Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Buffett Concert - The Greatest Show on Earth

I just scored tickets for the April 24 Jimmy Buffett concert in Tampa at the Florida State Fairgrounds Amphitheater. The tickets are in Section 10 not far back from the stage where He will be playing that night. The tickets were $160 each and worth every penny of the cost! This concert is the first show of the 2010 "Under the Big Top" tour. You can see the current 2010 concert series dates at this link.

This will be my second Buffett concert of the year - first one was in February in Orlando. More importantly it will be the 33rd time I have seen Jimmy in concert in person.

My first concert was in Chastain Park in Atlanta in July 1986. Crazed Canadian friend Gerry Benny flew from Grand Turk Island (where he was living) to Atlanta and then somehow got himself to Athens Georgia where I was living at the time. He showed up at the door of the house that Chris Haney and I were sharing and announced that we were all going to a Buffett concert the next night. Gerry didn't have any tickets but that didn't matter. Eventually we scored tickets to the show and lwent.

Chastain Park is in the epicenter of the Yuppie community in Atlanta. We were shocked on arrival at the concert to see people arriving in limousines (at a BUFFETT concert for Christ's sake!). Others had had their dinners catered as they sat around with little candelabras on their tables. It reeked of pretentiousness. When Jimmy took the stage he noticed the pretentiousness also and commented immediately saying "Looking at the crowd I'll bet there are a bunch of BMW keys out there?" The Yuppies all clapped. Jimmy then responded "Well FUCK YOU I drive a Ford Falcon" and the place erupted! The concert ended with him playing "One Particular Harbour" and I think of that concert every time I hear that song.

In April 1992 friend Jon Andrew and I met Jimmy before the concert in Fort Lauderdale. We received backstage passes and went into the amphitheater with Jimmy's business manager Sunshine Smith. Buffett was tuning his guitar and Sunshine walked up to him telling him who was waiting to meet him. Jimmy put down his guitar and walked up to me saying "Hi, I'm Jimmy Buffett" I wanted to say "Like I don't KNOW this??" I was awestruck and said "Jimmy this is the first time in my life that I've ever been speechless." He said "Speechless? The way you write letters how in hell can you be speechless? Let's go have a beer." He then took us backstage, opened a Corona for me and one for Jon and we sat around for 30 minutes talking about music, politics (Jimmy is of course and wisely a screaming liberal like me), the environment and the Caribbean. I couldn't sleep for 2 nights after meeting him.

The next best Buffett show was in Honolulu in 2006 when my youngest daughter was living on Oahu. She got us tickets and I flew out from Washington DC specifically to go to the show. It was at The Shell on Waikiki Beach. This to me was the perfect venue for a Buffett concert because it was 1) On an island, 2) south of the Tropic of Cancer, 3) at the base of a volcano (Diamond Head), 4) surrounded by palm trees with 5) parrots flying around overhead, 6) less than 1/2 mile from a beach with 7) sharks swimming around just offshore. It doesn't get much better than that.

The Tampa show likely won't have the ambiance of the show in Honolulu but it will still be a Buffett concert. And with Jimmy recently having turned 63 years old (on Christmas Day 2009) you never know how much longer he will be on tour. So I have to go.

If you've never been to a Buffett concert you can get some inkling of what its like there by watching this video for his song "Here We Are" - Buffett's singing tribute to his fans. No matter where he plays, it's always the greatest show on earth.

Fins Left!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Drunk Pennsylvania Man Tries to "Revive" Road-Killed Opossum

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (AP) ―State police have charged a central Pennsylvania man with public drunkenness after he was seen giving mouth-to-mouth "resuscitation" to a long-dead opossum along a highway.
Long-dead comedian Sam Kinison once said ever so eloquently that in life there are somethings "that you simply cannot make up. People have to do this stuff to make it actually happen." This story from the home of Punxsutawney Phil the Woodchuck certainly fits that description.

However, before wetting your pants reading this there is a similar story involving drunkenness and a muskrat that needs to be told.

One night in the summer of 1970 I was returning home from an evening of intense "socializing" at the Club 48 bar north of Rice Lake. The time was about 2:00 a.m. and I had my turn signals on as I approached the Highway 48 bridge over the Red Cedar River. It was my intention to turn right onto County Highway C by the old Red Barn Theater and flow myself home.

However my attention was quickly diverted to a muskrat that was sauntering around in the middle of the highway trying to get from one side of the concrete to the other.

Being quite inebriated and also having a huge place in my heart for the noble muskrat I brought my car to a halt in the middle of the bridge where I got out intending to pick up the muskrat and remove him any possibility of becoming a road-kill. It didn't matter that there were no other cars on the highway at this time of day. I was determined to save that muskrat whether he wanted to be saved or not.

Running up to him I was shocked to see the muskrat rise up on his haunches (like you'd see a Woodchuck doing when sunning himself) and take a defiant posture to protect himself. Hell bent on saving the muskrat even when he obviously didn't need saving, I reached down to pick him up and was instantly bitten by his razor-sharp incisors. Stupidly I slapped the muskrat thinking that would subdue him. It only pissed him off some more and I received a third bite - this one solidly to the palm of my right hand.

The muskrat and I have become one as the little rodent refused to let go of my hand. Thinking as quickly as a barrel of beer would allow, I darted back to my car and flung the hapless muskrat into front seat. It let go of my hand (which was now bleeding profusely) and I closed the door behind me as I sat down.

It then dawned on me that I'm bottled up in a 1965 Ford Mustang with an enraged muskrat who had just tried to excise part of the palm of one hand as thanks for saving him. However as soon as he hit the floor he darted under the passenger side seat and sat there.

Rather than try to reason with the muskrat I put my car in gear and drove the three miles home.

Arising a couple hours later to go out and milk cows I peeked in the window of my car to see if muskrat was maybe snoozing on the seat. He wasn't. In his confinement the muskrat decided to fight back and had thoroughly gnawed off the arm rest on the passenger door, had ripped the stuffing out of the passenger back rest and was at that very moment gnawing on the carpeting on the floor.

The scene was reminiscent of the quote in Edward Abbey's book The Monkeywrench Gang where George Washington Hayduke sees the Bishop of Blanding out with the search and rescue team trying to find Hayduke. Observing them Hayduke muses to himself "I'm not lost and I don't want to be rescued." The muskrat felt the same way.

Completing my milking chores I knew that I had to get that damned muskrat out of the car while I still had some of the interior remaining. Having few options I bravely (or stupidly?) got back in the car and drove down to Spring Creek where I parked along County Highway M and opened the passenger door. I then sat on the edge of the road waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the muskrat to figure out that the door was open and he could escape. Eventually he did and was last seen scurrying through the sedges to the edge of the water where he made his escape four mile from where he tried to cross the Red Cedar River bridge a few hours earlier.

It cost me quite a bit of money to have the upholstery on the passenger side of my car replaced. And it cost a bit more for new carpet. And it cost about that same amount for the tetanus shot and the doctor's visit to sew up my hand later that day.

I don't think I ever saw that muskrat again but that fall I checked the incisors of every muskrat I trapped along Spring Creek to see if any of them had remnants of my skin wrapped around their teeth.

Monday, March 22, 2010

An Income Tax Refund for 2009

I just now finished my 2009 Federal income tax return using Turbo Tax's Free Federal edition. I assumed that since Florida has no state income tax they would have charged me for the use of the Fed return but it wasn't so. Not bad if you live in a state that doesn't have state income tax like New Hampshire, Florida, Wyoming, or Alaska.

Because I'm a Federal annuitant my "salary" for 2009 was not much different than 2008. In fact because Federal annuities are tied to the inflation rate, and there was no inflation in 2009, we didn't receive any increase in our payments.

When I completed my 2008 return about one year ago right now I had to pay in an additional $1800 to the Feds. This was above and beyond the substantial amount I paid in through withholding.

Imagine my shock today when I ran the numbers on Turbo Tax and found that my income tax REFUND for 2009, on making about the same as the year before, was going to be $1,085. But then when I added in the credit for the Stimulus Act that Barack pushed through Congress last spring (Federal annuitants received nothing up front - our stimulus benefit came when we filed income taxes like I did today) suddenly my total income tax refund leaped to $1,377!!!

Now how can this be?? The Tea Party anarchists are continually telling the American public (at least the American public that listens to Rush and watches Faux "News") that under the Obama Administration our taxes are INCREASING.

However my 2009 return compared to my 2008 return is prima facia evidence that my taxes DECREASED in the first year of the Obama Administration.

How can that possibly be?? You don't think the Tea Party anarchists have been lying to us do you? Actually the Tea Party anarchists aren't really lying per se...they are just repeating the pablum of lies and deceptions that Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and other purveyors of lies have fed them and told them to say. After all Roger Ailes, Senior VP for Faux News sends out a talking points memo every morning at 8:00 a.m. telling his minions what the spin should be that day. Can you expect any less from the neanderthal's who follow them?

I guess I just need to start listening to Rush Limbaugh and watching Faux "News" so I can get a handle on what is really happening in the United States, despite the evidence saying exactly the opposite.

A Sandhill Crane Wake Up Call

I'm sitting in my living room right now with the sliding glass door open listening to the morning cacophony of bird voices. Every Northern Mockingbird in the neighborhood is trying to out-mock every other Northern Mockingbird. Male Northern Cardinals are trying to out-red all the other Cardinals in the area. Red-winged Blackbirds are singing "kon-ka-ree" from my wetland. A male Mourning Dove is cooing and the resident Carolina Wren is doing it's best rendition of "Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger" when the bird books say their voice is "Tea Kettle, Tea Kettle, Tea Kettle."

However, the best voice out there is a pair of Sandhill Cranes that has decided to spend some time this spring displaying and calling from my wetland. To me only the voice of the Greater Prairie-Chicken is more haunting and "wild" than is the voice of the Sandhill Crane. I'm listening to them bugle now and the sound brings back so many memories of all those years on the Platte River in Nebraska listening and watching as "my" birds took possession of their primordial staging grounds each March.

As I listened to the Cranes, my thoughts went also to an essay titled Marshland Elegy from Aldo Leopold's classic book "A Sand County Almanac." Marshland Elegy tells the story of the triumphant return of Sandhill Cranes to central Wisconsin back in the days when crane numbers were declining because people had no respect for the land or the wetlands on it. You can listen to a story from National Public Radio about Marshland Elegy at this link. You can hear the haunting call of Sandhill Cranes in the background as the story is narrated.

I first read A Sand County Almanac when I was a junior in high school and I distinctly remember how much the Marshland Elegy essay had an impact. Back in those late 1960's days in Wisconsin the Sandhill Crane was decidedly rare in the state. About the only place you could find one in my part of the state was at the Crex Meadows Wildlife Management Area near Grantsburg in Burnett County. I had never seen a Sandhill Crane but I had heard that the best place to find one was at "Crex." In early April 1968, not long after finally getting my drivers license (I failed the test three times!) I drove over to Crex Meadows one Saturday morning hoping to see a Sandhill Crane.

To this day I still remember standing on one of the dikes that ring the wetlands at Crex and hearing, far off to the south, the haunting call of a Crane. I had never heard the voice or any recording of it but when the sounds hit my ear drum I knew it was Sandhill Cranes. It was a blistering clear day, just like it is here today, and I heard the bugle far to the south. I watched the sky and eventually I saw two small dots that were far away from me. The bugling came from them. As they approached from god knows how high in the sky their bodies grew larger and their voices grew louder until I could make out the form of their bodies and see their wings set for a final approach to the wetland. They called to each other the entire time. Unlike most humans, Sandhill Cranes stay mated to the same mate throughout their lives. It was apparent that this pair had been together for a very long time.

On landing they began to display to each other and do the ritual dance that is so familiar among Sandhill Cranes. It was almost like what you see these two Florida Sandhill Cranes doing in this Youtube video.

I will never forget that sight and those sounds as I watched what was probably the first arrival of Cranes at Crex Meadows that spring. I still get all goose-pimply thinking about it 42 years later.

Later in life I had the privilege of working on the Platte River in Nebraska, ground zero for 80 percent of the world's Sandhill Crane population - they are there right now in fact. From 1979 to 1982 and 1987 through 1992, I was able to spend almost every waking moment in March each year on the Platte River watching the annual ebb and flow of nature through the eyes of Sandhill Cranes.

I thought about the Platte River this morning as I listened to my pair of Sandhill Cranes call. And I also thought about those first two birds I ever saw at Crex Meadows 42 long yeas ago. And as I thought about them I realized that one of the best things that ever happened to me was getting to know Sandhill Cranes. I only hope they are in the cosmos after I depart the earth so I can still listen, through eternity, to that haunting voice every March.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March 16 in History

Forty-two years ago this morning, March 16, 1968, we started to see the first evidence that the brutal winter was maybe coming to an end. On that date the snow had piled up so high along the township road leading to our farm east of Rice Lake that the telephone wires suspended between wood poles were completely buried by snow. That had to be at least 10 feet of snow at a minimum. Snow melted eventually but I remember planting oats on April 25 with snow falling on me and the tractor. Later, on about May 10 or May 11, 1968, I caught a baseball game between Rice Lake and Hayward that featured falling snow throughout most of the game. (Rice Lake won).

On this day in 1975 my ex wife and I along with Keith Dueholm hiked into a black spruce bog in Polk County Wisconsin where we found and photographed a Three-toed Woodpecker. As the range map for this species suggests, finding one in Polk County was quite an accomplishment. At the time it was a new bird for my life list. The following day we led Sam Robbins, author of "Wisconsin Bird Life" into the bog so he could add this species to his life list.

Oh, yeah, almost forgot. One year earlier, on March 16, 1974, I gave a redhead I used to know her diamond ring. Oh, well, having two good memories (the snow drift and the bird) for this day isn't bad.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Baltimore Wins One and Then Lose

Wednesday night I watched the Baltimore Orioles win a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton. The final score was Baltimore 3 and Pittsburgh 2. You can read the box score here.

Although it was fun watching the Orioles win, the real excitement was being seated near the players wives. Unbelievable. But multi-million dollar salaries can buy almost anything I guess.

Last night in Fort Myers the Orioles were more their normal self being defeated by that team from west of Wisconsin by the rather resounding score of 8-3. That team had 17 hits to 10 for the Orioles.

This afternoon at 1:00 p.m. the Orioles are scheduled to play the Florida Marlins here in Sarasota. However given the deluge of rain we continue to receive I think its more likely that the game will be cancelled. My time will be better spent at the British pub watching the MLB network.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jamaica Dogsled Team Update

The Iditarod Dogsled Race began on March 6 in Anchorage. As of this morning the Jamaica Dogsled Team is in the running but at this point is just a little bit out of first place. Among the 66 mushers registered for the race, Jamaican musher Newton Marshall is in 48th place. Granted he's not in the top 10 but there's always room for improvement.

The air temperature this morning in Nome where the sled race ends is a brisk -6 degrees. You have to wonder what is going through Newton's head right now at 5:10 a.m. Alaska time as he lays shivering in a sleeping bag somewhere along the trail. He's probably wishing that Air Jamaica had daily nonstop flights from Nome to Montego Bay just so he can get back to some warmth as soon as the race is over.

Mush mon!

Signs of Spring

At 7:30 this morning I heard my first Northern Parula of the year singing and in the distance I can hear a Yellow-throated Warbler singing. These are both positive signs that this miserable winter is about over.

You can hear the Northern Parula voice at this link. And you can hear the Yellow-throated Warbler voice at this link.

Both Northern Parula and Yellow-throated Warbler are common and widespread as nesting species throughout Florida so I'll be able to listen to them singing until late July. In 2009 I had at least one Northern Parula singing along my bicycle route as late as mid-August.

These are the first two warblers I've heard this year that were not winter residents like Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Black-and-white Warbler. With the arrival of Yellow-throated Warbler and Northern Parula this week and Swallow-tailed Kite last week, these are definite signs that spring has sprung. Once the resident Chuck-wills-widow here begins to sing I'll know the long frigid winter is over - well, the Chuck-wills-widow singing and 99 percent of the winter resident humans from Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, New England and half of Canada leaving that is.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Today's Baltimore Orioles Game

It was a sad day today for the Mudville Nine (aka Baltimore Orioles) as they were soundly and resoundingly thrashed by that team from just west of Wisconsin by the convincing score of 5-0. You can read the box score here.

A stunningly familiar pattern is beginning to emerge regarding the Baltimore Orioles. I have seen them play three times since last Thursday, the opening day of spring training games. Of the three games the Orioles have lost all three. Two of those games have been in Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

What is familiar is that this is the same pattern that emerged in 2009 when I was watching the Sarasota Reds play. Eventually, through the 2009 season, the Reds were 11 wins and 39 loses with me in the stands. Five of their wins were in Ed Smith Stadium.

As I rationalized this returning from the game this afternoon I wondered if it was a function of Ed Smith Stadium. Then I realized that maybe it was me AND Ed Smith Stadium. But, they lose when they aren't in Ed Smith Stadium so the only logical conclusion is I'm the cause of their loses. My friend Jon wants me to transfer my bad luck to the New York Yankees and become a Yankees fan. I may just do that.

Wednesday I'm going with friends MJ and Mike to Bradenton to watch Pittsburgh most likely pummel the Orioles that evening. And this Friday I'm back in Ed Smith stadium watching the Florida Marlins and Baltimore. Should the Orioles lose Wednesday and Friday then I'll pretty much know that I am a jinx on the Orioles.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Spring Training Update

It's been an exciting and exhausting week of baseball spring training in Florida.

Thursday afternoon Jon Andrew and I were in beautiful Charlotte Sports Park for the afternoon game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays. It was a close game won by the Rays. From Port Charlotte we drove to Fort Myers for an evening game between the Boston Red Sox and that team from just west of Wisconsin. The air temperature at 9:00 p.m. was 45 degrees. Of course I was in shorts (I've not worn long pants since February 25, 2008). The Red Sox beat the team from west of Wisconsin so all was good.

Friday we traveled to Dunedin for the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Jays demolished the Phillies which was fun to watch. They had an 8 run fourth inning which is indicative of how the game went. We had seats four rows back from home plate in prime heckling territory. I used that location to my advantage and pissed off a Phillies pitcher named "Vogelsang". He walked a batter and the next pitch was a ball. I bellowed out "Ball 5". Then he threw another pitch and I yelled "Ball 6" The next pitch was also a ball and I yelled "Ball 7". It was then that Vogelsang slammed his glove and pranced around the mound staring at me. I knew that I'd gotten to him.

This was my personal spring heckler training!

Friday evening we returned to Sarasota and watched the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles play in Ed Smith Stadium. The air temperature at game time was 52 degrees. It only got colder. Again I was in shorts. The Pirates won. I remember little else.

After the game Jon and I retired to the Coach and Horses Pub where we single-handedly attempted to drink the pub dry of all fermented adult beverages. We did not succeed but it wasn't for lack of trying.

Saturday we were supposed to go to a Red Sox game in Fort Myers but we opted for a Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies game in Bradenton's McKechnie Park. Because of the late attempt at getting seats we were relegated to the damned grandstand where all "seats" are like park benches. Plus we were what seemed like a mile from the plate. The Phillies lost and I got a good tan foundation. All was well.

Now, Sunday, Jon and I attended a Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles game in Sarasota. We stayed only until the top of the 6th inning because Jon had to bail out for his 8 hour drive back to Atlanta. When we departed the Orioles led the Red Sox 3-1. David Ortiz hit three towering fly balls but all three were overcome by gravity before they could get out of the park and were caught for outs.

Tomorrow, Monday, I'm watching a game at Ed Smith Stadium between the Orioles and the team from west of Wisconsin. Afterward I'm headed down to Englewood to see old high school friends Tom Benavides and Steve Benavides. I've already been warned to "leave your liver at the door." If the Benavides brothers can still drink like they did in high school that is very sound advice. And if you don't hear from me in a couple of days I'm likely in jail for quite drunk and disorderly. At least Tom and Steve will be with me for company.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Baseball Blowout in Fort Myers

Jon Andrew and I were in Fort Myers at City of Palms Park today for the first organized game of the Boston Red Sox spring training season. The 1:00 p.m. game featured the Sox against the hapless Northeastern University (Boston)Huskies. The result wasn't even fair.

The box score for the game was

Boston 15 runs, 15 hits, 1 error
Northeastern University 0 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors.

The only bright spot for Northeastern University was that the game ended after 6 innings so the embarrassment also ended.

In about the fourth inning with two men on base, Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (Big Papi) tattooed a ball and sent it on a tremendous arching race out of the park. It was last seen bouncing off a palm tree on the other side of the barrier marking the end of the stadium. He completely removed it from the place!

Tomorrow we're down in Port Charlotte for a Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays game and in the evening back in Fort Myers for the Sox and that team from west of Wisconsin. I hope the Sox pulverize them like they did Northeastern University today.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Spring Has Arrived Ornithologically

A few minutes ago I returned from working out. As I drove east on University Parkway, near the intersection with Medici, a Swallow-tailed Kite slowly and gracefully flew over the road in front of me. This is my first Swallow-tailed Kite of the season and a for certain sign that these frigid winter days are ending.

These insect-eating hawks nest in the southeastern United States and winter far south in South America. I remember well seeing a group of four of these magnificent raptors plucking newly-emerged dragonflies from a lake high in the Bolivian Andes. They are, to me, the most spectacular raptor in North America and one of my two most favorite Florida birds.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Baseball Spring Training Games Begin March 2

Finally the long dry spell of having to watch football, hockey, curling, luge and other lesser sports is about over. Tomorrow, March 2, marks the start of spring training in the Florida Grapefruit League. The season will kick off with the Atlanta Braves playing the New York Mets over in St. Lucie. Closer to home the Pittsburgh Pirates will host the University of South Florida in Bradenton. I may go up there to watch the game and get my Bradenton Marauders baseball cap for the season.

Tomorrow night long time friend Jon Andrew arrives from Atlanta for five days of spring training games. A life-long Boston Red Sox fan the focus of most games will be on them but we'll squeeze in a couple others along the way. The current schedule looks like this:

March 3 - Wednesday
Boston Red Sox v Boston College in Fort Myers at 1:00 p.m.

March 4 - Thursday
Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte at 1:00 p.m.

That Team from the State West of Wisconsin v Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers at 7:00 p.m.

March 5 - Friday
Philadelphia Phillies v Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin at 1:00 p.m.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota at 7:00 p.m.

March 6 - Saturday
That Team from the State West of Wisconsin v Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers at 1:00 p.m.

March 7 - Sunday
Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota at 1:00 p.m.

Jon departs for Atlanta after this game

March 8 - Monday
That Team from the State West of Wisconsin v Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota at 1:00 p.m.

My high school buddy Steve Benavides who lives on the tundra in Wisconsin and whom I have not seen in 41 years arrives for a few days this evening. His brother Tom lives in Englewood. We have already reserved rooms in the Charlotte County Jail for the three of us during Steve's visit, so there will be no baseball games watched these days.

March 19 - Friday
Toronto Blue Jays v Houston Astros in Kissimmee at 12:00 p.m.

Detroit Tigers v Atlanta Braves in Lake Buena Vista at 6:00 p.m.
(Going to these games to pick up two new baseball stadiums for my "Stadiums I've Watched A Professional Baseball Game In" list)

March 26 - Friday
That Team from the State West of Wisconsin v Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota at 7:00 p.m.

I may try to sneak in a couple more games in Sarasota during the down periods here. However what I'm really gearing up for is the start of Minor League baseball in Bradenton on April 8 just 38 long days away.