We’ve taken a whole bunch of trips this year. As much as I loved living in Omaha -- and I did -- there was usually an enormous time commitment involved whenever traveling to anyplace but Omaha. Not so in Virginia! Take a trip through Virginia if you want to see beautiful coasts/mountains/cities/wineries; take a trip through Nebraska if you want to see corn/sorghum/bison/grain elevators. Last May, Debbie and I traveled to Asheville, NC, to meet up with our good friends, Tom and Mary Salem. Tom is a former boss from my Omaha years -- yet strangely enough, we still like each other. We beat the odds. It is said that Asheville is the “San Francisco of the East” -- not an unfair comparison. Both Asheville and San Francisco are blessed with great natural beauty, and both seem to be very artistic in something of a counter-cultural way -- the difference is that in Asheville, you half-expect to see leftover Sixties hippies trading bong-hits with Daniel Boone. The ladies visited the Biltmore Estate, home of the Vanderbilts, who made their fortune in railroading -- exactly whom, I can’t say. Tom and I decided to go slumming instead and embarked on a brew-pub tour of beautiful downtown Asheville -- which bills itself as the brew-pub capital of the world. That’s pretty big talk, and we wanted to see if Asheville walked the walk. It did. All I really remember, though, is that there was lots of tasty dark bubbly stuff. And pretty waitresses. But after a sufficient amount of dark bubbly stuff -- must have been something chemical -- the pretty waitresses all started looking like Picasso had passed through Asheville on his plastic-surgery tour. My, what pretty eyes you have! Would you mind turning your head around so I can see your other two? On our way home, Debbie started having abdominal pains, and, from our cell phone, we arranged a rendezvous at a local hospital. Turns out, she had a kidney stone. Fortunately, it was small enough to pass on through with no further ado, and a few days later, it did. Like Bob Dylan said, everybody must get stoned -- Debbie, in her way; me, in mine.
As usual, I was signed up this past summer with the Tidewater Winds, a John Philip Sousa-style concert band that works pretty much every evening in July. However, this year, I hit a wall. My workplace switches over to ten-hour days in late June, so for the past several years, that has meant working ten hours, dashing home, scarfing a quick dinner, donning the tux , and heading out again for a two-hour gig. This past July, I decided I just can’t do this anymore. The Winds played a Christmas concert last week -- one of the most fun, ever -- and then I resigned from the group. They’ll do fine without me, and I just hope I’ll do fine without them.
On our next trip to Pittsburgh, in early November, we got together with our upstate New York friends, Kevin and Ann Schmalz. There was a Pitt game and a Steeler game in town that weekend, so any thoughts of bargain-basement lodging prices were dispelled very quickly -- we wound up at a Hampton Inn about four miles north of downtown. That doesn’t sound like much of a distance, but when you consider that Pittsburgh is one of the hardest cities in the country to navigate, it’s worse than you think. Pittsburgh is a city in three dimensions. When you see a crossroads on a map, you think, okay, I get it -- but then you arrive and you’re on a bridge between two mountains and the “crossroad” is actually a small access road about a thousand feet below you -- welcome to Pittsburgh, where there is simply no substitute for knowing where you’re going. Even Tom-Tom was confused and started sounding like Robot from “Lost in Space” –- “When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!” Kevin and I attended a Pittsburgh Symphony concert that was, without a doubt, the best I’ve ever heard. The least-uttered sentence in the English language is, “Wow, look at that trombone player’s Rolls-Royce!” Runner-up on that same list is: “Wow, what a musical bassoon player!” Yet that’s what Kevin and I were both saying as we left Heinz Hall. The Symphony performed Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” -- it was everything you’d expect from a princess with a thousand tales. At some point since I left Pittsburgh, the Symphony had graduated from “good” to “world-class”. Next morning, we all had breakfast at DeLuca’s in the Strip District -- if you watch Tom Cruise’s “Jack Reacher”, a scene was shot right there in that restaurant. According to the waitress, they had to shut down for a week during the filming, for a scene that lasted all of forty seconds. We ordered the “Scientology Scramble” -- a double order of ham, served out of your gourd.
On April 2 this year, Debbie and I celebrated our 30th anniversary. We threw a shindig at our house, many of our wonderful friends and family attending. Debbie is still amazing. She teaches strings (music) at three different elementary schools and runs the music program at our church; she is the glue that keeps our household together. This past week has been a busy one for her, as she has been giving concerts -- conducting fifth-graders and herding them as well. I’m back with the Virginia Beach “Not Ready for Primetime” Symphony, and we’re performing Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet this week while the ballerinas pass the deux. The deux stops here. Our lives are truly blessed. We hope yours are, too. May the Lord of all Creation bless you this Christmas season and bring you all the happiness that comes with knowing Him and accepting His gifts.