A New Project – Popp Over America

Yes, I realize I have some gaps from Summer Tour 2013 to fill in this blog and I am slowly catching up. I have received a lot of messages to the effect of “How does it end?” I promise to get caught up soon. I just put up a post about the sale of the Brick back in October of 2013.

Sale? Yes, I currently have no motorcycle. But I rented several bikes from Jupiter’s Motorcycle Rental in 2014 and took several great trips including Montreal. I have been enjoying riding different types and styles of machinery.

But the really big news is that I have a motorcycle project brewing! It’s a TV show I am going to create called Popp Over America. The show will chronicle a non-stop 48-state tour as a singer-songwriter on a a motorcycle. I am also riding to raise awareness Multiple Sclerosis a disease that affects my girlfriend Jenny, as well as over 400,000 other in the U.S.A. So please watch the video and click here support us on Kickstarter. No donation is too small!

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Saying Goodbye…

I just did the one thing I said I would not do. I sold the Brick. After my Summer Tour of 2013, I returned to New York City to find a letter in my mailbox that indicated a brutal rent increase to my already high rent. I have not had a raise from CCNY where I work in over 4 years so I had to minimize expenses or go bankrupt. I relocated to a cheaper apartment – a basement right across from Central Park with a great view of the garbage and recycling bins.

I reluctantly listed the Brick for $2200 ($200 less than my purchase price) with some nice pics on Craig’s List. After a few days of early bites and low-ball offers, a serious customer named Greg came to see the bike. He had owned a BMW K75 before and knew of the dependability of the machine. I had no selling to do. I had already taken off the Corbin seat and sold that separately. He wanted to test ride the bike. I said, “You’ll have to put the cash in my hand just in case anything happens.” Greg agreed, handed me an envelope stuffed with bills, fired up the bike, and shot down Central Park West. I saw him lock the rear brake and get a little sideways. “What have I done?” I said to myself.

Greg pulled in from around the block and called it a done deal. I signed over the title, gave him a few doodads that went along with the bike and just like that, she was gone. I bought the Brick on April of 2012 and sold her today on October 9th, 2013. A year-and-a-half of a lot of fun times and 14,000 miles together.

I bought the bike to help heal my soul after a broken engagement and the Brick did her job. Nothing calmed me more than ticking off miles through the mountains of upstate New York. I took the bike on my first ever cross country trip in 2012 and did another East Coast tour in the summer of 2013. The Brick never let me down. Not once. She started with the first press of the stater button every single time. Riding the bike helped me to let go of a lot of past pain and on this day of the sale I wasn’t as sad as I thought I would be.

The Brick moves on to another owner for more new adventures. There’s plenty of miles left on the bike due to my (and the previous owner’s) militant servicing. She will serve Greg well.

So farewell old friend, and as in the ending of the movie Raising Arizona, I have a foggy dream that our paths will cross again to someday to ride through mountains, along oceans, and on race tracks and eventually fulfilling the never-ending journey towards inner peace.

 

joeandgreg

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East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 12 – Saint Petersburg, Florida to Tampa, Florida

While I was still slumbering on the enormo-couch, I heard Martin clacking away on his iMac. He has his own catalog company called Catalog First that he has worked very hard to develop and grow. His energy for everything he does is boundless. When we played in a band together, I was amazed at the amount of press releases, posters, and flyers he could complete while still maintaining a full-time gig. He puts the same energy into his home and his family by constantly updating his house and serving as a coach, dunking booth clown, and supporter of his two boys various activities. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t envious. Martin’s path in life has been steadfast and linear, while mine has been jagged and disjointed, a series of shortcuts that never worked out. I’m the guy that would always skip college when playing the board game of Life. I never finished college in my real life either, my schooling being interrupted by the week’s latest dream. I have to accept this is who I am. I still dream. I still have goals to make my mark on the world, but I could certainly use a good dose of Martin’s steadfastness.

I packed up my things and headed out to the Brick. I had Martin’s family all get on the bike for pictures. His older boy Canon refused to get on the bike. I tried to convince him how cool the picture would be, but his mind was made up. Perhaps he wants nothing to do with a future of riding long distances alone across America.

I consulted Yelp for the latest cool coffee shop in downtown St. Pete and arrived at a place on Central Avenue called Kahwa. The joint was bustling with people reading papers and iPads, and the smell of fresh brewed coffee filled my nose. I ran into an old acquaintance, Paul Wilborn as I had my morning joe. Paul, a musician and the executive director of the performance space The Palladium, was a great supporter of mine back when I lived in Tampa 13 years ago. He mentioned an idea to get a bunch of Tampa stalwarts from the old music scene and put on a show at the Palladium. I agreed out loud that it would be cool, but then I thought to myself, “Who would come?” I fast forwarded to the show I was playing tonight at The New World Brewery and wondered if anybody would show.

I said goodbye to Paul and walked around for a bit. I came upon a venue called Club Detroit where my band, Joe Popp, used to play in the mid 1990s. I laughed thinking about the time a potato salad fight broke out at a show we did at the club. I had jokingly spit at Todd Tedder, a member of another band Helium Bomb, while I was on stage. He then ran back to the green room and grabbed a huge bowl of potato salad. He brought the side dish to the lip of the stage, looked me in the eye, and then upward at a spinning ceiling fan. A huge grin came over his face and he then hurled the bowl toward the fan. Potato salad spattered everywhere and the crowd started scooping it up and chucking it at us on stage. It was like a potato salad hailstorm. Other objects were also thrown. Jeff Wood our drummer got pelted with a beer bottle and stopped playing to scold the audience, but then returned to the kit and laughed off the newly acquired lump on his noggin. In the audience was Jose Tillan, who would would later agree to manage the band. I have amassed such an incredible collection of memories filled with hilarious moments like the great potato salad fight of Club Detroit. I have led an amazing life.

I decided to go to a well known watering hole called Mastry’s, even though it was just after 11am. I remember coming to this bar before performances of a rock musical version of Macbeth that I did for the American Stage theater company at nearby Demens landing on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront. My eponymous band performed the show for 5 weeks serving as the play’s wicked witches. We broke box office records that still stand to this day with our punk treatment of the Bard’s Scottish play. Over 20,000 people saw the show and local history regards the performance as a success. But during the run, I received a horrible review from a local writer Marty Clear who considered the show the worst play he ever saw in the Tampa Bay Area in recent history. I considered Marty a friend until the review. He actually called me to apologize after he wrote the screed in which he also compared me to Elmer Fudd, but the wound was already deep. The review threw my confidence as my band had been darlings of the press until that point. I believe the review started a downward spiral for me into a deep depression. I have always struggled with depression since I was a young boy and I felt it taking root again as I aged.

About a month after the Macbeth wrapped in June of 1997, I quit the band. I was feeling old at 32 years of age and my debt had piled up. I was tired of driving around in a crappy van and trying to build an audience. I lost sight of my rock star dream – one that I had since the age of 5. We had great triumphs, opening for great acts such as Cheap Trick, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Mike Watt, and Seaweed, but after 2 years of playing and touring like madmen, the rumors of us being signed were soon hushed. I overheard that Ric Ocasek from The Cars who was producing bands at the time, passed on us because we looked too old. We had some clutch gigs in the works like playing the Florida dates for the Van’s Warped Tour, but I was just done. Reflecting on it all, maybe I left too soon, but leaving was what I needed to do.

The blues crept in as I sipped from the small glass of draft Bud Light. There were two other guys in the bar talking to each other about divorce. I thought of my past relationships, but beat back the sad thoughts by firing jokes over to the two guys. They laughed as I comically disparaged the holy sacrament of marriage. “Why do you want to get divorced? Do you want to have sex again?” I tossed to them already in full belly laugh from my other pointed witticisms. I thought about Nicole my girlfriend. I thought about the troubles she had been through with her ex. I thought about how far away her South Orange home was away from me in NYC, and her two kids, and how it will probably be too much for me to handle. But I bucked up and vowed I would try.

I peeled myself from the bar after just one beer. I didn’t want to pile up the Brick before the gig I was scheduled to play later in the evening. I drove over to Demens Landing and walked on the actual spot where the enormous stage was set up for Macbeth 15 years ago. I felt like a king of that stage and recalled that even though the play was bashed by a few critics, the area’s most prominent reviewer, John Fleming considered it the number one theatrical event of the year – even above some national theater tours. I smiled to myself. I had done a great thing that a lot of people saw.

With my spirits lifted I headed over to Paulo’s Pizza, a restaurant owned by the family of my niece Erica’s husband Mark. I wanted to see as many family members as I could on this trip. I convinced Erica to meet me at the Italian eatery along with her young daughter Talia. Mark fixed me a delicious Italian sub crafted in New York style. He used vinegar and oil and not mayo. Another niece of mine Brandi arrived as I chomped through the sandwich. I have a lot of good memories with my nieces. We used to write songs at my mom’s house together on the guitar or the piano, and we even made a recording studio out of a refrigerator box dubbed the “Be Cool Studio.” We talked about the good times we had in spite of some family hardships we overcame. I wish I had the chance to see them more as I love them dearly. Talia was hamming it up and even mimicked the way I hung my sunglasses off of the front of my shirt. She is a total cutie pie.

I finished off the entire sub and took the obligatory pictures of everybody on the Brick. I said my goodbyes, mounted up, and turned onto Central Avenue. I got choked up thinking about the years that have gone by and I have not seen all of my nieces and nephews as much as I should. I sacrificed so many things to move to New York, the hardest one being so distant from family. I am glad I made this trip. I want to do one just like it every year and make a point to visit the ones I love that are far away. I will do that.

I gunned the brick toward Tampa heading over the long stretch of the Howard Frankland Bridge. The bridge is well know for motorcycles racing along it’s span because there are few hiding places for cops. I stuck to the speed limit in a rare instance of restraint. I had a gig to play. I went right to The New World Brewery where the show would be. It is still one of my favorite places in Tampa. It has an inside area with an outdoor courtyard with a covered stage. They have a large selection of beers, foosball tables, a pinball machine, and really great food. The staff treats me like a legend, and I have performed there since the place opened in the 90’s. Dean the manager always takes care of me as does Joanne, a bartender that has worked there for many years. Steve the owner is always around and makes a point to talk to me even though I only drop in every three years or so. This venue is like a home away from home for me. Unpretentious and steady. I had a beer and chatted with Dean for a while. I felt like I never left Tampa even though I did some 13 years ago.

I got up to go to the bathroom and in the hallway was a picture of my old drummer Jeff Wood who passed away in 2007 from a brain tumor. The last time we played together was at a Joe Popp 10-year reunion show in 2005  here at New World as part of a benefit for Jobsite Theater, a company that had produced some of my rock musicals. I stared at the picture for a few seconds – Woody wearing a cuban guayabera shirt, our band’s signature style, with sticks blurred in full swing. He has been gone 5 years now, a blur of time as fast as the motion of his sticks. The irony of his death was that he was in superior shape. He claimed to do 2000 sit ups a day and he had the abs to prove it. He could play an hour set at full throttle and come back even harder for the encore. He was a driving force and inspired me to be a better musician. I missed the glory days when rock stardom seemed within reach.

I returned from the restroom, drained my beer, and told Dean I’d be back before show time. I drove over to my old friend Anthony Carbone’s house where would be staying. He wasn’t home but I just hung out with his dog Penny. Anthony bought the beautiful old huge house and painstakingly restored it to glory. I love staying there because the home is walking distance to The New World. Anthony and I knew each other in Tampa before I relocated to NYC in 2000, but we only became good friends after his many trips to NYC. We have a mutual friend Mark who served as a catalyst for our friendship. We all went to a Mets game and I made him laugh so hard after the game at the Bohemian Hall Beer Garden that a friendship was forged. In the years to follow, he would get a deal on a nice engagement ring for me, and he was present when I got engaged to my now divorced wife. He stood by as best man at my wedding. Like Martin, Anthony has seen me through some rough waters by just being a patient ear and a source of support when I needed those qualities most. He would pick me up at the airport, give me rides, loan me cars, and kick his son Cole out of his bed so I had a place to sleep. I owe him so much.

I rested up at Anthony’s house and prepared myself mentally for the show. The last time I played in Tampa 3 years ago, I was engaged to a woman but broke it off before we were married. After therapy and struggling with the long distance relationship, we called it quits in February of 2012. There was a lot of pain in my heart regarding that relationship. I had trouble letting it go. She had talked of moving to NYC and we would start a family, but we couldn’t keep it together.  In many ways that relationship marked my last chance of having my own children. I was already late to the game, and after the break up there was little chance my nuclear family would ever become a reality. I thought about Nicole and her wonderful kids. They are incredible children, but they have a father who is still very much in the picture. I will always be Joe to them, maybe dad someday, but never a father.

Thinking about playing in Tampa again made me nervous but I recalled the words of my deceased drummer. Jeff once told me after my reluctance to play another concert at a venue where I previously had a terrible show, “You have to go back and face your demons.” His sage words chimed in my head as the show drew closer. I had to give great performance. I had to put the bad recollections of this town to sleep and move forward.

I arrived at the New World to a small crew of old friends. I would be doing two sets which I really didn’t like, but I had enough songs to easily cover the time. Gary Dizon loaned me a guitar for the night. Gary has always been a big supporter on mine and anytime I need something equipment-wise when I’m in Tampa, Gary is there to supply. For years he has done this and we don’t even talk that much. I took the stage and as expected there was not much of an audience. I played well and some people trickled into the bar,  but I knew the second set would be when everybody would be showing up. And show up they did. So many great friends came out to see the concert and I felt honored. I performed songs old and new and my material was well received. As the night wore to a close, I saw there was a group of about 4 guys that were fans from back in 1995. They wanted to hear my old band’s closer titled “Drain.” These guys were all 15 or so back then and it was hilarious to see them all grown up with families and jobs. As I powered through the song they sang along and bumped around reliving the raucous times when we would play the State Theater in St. Pete. The moment was beautiful.

After the show I walked around to all of the tables and thanked everybody. Some of the faces I have not seen in over 15 years. Once again the sensation of time moving at light speed flashed through my brain. Those old days seemed like a second ago, and this moment now was so surreal. I pounded a few beers and sat with some of the gang from the Jobsite Theater crew. One by one the crowd drifted out, leaving just my old friends David and Spencer. David was one of the founding members of Jobsite and is the current artistic director for the company. He has kept the company afloat for over 15 years. Even though he is 10 years younger than me, I look up to him as a symbol of persistence. The guy does not quit. I met Spencer when I performed with him in a musical adaptation I did of Pericles that David directed. He is in his late twenties and one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. He is an actor, a singer, and a visual artist of the highest degree.

The three of us drank beers until New World kicked us out leaving us with an obvious Tampa late night drinking choice – The Hub.  We headed over the the storied bar and I was surprised to see many of the old regulars sitting in the same seats that they occupied when I left 13 years ago. I continued to drink hard, numbing some of the lingering memories and regrets I had about Tampa. David and Spencer were good friends with the woman with whom I had broken the engagement, yet they respectfully never mentioned her name. We laughed and talked about Pericles which first produced in 4 years ago in 2009.

Pericles was such a great time for me but had a bitter ending. Jobsite restaged Pericles in New York at HERE for a few performances in 2010, but no producers saw any reason to pick it up. Several months after the New York run, I got a letter from the book writer’s lawyers. They wanted me to sign a collaboration agreement that included first refusal rights to music that I had written before the two of them came onboard the project. This caused a huge upheaval and even though I reluctantly signed the agreement, I vowed to never work for Jobsite again. I am sure this hurt David deeply at the time but tonight he wasn’t showing it. We were just goofing around like old pals, talking smack and making fun of each other. He swears he will lure back into the theater, but I doubt that will happen. My take away from theater after many years of trying to write music for the form is that it is not based in reality. Everybody on stage is playing a character. When I go to see a band I like, there is no acting , just real emotions connected to songs. Bands live with their songs for their entire careers where as actors rehearse a show for 5 weeks, perform it for 4 weeks, and move on to something else. I still perform songs I wrote 30 years ago. They are true and part of my fabric. Theater has none of that for me.

The lights came on at The Hub which meant last call. Damn near 4 a.m. I was leaving in the morning but really didn’t need to get up at the crack of dawn so I could sleep in a bit. David made sure I got back safely to Anthony’s. He gave me a big bear hug as a way of saying,”No matter what happened in the past, we’re good.” His pickup truck pulled slowly away and I stumbled into the house. I faced a lot of old demons tonight. I’m not sure who won but I’m going to call it a draw. Some bad memories were welled up, but I played a great show and I made a lot of people smile and laugh. Hell, I guess I did win after all.

 

 

stpetetotampa

28.6 Miles – St. Petersburg, FL to Tampa, FL

 

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East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 11 – Saint Augustine, Florida to Saint Petersburg, Florida

Today I would be heading to St. Petersburg to stay with my old bass player from my eponymous band I was in from 1995 to 1997. I encouraged my Mom and my sister to get on the Brick to fill out more of the family portrait series. My mom refused to climb aboard and just stood next to the bike. I think she believes I am in some way making fun of her which could not be farther from the truth. This motorcycle is important to me and and I want my family to share in that idea. I want them to sit in the same seat I’ve sat in for thousands of miles as to join them in the legacy. I didn’t give her a hard time. As you have read in previous posts, the woman has paid her dues and was probably happy to see me get on my way after all of my grouchy moods I displayed while staying with her.

Instead of taking 95 to I-4, I decided on a more scenic route and take 16 to 301 to 75 to 275. Winding through the back roads and onto 301 reminded me of the time I was dating a girl that went to University of Florida. I took a similar route many times and even drove it by motorcycle more than a few of those. I remember almost getting stuck once while on a bike my brother John pieced together from my wrecked 1980 Honda Hawk CB400T and a much uglier orange ‘78 Hawk my dad acquired as a donor bike. I was driving in the pouring rain with my ridiculously thin yellow rain suit and the bike just bogged down as if water got in the carbs. I pulled over and whacked the throttle a few time and whatever gremlin was plaguing the fuel system quickly cleared itself out and I was back on the road. This was back in ‘84 and there were no cellphones, so getting stuck out in the middle of nowhere was a much scarier experience than it is today.

I slowed my pace through the smaller towns, Green Cove, Starke, and, Waldo, all notorious for being speed traps, and noticed a sign for a place called The City Diner. The placard had had an image of the famous New York skyline complete with the twin towers. Seeing this image threw me into a state of disbelief of how much time had gone by in my life. The World Trade Center fell 12 years ago. I dated that girl in Gainesville over 30 years ago. Where did it go? How did it slip by so fast? While trying to explain the theory of relativity Albert Einstein quipped, “Put your hand on a hot stove for two seconds and it seems like two hours. Sit with a beautiful girl for two hours and it seems like two minutes. That’s relativity.” If this in fact the case, my life as of late should have been filled with nothing but joy as fast as the time seemed to pass me. I think the truth is as I age, an hour is simply a smaller piece of my entire history. For instance, when I was 4, a year was 25% of my life, but with 48 clicks on the dial, a year is merely 2.0833% of my life and that is what makes the flipping of the calendar pages appear quicker.

I pulled into a gas station to refuel and sitting at another pump was a Kawasaki Ninja ZX14, one of the fastest production bikes on the planet. The Brick is 75 horsepower, roughly the same as my old Ducati 900SS SP. The Ninja on the other hand is 200 horses, nearly 3 times the power of my old BMW. Who would ever need that much power? But then I reminded myself of last year’s cross country trip where I spent many hours yearning for more acceleration. Speed is a funny drug. I noticed when I dropped from 80 miles per hour to 55, the slower speed was like trudging through mud. Once I acclimated to the the higher speed, I craved more as I am sure many motorcyclists do. Please note I am not an unsafe rider. I do not wheelie through traffic or do stunts. I don’t tailgate and when other cars are around I make sure I am driving within the rules of the road. But when on a desolate stretch of straight road, the temptation is too great to resist. The throttle must be twisted.

The drive went but quickly and I made it safely to St. Pete, Fl. I neared the home of Martin Rice, my old bass player from my eponymous band – Joe Popp. We started the band in 1995 after I left my other group of 4 ½ years, dogs on ice. I wanted more commitment from my counterparts and Martin and his former bandmate Jeff Wood (R.I.P. 2007) stepped in to complete the new power trio. Our rise to local success was blindingly rapid. One of our first gigs was opening for the Toadies at an outdoor venue in St. Pete, Florida dubbed Janus Landing. The gig went incredibly even though we only knew 8 songs. Nobody knew we were local boys and the 50 T-shirts Martin had printed up all sold out. I remember the feeling I had that night. I had this great band behind me and our first gig was to a crowd of 1200 and we nailed it. I felt hope. This was my time.

The band went on to record 2 CDs and we did tons of gigs. We opened for punk groups like Mike Watt, and Seaweed, but also more rock based acts like Cheap Trick and Joan Jett. We played SXSW in Austin and did a TV commercial for Fox Baseball. We won regional awards and packed out clubs. We seemed destined to be signed to a record label and even had a manager in place. The band also performed American Stage’s outdoor Shakespeare production where we served as not only the band, but the witches in the play Macbeth. I composed all of the the original music for the production. It ran just past a month and over 20,000 people attended. But all was not well in paradise. I let a bad review of Macbeth hit me too hard. I was drinking more and letting myself get out of shape. My depression was getting the best of me. The live music scene was also changing. Our live gigs were not being as well attended as they once were because of the rise of D.J.s, raves, and foam parties. I was 32 years of age and I wanted out. I was weary, and playing wasn’t fun anymore. I quit the band in June of 1997 just a few months after our two year anniversary. Martin had just scored us dates on the Florida Van’s Warped Tour dates and we bailed on those. Those shows could have been a turning point and I simply walked away.

I often think about what would have happened if I stuck it out with that band. I reflect on life and realize that I’ve quit too early too many times.  I’ve left bands, theater productions, relationships, animals, and, friends, when things got tough. Do I fear my own success? Do I crave a path of least resistance? I shook these thoughts out of my head as I turned into Martin’s driveway.

I rumbled in and Martin’s family greeted me outside. He has an awesome wife Melanie, two boys, Cannon and Conrad, and two dogs, Jasmine and Todd (having recently lost his longtime dog Woody). I was happy to see him. Martin and I remained friends over the years after I left the band, and even after I moved to New York. The guy is a work machine. I remember back in the band days he would crank out posters, flyers, and album art at a staggering pace. He also showed up to practice on time and played the bass with all of his heart. He had good gear and took care of it. He loved to have fun and whenever we travelled with the band he always pulled some kind of shenanigans. I remember one time he hotwired a disconnected hot tub at our hotel so we could have a soak after a long drive from a gig. He climbed up a pole of a tent we were playing at our SXSW performance. He knocked over the master of ceremonies with the headstock of his bass at the 1995 Florida Jammy Awards when the emcee tried to cut us off after only one playing song. He’s that kind of guy – fun, intense, serious, and a huge heart.

I talked with his family for a while and then we headed out to a Greek place on Central Avenue called Acropolis. The food was great and the staff performed the traditional dances and plate smashing. I thought the latter was wasteful, but I reminded myself I have smashed a few guitars in my years so I’m not one to try and limit entertaining destruction. After dinner, Martin and I ventured over to a Hugh T. Williams’ house for a few beers. Hugh is a drummer and a talented folk artist. We never played together, but our respective bands shared a few stages. We all talked of the old band days gone by and about the various characters of the the mid to late 90’s Tampa/St.Pete music scene. I lived in Tampa for 10 years and I played live music in some form the whole time I was there. The area is where I cut my teeth as an artist and it will always be special to me. Travis, another scenester from back in the day rolled up and hopped right into the conversation. I love the phenomenon that occurs among old friends of “picking up where you left off.” I’m repeatedly surprised by this clichéd statement but it holds water. After only a few minutes, we were all joking and ribbing each other like it was 1995. We laughed like only old friends could laugh. The night grew long and my eyes heavy, so we said our goodbyes and vowed to meet again sooner – a lie told by friends as they are parting. Martin and I drove home with a few more chuckles along the way.

Martin’s guest room where I spent many a night on my visits to St. Pete was now occupied by his little dudes, so I camped out on the couch which is bigger in size than my entire NYC apartment. Todd, a Jack Russell mix, and Jasmine, a St. Bernard, settled down around me. I felt comforted by their presence. I believe those dogs sensed the melancholy waves that ran through my brain as I drifted off to sleep. I left for NYC in 2000 with dreams of writing the greatest American rock musical. Although I had a great time during my years in Tampa Bay, few artifacts remain that could ever draw me back – but a great lifelong friend like Martin is certainly one.

St. Aug to St. Pete

218 Miles – St. Augustine, FL to Saint Petersburg, FL

 

 

Posted in East Coast 2013, Travel | 2 Comments

East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 10 – Saint Augustine, Florida

I rose the the scent of belgian waffles that my dad was cooking up. He bought one of those flipping waffle irons after seeing one at a hotel and just had to have the gadget. He has developed his technique so the waffles are perfect every time. I get a kick out of my families quirks. We are an interesting bunch.

I goofed around the house and watched loads of television. I plunked on one of my dad’s guitars. He adopts any kind of musical instrument and over the years has collected a rough menagerie of orphans. He can play a variety of instruments in a rudimentary fashion. “Apple meet tree,” I thought to myself.

My parents and I went to a bar for lunch called the Hurricane Grill and Wings. I of course got some hot wings and a beer. I was in a better mood today and was more my usual self – cracking jokes and being a wise guy. My parents have been living in this area for a long time and I have seen it develop from zero stores and restaurants to the wide and plentiful offering the strip of CR210 has to offer. The once 2 lane road is now 4 lanes wide and subdivisions have popped up like mushrooms overnight. Where does the time go? Why does time move faster as we age? These are the questions I ponder while eating wings in a strip mall.

Back at home, I had my dad sing to me accompanied by his own player piano. He loved singing so much with my brother’s player piano that he got his own. He scored it for $100 knowing that John could fix it for him and of course he did. He has a nice collection of scrolls – the punched our paper rolls that a player piano uses. My dad has the most beautiful Irish tenor voice even though he looks like he is straight out of Goodfellas. He got his looks from his Italian mother as opposed to his German father.

My father walked me around the house showing me his latest model airplane builds. He does detailed work and even wires electric motors he scavenges from discarded Swiffer WetJet mops to spin the props. He is a crafty guy and I am lucky to have learned so much from him. He showed me his small watch repair work bench. I noticed similar tools to the ones that adorn my own bench. Watch bodies and movements in various states of repair were carefully laid out and prepared for surgery. My dad’s personality is similar to many men of his era. He is stoic and with a work ethic of a miner. His entire life, like my mom’s was about giving to the family. He worked hard to keep a roof over our heads. One time he traded a set of side pipes from his muffler shop to get me my first electric guitar. When my cheapo amp blew up he took me to Music City in Jacksonville and instead of getting me a used replacement, he plunked down over $250 to get me a brand new Peavey Classic VTX 212. It was my first real amp and it was super loud. That was a lot of money back then, but he saw my love for music and wanted that to blossom.

I remember watching my father looking over some sailboat plans he had hidden in a drawer. He had a dream to build a sailboat although he never really talked about the idea much. I am sure after pulling out those plans a few times, he arrived at the fact that he would never have either the time or the money. There was always a new baseball mitt, a dollhouse, or guitar amp to purchase to fulfill the dreams of one of his children. He made sacrifices I know I could never make, and although he is a quiet man and emotionally guarded, his actions scream what a great man and inspiration he has been to me.

After dinner I threw a post up on Facebook to see if any old Jacksonville friends wanted to meet up at one of my old haunts called Sherwood’s. It is a divey but very cool place in the San Marco section of town. Three of my old friends showed up, Natalie, Chip, and Doug. We had a great time discussing high school antics and former teachers. Natalie and Chip left after a while, but the closest of these old friends, Doug, stayed for a bit longer. We used to hang out all the time in high school and even shared a locker our senior year. We attended rock concerts and local shows. He introduced me to live punk music and we even took a few road trips to see some great bands. I have not sat with him face-to-face in over 30 years but we picked right up where we left off, ribbing each other and telling stupid stories.

I left Jacksonville in 1990 to move to Tampa and in doing so I left a lot of good friends behind. There was no internet then so when I moved a few postcards and phone calls dwindled to no contact with any of these people. Through Facebook, I have developed an online rekindling of many of these friends, but out of my 35 or so online “friends” from Jacksonville only 3 showed up to see me. I guess that’s the greatest thing about Facebook, to be somebody’s friend the only effort ever required is a simple click.

I headed home to St. Aug and crawled into my bunk. Memories of my days in Jacksonville flooded my head. I felt  stifled here when I was young because of the conservative Southern attitude, but I made the best of what I had. I found like minded friends. I played in bands and worked in a music store. I learned my craft here, and I was loved and supported my many. I often curse growing up in Jacksonville, but looking back at my 13 years here, I realize it wasn’t so bad after all. Life is what you make it. You can’t blame a place for your lack of happiness. And as a wise person once said, “No matter where you go, there you are…”

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East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 9 – Saint Augustine, Florida

I woke up early to a familiar sight, my dad doing the crossword puzzle. But today the sight had a different meaning to me. This was the first time I saw my dad in the morning not preparing to go to work. He finally retired from his part time job at a pharmacy. I often thought my father would work until he died, after all, he knew no other way, working since he was a young boy. But over the years he has picked up some cool hobbies that fill his time. He has been an active member in his Triumph car club for years, but he also dabbles in model airplane construction, odd musical instrument restoration, and most recently, repairing watches. He has an inquisitive mind and DVRs Jeopardy! as to never miss an episode – an opportunity to increase his knowledge of the world.

I ate some breakfast and practiced the two sets of songs I was going to play at gig I booked at the New World Brewery in Tampa in two days time. While I practiced my Mom interrupted and said I sounded great. Like yesterday, I snapped at her. The poor woman just wanted to hear me play and my anxiety got the best of me. What a jerk I’ve become. My bitterness and living alone has festered into an inability to relax and interact with people. I have moments where I am socially awesome, but then I will slip and snap and negate the good will I have spread. I realized in this terrible moment that I could use some professional help. In the past, therapy has helped me a great deal. My elephant like memory churns on events long after others have fogotten them – saying I have a problem letting go would be a gross understatement.

After I finished practicing I tried to explain my feelings to my mother. She was obviously hurt. I am sure she wondered what happened to the carefree funny son that used to stuff an entire dinner roll in his face to make his brothers and sisters laugh. That guy wasn’t visiting this trip. I apologized and tried to perk up a little. I think she appreciated the effort but she can read my feelings like no one else. Sometimes when I call and I say “Hello,” she responds with, “What’s the matter?” She can immediately tell from my voice that I am in pain or something is wrong. I vowed to try to be nicer for the rest of my stay. I’m not sure I pulled that off.

I sat on the couch and turned on the Indianapolis MotoGP race. My mood picked up a little as my dad was watching it with me and he was stunned to see the 60 degree lean angle the bikes get nowadays when turning. I thought about a year ago. I was at Indy watching the GP for the first time in person. I was also lucky enough to take a track lap. My trip this year was a much simpler less adventurous one, but important in the fact that instead of running away, I was trying to reconnect with the family and friends I truly love. Granted I failed somewhat with my moodiness, but I tried. My mom cooked up some awesome brats and I considered this an offer of forgivness. She is such an understanding person and realizes that people have troubles. She’s the best mom ever.

By some odd coincidence, my best friend Tylor’s parents also live in Saint Augustine and he and his family happened to be visiting them. They invited me over for dinner and I thought it might be nice to give my family a break from crankiness. I arrived and was greeted with hugs and kisses from everybody. Tamara his wife has cooked for me too many times to count when I lived in the same building, and I was lucky to witness their son Oscar grow up from a baby boy. Tylor’s parents Bill and Bea and the greatest. They love rock music and still go to shows. Tylor was actually in Bea’s womb at a Who concert so Keith Moon’s zany drumming is imprinted on his spirit. Tylor’s parents always make a point to see me when they visit NYC are they are ridiculously generous by picking up checks and buying rounds of drinks. Bill had the grill of full tilt boogie and cooked a mound of steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs that we chowed on for dinner.  We blabbed about fun times and memories as Oscar drew pictures of battleships and airplanes. They are part of my extended family and treat me accordingly.

After a great deal of laughs and smiles I headed for home. The night was warm and beautiful and the moon was a sliver shy of being full. I thought back to my first brand new street bike that I got in the summer of 1982. She was a gorgeous 1980 Honda Hawk CB400T showroom floor leftover that my dad financed for me for $1600. I loved that bike so much I practically waxed the paint off of it during down times at my Dad’s muffler shop where I worked. I put on drag bars and a bikini fairing and it just looked amazing. I would drive around nights like tonight going absolutely nowhere.  I would sneak my girlfriend Rebecca out of her house and we would ride around Jacksonville pulling over for a make out session. I was on top of the world when I had that bike. I was cool. The let down was that after a few months of ownership, I was hit head on by a car and the bike was totaled. I spent three days in the hospital with a concussion. The time when my life felt most perfect was shattered. I eventually got other bikes, but nothing matched the soul filling joy I felt when I was on the black Honda with the orange stripes, tearing around Jacksonville dragging from stoplight to stoplight. I need nothing else.

My low gas warning light flickered on as to snap me out of my time travel moment. I pulled into a neon fluorescent tourist trap on CR 210 and fueled my bike as dried gator heads perched on mountains of sea shells stared at me. “What a wacky state I grew up in…” I thought to myself. With the Brick’s thirst quenched, we headed the last couple of miles home, the night still wrapping me in her warm summer arms. I felt good riding on such a great night. I felt good riding on a similar night 31 years ago. Note to self: “Keep riding.”

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East Coast Tour 2013 – Day 8 – Jacksonville, FL to Saint Augustine, FL

I woke up and John and I tackled the MIDI piano controller circuit board again. This time we hooked the interface to his PC and found a public domain MIDI player. We loaded a file and eureka! The solenoid flapped the metal strip covering the air hole up and down. I am lucky to have a brother like John who never gives up when trying to figure out a problem. He has taught me skills that have turned into a career for me. He once jokingly gave me the advice, “Touch your soldering iron every day.” I think about this and laugh when I flip on my workbench light and see my Weller WSD81 ready to be put to use.

The player piano that John is modifying has been in his life a long time. He bought on the cheap and restored it to pristine condition. John’s daughter Liz loves music, especially the piano. She is autistic and has trouble communicating with people. Music is a beautiful conduit for her soul. I often sit with her at the piano and play a few chords that Liz will improvise over by playing only the black keys. Today was now exception. We sat at the piano and jammed for a while. Liz has a hard time expressing herself, but when she plays music I see her face change. Her frustrations relax and for a moment, the confusion and noise of the world seem to go silent. Music has this effect on me as well. What I can’t say with words I am able to communicate with my notes ands lyrics. Playing my guitar brings me a similar calm that riding the Brick does.

The time had come to roll towards my parents house.  I made John’s entire family get on my motorcycle for the Flying Brick family album, and we all hugged as I clipped on my saddle bags and mounted up. The journey to St. Augustine was just a short 30 mile jog, but I would be stopping at the St. Johns Town Center to get my iPhone replaced. I always have a moment of sadness whenever I leave the house of friends or family. My pulling away marks the end of a reunion. I remind myself that I have created memories and life is but a fabric constructed of these memories stitched together. The garments of my memories and experiences would fill the closets of kings. I have lived a charmed life.

I arrived at the mall and the design struck me as very odd. The stores are all separate and connected by sidewalks. This provides a level of outdoor beauty, but to a cramped New Yorker, it’s nothing but space abuse. I fear my mind has been bent into thinking that a claustrophobic environment is normal, but reflecting on my youth, I’ve always enjoyed small places. I liked camping out in my closet and enjoyed the idea of being a crew member on a submarine or space capsule.  The other flaw of this mall design is that Florida is beyond hot.  So walking from the heat to the cold and back again is ill conceived at best.

After a tough time finding a parking space I located the Apple store and was in and out in under 15 minutes. They simply replaced my phone. I created a backup of all my data on my computer before the swap and all I needed to do was restore it to the new phone. Simple and painless.

I hopped back on the Brick and drove to my parents house where my sister Catherine also lives. My mom Louise and my dad Jerry hugged me and smiled wide. I made a sandwich and sat on the couch. My mom doted on me to the point where I snapped at her. I was in bad mood thinking about Tampa where the last time I visited in 2012 I tried and failed to reconcile with my now ex-fiance. We split over a year ago, but she is already married to her lifelong pen pal who visited her during our hard times. I know we weren’t right for each other and the split was for the best, but what caused me great pain was that the relationship was my last attempt to start a family with a child of my own. We had a long distance relationship between New York and Tampa and she was going to relocate to the Big Apple where we would marry. The long distance proved to be too much and my battle with depression combined with jealousy caused me to pull away. I believe she didn’t want to relocate, and she pushed my buttons to cause us to self-destruct. Perhaps that’s just my myopic spin on the whole mess, but for whatever reason it ended hurtfully.

No matter what my mood or feelings, there is no justification for getting upset with my mother. The woman dedicated her life to our family. We were five kids and she tirelessly took us to our baseball games, brownie meetings, cub scout meetings, twirling classes, doctors, and dentists. Through all of this mayhem, she also found time to take us to museums, movies, plays, and zoos, providing us a strong sense of the arts and culture. She has given more of herself than anybody I have ever met in my life. She raised our family and then when times got tough for my sister, she let her move in with her 4 children and took care of them while my sister’s family fought to get back on their feet. When my sister’s kids had similar rocky patches, she also took them into the Popp home. She even took care of a great grandchild until her knee gave out and she needed surgery. My mom is a woman of faith and that faith has guided her to give her entire life to others. I am lucky and humbled to have her in my life. If there is a heaven, she’s got a glass of wine, a paperback novel, and a big comfy chair waiting.

My stoic father also gave so much to our family. He worked 60 plus hours a week to keep a roof over our heads. He found a way to get us each a used car as we came of driving age so we could get jobs. He instilled in me a work ethic that few people know. By the age of 15, I too was working 60 hours a week in his muffler shop during the summer. His love of cars, motorcycles, and music courses through me and I realize now late in my life that I am truly my father’s son. He has handed down skills and a fearlessness of taking things apart that I cherish to this day. Like my brother’s gifts, without his teachings, I would probably be unemployed.

I was feeling down and I took that feeling out on these great people. I sat on the couch like a vegetable watching The Godfather as I guzzled beer to numb the sad memories that seemed to haunt me. My parents said little after I snapped, thinking better to leave me to my own devices. My sister Catherine who lives with my parents asked me for a hug which I gave her. Catherine too has been a great source of support and inspiration in my life. When I lost my first talent show in 7th grade she made me a construction paper medal inscribed with a magic marker that read, “World’s Greatest Brother.” The disco act she was in got a second place in the show which she didn’t even care about. Her only worry was taking care of me and making sure I felt better about my loss because she knew how much it meant to me. I was supposed to be a rock star.

Being rude and distant from these great people made me feel like an idiot. I dragged off to bed and plopped onto the bottom of the two bunk beds. I called my girlfriend Nicole and we talked for two hours. She was my new hope, an old flame from my past and the mother of two really great kids. I told her of my errors with my mom and she comforted me as best she could from her home in New Jersey.

As I hung up my thoughts raced as I stared up at the slats in the upper bunk. Am I a fool again? Am I  going into another relationship thinking that it could work? Was it me? Was it them? I had tried to date a few old flames before and something always went wrong. I put these doubts aside and focused on the positive. She makes me happy. Her kids give me great joy. As my eyelids turned to lead, I accepted that I have her happiness and joy today, and that the ghosts of the past are merely sheets that need to be shredded.

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37.8 Miles – Jacksonville, FL to Saint Augustine, FL

 

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