Biking’s Destination

The smell of virgin blacktop baking in the sun emanates from below. Knobby rubber tires roll smoothly over the surface. Tall grasses and trees on either side blow in the summer wind. A low black construction fence borders the edges of the street and creates a racing feel as I descend the curvy path.

There’s a certain allure to a newly paved subdivision sitting empty as it awaits the bustle of the next building boom. Back when I was a kid, we would search these places out for skateboarding, or cul-de-sac parties. Now I use them for suburban biking.

Granted, biking the PVC farms of the north Atlanta suburbs is not quite the same as biking Mount Tam north of San Francisco for example. At Mount Tam, where mountain biking arguably began, you can climb a wide fire-trail miles up the backside of the mountain and appear at the top with a 360-degree view of ocean, mountains, and city beyond. You can then descend through narrow zigzags, watching the Pacific break out of the corner of your eye. At the bottom, just down the road, there’s an idyllic English-country-looking pub for beers: The Pelican Inn.

http://www.pelicaninn.com

No, the PVC farms don’t have all that, but you can find some peace while breaking a sweat, and you can still finish your ride with a beer at a great old-style pub near here: The Olde Blind Dog, which was oddly enough voted Best Irish Pub in the World recently by a Dublin-based group.

http://www.latimes.com/travel/la-trb-atlanta-irish-pub-award-20150305-story.html

They say the journey is the reward, but sometimes I’d say it’s the destination!

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Give Me All Your Chicken!

My wife knows, when I get hungry the mood of our shopping excursions can plummet faster than a diabetic’s blood sugar level. She’s gotten pretty good at reading the cues, even packing a snack in her purse to magically appear when she senses a mood shift.

This particular day the snacks weren’t doing the trick, so she had me pull the car over to get our bearings and search Yelp for a nearby restaurant. We were in an upscale suburban Atlanta area and everything was either too nice or too McDonalds.

I was about ready to just take us home to eat, when a pearly white Mercedes SUV pulls up, and out pops two calves and a cow. No, I wasn’t hallucinating from hunger pains. This was Free Chicken Sandwich Day at Chik-fil-A! Dress like a cow, get a free chicken sandwich.

I turned to Alex to ask how we might pull this one off, and she was already on it. She was rifling through the glove box, pulling out pens and scissors and napkins. Before you knew it, she’d put together a real basic “cow.”

Now Alex is an artist, so she was embarrassed by the finished product, but I give her credit for the details. She had cut eye holes in a brown napkin. Drawn a cow face on it with cow nose and cow nostrils. She used a white napkin tucked into our shirts for a tuft-of-fur look under our necks, and she even used pieces of brown napkin around our hands for “hooves.”

Alex looked us over. “Give me your face,” she said. I obliged, and she wrote “Moo” on it. “There,” she laughed, “perfect.” I looked in the rearview mirror. “They’re gonna’ think we’re robbing the joint,” I said, “give me all your chicken!”

We pulled up to the drive-thru, so as not to get arrested. It was so busy, a kid with a handheld device was taking pre-orders. He looked into our car and we both said “moo!” The kid cracked up and called his co-worker over to have a look. “What do you think?” he asked the guy who must have been his superior. “Two free sandwiches and an A for effort,” the guy said.

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That Time I Almost Got Ryan Seacrest Fired

New Year’s Eve would be a different experience without him. Kelly would not have a Ryan to chat with every day for the foreseeable future. And that famous pregnant pause between “this” and “is American Idol” would probably not exist.

Year’s back, in Atlanta, a friend was producing a game show with this likable young local kid, Ryan, with a freakishly grown-up voice, as the host. We ended up taking him out to some Buckhead bars. We were of age, he was not. I can’t remember if we knew the doormen or if we just had Ryan speak in his deep radio voice, but we had no trouble getting him in.

A few years later, I had moved to LA and my producer friend invited me to lunch with a small group of starving-artist types, one of them being Ryan. It was appropriately Mongolian BBQ: The type of place where you take a bowl for one price and smash as many ingredients into it as you can. You then hand your stuffed bowl to a guy standing over what’s basically a big flat wok. The guy dumps out all your ingredients and grills up a giant heaping of hot food for you.

Ryan had moved out to LA about the same time as me, not long after that Atlanta game show. Judging from our overfilled bowls, I’d say we were both at the starving point. He did, however, have a gig at the local radio station. Not the best time-slot, but a start. He was talking about attending community college as some kind of backup, I guess.

When my girlfriend at the time heard that Ryan worked at the radio station, she had me call him up to see about recording a voice-over reel. You know, the kind of thing that gets you jobs reading copy for commercials and such? Well, Ryan, being the nice guy that he was, said “sure thing, come on over to the studio while I’m working and I’ll set you up.”

When we get to the radio station he has on his headphones, on-air. He’s going a mile-a-minute, talking, pushing buttons, flipping switches, multi-tasking. This guy is in his element. He sees us and smiles and waves us in. He holds up his finger like “just a sec,” pushes another button or two, puts down his headphones and greets us both warmly.

He has us follow him into an empty studio next to his and shows me how to run the recorder in there to do the demo reel. It’s actually easier than I thought. Ryan then bolts to get back to his next radio segment and leaves us in there all alone with the door closed.

About 15 minutes later we’re almost done with the demo-reel, and I see a face in the little window in the door to our room. The face has a scowl. I hear a knock and I open the door. “Who gave you permission to be in here?” the face asks angrily. “Uh, Ryan” I answer. “Ryan!” the guy turns and goes to confront Ryan. I rush to the board and push record. “Hurry up,” I say to my girlfriend, “let’s finish this last take before we’re kicked out of here.”

I think Ryan got scolded, but not fired, and we kind of lost touch. I hoped it wasn’t for the recording incident.

A few years later, I was in an LA restaurant bar with another friend who was not in the business of show whatsoever. Up comes this well-dressed kid with the brightest smile, and frosty tipped hair. It was Ryan. He asked how things were and I did the same, though I knew he’d been bumped up to the best time-slot in radio: the afternoon drive. I introduced my friend to Ryan who regaled us with some Hollywood chatter. Later, my friend said presciently, “that kid’s either going to make it big, or crash big.”

I haven’t seen Ryan since…. Well, except everywhere.

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Blue Sky

The Allman Brothers at the Fox Theater was my first small venue concert. My Uncle Jim was visiting Atlanta and asked if I wanted to go. I wasn’t a huge fan, I mean at 15, I wasn’t yet a Ramblin’ Man and the intensity of Whipping Post wasn’t fully appreciated, but hey who turns down a free concert.

We settled into our seats in the Moorish-themed theater with a ceiling that looked like a starry night sky. The stage was crowded with the gear of a band that claimed two drummers with full kits, and two lead guitarists. I can’t tell you what song they started or ended with, but I was surprised that I liked and knew almost every one.

Over the years, certain Allman Brothers songs have become deeper and richer to me: Jessica with its rolling bassy piano always makes me think of the beginnings of road trips, melancholy sweet Melissa reminds me of lost love, and the country roads feeling of Blue Sky takes me away from the crazy fast-paced world we live in.

Now as an uncle myself, I hope that I can share in a moment that will not only be remembered, but grow and take on a life of its own, like the one my uncle provided me.

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The Battle of Almost Wounded Knee

Last year they nested in a nearby tree, bumping into our windows drawn to the inside light at night. They looked like mini army helicopters and kind of sounded like them when they hovered around you while outside. They weren’t fat like bumblebees, but bulky like Humvees. These were the biggest and scariest looking flying things with a stinger that my wife and I had ever seen.

“We’re not in LA anymore,” I said to Alex. In LA flying bugs were more scarce than an older woman without Botox. In LA we would see a few bees around our lavender, some flies sometimes when we picnicked, a rare mosquito. These were all outside bugs mind you, not really trying to get in. Here in Georgia it’s like they’re banging at the door with a search warrant.

We made it through last summer without any giant Humvee-helicopter wasps making it into our home, or God forbid onto our skin. Then this summer, I noticed one going into the fascia above our front door. I went online and did some recon and found out that these things are European wasps. Great, I thought, whatever happened to NATO?

Like most things around the house, I usually try to do them myself before calling an expert. I waited until dusk and suited up the best I could. By the time I had my wrists and ankles rubber-banded and my hockey helmet on, I’d worked up a sweat. “Let’s hope these things aren’t attracted to sweat,” I said to Alex through the glass shield of my hockey helmet. “What?” she asked. “Wish me luck!” I yelled. Alex chuckled at me in my getup and just shook her head.

I’d set up a ladder under the entry point earlier. I stepped outside gingerly and climbed the ladder. I put my wasp spray up to the gap in the fascia and let her rip. Suds and white foam went everywhere as I quickly climbed back down the ladder. Unfortunately, I missed the bottom rung and started to run backwards while trying to keep my feet underneath me. Probably realizing I’d need both hands to break my fall, I flung the can of wasp spray out of my hand and it went flying into the front yard. I then crashed into one of our front porch columns. I sat there for a second kind of stunned. I looked through the now foggy hockey mask. Was that a platoon of wasps swarming toward me, or just my imagination? I got up quicker than I’d fallen and ran into the house.

“What the heck happened out there?” Alex asked. “I fell off the ladder.” “Are you okay?!” I checked that all my appendages were moving properly. “I think I’m okay.” “We’ll call an expert tomorrow then?” Alex suggested. “Not so fast.”

The next day I walked out and examined the battlefield. The ladder was still where I fell off of it, and my wasp spray had rolled about 20 yards away. There wasn’t a dead wasp in sight. Suddenly, I heard a Humvee-helicopter over my shoulder. I eyed the wasp spray, but it was too far away to do me any good. Instead, I ran into the house and decided I might want to call an expert…. Or maybe I could bait them? The battle continues.

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Reincarnated as a Horse

We took our French goddaughter, Ines, to horse country while she was here. Not Kentucky, which is no doubt horse country, but seems to be more about the business of horses than the pleasure. No, we took her north of Atlanta, where there are several horse-happy communities.

We passed a house… okay, mansion, with a “stable” built into the side of the place like it was just another wing. It even had a “horse porch” with outdoor ceiling fans… for the horses. We got out and took a picture of a stop sign that said whoa instead of stop. We passed rolling front yards kissed by the sun, the gentle Georgia breeze blowing horse tails and manes.

Our destination was a house in Milton. A friend of ours had heard that Ines was into horses and had offered to let her ride at her house. Ines was confused at first. “Where’s the riding ring?” she asked. “There is no ring,” our friend answered. “Just ride around the property.” Ines couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.

After the ride, we all sat on the front porch for a spell, as they do in horse country. “The horses around here sure seem to be treated well,” I said. “If you only knew,” our friend replied. “There are horse masseuses, horse hair stylists, horse therapists. They are more than pampered. If I die, I’d like to come back as a Milton horse.” Ines’ English was pretty good, but she couldn’t quite grasp that one. “Quoi?” she asked, looking at me for clarification. I translated in my decent but rusty French. She still looked confused. “I’ll explain later,” I told her.

I realize now, I never did explain later. I can just see her telling the story to her friends back in France about the crazy American woman who wants to come back to life as a horse.

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Thank You Debra Messing

Here in Atlanta now, my beautiful wife likes to remind me that we don’t get to the beach enough. Atlanta does not have a real beach, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Back in the 80’s there was a bar called Buckhead Beach with a sandy outdoor area replete with palm trees and hammocks and volleyball nets. Bikini-clad waitresses walked through the crowds holding trays of colorful drinks.

I was too young to go to Buckhead Beach, but my older brother and his friends would talk about it, and in my imagination I saw a real beach, real palm trees, an ocean even. So my geography was a little lacking back then, but not my imagination.

Back in LA, we were probably 10 miles from the beach, and yet we were not there every day either, or even every weekend for that matter. In fact, one of our favorite escapes was like the opposite of the beach: It was a Mexican restaurant in the Valley called Casa Vega.

You’d walk in on a bright hot Valley day with your sunglasses still on and be blinded by the darkness: dark wood paneling, dark booths, dark carpet, and really low light. Eventually your eyes adjusted, but never completely. Especially after a margarita or two.

It’s a bit pricey these days, but back then you could get a couple margaritas, a burrito, and a celebrity sighting pretty cheap. It was dark enough in there that celebrities seemed to blend in. We’d see Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, when they were still together, dressed way down so you’d barely recognize them in the dimly lit place. Rockers in black leather and spiked hair would wander around like extras from Spinal Tap. Big name directors getting booth readings. Hollywood agents in suits. Hollywood wives discussing the latest treatments. And wannabes counting change for a beer at the bar next to neighborhood regulars who’d been coming there for years. It was a real motley crew.

My wife used to get (and still does) that she looks “just like that woman from Will and Grace… What’s her name… You know?” And we’d smile and nod when they’d say “I bet you get that all the time?” If we had a dollar for every time that happened in LA, we’d be rich. But the only thing we ever got out of it was a good seat at Casa Vega one night.

The place was packed. Probably an hour and a half wait for a table. I guess word had gotten out that the food and drink was affordable and the customers interesting, to put it mildly. We had a group of 6 people from out of town. No reservation. Alex and I approached the hostess and were about to put our name in for a table, when one of the waiters pops out of nowhere, all smiles and compliments. “Good to see you again!” He says to Alex. “How have you been?” “Good,” Alex answers. The waiter shakes my hand and says hello like he knows me too. “We have a table for you and your guests right back here, if you’ll just follow me,” the man says to Alex. On our way through the crowded restaurant Alex looks at me with her red hair and high-cheekbones and shrugs. We got the best table and the best service that night. Our out of town guests thought we were celebrities. And so did the waiter apparently. Thank you Debra Messing.

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Making Deals with Mother Nature

When we bought our new home in Atlanta our realtor was surprised that it came with screens on the windows. We were surprised that she was surprised. Coming from Los Angeles, we were used to keeping windows open to let the nearby ocean breeze blow through our house. The breeze was probably saturated with smog, but at least it was blowing. Screens were common in LA, as were window bars in some neighborhoods.

In our area of Atlanta, we didn’t need the window bars, nor, we found out later, did we really need the screens. Our first few months in the home the windows stayed shut anyway, as we were experiencing an unusually cold winter. I had sold Atlanta on Alex by telling her how mild the climate was, but Mother Nature must not have bought what I was selling because it was sub 30 degrees for about 2 months straight.

Alex didn’t own a winter coat, besides a parka, so we had to venture out into the Atlanta arctic to shop: “Where did you move me?” she said through chattering teeth as we walked quickly across the Macy’s parking lot. One soft hooded winter coat later, and at least her teeth stopped chattering.

Coming into spring, I made the bold announcement that springs are the best in Atlanta. I’d lived here as a kid so I was pretty confident. What I forgot was that spring here comes with a yellow dust that pretty much covers everything. It’s like if the smog in LA covered your car and stuck to it like the sugar on a sugar doughnut. Only this sugar in Atlanta makes you cough and sneeze and sometimes makes you feel like you’ve got a cold: So, kinda’ like smog.

Well, that first spring, we opened our windows and reveled at the screens we had been lucky enough to get for free with our new home. The cool Georgia breeze blew through the house, tickling our cheeks and making us feel one with good old Mother Nature again. But the next morning, our white cat jumped down from lounging in an open window sill looking a little less white. “Why’s the cat look yellow?” Alex asked. I ran a hand across a nearby table and looked at my palm which was now the yellowish color of the cat.

The windows remained shut through spring, and the rest of the hot summer. “Just wait ‘til fall,” I assured my wife, “you’ll love it.” Then I quietly asked Mother Nature to make it a good one.

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Hollywood Purgatory

Waiting for a Hollywood callback is a kind of purgatory. It’s like that trip you’ve saved so long and worked so hard for, but you’ve got that stopover in Atlanta, and a thunderstorm rolls through just as you’re walking down the interminably long terminal to your departure gate, and a God-like voice comes over the speakers and announces that your flight has been canceled.

Well at least in that scenario you get the courtesy of a cancellation call. With Hollywood callbacks, you will not even get that courtesy.

Our house was being considered for a movie. It started with a vague message from someone at the Georgia Film Bureau who asked if we would consider letting a director and a few others into our home to have a look. He said it was for a Robert Redford movie called Come Sunday.

A few days later we greeted four people at our door. They came in and said hello, but you could tell they were only half-listening after the initial niceties. They were eyeing our house like they were already shooting there. Taking pictures, discussing scenes from the script, trying to imagine the world on the page taking life in our home.

The problem was that the story took place in 1990’s Oklahoma and we live in today’s Atlanta. This caused much discussion on how to make this visual trick work. They talked about covering our granite counters with tile, covering the stainless appliances, hiding the 30-foot Tennessee stacked stone fireplace behind a façade of drywall… We weren’t quite sure why they would go to all this trouble, but hey, we’d lived in LA and worked in Hollywood before, and if someone had the funds- and Robert Redford attached- any harebrained idea was feasible.

We had three more visits, and each one got more serious. People from New York, people from LA, a European-accented director of photography, the production designer from the Twilight movies who asked if he could move all of our furniture into our garage for the shoot. We knew they were looking at another home, one that probably fit the time and place better, but we still thought we had it. Then the set designer asked if we had blueprints to our house and we figured it was a done deal, champagne time!

We didn’t want to jinx it at first so we didn’t tell anyone about it, but this was hard to hold in, especially when one of our friends was the biggest Redford fan out there. We told her not to get too excited since we were still waiting, but all she heard was “Robert Redford.” She couldn’t believe it. She even had an old copy of Playgirl magazine- of all things- that he was in: “I’m getting him to sign my magazine!” she proclaimed. A few days later, Redford, announced he would be retiring from acting after one last project: “He could be filming his last role in your house!” she squealed, “I’m going to need those blueprints too, so I can find a hidden spot to live in while they shoot!”

As you can imagine, these things pay bigtime, especially when they take over your whole house for weeks. We started to get ahead of ourselves a bit. We had our bills paid off in our heads and an exotic vacation already planned.

Then we waited, and waited, and waited some more… but alas, the final phone call never came. They were supposed to start shooting in early January. We held out hope until mid-month, but didn’t even get a “thanks, no thanks.”

Welcome to Hollywood purgatory.

And the irony of it all, the main character in the movie was a preacher who was controversial because he didn’t believe in hell. He felt that everyone had the ability to leave purgatory… Like when the storm clears the Atlanta airport and all flights are back on schedule.

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Songs of a City

Cities have songs and musical genres that match each place: sometimes seasonally, sometimes geographically.

When I lived in LA, a friend of mine asked me to write for a documentary he was doing about famed Brazilian musician Laurindo Almeida. We interviewed him weeks before he died and the documentary turned into a tribute concert. The man was a poet and reminisced about how diving with sea turtles in his native Rio painted his dreams and influenced his musical style. He then moved to LA where he had lived for many years, composing for films like the Godfather.

He told me just before his death, what painted his recent dreams in LA was the freeways, and he wanted to do some kind of musical piece that spoke to that. I guessed he was referring to the cars constantly moving in every direction, reflecting light during the day, and giving off light at night. Maybe the ocean-like sound it all created.

LA does have a vibe that you can feel from the road. If LA were a song, it could be a cool jazz samba, like Laurindo Almeida was known for, or it could be a folky tale about driving 500 miles today and never leaving LA, like in the Michelle Shocked song “Come a Long Way.” I’d say depending on where you are in LA, a different song could relate: maybe the Go Go’s “We Got the Beat” for Santa Monica on a clear sunny day; some Jimmy Buffet for Marina del Rey; Joni Mitchell, CSN or Counting Crows for Laurel Canyon…

If Atlanta, where I now live, were a song it might be a rap or hip hop number by Ludacris or Usher. It could be any number of R.E.M. songs, or maybe an older southern rock number like “Champagne Jam” by the appropriately named Atlanta Rhythm Section. This song talks about partying with some “high class booze” and makes me think of the scrappy upbringing of this always growing metropolis with a chip on its shoulder.

What would your city songs be?

Music Doodle