Two They Might Be Giants Shows, Twenty Years Apart

I went downtown to see They Might Be Giants this week.  The show was at a venue called The Beacham, which is a large and venerable concert space right on Orange Avenue.

TMBG did a rollicking two-set show, where they served as their own opening act.  They made jokes about Clippy the paperclip and Phil Collins, and kept their audience thoroughly entertained while doing a combination of their classic hits and their new stuff.

While I was listening to “Whistling In The Dark,” I was thinking about the last time I saw this band- twenty years ago, at another show in Orlando.  They Might Be Giants played at the Embassy Music Hall in 1998.

When I lived in Orlando twenty years ago, the Embassy Music Hall was part of my regular rotation of clubs to go dancing; they had a Wednesday night (as far as I can recall) with lots of 80s and new wave music. I have loads of great memories of dancing there with friends.

The Embassy was a nondescript looking place, situated on the side of a big shopping plaza off Lee Road.  It was kind of nondescript, even when it was open.  This picture is long after the Embassy closed, but it didn’t look much different than this:

The Embassy had a regular rotation of amazing concerts.  While I was looking up details about the club for this post, I found information about shows by Love and Rockets, KMFDM, Green Day, Primus, The Damned, Collective Soul, The Lemonheads, Snoop Dogg, Marilyn Manson, Anthrax, and Iron Maiden, all from the late 1990s.  I got to see TMBG there in ’98, and I also saw Project Pitchfork and Front 242 there.   The Embassy Music Hall was awesome.

Sometime in 1999, Embassy shut its doors and was re-imagined as a sort of after-hours raver club called Cyberzone.  Cyberzone had problems right away, including multiple drug arrests and the deaths of two people.  I never went during the Cyberzone era, and the club closed in early 2001.

I hadn’t heard much about the place in a really long time, so while I was getting ready to see They Might Be Giants for the first time in two decades, I checked in on the old place with some Google Map action.

It’s a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Grocery now.

Yup, that sounds about right*.

*There’s a song on TMBG’s 1992 album Flood called “Minimum Wage.”  It uses a whip-crack to hilarious effect.   Seems about right.

What happened to your favorite places from years ago?

Peter Dinklage and I Have One Thing In Common

I never really gave much thought to the place where I was born. I’ve only been there twice. The first time is when I was born, before I went home to the family home in nearby Livingston.

The second time was in 1997, when the entire family went to Jersey for our cousin’s wedding. During that trip, my brother and I took the rental car for a brief day-trip to check the place out. I was a little curious about my birthplace: Morristown, New Jersey.

While we were there, we walked around the downtown area a little bit, walked by the hospital where I was born, and also walked through a park in the center of the town. Unbeknownst to me, the Morristown National Historical Park is the site of General George Washington’s encampment from December 1779 to June 1780, and there’s a Washington museum on site.jon-in-morristown-2016_08_01_21_43_27_001

The picture to the right is of Jonathan standing in front of the equestrian statue of General Washington.  This was the first moment that I had any inkling that my birthplace is interesting on its own, and since then I’ve found out a few other neat facts about the town.

  • During Washington’s encampment in Morristown, Alexander Hamilton was present. It was during this stretch of time that Hamilton met and courted his future wife,  Elizabeth Schuyler.
  • The Morristown Green is also the site of  a statue commemorating the meeting of George Washington, the young Marquis de Lafayette, and young Alexander Hamilton.  (I’m gonna have to go back some time to see this one, probably.)
  • The 1780 court martial of Benedict Arnold also happened in Morristown.
  • There’s an additional encampment from the revolutionary war situated on a hill which gives clear views to the North, East, and South, while being backed by mountains on the West.  This encampment, created by order of General Washington in 1777, has the hilarious and awesome name of Fort Nonsense.    (Note to self:  I’m totally gonna steal that for my next apartment.  “Hey, let’s go back to Fort Nonsense and watch movies!”)
  • Peter Dinklage was born there, four years before me.  He’s no Alexander Hamilton, but he’s really good at drinking and knowing things.

Does your birthplace have any interesting history?

A Carefree Life.

On Dixie Highway, less than a mile and a half from downtown West Palm Beach, Florida, there is an abandoned movie theater.  It’s called the Carefree Theatre, and it was a major part of my life during the 1990s.

The Carefree  started in 1936 as the Carefree Center and Bowlaway.   The building housed a soda fountain and a ten lane bowling alley with “pin boys” who would set the  pins and roll balls back to the bowlers.  Automatic pin setters were installed later at great expense.

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The movie theater portion began construction in 1946, and opened in 1947.  The two front rows of seats were removed to allow the addition of a curved stage in front of the screen, reducing the number of seats from 800 to 772.  There were offices and dressing rooms upstairs, and retail space along the northern wall.  An outdoor rollerskating rink was tried on the roof, but the idea was dismissed after one season.  One of the smaller shop fronts was a barber shop for years.  It had been converted to a tiny art gallery when I worked there in the 1990s.  I’m still getting to that.

Owner of the Carefree Theatre Jon Stoll. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone

In 1984, a man named Jon Stoll bought the center.  He already had a functioning concert promotion business, a company called Fantasma Productions.   He set up Fantasma in the offices on the south side of the building.   The old derelict bowling alley became the Comedy Corner, one of South Florida’s premiere comedy clubs.  People like Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher played there.  Dan Whitney (known to most people as Larry the Cable Guy) did opening act work there in his early days in comedy.  A restaurant opened in the northwest corner of the building, with a bar that was made from the old bowling lane wood.

1984 photo of Carefree Theater in WPB photo by Loren Hosack

In 1984, the Carefree was the largest single-screen movie theater in the state of Florida.  The theater started to run art and foreign films in 1990, and concerts routinely graced the stage.    A regular Saturday night showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show started up, and ran continuously for fifteen years.

I was in college when I first visited the Carefree Theater.  The year was 1991, and I went with a group of people to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show.   I was friends with people who were friends with other people who were in the shadow cast of Rocky Horror, and it wasn’t long before I wound up in the cast myself.  I mostly played Brad, but I spent time in many of the other parts.  There may or may not be photos of me playing Dr. Frank N. Further out in the wild.

In 1993, my job as a cashier for a county pool ran past my limited cap of hours.  It was October, so I needed a job to get me through until January came to reset the cap.  I got a job at the Carefree as a projectionist and assistant manager, and I worked that job alongside my county job.

I stopped playing in Rocky Horror in 1997, just before I went back to school at the University of Central Florida to complete my degree, but I still worked at the Carefree sometimes when I was back in town for the weekend.   Here’s a few of the things I most remember about my time at the Carefree:

  • Running many, many well known movies, including Amelie, Shakespeare In Love, and the Engish Patient.  We also did a run of Anime films on Friday nights that included Princess Mononoke and The Lensman.   The Jewish Film Festival would rent our space for their movies on a yearly basis.  So would the local Bollywood community,  which marks the first time I’d ever projected a movie so long that it had an intermission.

  • Accidentally starting a very, very large LARP (live action role-playing for those that aren’t familiar) of Vampire: The Masquerade.   The idea started as a lark, and quickly grew to an enormous crowd of people.  We got permission from the powers that be to actually open the theater for the game, as long as the concession stand had someone on standby to sell popcorn and drinks to the LARPers.

  • Wearing many, many fun Halloween costumes.  My best-ever costume was during Halloween 1997, when I dressed as Jareth, David Bowie’s character from the movie Labyrinth.
    Me as Jareth

  • Meeting Weird Al Yankovic, BB King, Howard Jones, Lisa Loeb, and so many more before or after their shows.  I bumped into Ben Folds in the bathroom, and had an entire conversation with him without knowing that he was the lead singer in that new band that was playing that night.   There were so many amazing concerts at this place that I couldn’t even list them all.  Tori Amos played the Carefree when her latest release was Little Earthquakes.

  • Seeing comedy live from people like Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Hicks, Richard Jeni, Carrot Top, Tommy Chong, and Patton Oswalt.  Patton Oswalt and Dana Gould played the Comedy Corner on the same night, and when their show was done they came over to see the last half of Rocky Horror.  Dana Gould writes for the Simpsons now, and Patton Oswalt is in absolutely everything else.  I sat in Patton Oswalt’s lap during the floor show part of the movie, and he was a really good sport about it.  Michael Winslow, the sound effects guy from the Police Academy movies did a few shows there, and I got to meet him offstage in the afternoon.  It turns out he makes those sounds all the time.

  • One night while closing up, I went around the back of the building to trip a power breaker, and I fell into an open manhole.  There had been construction recently, and someone left the cover open.   It was also dark, and I wasn’t expecting to lose six feet of height in half a second.   I got six or seven stitches in my shin from that little adventure.   My injuries are frequently cartoonish in nature, and this is a perfect example of that.

  • Joy, one of my then-coworkers, told me that at one point, some of the staff from the comedy club next door were playing with a Ouija board in the wait-station behind the bar. There was a history of odd events and vaguely supernatural spookiness in the building, and they discovered from their Ouija dabbling that there was an entity named “Steven” who was stuck in the building and couldn’t leave.  Joy’s deadpan response still makes me laugh: “Yeah, but he’s still alive.”

I finally turned in my keys in 2001.  In 2004, South Florida had a whole bunch of bad hurricanes hit us in a row, causing roof damage.  In December of 2005, during the Jewish Film Festival, part of the roof collapsed.  There were 600 people in the Carefree Theatre, but the collapse was over an empty storefront.  The building was evacuated, but nobody was injured.  In March of 2006, the damaged part of the building was demolished.

030306 MET Carefree Staff Photo by Lannis Waters/ The Palm Beach Post 0019825A [ WITH STORY BY TBA??] ---WEST PALM BEACH--- Workers with Southeast Contracting Services tear down and haul off debris from the damaged portion of the Carefree Theatre building Friday. The Carefree Theatre was deemed unsafe by city inspectors after a roof collapsed on the south side of the building in December. 3/3/06. ..... NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION OUTSIDE COX PAPERS OUT PALM BEACH, BROWARD, MARTIN, ST. LUCIE, INDIAN RIVER AND OKEECHOBEE COUNTIES IN FLORIDA. ORLANDO OUT. NO SALES. TV OUT. TABLOIDS OUT. MAGAZINES OUT. WIDE WORLD OUT. INTERNET USE OUT. ORG XMIT: MER0603031518146801 ORG XMIT: MER0703191752118553

In 2008, Jon Stoll died of a stroke.  The theater has been empty ever since.  Here’s what it looks like now, on any night that has epic stormclouds:

The Carefree Theater on South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach Friday morning, October 30, 2015. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

So many relationships formed while I was working there.  Several marriages still hold from those days.  Several funerals, too.    And many, many friendships.  A hefty chunk of my Facebook friend-list is people who I met during my years working there.   One good friend, John Rundell, has been saying for years that he wants us to buy the abandoned theater to reopen it in some way.

It turns out we missed our window of opportunity, though.  Lori Stoll,  Jon’s widow, sold the entire complex to a developer and film producer named Charles Cohen.  He’s planning on razing the building to the ground and rebuilding it with a six-screen stadium-style movie theater, with apartments above the theater.

He still plans on showing art house and foreign films, though.  Maybe it will still seem like the place I remember.

South Florida friends, do you have any fond memories of the Carefree Theatre?

Hiroshima

On my second full weekend in Japan, I bought a ticket for a Shinkansen ride to Hiroshima.  By high speed rail, the trip takes a smidge over four hours.  My plan for this weekend was aggressive and exhausting, but totally worthwhile given my limited time in Japan:

  • Friday, go to Hiroshima.  Stay there overnight.
  • Saturday, stash my bag in a train station locker and then see as much as I can before late afternoon.
  • Saturday before dinner, take another two hour Shinkansen ride to Osaka.
  • See as much as I can in Osaka before it’s too dark, and stay there overnight.
  • Sunday, see more of Osaka, including the aquarium.
  • Sunday afternoon, take a very short train hop over to Kyoto.
  • In Kyoto see two very specific things before taking one last two hour train back to Tokyo.
  • Profit.

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The weekend didn’t go entirely according to plan, but I did get to see most of what I wanted to see, starting with a lovely fast train ride through the Japanese countryside after leaving work on Friday.  Have I mentioned lately that I love trains?  I really do.

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Arriving in Hiroshima shortly before sunset, I saw that a baseball game was in progress at the Mazda Zoom-Zoom stadium, which probably has another, more accurate name that I haven’t learned.  I never had a chance to see a baseball game in Japan, but I’m told that they’re very entertaining.  Fellow blogger Adam has written about baseball in Japan quite a few times.

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A momentary aside about the station in Hiroshima-  this waterfall statue thing looks a great deal to me like a pair of mushroom clouds.  I’m quite sure that’s not the intent, but I can’t be the only person who sees that image, can I?

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After checking into the hotel in Hiroshima, I was delighted to find that housekeeping had placed a tiny paper crane on the bed.

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Once I dropped off my bag at the hotel, I set back out to have some dinner.  I ate some junk food near the station, delighting in how much the city has been rebuilt since the bombs 70 years ago.  I don’t know why I was surprised about the rebuilding-  70 years is a very long time.  It’s not as if the land is irradiated.

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I spotted this German restaurant after I had already eaten dinner.  I rather wish I’d spotted it beforehand.  I would have been thrilled to try German cooking in Hiroshima.

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On Saturday morning, I found the Hiroshima sightseeing loop bus, with its adorable pudgy moose mascot.  When traveling through multiple cities on an abbreviated timetable, it’s important to research things ahead of time.   For example, it’s excellent to know that a single fee for the day will take me to all the things that I most wanted to see:  Hiroshima Castle, the Peace Memorial Park, and the Genbaku Dome.

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First up, Hiroshima Castle, sometimes known as the Gokoku Shrine.    Terumoto established this castle in 1589 at the delta of the Otagawa River.

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The original castle was destroyed by the atomic bomb blast in August of 1945, and was reconstructed in 1958 as a museum to exhibit historic artifacts.  I didn’t take many photos of artifacts.  I never really do.  I do like the reconstruction of living quarters though.  I find it interesting.

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I’m also thrilled by the view of Hiroshima from the top of the castle.  I like tall places.

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The castle structure is built next to a shrine.  I saw several weddings during my journeys; this was one of them.

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The castle and shrine together are surrounded by high walls and a moat.  The whole arrangement was really very pretty.

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From the castle, it was less than a mile to walk to the Peace Memorial Park, which is preserved as a remembrance to the atomic bomb and the people killed or wounded at that time.  I have misplaced my notes about the sculptures in the park, but I believe this one was about the families killed in the blast.

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I think this one was about the teachers killed in the blast.  There are about a dozen different sculptures and monuments in the park.  I should have taken better notes.

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This one, at least, I’m sure of.  This is the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students.  During World War II, more than three million students over age twelve were mobilized for labor services in Japan.  As a result, more than 7,000 were killed by the atomic bomb.  This tower is twelve meters high and gradually widens as it rises.  The sculpture depicts the Goddess of Peace accompanied by eight doves perched around the tower.

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This one is well documented on the Internet-  the Children’s Peace Monument.  The top depicts a girl holding up a crane, a symbol of longevity and happiness.  The monument was inspired by the story of a young victim who believed that she would recover from her radiation poisoning once she made 1,000 paper cranes.

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This structure is the Cenotaph.   It is dedicated to all the victims of the bombing, and it embodies the hope that Hiroshima will forever stand as a symbol of peace.

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The building behind the Cenotaph is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and I went inside after I was done in the park.  I took almost no photographs inside this museum, because it felt like sacrilege.

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Looking back through the Cenotaph, you can see the structure of the Genbaku Dome, the lone building to remain standing after the atomic bomb blast.

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This is the Cenotaph courtyard as seen from the museum-  this is a better view of how the entire park is laid out.

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The Atomic Bomb Dome was once the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall.

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At 8:15 AM on August 7, 1945, the atomic bomb designated “Little Boy” was detonated over the city of Hiroshima.  The bomb missed its target by about 240 meters.  It was supposed to detonate over a bridge, but instead detonated almost 2000 feet over a hospital.  This red sphere signifies where the explosion occurred.

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Because the bomb was almost directly overhead, this building’s dome and columns were able to partially withstand the downward force of the explosion.  People closest to the center of the explosion were vaporized instantly.  The pressure wave from the explosion reduced this portion of the city to rubble in moments.  Roughly 70,000 people were killed immediately, and tens of thousands more succumbed to burn injuries from the blast or to radiation poisoning soon after.

Here’s what the Genbaku Dome looked like immediately after the blast.

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In 1966, the Hiroshima city council adopted a resolution to permanently preserve the dome in its current state.    It has been structurally reinforced and fenced off, but is otherwise unchanged from the way it looked in 1966.

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Visiting this dome felt similar to visiting Auschwitz, somber and sobering.  It’s important for us to remember places with massive death tolls, in order to prevent destruction of this magnitude from ever happening again.

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Have you ever been to Hiroshima?

Regensburg Tourism

Earlier this month, I spent an afternoon checking out a bunch of the touristy things I can do without leaving Regensburg.  There’s a lot to see and do right here, and I didn’t want to leave it all unseen before I moved back to the US.  I started with a river cruise.

There are many great river cruises on the Donau (Danube) river, but I specifically wanted a short touristy river ride.   I found one that runs every hour or so during tourism season and runs about 45 minutes for the cost of eight and a half Euros.  At a touch after 11 in the morning, I set sail on the good ship Johannes Kepler.

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It’s rather interesting to see the Stone Bridge from this perspective.  I’ve been all over the surface and around the temporary construction walkways, but this is the first time I was ever underneath the bridge.  By the way, pay attention to that tower with the clock faces on it.  We’ll climb that later!

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Being on the tiny river cruise showed me things about Regensburg that I had never seen before.  For example, I didn’t realize that the villa of King Maximilian II was just walking distance down the river.

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I don’t know who Klara is, but I really hope she had a nice birthday.

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After we docked, I walked a short distance down the riverfront to the Schiffahrtsmuseum, or shipping museum.  Entrance was just three Euros.  The museum itself is contained inside two very old and beautifully restored ships.   The one pictured here is a paddle steamer.

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What would a museum be without tiny models?

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This is part of the engine room of the Ruthof, the paddle steamer which houses this part of the museum.  This stuff is absolutely huge.

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Once back on land, I finally managed to get a photograph of the Boat Captain.  I don’t know this gentleman’s story, but I see him walking around town from time to time.  He’s usually wearing all white, and he’s always  got epaulets on his jacket.  I’ve always wanted a photograph of him, but he was always walking in the other direction.

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I took a very brief detour at the Historic Wurstkuchl to grab some sustenance before I continued on my tourism day. So tasty!

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Next, I went to the museum next to Regensburg’s famous Stone Bridge.  Most of this museum is free, but there’s a tower here which can be climbed for another two Euros.

“Historic stairs” means they’re really old and rickety and made of wood, I guess.

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The top part of this tower used to be someone’s living quarters.  These are the rooms inside.

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The benefit to living at the top of the historic stairs is the view-  this is looking East from the tower.

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This is the view North from the tower.  When the bridge is not being renovated, this must be a fantastic people-watching view.

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Here’s the Western view.  This picture was taken during HerbstDult, hence the ferris wheel visible in the distance.

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One of the more interesting things about climbing the tower is seeing the mechanism that drives the clocks.  This tower has clock faces on three sides, and they’re all driven by a single mechanism.  This amazing little gearbox has long rods which connect to each clock face, and the electric motor beneath.    One motor for all three clocks.

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After climbing down from the tower, I walked around the free part of this museum for a few more minutes.  I’ve always liked that the Wappen, or coat of arms, for Regensburg is a shield with two crossed keys in it.

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Next on my tourism day was  walk up the street to the Kepler Memorial House.  Johannes Kepler lived in Regensburg at the end of his life, and he fell ill and died in this city.  His old house is a museum now, with an entrance price of two Euros and twenty cents.

J-Kep says science is cool!

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They could probably stand to give his bust a good cleaning.

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The entire museum was in German, so I didn’t get much out of the description cards, but I still liked seeing the old equipment in glass cases.

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This globe is utterly fantastic.  Back in those days, they really took the whole “here be sea monsters” thing very seriously, I think.

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After I was done at the Kepler House, I walked over to the Dreieinigkeitskirche, one of Regensburg’s many, many churches.

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Here’s that key logo again.

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…and again with the keys!

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I’m always a little bit fascinated by the incredibly old glass you find in places like this.  These windows are not as crystal clear as modern glass, but the effect is kind of charming.

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While the inside of this church is nice, that’s not why I was here.  I came to the church because for another two Euros, you can climb the tower.  I’ve been meaning to do this one for three years.  This is another place that wasn’t built for tourism-  they actually taped Styrofoam to one of the beams to prevent tourists from knocking their heads.

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This is another historical stairway, I think.

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Near the top, there’s a sign asking that you don’t touch the bell.

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It’s quite tempting, though.  This is an amazing old church bell.

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Why do I climb all these towers?  For the views, of course.    This is what the city’s main cathedral and the other clock tower look like from this church tower.

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Panning a little bit to the left, you can see another very, very old tower.   This city’s full of ’em.

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On my walk to the next touristy location in my day, I stumbled across some furries having a date.  At least I think that’s what was going on here.

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For my last stop of the day, I went to the Regensburg Historisches Museum, for an admission price of five Euros.  The last time I was there was the first full day I was in this city, back on November 13, 2011.  At the time, I knew absolutely no German at all, so I was completely lost.  It turns out that even with some knowledge of the language under my belt, the museum didn’t seem all that different to me.

I didn’t remember seeing these stained glass windows last time, though.

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I did remember seeing the Jewish headstones before.  There have been several Jewish settlements over the centuries in this city, and most of them have been forced out or simply eradicated.  Some of the old headstones survived and were brought to the museum.

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A big medieval city demands big medieval swords.

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I said before that museums love their models, and this is another fine example of that.

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Here’s what I spent on my tourism day, not including food:

€8,50 – River Cruise
€3,00 – Schiffahrtsmuseum
€2,00 – Museum and tower next to the Stone Bridge.
€2,20 – Kepler Memorial House
€2,00 – Dreieinigkeitskirche Tower
€5,00 – Historisches Museum

Grand total:  €22,70.   Not bad for an entire day out, with sun, boats, stairway climbing, history, and culture.

Have you ever been a tourist in your own town?  What did you see?