Courting the Good Life

This article by me 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

Any good sales person will tell you you need to push a product while it’s hot. That’s why, with the Washington Wizards in the NBA playoffs for the 1st time in 6 years, it wasn’t surprising that the Verizon Center was offering private, personalized visits to encourage wealthy fans to buy complete playoff and full season ticket packages.

But what was surprising is that I got one of the invites. As a retired journalist and educator who now blogs about DC, I don’t fit the profile of a DC-area elite. But hey – what’s the old saying: you don’t look a gift to spend an hour touring the Verizon Center in the mouth.

So with my wife Judy (who makes all the financial decisions for our family and I was still hoping that maybe I could see the playoff games for the $21 I had in my wallet) we headed by Metro (what did you expect – a chauffeur-driven limousine?) to the Center, which serves as the home for the Wizards, the ice hockey Capitals, the WNBA Mystics, and the Georgetown Hoyas basketball team.

We were met by our young, enthusiastic sales rep. I was upfront with him. I told him unless he had a $21-dollar package for the playoffs I wouldn’t be buying. I was fairly certain of his response since I had spent much more for a sandwich dinner at the venue at a recent Sting/ Paul Simon concert. I prepared to head back out the door.

Instead, he offered a huge table of free refreshment (where was he at that Sting/Simon concert?) and proceeded to give us an engaging tour of the facility he knew extremely well. I told him I would be blogging about the visit and he had only one request – I couldn’t use his name since he couldn’t be quoted in an official capacity for the organization. So for the sake of this blog, I will call our guide RGS (for really good salesperson).

We started at the top of the facility with the private and corporate boxes with their big screen TVs and individual bathrooms.  We moved down the sections, where still-available playoff seats were marked in white. We explored the 3 private clubs for season ticket holders, each one bigger than the next. One is located in the bowels of the building so you can feel even more a part of the action. In that section, we saw the stored-section-by-section floor for basketball and the zambonis that fix up the ice at hockey games. We visited the locker room areas. We even saw the in-site parking space for owner Ted Leonis.

RGS then escorted us down to court side. We sat at the scorer’s table. We sat in several different court side seats. And, may I say, the court side experience is much different than the in-the-heavens view I usually get.  My wife gave me her now-don’t-get-used-to-this-kind-of-life-look. I knew she was right, but for a second or two, I closed my eyes and imagined what sports is like when springing for court side seats is no financial barrier.

RGS asked us if we had any final questions. We said we didn’t and shook hands. Our tour was over.

But then a strange thing happened. As underdogs, the Wizards won both their away playoff games in Chicago against the Bulls. That means they will be returning tonight to the Verizon Center with a 2-0 lead in the best of 7 series. It also means that since my visit to the Center the Wizards are undefeated.

Now the sports world is well-known for its emphasis on lucky signs. Maybe I am one for the Wizards. So Mr. Ted Leonis, I have a special offer for you. I would be willing to become a season-ticket holder. Your salesperson RGS already gave me a great taste of what that life is like. I am sure I would be able to handle it.

Now I realize you are a business man. I am not asking for a free handout. I would be willing to pay $17.76 cents for the package. I would have paid you $21, but I bought an Arizona diet green tea drink.

I think you should seriously consider my offer. Imagine how much money you would make with an undefeated team. For a $17.76 outlay, that would be quite a bargain. In fact, that would make you one of the world’s great financial wizards. I will wait your reply. By the way, I am also available for the Caps and the Mystics if you want to try for an undefeated trifecta.

A Hairy Tale of 2 Jersey Boys

2 Jersey Boys – Bruces Springsteen and me – getting together in Georgia

This article article is part of an ongoing series of life in the Pandemic 2020

By Dave Price (5/29)

While this current worldwide pandemic has been both terrifying and deadly, it has been teaching us just how much we have in common. For the coronavirus is no respecter of status, talent, wealth, or fame – it is an equal opportunity presenter of problems.

Take the case of Bruce Springsteen and me.

Now even before the COVID-19 crisis, Mr. Springsteen and myself shared several things in common. We are both Baby Boomers, although at age 70 Bruce is two years older than me. We were both born in New Jersey. We both spent our teenage years playing dances at our high school and then performing at clubs and bars at the Jersey shore. In the 1970s, we both had concert shows at Villanova University, where I graduated in 1973.

But then our careers diverged. Bruce Springsteen went on to become one of the leading rock stars in music history. Because of his prodigious talent, Bruce accumulated status, wealth, and fame. Because of my lack of his talent, I was reduced to playing keyboard as a sideline in some of New Jersey’s always loud, but never legendary classic rock cover bands.

But now Bruce and I have been reunited. Because of the widespread closings as America tries to control the spread of .the coronavirus, we have both been forced to have our wives cut our hair.

Actually, this is not the first time Judy has been my barber. From 1971 until I began my reporting in 1974, she would be the sole person responsible for periodically (as in rarely) trimming my hair.

The mid 1970’s however was the time period was where our two roads began to diverge. While I was enjoying my $80-a-week first journalism job, Bruce signed a big record company advance, a deal he sings about in some detail in his beloved song “Rosalita”.

But now, as I mentioned earlier, our hair, at least as far as cutting it is concerned, has reunited us once again.

Here is the cut that Jersey girl Patti gave Bruce.

And here is the trim that Jersey girl Judy gave me. Uh-oh … that’s Judy’s  psycho look. Oh no … I think she’s going to stab me.

Of course, even there, you have to offer Bruce the upper hand. His haircut made the national news. I had to write this article myself to even let anybody know that Judy was back to cutting my hair.
But that’s not at all bad. As everyone from Jersey knows, Bruce is the Boss, and as I can’t think of anyone else who I would rather have eclipse – or maybe in this case e-clips – me than Bruce Springsteen.

Of yeah. If you get around to reading this Bruce, you have promised to throw the biggest party ever when we can finally get back to live performances. And you know I’ll be there. Maybe before or after the show, we can get together and compare haircuts.

Chirping About a Cricket Contest

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

I had intended just to come, eat a few bugs, and blog about it. But then I saw the sign. “Next … Cricket Eating Competition 1:15 p.m.,” it said. “Your participation is a $20 donation to DC Central Kitchen. Win Prizes.”

It really didn’t take a lot of consideration. I had already downed a grasshopper burger and 2 big helpings of savory bugs, so I had no aversion to adding crickets to the list. I think DC Central Kitchen is one of the city’s best charities, so that was attractive.

And while I would be a newbie to the world of competitive cricket eating, I did have some experience in related fields. As a young reporter doing a 1st-person story, I had been the July 4th South Jersey watermelon seed spitting champion back in the 1980s for all of 2 hours until my record was broken.  And, since retiring to DC, I had blogged about the 2012 July 4th Z-Burger battle bash.

As I finished the last bites of a grasshopper burger, I told my wife to sign me up.

I took my seat at the table with about 20 other competitors. On my right was a legislative aide from Capitol Hill. On my left was a young Environmental Protection Agency worker.  Both gave me some pause for concern. I mean who knows more about bugging than the government. And the EPA deals all the time with environmental pests. But I actually thought my toughest competition might come from the recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who said he loved to compete in eating contests.

The head judge, who came all the way from England (or at least had a British accent) gave the directions. They seemed simple enough. We would each be handed 3 small cups of dried crickets. The winner would be the person who downed all 3 cups the quickest. If any crickets spilled on the table, you would have to consume those, too. You would have to raise your hand and then open your mouth to prove that all the insects had been completely swallowed. You couldn’t drink anything while eating.

The judge asked if we were ready. We all nodded. “Alright begin,” he said.

I learned quite a bit about cricket consuming in the next 3 minutes. First, there are almost as many ways of eating crickets in a cricket-eating competition as there are crickets. There is the dainty, grab one-by-one style. There is the 2-handed, 2-cup plunge. There is the dump-the-whole-cup down-at-once and then try to swallow method.

Then there are the faces of the contestants. They are interesting to say the least. They are also distracting. In fact, I became more interested in watching the faces than I did in eating. Or at least that is what I told myself. Actually, I realized after my 1st cup of crickets that I wasn’t cut out for hard-core cricket chomping and chewing. I did manage to down a 2nd cup. But by that time, the winner had long finished and I was battling for a 2nd or 3rd place finish that I really didn’t have the stomach for.

But even though I emerged beaten, I was not downhearted for long. A few steps away was the perfect cure for taking the sting out of a lost bug battle – I grabbed another of Chef Scruggs’ really tasty grasshopper burgers. However not before having 2 glasses of water and a Coke. If nothing else, I now knew that cricket eating is the saltiest work this side of competitive salt-shaker downing.

You Shouldn’t Let Eating a Few Insects Bug You

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

The 2 young women, dressed in fashionable summer DC office attire, looked down at the red napkin being held in front of them. The napkin contained today’s featured appetizers – Mexican spice mealworms, roasted mealworms, roasted crickets, and roasted locusts.

“How do they taste?” one of the women asked, making a face. “Are they yucky?”

“No, they are really crispy. And salty,” the man replied before slipping a small handful of the insects into his mouth.

Such conversations were the order of the day yesterday on the outdoor dining patio of the Occidental Seafood and Grill on Pennsylvania Avenue, which was serving as the site of a 3-hour, pop-up Pestaurant offering a menu consisting entirely of cooked insects.

The event, which was titled “Pestaurant on Pennsey,” was sponsored by Ehrlich, a DC-area pest control company. The 1st  Pestaurant event was held last year in London. This year the DC lunch at the Occidental was one of 12 locations around the globe that were offering insect dining.

Company officials said that one reason for the worldwide event was to try to make bugs and insects a little more appetizing to the general public. A 2013 report from the Unite Nations called consumer disgust “one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries”. It also named “insect farming” as a potential way to “address food and feed insecurity” across the world.

But the free fun afternoon lunch also had a more immediate social impact. Erlich donated $5 to DC Central Kitchen, an organization which feeds the homeless and the poor, for every person who sampled bugs from the 3 insect-laden tables.

On the savory table, the wait staff was serving roasted crickets, Mexican spice mealworms, roasted mealworms, buffalo worms, and roasted locusts. On the sweet table, the offerings included scorpion lollipops, chocolate ant rounds,  mealworm lollipops, ant candy, and ant and cricket lollipops.

But, by far, the biggest culinary hit of the afternoon was the tasty grasshopper burgers created by Occidental executive chef Rodney Scruggs. He said his burgers were a combination of turkey, grasshopper, and a secret ingredient. “You always have to have a secret ingredient,” he joked. He explained that the grasshoppers used in the burgers reminded him of dry mushrooms. “I could see them pairing well with a really old wine,” Scruggs said. The chef explained that after much consultation dried grasshoppers were added to give the burger “a little extra crunch.” He said that since grasshoppers are a staple south of the border, he topped his creation off with a special salsa.

As television, print, and online cameramen recorded the scene, Scruggs said the environmental and charitable focus of the event appealed to the restaurant. “It’s for good causes, but it’s playful, fun, and whimsical, too,” he said. “It’s really a win-win for everyone”.

Notes on Woodstock 2019 – Day 2

Early Afternoon

Since we had spent 11 hours at the Bethel Hills site yesterday, we decided not to go early today. At noon, we went to lunch at the Two Rivers Grill in Matadoras, Pennsylvania where we staying. There we met my new favorite waitress, Lisa, who had just started work that week. For a few years now, if my wife Judy and I order dessert, we share. I’ve made it a standing joke to ask our servers to bring Judy a smaller fork or spoon so that I can get more of the dessert. Today, Lisa complied. But there was a twist. She brought the smaller fork for me, explaining that Judy, as a female, deserved the larger portion. Our dessert was delicious. It was fresh-baked caramel covered apple pie (neighboring upstate New York is known not only as the original home of Woodstock, but also for its apples) with home-made vanilla ice cream. And I don’t even like apple pie.

On the elevator at the Hampton Inn we met a Buffalo couple, Maria and Gunner, who had just arrived that morning and were going to the Woodstock for the first time. They asked us several questions, and since we all had lawn seats for the Santana performance, we asked them if they wanted to travel to the Bethel site with us. They said that would be great and the four of us were on the road by 3 p.m.

While Gunner and Maria wandered around taking in the atmosphere and the sights that we had been exposed to yesterday, Judy and I decided to focus on a just a couple of exhibits.

First up was the Light Bus, a version of which had actually made the journey to the original 1969 festival. In fact, the bus itself has a storied history. In 1968, Bob Grimm, who was then playing in a rock band named Light, asked his friend Robert Hieronymus to “paint us a magic bus”. Heronimus immediately got to work transforming a 1963 split window VW Kombi bus into a vehicle covered with esoteric symbols to welcome in to what was then being called a new Aquarian Age.

Like Ken Kesey and his fellow pranksters on their famed bus Further, Grimm and his friends made the trip across country in 1969 to Woodstock. Their painted bus was featured in an AP Woodstock photo that appeared in newspaper’s around America. Based on that photo, the bus began appearing in all kinds of publications and became a a talismanic of the peace and love portion of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

In 1972, the bus was used to run errands for the Savitra commune in Baltimore. Within a short time, the now decaying bus became unusable. However, in 2009, as part of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, a limited edition diecast model replica of the Light Bus was a popular best-seller.

In 2018, Hironimus and a team of artists restored a 1962 Kombi VW bus in a secluded barn in Maryland. Now, that restoration was drawing big crowds, most of whom wanted to get the pictures taken with the Light Bus in the background.

Next, I headed to Recovery Unplugged tent to talk Jim, a recovering alcoholic police officer from my home state of New Jersey who I had chatted with briefly yesterday. He was at Woodstock at a representative of the music-based alcohol and drug treatment program Recovery Unplugged offers at its facilities in Lake Worth and Fort Lauderdale in Florida and northern Virginia. A fourth facility is expected to open soon in Nashville.

Jim explained that Recovery Unplugged are pioneers in music-based addiction treatment. “Actually, our C.A.C. is the man who literally wrote the book on music-based addiction,” Jim explained, pointing out Paul Pellinger’s book about the story of Recovery Unplugged Music Is Our Medicine. Several musicians including Steven Tyler and Richie Supa of Aerosmith, Morris Day of the Time, and the rapper Flo-Rida are associated with the program.

While we were talking, a Bethel Woods worker approached and told Jim that he and his fellow workers would have to take down their tent and secure all the Recovery Unplugged items as a severe storm was expected to strike the area in about half-an-hour.

Judy and I decided to seek shelter in the Woodstock Museum until the storm passed. We focused on two of the exhibits, one explaining in depth the background of all the artists who performed at the first Woodstock festival and the other a temporary exhibit We Are Golden: Reflections on the 50th Anniversary Festival and Aspirations for a Peaceful Future.

The special exhibition features a collection of of authentic Woodstock artifacts including Jack Cassidy of Jefferson Airplane’s bass guitar and the tunic he wore, handwritten lyrics for the song “Goin’ Up the Country” by Alan Wilson of Canned Heat, and a speaker cabinet and missing equipment used by Bill Hanley, whose work established the standard for outdoor concert sound.

Other sections included Voices from the Past, which presented first-person commentary about changing American society in the 1960s; Woodstock Remembered, first person accounts from people who attended the historic three-day festival; Woodstock Through the Lens, a collection of photos taken at the festival; and What the World Needs Now, an interactive exhibit tat engaged participants in conversations about what they want from society today and how the experiences from 50 years ago could inform attitudes, decision-making, and actions today.

Night

While we were inside, the threatened severe storm never materialized and we headed to the amphitheater lawn to meet Gunner and Maria and enjoy in tonight’s concert with The Doobie Brothers and Santana, with its leader Carlos Santana whose musical breakthrough came from the song “Soul Sacrifice” which was featured in the award-winning 1970 documentary on Woodstock.

Of course, the original Woodstock was plagued by incessant rain storms that turned the festival fields into veritable seas of mud and mess. In fact, one of the lasting moments from the film featured the crowd shouting the “No Rain, No Rain” chant which provided the segue into Santana’s energetic performance.

Well, as if to prove the musical gods have a sense of both history and irony, after the Doobie Brothers concluded their set (which included their huge hits “Listen to the Music”, “Jesus Is Just Alright,” “Long Train Runnin,” and “China Grove,” as well as my all-time favorite Doobie’s tune “Ukiah,” lighting flashed and thunder rolled. Those of us in the amphitheater (which has a reported capacity of 16,200 but on this Saturday night, was estimated to be far more than 20,000) prepared for bad weather, and, indeed just minutes before Carlos Santana and his current band were scheduled to take the stage, rain began falling.

As they have on this tour all summer, Santana was paying tribute both to Woodstock and the 50th anniversary of his band. With an explosion of noise from the crowd, a precoded version of the rain chant from the Woodstock burst from the speakers and, once on stage, the band broke into three songs that became their standards from their initial Woodstock debut – “Soul Sacrifice,” Jin-go-lo-ba,” and “Evil Ways”. Now, while it is true you can’t go home again, or as the Chinese put it, you can’t put you feet in the same river twice, that Santana there-song opening was about as close as you can get if you had been one of the estimated 400,000 who attended Woodstock in 1969.

Complete Set List for Santana at Woodstock 2019

  1. Woodstock IntroPlay Video
  2. Soul Sacrifice(with ‘Light My Fire’ tease)Play Video
  3. Jin-go-lo-ba(Babatunde Olatunji cover)Play Video
  4. Evil Ways / A Love SupremePlay Video
  5. (Da Le) YaleoPlay Video
  6. Put Your Lights OnPlay Video
  7. Exodus (Bob Marley & The Wailers cover) (with The Doobie Brothers) (with ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ and ‘… more )Play Video
  8. Black Magic Woman / Gypsy QueenPlay Video
  9. Oye como va(Tito Puente cover)Play Video
  10. Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile) Play Video
  11. Happy Birthday to You(Mildred J. Hill & Patty Hill cover) (for band member and roadie… more ) Play Video
  12. Imagine (John Lennon cover) (Cindy Blackman Santana on lead vocals) Play Video
  13. Hope You’re Feeling Better (with rap interlude and blues outro)Play Video
  14. Total Destruction to Your Mind (Swamp Dogg cover) (with ‘Miss You’ tease, ‘(I… more )Play Video
  15. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (The Jimi Hendrix Experience cover)Play Video
  16. Breaking Down the Door Play Video
  17. Corazón espinado Play Video
  18. Maria Maria Play Video
  19. Foo Foo Play Video
  20. Encore:
  21. Are You Ready (The Chambers Brothers cover) (with Cindy Blackman Santana drum solo) Play Video
  22. Smooth Play Video
  23. Peace Love and Happiness (with band introductions; with… more ) Play Video
  24. Get Together(The Youngbloods cover)