someone stopped.

You know how a bad surprise can leave a pit in your stomach for hours?

I’ve had one since this afternoon.

I spent the weekend in Columbus, mostly to see a Picasso exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art. After a couple of beer-related stops this afternoon — and a White Castle lunch in the car — I hit the road back to Pittsburgh, anxious to see Mrs. Crappy and Mr. Charlie, both of whom I missed like crazy since I left on Friday.

There’s an odd stretch of I-70 between Newark and Zanesville where the freeway balloons to three lanes in each direction … for no apparent reason in a sparsely populated part of central Ohio. It’s great when you’re trying to make good time, but there is, inevitably, a brief bottleneck when the highway narrows back to two lanes.

And that’s why I was stuck in the passing lane just after the merge. When I spotted a tiny moving thing right on the far shoulder of the freeway.

It was a kitten.

Traffic was heavy. I couldn’t get over to stop. If I had pulled over on the left, I would have had to run across the freeway to get back to the tiny cat.

I sped up. There was an exit just ahead. I turned around there and headed back to the west at 120 miles an hour, looking for the first cut in the jersey barrier so I could turn around again. After that illegal U-turn, I eased over to the right lane and plodded along the shoulder, looking for the kitten, while other cars passed and honked.

I didn’t see it again.

Part of that is good; I didn’t see a dead kitten on the shoulder of the freeway, and that’s a whole lot better than the alternative. But I hate not knowing, and that’s the stone that sat in my gut for the rest of the trip home.


It’s easy to not stop. I’m sure I’m not the only one who saw the baby cat — and maybe I wasn’t the only one who tried to do something — but we’re all on the interstate because we’re going somewhere: Zanesville, Cambridge, Wheeling, Pittsburgh, someplace further east. We’re interested in making good time, getting to where we’re going, seeing the people we haven’t seen all weekend while we were away. I can’t blame anyone for that; I was thinking the same thing when I left my folks’ house this morning.

But I’m so grateful for the people who stop. The ones who notice. The ones who see the strays and leave a dish of food outside. Or the ones who grab the strays from an overgrown yard in front of a vacant house or from a sidewalk along Penn Avenue or from the shoulder of the freeway and take them to a shelter.

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We shared our homes with Miles for 14 years because someone in Indiana County stopped. We share our home with Charlie because someone stopped somewhere in the East End, grabbed him and his brother and dropped them off at ARL. I’ll never know the circumstances. I’ll never know who it was. But I couldn’t be more thankful that someone did what they did.

It’s going to bother me for a long time that I won’t know what happened to that kitten. Maybe it ran back into the woods along the highway. Maybe its mother grabbed it and hauled it back to safety.

Or maybe, in the six or seven minutes it took me to get back to the spot where I saw it, someone stopped. I’ll never know for sure, but that’s what I’m hoping for.

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the last time.

Not my stub. But I still have it somewhere.
Not my stub. But I still have it somewhere.

I had a good run with the Grateful Dead. But by 1994, my expectations were diminished.

I started seeing the band in the mid-1980s, during a pocket of high energy, powerful tours that peaked, for me, at Riverbend in 1985 (otherwise known as the show when I “got it” for the first time). Garcia’s diabetic coma slowed things down for a couple years, but when he was back, he was back, driving the band through its last consistently great period.

In the midst of all of this was a run by the band at the old Richfield Coliseum south of Cleveland. It must have made sense geographically; Richfield was an easy-ish trip for Deadheads from the Midwest and East alike, and I know the Coliseum was bigger — and, with a solid roof instead of a retractable one, better able to handle the weight of the band’s PA and light rig — than Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. The result? An easy trip to suburban Cleveland from Columbus or Athens, over and over and over.

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The short run at Richfield in March 1994 was what had become a regular spring break for me: while most of my friends headed to a beach somewhere, I set up in slushy parking lots in Detroit or Cleveland.

I was excited to see the band, but I was also aware that things had taken a downturn. The end of Bruce Hornsby’s extended residency took a little wind from the sails, and the old guys never seemed completely comfortable with Vince Welnick alone in the keyboard seat. And while we weren’t privy to the details of his heroin addiction, Garcia’s up-and-down health seemed to be on the way down again.

So — I would have settled for good on March 20 and 21, 1994.

On March 20, that’s pretty much what we got — good. A solid set list, well played, but no fireworks. We left happy with with the show and feeling mildly optimistic about what we might see the following night.

On Monday, March 21, something else was going on. The tip-off for me was Bertha, the second song of the first set … the band was tight and energetic, and Jerry was fully engaged, nailing lyrics, solos and the kinds of flourishes that he reserved for nights when he was feeling really good. That energy continued through what looks to be a standard-ish first set, on paper, anyway. From the stands inside Richfield, though, we knew different.

A good Picasso Moon started the second set — not the song I would have picked, but a good start nonetheless. But then: New Speedway Boogie, with the authority of a band that had seen Altamont with its own eyes. Victim — not my favorite song, but on this night it was especially dark and intense. He’s Gone, which is my favorite Grateful Dead song, and this was the best one I had heard since the Riverbend show I mentioned earlier.

And then it got really good.

There was a rote rhythm to the second sets of those 1990s shows: Three songs, maybe four; the drums and space segments; pump it up out of space, then Jerry ballad, then roar into the set closer. After the vocal jam on this night, Bobby, Phil and Vince packed it up, ready for their 10-minute break while the drummers took over. Jerry, however, wasn’t done; he stayed on stage, eventually locking in on a calypso rhythm with the drummers that turned into a jam based on the Harry Belafonte song Matilda (a song the band would sort of play five or six times before Garcia died in 1995). The jam seemed to be spontaneous and it was driven entirely by Garcia, who didn’t often take that initiative at that point, and it was good enough that Weir came back out on stage to play along.

Post-Rhythm Devils? We expected something up-tempo, and we got it with Lovelight that was surprising because that was always — always — a second-set closer. While we tried to comprehend that twist, the band downshifted … and started into Stella Blue.

I can’t argue with people who say that Garcia’s best days as a guitarist were in the late 1970s, probably 1977 and 1978. But the 1990s version of Jerry was head and shoulders above the the 1970s version in another area — vocals. Age gave 1994 Jerry’s voice an authority that 1977 Jerry couldn’t match … and that’s what we heard in this Stella Blue. Raw. Emotional. Subtle and powerful in the same song. The band behind him sparkled, but this was all about what Jerry was feeling right then … and it was the best version of the song I’d ever heard.

And that’s still the case.

The Stella Blue turned out to be the middle of a Lovelight sandwich, a thunderous end to the set. And I always liked Liberty as an encore.

And that was it … the last truly great bit of Grateful Dead I saw in person. There were at least a couple other shows — a rainy, cold day at Buckeye Lake the following summer and an odd afternoon at Three Rivers Stadium in 1995. That’s the one where we got a rain storm during the set break that finally cut that day’s stifling heat and humidity … and we got a sloppy, fun Grateful Garage Band Dead version of Gloria as the encore, one month before Garcia died.

I’d classify those shows as pretty good, memorable for the fact that they were the last ones for me.

But the last great one was that Richfield show, 22 years ago today. Here’s a link to a stream of the soundboard recording. Listen, at least, to the second set from He’s Gone through the Lovelight coda. In a year when the Grateful Dead could occasionally be written off as a nostalgia act, I was lucky to get that bit — that one final hour — with the band that could breathe fire. And I will never forget it.

a weekend.

A perfectly relaxing Saturday morning. Handmade Arcade. Keller Williams. A road trip to Columbus for the MLS Cup final.

Whew.

I didn’t take pictures of the first part of Saturday, but I don’t want to give it short shrift: Yoga class at 8 a.m., followed by my first ever acupuncture treatment; that combination, boys and girls, is pretty much unbeatable. We took a productive spin through Handmade Arcade, got in a nap … and then …

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So we started with the photographic portion of the weekend as we each enjoyed a glass of Master of the Galaxy, the delicious imperial IPA by Grist House in Millvale. At least two of the last shows I’ve seen at Mr. Smalls — basically just around the corner from Grist House — have been on Sundays, so there haven’t been the same kind of pregaming opportunities we enjoyed on Saturday. And we did enjoy: a couple beers apiece, delicious dinner from the Burgh Bites truck, and a fun time talking with some folks who had driven to Pittsburgh from Cleveland to see Keller. If you haven’t been to Grist House, guys, you need to go — especially when you can then take the short walk to see your show at Mr. Smalls.

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Keller LOVES Mr. Smalls — when I interviewed him for BCT a few years ago, he said that’s why he picked it to film his concert DVD. On Saturday, he opened for himself, playing a short solo set — as solo as Keller and his infinite loops ever are, anyway — before he hit the stage with the KW Trio. As he always does, he starts playing before he actually comes up on stage ; that always catches people by surprise a bit, so Mrs. Crappy and scored floor space right up by the stage for the solo set.

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I mentioned trio, right? I hadn’t seen drummer Rodney Holmes before, but he has serious chops, playing jazz sessions with a host of different guys and winning Grammys playing with Carlos Santana. The bassist? That’s Rob Wasserman, Bob Weir partner in crime and original member of Ratdog. Seeing KW play with a band is always a cool, different experience, and that was definitely the case on Saturday.

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Because we weren’t tired enough on Saturday, we thought driving to Columbus for the MLS Cup final sounded like a great idea. Spoiler alert: In spite of the game’s outcome — and the atrocious officiating — it was.

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We met Fred and Ethel outside Mapfre Stadium, did a bit of tailgating — thanks to them, because they brought all the supplies on Sunday — and headed inside. Ethel told me what section they were sitting in when I asked about getting tickets from the match, so we scored tickets in the same section. And there might have been a little beer.

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Awesome atmosphere. Loved the Nordecke tifo. The place was nuts … for about the first minute of the match. The rest of the night was awesome too, but the match itself didn’t turn out the way we wanted.

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Still, I’d say it was a perfect weekend. Sure looks that way, huh?

18. buckeye beers.

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I don’t have anything against Michigan beer. In fact, in terms of quality, I’d put Michigan up against nearly any other geopolitical territory on the face of the planet.

But there’s a unique football thing going on this week and next, and that means sticking to Ohio beer as much as possible. And as you can see from the Tower O’ Beer, shot Friday night in my folks’ basement, I’ll be off to a pretty good start by the time you read this Saturday afternoon.

Here’s your rundown, from top to bottom:

  • It could be that the broad beer style that makes me happiest these days is the unassuming brown ale, largely because it can be a whole bunch of different things. I found Gnarly Brown, from Cincinnati’s Madtree Brewing, on Fourth of July weekend and have picked up a six of it nearly every time we’ve been home since. It’s a bit stronger than many of the browns (there’s a pro football joke in there for you) I’m used to drinking, and the coffee flavor and brown sugar sweetness mix nicely.
  • Panther robust porter, from Rhinegeist in Cincy, is a new one for me. But I’ve been craving porters and stouts recently (see previous post and the Bison imperial stout), so I can’t wait to give it a try.
  • Dear Pittsburgh friends: Grocery stores in Ohio are different. As I wandered through the Sawmill Road Giant Eagle tonight, I came across two sample tables. At the first, I got a generous pour of Bergamot Blue mead from Brothers Drake — great stuff, by the way. At the second, I couldn’t pass up a taste of Beard Crumbs, a just-released oatmeal-raisin stout from Land Grant Brewing here in Columbus. I’ve never had an oatmeal stout like it; the raisins add just a touch of rich sweetness to what would be by itself a very good oatmeal stout. Our mead needs for the week are already set, but I couldn’t pass up a six of Beard Crumbs.
  • The brewery’s name is Land Grant.Their home is Columbus. Their IPA is called Stiff-Arm. The can is scarlet and gray. Duh.

16. bailing with bullets.

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  • Samuel Johnson said patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Bullet posts are the last refuge of a distracted blogger.
  • I’m sitting at the kitchen table in my parents’ house. I have prep work for tomorrow’s tailgate party done, and I’m enjoying the hell out of this bomber of Bison Imperial Stout, from Homestead Beer Co. in Heath, Ohio.
  • This will be a (mostly) all-Ohio beer weekend and, if I have anything to say about it, the full week that follows. That’s what back-to-back weekends of games against teams from the state up north will do.
  • There is an exception to the all-Ohio beer rule in place for tomorrow’s Michigan State tailgate party. Ethel’s brother-in-law Chris is in town and he usually brings along something delicious from Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, where he lives. That’s totally worth making an exception.
  • If you’re hungry for grilled cheese sandwiches, our tailgate party tomorrow is the place to be.
  • The other thing I’m making? The Official Queso Dip of the Big Ten Network.
  • I’m going to have to learn how to spell “neuropathy.” I already know how to spell “peripheral.”
  • As I write this post, I’m listening to a Phil Lesh and Friends show from Hershey, Pa., in 2002. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Crappy and I were there for that one — we saw Phil in Hershey several times — but that’s not really what sent me down this path. I’m suffering tinges of regret (yes, I’m sure that’s different from the neuropoahy) over not seeing Dead and Co. in Columbus last week. I know Phil’s dealing with more health problems, but I’d love to see him tour a bit more, even if it’s a last go-round. His bands were always excellent; a full show from the A.J. Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh in 2001 got me nearly all the way from Pittsburgh to Columbus this afternoon.
  • I am missing Mrs. Crappy. And Mr. Charlie.
  • As of this very moment, I am four days behind in my NaBloPoMo efforts. Any bets as to whether I can catch up?

1. hey.

yogurt

I used to do this as a matter of course.

But it’s been years since I’ve regularly written stuff here, much less successfully completed a National Blog Posting Month month. I’m not sure why I’ve neglected a tool that I used to appreciate so much — perhaps it’s because my jobs came to too closely resemble what I used to do here — but over the last several years, that’s what’s happened.

So I’m going to try to have some fun with Uncle Crappy — the blog — this month. NaBloPoMo used to be a thing I did regularly; I even remember approaching that first November with some trepidation about mustering one post a day for an entire month … and then coming up with something like 36 posts in the course of a month.

NaBloPoMo_2015I have no idea whether I have 36 posts in me this month. I have no idea whether I have 30 posts in me this month. And, frankly, I have no idea whether NaBloPoMo is even still a thing these days. (If you read this and you’re doing it too, leave me a comment, willya?)

But I’m going to give this a try.

Folks who have been reading here for a long time will know some of this stuff. For the rest of you: By way of an introduction, here are 10 things you might read about during the course of the month.

Weather. I’m kind of a freak about the weather. And we’re solidly in the middle of my favorite time of year, weather(and other)wise.

Diabetes. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, this is a new development. I’m doing pretty well with my goal of not letting diabetes define who I am, but there are moments of frustration, like the one I experienced today: Hungry, standing in a Sheetz in eastern Ohio and understanding that there is basically nothing in the entire building that I can eat. I get that from time to time; in other instances, I’m able to convince myself that a bowl of raspberries and plain Greek yogurt is every bit as good as a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Of note this month: As we approach the holidays, the diabeetus is going to make things interesting.

Food. No, I’m not trying to be funny. I love cooking. I love eating. And the fun part of my diagnosis has been searching for healthier alternatives to replace some of the crap I can no longer get away with eating. My favorite so far: Whole wheat flatbread pizza with onions and turkey pepperoni.

Beer. This is also a challenge, given the diabeetus, because I still need to keep up with my professional obligations. On my own time, the solution is easy: Drink much less, but drink much better.

Yoga. If there’s something on this list that should define me, it’s this. It’s been a tough fall, because work and our trips to Columbus have really taken away from the time I would spend in the studio, and I notice the absence, physically and — especially — mentally and emotionally. That’ll get better this month, because we travel only two weekends … and man, I need it. I am a different person now than I was 18 months ago because of yoga and the things that come with it, and I can’t wait to really jump back in.

Football. Mrs. Crappy and I are Ohio State football season ticket holders and in the fall, traveling back and forth to Columbus kind of overshadows everything else. We love it — especially the tailgate parties, which we manage for my folks — but by this point of the season, it can be exhausting. You may also hear about my long-tortured existence as a Cleveland Browns fan. My mostly successful plan for enjoying the current NFL season: Caring less means more fun.

Football (other). I had a brief flirtation with Aston Villa a few years ago, but that was based on common ownership with the Browns … so, naturally, that turned out to be a disaster. Over the past two years, I’ve undergone a more organic Premier League selection process, which has reached this final, carved-in-stone conclusion: Liverpool. On the domestic side, this process has been much easier: Columbus ’til I die.

Music. I can’t overstate the importance of music in my life, from the chill stuff that Kristi plays in her yoga classes to the hippie music that has occupied a huge portion of my life since, uh, junior high school. Coming this month: bluegrass, Johnny Rotten, the annual return of Christmas music and a buildup to a Keller Williams show in early December.

Pittsburgh. I grumble about Pittsburgh during football season, but the secret is that I love being here: the places, the social life and especially all of you. And here’s a not-so-closely-held secret: Pittsburgh during the holiday season is magical.

Mrs. Crappy. I saved the best one for last.