New Orleans 2015: Luck of the Irish

This might end up being a massive logistical error, but we find ourselves in New Orleans on St. Patrick’s Day. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

How we got here is not important (for now,) but there are a few things to get out of the way. It’s my second time in the Crescent City and Katie‘s first. I succeeded in finding a fun room at the Q & C Hotel, which appropriately invokes a former train line – the Queen and Crescent. It’s also a room that won’t get cooler than 80 degrees and contains a misbehaving toilet I’ve already battled twice in 12 hours. Ah, vacation.

Hotel wallpaper
Hotel wallpaper

I’ll do my best to share drink names during this trek – not to inform, but to show appreciation for the work that goes into naming things.

  • Death in the Afternoon
  • The Last Word
  • Canebrake
  • Hopitoulas IPA

No green today, so we’ll be covered in welts by the end of today. People still pinch on this dumb holiday, right?

I leave you with an unexpected bonus:

The first Christmas letter, or, the year in review


By this time, you’ve shredded through the defenseless wrapping paper, watched only the endings to the same three holiday movies, devoured food items that you don’t even allow into your own home and forgotten anything of a normal existence.

And I’m sprawled before the fireplace (not like that!), trying to make a midnight deadline.

Many of you are far more disciplined than I, opting to spend the time and money to carefully craft a report of the previous year with a nicely framed photo. You have mailing addresses ready and one of those tree-shaped holders for the pile of cards you get in return. They’re called Christmas cards?

So come with me to January 2014, when the snow was deep and I found myself at the seat of a pipe organ. I’d been a substitute organist at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Ill. for a few months, but each gig came with the fury of Mother Nature. A tornado. A blizzard. This didn’t help performance nerves. My last remaining grandparent, Grandma Hemken, also died at age 87.


February. I keep my personal life fairly private (despite this dumb blog’s history of the opposite), but I officially started dating my longtime friend Katie. She’s made me less selfish, humored my strange tendencies and just made life better. If I’m willing to throw cliches around, you must know that this is love.

Daylight Savings Time came in March. So did a trip to Milwaukee. Whatta town! Their art museum and food scene made it a new favorite city for both of us. Time itself skipped directly to June, when my parents, sister and her husband and my niece came to Peoria. My brother wasn’t able to join us, but we tried to play tour guide the best we could and hope they’ll soon be back.

July. I finally saw “Jaws” on the big screen. My substitute organist career takes a new turn when I traded the ornate cathedral for the tiny farm town of Chenoa, Ill. A trip to Indianapolis for my birthday was a mostly a disappointment, except for a great restaurant themed in Kurt Vonnegut. And I took Katie home to Wichita to meet the family – during a family reunion, no less.

Nobody likes August.

I packed my bags and attended my first “big deal” work conference in September. ONA14 was in Chicago, so it felt like attending a class reunion where everything is familiar yet the social stakes are higher than they ever were before. My brother Nick also made the trip.


October was a big month. Katie ran her first marathon in Chicago, while I galloped about trying to see her on the race route. I was 66% successful, while she was 100%. We also made the trek to northern Michigan for the fall foliage, which were drenched in rain most of the week yet still very beautiful. It was Katie’s first time on Mackinac Island, where automobiles are banned and horses are encouraged to poop with abandon.


Todd Rundgren still performs and I saw him in Peoria with a friend in November. Katie and I spent our Thanksgiving in Omaha with good friends and turkey.

Photo Nov 27, 12 03 19 AM

And that brings us to December. Because Katie had to work the week of Christmas, we took a long weekend up to Chicago. We watched ice skaters (sadly, the line was too long for us to actually skate), shopped at the gigantic Macy’s store, drank mulled wine at the Christkindlmarket and reveled in the spirit of the season. It’s a new tradition that we hope to continue.


That leaves several routine things unsaid. I continued my role as digital editor of the Journal Star, while Katie received a promotion to assistant universal desk editor. We’re both still learning to leave work at work. Not every ounce of fun was documented, so know that we did have many good days off together in the company of friends.

Photo Sep 21, 4 43 38 PM

So allow me to spill a cup of eggnog and wish you a wonderful Christmas (if indeed you participate) and/or a hopeful new year (we’ll all be in this together, God willing.)

Leave a note and let me know how you’re doing? I have officially entered full adulthood with this letter.

(Editor’s note: He cheated and fudged the publication time by 30 minutes 13 hours.)

Untrue Tales: The Thanksgiving train

Disclaimer: A series not fully based on actual events. Poorly written. Read even less.

Such romance! My girlfriend is already annoyed at the use of an exclamation point, but the point here is that we’re eating strawberries and chocolate while swilling Perrier on a train bound for Omaha. She’s also probably annoyed at run-on sentences, but I’ve given her another strawberry as a bribe.

But that’s not all.

112514_diningonrailsShe’s packed a set of tall, white candles. She sets them gently in pewter candlestick holders, even though I mumble something about the train swaying quite a bit. There was an announcement from a conductor about smoking being so very illegal and that they wouldn’t hesitate to throw people off and into the desolate Iowa winter. This is a girlfriend, people! She’s ready to fight for her right to light.

We’re soon surrounded by a soft glow and catapulted back to the 1940s. A wayward skunk is splayed on the tracks ahead of us. Our engine slams into it, assuring that the entire train is coated with a fine mist of pungent odor. The candles seemingly float before us, then slam down into our overpacked belongings – these same belongings that are covered in skunk essence.

There’s a fwoooop sound and our seats are ablaze. Our row. Our train car. The melting countryside.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Beware the street teams

My presentation topic is “newspaper street teams” and I’m sitting in a coffee shop at 10 p.m. in Columbia, Mo. while desperately searching Google for band flyers.

I’ve chosen a Creative Commons image of a small child with cigarette dangling from his lips, matches in his hand. “FREE BYOB” screams the flyer and it will be my introduction to this group of publishers and executives.

Around me are dozens of college students, shuffling papers, dragging trackpads and wasting time. This is better than my hotel room, though.

My girlfriend sends me a note: “you’re really going conversational, eh?” I mumble something about it being the only way to rise above the fray.

There are massive contradictions sitting side by side in this presentation. These land mines are how I work – a bomb planted to catapult me into Mr. Extrovert.

I sometimes speak to college students, but it’s always with expletives carefully exploited. A “damn” reference is retained this time, but nothing stronger.

There will be a confidence monitor tomorrow, ready to show me a typo forgotten and a good idea gone bad. Hook me up.


Rundgren in Peoria

My vision goes red during a cover of Arthur Brown's "Fire."
My vision goes red during a cover of Arthur Brown’s “Fire.”

I didn’t want to go to a Todd Rundgren show alone. Why? Because I knew I’d be struggling to convey to you what exactly happened if I didn’t have a witness.

We were warned, of course. It was billed as “An Unpredictable Evening with Todd Rundgren.” Some of the reviews of this tour were rather mixed, but I really don’t see how anything could be surprising.

Todd came out on stage at Limelight Eventplex on Saturday night and said our most hated phrase almost as a threat:

“Will we play in Peoria? Yes, we will.”

He then went on to warn us about calling out requests (they wouldn’t be honored) and bragged that his band had “a slush pile of songs” to choose from.

“How many of you are on a date? Expecting to get laid afterward?”

There’s something Howard Stern-ish about Todd. His hair? His obvious intelligence? His dirty uncle vibe?

But his voice was never in question. He may not hit the falsetto range with as much gusto anymore, but he has perfect pitch. I can’t say the same of many of his peers.

At some point, I glance over at my friend Nate to make sure that I’m not stroking out. TODD IS PLAYING A RECORD FOR US THAT ISN’T EVEN HIS.

He did land a few jams, though. “I Saw the Light” and “Hello It’s Me” were all Richard Cheese‘d out and only recognizable by lyrics alone. He’s apparently been doing this weirdness with his hits since 1997.

“If a Todd concert is on your bucket list, then this is your chance, young dude.” $25 to fulfill my dad’s prophecy, even if Todd never stood up.

Setlist after the jump…

Continue reading


It started with vomit. I mean, that was the most likely story – it was a Saturday night.

By Sunday morning, the story had pivoted to decaying flesh. A body was stashed in a lower-level storage unit. Or an elderly resident had passed away without notice.

This is all speculation, of course. I was fond of sewer gas, but my sleuthing was dismissed by the building’s engineer.

The doorman was the real victim in this crap. Sitting there amid the stench, still never opening the door for me. It would have been a breath of fresh air.

A pop fly straight into my addled head

The author at age 10.
The author at age 10.

“Were you a big fan of Dennis Eckersley?”

The Kansas City Royals are playing the Oakland Athletics tonight, a rare instance where baseball brings back honest-to-God memories of my youth. However, it may have more to do with ice cream and design than anything athletic.

Predictably, my girlfriend finds this delightful. I pretend to recognize that big furry caterpillar sitting underneath Mr. Eckersley’s nose, then proudly retort that I was a big Rickey Henderson fan. That’s all I’ve got when it comes to the A’s. Or baseball, for that matter.

I grew up in Kansas, so I should have gravitated toward the Royals. I went to a few games, may have owned a T-shirt, remember my mom’s dad having some sort of affinity for listening to the team on the radio and that was that. I was about to tell you about my signed autograph of Royals pitcher Orel Hershiser, but my memory is apparently a real piece of work and he never played in KC. But I still think I had Hershiser’s autograph, for whatever that’s worth.

A is for Adam.
A is for Adam.

I was the proud owner of several baseball hats. They were for fishing and tennis, never for their original purpose. Most of them were A teams – not A teams as in the best, but teams with the letter A as their logo. The California Angels. The Oakland Athletics. It makes sense. A is for Adam.

And that brings us to ice cream. Dairy Queen ingeniously happened upon a promotion in the 1990s that still elicits knowing nods. Ice cream with fudge + baseball + helmet bowls. I did my best to collect them all, including my beloved KC Royals and Oakland A’s.

What I’m trying to say is that I still love baseball ice cream, even to this day.

Houston, Montreal & Pittsburgh Dairy Queen Helmets

We don’t cook on commission


Back by popular demand, it’s the Microwave Hour!

After last month’s thermonuclear meltdown, I subconsciously harbored some sort of insane idea that I could skate by without a microwave oven.

Complicating this search is the fact that I’m the world’s worst shopper. I must review and research until I’m basically disgusted with all of my options. This applies to peanut butter as well as a new computer. Frozen edamame. Leftover quinoa. Pretension requires 10 COOKING POWER LEVELS and SCRATCH RESISTANT GLASS DOOR. Don’t let your artisanal brain tell you otherwise! Reheating and defrosting without this essential item is a waste of your very life.

And still things die. Chance failure can’t be investigated away.

So I’m winging between Best Buy and Lowe’s, calling my dad for Consumer Report reviews while searching on Amazon’s hive mind. No microwave is perfect (the philosopher said so) but I hadn’t prepared myself for some of the Amazon reviews.

People really, really hate their microwaves.

The most annoying thing about this stupid Emerson is the beeper. The beeps from this Emerson are the loudest beeps I have ever heard from a microwave. I feel like I’m going deaf from it. We have to stop it before it starts beeping or run out of the room. You can’t do anything while it’s beeping. You have to wait until it’s finished its full 5 or 6 beeps. I have to run away from the damned thing it’s so loud and annoying.

Finally, I realize that I’ve wasted almost two hours of my life on the search and settle for a mediocre model that one reviewer deems “Horrible Odor – DON’T BUY THIS UNIT.”

That’s when things get weird.

Best Buy in recent times has decided to relieve their associates of hustling for commission, replacing that rather natural expectation with something so much worse – constant checking and creepy friendship.

“Just letting you know that we don’t work on commission” turns into the following real conversation:

Jeff from Best Buy: “Hello there! How are you feeling this fine evening?

Me: “Oh, fine.”

Jeff: “Ah! I’m so glad. Did you just get off work?”

Me: “Umm… not exactly?”

Jeff: “It’s been a while, hmm? I just thought that with your [points at my necktie and hat]…”

Me: [silence]

Jeff: “Are you looking to replace your microwave or buying a new one for a new place?”

Adam: “Replacement.”

Jeff: “So, what do you like to do with your microwave?”

Let me break in here for a minute. I wasn’t able to in this scenario, but it would have been nice.

Adam: “Well… cook things.”

Jeff: “Ah, some people use microwaves for defrosting and others use them for reheating.”

Adam: [silence]

Jeff: “Okay, well just let me know if you need assistance. And remember – we don’t work on commission!”

This conversation actually went on a bit longer, but I blacked out somewhere in the middle and when I woke up, I WANTED TO BUY A MICROWAVE SO BADLY.

Like clockwork

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.16.54 PM

Few things in life have such remarkable consistency, but a cargo airplane is one of them.

The roar usually begins at 11:04 p.m. Other times, 11:07 p.m. Rough weather might slip it back to 11:10 p.m. There must be some amount of finger-drumming and toe-tapping.

This UPS flight always heads the same direction – straight away from my apartment windows, out across the water of the Illinois River and into the night.

I know that it’s an Airbus A300 and I know that it goes from Rockford -> Peoria -> Louisville. I do not know if the pilot and co-pilot are fun folks, with loose neckties and wild keychains.

Maybe there’s music playing once they reach a cruising altitude.

Maybe it’s terrifically boring.

Maybe I’m the only one who notices.