Portland, by hook or by crook

When Sharon, Rufus, myself, and our friend Colleen left Vancouver for Portland at 10:30 in the morning on Saturday we had no idea that we would be arriving at 2:00 in the morning in a rental car after spending the day trying to get the Civic repaired.

In the border lineup, the engine temperature was climbing up more than it normally does and I heard a whine under the hood which I assumed was the radiator fan trying to start. My assumption: the rad fan had broken. No worries, at highway speeds you can get by without a fan and we could get it repaired in Portland.

About an hour past the border the engine heat began to climb dangerously high again so we pulled over to the side of the I5 rush and called BCAA. The towtruck arrived, a large flatdeck that could carry all 3 of us in the cab, and we drove to the garage that BCAA had recommended.

Towing the Civic

Unfortunately, the garage was closed! So we headed over to a Les Schwab up the road. “Oh, we don’t do radiator service here” the guy told me. Some more Googling around. There was a Meinike Auto in Lynnwood, about a 30 minute drive away that could help us if we could have the car in before they closed at 5pm. It’s now 3:30pm and we’re in danger of being stranded in small-town Washington for the weekend if we don’t get the car sorted.

We made it to Meinike by 4 and their team went through the entire cooling system. The verdict? No problems except it was low on coolant. Odd, because the car had recently been serviced and I’d had my trusted garage in Vancouver give it a full inspection so I would avoid issues like this.

But you can’t argue with the data. So we pulled out of Meinike and headed into Seattle for dinner. After some much-needed food (we hadn’t eaten since breakfast), we continued down the highway but after a half an hour the check engine light flicked on and I saw that the engine heat was dangerously high! So we found ourselves on the side of the I5 again waiting for a towtruck.

Rufus waiting for the towtruck
Rufus waiting for the towtruck

As we headed for the closest garage to the Seatac Airport (which had 24-hour car rental) we began to worry that we wouldn’t make it when our towtruck driver ran through a red light and then proceeded to tell us about the 18-car accident he thought he might have caused on the I5 that morning!

At 8pm we dumped the car at a garage in the small town of Burien’s roughest neighbourhood and I headed to Seatac to pick up a rental. By 11pm we had transferred our gear to the rental, dropped the Civic’s keys in the garage’s drop box, and were finally able to tackle the final stretch to Portland.

Exhausted, we pulled in to The Pocket House at 2am and tumbled into bed.

Rufus at the Pocket House
Rufus at the Pocket House

Top Albums of 2013

Inspired by Shanman’s top albums of 2013 post I’m posting the albums I got into this year. I haven’t been terribly inspired by music for the last couple of years. Most of what’s popular is soft, slow, and boring. Carrie Brownstein, writing about Quasi, said, “They are anti-slipper in a sonic age that has drifted further and further towards leisure-wear.”

Fortunately there are a few bands that are anti-slipper this year:

Justice – Access All Arenas

Ever since I heard Justice’s first album on Australia’s Triple J radio years ago I’ve been a big fan. I enjoyed their second album too, but the new live album pulled all their music together into a tight set that I cannot stop playing. Access All Arenas is my most-listened to album this year.

Quasi – Mole City

I didn’t like this album at first and thought it was the first misstep in Quasi’s catalog since they began an unbroken string of outstanding albums with 2001’s Sword of God. Knowing that their records usually take a while for me to “get it” I jumped at the chance to see them at the Biltmore in November. Their wild, energetic show opened up the album for me and now it’s on heavy rotation.

Mudhoney – Vanishing Point

Years ago I used to be bummed out that I never got to see Nirvana play live. Once I saw my first Mudhoney show in 2000 at the Starfish Room, I decided that Nirvana was the second-best grunge band and Mudhoney, although they never got the same recognition, were tops. Mudhoney is also a rare band that can continue putting out albums long after most bands would have passed their best-before date.

Melt Banana – Fetch

Japanese noise band who recently became one of my favorite bands. Finally got to see them this year at the Biltmore and the new album rocks!

Ash Grunwald – Gargantua

I’ve never been much for solo bands. Ash, however, came into the Media Club as a one-man blues show earlier this year and proved that everyone else is doing it wrong. His new album, Gargantua, pulls together a selection of new and previously-recorded cuts. For someone like me who doesn’t know much about his past work, this is a perfect introduction to his thundering blues songs.

Marnie Stern – The Chronicles of Marnia

I stumbled across Marnie on Rdio when I saw a bio of an artist who named Sleater-Kinney as an influence. She was on the verge of releasing her new album and was playing at the Media Club a week later. Went and saw her and discovered that her new album is her best.

Paper Lions – My Friends

The recent Media Club show was, by a high margin, the best show this year. The band traveled for 13 hours through a snowstorm from Edmonton, arriving at midnight for an “early show.” John MacPhee, the singer, had flown ahead to do an interview with The Peak radio station. To hold us over while the band continued to slog through snow and ice, he did an impromptu solo set which was memorable not only because of how good the songs are without a band behind them, but because he introduced each song with the song’s story. For me, the stories made the songs more tangible and interesting.

When the band scrambled through the door and onto the stage they expressed how thankful they were that everyone stuck around and promised to rock the house. Which they did. Best show of the year.

Alan Doyle Trio – St. James Hall – Wed Feb 6, 2013

Sharon and I were in Halifax last summer and we were able to catch Alan Doyle’s show on our first night. He’s the lead singer from Great Big Sea and had just released a solo album. He was joined by Kendel Carson and Cory Tetford for the show. Since then, they’ve toured extensively and now call themselves the Alan Doyle Trio. On Wednesday they came back to Vancouver to play at St. James Hall.

Cory Tetford has become one of my favorite guitarists ever since we saw him in Halifax. We were lucky enough to see him at the Lower Deck doing covers with Paul Lamb one night and managed to chat with him for a bit in between sets. Super nice dude. Incredibly talented guitar player from Newfoundland.

Kendel Carson is a young, upcoming fiddle player from BC who we last saw when she joined the Deep Dark Woods for a couple songs at the Biltmore about a year back. Like Cory, she’s very, very talented. She plays in Dustin Bentall’s band andused to play with a band called Outlaw Social.

The venue, St. James Hall in Kitsilano, is an old church and was the perfect setting for an east coast music show. Alan Doyle came out dressed in black, “my most priestly outfit”, he said and continued making comments about playing in a church for the rest of the show. The church talk reached it’s peak when he introduced the song Straight to Hell and worried that he might be struck  by a bolt of lightning.

My favorite memory was of the dirtbag handlebar mustache he had grown since we last saw him. After his first few songs he finally told us the story, since he knew we were all wondering about it. He was cast in a film that required him to grow the mustache and there was one scene he had to finish shooting when he returned from this tour and he wouldn’t be able to shave until the scene was complete. This led to many jokes about adult film in the 70’s, during which Cory threw in a skanky guitar solo to set the mood.

My favorite song — a cover of John Cougar Mellencamp’s Paper in Fire where Kendel’s fiddling really took it over the top. It was my best memory from the Halifax show too and I was excited to hear it again.

I’m hoping he comes back with the same band again. I know I’ll be there.

Vernon Again

There were a number of things we left undone when we returned from Vernon on Thanksgiving weekend so I went back on Thursday. In between shopping for furniture, meeting lawyers, and other errands, I was able to do some driving around the area.

Back when I lived in Vernon I was so busy with work, school, and friends that I didn’t take much time to explore the backroads. During my recent visits, I’ve made an effort to go on some exploratory drives and learn where the roads in Vernon take you.

On the way home I decided to stop by Gray Monk and pick up some wine for Sharon. Rather than take the highway I tried Mission Road out of Vernon which ambles along some lovely farmland before passing Predator Ridge golf course and becoming a dirt road.

Cow hanging out on Commonage Road

The dirt road doesn’t last long and I eventually joined Carrs Landing Road where I drove alongside the shore of Okanagan Lake. I stopped at a couple of beaches to enjoy the views and get some photos, something I’d hadn’t done much of on this trip.

Kopje Park Beach
Beach at Kopje Regional Park
Gibson Heritage House
Gibson Heritage House at Kopje Regional Park

After over an hour of driving and exploring I pulled in to Gray Monk and demanded fine wine for the people in Vancouver. Sharon now has a tasty Merlot and the next time we run into our friend Patrick he can expect a bottle of Gray Monk’s fancy-pants Pinot Noir.

View From Gray Monk Winery
View from Gray Monk winery
Squeaky Cheese
In hindsight, I should have stopped to see what “squeaky cheese” is all about

After Gray Monk it was time get moving so I rejoined the highway and made the run to Vancouver. I had heard it was raining on the coast so I did take the opportunity to have lunch in Merritt and enjoy the last bit of sun I was likely to see for a while.

Thanksgiving in Vernon

Last Thursday my Mom signed the paperwork to move into a suite at Carrington Place Retirement Residence in Vernon. Sharon and I came down to the Okanagan for what will likely be one of the last visits to the house that I grew up in. The weekend was spent cooking, eating, and helping my Mom prepare for her upcoming move.

Saturday night Sharon made up Scott Jurek’s, the ultra-marathon runner, “Minnesota Winter Chili” recipe which is a favorite of ours. Scott Jurek claims that, “The night I tasted this chili is the night I decided I could be a happy, athletic vegetarian.” I agree, it’s pretty damn good! In fact, I prefer it to any meat-based chilies I’ve had.

For Thanksgiving Sharon whipped up a vegetable stuffing (using vegetable stock instead of turkey drippings) and a number of sweet potato dishes. Again, an excellent meal.

I’m enjoying eating at home more often. My Mom isn’t fond of cooking so whenever I would visit we would usually go out for dinner most nights. It’s nicer to be inside, cooking like a traditional family would. We also eat healthier food too.

Sharon’s sister lives in Kelowna, as does a friend of mine, Tamara, so we all met at Tonics Pub downtown for lunch today. Was great to see everybody and catch up. I haven’t run into Tamara for over a year since she’s busy with her boot camp and personal training business.

After lunch, Sharon and I went up to Quails’ Gate winery where we took in some spectacular views of Okanagan Lake. Tamara lives just up the road so she gets the same view off her deck (yes, we’re jealous!). We made a second stop at Volcanic Hills where Sharon picked up a couple of bottles of red before we made the Coquihalla run back to Vancouver.




Father John Misty – Venue Nightclub – Saturday, September 22, 2012

In 2008 I attended the Sub Pop Records 20th Anniversary music festival which included my third time seeing the Fleet Foxes perform. I had become a big fan of the band over that summer and it was at this show that I became impressed by their drummer who had started an impromptu drumming competition with the band that was soundchecking on the neighboring stage. That drummer, Joshua Tillman, subsequently left the Fleet Foxes to pursue his own music career under the name Father John Misty.

I started hearing his new single, I’m Writing a Novel, on CBC and was immediately hooked. Sharon mentioned he was coming to town so we picked up some tickets and arrived at Venue on Saturday night to check the man out in person.

The show was short (about an hour) but entertaining. Now that J Tillman is up front and not stuck behind a drum kit, his playful, goofy personality is on full display. “An orgy of rainbows” was how he described his encore. This became my favorite quote from the evening.

Even funnier than all the ridiculous things coming out of Tillman’s mouth was his rubbery, Gumby-like dancing. After a couple of mellow songs to warm up, the band played I’m Writing a Novel and this spurred the rubbery singer into a full routine of hand waving and hip shaking.

The set flew by and when the band came out and Tillman proclaimed an “orgy of rainbows” for the encore, they performed two covers: John Lennon’s Mind Games and Do You Realize by The Flaming Lips. I was impressed by the Lips cover since I am a huge fan of that band. It was also a surprise for a folk and country style singer to pick a psychedelic rock band’s song to cover.

I’ve been slowing down on the number of concerts I’m attending but I’m glad we got to see this one. If his next album does well then it’s certain that he’ll be playing much bigger rooms and we’ll have been lucky to see him in a club like Venue. With shows as good as this I have no doubt that Father John Misty will be a bigger deal in the next few years.

Why Am I Taking an English Class?

Last week I attended the first class of UBC’s Write 098 -Preparation for University Writing and the LPI. Why on earth am I taking a writing class? There are a few reasons:

1. My writing is stale.
I’ve barely been updating this thing over the past year and that’s mostly because I felt like I was writing the same string of adjectives over and over and over. “I saw this band! They were so awesome! Fantastic show! They rocked!” or “I went camping/hiking/bear wrestling. It was awesome! So much fun!”

This made writing incredibly boring and thus I stopped doing it. Fortunately this class is already looking like the cure since I’ve learned not to use vague generic words like “that’s a good thing” and will be turning my attention to using properly descriptive words.

2. I want to write more professional articles.
As Joel Spolsky says, “Being able to write clearly on technical topics is the difference between being a grunt individual contributor programmer and being a leader.”

3. I enjoy writing.
This is the most important. I’ve always liked writing about different topics. Now it’s time to get good at it!

The class runs until the end of November, so there’ll be loads of writing to do until then. Hopefully it makes this blog more interesting to read!

Where’s My Parade?

Wednesday night was the last night we went out with Joy and friends before she headed out of town and the Drag Queen Bingo night at Celebrities nightclub seemed like a hot ticket.

Drag Queen Bingo is hilariously fun! The main drag queen, Joan-E, is a towering creature with a repertoire of dirty jokes and innuendos. She also doesn’t take any guff from anyone who gets out of line or screws something up. One poor guy mistakenly called bingo and had to wear an Anne Of Green Gables hat with pigtails.

Our table had 3 bingo wins which I think was almost half the prizes. We owned it!

The thing I like most is that this is a charity event for The Friends for Life Society which helps people who have a terminal illness. So far the Wednesday night bingo events have raised over $275,000 for the charity!

I’m glad Joy made it out to Vancouver for a few days. I had a great time hanging out and exchanging music and cultural notes. She introduced me to Margaret Cho’s infamous “Am I gay? Am I straight?” act. I also found out about a new indie rock band from Versailles called Phoenix. Chill beats. I like them!

Last night I took the first of 4 bike maintenance courses at Pedal Depot where I learned about bearings, hubs, and the rotational systems on a bike. This culminated with everybody disassembling, re-greasing, and reassembling a wheel hub. I learned a lot (in fact I was feeling a little drained at the end) and feel like I have a better understanding how my bike works. I’m looking forward to the next session!

Now I’m going to pack up to head to Vernon for the weekend to visit my Mom and catch some Okanagan sun.

The Beat That Kills!

The Refused are a punk/hardcore band from Sweden who split up in the 90’s. I first discovered them through the singer’s new band, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, which quickly became one of my favorites and I never missed a show when they came to town.

Last year news broke that The Refused were getting back together to do some shows and I became very excited to see Dennis Lyxzén (the singer from Noise Conspiracy) rock out again. Shanman called him “the Mick Jaggar of punk” and it’s totally true. He has a  repertoire of microphone tricks that he’ll unleash during a performance and I spent the entire show watching his mic swinging around and flying up in the air before, with a flick of his hand, he would pull it back in time to sing.

The songs were pretty much all the ones off their last (and most popular) album but they did throw in a cover of TV Eye by The Stooges, which The (International) Noise Conspiracy had also covered on one of their live albums.

They’re a political band and as such we were encouraged to support the recently-jailed Pussy Riot members in Russia. The crowd got the message and during the encore break everyone began chanting “Free Pussy Riot!” which impressed the band.

Opening the night was a band called The Bronx who were OK but I was more impressed with the gigantic banner featuring an angry gorilla with the words, “The Beat That Kills.”

Joy, Slacklining, and Squamish

Joy and her friend Makoto rolled in from Japan on Sunday morning and we’ve had heaps of fun running around checking out our beautiful city. Sunday we started with brunch at the Alibi Room followed by a wander along the seawall in Coal Harbor. This led us to meet some more friends on The Mill’s outdoor patio for a couple pints of Whistler Brewing beers. The day was gloriously sunny so we walked across downtown to chill at Third Beach in Stanley Park. Eventually, after a couple of hours of sitting back at the beach, we became hungry and went over to Oysi Oysi on Alberni for sushi. The evening was capped off with a beer at our favorite Gastown pub, the Black Frog, where we exchanged scandalous stories before making our way home to collapse and get some sleep.

Monday I took Joy and Makoto on a scenic drive up to Squamish where we stopped in at the Howe Sound Brewery for a late lunch and then wandered around the shoreline. There’s a big park at the end of Squamish where they have slacklines set up. Of course we had to try them out! Slacklines are like tightropes, but are usually closer to the ground and use nylon webbing instead of actual ropes. It’s tough to balance on them although with a bit of practice it shouldn’t be too hard. It sparked my curiosity in that sport and I’d like to try it out more seriously some day.

Once we got home it was time for me to go see The Refused! I’ll do a separate write up on that experience.