28 February 2015

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (2/27/15)

I've only done two of these, but I'm excited by what I've found so this one's going to be a bit different.

Underworld is a band that creates and performs its music using electronics (and the occasional electric guitar). I've been a big fan of their work for over two decades (asterisk: they existed in a previous incarnation as a band with the same name that used conventional instruments; that album is an obscure curiosity, but it also has its moments).

Obviously they aren't the only band that has taken this approach, but Underworld's music connects for me in ways that few other bands do. Their live shows (I've seen them twice; they don't tour often) are very immersive, visual experiences, and that comes through in this film. If you happen to live in the Los Angeles area, Underworld is playing at the Hollywood Bowl in June, which I imagine will be a great experience.

(Programming note: going forward, I've decided I'm going to do these concert posts on the last Friday of each month.)

26 February 2015


While digging around for my stash of old concert tickets, I found a few other things I've been holding onto for some time for no particular reason. Or maybe the reason I kept things is just because they were interesting to me at one time.
When the new Southwest Corridor portion of the Orange Line opened in 1987, the MBTA issued commemorative tokens. I found this one on the ground, either inside a station or near it, and I've had it all this time. The T hasn't used tokens of for, I don't know, seven or eight years? Whenever the system started using CharlieCards.
Regular tokens were a brassy color; these were silver-colored to make them distinctive. I know my pictures came out crappy, so one side says "opening May 1987" and the other says "Southwest Corridor Orange Line."

(I just found this article that says, among other things, that tokens could still be redeemed for CharlieCard value for years after they were no longer usable to pay fares directly; I had no idea. It also mentions that 10,000 tokens like mine were made.)

25 February 2015

We're Number Two

Boston has recorded 100 inches of snowfall this winter, almost all of it in the past month. I believe the current record is 107.6 inches in the winter of 1995-96. The difference that year was that the snow started falling pretty early in the season, and just kept falling, in more frequent but smaller storms. It was our first winter sharing our first apartment together, and our house was at the end of a dead-end street that almost never got plowed because the city classified it as a "private way" and because very few people lived on it.

The Mrs. and I kept shoveling out the area in front of the house and the piles kept getting higher as we tried to figure out where to put the snow. Eventually we started throwing it over the fence next to us, into the back yard of a house that fronted on an adjacent street. Apparently the people who lived there weren't so happy about it, but our landlord knew them and had a talk. It's not like they were using their yard in the middle of a ridiculously harsh winter, and by that point we really had nowhere else to put the snow, so things got smoothed over. The people whose driveway is behind our yard where we live now throw their snow over the fence onto our side—who cares?

Anyway, it now feels like we have turned the corner on this difficult and memorable winter. I've been able to remove the two-inch coating of ice from the sidewalk in front and a good portion of the walkways around the rest of the house. The sun has been doing some of the work for me. Temperatures have been managing to rise above 32 degrees here and there.

At the same time, there's a lingering feeling of unfinished business. As A Proper Bostonian put it to me, it feels like we need one more storm to put us over the top for the snowfall total, to secure that number one position, because after enduring all of this it will be something of a letdown if we don't. And as much as I want this winter to be over, I think I agree with her. But I haven't had to commute in any of this mess, and I haven't even ventured outside of Medford in the past couple of weeks unless I was in a car.

Update 2/26: I had written that the official snowfall measurement for 1995-96 was 107.9 inches but I subsequently found that it is 107.6, so I have corrected the number above. Also, according to Harvey Leonard during tonight's weather on WCVB, Boston has now recorded 102 inches of snow this winter, which means we are less than six inches away from breaking that record...

24 February 2015

Concert (Ticket) Vault

Last week my friend Just Bud Fox (supplier of some of the photos for Random Sightings) posted a photo of a ticket from a Replacements concert we went to back in 1987. This pleased me greatly, and then it gave me the idea to do the same. I have a stash of tickets from most of the concerts I attended during the 1980s and '90s, and I think it would be amusing (if only for me and a few other people) to post some of them.
I'll inaugurate this (semi-recurring?) feature with the oldest ticket currently in my possession, from a Police concert in August of 1983. This was after Synchronicity had come out and hit big, and The Police played a stadium tour; this show was at Sullivan Stadium (later called Foxboro Stadium), which some of you may remember as the home of the Patriots before Gillette Stadium was built.

Being a big outdoor show, it was a triple bill, with A Flock of Seagulls and The Fixx appearing (in that order) before The Police took the stage. (Other parts of the tour got different opening acts, as I recall.) Also, I won the tickets from the radio station WBRU, which at the time was Providence's only real option for hearing anything approaching alternative music. The prize also included a bus ride from the radio station to the concert and back, which was probably worth more than the ticket price, as any of you who have been to a concert (or a Patriots game) at Gillette will know.

23 February 2015

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #35

You've seen my neighbor's 1968 Camaro before, but this is a different one that I spotted on a day trip to Rhode Island back in July.
This one was an SS with a non-stock hood, though the stripes were a factory option. Not many of these cars were left in their original condition, but I'd rather see a car on the road and being enjoyed than fret over its originality.
We were on our way to get ice cream when I spotted this car in a gas station across the street, and waited until it was leaving to take these shots.
The resolution isn't great because I was kind of far away, and then I cropped the pics, but they look better than I thought they would.

21 February 2015

Retro Video Unit (2/20/15)

Sometimes I choose songs to post here just because they are obscure, like today. I'd never seen a video for this song, but remembering it was enough. Lone Justice had a brief moment in the mid-1980s; I think they may have been on the same label as Los Lobos and the Blasters, and they have some of that same sort of rockabilly energy, but clearly they had other influences.

"Ways to Be Wicked" is certainly better known of their songs, but I just prefer this one: "I Found Love."

19 February 2015

Snow Update

Last weekend's snow put us in third place for the most snow in one winter, and only six-tenths of an inch behind second place. We've had a few flurries fall Tuesday, Wednesday, and today, so I think it's likely that this winter has moved into second place for snowfall, and it's not over yet. (I just confirmed that this has in fact occurred. For the record, we're less than a foot away from moving into first place.)
So I thought I'd once again look at the snow accumulation around our house. Here's the by-now familiar view of our back yard, and the five-foot high wooden fence at the back has now completely disappeared. I'm a little surprised that the neighbor behind us has not cleared that garage roof yet.
Here's the path across the back of the house. You can see that I gave up on the idea of keeping the entire area in front of the garage door clear. As long as it's accessible it doesn't need to be cleared completely.
Here's the same path looking in the opposite direction. The dog and I have to navigate this several times a day.
Here are the mounds in front of the house, which keep growing along with the plowed-up drifts to the left, by the street. Note the wall of snow directly ahead, past the yellow house; there is supposed to be an opening there to allow pedestrians to pass along without going into the street, but the business owner decided not to bother this year.
And just for laughs, this is a bus stop I was at yesterday. There used to be a Shaw's supermarket here but it closed about a year ago and now this stop gets very little use, but my bank happens to be across the parking lot. When I took this picture I was standing on several feet of snow where a path had been made from the parking lot to the street. Most stops have been cleared better than this one, but venturing out without waterproof, insulated footwear is still a bad idea.

18 February 2015

Promo Poses

In case you haven't heard, the final half-season of Mad Men begins on April 5tth. As they do each year, AMC released a new batch of promotional photos. They're all pretty great (you can see them all here), but this one's my favorite:
I've always felt that the stories of the women on the show were at least as important as Don's story, if not more so, considering the time period. But also, let's be honest, they're all stunningly beautiful.
This is my runner-up, mainly because of the relationship between Don and Peggy and how it evolved through the course of the show. It's also nice to see them smiling together, even if it's a staged photo.

17 February 2015

Snow Assists

T he latest storm left about 16 inches of snow in my area over the weekend (the official measurement in Boston was higher). I tend to wait until the storms are winding down before I head outside to start shoveling. As I was in the kitchen drinking coffee and looking out the window, watching the snow fly sideways in huge wind gusts, I heard the motor of a snowblower.

Our next-door neighbor has been helping us out by clearing all or part of the snow deposited at the end of the driveway by passing plows, so I assumed he was at it again, but then the sound grew louder. He was coming up the driveway with the blower, which I thought was strange until I remembered the dryer vent in his house's basement faces our driveway; I dug it out after the first big storm, but it had gotten covered again by a drift caused by the latest storm's high winds.

He pushed the blower straight into the drift until he reached the vent, then backed up and continued up our driveway toward our garage, then turned the corner at the back of the house and came across toward our back steps. He didn't quite get all the way there because there was another very large drift, but he did enough to save me a bunch of effort when I did get outside to shovel.

A couple of hours later I had cleared everything except the big pile at the end of the driveway; the neighbor had cut a path straight through but the rest of it remained. I started working on it, figuring I had at least another hour's work ahead of me. It was still very windy and was getting even colder, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to finish.

Since I was stepping out into the street frequently I was keeping a close eye on oncoming traffic. I had been working for 15 or 20 minutes when from a couple of blocks away I spotted what looked like a piece of heavy equipment approaching. As it got closer I saw that it was a Bobcat, and I thought to myself, buddy, you sure could make my life a lot easier right now. As I stood watching the vehicle slowed down, then angled in toward my driveway. The driver lowered the bucket and picked up a big scoop of snow, then drove forward a little and dumped it on the big bank formed by weeks of plows passing by.

He then backed up, turned toward the driveway, and came forward, lowering the bucket and then backing up again, using it to pull the snow into the street, then scooped up another pile of snow and dumped that too. He repeated this once more as I stood grinning and waving, then went on his way, leaving just some loose snow that I was able to clear away in about ten minutes. I have no idea whohe was, but I am extremely grateful for the assist.

16 February 2015

Car Stuff: Trying to Blend In

I was going to take today off from blogging, but decided to post one of my random single shots. I posted an Oldsmobile Eighty Eight Royale of this approximate vintage before, but it was a two-door.
This street passes the repair shop where I've found a few other cars, and you can just see the edge of it at the right of the photo. I don't know if this car was there to be repaired or if it just happened to be parked there on a day about nine months ago when I passed by on my way to get groceries. It sort of looks like it's trying to sit inconspicuously between the older Acura and the Nissan.

15 February 2015

This Week in Awesome (2/14/15)

Another big snowstorm, another three hours of shoveling. But at least the sun is out and it has stopped snowing, so I probably won't have to re-shovel tomorrow. But the wind is nasty, and it's going to be extremely cold for the next couple of nights.

The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy ranked the nine sports championships that Boston's teams have achieved in the 21st century.

John Oliver and Last Week Tonight aired a "tribute" to the demise of Radio Shack.

This week's oddly complementary mashup: the comic strip Cathy and the words of Louis CK.

And finally this week, one of those true stories that it so much stranger and more interesting than anything you could possibly make up. (The Guardian)

13 February 2015

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (2/13/15)

This week's concert: The Pretenders playing at the Rockpalast festival in Germany in 1981.

These guys have always been one of my favorite bands, and I always tend to think of them this way, this lineup, these songs. I got to see them at the Orpheum in Boston in early '82 (postponed from the previous October due to the drummer injuring his hand) and it was an awesome show.

12 February 2015

A Helping Paw

Let's talk about something other than snow for a minute. (Or at least not directly about snow.) We've got a couple of days before the next storm, right?

Our poor elderly dog has been struggling this winter. She's not quite as sure on her legs as she used to be even when the ground is dry, so the snow and ice have been causing her to slip and making her nervous. It's also been very cold, which makes it uncomfortable for her to walk more than a short distance (and to squat when necessary).

A few years back we got some bootie things for her, but they never stayed on properly. They had velcro straps that went around her ankles, but her legs were still too skinny and they always fell off. I was looking for another option and found something sort of like a sock with a rubber bottom. Supposedly they were suitable for outdoor use but I had doubts.

Then I found another product called Pawz. They are natural rubber dog boots that are reusable and disposable. They are available in several different sizes, so you first have to figure out what size will fit your dog's paws. They stretch, so they fit over the paw but hold snugly around the ankles. So far they have stayed on when put on with no trouble.

They are admittedly awkward to put on (we're trying to do it while the dog is lying down), and it's one more thing to deal with when getting ready to go out, but they are making a difference. They give the dog some traction as well as a layer of insulation from snow, ice, and cold ground. She seemed to understand why we were making her wear these things and wanted to stay out longer, which was a good sign.

Pawz come a dozen to a package, so if one does manage to slip off, or one of the dog's nails pokes through, it's no big deal. They are available at pet stores large and small (check the website for the store locator). Oh, and they're made in the USA. If you have to walk a dog this winter, you may find Pawz helpful.

11 February 2015

Snow Pics

I had intended to include pictures in yesterday's post, but didn't get around to taking any until today. Those of you who are around regularly can compare these to the ones I've posted over the past couple of weeks.
Here's the backyard shot I have taken and posted twice before. The snow cover is between four and five feet deep, from windblown drifting and (closer to the foreground) where I threw it after shoveling. (Fence? What fence?)
Here is the path that is the result of that shoveling. The back porch is about five feet off the ground. (Please disregard the grill cover, it belongs to the folks who live upstairs.)
This is the accumulation from digging out the front of the house over and over. The tops of those piles are now higher than the level of the front porch, and about a foot below the bottom of the front window, which is seven feet off the ground.

10 February 2015

Snow Madness

After a deceptively mild start, this has turned out to be a hellish winter. The snow keeps falling, and falling, and falling. My arms are sore from shoveling, roads have been slippery, there's nowhere to put the mountains of snow. Our entire back yard has a snow pack that's now five feet high.

Things got so bad that the MBTA had to shut down all rail service Monday evening, and trains did not run all day today either. When trains are running, there aren't enough of them because snow is messing with the motors. The transit authority has been struggling to keep the above-ground rail lines clear. I've been lucky that I have not had to get anywhere by T since last week.

I know that people who live in places like Chicago and Minneapolis are laughing at us. We all know winters are worse in the Midwest. (Why do you think we don't live there?) It's not that we can't handle winter, but this much winter in such a short span of time has our region overwhelmed. (I blame Just Bud Fox, who kept saying he wanted it to snow, and doesn't even live in New England.)

The official snowfall measurement in Boston is now over 77 inches for the winter, and almost all of that has fallen within the past three weeks. This winter has already cracked the top 10 recorded snowfall amounts, and there's more on the way: a storm starting Thursday evening, and another Saturday night into Sunday.

Normally I'm all right with winter and I don't look forward to spring that much, but this winter has already overstayed its welcome. The question now is, how far into April will we have to get before all this snow finally melts? Until then, I wish to hibernate.

09 February 2015

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #16

This was supposed to appear last week, but I had snow fatigue and just couldn't get myself in the mood to do it. I spent some of the extra time thinking about what car I wanted to feature next. I went back over the cars I've already written about and, inspired in part by my entry on small wagons, decided on a Plymouth Valiant.

The Valiant was the practical, economical, boring compact bought by frugal people who were not interested in frills. It was the antithesis of where the auto industry was going in the early 1970s, but that's part of its appeal. The early Valiants (1960-62) were pretty weird looking, definitely an acquired taste. The second generation (1963-66) was much better looking, plain and simple but still attractive. The third generation (1967-76) was the best looking one, which is part of the reason it lasted so long. (Economics and the changing car market played a large part as well.)
1970 Plymouth Duster (Old Car Brochures)
Back in FG #8 I talked about how the Barracuda was created from the Valiant. By 1970 it got its own body designation, growing in size along with its competition. That left an opening in Plymouth's lineup for a smaller, less expensive sporty car, which led to the introduction of the Duster, a coupe again based on the Valiant that proved to be very popular. I like Dusters, and I knew people who had them in high school, but I don't feel strongly enough about them to want to include one in the Fantasy Garage.

There's also the question of why I wouldn't want a Dodge Dart instead of a Valiant. Darts were built on a longer wheelbase and were generally better equipped and had nicer trim. Honestly, it's kind of a coin flip; I'd be perfectly happy with a Dart, but I guess I lean toward Valiants just because they are slightly more humble.
So then, which one? My first instinct was to go with a four-door sedan, inspired in part by the car from the old movie Duel (which, if you haven't seen it, is worth the time; it's a 1971 TV movie directed by Steven Spielberg). But I decided on a Scamp, which was a two-door hardtop added to the Valiant line for 1971 due mainly to the success of its cousin the Dart Swinger. These were just cute names for a nicer trim level intended to attract customers who might otherwise choose a larger car. They had more standard features and nicer interiors, and that cool concave rear window. I think bucket seats were also available, which would be a nice choice.

(Story on a '72 Scamp with lots of photos at Curbside Classic.)

08 February 2015

Retro Video Unit (2/6/15)

Eh, what can I say? It was a rough week...

So this is another one I've had on the list for a long time: "Alive and Kicking" by Simple Minds. They had quite a run of singles for a while there in the '80s, and I've always thought this was one of their best. The video is most notable for the scenery, with the band perched on a cliff somewhere.

I saw them live once, they opened for U2 on the Unforgettable Fire tour at the Worcester Centrum, and their set was nearly as good as U2's.

But whenever I think of Simple Minds, I end up wondering whatever happened to them. So many '80s bands have reunited or come out of hiatus or retirement or whatever, but they just kind of had their moment and that was it.

05 February 2015

Quick Fix

I have a jacket that I wear to walk the dog when it's cold, and when I'm shoveling snow. It's wool with some insulation, but it's not particularly bulky. I've had it for seven years or so, and I've worn it a lot, so I wasn't too surprised when I put it on the other day to take the dog out and the zipper tab broke off.

The dog couldn't wait, so when I got back I needed to come up with something I could use to unzip the jacket. I dug around in our junk drawer and came up with a paper clip. I had it on there for a day or so, but the metal was too thin so I switched to a larger paper clip. It works, and the top of the zipper is covered by a flap on the jacket so no one can see it, but I'm still trying to come up with a better, more permanent solution.

04 February 2015

Winter Notes

(I started this post last night but I was so tired from the past two days that I had to set it aside and go to sleep.)

It snowed again Monday. A lot. The TV news said we got 16" on top of last week's nearly two feet. Add in the couple of inches we got over the weekend and Boston got 40.5" of snow in one week, a new record that broke the old one by nine inches or so.

That's much more snow than people are used to dealing with in such a short span of time, and because everything is close together in our urban environment, figuring out what to do with the cleared snow is a challenge. The drifts get pretty high, as you can see.
Sidewalk in front of our house
Late in the morning on Monday the snow slowed down for a while, so I decided I wanted to get going on the shoveling. I knew I'd have to go out again the next day and re-shovel but it's better than having to deal with all of it at once. These storms have also been more challenging because it's been colder than normal and the winds have been strong.

I was able to follow the areas I had dug out last week, though this time the windblown drifting went against me and there was a lot more on the driveway side of the house. I was getting near the end of the driveway and dreading the task of clearing it when our next-door neighbor appeared from around the corner with his snow blower and proceeded to clear the whole thing for me. What would have taken me probably 90 minutes he was able to do in less than 10, which was a huge relief. I really need to see about getting my blower working again...
Driveway results
Yesterday morning we woke up to temperatures of around 4, and we quickly realized that our heat was not working. It had been the night before; we called the HVAC people and it turned out to be a thermal coupling, which is a relatively quick fix. Apparently they can just fail randomly, which is not exactly reassuring.

Yesterday I had to go out to the post office because I had sold two items on eBay. Getting to Medford Square wasn't a big deal, though the walk to the bus stop was tricky because of the variation in shoveling effort by the residents of our neighborhood. Coming back I was the victim of a bus delay that lasted almost an hour; eventually a bus appeared in a spot that isn't an actual bus stop, and a T employee who had also been waiting for the same bus realized it was the one all of us were waiting for and alerted everyone to cross the street and get on it. I haven't had to go into the city, and with the problems the T has been having I'm relieved.
Remember how this looked last week?
I entertained the idea of going to the Patriots parade for about five seconds. It is somewhat warmer today, about normal for this time of year, but with the huge piles of snow on the sidewalks I don't know where anyone is going to stand, and it also means the sidewalks are going to be more congested and it will be harder to move around, and trying to take the T is such a disaster at this point, so I'm just watching it on TV.

The forecast is calling for a small amount of snow tomorrow—lucky us. Beyond that it appears another storm is heading for us Sunday night into Monday. This winter had me fooled, with no snow of any significance until two-thirds of the way through January. Now it seems the weather is trying to make up for that lack of earlier snow.

02 February 2015

Patriots Pride

After the tumult and distraction of the past two weeks, last night's victory was a welcome palate cleanser of sorts. The Patriots took all that negative energy and used it to their advantage, and having an unknown (well, not anymore) player snag that interception just put the exclamation point at the end of a great game. It's the kind of moment that makes us care about football in the first place.
I was wearing this shirt during the game. It's probably my favorite piece of fan apparel of the ones I have. Funnily enough I don't remember where I got it or how long ago, but I think it came from the Patriots pro shop (a quick search of my archived email confirms that it did, and that I got it in '07). It has a local specificity that I can't imagine coming from the NFL fan shop.

Like a lot of people, I have never cared for the "flying Elvis" and stick to the throwback Pat Patriot design. (I also don't like the navy jerseys.) I do have a T-shirt from the first Super Bowl win that has the modern logo incorporated into it, but it's secondary to the Super Bowl XXXVI graphic. I also have a red hoodie that I got at the one game I've been to at Gillette (opening day '06 vs. Buffalo) but that has only "Patriots" in white script. I have a royal blue T-shirt with an embroidered Pat logo rather than a screen-printed one. Even my caps are throwback, one's red cotton and the other's a royal wool blend.

Fan pride takes many forms. Wearing the Pat Patriot logo doesn't mean you've been a fan for longer than someone else, but I do feel that it signifies you've put a bit more thought into it.