Category: USA Tour 2004

These are posts imported from my USA Tour 2004 blog

June 12, 2004
Saturday morning, and time for my workshop. I think I was probably more concerned over the workshop than my GoH set, as it isn’t something I do a lot; and of the dozen or so that attend, a few seem perhaps a little dubious about the aim – to write a new and original filk in just two 1 hour sessions. But everyone soon shows enthusiasm when, after a slow and unorganised start (note – next time have a whiteboard or flipchart), things start to happen. There are a few suggestions of subject matter and genre, and someone says “There’s always dragons”. After a brief discussion, we find ourselves writing a very self-referential lyric about a group of people arguing about “The Subject of the Song” (which is the eventual title of our song). We finish the 3-verse-and-a-chorus lyric with a few moments to spare, and everyone seems happy with the result. Tomorrow we will be working on a tune for our song.I want to hit the business centre and get the lyric typed up, while it isstill fresh in my head and I can decypher my notes; I also need to grab some lunch. Gary volunteers to run me down somewhere, but I decide to save time – the hotel shop sells frozen macaroni cheese, and I have a microwave in my room, so I buy that and some snacks. I will be eating a proper meal later, anyway.In the afternoon, there are several goodies in the program. I catch Erica Neely’s spot, and then Lady Mondegreen. I then go off to my room to prepare for later.Tonight is the night of the Banquet, followed by Jordan’s spot, and then my own GoH set. I want to catch Jordon so I do my preparation before the Banquet. At the meal, I have a pleasant conversation with Bob Esty, our Toastmaster, amongst others.Jordan’s family has come to see him, and he is quiet and very focussed when I speak to him. Once on stage, he comes alive, gains a big beaming smile, and just takes off. The best way I can describe him is filk in the style of showtunes and song & dance. Which is not surprising, as he is an accomplished actor, and has performed his share of musicals.It is not a musical genre you encounter that much in filk – at least, not this polished – and I enjoy it immensely. Although how he performed his Marquis de Sade material in front of his mum, I don’t know (yes, she *was* laughing).I enjoyed Jordan so much, I didn’t have a chance to worry about my own set – a five minute mike setup, and we were away. I had worked out my set, and rehearsed and timed it, weeks ago, but then made changes at the last minute, due to my newly written (and very topical) song “Cicadas”. At one point, I was planning to save this song for the song contest, themed on “bugs”, but thought it would be such a good set opener, I dropped my “cyberpunk” songs (“Biosoft” and “Lord of the Roads”) in its favour. It was a good decision – although much of my material is serious, I like to lighten it with some comedy, and starting with the audience laughing is always a good thing to do.Another success of the set was my X-Man filk “For Magnus, Wherever I May Find Him”; my more recent material “Wakeup Call” and “Eternal Sunshine” also went down well, and I ended on two old favourites – “Dragon Flight” and “As Close As Night To Day”. Earlier in the day, I had begun to worry that I had got my set timings wrong, and would under-run. At the last minute, I pencilled in some old favourites, in case I needed them. I shouldn’t have worried – the set, as planned, ran just a minute over time.The Interfilk Auction then takes place, and I secure my British reputation by bidding for and winning a bottle of Aiglet’s alcoholic cordial.Open filking follows, and I finally crawl to bed at 3am.

June 11, 2004
A lazy morning, after which we drive over to the convention hotel at about midday. Check in – I have a nice suite with a separate lounge and full kitchen. Suites are more common here in the US, but to me, this is luxury.Gary and Sheryl have committee things to do, so I have something to eat, and investigate the hotel. There is a good business centre, with two net connected PCs (which I wish I had used to update this journal, before I lost my notes), and a printer and copier.In the front lounge there is a grand piano, which I had earlier heard the committee discuss using. I go to investigate, but there is a hand-written sign saying not to play it, so I find something else to do.Aside from the committee, who I have had a chance to get to know over the past week or so, there are a few familiar faces – I discover Kathy Sands setting up the dealer’s room, Erica Neely is here, who I haven’t seen for ages, as is Gary McGath. There is also a chance to meet folk that I know of through the Internet, but have never met in person, amongst them Keith Lynch, Joe Kesselman, Matt Leger and Aiglet.I bump into Persis and Talis at the reception desk and say hello. Then Spencer walks in, and I end up giving him a hand unloading the tech gear and setting up the main room. There is a lot to do, and we have some problems, which Spencer manages to overcome before the program starts.I discover that I have missed all but the end of the opening social, in the lounge – unlike me to miss out on free food, but I am glad I helped Spencer. Crystal asks if I am going to play the piano, and I mention the sign – she goes off to talk to the hotel, as they had agreed we could use it, and then she comes back and removes the sign in triumph. But it is now 8pm and the first item is about to begin.Maugorn plays a delightful set of songs mostly based on a theme of fairies, including a number by Pink Floyd (actually Sid Barret, as he points out).There follow the 2 x 10s – 3 performers each with a 2 song/10 minute performance. One of my future hosts, Judith Hayman, has a spot, and her husband, Dave, spots me and gives a wave.There were two themed circles in the main program. Jordan started off with a circle based on “Science and Scientists”, which I managed to sneak in my “BrundleFly” (“A man called Seth Brundle turned into fly, He didn’t know why…”)I then lead a circle about songs inspired by movies, which was very productive, with movie filks continuing long after we opened the circle up to open filking.The circle continues until past 2am, when I decide to go to bed.

June 10, 2004
A day of rest, before the convention. I run through the set, and make some changes to it, as I have just written a new song that will be a good set-opener.Later i the morning, I make some changes to this journal, so each entry appears as a seperate page. I’m only on the 9th entry now, and the “one page” format is already getting unwieldy.For lunch, I take the bus down to the local mall – The Washingtonian Centre – which I have passed each day on the way to the Metro. I find a place called “Joe’s Crab Shack” and order clam chowder, followed by their crab cake dinner. I skip desert, as I am aware we are going out to dinner tonight.During my shopping expeditions, two of the things I have been looking to buy is a decent hat for the sun – however, I don’t want a cap, but a soft rimmed hat – the kind I think of as a fishermans hat; and a small backpack.Up to now, I haven’t seen what I was looking for on either front. What I didn’t know was that, for the last 5 days, the bus taking me to the Metro was driving past the biggest sports and hunting store I have seen – Galyons. I get the hat, and discover “Camel Hump” backpacks – a range of backpacks with an integrated insulated drink reservoir and drink tube. Just the thing for walking, and unlike anything I have seen in the UK.I look round the other stores, and head back, for another set run-through, as Sheryl gets home from work. A little while later, Steve arrives with Gary, and drive to a restaurant where Crystal is already waiting with Jordan Mann. Jordan and I haven’t met before, but we hit it off well. I order a cheese-stuffed pretzel for starters, and follow with the restaurant’s fish special – I didn’t catch the name, but it was similar to swordfish.Gary has a beer, which pursuades me to do the same. Later, when the others have desert, I have my third beer.

June 9, 2004
Last day of my rail pass, so I decide to make the most of it. I think it would be foolish to hit the City centre today – it is blazing hot, and the arrangements for Reagon’ funeral are bound to disrupt things.I head down to Springfield, where my guidebook says there is a good mall, with a free shuttle from the metro. Unfortunately, the shuttle has been recently cut to just commuter time, but I (and several other) only find that out after waiting in the sun for 40 minutes. We work out which of the regular buses run to the mall, and I arrive just in time for lunch, dining on a couple of Auntie Anne’s pretzels.The mall is large, but I find it unsatisfactory – the shops are fairly regular high street stores, and nothing that really excites me. Perhaps its my mood, brought on by the wait at the station.Anyway, I decide to move on, and take the metro to Crystal City, where there is a small but interesting range of shops and small boutiques. Then I move onto Pentagon City, where I discover what I consider to be a *real* American mall. I can’t put my finger on the distinction – this place has glitz, and you could easily spend a day here.Gary and Sheryl are at dance class tonight, so I eat dinner here – bourbon chicken, with muddy rice and corn.For once I think I am going to get back at a reasonable time, but just outside Shady Grove station, the metro train breaks down. We are stuck for about half an hour, but the train driver keeps us both informed and amused over the announcement system, and everyone takes it in good spirits. “I just want y’all to know that this is not my fault, but I do apologise for the delay, and if any of you wanna come over my place for a beer afterwards, you’re welcome.”The delay makes me miss the last bus (7:40pm), but I get a taxi easy enough.

June 8, 2004
“I don’t think the bus runs outside the rush hour” says the driver. I explain it does, up until early evening. “Oh well, I can take you to the station anyway”.

My driver is taking her granddaughter to a day centre, then going shopping. We have a pleasant conversation during the drive, punctuated by the four-year-old demanding attention from this strange man.

June 7, 2004
Observation Number 1I had been told by friends that I wouldn’t easily find out about UK news and world events by reading the US newspapers and watching TV. They couldn’t been more wrong – there were plenty of reports on Tony Blair’s comments on Ronald Reagan, and how sad Gorbachov was to hear the news.For more important news, I relied on emails from mum, telling me who had been voted off the TV celebrity chef reality show we had both been watching.Observation Number 2There is no doubt about it: as I found in my last visit to the US, service – in shops, restaurants etc., is more observed here than in the UK. To be sure, I know of quite a few places at home where your glass is filled for you automatically, or shops where you get attention from sales when *you* want it, but here it is universal.As a result, I am easing back on my habit of thanking people whenever they do something for me. It is not that I’m ungrateful, but otherwise I find I don’t actually have time to eat:[on being given meal]
“Thank you”
“That’s OK, sir”
[water topped up]
“That’s alright, sir”
[teacup moved two inches closer to me]
“Um, ta”
“That’s quite alright, sir”Ultimate service today was in the shoe store, where ringing up the sale of a pair of sandals I had bought, the salesman thanked me and then commented on “what exquisite taste” I had. Well, I knew that, but it is nice that someone else shares my opinion.

June 7, 2004
Having planned to get out early today, I found myself still drinking tea and playing the guitar at 11am. What the heck, I am on holiday. So rather than go down to the mall my guidebook recommended, in distant Springfield, I head to the smaller but closer mall at White Flint, just 3 stops on the metro. Food first (of course) – I find a (supposedly) Texan barbecue in the food court, and order a pulled pork sandwich. This is served like a burger, in a bun, but instead of burger there is the pulled pork – think of shredded crispy duck, but with barbecued pork, and you will get the idea. Full of flavour, and very nice.The guy serving catches my accent, and I explain I am touring. As one of my side-dishes he does me a small sampler plate of the other meats there for me to try – a piece a chicken, a piece of beef etc, all in a little dab of their sauce. Yum.The mall is fun, I spend some time in Borders, but don’t buy any books – anything I buy, I will have to carry home to the UK. I do note some interesting titles, for ordering when I get back, and treat myself to a lemon fruit smoothy.I can’t resist the men’s department at Bloomingdales, and after some assistance in working out that a US XXL *is* the same as a UK XXL, I pick up some nice polos and T-shirts.When I leave, it is not yet 4pm, so I head into town for Union Station shops for some shoe shopping, as the solitary pair I brought with me are walking out the room when I take them off. This time I am prepared, and have established my correct US shoe size; only to discover the shoes I like are in German sizes, which I don’t know. So we measure the appendage and discover I am 47. For once, I *am* younger than my shoe size!Head back to Rockville for a restful evening, and dinner with Gary and Sheryl.

June 6, 2004
The Smithsonian has opened a new air and space museum out by Dulles airport – the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Gary and Sheryl haven’t seen it yet, so we drive out there.

There is already a “National Air and Space Museum” on the Mall, in Washington itself, but they have only the space there for 10% of the available exhibits. The new centre has space, and then some more – a giant hanger big enough to take their latest acquisition – an Air France Concorde – sideways. Other exhibits include the Enola Gay, a Blackbird, and a Space Shuttle.

June 5, 2004
Went to the Washington Folk Festival, with Gary and Sheryl. Despite being a rainy day, there were still a good number of people venturing out to this event. First up for us was The Chromatics, who sang a mixture of original songs, with a heavy science bias, and covers. The whole set was terrific, but most impressive was their acapellla rendition of the Beach Boy’s “Good Vibrations”. It really had to be heard to be believed.

June 4, 2004
Stayed in Rockville in the morning, working on the input interface for this journal, and putting in some guitar practice on Gary and Sheryl’s guitars. I am travelling without my own guitar, as with the increased airport security, I thought it was easier not to load myself down.I was sure that Gary and Sheryl’s guitars would be fine, but I am always nervous about performing on someone else’s instrument. Any fears I had were ungrounded, as all the guitars were great, and Crystal also has an Eko 12-string, just like mine.I headed into town for lunchtime, stopping off at Friendship Heights. My guide book had told me there was a mall there, but it was more of a size of a UK shopping centre than what I think of as an American mall. However there was a food court there, for lunch, and a T-Mobile outlet, so I could get a prepaid sim for my phone. The guy there took time to explain that it was an expensive option if I only needed it for a month. I then told him what calls would have cost me if I used my UK Vodafone account – £1.50 per minute, even for calls within the local area. He then relaxed, and sold me the account.Then into town, and another wander around, arriving at the National Museum of Natural History. This is really an amazing place, particularly the Mammals exhibit.It had been trying to rain earlier, and when I emerged from the museum, it was raining hard. I took the Metro to Chinatown, and found a restaurant recommended in my guidebook. Tony Cheungs has a seafood restaurant and a Mongolian barbecue. I went for the latter. Although it was “all you can eat”, it also came a vegetable sidedish, rice, and sesame rolls, not to mention a large pot of tea, which was very welcome. As a result, I only needed 2 trips to the barbecue.I was planning to try and attend the WSFA fan meet, but by this time, I was wet and tired, so I made my way back to Gary and Sheryl’s for a quiet evening and bed.

June 3, 2004
Got up at a leisurely rate, logged on to home to check email and post to filk_uk. Took bus/metro into Washington – first stop Union Square to collect my Amtrak rail pass and tickets for my travels later in the month.The guy who served me was very pleasant, but admitted he was in training, so didn’t know what to do with the emailed confirmation I had received from buying my pass online, while still in the UK. A supervisor was called and it was soon sorted. However, both trainee and supervisor were amazed at the travelling I was going to do: Buffalo/Depew, Boston/South, New York, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, all in fifteen days. I think it was the doubleback to NY that threw them. If travel agents think it’s a long way, maybe I have underestimated the travelling, even though it looks ok on the schedule.Lunch in a Union Station restaurant, called America. Yes, it really was my first meal in America.Afterwards, I intended to head down to Constitutional Ave, and from there to the Mall, but found myself heading in the opposite direction when I reached the US Capitol building, so went with the flow and did the tour of the Library of Congressinstead.While there, I visited the Gershwin and Bob Hope exhibitions, and plan to return at a later date for the Churchill and American treasures exhibitions. On a whim, I applied for and received a Library of Congress reader’s card. If next week is anything like today (scorching hot) I can happily spend a day in there. If not, it is still another decent photo-id, and something to remember the day with.After the LoC, I made my way to Metro Central looking for some shops. Again, I may have walked the wrong way, as I didn’t see what I expected, but soon stumbled across a Border’s bookshop, for a sitdown and an iced tea. I realised that it is almost 6pm, and so I call Gary and Sheryl, and leave a message for them, so they don’t wait for me to eat. Having done that, there seems no point in rushing back in the commuter period, so I wander down for my first view of the White House. Sat for a while in the Ellipse, a large area of grass, where various groups were playing softball and catch, with the White House in the background. Grabbed a large (and tasty) pretzel from a cart, walking back to the metro station. I then pass McDonalds, and decide to try a burger to see if they are better in their home country than in the UK.They aren’t.Arrive back at Gary and Sheryl’s, and chat for a while, but they are quite busy with con preparations and I am really exhausted, so I hit the sack.

June 2, 2004
Arrived early at Heathrow for my flight, which allowed me to change my seat reservation to a wing seat – a single seat, with no sharing of armrests, and more legroom than even I need.Flight was uneventful – caught Scoobydo 2, and half wished that I hadn’t. We arrived early, but then had to wait for the luggage claim – Gary was there waiting for me when I came out, and we met up without problems.Arrived back at Gary and Sheryl’s place, and deliberately stayed up until 10pm Washington time – both to be a little sociable, but mainly to force myself into a good sleep pattern early on.