Saturday, September 30, 2023

Road Trip from Austin to Glastonbury Part 1

Four days on the road

Day 1: Monday, June 26
The sun has riz the sun has set...

Daughter Kaitlin arrived mid-morning from North Carolina to help finish loading the Honda CRV, Ronda, and share driving duties as we left Austin for the four-day road trip to Glastonbury. I picked her up at the airport, we ate a last meal at Maudie's, got home, stuffed what was coming into the car and off we went.

Accompanying us for the journey, Alaska (dog) and a Cookie Monster hand puppet to relieve spells of boredom.

Alaska calls "shotgun"; Cookie assumes his seat in the navigator's bunker

We hit the road at 2:30 in the afternoon with the goal of crossing into Arkansas for our first overnight stay. We planned on stopping about every two hours to swap seats and give all three of us a chance to relieve ourselves as needed. First stop, some barren highway rest stop between Jarrell and Belton. Windswept, dry, hot, but clean facilities. Gotta give Texas points for clean rest stop restrooms.

Rest room stop #1

It's truly miles and miles of Texas with nowt much to look at. Alaska's default position was to sleep most of the trip.

Alaska assumes the (default) position

A couple more stops, including a picnic dinner and then Texarkana. Our initial goal was to get the hell out of Texas for our first overnight stay. Well, Central Texas is an accurate description of just how buried in the middle of the state Austin is, and we just couldn't do it. So we pitched camp inside a rather pleasant Fairfield in.

At this point, it's important to point out that while Kait and I drove, my sister, mom and Michelle were coordinating our overnight stays, a helpful distant assist from "Mission Control." All we travelers had to do was find the (dog-friendly) hotel they picked, pull into the parking lot, check in, and head up to our room. It was always up. This meant using the elevator, which was a new experience for our canine companion.

Alaska was fascinated by the elevator at first, though as these overnight stays progressed, she started to dislike the weird small room. The sliding door that sealed her (and us) into the small space promised something only she could explain, and disappointed when it reopened somewhere else, not a park. Plus the weird small room emitted beeps at regular intervals at the floor vibrated. I think these vertical mini-journeys started messing with her mind. By the night of our last stay, she was elevator-averse. Cookie Monster spent nights in the car, and never opined one way or the other about his situation.

More fascinating than the elevator, however, was the porcelain self-filling water bowl in the bathroom. It was as if Alaska had never encountered a toilet before; I mean, we had them in our old house... For whatever reason, on this night, at this hotel, the glowing white ever-filled font was too great a temptation, and our pup slaked her thirst. A lot.

Alaska samples the eau de toilet...

Day 2: Tuesday, June 27
Life is cheap for a purple car in Tennessee, but way too expensive in Louisville

"A decent breakfast" - though in this photo, it's almost impossible to discern just what wound up on my plate.

We woke, cleaned up, ate a decent breakfast, then encountered rain as we crossed into Arkansas. A lot of rain. Enough to slow us down for an hour. Sometime, finally, in the late morning it cleared out, and we meandered up IH-30 toward Memphis.

Rainclouds dissipate over Arkansas

A key discovery we made after a gas station stop: no matter how you feel about the coffee at a Starbucks, their bottled mocha frappuccinos are amazing. Kait and I limited ourselves to one a day, knowing the potential addictive power of the bottled bliss. I suppose our reaction to these caffeinated sweet-bombs wasn't that much different from Alaska's fondness for that hotel toilet...

Cookie Monster stares at Frap bottle

The Mississippi is big and wide, and the Memphis skyline feels as if it is pushing toward the big river because that's where the money is to be made. I'd been through Memphis once or twice, but hadn't recalled how much development fronted the river, including the aberration of a grotesque, shiny pyramid ("Egyptian Revival" architecture). Once an events center, now it's a giant shop for galoshes and guns, with shooting ranges inside, from standard pistols to archery. Welcome to Tennessee.

Egyptian Revivalist eyesore on the Mississippi

Traffic was diabolical as we headed through Memphis, even though it wasn't rush hour. At one point, some souped-up purple muscle car, weaving erratically and fast through slow-moving traffic nearly clipped us, then a semi, then swerved to avoid a nearby car, and zoomed away. Good riddance. Outside of Memphis, the drive was more pleasant, that is, less peopled with maniacs. Arriving mid-afternoon in Nashville, Kait and I opted to get off the highway and eat a decent lunch in the trendy 12South neighborhood. We hunted a good barbecue joint, sans galoshes or bows and arrows, Edley's, where they even brought a water bowl for Alaska. We stuffed ourselves and got back onto the road, aiming for our next overnight stay in Louisville.

Would you buy brisket from this man? Maybe not, but his grandson cooks up some good BBQ

If traffic in Memphis was slow, it was practically at a standstill for the first hour or so as we tried to get out of Nashville. Everybody was heading north. As we drifted along, a familiar sight appeared, weaving in and out of the slow-moving traffic: the same daft purple muscle car, which swerved and cheated death over and over as it picked its way between cars. We lost sight of it when it veered off onto an east-bound road we were not taking. Ours was the road more traveled, and it was a forever-feeling stint before we hit the outer suburbs and could drive at a reasonable pace. Finally we hit the rolling hills of Kentucky.

A farm in Kentucky, one of many...

Our target for night two was Louisville, but as we ambled up IH-65, Mission Control was reporting that the cheapest hotel room they could get at such short notice was $800. What to do? We were approaching Elizabethtown, where we'd have to make the decision to push on toward Louisville and take our chance$ or turn east onto the Blue Ridge Parkway toward an alternative overnight stay in Lexington. About five miles before our exit, we discovered why the hotels were so expensive. Taylor Swift was performing that night in Louisville and local businesses were hiking their prices accordingly. The Femme Fatale of Kapital had struck again. She's a one-woman economic engine (c.f. Sweden or Travis Kelce's jersey sales for more on the Taylor Swift market effect).

But the ride, though longer than we'd planned that day, was pretty. The Parkway lolls along the Kentucky countryside. Not a bad sidestep, plus it moved us farther east; extra time spent on this leg meant less time on the next, right?

The sun sets on the Blue Ridge Parkway

To be continued...

Girls ready to hit the road!

Monday, March 8, 2021

Kaitlin Paprikash (Paprikash Kaitlin*) - A(nother) Recipe

Previously, I published this family recipe for matzoh-ball soup. It’s nearly Passover once again, so maybe give it a try for your seder!

More recently, daughter Kait requested my recipe for krumpli paprikash (paprikash krumpli*), a Hungarian dish that translates exactly as “peppered potatoes.” Want to say it out loud? KROOM-plee POP-ree-kosh (POP-ree-kosh KROOM-plee*). Easy to say. Even easier to make. To whit:


    1-2 lbs Red Potatoes, cut into wee cubes (or more, especially if you want left-overs)

    1 Yellow Onion, diced

    1 Green Pepper, diced (optional, because they cost so damn much)

    1 Red Pepper, diced (optional, see “Green Pepper,” above)

    8 - 10 Hotdogs, sliced into bite-size cylinders that want to roll off your cutting board; Do Not Let Them Roll Away, the little bastards, for they will try.

    Olive Oil, to coat cook-pot

    Paprika, lots. No, more than that. No... No... Okay, but you’ll probably want more. One “chef” well known to this correspondent has often plopped an entire spice jar of the stuff into this dish. Then added more.

    Cayenne (if you’re not using “Hot” Paprika, and I am talking “spiciness,” not whatever you youngsters think I’m saying), a pinch. Or two. The missus and I once used too much Hot Paprika and I swear our LIPS were on fire for HOURS.

    Garlic Powder, to taste (duh, garlic)

    Salt and Pepper to taste

    1 cup Water, Eau, Agua, Wasser, you get my drift

The Alchemy

Part the First: The Roux

In a large pot over a medium flame, bring olive oil to a roaring flagration. No, kidding. Just warm it a little, then add the onions and (if using ’em) peppers of multi-colors. Cook until onions are that wonderful gooey, not quite overdone-ness...“translucent,” that’s the word cookbooks like, translucent. Then add paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne and stir. This is the roux.

Part the Second: The Rest of Instructions

Add the potatoes, hot dogs and stir until covered with the sweet, salty, onion-peppery goo. Roux. I meant to say “roux.” Then stir in one cup of water and cover the pot. When the contents begin to cry out that it’s too hot/it starts to boil, turn down the heat. Check that you have enough paprika in there. Do you? Well? You’re not looking to create a red that mocks the storm on Jupiter, more like a Saharan sunset, tending toward orange, but still hot. Spice-wise, I’m still talking spiciness, not whatever you youngsters think I’m saying.

Let simmer, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are “done” (like, 40 minutes, who the hell knows, potatoes are notoriously unyielding). You’ll know when you stick a fork in ’em and are they creamy — neither stiff and flaky nor still hard as small pretend rocks (what did I say about notoriously unyielding)? It’s best if they’re tending toward creamy and yet, sorta solid-y, too. IMO. Hey, you asked, right? (notorious...)

At any time, do a taste test and adjust for #TheAmountOfPaprikaYouUnderMeasured because quite likely #YouUnderMeasured. You can  also add more water BUT JUST A LITTLE if it looks like the potatoes are holding out on you, texture-wise (notorious...). Remember: we’re not making SOUP, here, though a little soupiness is good. Contradictory, yet, optimal.

An Aside

Do not be tempted to taste a hotdog morsel at any time, especially now, when it all Smells So Good, please, just one, please? No. PLEASE? NO! Not because it’s unsafe because they’re “not cooked all the way through yet.” Hotdogs come pre-cooked, so you could, technically speaking, eat them straight out of the pack, sans warming, but, ugh. Yuck. Are you nuts? Eaten that way, they’d be Vienna sausages, and NO ONE likes Vienna sausages. No, keep your paws off the hotdog morsels because at some point in the meal you’ll go back for thirds or fourths and There Won’t Be Any Left because you were tempted earlier! Just warning you now, so you won’t be disappointed later. Balance is all.

End Game

When the potatoes are post-flaky, about-creamy-and-solid-y and you’ve convinced yourself no additional paprika could enhance this effort, give the contents a final stir and breathe in the aromas of your home-style, foreign-named fancy hotdog dish.

Scoop some into a bucket and eat. Wait. Strike that. Spoon some into bowls to share with your friends (or just to sample from different crockery if on your own). Enjoy.

A Second Aside

Pickles go well on the side. Also, chunks of artisanal bread, especially some doughy French thing. Hungarians know loads about confections and bakery delights but eff-all about French bread, despite the centuries of connection between the Hapsburgs and Bourbons. Look it up. Okay don’t. You wanna start a war or something?

A Note about Wine

Duh. Yes. Red. Plenty of.

Disclaimer: Instructions for making krumpli paprikash (paprikash krumpli*) are aspirational; individual chefs may discover avenues of exploration not disclosed in this recipe. My advice: Go For It.

*Because in Hungarian, you lead with the last name.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

How I Wrote the Song "So Cruel"

There was a time when I stopped writing songs. As if my ability to put words to music and music to words had upped and left me, and I might never pen a half-decent tune again.* 

It started right after I had moved to Austin for graduate school. Here, in the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World, I was experiencing a prolonged songwriters block. Im not entirely sure what was blocked, as I was hard at work on other creative endeavors. It was just the songwriting bit that had evaporated. The duration of this musical blockage overlapped with my pursuit of my master of fine arts degree in theatre directing, which kept me busy for three solid years, followed immediately afterwards (well, overlapping that final year, truth be told) with the co-founding of a theatre company, The Public Domain, which was even more time-consuming and just as creatively demanding. So while I was pursuing all sorts of creative arts projects, an arts business and a degree in the theatre arts — ironically, often overseeing the musical aspects of the on-stage work — my songwriting foundered. It turned into a four-year void in my musical creativity, and I was at a loss as to when, if ever, I would write anything worthwhile. 

Then came this song. 

It isnt all that much. A story about a misguided love affair that leaves her bruised at the hands of a brutal him. Not particularly edifying, but as soon as there was the slightest sense of traction, I made the conscious decision not to interfere with whatever combination of words and music were duking it out. I got out of the way. As the thing began to take a rudimentary shape, I thought about that category of Elvis Costello musical missive in which nice young women encountered not-nice men to ill effect. This sort of omniscient author songwriting was a bit alien (I tend to go for first-person narratives), but I gave in to the storytelling and let the thing go wherever it wanted. I tagged along and cleaned up bits as needed. Plus it was short, clocking in at around two minutes long. I could get through that, right? Nothing epic, nothing with great meaning. Just a short, sharp, sonic shock to my idle creative self to jolt it back to what I had known. 

It did the trick. 

Once I finished this little number, I began writing (what I consider) some decent new material, and plenty of it. Immediately after “So Cruel” came “The Bitter End,” Falling Down, Extra Ordinary and Idle Infatuation. You can hear “Extra Ordinary” on 2017’s Thug Nation EP, and I just submitted a new recording of “Idle Infatuation” to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Competition (there is a sonically meatier version here). My daughter Ari took the recording of “The Bitter End” and turned it into this video. Maybe I’ll do an updated recording of Falling Down next.

*Wags out there might opine I have yet to write a quarter-decent tune, let alone a half-decent one. Let them all wag, I say.

So Cruel

She wasn’t looking when he caught her eye
All of her friends said he would make her cry
In the time it takes for explanations
She got her hopes up, he got expectations

She’d kid around afraid to face the truth
He’d deck her out in shades of black and blue
In the time she takes to make her mistake
His grip tightened, she plotted her escape

She turned away and said she’d had enough
He spun her round and started acting rough
In broad daylight in the middle of a crowd
Later that night, all alone, she cried out loud

Why do you have to be so cruel
When you’re the one I should be running from
You break more than the rules
But I’ll break that spell to get from under your thumb

She packed her bags and tried to get away
He let her go after he made her pay
In the time she’ll take to recover
He’ll wreak havoc with another lover

Why do you have to be so cruel
When you’re the one I should be running from
You break more than the rules
But I’ll break that spell to get from under your thumb

Sunday, September 16, 2018

How I wrote the song “Black and White”

Mr. P's latest home recording is a song of defiance in the face of the "Swift-boating" of truth, happiness and the American way, penned during the summer of 2004, which, when you consider it, runs an ugly parallel to what is going on now, where a well-honed, well-funded right-wing propaganda machine props up another dubious (perhaps illegitimate) regime.

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Click the cookie Robi and you'll be whisked off to Soundcloud where you can read the lyrics. Or read to the bottom of this soapbox diatribe and you'll find them there.

HOW I Wrote the Song "Black and White"

ASIDE #1: Before I kick this off, I could’ve sworn I wrote about “Black and White” way back when I first did some roughed-up recording of the tune in 2004. But if there is an old recording with notes somewhere, it’s long lost now. So here’s the “How I wrote it” one more time (think of it as an encore!), with apologies if you’ve heard this one before.

Right. 2004. The presidential campaign. Bush v Kerry. It was painful that summer, watching John Kerry get Swift-boated by the proto-fascist cranky old white brigade marketed as the “veterans for truth.” Truth. Right.

In an ironic juxtaposition we had, in one corner, a multiple-decorated war hero who did his time a-soldiering in the shit storm that was Vietnam, and, in the other, a man who may or may not have fulfilled his military obligations with the vaunted Texas Air National Guard, scourge of bathers in the Rio Grande and cattle smugglers (presumably). Depends on which side you believe. Black. Or White?

I digress. What I saw that summer was that the fix was in, in as much that the Bush administration and its lackeys were going to everything possible within and without the “truth” to make sure to re-elect the boy-who-would-be-president. Including pillorying a war hero. No longer was it enough to be a decorated veteran. Now you had to be on the "right side" on the home front or you were a traitor. Kerry spoke out against the war he fought in, pissing off a bunch of apologists for war crimes committed during that war of choice. Yet Kerry was the bad guy. Black. White.

ASIDE #2: Do NOT even attempt to think of those days during Bush II ("The Return of the Nativists") as the good ol’ days, especially when comparing them to the catastrophe that is the current administration/Congress/proto-fascist regime. Those days were equally shitty in terms of bad actors grifting the American people to sell us wars we didn’t want, tax cuts for people who didn’t need them, more conservative wankers on SCOTUS, the deregulation of business, banks (that went well, didn't it?), Earth-killing industries, with a sprinkling of so-called compassionate conservatism tossed in to sweeten up the fact that these people gave not a damn for anyone but their own (wave to the nice people drowning in the 9th Ward, Mr. President) 

...Aw, hell, it was like a Trump regime in a Petri dish, an earlier version of what metastasized into today’s foul disease.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. This song. Anyway, I was growing despondent that any succor for the American people was being Swift-boated into oblivion, and I started to lose faith. But then I stopped wallowing and reevaluated the situation. And I got defiant. I thought, “You can do your worst, but I am still going to fight you. I'm still going to call you on your bullshit. I'm gonna vote.”

And that’s what “Black and White” is all about. No matter how crappy the situation, how long your shot is, how high the deck is stacked against you, against your beliefs, against the candidate you support, against common sense – you fight. You fight bigots and big-money and hypocrites and a system rigged to empower (old white male) assholes and you do it by voting. Don’t accept their bullshit. Speak out. And vote.

That is how this song came to be. In defiance. As a call to arms. 

“I won’t do what you tell me, and I’ll rub you the wrong way . For what you’re trying to sell me, I won’t pay.” Nope. Rather: “I’ll take up the fight.”

And vote.

Pledge to vote at the link below and see what you can do to help your local candidate get elected and kick those Trump apparatchiks and apologists into orbit. Maybe they can join the Space Force. 
Voter information:

Finally, a word about the way this recording SOUNDS. I didn't set out to make a Wall of Sound version of "Black and White," quite the opposite. But when the sounds you are making veer off in another direction, you best catch up before the damn song runs away from you! Plus -- and this is either creepy or maybe it was just my muse helping me out -- when I recorded the guitar solo, I did it without any effects. When I played it back to hear what I had done, the software had, on its own initiative, run the track through a pair of plug-ins I had never used before. The sound you hear is the un-edited version of a sound that appeared on its own

More songs, more info, more more more can be discovered here

Black and White
The newspaper came today, it was black and white 
And everything people say, it’s black and white 
Do I dare to differ? Do I dodge and defer? 
Would it make any difference if I let my voice be heard? 
Night and day, day and night, black and white 

I turned on the TV, it was black and white 
As far as the eye can see, it’s black and white 
Do I change the channel? Or crash out on my couch? 
Would it do that much damage if I passed out on my watch? 
Night and day, day and night . . . 

I know it’s a vengeful world, indignant, anaesthetized
Practically Medieval, but I’ve got a surprise
I won’t do what you tell me, and I’ll rub you the wrong way 
For what you’re trying to sell me, I won’t pay 
Day and night, night and day 

I’ll start revolutions, I’ll take up the fight 
And if your weak constitution needs a quick re-write
I’ve pen and paper, and a dose of Common Sense
You may like what you say, sir, but you’re only fooling yourself
Night and day, day and night, black and white 
Night and day, day and night, black and white