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:


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!

Kansas City Serb Fest

I arrived in KC to drum once more for Majstory. We were playing a big Serbian festival (“Serb fest”), where groups from Joliet, Omaha, and Kansas City all gathered together and celebrated, Serbian style.

People ate and choirs from all three cities sang.

The Omaha choir representin'.

We were set up in the corner.

You can see our stuff over there next to the choir.

Then, we were ready to start. People were still eating so we began with the ballads and such, but it wasn’t long before we busted out some kolos (like the Serbian equivalent of a jig or reel).

Getting our Serb on.

We played for hours, and there was much dancing. Then after an adventurous night with crazy drunk people people visiting our hotel, we were ready to play again in the morning.

Mario, Iliya, Joe, and Zach are MAJSTORY

Highlights from this gig:

  • A bed!
  • Good times playing Serbian music.
  • A guy thought I was Serbian! I was sitting at a table finishing my beverage and a guy leaned over and said, “Blah blah blah blah. Blah?” At least, he may as well have said that because I only know a few words of Serbian, and he didn’t use either of the words I know. So I replied with a cheerful “Dobro nam doshli!” which means something like “hello” or more literally “good life to you.” I let him look confused for a second before apologizing and explaining that I’m not actually Serbian and had no idea what he said.
  • A crazy drunk dude that kept calling everyone ‘crazy’ and ‘nuts’, then laughing at the sound of his own voice. I think he laughed at the sound of his laughing too. It was a textbook example of the “feedback loop.”
  • Some delicious Serbian food, unfortunately not including roast lamb this time but still pretty good.
  • I learned how to ask “Where is the bathroom?” in Serbian. This adds to my prior Serbian knowledge of “ice” and “What’s going on?” The cool thing is I can now synthesize addition sentences; now I can say things like “What?” and “Where is Iliya?” and even “What is ice?”

NEXT: I finally get a much-needed break back in Omaha, but fail to get any rest during it.

St. Louis, MO

St. Louis! Home of one of my alma maters! (I have several alma maters. It’s one of those confusing family situations. I also have a dura mater and a pia mater, but those are just in my head.) This particular mater is of course Washington University, a very excellent school and the place where I studied architecture for a couple years before I decided that, in the words of the 림정히 song, music is my life.

I still have a good number of friends from WU in St. Louis, despite not having lived there for about 8 years. The first of those friends that I was able to meet up with was May Yeh!

It's May!  And she's ON FIRE!

May is a super fun girl who manages somehow to be both hilarious and genuine, plus she has her own holiday. I was always jealous that I didn’t have a Zach Day. She’s also gotten married since last I saw her (8 years ago) to a happening fellow named Steve. They also have a cat, which they like to dress up like an owl. I already think owls are one of the funniest animals alive, but seeng a cat dressed up like one may have been even funnier.

May and Steve putting the owl suit on the cat. It's an owlcat!  The best mouser around. What I want to know is, who manufactures this costume and where can I send them fanmail? Well, SOMEONE is looking a little OWLY!

“Hahahaha!” laughs the mob of nearby teenagers, in an unusual fit of appropriate behavior.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I actually met May at my alma mater and her presenta mater (currenta mater?), WU. There she showed me around the old place and I was in awe of all the changes that have happened to the school since I attended. Some things are exactly the same, for example some of the dorms looks exactly the same and I felt 19 again. But other things were completely different and I felt 40.

For example, WU has added a TRAIN STATION to their campus!

Tell me this is not a train station.

Among other things. The library now looks like a Starbucks. There are now a billion places to eat on campus (as opposed to a mere 500 million when I was there), including places to get steak and haute cuisine. Amazing.

I spent a lovely evening eating a huge gyro with May and Steve, followed by playing with the owlcat. The next morning, I was off to rendezvous with Tim Dorsch, another happening peep I knew back in the day. We met disgustingly early for some bagels and good times catching up.

Zach and Tim, old friends, reunited at last.

After a nap to catch up on the sleep I missed from meeting Tim, I was off to another happening peep’s place. This happening peep was a happening peep by the name of Carrie Jones.

“How many times are you going to use the phrase ‘happening peep’ in this post?!” complains Attractive Girl. “Seriously.”

Do you seriously want me to answer that question, because I can totally –

“Never mind,” says Attractive Girl, “I’m going to go eat some 갈비살 while you finish this up.”

Dang, I love 갈비살. I’m going to have to finish up fast so I can join you.

Attractive Girl: (aside) “Exactly!” (she winks)

(exit Attractive Girl, stage left)

So, Carrie Jones. She is a singer and pianist, in addition to being a happening peep. Here she is pianating:

That's "playing piano" for those of you who don't know how to verbize.

And here she is singificating:


Carrie had some great ideas for parts on several of the tunes I threw at her, in addition to having great times since she was hanging out with me. Haha!

Then we went to Fitz’s, one of those St. Louis eateries that I had on my list of things I wanted to do. They bottle their own root beer and cream soda, and I used to always buy Fitz’s beverages using my meal plan when I was at WU. So we went there, and met up with Dave Costenaro!

“Him again?!” asks a nearby scary clown.

AAAHHH!! Geez, you scared me.

Clown: (smiles creepily)

*shudder* Yes, him again. Dave now holds the record for Person I Have Met In The Most Cities Who I Was Not Also Dating. It is a prestigious title, and I hope someone makes him a trophy. Someone besides me, because it would have more meaning that way. Perhaps a nonprofit organization? Anyone?

After that, Dave and I were off to a happening–

“DON’T SAY IT!” says Attractive Girl, peeking around the corner with her mouth full of delicious rib meat.

Whoa, hold on there AG. I was going to say “happening party.”

“Oh. OK then.” She disappears back around the corner.

This party was so happening. It was a house party, and the house was brimming with hap… cool persons! Highlights of the party:

  • I had a great conversation with a girl named Pam in a shower with a built-in TV!
  • I saw a praying mantis catch and eat a moth!
  • I got shoved and stepped on by a shirtless dude trying to catch a cup!
  • I met a girl named Amity with great karaoke skills and became her agent! We are going to meet in LA, where I will help her get a job working on the Ellen show.
  • A crazy curly-haired girl in a sundress named Erica Rangel shared a spot in front of the refrigerator with me for a good 10 minutes!
  • I met scads of happening peeps!

Next morning, May cooked me up some delicious banana pancakes!

Home cooking, a happening peep, and a cross-dressing rabbit.

There is a long and awesome story behind that painting which I won’t share with you since I am in a hurry to get some 갈비살.

Then I was off to the home of two more happening peeps, Caleb and Irene Chou! I had known both of them from my WU days. (In fact, I claim some of the credit for their meeting… but they probably would have met even without my intervention… whatever.) Caleb and I had been involved in musical pursuits together, so I was happy to catch up with him and get some of his guitar playing on the project.

Caleb, Irene, and the not-so-little little one.

Then I was off to Kansas City to drum with Serbians!

Attractive Girl: “Mmmm, that was some good 갈비살. Would you believe I ate it all?”

Dang it.

NEXT: Those Amazing Serbians.

New Orleans, LA

The next day saw me scenically driving.

Light filtering through the clouds like delicious gourmet coffee through a filter.

To what city was I scenically driving? Why, New Orleans.

Coming in to the city. Dirty but still dignified.

New Orleans! A historic city in the development of American music. Also a prominent target for hurricanes. I arrived as they were recovering from Gustav, but things seemed to be pretty well in hand. Some people were still without power, but they had an astronomical number of electrical teams from all over the country working on it, so they would not be powerless for much longer. Most of the neighborhoods had been cleaned up pretty well, and the only evidence I saw of a recent disaster was the broken trees, and piles of tree parts lining the sidewalks.

Most of the neighborhoods I drove through looked like this.

New Orleans is also the home of Michael Raeder, a zydeco/cajun musician and enthusiast.

Mike with his zydeco accordion.

Mike plays a wide variety of instruments and has been playing with various cajun bands and musicians since he moved to New Orleans, picking up many of the genre-typical instruments along the way. First we put down some of the accordion (pictured above), then we moved on to some percussion, such as rub board, which is very loud.

Rubbing the board.  I wonder if that's where it gets its name. Seriously, someone make an animation out of these.  Please?

He also put down some triangle, which has some other name in the zydeco/cajun circuit, where most everything is still in old French. And after that, some electric guitar. It was a busy evening, and Mike’s family was very helpful in being quiet, like little mice. Except for one very loud incident.

Rubboarding is a much safer hobby for young people than snowboarding.

They also graciously treated me to dinner and offered me a place to stay. Furthermore, and I swear this was the real conversation:

Mike, out of the blue: Do you like Mojitos?
Me: … (in shock)
Mike: If not, that’s fine, but we grow our own mint so we could make some up if you like.
Mike’s wife: He makes a great Mojito.
Me: …

I had not told them anything about my hunt for an American-made Mojito that compares to the ones made by Lovo’s in Korea. But here was Mike, picking mint and making me one.

Mike the Mojito-making maestro.

Let’s go in for a closer look.

The majestic Mojito, a refreshing summery drink.

After refreshing ourselves properly, we were back to record a bit more before his children were off to bed. After that, we listened to music. Mike played me all kinds of zydeco and cajun music, showed me books on the subject, and talked about it at great length. It was very educational for me and a great look into one of America’s old but persistent musical subcultures. These styles are in some danger of dying out, but as long as people like Mike draw breath, they will live on. Every music style needs its champions — way to go, Mike.

I was listening back to some of the stuff we recorded, and I feel like some of the spirit behind that music was captured on this project. Exciting.

NEXT: Multi-instrumental mathematicians in Mississippi.

Atlanta, GA

Guess where I went next?

“Um, Atlanta?” you guess.

Correct! Great guess!

“Um, it’s in the title?” you point out.

Still, a great guess. Yes, I went to Atlanta. Guess how many musicians responded to my ads?

“How about two?” you guess again.

Looks like you need answers to be in the title to guess correctly. (Ooh, punk out!) The correct answer is zero. Cero. Zilch. Nada. 공. I know for a fact that Atlanta is a bustling music city so, despite previous similar happenings in other big music cities, I was surprised by the lack of response from Atlanteans.

At least I did find a host. A truly awesome host.

“What was this person’s name?” asks the unattractive passerby from earlier. (He could use a name. Any name suggestions for the unattractive passerby?)

This person’s name was Trinh Huynh (might help you pronounce it if you read it like “Trin”). She was hospitality incarnate to Brad and me.

“Wait, Brad?”

Ah, yes. The friend who I mentioned was flying in to Atlanta.

Backstory: Brad Tretola is an absolutely phenomenal guitarist who I met when I was a music student in Minneapolis. There is a great story of how we met, which we always tell to anyone that asks how we know each other. In a nutshell, he thought I was a classical, printed-notes-only girl, and I thought he was a guitar poser hippy, and we were both incredibly wrong.

I had arranged earlier to meet Brad in SC at his parents’ home, where he was then staying. (Brad travels like a fat kid eats. That is to say, a lot, all the time.) But he had a tour cancel on him and somehow he found himself up in Jersey with some great musical prospects. He wanted to honor our gig but wasn’t sure how he could make it work. We ended up getting him a ticket back to SC for a couple days, and his flight had a connection in Atlanta, so we thought it would be cool if I just picked him up in Atlanta and he drove with me over to SC.

So that’s Brad. Now, back to Trinh. She is an accepting and quick-witted girl with a great place and an even better little dog named Henry who is a funny, friendly, enthusiastic little fellow.

She was going to have a dinner party that evening, so we helped her shop for food, then sat guiltily in her house while she cooked after she refused to accept our aid.

As it turns out, it’s probably good we didn’t help, because the meal was phenomenal. She made bowls of some delicious Vietnamese concoction with noodles, pork, apples, and veggies in a spicy fish sauce. But what really set it apart was the fresh mint leaves! Totally unexpected, but super delicious.

Dinner party at Trinh's!

Everyone is there in the above picture. Trinh on the stool watching everyone enjoy the fruits of her labors, Henry enjoying the people on the couch, and Brad sleeping next to Henry (in the middle of a party!).

One of the guests had brought a guitar, and we managed to coerce Brad into playing it (“Brad, want to play?” “Sure”), which is always a treat. He even tried using a glass as a slide, but it was too big, so next they tried a shot glass, and finally, Trinh found the perfect solution: a test tube!

Brad is a doctor.  A doctor of blues.

The next day, the three of us went to 순두부, a Korean restaurant specializing in, you guessed it, 순두부. It was delicious. Super delicious. I had been craving that very dish (it’s like a spicy tofu soup) for a while, and when she mentioned that as a possibility I perked right up.

And that was Atlanta. Better luck next time, Atlanta.

NEXT: Recording at the Tretolas’.

Knoxville, TN

Before we commence with the text-only Knoxville section, I would like to describe a happening peep I chanced to rendezvous with en the route to Knoxville — Jeremiah Nave, owner of East Coast Mobile Recording. He has the coolest truck I have ever seen in my life:

Jeremiah and the coolest truck in the known world.

Movie Preview Man: It looked like an ordinary truck…

But inside are all kinds of goodies, including a complete recording studio. Definitely check it out in more detail on his website, linked above. It’s kind of like the Lovemobile times 10. Or, squared. Or times ten and then squared. Yes.

(Lovemobile * 10)^2

They both look nondescript, but inside are some serious technological goodies. I was pretty awestruck.

Jeremiah contacted me because he thought my project was awesome, and since he was kind of on the way for me, I made a bit of a jaunt through the Tennessee mountains to pay him a visit. He was showing me around his place when we came across a pretty amazing organ in his garage. He has one of the rarest leslies around for it too, which sounds appropriately trashy, as a good leslie should. He told me about a recording artist who denied that Jeremiah actually had this leslie, since he thought he had the only one left. Ha. Look at this picture, recording artist!

One rare leslie, two nice mics.

When he turned it up to a nice garage-floor-vibrating level, the tubes got nice and warm.

This picture makes a certain type of person happy.  You know who you are.

Of course, once we had dialed in some great sounds, I had to get this organ recorded, so Jeremiah let me include his organ on my project.

Recording some sick organ sounds!

From there it was off to Knoxville, where due to my forgetting to take pictures the world was text-only. Let’s begin now.

Knoxville! Oddly enough, sometimes referred to by locals as Knoxvegas. Actually, some people in Nashville said that too -- Nashvegas. Can you just add "vegas" to placenames like that? I guess I'm from Omavegas, NE. Anyway, I arrived in Knoxville in time to meet my host for a late dinner.

"Who was your host?" asks AG. "And hey -- why does everything look funny? And why aren't there any pictures??"

Calm down, Girl. The funny-looking-ness is temporary. Everything will be back to normal after Knoxville. And my host was my buddy since high school, Paul Coker. We haven't actually seen each other in a number of years, so it was great to reconnect with him and his snappy wife Kris. (Snappy in the "quick perceptive skills" sense, of course.) Paul and I had good times over some fine tex-mex before joining forces with fellow Couchsurfer Julia Zagaya. She and her friend were over at a bar to listen to one of their friends play some music.

Paul and I continued the tradition of great times by also having great times with Julia and her friend. Do you like how I keep talking about this person as a "friend"? That's because I can't remember her name. I'll just come right out and say it.

After a pleasant night's sleep on Paul's couch, I met up with Neel, a guy with a long Indian name that I can't remember so I'll just write Neel.

"Dang," says AG, shaking her head. "You can't remember pictures, Julia's friend's name, Neel's name... I bet you can't even remember the capital of Poland!"

Hey! That should be capitol with an 'o'! HA! Gotcha!


Is it Krakow?

"No, but it used to be. It's Warsaw."

Dang. Anyway, I met up with Neel, a reasearcher at UT who is also a multi-instrumentalist who plays awesome music with a very sensitive, meditative bent. He recorded some guitar, voice, and hand drums for me. I learned a bit about Indian music as well, in particular some interesting things about modes -- which modes apply to which emotions and topics, which is not the same feeling or sense that Western ears have for those modes.

This topic came up because, of course, I wanted him to do a "romantic longing" introduction to a song in Mixo b2 b6, which he didn't feel as easily as he would have if the song were in regular old major. Super interesting.

After that, Neel recommended an excellent Turkish restaurant, where Paul joined up with us again, and where I had an absolutely fantastic beef kabob! Mmmmm.

NEXT: Normalcy returns to the blog, as we re-enter the world of words accompanied by pictures.