, because it’s so intuitive (yes, I’m talking to you, Pro Tools). The development team responds to the needs and requests of its userbase, and it fully supports both DX and VST plugins. I only wish they made a version that ran on a different OS.

Since it was stable enough to record and I had been delayed almost too late to even do Leaf 3, I hit the road anyway, despite the instability. But I have another break in mid-October, where perhaps I’ll try different drivers, perhaps even the XP BlackEdition that these Korean sites are recommending. I’m wondering how the shop did it, since I have tried a number of combinations of drivers with no success.

Thankfully, my stay in Omaha wasn’t all frustrations. I enjoyed regularly sleeping in a bed. I beat all my friends at ping-pong.

The Omaha Asian Ping Pong Championship underway.

I made and ate some soft, chewy cookies. I watched as my friends worshipped Rumiko.

Oh great Rumiko, we are not worthy...

I played a couple games of Age of Mythology. (I hadn’t played computer games in like half a year!) I enjoyed some fine Fitz’s root beer and cream soda that I had brought with me from St. Louis.

The Verdict
I’m on the road again. My computer is not on the fritz, but it’s certainly not on the level either. HP and Microsoft should hire local support help. The WINE people should get Sonar running stably in WINE. Everyone should be on my album. My friends should all spend a year teaching in Korea with me. Soft, chewy cookies should be available worldwide. The US Presidential elections should start over from scratch — we still have time! People should only pay for outgoing calls. Bars should throw out that awful “Mojito mix” and buy some real limes and fresh mint. People should stop suing people over ridiculous things. Children should spend some time playing outside. A Taco Bell should open in Seoul. A Dr. Fish should open in Omaha. Everyone should recycle and live greener. People should stop putting strawberries in rhubarb pies. In a nutshell, the world should be as I want it.

But it’s not. So why not make some great music?