Portland, OR

Portland! How cool is it that I have now been in two Portlands on opposite sides of the US?

WAY COOL!” shout the teenagers en masse.

Wow, right on, guys.

I ended up staying in Portland almost a week, mostly due to an awesome friend of mine, one Ramón Chaparro, a good friend from college with whom I’ve always been able to connect very easily due to his unassuming frankness and humility. You may remember his parents from such posts as: Little Rock, AR.

The elusive Ramón, good friend and happening peep.

Ramón was very enthusiastic about the project and incredibly helpful as far as musical contacts. He helped me line up quite a few people to record that he knew in the Portland area, as well as hooking me up with the aforementioned Jenny Rose in Sealth. He had even taken a few days off work to traipse around Portland with me, and I was glad of his company. I offered him a deal traveling with me for the rest of the Tour, but he wasn’t able to make it work, sadly.

My usual channels gave me two or three contacts but only one of them actually recorded with me, the rest of the peeps were Ramón’s, which he generously shared for the project. The first of Ramón’s peeps was a girl named Shelley Bowers.

Oh clarinet, you had me from Henry Questa.

We spent a while coming up with delicious parts for her to play, and recording them, before we had to be on our way. I would also like to mention that she made some exceptionally delicious banana pancakes for us while we were there! I would also also like to mention that she and I are going to hang out in Korea, since she is planning on teaching English over there soon.

NOTE TO TIME LORDS: Unfortunately it’s been a while since I was there (it was the first week of October) and my memory for events is great, but my memory for sequence of events is terrible (this is why I did badly in history class). So this recounting of recorded peeps may be out of order, but you can count on there being no “factual embellishments.”

Another peep I recorded one of the evenings in Portland was a great soul singer named Lucy Hammond.

Lucy bringing it.

Lucy had a very versatile voice and added some great vocal colours that were otherwise missing from the project. Not only that, she is witty, chatty, and very personable, possibly helped along by her experience working in a salon, which is where we recorded. When Ramón and I arrived she was finishing up a manicure. Check this place out:

Andy Warhol would be proud.

We had a blast recording and chatting with Lucy.

Then — or possibly before — I’m sure it was a different day, actually, because this guy was first thing in the morning — we were off to record Peter Chan, a saxophonist specializing in free jazz and working on branching out into straight ahead stuff (kind of backwards from the norm).

Peter Chan honkin' the honker.

Peter added some really great stuff to a handful of songs, and did a nice solo thing on the bari.

Peter Chan, Saxophonist.

Our final peep from Portland is a fellow by the name of Ross Davis, who is quite a competant jazz bassist. He plays

— wait for it —

— keep waiting —

“Oh come on already,” groans a nearby old man on the corner, sitting smoking his pipe.

“Hey!” pipes in AG. “Those were lyrics from one of your songs. Are you trying to subconsciously prepare people for the release of your albums by including–”

No. I just wanted a delay to increase the suspense for what Ross plays. Anyway, he plays-

“That’s a juvenile tactic.”

Yes, my mind and my body appear to be maturing at different rates. But back to-

“Tch. Seriously.”

You realize you’re playing right into my hands by continuing to talk, right?

“…”

Anyway. Ross plays THIS:

Yes, friends, that is a 5-string upright bass.

Upright bass was one of the high-priority instruments on my wishlist. At the time of this writing (with one state left to go) only two instruments remain high priorities: french horn (Or should I call it “freedom horn”? Ridiculous.) and glockenspiel. I also still need a baby crying.

Ross added some fantastic upright parts to several of the songs. His playing needed very little feedback from me, and didn’t require a lot of my “acceptance of the unfamiliar” mindset. He pretty much played exactly what I wanted.

THE VERDICT: Ross Davis saved the project!

I must reiterate that I had a fantastic time reconnecting with my good friend Ramón the whole time I was there, and both I and the project owe him a great deal for his wholehearted comtributions of time, energy, and resources to the project. Thanks Ramón!

NEXT: The long arm of Ramón.

Seattle, WA

Seattle! A city deserving of our respect because it has a bajillion names: “Emerald City,” “Jet City,” “Queen City,” “Gateway to Alaska,” and of course “Rain City.” Its actual name comes from a local tribal chief named Sealth. Way to go, Sealth. It is my dream to also have a city named after me someday. In honor of that dream I will refer to Seattle as Sealth in this entire post. Perhaps for my entire life after this post as well.

If I were to give Sealth a few more nicknames, they would be: “Old Friend City” and “Best Restaurant Menu Ever City.”

“Why would you name it Old Friend City, Zach?” asks Attractive Girl dutifully.

Why, because Sealth contains all sorts of old friends of mine! Former college roommate? Yep. Former college floormate, suitemate, and TA? Yep. Former middle school BFF? Yep. Former elementary school BFF? Yep. Former Korean girl whose wedding I played piano for? Yep.

“What is a BFF?” asks the ugly passerby.

I think it stands for Best Friend Forever, but its origin is steeped in valley-girl-esque OMG-ism, so the “forever” is usually understood as being an intensifier rather than an indicator of commitment.

“Wow, where did you learn how to talk like that?”

I dated a really intelligent girl for a while. You should try it, you become really good at diplomacy.

First, the former college roommate, and also my host, a stellar bloke by the name of Timothy Towns Chang-Miller. I am putting his middle name on here because I happen to know it and it is awesome. When I met him I considered also changing my middle name to Towns. Then I thought, nah, I don’t want to directly copy him… how about Cities? But I wouldn’t want to show him up either. So I just kept my previous middle name (which is, of course, Metropoli).

What would be cool is if you played Settlers of Catan with him and you could be like guys, look at Timothy's Towns!

Tim and his awesome wife Young very kindly hosted me during my stay in Sealth. It was super great to reconnect with Tim, and also super great to get to know Young, since the last time I saw her she was a wee bit preoccupied (something about a wedding…).

Did I record any happening peeps in Sealth? Why yes. I recorded several happening peeps. First was a fellow who told me his name was Brendan Littlefield. He is a talented songwriter who thought up some really great ideas for some of my songs.

The man at his station.

He put down some tasty piano (pictured above) as well as some delicious mandolin (pictured below).

MANDO MAN

Then I was off to rendezvous with one of his amigos. This amigo (not pictured either above or below) was named Jacob Weaver, and he is a bassist with several groups around Sealth. Jacob put down some nice bass for one of my songs (which is increasingly drawing comparisons to Zappa, which makes me happy).

After a delightful dinner with Tim and Young at a restaurant with the COOLEST MENU EVER I was off to meet up with more of the aforementioned Old Friends. These friends include such friends as: Joshua Hays and David Hrivnak.

It’s totally amazing that I met Josh Hays, considering that we were something akin to BFF’s since fifth grade. We kind of went our separate ways in high school, then suddenly we ran into each other on campus. We happened to be attending the same university in St. Louis! Amazing! Our friendship was rekindled. … Not that anyone kindles friendships… I certainly don’t! Kindling is for fires. But our friendship was renewed.

(Writing tip: don’t use “rekindled” when describing friendships. It would mean your friendship is burning!)

Even more amazing is that I reconnected with a middle school friend, David Hrivnak. He and Josh had gone to the same high school, and were also BFF’s for quite a while, so it’s pretty awesome that they both ended up in Sealth. I always remember David with fondness because he was a great source of creative signature ideas, but mostly because he asked a girl out for me in sixth grade. (I left the classroom to “get a drink,” he popped the question, and then I came back to find out the result. She said yes, so then we were a couple for two days, at which point one of her friends gave me the “I think we should just be friends” note. I’m sure some of this ill-fated passion shows up in my songs.)

Anyway, Josh is quite a competant musician on the keyboards, and both Josh and David have plunged into electronic music with gusto. So, it was only natural that we would record a gigantic analog synth.

David working the analog synth.  And probably also his mojo.

If you don’t think this is amazing, you are a fool and should be quartered by cement mixers. It’s MUSICAL SCIENCE! This space-age machine was capable of delivering all kinds of crazy great sounds. I had them add some cool noises to several of the songs. David added some nice atmospheric sounds to one of the songs, and Josh added a nice synthy melody to one of the tunes.

On one of the songs, they were tag-teaming, adjusting modulators and tremulorrheogulators to perfuse the arpeggicator and things like that.

Josh modulating the perfidulus, Jacques oscillating the rhombulus using a sine pattern, and David transducing the oscillomorphonimbus.

Basically, it sounded like R2-D2. Also, I should mention that we went out to find mojitos and went to this awesome place. They had mojitos on the menu but they were out of limes. With bitterness in my heart, I ordered something else and went to the bathroom. Where I saw this:

Coolest bathroom graffiti ever.

The wall was covered with a wide variety of writings, including philosophical discussions, with quotes from various philosophers limning their arguments. And of course some people just write stuff like “Sarte sucks!” but it was still one of the most enjoyable bathrooms I have ever been in. (Another nickname! Enjoyable Bathroom City.)

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, this is as close as I got:

The infamous SPACE needle.

It’s actually a ways away from the tall downtown buildings, and some of those buildings are taller. The pictures you always see of Seattle are taken from angles where it usually looks like the needle is right in there, towering over everything, but it’s just simply not the case.

One morning while I was there, I had a recording session at 5:00am (which is why I don’t remember which morning it was). She was a violinist by the name of Jenny Rose Wilson, and she worked nights and it was the only time she had available, so I dragged myself over to her church where her friend let her in and we recorded some great violin and viola parts.

Jenny Rose playing her amazing tranparent violin!

Jenny turned out to be a multitalented and friendly person. After recording with her, I went back to Tim’s for a nap to catch up on the sleep I lost. I thought later I had just dreamed about recording with her until I saw the pictures and heard the tracks.

Before leaving Sealth, I headed out for some lunch with Tim. We passed through a farmer’s market,

Evidently some farmer had grown these great musicians, but for some reason no one was buying them.

enjoyed some fine Mexican food, and then I was on my way.

MORAL: I will wake up early for music, but little else.

NEXT: Portanlth! I mean Portland!

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!