Guitar: Feel Vs. Flash

Eric Clapton

Photo: Majvdl, used under Creative Commons

About 30 years ago, I got into an argument, as teenagers are wont to do, over who was a better guitarist: Eric Clapton or Eddie Van Halen. Back then, before my progressive rock phase, I was a blues snob of the highest order. So to me, it was Clapton. To my friend, it was Van Halen, all fiery pyrotechnics and bombast. Who won the argument?

No one. I was 17. The kid was 14. We were snobs of a different sort. Imagine if that had happened in my prog phase. Part of the problem with Van Halen for me was that it was all pyrotechnics. But there’s something there in his playing that makes him standout from other fluid players. He’s technically brilliant, yes, but there are other players even better technically than Van Halen.

And they sound like complete crap. Why?

Eddie Van Halen has feel. Listen to a snippet of him play, and you know which band it is. It’s why Deep Purple tolerated Ritchie Blackmore’s ego for so long. It’s how Jeff Beck ended up on everyone’s wish list in the late sixties and early seventies (including the Rolling Stones. Twice.) It’s how Steve Vai became Eddie V’s surrogate when David Lee Roth went solo.

Eddie Van Halen

Photo: Anirudh Koul, used under Creative Commons

So who won that argument?

It’s still Clapton. Much of what Clapton does is subtle. He, along with fellow ex-Yardbirds Beck and Jimmy Page, pioneered the technique of playing two guitar lines simultaneously or playing the bass line along with the lead guitar. And the thing is they don’t need to show off. Page needs the bombast because Led Zeppelin is bombastic. Except when it’s not. Beck is actually flashier than Page, but it’s so ingrained into the music that you don’t notice it as much.

That’s not that technically brilliant can’t have feel. Queen is nothing without Brian May. (Well, they’re nothing with Freddie Mercury gone, but even they acknowledge that.) Steve Howe not only can machine gun his guitar faster than Van Halen, but he plays it classically. His counterpart in the early Genesis, Steve Hackett, is even faster, yet he sounds like he’s playing a harpsichord sometimes.

What drove it home for me was an interview with Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham is usually not held up as a guitar god. He’s more of a song writer. When asked, though, why he didn’t go for the flash and the volume, he said it wasn’t needed for Mac’s music. He then proceeded to play a Van Halen guitar solo. When he finished, he pointed out that a lot of guys who play like that aren’t really playing. They’re just showing off.

David Gilmour

Photo: Klaus Hiltscher, cropped by Spinning Spark, used under Creative Commons

The greatest example of this is my favorite guitarist ever, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. I’ve heard Gilmour described as someone who “puts more Gilmour through the guitar than anyone else.” In a recent documentary about Pink Floyd, he was shown during the Dark Side of the Moon sessions playing a solo from “Time.” Stripped of the rest of the song, it could easily have been part of a heavy metal song, played over a classical piece, or even woven into jazz. It’s not anything. It’s just David Gilmour. I’ve heard him get as loud and flashy as Brian May, and I’ve heard him as subtle and almost subliminal as jazz great Stanley Jordan. He is, to me, the perfect guitarist and musician.

But try to tell me with a straight face that Eddie Van Halen is replaceable in the band that bears his name. Go on. I’ll wait.

Thurday Reviews: The Poet by Michael Connelly

The Poet

Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly takes a break from Harry Bosch to look at a serial killer known as “The Poet.” He is difficult to spot because of his method of operation. The Poet kills homicide cops, making it look like a suicide and leaving notes behind that quote Edgar Allen Poe. The deaths are convincing as they follow the normal pattern of a cop suicide. There is always a hard-to-solve child killing that obsesses the cop. Two shots are taken, one supposedly to steel the nerves, the other do the deed. Only The Poet kills Denver homicide detective Sean McEvoy. Not only is Sean’s twin brother a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, Jack McEvoy specializes in writing about murders. After a short mourner’s leave, Jack looks at his brother’s death and talks with his sister-in-law. It doesn’t add up to suicide, and soon he has convinced the Denver Police and his editor that something more sinister is happening. McEvoy soon uncovers two more “suicides” and soon finds himself embedded in an FBI investigation. It’s about that time that pedophile photographer William Gladden gets into trouble with the Santa Monica Police, then leaves a body behind similar to the murder Sean McEvoy hoped to solve at the time of his death.

Connelly seems far more comfortable in Jack McEvoy’s skin than in Harry Bosch’s or Terry McCaleb’s (Blood Work, A Darkness More Than Night, The Narrows). At the same time, he is such a master at misdirection and miscues that he leaves The Poet’s true identity in flux until almost the last page. Like Reed Farrel Coleman (whose The Hurt Machine I’ll review next week), Connelly likes taking the standard, serviceable solution and tossing it out as soon as there’s a false climax in the story.

Connelly is also a tech savvy writer, lacing 1996 technology throughout the story to give the reader a feel for how things are done as a reporter or an FBI agent than trying to beat them over the head with geek speak. (A couple of writers from that era wrote some cringe-worthy tech passages that probably passed in the 90’s but would throw many readers out of the story now.) The end result is that the story has a feel for its time frame, sounding intentionally dated, but not obsolete.

Crime Vs. SF

Way back in 1998, when tech still boomed, dotcoms hadn’t busted yet, and the biggest crisis the nation faced involved a stain on a blue dress, I had a decision to make. I could stick with my SF roots and try and create a new universe. Or I could dust off a PI character I’d toyed with in the late 1980’s. At the time, crime seemed like a good bet. There had been a PI explosion in the late 80’s, and we were still in its afterglow. A new character with a new take on the formula might meet with success. On the other hand, SF had two problems. What I wanted to write looked too much like Star Trek (and I was still somewhat into Trek at the time), and the scifi shelves at Barnes & Noble and Borders looked pretty anemic. If your name wasn’t David Weber, Iain Banks (may he rest in piece), or Anne McCaffrey, forget it. Science fiction and fantasy had been welded into a single genre, and even the sword-and-sorcery stuff had gone into decline. Publishers were getting inundated with literally thousands of manuscripts that did not take place in Middle Earth if only to avoid lawsuits from the Tolkien estate (and many of those did a poor job disguising their fanfic origins.)

So I went with crime. I think I would have been OK if I’d have started on Northcoast about two years earlier and been more patient looking for an agent. As it was, I pulled the trigger too fast and signed with a small press that was way too small for its own good two weeks before an agent called me. Ouch. So while I tried to find a way out of that mess, the market for crime collapsed. If you weren’t already in, you were done.

Meanwhile, science fiction underwent a sort of renaissance. And the paying markets for short stories did not evaporate as badly as those for crime had. I made a critical mistake.

See, there are crime geeks. One gent calls himself the “Nerd of Noir.” They are definitely loyal to their authors, but their numbers are small. SF geeks, fantasy geeks, game geeks, and comic geeks comprise a much bigger ecosystem that never really went away. If they find something they like, they latch onto it with a tenacity that makes tax examiner look like a slacker. I never tapped into that, and shame on me. I was one of them for a very long time. I might have spent the 90’s sharpening my writing skills, but I should also have been building a world for readers to dive into. That sort of thing was and is tailor-made for the Internet.

So I will be “building” another writer, an SF writer. I still have contacts in that realm, so it won’t be nearly as hard to build up the network writers need to get started. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped with crime. I mean I just posted the cover for the new Kepler, which will be the first one to see print in eight years. At the same time, if I can’t sell Holland Bay or get people excited about it, that’s probably going to be it for crime. It’s been fun, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done, but a decade and a half is enough time to know if the rabbit’s going to survive the experiment.

Let Sleeping Drafts Lie

This weekend, I plan to take Holland Bay back out of mothballs and read what I finished in early May. I’m sure there are some cringe-worthy moments in there. For all intents and purposes, this most recent draft was a reboot of the first draft.

I did this on all the books listed on the Books Page. When I finished the first draft, I let it go. I know a lot of authors, particularly on deadline, like to dive right back into the manuscript and start revisions. That is probably a mistake. You’re too close to the story then. It’s still… my baby!

This is probably the shortest layoff I’ve had from a long work. I like three months, an entire season. The weather changes. The daylight hours change. Life changes. It’s long enough for one to become a different person from the one who typed “The End.” But I was lucky. Northcoast Shakedown was written on spec. Second Hand Goods was written while Northcoast was shopped. While Northcoast never had a deadline, Second Hand was in third draft by the time it had a deadline. Bad Religion had a deadline, but the publisher collapsed before I could start the third draft. I had not looked at it from 2006 to about July of last year or so. That was the longest I ever let a finished manuscript lie with the intention of getting back to it.

I hope I never have to pass chapters to an editor or agent as I write the story. That’s madness. Thomas Wolfe wrote The Bonfire of the Vanities that way, serializing it in Rolling Stone. There is no way I’d fly without a parachute like that. If the story goes off the rails, it does so with in front of a live studio audience, in Wolfe’s case, the still-substantial readership of Rolling Stone. It’s not so bad when it’s you and someone involved in bringing the novel to the public, but you still lose some control over your story.

If I were a perfectionist, I would rework every scene and every page until I liked it and write detailed outlines of everything. I can see a time where that’s going to become necessary, but for now, I prefer ignoring a story until it’s ready for the next stage of development.

Stephen King tells of writing this way, leaving the draft in a drawer for a month or two or three. He prefers work to become almost a foreign thing when he looks at it again, like someone else wrote it. That’s the way it should be. The bookshelves, Amazon pages, and even POD self-pub houses are strewn with the literary corpses of those who defended “their baby!” (Including mine.)

Progressive Rock

Shortly after I got out of high school, I started getting into progressive rock. What’s that? It’s hard to define, so I’ll toss out the cliche: Anything overproduced, with odd time signatures, spacey lyrics, and weird guitar. That’s it in a nutshell, except…

Rush is hardly weird, beyond some of Neil Peart’s scifi-inspired lyrics. Pink Floyd, for all its innovation and musicianship, has more in common with Cream, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles than Yes, ELP, or King Crimson. Plus, the last successful progressive rock group to be touted under that moniker was Marillion. If you’ve listened to them or original lead singer Fish lately, you know they’ve left any pretense of being the second coming of the early Genesis in the dust. Fish wants to be a Scottish poet. Marillion wants to be an indie Brit pop group unburdened by enormous egos the way Oasis and Coldplay are overtaxed by them.

Prog is often called bloated and overproduced. Quite often it is. On the other hand, prog fans have an annoying tendency to forget that the second half of progressive rock is rock. (Punk fans have a similar pretentiousness about their music. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong is a personal hero to me for being willing to piss all over that pretense. How’s that for punk?) Never mind that rock is not rock without some element of the blues in it. Yet call one of these overly dogmatic fans a “prog nazi,” and they’ll thank you for it. The problem is they then want to pigeon hole their favorite bands. “No, no, no,” they say. “You do not get the privilege of having a Trevor Rabin line-up of Yes in your catalog.” Genesis ran afoul of this, as did their original lead singer, Peter Gabriel. Some prog fans were aghast that Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame would “stoop” to play on an album by Daryl Hall. And Marillion and Fish mentioned earlier? Prog nuts who continued to listen to them after the split still don’t understand that their last remotely progressive rock album was 1984’s Misplaced Childhood. (A sort of reboot of The Wall with a happy ending.)

But what’s the appeal? Why listen to it if it’s the same thing over and over again? Newer prog bands have an annoying tendency to want to rehash early Genesis or try and do Yes’s harmonies or find some rhythmic weirdness worthy of any incarnation of King Crimson. Why aren’t they big?

Because it’s not original. Now the Stones and The Beatles actually did not break any new ground when they first appeared. Mick and Keith were all about Delta blues and Memphis blues and Chicago blues. The Beatles wanted to be Buddy Holly in the worst way, and according to Pete Best, early on, that’s exactly what they were. But conventional rock is about feel and emotion, a point driven home as I write this by the John Fogerty concert I have running on the DVR. I’ve heard the licks Fogerty plays by dozens of other guitarists, but the emotion and the execution is always different. He and Clapton and even classically obsessed Ritchie Blackmore aren’t trying to be Mozart. (Blackmore just occasionally beats the hell out of Beethoven for fun.)

When it works, it works great. Genesis started out as a psychedelic band that tossed everything they knew into a blender and hit frappe. If you listen closely to the final Phil Collins effort, We Can’t Dance, you can clearly hear the original blueprint laid down on 1970’s Trespass. But when they had that six-album run from 1971 through 1977, the whole point was to make the listener go, “WTF?”  From Nursery Cryme, which features the finest epic about a noxious weed ever written in the 20th century, to Winds and Wuthering, which has a similar song about mice, Genesis went out of their way to keep the listener off-balance. But there was also a feel to the music. I’ve seen “Supper’s Ready” move some people to tears. Sorry, but no one’s going to accuse ELP of that by beating the listener over the head with a pipe organ.

So who were the best at this weird version of rock that sometimes fails to be rock? It’s Friday. How about a list?

5.     KING CRIMSON

Robert Fripp’s 45-year weirdgasm. Crimson came out of the gate with a forty-minute acid trip called In the Court of the Crimson King that pretty much defined progressive rock. For the next three years, he went through an ever-shifting line-up trying to duplicate Court without success before settling on the trio of himself, future Asia singer John Wetton, and former Yes man Bill Bruford. This incarnation veered wildly from heavy metal to jazz and back again, often in the same song. After a few years off, Fripp resurrected Crimson with new partner Adrian Belew and began playing a game of finding how many bizarre time signatures they could put Belew’s punk sensibilities over. There have been so many members of Crimson over the years (It even spawned Foreigner and slipped a tentacle into Bad Company, two of the most un-Crimson-like bands ever) that they’ve spent the past eight years as three separate bands.

4.   YES

The tight harmonies, twenty-minute epics, bass that’s not really a rhythm instrument, and spacey lyrics all packaged in those Roger Dean album covers. Yes is the poster band for progressive rock.  When they’re on, they’re really on, as with 1972’s Fragile and 1973’s Close to the Edge. Sometimes, though, they trip over themselves, and a decade of more aggressive music driven by Trevor Rabin was probably a good thing. They’re still around with Alan White, guitar virtuoso Steve Howe, and Chris Squire, bassist and the only member to have been in every line-up. However, it’s hard to imagine Yes without lead singer Jon Anderson, and the classic line-up’s later efforts sound a bit forced.

3.    RUSH

Rush survives and gets mainstream respect because they get that it’s progressive rock. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson started out taking cues from Led Zeppelin (“Working Man” anyone?). When they brought in the acrobatic Neil Peart, the lyrics got epic, the rhythm got complicated, and the music broke ground. And yet when I and my junior high classmates first heard of Rush, we thought they were in the same vein as Black Sabbath or Judas Priest. It was the aggressive sound. Prog is a means to compose music for them, not a religion.

2.     GENESIS

The costumes. Steve Hackett’s guitar. The twenty-minute epics. The classical influence. And The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway? They weren’t out to invent a genre. They just wanted to sound different. Later, after Steve Hackett left, people asked Phil Collins why they didn’t do things like “Supper’s Ready” and “Dancing with the Moonlight Knight” anymore? His response? They’d already done it twenty years earlier. Many complain about the music they did in the eighties, and even complain about Gabriel’s solo work, but Genesis was smart. Prog was a method, not a religion.

1.     PINK FLOYD

With Meddle and Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd showed how prog was supposed to be done. The right way, the Floyd way. Meddle is a thread that weaves through every Floyd album all the way to 1994’s The Division Bell. The point was not to meet anyone’s expectations. With the exception of The Wall and The Final Cut, when the message moved front and center, the burning question on every Floyd album was, “Does it sound good?” On Dark Side, it sounds perfect. Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink? According to David Gilmour, it was keyboardist Rick Wright. According to Roger Waters, it was Syd Barrett. According to their albums, it was all five of them.

Thursday Reviews: Fuzz by Ed McBain

Fuzz

Ed McBain

The Deaf Man returns to taunt the 87th Precinct in 1968’s Fuzz. It starts with a phone call to the precinct informing the detectives that, if $5000 is not delivered to Grover Park by noon tomorrow, a city commissioner will die. The police don’t take it seriously. The commissioner is actually annoyed. They put a lunch pail, per instructions, on a park bench full of phony money, then nab the guy sent to pick it up. They lose him. The commissioner is shot dead hours later. When $50,000 is demanded to save the deputy mayor’s life, no one thinks it’s a crank call. The deputy mayor is put under police protection. This time, they pick up the guy sent after the money, a random construction worker, or so it seems, who not only seems to know nothing, but is also involved in something else entirely. The deputy mayor is surrounded by protection.

Which does no good, since his car explodes, killing him and his police protection. By now, the police commissioner is breathing down Lt. Byrnes neck, tragically named Meyer Meyer, vertically challenged Hal Willis, and Detective Arthur Brown realize they’re chasing the Deaf Man, who blew up Isola’s port a few years earlier to cover up a bank robbery. Where’s Steve Carella?

Posing as a homeless guy trying to get set on fire so he can arrest two teenaged dirt bags. Guess how well that works? It’s been a couple of novels since McBain put Carella in the hospital, and this time, it results from a painful series of Keystone Cop incidents.

The Deaf Man, who finally makes an appearance about half way through the book, is a hint that this is going to be more of a comedic action thriller.  He fancies himself a modern-day Moriarty and believes the detectives of the 87th aren’t really all that bright. Of course, the Deaf Man always manages to let his ego get in the way.

Fuzz marks the return of Eileen Burke, last seen in The Mugger, and the debut of Richard Genero, who is a patrolman in this story, but clearly on his way to becoming a detective. Like Cotton Hawes, who was created to phase out Carella early in the series (which never happened), Genero seems to be filling a role once filled by Bert Kling, who also started out in uniform. Kling has lost his fiancee, gone through a severe depression, and come out the other side almost as experienced as Carella and Meyer.

Speaking of the 87th’s resident Eisenhower look-alike, Meyer has his own personal crisis in this one. Someone’s written a book about a character named Meyer Meyer, also the title of the book. That just ain’t right, Meyer thinks, and spends part of the book trying to learn if he can sue the author.

This book is also a transitional entry in th 87th Precinct series. The detectives are dealing with Miranda rights now. Eileen Burke seems a bit more liberated than in her last appearance. Andy Parker, the resident bigot, is toned down a little bit, being just generally annoying in this one.

It seems whenever McBain wants to update the series, he brings in the Deaf Man to shake things up, then sends him away again with his tail between his legs.

Shaun T Is Kicking My Ass

insanity-asskickedAt the beginning of the year, I decided I would do P90X, Beach Body’s extreme workout. At the time, I thought I would be taking the summer off from college. After all, the workout requires 60-90 minutes at a time.

And then I decided to take summer courses. Plus, P90X required some equipment I could not setup in our basement. Then one Saturday morning, I woke up to an infomercial for Insanity, trainer Shaun T’s easier workout that takes only 30-60 days, depending on which version you do. Thirty days was doable. The workouts are anywhere from 25 to 50 minutes, with an intense one that goes an hour. I found I could get up early some days. That part’s easy.

When I said Insanity is easier than P90X, it’s like geometry is easier than calculus. You’re still going to work. Day 1 was the Speed & Agility workout, which looks a lot like the cardio drills football players do. Shaun T shows you the drills. It’s up to you to get 45 minutes out of it. I didn’t do the pushups too well, but surprisingly, I got a really good workout. That was Day 1.

Day 2 was strength. It turns out I had three problems: Wrong dumbells, no room to jump rope, and… um… pushups. Plus, I only made it about 20 minutes in. Hmm…

It’s early. And I plan to do the workout again in August, when I’ll have most of the month free. Today, I’ll have done the Back to Core workout, which focuses on back and core. (Gee, where did they come up with that name?) I can’t tell you how it went because I’m writing this the night before. While waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in.

I like getting up early and working out before I head to work. I have more energy during the day, and I can concentrate better. Plus, I’ll be able to start running again in July with longer distances.

But I hope I can handle pushups by August.

Yeah, I’m outta shape.

The Pope In The Pool

In rewriting Holland Bay from scratch, I found a lot of the description in the story disappeared, replaced by expository dialog. Now, I know what some of you are saying. “Jim, you’ve been at this for a while. Exposition? How dare you?”

Chill.

Exposition exists because, if you count on characters to act out everything that needs to be communicated to the reader, you’re going to end up with Lord of the Rings. That works well if you have wizards or starships or whatever other grandiose story elements you want to toss in there. Tom Clancy tends to over-tech his stories. So be it.

This ain’t Lord of the Rings or Dragon Riders of Pern or even The Hunt for Red October. This is a novel inspired by the 87th Precinct and taking queues from The Wire. The bulls don’t need no twenty pages of expos. Ya feel me? So what’s a poor author to do when he has to explain something that can’t be organically communicated?

Blake Snyder, in his book Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, says you need to put the Pope in the pool.

“Huh? Wha’? ‘Pope in the pool?’ I hope, Jim, you’re not talking about showing us Benedict in a speedo, ‘cuz dude, that’s just wrong.”

Once again, chill. What Snyder is referring to is a movie where the Pope is setting something into motion and is explaining the situation. Now no one, not even the current Pontiff (not Benedict, who’s too busy surfing ChristianMingle.com to be doing all that holy stuff these days), wants to see an elderly priest in a thong doing the backstroke. On the other hand, stop and think about this. When I say “Pope,” you have an image of an old man in elaborate religious garb holding court and sitting on a throne. Compelling image. Boring storytelling. If you see an old guy taking a dip and talking to several religious high muckety mucks while chilling in the pool, you’re likely to listen to his long, boring exposition, ‘cuz dude, you wanna know why the Pope’s in a swimming pool discussing God stuff.

See?

He cites other less pope-ly examples. Essentially, when dull stuff must be given to the reader to help him or her understand the setup, place the appropriate characters in an oddball situation or an unexpected one. In The Wire, Stringer Bell used to talk to the corner boys in a funeral home he and Barksdale owned. The corner boys, except maybe Bode Gibbs after the first couple of times, always glanced around nervously at the coffins and the odd guest of honor laying out. Meanwhile, Stringer is casually sipping tea and looking like he just got done taking Milton’s red Swingline stapler away from him. All this catches your attention, since the idea of the crime boss sitting behind a big desk barking things out to his goons would likely cause viewers to go looking for something less cliched, like a reality show on VH1. Worked, didn’t it?

So these dialog-heavy scenes will need something to make them worth reading. Watching young girls at the local mall while two thugs discuss whacking an informant. A cop questioning a witness at a daycare center while a four-year-old has the mother of all meltdowns. Things like that which fix a scene in the reader’s mind.

Maybe the pope will come to town and try out the diocese’s new indoor swimming pool.

End Of The Trail. For Now.

rr_signalOn Easter, I began my trek from Newport-on-the-Levee, across the river from Cincinnati in Northern Kentucky, to Yellow Springs, Ohio, an annual ritual I’ve been doing by bike since 2010, mostly along the Little Miami Trail.

I’d hoped to tell you that this week, I made it all the way to Yellow Springs. The weather has not cooperated. I’d finish next weekend or the weekend after, but I really need to get started on the Insanity workout and get my weight back under control.

As you can see from the picture on the left, the bulk of the trail follows the former Little Miami Railroad. This year, construction began on the trails southern end near Lunken Airport. Eventually, this will connect with the current terminus at Newtown. The weather has been mostly good, though for the first three legs of the journey, it was unusually chilly.

What struck me this year was the amount of history along the trail. I rode last weekend from Morrow to Corwin, and on the way back was thinking, “This is part of where Lincoln rode to his inauguration.”

cannonThere is also a town farther down the trail called Miamiville, the site of one of the few Civil War battles to take place in Ohio. Union troops stationed at Camp Dennison (now an unincorporated village also along the trail) met John Morgan’s Raiders at Miamiville and drove them east. Morgan and his Confederate intruders were eventually captured near Cambridge, close to the West Virginia border.

Today, however, some of the trail is sad to look at. Morrow, a farm town north of Cincinnati, looks almost dead. Along the trail are several rundown multifamily homes that have more For Rent signs in the windows than curtains. A couple of businesses appear to be in business, but look abandoned when you look in the windows. My next stop on that leg of the trail was Corwin. I was disheartened to see a huge sign in front of the Corwin Peddler, an English-style restaurant, proclaiming “Business for sale to new owner.” I used to love stopping at the peddler when I did the trail. It’s not quite a pub, but the food was different, and it’s a great place to relax after you’ve ridden 14-18 miles, depending on whether you started or turned around at Corwin. I hope someone buys the place. I’d hate for there to be nothing at one of the major trailheads.

My favorite parts of the trail, though, are downtown Loveland, the Little Miami Gorge north of Morrow, and the nature preserve south of Xenia. Loveland, of course, is a quiet little town northeast of Cincinnati. I almost always stop at Paxton’s Grill whenever the trail takes me there. The Gorge boasts the Little River Cafe, this year, the site of something I’d not seen before. The Cafe does not open until 4PM (which is why I haven’t been there in years. One day, I’ll do the Corwin leg in the afternoon instead of the morning.), and this spring found the lot taken over by about twenty buzzards. Huge birds, though you don’t want to get too close to them. They’re ugly, and they have a bad habit of puking on anyone who gets to close. Yet I and a local from the town on that section of the trail, stood watching these birds scavenging the lot, mostly near the dumpster. On my way back through, they were gone as the Little River Cafe employees had showed up to prepare for the afternoon.

Also in the Gorge is the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge, currently being replaced. morrow6To the left is how the bridge looked about three years ago. Mind you, I didn’t realize I’d walked through a field of poison ivy when I took that shot. Thank God I’m still fairly immune to the stuff. This time, as I passed through, I could see the new southbound bridge under construction. It will likely open next year to northbound traffic while the current northbound span is demolished and replaced. Construction teams have done a good job keeping the trail open. They’ve limited closures to weekdays and to no more than an hour. Though when the existing spans are demolished, debris will prove an interesting challenge. It’s still strange to pass beneath the bridge and hear a semi 350 over your head farting its way toward Cincinnati or Columbus. Sometimes, it’s a little unsettling, too.

I still want to finish the trail this year, going all the way to Yellow Springs. However, my ultimate goal comes on my fiftieth birthday. That week, I want to run the Flying Pig Marathon, sort of proof to myself that I’ll be healthier at fifty than I was at forty (or even thirty.) But that’s one weekend. By then, the trail will be open all the way to the Ohio River (and if it’s not, I’ll have figured out a way to bridge the gap between Newtown and Lunken.) There is a hotel along the trail in Yellow Springs. I plan to have Nita drive me and my bike up on a Friday night, spend the night, and get us a hotel room in Newport, Kentucky. I’ll meet up with her after riding the entire almost-90 miles in one day. For now, I plan to take care of the last two sections of trail in July.

Mmm… Nice and hot.