Thursday, May 29, 2008

Report From The Road (Part 9) - Last Train Home

Well, I'm on the last leg of my journey - I'm on the Empire Builder train which just left Seattle bound for Chicago. I have some songs started which I need to get further along over the course of the next two days on this train plus some relaxing and scenery viewing to do. Some highlights from this trip:

1. Champagne served in the dome cars on Via Rail's "The Canadian" train between Toronto and Jasper:

The First Of Many Champagne Toasts

2. Playing guitar after midnight in the dome car:

Playin' In The Dome

3. Hiking through Maligne Canyon:

The Fifth Bridge

4. Entertaining a train car-load of Australian tourists:


5. Forgetting to get pictures of me playing an open mic at Darby's Pub in Vancouver.

6. Starting out of Seattle on The Empire Builder, writing this blog entry while cursing my cell phone data connection for not letting me upload the pictures I just took of my train compartment to Flickr.

I may stay in touch if my data connection allows, but for now, I'm signing off from the last train home...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Report From The Road (Part 7) - RailMall

This train I'm currently on, The Rocky Mountaineer, is a total tourist train. It's privately operated and is like a land cruise on rails. The publicly funded Canadian Via Rail (much like Amtrak in the U.S.) people do a fantastic job with service - very impressive given it's government supported. BUT, this tourist train is nothing short of amazing. They serve appetizers and wine before lunch, the cars are first class all the way and they even slow down so you can get pictures of sights along the way. Normally when I travel, I avoid anything that even hints at blatant tourism, but my train-geekiness overrode that instinct this time. And this is one fun experience. Every so often, someone from a car way in front radios back something like "bear on the right" and everyone grabs cameras and presses against the right hand dome-windows to try and get a shot.

At first I wondered how in the heck these people are making money on this endevour. The secret turned up right in front of me in the seat pocket. It's the train version of SkyMall. In this catalog, you can buy all sorts of souveniers, delivered right to your train seat when you board the next morning. While there's no whimsical statue of a bear that holds a bottle of wine, there's a few oddball pieces available amongst the usual decks of playing cards and wine goblets emblazoned with the Rocky Mountaineer logo. It really reminds me of my favourite song by Jonathan Coulton - SkyMall. This song really sums up my perspective on these catalogs just about right.

A lucky shot from the train thanks to someone who shouted the "bear on the right" mantra:

Bear On The Right!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I Haven't Found Them...

Hey Jason - I've been looking everywhere and I still haven't found your glasses. Sorry man!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Report From The Road (Part 6) - Worn Out

After 2 days worth of walking on glaciers, through forests, and hiking though waterfall carved canyons, I was worn out. I couldn't do more than just post a few pictures yesterday while I had dinner - only a few of the hundreds I grabbed. I remember the days of watching the little counter on the back of the camera count down from 24 to 0 as a roll of film was getting used up, taking care to shoot only the very best pictures. Now, the counter on the LCD starts at 1200 (2GB worth). You have to shoot video to start using up all that space (which is, of course, something I've been doing). Post processing video is a lot more work than uploading pictures, though, so I'll have to do that when I get back.

I'll post more after today's train journey from Jasper, Alberta to Kamloops, British Columbia - provided the hotel will have internet (fingers crossed).

Standing On The Athabasca Glacier!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Report From The Road (Part 5B) - An Explanation!

Thanks to a link sent from my good friend Cathy from Old Town School classes and our weekly open mic on Wednesdays at Bad Dog Tavern, I have an explanation for the railroad car warning. Apparently, there is a railroader's inside explanation which had nothing to do with what I was imagining. I suppose I thought it had to do with stacking cars or containers on top of one another. From a very good article explaining the warning "DO NOT HUMP" at

It refers to a common method used to sort freight cars known as "humping," which involves the use of a man-made hill, or hump. A track heads up the hill and branches into numerous parallel tracks on its way down the other side. To make up new trains, a switch engine pushes a string of cars to the top of the hump, where the cars are uncoupled one at a time. Having determined the car's destination, a worker in a nearby tower pushes buttons or throws levers or whatever to get the track switches (you know, those things where one track divides into two) lined up properly. The car is then given a nudge, causing it to roll down the hump and onto the right track.

There's gotta be a song in this somewhere...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Report From The Road (Part 5) - Obey This!

Passing a rail yard somewhere in Ontario, I spotted this strange rail car. I'm sure there's a perfectly good professional railroader's definition of what I saw, but for the layperson (no pun intended) it looks funny.

Here's the rail car:

Odd Car In Train Yard

And I'd obey the instructions stenciled on the outside if I were you:

I'd Obey These Orders If I Were You

Check out more pictures from the train journey on my Flickr page.

Report From The Road (Part 4) - Longest Days

If you are familiar with the instrumental song I wrote called The Longest Day (For Joe), you may know that my favorite day of the year is the one where we turn the clocks back an hour and that extra hour makes that day seem to last forever. I've discovered that traveling west at 40-60 miles per hour has it's advantages. Every night after dinner, we've set our clocks back an hour since we will cross time zones during the night. I've used those hours wisely, sharing various after-dinner beverages with traveling companions and also sitting in the deserted dome cars after midnight playing some songs on my guitar. Of course, just like that annual day in November, I spend that extra hour multiple times over and get no sleep. On this trip, I will have had three Longest Days by the time I reach Vancouver.

This makes me wonder if one kept traveling westward continuously, would they always enjoy 25 hour days? I think the International Date Line would muck things up and be the great time-equalizer, causing this brilliant plan to crumble like a Ponzi's scheme.

I suppose, just like Daylight Savings Time in the spring where that extra hour is lost, I will have to pay up along the way. On the way to Toronto, I lost an hour on the bus (no great loss there, really), and on the way home from Seattle to Chicago, I will lose two more. But at least I'm gaining those hours on the part of the trip that matters most here in picturesque Canada.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Report From The Road (Part 3)

If you're reading this, then I've finally found a data conection (a rare commodity out here in the wilderness). I'm writing this as I sit in the dome car on Via Rail's Canadian train - a traveling bubble of civilization moving through absolute Ontario wilderness - seemingly endless trees and lakes. The dome car is a unique experience and an absolutely stunning way to travel. Since you're above the rest of the train cars, you get a 360 degree view all around. I never realized how beautiful Ontario is - made that much better by seeing it this way. Pics will be posted when I find a fast data connection.

Yesterday I did a little guitar playing and writing during the day - just a little bit to get me back in the songwriting zone - it has been a while since I've written because I have been busy producing so much (finishing The Song Of The Day, Sham Rock, more weekly songs). It's nice to finally get away from Cakewalk Sonar and just play and write. Many people on this train turn in very early at night, so I took the opportunity to take my guitar to the deserted dome car. It was very dark and surreal - inside, I could only see the fluorescent glow from the lounge below and outside I could only see the locomotive headlamp in the distance as it lit up the trees on either side of the train. As I sat in the dark, I would watch the occasional train signal fly by as it changed from green to red when we passed.

As I mentioned to Matt Scholtka before I left that he could follow along with my trip on the Beatnik Turtle Blog, Twitter, and my Flickr account, he remarked how postcards have become obsolete. I thought that to be a very pertinent and funny observation. These days we can shoot digital photos, post them to Flickr (where there's a data connection, of course), embed them into a blog, and then tweet about it all on Twitter. You can tell everyone you know about your travels without hand-writing cards, stamping them, and dropping them into a mailbox. Just imagine trying to stay in touch with your entire network of friends by sending postcards! You'd never get a chance to enjoy traveling - you'd be writing the entire time. Speaking of that, I'm done writing for now.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Report From The Road (Part 2)

I wandered Toronto a bit this afternoon - a few hours' walk. Weather turned nice and I managed to fit in a visit to the CN Tower. I grabbed a few pictures while I was there - some at the equivalent of 147 floors above ground level, accessed by a windowed elevator designed to induce vertigo on your way up. I swear this tower was swaying in the wind while I was up there.

Here's a couple shots of the tower:

The CN Tower

The CN Tower Close Up

Looking out the "skypod" 147 floors above ground:

Looking out the skypod

There's actually a glass floor that you can walk on if you're brave. I had to walk away and come back before testing my weight on the glass floor. They say that each 40 inch by 50 inch pane of glass can hold the weight of something like 14 hippos. It still made me nervous - I don't like heights much. Here's a view looking through the glass floor:

Looking through the floor

There has to be a song in this somewhere...

Report From The Road (Part 1)

I just arrived in Toronto by overnight bus. It wasn't the most savory experience on the planet - especially when all the lights came on and woke me up at 2:30am for a 30 minute rest stop. How was that restful? I think the driver was just hungry... Around 4:30am the driver started dozing off and weaving around. Passengers kept going up to the front to say "hey - wake up!" That was scary.

The customs guy at the border was a guitarist. He asked to see my guitar, we chatted a bit, and he played a few notes on my "travel" acoustic (a Breedlove). He's a guitar collector himself and from those few notes I could tell he's got some serious chops. He said I should try flat-wound strings on my acoustics - they sound mellower but better tonally. I'm going to give that a try!

I'll have pictures later on... Now I'm off to check out this city. It looks really cool.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Save Live Music in Chicago

We at Beatnik Turtle want to raise awareness of a particularly troubling proposed set of regulations for Chicago. They seem to be tailored to destroy live music and small theater. To what purpose, we have no idea.

You can read about it at the Save Chicago Culture website, where you can find ways to sign a petition if you are a Chicago resident. If you are, we urge you to call your Alderman and write a letter.

Here’s an excerpt from the blog that explains the situation:
The “Event Promoters” ordinance requires any event promoter to have a license from the city of Chicago and liability insurance of $300,000, but that’s just the start:

  • The definition of “event promoter” is so loosely defined it could apply to a band that books its own shows or a theater company that’s in town for a one-week run.

  • “Event Promoter” must be licensed and will pay $500 - $2000 depending on expected audience size.

  • To get the license, applicant must be over 21, get fingerprinted, submit to a background check, and jump over several other hurdles.

  • This ordinance seems targeted towards smaller venues, since those with 500+ permanent seats are exempt.

  • Police must be notified at least 7 days in advance of event.

For the complete ordinance, check out Jim DeRogatis’ blog on the Chicago Sun-Times.