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Some old memories of 2001 Baseball
I was going through some old picutres and found some ticket stubs I kept from 2001.

I happened to see two baseball games that year, which is pretty exciting for me.

I saw the Mets play the Cubs at Wrigley for Pez day.  An afternoon game.  The Mets are my favorite team and I went with a friend who was a Cubs fan.

The Mets had just been to the World Series, but they dropped off in 2001.  The Cubs equally were not at their peak.  June 26: Cubs 4-2

We were still in the Sosa years, though we were on the descent (and four years before Canseco's book). I got t see Mike Piazza and eccentric reliever Turk Wendell. As well as future manager Joe Girardi, who played catcher for the Cubs. The ticket was $18.

October 5, a Cardinals fan and I caught the third to last game of the year. The Astros and Cardinals were competing for the division. I want to believe this would have clinched the division for the Cardinals, but I am not sure. It may have taken one more game. In any case, it went to the Astros 2-1.

This one of the few games for the Cardinals where they had both Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire (one starting a career and one ending his). Future Cardinals manage Mike Matheny played but did not start. In both cases, it looks like Sosa and McGwire went 0 for 4 in their respective games.

The Astros had all their 3Bs at the time too: Biggio, Bagwell, and Berkman.

We went on a whim buying the cheapest ticket we could just to get into the stadium.  It was $9.  I doubt the cheapest seats these days are less than double that.

Book Review: Jesse James by TJ Stiles
Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil WarJesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War by T.J. Stiles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this up a few years ago when I visited Jesse James birthplace. For whatever reason, it kept getting pushed back in the to-read pile. Having visited the James place, I learned his story. There has been a revision of how we view James- not an outlaw of the Cowboy movie, but a Confederate who didn't stop fighting after the Civil War. Also, in the meantime, Stiles has become a very respected and successful writer of history with his George Custer book. Not sure if one influenced the other, but the James place agrees with Stiles and his book is prominently sold as one of the best telling of the James story.

Spoilers ahead: Well,it's a biography so...

Because I visited there and also spent time visiting and reading Northern Missouri and Eastern Kansas, I had a bit more background on the 19th Century of this region than the average reader coming in. "Bleeding Kansas", the pre-Civil War era years of this area is some of the bloodiest and most extremely violent times of the country's history.

While the pro-South forces probably hit the worst (the Jayhawkers, Border Ruffians, Red leggers of legend) neither side is innocent. Reading about the Pro-Union forces and then later the Reconstruction Republicans, neither side gets away scott free. Indeed, James apologists will say he spent his life planning revenge against the Union forces that terrorized him and his family in his youth.

James is charismatic, for sure, but he's never completely likeable. He is a cold blooded killer and seems pretty okay with that. His indoctrination with the Jayhawkers as young teen follows the psychology of what we know from gang and gangster mentality.

James rides with some of the most violent men of American history- first, William Quantrill and then Bloody Bill Anderson. These guys were guerillas. They terrorized the area and led raids that intended to send a message to anti-slavery forces. James learned efficiency from his tenure here. As warfare between neighbors turned into outright Civil War, some of these men joined the Confederacy, but they were better bandits than military men.

Stiles's book does a couple of things really well. For starters, it does cover that part of the Civil War in the West - no one talks about- Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. Second of all, his history of Missouri politics is fascinating. It is interesting to see the attitudes of the day and the effect we still see today.

Through the 40 years or so of this book, there are usually three major factions. It is generally two of these three- Abolitionists, Pro-slavery Republicans, Pro-Union Democrats, Secessionist Democrats, Radical re-constructionist Republicans, Moderate Republicans,former Confederate Democrats and former Pro-Union Democrats. At times, the Democrat party is so weak, that they sway the vote between Republicans. It is the history written about here that helps explain modern day Missourian politics.

The northwest corridor that James was born is called "Little Dixie" as it was settled by former Kentuckians with an allegiance to the South. As we move to Bleeding Kansas and its raids, the Civil War breaks open and it can literally be neighbor against neighbor. Some decide to join the army, others stay home.

Quantrill fades from his height as he is seen as betraying Bloody Bill Anderson and though he continues, he unsurprisingly he meets a bloody end. Bloody Bill Anderson takes up the mantle as the fiercest fighter out there- with no qualms about scalping or massacring women and children.

Anderson is one of the most violent man you will meet in history, and so it's a bit hard to have sympathy for him or James. He is an effective guerilla, though and does a lot of damage to the Union. As quick-witted and wily as Anderson, it's ironic that he meets his death by being outfoxed.

With Quantrill and Anderson dead and the War lost, the bushwhackers do continue in smaller gangs. The Unionists enforce a bit of martial law to keep the peace. Confederate sympathizers are barred from voting. It is a tedious time and the violence doesn't stop. James and other confederates refuse to change. None more-so than James's mom. They even keep the slaves.

At this time as the various bushwhacker gangs are still active post-Civil War, they target the banks. They terrorize the area as the Klan does the South. James is not necessarily the leader, but they work in gang mentality as bands of guerillas. James's becomes famous in 1869 robbing the Gallatin, Missouri bank (presumably to avenge Bill Anderson).

He becomes the most wanted man in Missouri, but Newspaper Editor John Newman Edwards allies with James and decides to use him to sell Segregationist views. It's mutually beneficial. James is no lackey. He is daring and if his motives weren't completely political, now they become that.

The Confederates are fighting Reconstruction and James is the hero. Edwards make James a hero. Indeed, James could "shoot someone in the middle of downtown Manhattan" and not lose any support. Edwards and James indeed create some 'cognitive dissonance' as well, simultaneously denying their involvement in the crimes but winking knowingly. There are good lessons on propagandizing here. Indeed, the book tells us that times haven't changed, as we still believe outrageous rumors, only they are propagated from different platforms these days.

The South lost the War but after eight years of Grant, they do win the reconstruction. Those years are vital in understanding the region's history, and it explains how Missouri (and Kentucky) was a Union State, but are now part of the modern South.

The Pinkertons chase James as does every successive Missouri governor, but their attempts only go to make James more sympathetic.

As reconstruction ends in 1876, the ensuing years (until 1882) mean James goes out with more of a whimper than a bang. He still manages to rob trains and banks, but with Reconstruction over (and the Ex-Confederates in political power), Edwards no longer needs him to sell the story.

James lives undetected in Kentucky under an assumed name with his brother and their families. In the last years, most of the original Bushwackers have ended up dead or in jail, so James's gang starts to become hired hands like Bob and Charlie Ford, which of course, does not bode well.

I was always shocked Frank James never went to jail, but I have a good feel why. He surrendered to Missouri and made appropriate amends and it sounds like Frank, by the end, was ready to be done with the mischief anyway.

Stiles posits that we have James wrong. Although it is the era of Custer and Western expansion, and he's a contemporary of Billy the Kid (who he apocryphal meets him) and barely predates Butch Cassidy, James is not a Western bandit. Indeed, he is a terrorist in much of the way the KKK terrorized the South. Stiles stops short of comparing James to political groups like Isis or the Tamil Tigers, but I think there are similarities. His activities were a continuation of the Pre-Civil War redleggers and he never stopped fighting that war.

Goodreads asks that we rate books on a scale of 1-5 stars. I do tend to act like I have a finite amount of five stars and there are times that I probably should have gave a four-star book the extra star (or vice versa). But I really enjoyed this- in the way, it never got so detailed, it wasn't readable, but it never skimped on the research to sell books. It took detours in explaining the whole picture (not in a trivial Bill Bryson/Sarah Vowell way, which are the type of books I love)but did it in a way where it was fully formed and even with multiple characters introduced, it was easy to follow still. I thoroughly was intrigued by it.

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2018 Rio Grande Valley Tour - Wait, what...
In the old days, it was neat to travel to see places that you didn't see. Anymore, though, chains try to go nationwide as soon as they can. It wasn't that long ago that you couldn't get Chic-Fil-A, Raising Cains or Five Guys in my part of the country. It wasn't that long ago Jimmy Johns, Steak N Shake, White Castle and Culvers were only regional, and it probably won't be too long before El Pollo Loco or Potbelly Sandwich Works are. One wonders if and which truly regional chains like In-N-Out, Whataburger, Shake Shack, and Bojangles will decide to go bigger of if regional pride means Less is More..

Which brings me to Slim Chickens

Slim Chickens advertises life-changing chicken. Unfortunately, I didn't make it there, though reviews seem to affirm their claim.

But that logo....

Hey, I am a big fan of animal mascots, but generally there is a reason behind them.  The Cows at Chic-Fil-A are trying to save their lives and know that if we eat less hamburgers, they are safe.  Serta's sheep say that their beds put them out of job.

So, Slim Chicken... is ... ummm... a cannibal?

Not that I don't like the idea.  He looks strongly influenced by Robert Johnson and Hank Williams.  Also, that name is a winner, though I doubt anyone under my age knows who Slim Pickens is (though they know a couple of his roles).

But, umm.. what?

I am not comfortable with a chicken advertising a chicken place.  He looks shady AF as I am told the kids say nowadays.

This being the internet, I didn't get to this first.  Here's a blog that reviews the place and is much better than mine in describing that creepy mascot.

But you know, i can't not say something about that.

New Music Initiative 072: Ezra Furman
I am hoping to throw a few new artists in the mix this year. The system that still works best for me is curated music like playlists, or specifically for me, Indie Radio.

This struck me and I had to check him out. This record is a lot better than I expected it to be.

Furman is still fairly young (31), but he's already got about eight albums of material in either by himself or with a backing band.

Furman calls hs new record Transangelic Exodus, a "queer outlaw saga" album. That's the type of statement that might scare a lot of people off, but Furman pulls it off. It's a record that is once a collected story but great individually as songs.

Furman immediately brings to mind those artists that are one-man bedroom projects of genius (Car Seat Headrest, Beirut), but there are strong hints of the Great Three American Songwriters (Dylan, Springsteen, Reed), All weave in and out as his muses.

Allmusic compares him to the eccentric geniuses of the last few decades like Daniel Johnston and Half Japanese. They are not wrong (especially, his love for occasional noise), but I think the comparisons sell him short.

Indeed, the one name that comes up time and time again in Furman reviews is Jonathan Richman. Furman doesn't sound like Richman, but it is probably a good description. There's the strong Velvets influence, the love for the road, a certain eccentricity and neuroticism, and that nerdy voice that outsiders like Richman and Gordon Gano have. But he's not quite Richman. Maybe he's Jojo if Jojo grew up on Tom Waits and Rufus Wainwright records.

Anyway, this is one of those records that not everyone will like, but I am really, really enjoying it.

2018 Rio Grande Valley Tour- That Wall.......
Although we did not cross the border, we did get close to it. There is a community college with the most descriptive name of Texas Southmost. It also is on the grounds of what used to be Fort Brown.

Many of the buildings like the barracks are still standing and are there as historical locations.

I knew the Civil War had made its way to Texas, and that the Western part of the war (Missouri and Arkansas as well) hardly gets any mention.  Per wiki, Rip Ford occupied the fort in 1861 and was run out by Nathaniel Banks in 1863, until Ford and James Slaughter took it back in 1864, and by the end of the war, it was a location that was becoming irrelevant.  Ford won a post-Appomattox battle at Palmito Ranch, considered the last battle of the war.

Brownsville stuck out in my mind, though and I couldn't place it, though obviously the Cub Koda band stuck out.  Then I looked and remembered, one of the truly sad moments of American History, the Brownsville raid.  You can read about it, but the short version is that in 1906, a regiment of Buffalo Soldiers were garrisoned there.  A white bartender in the town was killed and the soldiers blamed.  The soldiers were in the fort all night, but evidence was planted.  A hearing was held, and the testimony of the townspeople was taken.  President Theodore Roosevelt dishonorably discharged 167of the soldiers.  It was only until the 1970s where their good names have been restored and the truth finally won out.

This was also where the first airplane was used in combat to fight Pancho Villa

It is also where the Border Wall is. Despite Trump's insistence that he is building it (and Mexico is paying for it).  There already is a wall in this area and we were able to see it.

MSNBC's picture, not mine.  But it looks a bit like this and it isn't terribly exciting. 
The 18-foot fence was built in 2009 (So under Obama) and is unforgiving in its mission.  Which means that it cuts through a family farm.

Most bizarrely, though (and it's clear from the signs still standing) it goes right through a golf course.

To steal the USA Today headline from last year, the golf course stood no course.  Indeed, the low-cost option golf course which had been owned by a small businessman for 30 years, saw his profits drop wildly when it was voted for in 2006, and put out of business altogether soon after 2011 when it became part of a turf war- his turf being one the US wanted to defend but not protect.

Much of the golf business in this area has always come from “Winter Texans,” visitors from chillier climes who would come chasing reasonably priced rounds and warmer weather. For the most part, they wanted no part of Fort Brown once the difficulties kicked in.

“It is pretty sad,” said Celso Medina, who runs Golf Headquarters, an impressive golf store in Brownsville. “It's a personal thing, (it was) one of my favorite golf courses. That's where I really learned to play the game actually.

“(It was) very affordable mostly for the average person that couldn't afford to play at a country club. It really hurt.”

Lucio gets emotional when he sees the site now. Like Medina and Prepejchal, he remembers fun nights with the guys, when dozens of players would sit and barbecue and knock back beers hours after darkness called a halt to play.

No longer. It has taken just a few years for derelict course equipment to get swallowed by nature. A large pond that once needed to be avoided by players is now dry, with the balls of so many errant shots wedged in the dried mud.

Lucio tried to disguise the fence by putting up a course sign on it, tried to make it look like an entrance and not a stark reminder of political divisions. Perception is king, though, and it didn’t have much impact.

Yet here is the puzzling thing about the course and the border and just the odd nature of the U.S. and its interactions with Mexico. You can easily get onto the course from Mexico by crossing the river. The river is less than 50 feet across in some spots, and the water is usually slow moving.

The fence is there, but there is a gap in it you can drive through. At times the border agents are there, at others they are not, either patrolling the scrubland or just off duty. At those unattended moments, anyone can just walk through and be on the streets of Brownsville within a minute or so.

As Bob Lucio moves through it, he first takes a look back, then across to the fence. He gives a deep sigh and a small shake of his head.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “I didn’t get it then, and I still don’t. I have lived here all my life, and we used to celebrate our joint history with Mexico. When I put my time into the course, it was because I thought I’d be here forever.”


book Review: Unfaithful Music....
Unfaithful Music & Disappearing InkUnfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You can blame Dylan, of course. For many, many years, Tarantula loomed over musicians with a literary bent. If even Bob couldn't write a successful story, what hope did mere mortals have in crossing over into that medium. The success of Chronicles Volume One many years later finally opened the floodgates. There had been exceptions like Leonard Cohen and others; but in recent years we have finally seen those writers we always thought should try the form finally go down that road. The most literate of songwriters have now published - Morrissey, Springsteen, Patti Smith, Steve Earle, Nick Cave, David Byrne and even Prince had started to write a memoir.

So Costello, of course is a no brainer. I consider Costello one of the legends at this point, and I don't think you will get any argument. Indeed, you could probably pick any four years of his life and he could write a book about it- his dad's career, growing up in the 60s British invasion, early 70s folk rock and pub rock, Stiff Records, the late 70s punk scene, the early 80s new wave scene, Nashville leanings, pop success, 90s alternative, late day collaborations with Bert Bacharach and Allen Toussiant, his Spectacle show. All gets covered here.

I would be remiss if I didn't say something about Dancing about Architecture, which of course is here- though as I have read elsewhere probably owes credit more to Martin Mull.

But it's all here, and even someone with a five-decade career can be melted down to five to ten moments we remember, and he gets them - that SNL performance, the Pump it Up video, that particular Ray Charles quote, "guilt and revenge", the Armed Forces sleeve, "Everyday I write the book", the McCartney collab etc. It's all here, but you also get commentary on some of the stuff you forgot about- the Wendy James album, the Specials debut disc, Momofuku, "The Other Side of Summer" video. Then, the stories you haven't heard- sharing a double bill with Eddie Money in the late 70s because the record label thinks you go together, Rising in a tour bus in 78 with Geraldo Rivera as he writes an expose on 'punk rock'. All of the great Stiff Records stories.

It's a fantastic book. First, because it's a fantastic career, but it's also a fantastic person writing it. I have heard some criticisms and I don't believe any of them. One is that is nonlinear. Yes, but it works better this way. Indeed, why not talk about buying a Beatles 45 and transitioning to working on Flowers in the Dirt.

A second criticism is that it is too long, but no complaints from me. This is like that 18 song disc that you have no right complaining about if 14 songs are good. I didn't really not like any of it. Some complained that it doesn't need the family history stuff in it, but that's part of who Costello is, and I thought it was handled well. I also saw the complaint that Cait O'Riordian wasn't covered in enough detail. Costello generally spends the book letting it out there, so respecting Cait is the best decision. He does mention it after getting a jab in at Shane MacGowan (about the only person Costello badmouths in the book) and then follows a mention of the marriage with what are probably the two worst written pages of purple prose I have read in some time.

If you are not a Costello fan, you're not likely to be won over, since much of the book reads like a list of people he got to hang out with- McCartney, Bacharach, Touissant, Solomon Burke, Dylan, Aretha, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, members of Elvis's Confederates and many others. Still, at this point, I think Costello is as worthy as the people on the list. Also, of note, I am glad that I followed Spectacle when it was on tv. It was underappreciated, and probably would have been a smash in a post-Hulu/Netflix world.

I really loved this book, and though it did take a while to read at nearly 700 pages, I thought it was fantastic. I would read any detours Costello might make in writing about the music in his life or if he wanted to delve back into certain chapters of his life.

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Comics Review: Shadowman
Shadowman (2018) #1 (The Shadowman (2018))Shadowman (2018) #1 (The Shadowman by Andy Diggle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Issue #1- I picked this up because I always feel I need to support the indies. My Comic Book Guy usually goes a bit thin on indie titles, and though I wish he wouldn't; I can understand he doesn't want to pick up books that don't sell. That said, Valiant comics seem to do really very well for him. Most of all though, I do generally like Diggle, so figured this was a safer bet than some.

I remember Acclaim back in the day when they launched the Shadowman title in the 90s (one of a few attempts). It was Garth Ennis at his height of creative powers paired with Ashley Wood, when he would be considered revolutionary. I don't really remember much except it was one of those big Indie pushes that seems to collapse almost at launch. Ennis was gone in four issues and Jamie Delano took over, and I collected it for awhile until I didn't.

This comic probably doesn't have much to do with that, but we get some very introductory looks at this universe. Nothing really struck me in the 30 seconds I thumbed through it at the store, but now having set down to read it, Diggle does a decent job. It's a cajun flavored horror story. Surely, there's been others that have been down this road- Moore's Voodoo, Morrison's Invisibles, as well as Hellblazer, the Mignolaverse, Straczinski's work and many others, not to mention True Blood being the go-to reference for cajun horror.

It stays pretty close to a comic book template. Much closer to Doctor Strange or Swamp Thing or even Iron Fist than Morrison's Jim Crow or Moore's Voodoo.

I do like that there is some meat to the story. My initial worry was that Diggle might not be invested enough to flesh it out. While I don't know that it presses the envelope, I did feel satisfied enough that I picked it up and feel it is worth continuing to buy.

I am not necessarily a fan of Stephen Segovia's art for the Big 2 publishers, but he works well in this realm with the appropriate feel given by Ulises Arreola's colors. The covers are pretty striking too.

I doubt this will ever be considered an essential title to buy, but I will go along for the ride.

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On the Shelf 194: Fischerspooner
I have a soft spot for music in the 2003-2005 time frame. I bring it up because Fischerspooner has returned with their first new record in a decade.

Electronic music usually gets short shrift. With rare exception (and usually from the British press), truly great artists like OMD, Gary Numan, the Pet Shop Boys, The Prodigy and Daft Punk generally get passed over for two guitars-bass-and drum bands. Even pioneers like Kraftwerk, New Order and Depeche Mode usually get bumped out of the conversation which praises guitar-centric bands like U2 and The Clash. Revolutionary industrial bands like Ministry, Frontline Assembly and KMFDM get excluded for the same reason, and some really inventive techno bands took a back seat to the Blur-Oasis rock bands of their day. Sure, Moby had his day, but the press hasn't been interested in him for years, despite his continuing to release great music.

2003-2005 was Fischerspooner's high point and they were heralded as the banner carriers for a new wave inspired genre which included a variety of bands on a spectrum of rock to dance. Helping hold the banner were Peaches, Chicks on Speed, The Faint, Ladytron, Adult., Soviet, Rokysopp, Miss Kittin, and Felix da Housecat. Goldfrap was in the influence, as was Le Tigre. The Killers certainly were born of the same sensibilities as was Lady Gaga. There were plenty of other things going on that drew from the same pool of influence as well- whether it was New York indie (the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol) or UK indie (Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, Editors, Bloc Party, Maximo Park, the Futureheads). Not to mention it was also a high point for darkwave (VNV Nation, She Wants Revenge, Apoptygma Berzerk)

Naively in retrospect, I thought Fischerspooner would grab the audience in a big way, including those who normally trended towards guitar rock. I say naive, as I look back at those old reviews, and there were a lot of harsh critics, and they were compared to Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Slate called #1 the worst album of the year and Q threw it on a list of worst albums of all time along with Milli Vanilli, Vanilla Ice, Billy Ray Cyrus, William Shatner and Music from the Elder.

Indeed, perhaps I might not be able to make a case for that first album #1, though i think it's great, it's a very, for lack of a better word, "gay" album. 2005's "Odyssey" though, I still will make a case for with songs like "Never Win", "A Kick in the Teeth" and "Just Let Go". Those particular songs would sound great on any number of branded playlists.

A decade has passed since we heard from the band. One can't help but notice the fact that EDM has went mainstream. Although there is nothing similar to any of those great electroclash bands of the oughts, the Top 40 is dominated by the likes of the Chainsmokers, Tiesto, Zedd, Martin Garrix, Diplo and many others.

Sir, at once sounds like the band, but also fresh. But it is a different band. Much has been made of the fact that Michael Stipe has produced the album. Indeed, as expected, there is an intense focus on the lyrics. However, we are forgetting that the band always was interested in lyrics ("We need a War" anyone).

Unsurprisingly, the album is a bit of a downer, even if follows through on the sound of their debut. No longer the carefree partygoer of their 20s, but the 30 year old who has since experienced all of the scene has offered. The band takes it to obvious lyrical extremes withe the closer which could be a modern day City of Night.

Reviews have been mixed. I don't have any delusions that this will cross over. It is very much Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, indeed perhaps one of the most appropriately categorized album of those words since the Soft Cell album of that time.

That will be the dividing line. It's not as accessible as Odyssey, and is very much in line with their debut- a heavy breathing, behind the club exit experience.

I did like the review from NPR that calls this the best Depeche Mode album of the 2000s. Indeed, the last few DM albums haven't clicked with me like this album, which at least seems fresh.

All of the sex and erotica can be hard to sell, and it reminds me of 90s era Prince at times (take the song "Discrete"). Indeed, it sounds much of like Prince was recording in the 90s sonically, but also metaphorically, not as effortless as 80s Prince, but much more listenable than oughts-Prince.

Personally, given the question every reviewer seems to attach to this record, "Was it worth the wait?". i will say Yes. I will say it is good to have them back, for sure. Also, this probably won't appeal to anyone outside of their tightest band of fanbase, but I am someone that falls in that category.

There are plenty of nsfw lyrics on the album, so be warned when streaming tracks. Also, you may be forced to explain that album cover.

2018 Twisting Through a Dusty Land tour- What do you mean 'we', kemo sabe?
We made our vacation for 2018 centered around the Rio Grande Valley. This is where we went in 2014 and I blogged about it then. Papa Bedsitter was down there, so that was the reason for the visit.

I won't blog about the same stuff since this isn't a different visit, but do want to hit some of the main observations I had. There are two figures that are revered in this area (Harlingen-Brownsville-McAllen). One is Harlan Block. Block was born in Harlingen and was one of the soldiers along with Ira Hayes raising the flag at Iwo Jima. (Iwo Jima looms large in Harlingen. There is a statue that was the original sculpture for the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington). The other is Freddy Fender, a legend in tejano music as well as country music, who was born in and buried in San Benito.

There is history here. The first battle of the Mexican War was here. The US with Zachary Taylor pushed the Mexicans south and would set up in Port Isabel. The Texans would fight again in Matamoros, which is just across the border. In 1863, the Union took the Confederates at the Battle of Brownsville and able to significantly disrupt the Confederacy's trade routes.

I have covered some of that stuff before, so I will try to keep these posts pertinent to this trip.

In 2018, there's not much difference in place to place. When I was kid, it seemed like it was a new world to travel somewhere where everything was new. Now, there are Wal-Marts everywhere, Walgreens on every corner, and once a restaurant pops up, they almost immediately try to go national.

Which isn't to say, there are some things about Texas. There's HEB, Whataburger and Raising Cains, all places I rate highly. Things are different, of course. There is a sense of Mexico to the place. There's a bit of Florida and California too, and those places where they have prospered and maybe failed. There's palm trees. There's onion fields and sugar cane fields. With sugar cane, they grow it, and when it's grown, they burn the fields, thus removing the leaves and only leaving that hard cane.

There's Spanish style homes, often with an outdoor pool. Where we went, it's hardly ever cold, even warmer than the usually warm climes of Houston and Dallas northbound.

People are strange when you are a stranger. Bill Shakespeare wrote that, and it's true, so every place is filled with ads for attorneys and car dealers and none is more ubiquitous in South Texas than Charlie Clark.

Every successful car dealer has a story, but Clark's a bit interesting than most. A quick google search will tell you what you would probably lead with if you were writing a business magazine- that Clark makes terribly outdated ads.

By outdated, I mean racist- Clark has dressed up as Tonto as recently as 2013 complete with broken English and rain dance, and that was only one in a long line that includes pokes at Asians and Italians.  Indeed, Clark calls himself the Green Ghost (if it's not obvious, it sounds like "gringo".)

Yet, although I could end the story there, it's not that simple.  Clark seems to be loved in the area.  His Green Ghost character is a decade strong.  That character is paired with his childhood nanny, an 80+ year old Mexican woman he calls his 'pau-pau'.  Clark speaks Spanish in his ads, supports a  gospel show, and even developed a television show for his characters which shows on Spanish-language television in the area.

It's a bizarre mix for success.  I suppose he's the crazy South Texas car dealer, but he's their crazy car dealer.  Like Jerry Lawler in Memphis, he appears to be above reproach.

It is also an American success story, which is why he is not only the guy who took over a failing car dealership about 20 years ago to the most ubiquitous face in the Rio Grande Valley, and they are writing about him in the Wall Street Journal

2017 Winter of our Content Mini-Tour- The Quiet One
I am quite sure I have blogged on this before, but worth revisiting, since I drove past Benton, Illinois for the first time in years and saw this:

This mural is just off the interstate and advertises Benton as a special destination for Beatles fans.

The short version of the story is Benton was where George Harrison's cousin, Louise lived, and George visited her on vacation in September.

The cynical part of me takes over and says who cares where George spent a couple of weeks.  It's not exactly like it's Liverpool or Tupelo or Athens or Aberdeen.

But the truth is if you do a bit of digging, even the most cynical would admit it makes for a cool story.

Benton is about 8000 people, and the 21st smalltown America tourist economy seems to be driven by the same things- wineries, antique shops, bed and breakfasts and generally somebody trying to cash in on the paranormal.

This is a pretty unique thing to Benton and it's pretty cool.

It's important to look at a calendar for perspective.  February 1964 was when Beatlemania hit America.

Here is George, a stranger in town.  Also radio was much different back then.  Louise is credited (with some argument) with getting the first Beatle record on the air in America in July of that year.

George went to the local radio station, was interviewed by the DJ and they spun "She Loves You" which was about a month old and a hit in the UK.

Gerorge hit record stores and music shops.  He bought Green Onions and Bobby Bland records and bought a 1962 Rickenbacher in Mount Vernon, Illinois.  He also bought a contemporary single, you may have heard of - James Ray's "Got my Mind Set on You".

He played a couple of gigs with local band The Four Vests playing one in Benton and one in Eldorado (as well as Louise's living room).  One gig was most Hank Williams songs with a few Beatles songs thrown in.  The other at the Eldorado VFW Hall in front of a crowd of about 75 featured the rock standards the Beatles would have loved- Johnny B Goode, Matchbox, and Roll Over Beethoven.

This article adds a few more details to the story and is a good read, including a story of George losing his wallet, and visiting the Garden of Gods state park.

To me, I get a little buzz about reading about this and knowing that George was in the same area I grew up near.  I will have to check out the museum at a later date.


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