vern's verbal vibe

 

Thoughts from Toronto singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Vern Nicholson. I pontificate mostly on music (of course), with a smattering of sports, language and other fun miscellany.

The New and the Old, Times Two 

 

I've announced this elsewhere, so here's the news for you faithful blog readers: my new covers EP, Favourites, Popular and Otherwise, has now been released in mp3 format. Nine songs in all, guaranteed to warm your heart and soothe your soul, recorded right here at The Grinning Zone from December 2019 to July 2021. And the best news? It's free to stream and download. Be sure to check out the cover art and booklet, too. Just click on the cover above to access the whole package. And here's the old within the new: some of these songs go back a long way. In fact, the earliest dates from 1957! And for you oldies fans, no track is more recent than 1988. Fans of (mostly obscure) classic folk and rock will find plenty to dig into here.

I'm also pleased to announce three new shows from my old band, Sour Landslide. We've been asked to open for our friends Lowest of the Low at their three Lee's Palace shows on December 14, 15 and 16. A reunion? Why, yes, even though the three of us were together in a later band, The Benvereens. But Sour Landslide as such will be playing its first shows since June of 1998. That's a lengthy spell away, is it not?

Back in the day, we described our music as "speedy pop mayhem." At our advanced ages I'm not so sure about the speedy or the mayhem, but I can guarantee the pop. Rehearsals are just beginning, as we narrow down the list of songs and figure out whether we can still play that fast (and indeed, if we want to). As befits punks in their 20s, some of the tempos suggest we were playing as if our hair was on fire. A couple of tunes are so fast they make Husker Du's Land Speed Record sound like Perry Como.

For a band that stayed resolutely obscure despite our best efforts, we were quite a productive lot, releasing four LPs and one EP in a nine-year span. Our repertoire consists of songs that maybe four people in the December audiences will know, and songs off the early albums that absolutely no one will know. Including, in some instances, us. As I've been getting reacquainted with the material, I found several songs where I have recorded proof that I played and sang those parts all those years ago, but zero memory of the song. It was like I was hearing them for the first time.

Anyway, to celebrate the occasion—and because I needed it or something like it to play bass live, which I've not done in years—I purchased a new pedal: the Zoom MS-60B, a multi-effects stomp-box for bass. It comes with 142 effects and its own learning curve, but I'm getting the hang of it. Last night I created several custom presets specifically for the Sour Landslide shows, and I think they'll work well. I'm miffed that the graphic EQ is missing what I consider critical frequencies for a gritty bass sound, between 800 Hz and 4.5 K. Oh, well; I'll sculpt my tone using the controls on the amp and my bass. Minor complaints aside, it's a rip-roaring little unit filled with high-quality effects. Great value for the price, too: the MS-60B sells for $160 Cdn., $175 if you throw in the AC adapter. And it's coming soon to a Palace near you.

Blue Jay Beginnings: the Jerry Garvin Jersey 

As the 2021 Toronto Blue Jays continue their quest for a playoff spot, I've been revisiting my roots with my hometown team. I've been a fan from the very beginning, and attended that first game in the snow on April 7, 1977. I was in Grade 10 at the time, and my friend Dan and I both got notes from our mothers allowing us to miss an afternoon of school.

I sat in Section 5, Row 5, Seat 27, and the ticket price was $3. To give you an idea of how lousy our seats were, I present the Exhibition Stadium seating chart:

This chart must be from the early '80s sometime, as you can see the price has gone up. Regardless, these are wretched seats. We're just behind the right-field fence; not terrible in and of itself, but because of the stadium's oddball configuration, we're facing the left-field bleachers, not the diamond. And yes, those aluminum benches weren't exactly comfortable on a zero-degree day in early April.

As befits an expansion team, the 1977 Blue Jays were abysmal and would stay that way for the rest of the '70s. Our heroes were zeroes, but hey, they were ours. A star-crossed Texan named Doug Ault was the franchise's first poster boy, belting two homers in the Jays' 9-5 win over the Chicago White Sox on Opening Day. (He retired in 1980 with a career .236 average and 17 home runs.) Ault was joined by luminaries like Otto "The Swatto" Velez, Sam Ewing and Jeff Byrd, who went 2-13 in his only season in the majors. That '77 team finished 54-107, 45 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Yankees.

Now, for years, I've wanted a powder blue (road) jersey from 1977, with the name and number of a favourite also-ran. I settled on lefty pitcher Jerry Garvin, a career Blue Jay (1977-82) who pitched fairly well in 1977, finishing 10-18 with a 4.19 ERA. Garvin won his first four starts in his rookie season and had a terrific pick-off move. I wanted to commemorate someone who wasn't famous—that part was easy; none of them were—but not completely obscure, either. Somebody who had modest success but wasn't a star, and spent his entire career with the Jays. I also wanted an original Blue Jay, selected in the 1976 expansion draft. Garvin fits the bill on all counts.

The best the Jays Shop (the official team store) could do was a home jersey, early '90s vintage, with player name and number. That wouldn't do. Alas, as I did my research I came to realize that the jersey I'm after never existed historically. Player names didn't appear on the jerseys until 1980. I didn't care. One of my zero-heroes was destined to live on in infamy, and Theodore Jared Garvin was my choice.

But where would I find such an obscure jersey? Obviously it'd have to be custom-made. I thought I had a lead with The Dream Shop, a one-man operation in Pennsylvania who clearly does meticulous and exquisite work. Unfortunately he needed me to provide a blank jersey of the right vintage in my size, which wasn't feasible. I didn't want to hold out for the slim chance that such a rare bird would pop up on eBay. Even if it did, it would've involved more effort and expense than I was willing to put in.

Enter the fine folks at Custom Throwback Jerseys, who were able to deliver a jersey that's very close to the real thing. Here it is (the blurring is an artifact of me not knowing how to use my new phone's camera):

 

I think you'll agree it's a great-looking uniform. The material is high-quality fabric (100% polyester, double-knit, says the website) and all the details are sewn on, not printed. Even though CTJ is located in Canada, they charge in US dollars, and if you're in Canada HST is charged, also in US dollars. Bit of a bummer, that, but for just over $250 Cdn., I own a very special relic from a bygone era of Blue Jays baseball. I'll wear it to a game for the first time next week, and the first Blue Jay nerd who spots it and knows who Jerry Garvin is gets a free bag of popcorn on me.

Gear Spotlight: Rickenbacker 360/12 MG 

On a blustery day in March, I finally did it—I trekked out to Burlington on GO Transit and procured my dream guitar. I present to you the Rickenbacker 360 electric 12-string guitar in a Mapleglo finish:

Rickenbacker makes its guitars to order, one at a time, at their factory in Santa Ana, California. If you're in Canada and you order through Rickenbacker's Canadian dealer, Long & McQuade, it takes up to a year for the instrument to arrive, and you can't try before you buy. The guitar comes in three colours: Jetglo (basic black), Fireglo (a sunburst red), and Mapleglo (the gorgeous woody beige you see here).

Sometimes, I suppose, people order a Rickenbacker and, for whatever reason, bail when it comes to making the purchase. These rare birds end up hanging on the racks at various Long & McQuade locations throughout Canada till someone snaps them up. For months, I'd been checking stock as I madly saved every dollar I could. I had my eye on the Mapleglo all along, as it's the variety played by two of my folk-rock heroes: Paul Kantner and Roger McGuinn.

By the time March rolled around, I'd saved up enough to justify financing the rest, and L&M had two 360/12s in stock in the whole country: a used Jetglo at their North York location and a brand-new Mapleglo in Burlington, a bedroom community about 60 kilometres from Toronto. I called Burlington long-distance to place a hold on the MG and hustled over there the same day.

Now, I'd also been looking at this (cheaper) Gretsch 12-string, which the Burlington store happened to have in stock as well. My heart was set on the Rick, of course, but I'd heard that its narrow neck could cause problems for those with big hands; in other words, the Gretsch might be easier for someone like me to play. So, it was fortuitous that I could try both out during the same trip, then decide.

I tried the Gretsch first. It was okay, though it felt a little clunky to play and I had to keep re-tuning. It had its own chime, but not that chime—the one you hear on those '60s classics that were all played on, you guessed it, Rickenbacker 360/12s. The bass pickup sounded a touch muddy as well, but all told, the G5422G-12 is certainly a decent guitar. If I were on a budget, I'd have considered it. However: then I plugged in the Rickenbacker, played the opening lick to The Byrds' version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and promptly acquired a first-class ticket to jingle-jangle nirvana. Wow! The Rickenbacker felt great to play and was a lot easier to tune than the Gretsch, but most importantly, it had that chime.

I'm not a technical guitar person, so I can tell you very little about the 360/12's specs or even what kind of wood it's made of. Okay, I looked it up: maple body, maple neck, rosewood fingerboard. Perhaps all that means something to you. It has two pickups and a three-way toggle switch for bass, treble, or a combination of the two in the middle position. Each pickup has its own dedicated volume and tone controls. Then there's the mysterious fifth knob, which really isn't so mysterious once you experiment with it. It's a blend knob, used when your toggle switch is in the middle, that adjusts the ratio of treble pickup and bass pickup in the signal.

Rickenbacker's guitars come in two varieties: 330 and 360. Cosmetic differences aside—and there are a few—what differentiates the deluxe (360) from the standard (330) model is the addition of a separate stereo pickup. This allows you to route the signal through separate effects chains or amplifiers. Rickenbacker calls this Rick-O-Sound, and I have successfully used it on a recording. I had the toggle switch in the middle position and routed the treble pickup through my Vox amp on the AC-30 setting. The bass pickup went through the "Black Panel + Trem" preset on my Pocket Pod, and voila: one guitar, one take, two different sounds. Fabulous!

To me, the 360/12 is the crown jewel of guitars. I've wanted one for years, and as I've gotten to know it over the spring and summer, I'm loving it even more. I don't know how Rickenbacker does it, but there's something about the way they build their guitars that gives them ... that chime. One thing I know they do differently with their 12-string guitars is reverse the usual course of the strings, with the lower octave of each pair on top. Also, their clever design makes the headstock a lot more compact than that of other 12-strings, the Gretsch included. And yes, the neck is thinner and my stubby fingers occasionally block strings I don't intend to block, but I've not found it to be such a problem as to render the guitar unplayable. I need to be mindful of it, that's all.

Amazingly, the guitar has that same magical chime and ring even when I play it unplugged. I've been copping some of Paul Kantner's licks from Jefferson Airplane's Woodstock set, and when I play the opening bars of "Eskimo Blue Day," my guitar sounds exactly like Paul's. And in true Kantnerian tradition, the Rickenbacker 360/12 MG will be my go-to rhythm guitar on most of my recordings from this point on. As Roger McGuinn will attest, though, it's not merely a rhythm instrument; in the Byrds, McGuinn used it as more of a lead guitar, with David Crosby holding down the rhythm on a Gretsch six-string.

I suppose I'll finish up by talking price. Rickenbackers in general don't come cheap, and the 360/12 is the most expensive of all, coming in at a cool $3,225 Cdn. before taxes. By comparison, the Gretsch G5422G-12 retails for $1,280. To my mind, the Rickenbacker blows its competitors away in build quality and sound, and there truly is no substitute. If you want to check it out, here's its Long & McQuade page ... but know that at the moment, there are no Rickenbacker 360/12s in stock anywhere in Canada. And here it is on Rickenbacker's website, sans pricing info for the United States or the rest of the world. I guess you'd have to find a dealer in your country, then go from there.

"In the jingle-jangle morning, I'll come following you" - Bob Dylan, "Mr. Tambourine Man"

Virtual Ballpark Experience 

As COVID restrictions, which I'm in full support of, continue in Ontario, one thing that I really miss is going to baseball games. To compensate, I've devised what I call the virtual ballpark experience. Here's what you need:

  • an interest in baseball (obviously)
  • subscription to MLB TV or MLB Audio (the latter is dirt cheap: US $19.99 for one year)
  • a device with which to watch a game
  • ballpark-esque food of your choice
  • (optional) a scorecard. This is the one I use; you might prefer something more or less elaborate
  • three to four distraction-free hours

If you have MLB TV, you can watch any game, live or archived, subject to blackout restrictions. Those of us on the cheaper plan can access home and away radio broadcasts of any game, including postseason, with no blackouts. Now, you'll note that earlier, I used the word "watch." How do you watch a game if you're limited to radio feeds? Simple. Every day in the regular season, the fine folks at MLB offer a free game of the day that radio listeners can access. And if you find the TV commentary too minimalist, which I often do when I'm scoring, you can overlay the radio feed. Of course, it helps if the free game of the day involves at least one team you care about, enough to cheer for or against them.

I've had some fun with the food aspect. I try to limit myself to food I can buy at my local ballpark, Rogers Centre. So, my dinner of choice is two mustard-drenched Yves veggie dogs, Smartfood Movie Night Butter popcorn (expertly mimics the dry stadium variety), a can of Coke and a bowl of Breyers chocolate ice cream. To really make it authentic, the Coke is served in the commemorative plastic cup ("White Sox, 2005 World Series champions") I got at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, where I saw Mark Buehrle's no-hitter in 2007. Over the years I've collected a fair number of those batting-helmet souvenir ice cream cups, and to honour my beloved cat (surely a Tiger fan), I serve the ice cream in a Detroit Tigers mini-helmet. I must admit, I do cheat a bit with the veggie dog toppings—grated old cheddar and diced tomatoes, neither of which are available at the ol' ball yard.

Once the food is ready, it's a matter of munching away, watching the game and filling out your scorecard. I can't think of a better way to spend a few hours. You're as "at" the ballpark as you can be, arguably more comfortable than the fans in the actual seats on a frigid April night at Fenway Park (a game I watched from home a few weeks ago). The only bummer is having to prep the food and do the dishes afterwards. Still, you can pause the game to cook, clean up, use the facilities, whatever, and not miss a single pitch. The MLB TV interface helpfully includes an in-progress box score and play summary, which makes scoring a breeze.

And you know, that old adage remains true: go to a baseball game and you never know what you'll see. The Seattle/Boston tilt I watched had the Mariners winning in extras, scoring 7 runs on 3 hits. The Seattle radio crew informed me that it's only the eighth time since 1901 that a team has scored seven or more runs on three or fewer hits (last time it happened was 1994). Also, I recently had the pleasure of scoring Joe Musgrove's historic no-hitter, the Padres' first (they went 52 years, 1 week or 8,205 games without one).

So, take yourself out to the ballgame! No need to leave your living room. You won't catch a foul ball or home run, but you can do the seventh-inning stretch if you'd like—a nice little wrinkle I'll try to remember for next time.

Restore Blue Jays Radio 

E-mail recently sent to Sportsnet, media conglomerate responsible for broadcasting all things Blue Jays:

---------------------------------------------------------------

Hello,

I'm writing to express my outrage at Sportsnet's decision to axe the Blue Jays radio broadcasts. I've been a Jays fan since 1977, and my primary means of processing information is auditory. As such, I don't even own a TV. I fell in love with the game on the radio—first with Tom Cheek and Early Wynn, then the legendary tandem of Tom and Jerry. Both are sorely missed, but in recent years I've enjoyed the quality work of Ben Wagner and Mike Wilner.

For those of us who aren't visual or are visually impaired, radio isn't a frill or an add-on. We need a dedicated radio broadcast in order to follow the game. Your stated reason for ditching the radio broadcasts (COVID-related travel concerns) simply doesn't pass muster. Ben and Mike did a phenomenal job in 2020 broadcasting off monitors from a Toronto studio. Don't kid yourselves. We, the fans, see this decision for what it is: a short-sighted cost-cutting measure.

Though you may not know or believe it, baseball is made for radio. The slower pace of the sport allows the broadcaster to weave into their commentary stories, stats, and baseball history. A great radio voice paints a picture for the listener, enabling us to effectively "be" at the ballpark through the magic of sound and experience the timeless feel of this grand old game.

Alas, as the 2021 spring slate begins, I have no way of following my team. The radio booth lies empty for the first time since 1976. Many Jays games have no radio coverage at all, and those that do feature the opposing team's broadcast. Obviously, their focus is not on the Blue Jays, who are just "the other team" on the field. Lest you think this won't affect my fandom, know that I'm seriously considering switching allegiances to one of the other 29 teams. Unlike you, they recognize the value for money that radio provides.

You also need to understand that I'm not a lone voice. I draw your attention to this petition, which has been signed by over 2,100 irate Blue Jay fans: https://www.change.org/su/p/rogers-media-keep-toronto-blue-jays-radio-broadcasts-alive/f

I urge you to end this travesty and restore to the airwaves a dedicated Blue Jays radio broadcast. Canada's only major-league team deserves better than bush-league media coverage.

Gear Spotlight: Vox Mini3 G2 Modelling Amp 

Peanut butter and jam. Snow and ice. Sand and surf. Certain things just naturally go together, don't they? Here's a more musical example: Vox amplifiers and Rickenbacker guitars, the epitome of mod cool in the '60s, '70s and beyond. While I save up to acquire the second component, a Rickenbacker 360 12-string, I recently acquired its mate. Introducing the Vox Mini3 G2 modelling amp:

Coming in at a very reasonable $200, the Vox Mini3 G2 is ostensibly a practice or busking amp, but don't let those three watts of output fool you: it packs quite a punch. At a little over 10 inches wide, it fits snugly into the corner nook of my tiny apartment. Size requirements aside, the main reasons for my purchase were twofold: one, to have an amplifier, period (I've not had one since I've been living in apartments—20 years now); and two, having a genuine Vox to pair with the coming Rickenbacker.

And I'll tell you, for $200, Vox has been more than generous in terms of features. The Mini3 G2 models 11 amplifiers, has two dedicated effects sections and a separate mic input with trim and effects send should you wish to busk or play a small club date. For you buskers out there, yes, it can run on batteries. There's also a simple tuner and a headphone out for late-night practice or, more importantly, a direct in to your recording device.

Let's dive in first to the effects, which are really quite impressive for this price point. The main effects section consists of compressor, chorus, flanger and tremolo, all controlled by an easy-to-use pot that increases either the depth or speed, depending on the effect. You can only use one of the four at a given time, but hey, for $200, I'll take it. (Back in my day, even high-end amplifiers had at most two effects: tremolo and reverb.) The second bank of effects features analog delay, tape echo, spring reverb and room reverb. Again, you can use only one at a time. The pot controls the dry/wet balance this time, but you can adjust the speed of the delays via an adjacent "tap" button that also doubles as a tuner.

The amp models, and what I think they're modelling, are:

  • BTQ Clean (Dumble Overdrive Special, clean channel)
  • Black 2x12 (Fender Twin Reverb)
  • Tweed 4x10 (Fender Bassman)
  • AC15 (Vox AC15)
  • AC30TB (Vox AC30, top boost)
  • UK '70s (Marshall JTM45)
  • UK '80s (Marshall JCM800)
  • UK '90s (Marshall JCM900)
  • Cali Metal (Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier)
  • US HiGain (Soldano SLO-100)
  • Line (tube preamp; i.e., neutral clean sound with no modelling)

Gain, tone and volume round out the controls, and what with the choice of amp models and two concurrent effects, this little dynamo produces a wide range of tones. I'm more the jangly, '60s/'70s singer-songwriter type, so the shred-o-rama models (UK '90s, Cali Metal, US HiGain) don't do much for me. Though I've found that even these can produce useful sounds if you turn down the gain.

The many models and effects are a bonus, but I was really after a Vox amp. And who better to model Vox than Vox, right? I put both Vox models through their paces with my Epiphone Les Paul, and they're fantastic: gritty, chimey, the sound of the swinging '60s. By switching between pickups on the guitar and adjusting gain and tone, a broad sonic palette is easily achieved with just the AC15 and AC30TB models. The UK '70s and Black 2x12 are terrific as well. The Tweed is very mid-range-y, perhaps excessively so, but might be useful in some applications.

Rather like buying the licence plate and bumper stickers before you get the car, along with the amp I bought a guitar strap, a stand and an extra set of strings. That way, when I finally pull the trigger on my coveted Rickenbacker 360/12, I can confidently and easily drive it straight off the lot, so to speak. More on that in the coming months ...

A Cautionary Tale: President Abbie Hoffman 

Imagine, if you will, an alternate reality where counterculture radical Abbie Hoffman was somehow elected president of the United States in 1972. Ridiculed as a lunatic by his opponents and considered a long shot even by ardent supporters, Hoffman lost the popular vote to incumbent Richard Nixon. But, due to a quirk in America's voting system, he squeaked through a narrow victory in the electoral college and, on January 20, 1973, assumed the presidency.

Predictably, sweeping and radical changes came swiftly to the US government. In March, Secretary of Defense Eldridge Cleaver was tasked with withdrawing all troops from Vietnam, followed by a complete dismantling of the military and all police forces. By July, Secretary of the Treasury Jerry Rubin had closed the New York Stock Exchange and eliminated the dollar as the basis of US currency, stating that money would henceforth be "free, because it's yours."

In 1974's infamous War on Sobriety, drug czars Grace Slick and Jerry Garcia oversaw the legalization of all drugs and the introduction of LSD into the country's water supply. 1975 saw Attorney General Allen Ginsberg grant clemency to all state and federal prisoners, in the process converting the country's empty prisons into ashrams and zendos. Ginsberg's other pet project was a month-long attempt to levitate the Pentagon via chanting.

By mid-1976 the United States was in tatters, and with Republican challenger Gerald Ford rising steadily in the polls, Hoffman published Steal This Election, a manifesto warning of the dire consequences of a Ford victory. In it, he insisted that Ford's candidacy was a CIA- and Mafia-backed plot, and indeed a threat to democracy itself. Ford's ascendancy in the polls, Hoffman argued, was nothing but a sure sign that the November election would be rigged. In the book's final chapter, Hoffman urged his supporters—hippies, yippies, anarchists and "lovers of freedom"—to take direct action should the November results be in Ford's favour.

Ford, of course, won the 1976 election handily, but Hoffman refused to concede. Scores of lawsuits alleging voter fraud were summarily tossed, even by such Hoffman-friendly judicial appointees as Bobby Seale and Bernadine Dohrn. As the president's conspiracy-themed rantings grew increasingly shrill and unhinged, Vice-President Huey Newton tried to talk him down from what had become his fixation: a violent revolution that would enshrine him in his rightful role as president ... for life.

One way or another, things had to come to a head. On January 6, 1977, two weeks before Ford's inauguration, thousands of self-styled "patriot freaks," fuelled by speed, cocaine and an early-morning rally with President Hoffman, stormed the US Capitol. Any remnants of a security force were swamped in minutes, as the rioters smashed windows and doors, desecrating the hallowed halls of Congress. "Start the steal!" they shouted as the melee unfolded. "The people's house belongs to the people!"

America, you have just endured four years of Abbie Hoffman's mirror image.

Reaction to the US Election 

After several nail-biting days, the US presidential election has finally been called in favour of Joe Biden. And though the current occupant can spew all the lawsuits and fury he wants, his case that the election was "rigged" has no merit. Zero. It's over, he's fired, and all that's left is for the authorities to drag him from the White House in handcuffs come inauguration day. (Yes, I'm convinced it'll come to that.)

CNN asked its viewers/readership how we felt about Biden's victory, and here's what I wrote:

"On this warm autumn day in downtown Toronto, I look out my front window and see that the house across the street has decorated its front railing in red, white and blue bunting. We're celebrating with you in our understated Canadian way. Your closest neighbours (yes, that's a 'u' in there; trust me, it belongs) are relieved and elated to welcome back the America we once knew: a beacon of freedom, decency and truth. We look forward to working alongside you to create a better, more equitable and sustainable future for all. May God bless, protect and guide Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, elected officials of all stripes, and the American people. Warmest congratulations to the new administration."

Listening to Biden's victory speech, I was struck by his conciliatory tone and how much he sounded like ... a traditional president-elect. How refreshing this is after four years of chaos, childish name-calling and "alternative facts." As CNN commentator Van Jones said in reaction to the speech, "Boring is the new thrilling. Predictable is the new exciting. And normal is the new extraordinary."

Cycling and Staycations 

Like many of you, I've been itching to travel but hesitant to do so, as safe conveyance remains an issue. That's especially true for those of us who rely on public and intercity transport to take us where we're going. Enter the venerable bicycle, which will take a non-athlete like me modest distances and get me some good exercise, too.

I bought a new bike recently, not out of indulgence but necessity. I seem to have reached old age a bit early, because back in May I fell off my old bike while trying to get on it. Lifting my leg that high has always been a challenge, but this was the final blow. Right then I realized I could no longer ride my bike safely and needed a new model with a lower crossbar. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Specialized Crossroads 2.0 Step-Through:

Now, back in the day, we used to call this a women's bike. As a certified male I'm grateful for the modern rebranding of "step-through," because whatever you want to call it, a bike like this is what I needed to keep cycling.

I'm very lucky to have procured mine, and here's why: even though it's a 2020 model, they're already impossible to find. The guy at my bike shop told me I snagged one of the last ones. See, back in the spring when the pandemic made public transport a dicey proposition, everyone took up cycling and mid-range bicycles like this flew off the shelves. From what I was told, it's hard to find any new bike these days for under $1500. In any case, the Specialized Crossroads 2.0 Step-Through has been out of stock on every bike-shop website under the sun since mid-June. There really aren't any left.

I won't bore you with bike-tech details, but here's what sold me on the Crossroads 2.0: (1) the lower crossbar, obviously; (2) 21 speeds, accessed by thumb-operated shifters; (3) mechanical disc brakes; (4) puncture-resistant Armadillo tires; (5) the reasonable price ($749). It's a beauty in appearance, handling and comfort—the perfect bike for recreational and fitness riding.

Now that the days are getting cooler, I'm starting to venture out a bit. Last weekend I had a picnic at Taylor Creek Park, which can be accessed from where I live almost entirely on bike paths. Yesterday's outing took me to The Beaches, again mostly on off-road trails. I'm aiming to bike out to Long Branch next weekend, and this I'm planning as a multi-modal trek, using GO's Lakeshore West train to shorten the ride back. In the coming weeks, weather permitting, I hope to make even more use of the GO train. With careful planning, I can take the train to far-flung places like Barrie and Burlington, tool around there on my bike and ride the rails back.

If you live in the Golden Horseshoe and are interested in active-transportation staycations, check out these helpful pages from GO Transit and the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail. If you're not a cyclist, not a problem. You can skateboard, roller-blade, hike ... whatever suits your fancy. As for me, I aim to squeeze in as many bike trips as I can before autumn's chill sets in.

Woodstock at 51 

As you all know, about a year ago I spent a three and half frenetic days recording XPNStock, WXPN's real-time broadcast of the entire 1969 Woodstock Festival in honour of its 50th anniversary. I'd missed out on the 38-CD box, and this was my one and only chance to grab its treasures—for free, no less. I then spent the better part of August and September painstakingly evaluating almost 36 hours of recorded audio: editing, trimming, patching and polishing it up until it positively sparkled. Problem was, by the time I was finished I was so burnt out that I couldn't bring myself to actually listen to it.

That's what 51st anniversaries are for. I'm a bit early, but I did all of Day 1 today: cranked up the old computer speakers and (finally) got to kick back and enjoy the music. I'm still amazed at how good it sounds, and so grateful to have procured the lot for nothing but dedication and diligence. Takeaways: Richie Havens' opening set was, well, groovy. Sweetwater featured a unique sound and some great jamming, but must work on the harmonies, kids. Bonus points  for the flat-out weirdest song performed at the festival, "My Crystal Spider." Bert Sommer was a top-rank songwriter, and it's a shame his career never took off. His is the great "lost" performance of the festival. Tim Hardin's performance, though wildly uneven, really had its moments. Ravi Shankar? Less talk, more rock. I loved what was played but grew impatient with the musicology class he threatened to turn his set into. Melanie is not my cup of tea at all, but even she had a couple of gems amongst the caterwauling. Arlo Guthrie's performance was by turns ragged, hilarious and inspired, and Joan Baez capped off the day in fine form.

WXPN is reprising XPNStock, but they're playing the sets over a full week, in prime time, in what looks to be a bit of a random order. Had I missed anything last time I'd tune in, but I'm pretty sure I got all there was to get. Now it's time to enjoy. Day 2 coming up ...