Monday, November 23, 2015

Fast Forward Right Past Thanksgiving

 Fast Forward Past Thanksgiving
    Thanksgiving has long been my favorite national holiday. I observe and appreciate the others, but I especially like Thanksgiving for a number of reasons. I like that there is little pressure about gifts, that it involves food, that it is a chance for people to come together and just be with each other, and, most importantly, that it celebrates the idea of gratitude. Gratitude seems to have a hard time of it in our modern world, and I am glad that there is at least one day where that thought is pretty much universally recognized and celebrated. I love taking time out to focus on being grateful for what I have in my life, to slow down and take a real serious look at the people who are important parts of my life and provide so much, and to just live in a few moments of simple appreciation of all that surrounds me. Sometimes I can get so caught up in the speed and complexity of life that I can forget to take time to notice the small wonderful things that are quiet parts of my life. And being grateful gives me opportunities to do that.

   This year, though, I have noticed that Thanksgiving seems to be nearly absent on the national commercial scene. We seemed to have fast forwarded from the Halloween commercial onslaught right past Thanksgiving and into Christmas mode. Store window decorations, TV and media ads, newspaper ads and more have barely taken note this year of our one day set aside for reflection and being grateful. Of course we are a country of commerce-we are a civilization, after all, and civilizations are about trade and cities and growth and expansion. Getting people to buy and consume things is central to our development-business is central to our growth. I get that, and there is nothing wrong with that per se. But there are times when it seems a little out of bounds and over the top. Looking at what we do and how we do it on the commercial front is often a good indication of where we are as a culture, and this year we are not into being grateful. This year we seem to be hell bent and desperate about jetting into the land of profit and super-consumption. And when that feeling is on, there is little room for being grateful. Ads this year talk about “winning Christmas,”“proving your love” and even something called “Thanksgetting.” That is a far cry from gratitude, and that bothers me.

    But just when I am getting cynical and depressed about all of that I remember that gratitude is something that seems to be essential to humans; something humans seem to need to do. The idea of having some type of “thanksgiving” with a lower case “T” is nearly universal, whether it is represented by something as simple as saying grace or by the more elaborate rituals and celebrations that have existed throughout our history and on every part of the planet. Pre-civilized people who farmed, ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans and Chinese, and just about every religious tradition has had rituals and days around the fall equinox where humans give thanks to beings or gods or spirits for what they hope will be a good harvest. Nomadic and herding cultures didn't farm, but they also needed the regular cycle of seasons and growth to provide food for their grazing herds. They, too, had holidays and rituals that involved giving thanks and showing gratitude for the bounty of the earth. We seem to need the intervention or help of mysterious sources outside ourselves to get by, and we need to acknowledge that. We need help; we cannot be sure of what our efforts and labors will present us with, so nothing can or should be taken for granted. We also need to realize that by ourselves we do not do well: humans are social animals, and we need the mutual support and interdependence of other humans to accomplish things. It is a good idea, most cultures think, to thank one another for that. We simply need each other too much to do otherwise.

    So I hope more of us can resist the”gimme” and “I want” state of so much of our culture today and focus on gratitude. That we can slow down, stand back and realize how much there is to be grateful for. However and whyever it is so, a lot of our lives are way above and beyond our own efforts. A lot happens that we really have no role in and which mystifies us. At least one day a year we Americans can get to be truly cognizant of that fact and share it with others. We get the opportunity to look at our lives and where we are, and we can express our thanks for our situation and lives just a little more humbly. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Friday November 27 Alma Mater-7165 Germantown Ave; Philadelphia, PA 19119; 267-335-4909;; $12; sets start at 9:00
Want to loose some of those Thanksgiving added pounds? Need to dance of that turkey and stuffing? Come on out For Blues Friday -the Friday after Thanksgiving to this great new club on the scene for a post-Thanksgiving party Dukes style. The club has new ownership, a variety of draft beers on tap, room to dance, and some great food (Try the crab cakes!) Former home of North by Northwest at the corner of Mt. Airy and Germantown Ave, it is the place to dine and and dance those extra pounds away. Come help welcome the Dukes to this new venue.

Friday Dec 18; World Cafe Live 3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, doors 7PM Show 8PM; $13 advance-$15 door; 215-222-1400;
No, we are not there for New Year's this year, so we are having our own little “Early New Year's Party.” World Cafe has a great sound system, great seats, delicious food, plenty of space to dance, and there will be noisemakers provided for the Early New Year's party. Get the jump on the rest of the world; say, “Hi” to 2016 week and a half early. Get some friends together and come party with the Dukes.

Friday, January 8; The Twisted Tail; 720 South 2nd St.; Philadelphia,PA
215-558-2471;; sets 9PM-1AM; no cover
This is the Dukes debut gig at the Twisted Tail, one of the areas top blues venues, and we are looking forward to playing the place. Good food and drink, some space to dance in front of the stage, and a good blues-loving crowd. Welcome the Dukes to the Tail and come and enjoy the start of 2016 with the Dukes at the hotspot for blues in Philly-The Twisted Tail.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Magic and Wonder of Bridges


    I love bridges. I really love them. Since I was a kid and first rode across the Ben Franklin bridge with my family to New Jersey I have been fascinated and amazed by the fact that humans can envision, design, and build structures that can carry them across rivers, creeks, and bays. I love crossing large bodies of water. Seeing the grand views of the water, noting the structures built on either side of the cliffs above the water, and marveling at the design of the pylons and cables and approach roads that safely carry me across the spans never ceases to amaze me. And given the news coverage of the rains and flooding in the Carolinas the last 2 weeks, bridges have definitely been in the news. So I have been reflecting on our camping trip to MD and VA a few weeks ago and our experience with bridges. I got to experience a couple of my favorite bridges on that trip, and I really enjoyed them. They are on roads I do not regularly travel, so the crossings were special indeed.

    The William Roth Turnpike Canal Bridge was the first special bridge we crossed. Located on Rt 1 in Delaware, it is a uniquely designed bridge with several massive cable-stays holding in place the long and elegant gold plated cables that give the bridge its distinctive appearance. Until my first time on this bridge several years ago I had never been on a bridge that did not have supports and cables stretching the entire length and height of the bridge, and I admit it was a little unnerving at first. But I loved the sleek and daring design, and the view of the Delaware-Chesapeake Canal it provided was almost magical. After that I looked forward to every time I had to cross it. Crossing the span almost feels as if you are floating, and crossing it on a sunny afternoon got the camping trip off to a great start. It is a wondrously designed structure that feels light and open. It is one of my favorite bridges. (

   My favorite bridge experience of the trip, though, was twice crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel that so gracefully spans the Chesapeake Bay, linking Norfolk,VA and the Eastern Shore of VA. Crossing that bridge is always an awe-inspiring experience. Sleek, curving, low to the water, and over 17 miles long, it was voted one of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineering. And it definitely deserves that award. It combines a beautiful, expansive, curving bridge with a tunnel and, surprisingly, a mid-bridge restaurant. That combination was daring when the bridge was built in 1964, and it has been carried off in a spectacular fashion. The bridge crosses the Chesapeake Bay-one of the most spectacularly breathtaking and beautiful bodies of water I have ever seen. And the sense of wonder that I feel as I approach and start the long elegant crossing on this structure is hard to describe. That wonderful ribbon of concrete that takes you across the Chesapeake feels like a venture into the great unknown-a mythical journey. Suffice it say that crossing the Bay-Tunnel Bridge is one of the joys of any trip to or from eastern Virginia. There are always dozens of waterfowl, amazing waves, sailboats and other vessels, and absolutely stunning views in all directions. And at one point you go beneath the bay, and you know the ships are passing over you. It is a crossing that combines beauty, daring, engineering and subtlety in a way that few creations have ever done. I just love it and feel grateful to the designers and especially the builders every-time I cross it. It is simply wondrous. ( )

  So these bridge crossings were almost as much a part of our recent wonderful camping trip as was the birding. We will return to these places in a few months for some winter birding, and we will experience these great spans again. We've never done these crossings in winter, so that will be another first, and we are definitely looking forward to it. Beautiful bodies of water and great bridges can inspire wonder, amazement and joy, and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to experience these marvels of human design. Travel is a wondrous thing.