The Kids are Alright

Wow, what a fun couple of days.

The house concert at Jenny and Dave’s was so much fun. Not only did we have a full house of their friends, we were joined my some marvelous kids, who couldn’t stop dancing (breakdancing, actually) to my music. A storm came through so we moved the whole shebang inside. Sold a whole mess of CDs and made some great new friends and fans.  My highlight was actually right at the beginning..this lil kid named Ethan latched onto the words to “Southbound, Illinois 4” and sung along on the choruses in his high little boy voice. Awesome. After everyone left, Jen and Dave put the kids down and I proceeded to neurotically clean the entire first floor of the house, which was rather dissheveled after the invasion of hungry and thristy folk music fans…mmm, cleaning. I’ve got a bit o’ the Danny Tanner in me.

I stayed up way too late reading East of Eden (which, by the way, is one of the most fascinating books I’ve EVER read. I’ve always liked Steinbeck, but never really thought of him as the most cerebral and heavy-hitting author..this book deals with some pretty tawdry stuff and the darkside of human nature in a way I never knew before. I can’t put it down). Also, there were dogs sort of whining/barking in the side yard, my cousin’s neighbors’ dogs. It was a little unnerving, especially while reading this book. I wound up not falling asleep til near four or five, then woke up at 9.

One of the reasons I took this trip in the manner in which I did was to get a bit of family time in. Often, I’ve just blown through these locales, due to scheduling. This time I had the luxury of time and not too many miles between stops, so I could really get some quality mishpucha action. I was not disappointed…Me and Jenny sat at the wee lil’ table she had these Amish craftsmen build for her kids, and just goofed around and played with the younglings.  She promptly turned on the CD player with Zigy Marley’s new kids disc, and the first song was called “Family Time.”  I smiled at yet another perfect little twist, and we all sung and danced along.

My cousin Eli is four this year, and he’s so smart, and funny, and silly. He for some reason loves getting food on his face. I was given the edict by my mother to take many pics of him and his new little brother, Max Reuben (who is as delicious as his name would suggest), which was the deal we brokered so that I could borrow her vintage 1970 Pentax Spotmatic 35mm camera. Eli was fascinated by this, and why wouldn’t he?  You honestly don’t see an all-metal film camera every day these days. It’s strange…Eli is the first generation to grown up in an all-digital world. I mean, I’m used to it, to technology and the like, but in my mind it’s an all-analog world with no cell phones, no instant gratification. Though I had to remind myself to go easy on the snaps I was taking, to be deliberate and specific. That being said, I still cant’ believe how fast I ran through 2 rolls of film.

My challenge was to get a few pics of Eli without ANY food involved. This was not easy. The boy likes to eat, and pose while eating. And it’s probably one of the few places you can get him to sit still for more than a minute. Which gave me a deeper understanding, perhaps, of why there are so many food related pics published my his ‘rents. But seriously, we had a really fun time just sitting together and eating breakfast at this dimunitive oak table.  Then Jen brought down the little(r) guy. Max is so bloody cute, and vibrant..piercing, intelligent eyes. He looks just like his daddy..though he did get the Birnbaum upper lip, same as me, Jenny, and my sister Ali. God looking kid.  He has a shock of hair right at the top of his forehead…and that’s about it. Looks like a Kewpie doll. I took a bunch of baby/mama shots, and then I held him for the first time, for a good long time. I feel so blessed to have my cousins, whom I am so close with, building our family. And honestly, as the only boy in my dad’s family line growing up, I love love love that I have all of these awesome Birnbaum boy cousins. (Free labor, ya know. For my future endeavors.)

As mentioned in the earlier post, there was a big air/water show by Navy Pier, so Cousin Dave gave me an alternate route to get to Edwardsville, via I-57 south. I took off a little before noon and promptly got completely turned around on Ashland heading towards the expressway. It’s funny. I’ve been in Chicago probably more than any other city in the US aside from New York, and I still have no clue how the roads work. I keep saying to myself I’ll study a map and I never do. I just kinda putz around until I find my way, ’cause I know some landmarks and vague ways of getting places. I’ve done it for 13 years…why stop now?

Dave had suggested this route because I-55, which parallels Route 66 and which I’ve taken a good deal of the time, is suffering from construction woes right outside of the city, and this route, while adding a few miles on, was generally prettier and traffic-free. He was not wrong. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the fields, the clouds…took a whole mess of great pictures. From 57, I turned onto 72 west which brought me to Springfield. Midway through I picked up a great radio station playing all my favorite modern Americana. It faded out right before I turned on to I-55, which really does run right next to Route 66. You can see it from the highway, all these old towns, and churches, farms. I got really excited when I got closer to STL and hit my first signs for Staunton and then, of course, Illinois 4. Having promised my mom I wouldn’t text and drive, well, I didn’t. Ellen called me about an hour before I was due in and got me directions to her place. Usually I come in from the south, off of a different expressway exit, but this time, the route in was exit 30, which actually takes you down old 66 through the town of Hamel.

I haven’t been on 66 in a long time, and was super excited. Pulled off in an old gas station and SAFELY tweeted my whereabouts, then continued down the road, windows down, listening to the cicadas and the rustle of the cornfields. An old, dead train route has just been converted to a really gorgeous bike trail, and it wasn’t a few miles down the road the sky opened up with shafts of light streaming through, and I pulled off right by the end of the trail and finished a roll of film with this sky, a bend in the road, an old red barn and a rusty old mailbox with the name of “Elias” printed on it all in my viewfinder.

I drove into Edwardsville proper and met up with Ellen right on her corner. At this point she was a bit worried about me being possibly late for the show. It wasn’t too late, but I did high-step it into the shower and back out in record time, then her husband, Mike, and I caught up a bit while she ran to get beer for the party. Mike’s a VW fanatic, as am I, and recently he got his 1954 Oval-window Beetle back on the road. He’s keeping it in original cosmetic shape but has completely restored it mechanically.

Ellen got back and took my car over to the party, and we followed in the Bug. Mike drove it down 66 to an old country road and then pulled off, saying, “Your turn!”  I said, “really??!?” and he said, “Yes.” And I drove that pretty little car four miles down killer little backroads..didn’t stall out, didn’t crack it up, despite the cable brakes!! It’s old enough that it doesn’t actually have turn’s got semaphores that extend out from the doorjambs for signaling.  Can I tell you, by the way, that it’s no wonder these cars were so popular. Man, they drive so predictably, with great suspension, even on these little rutty Illinois roads. The steering is so direct, and the car tells you what you need to know. They are narrow, for sure, but you don’t feel cramped. You can’t exceed 60 mph, but why would you want to? it’s a great way to enjoy the view. It’s amazing that this 56 year old car can outdrive my brand-new rental car. You know exactly what the car is going to do, there’s no power anything, and it’s so solid…not a creak or rattle, even with the old, slightly rusty body. You could drive it to California if you wanted…and boy, do I ever.

Anyway, we got to Cousin Mike’s log cabin, which overlooks a beautiful pond. His dogs came up and gave me some lovin, we got settled in, and set everything up. Now, my beloved ’65  Guild has some issues right now, unfortunately, so Cousin Mike and Ellen’s Mike were both generous enough to lend me their guitars for the show. We spent a good half-hour geeking out over them..especially Cousin Mike’s new Santa Cruz. It’s a custom L-OO size, Carpathian Spruce top, maple neck amd ebony fretboard and cocobolo back and sides. It was amazing. It sings.

The show was incredible. My friend Joey, since the last I saw him, is married with two adorable kids..with crazy hair, just like him. The older one, Salvo, figured out my name pretty quick and kept coming up with adorable things to say in between songs. I did two sets, with whisky breaks in the middle (Jamie, a local architect, came with his wife and a bottle of Glenfiddich 15), and it was really one of the most special shows I’ve ever played–a homecoming of sorts, as Edwardsville was my first ever destination, when I was just 19 and Ellen moved there. I’ve gone once or twice a year for the last 13 years, and to paraphrase the book of Ruth, her people are my people. E-ville is a wonderful little farm town with a great’s about 20 miles outside of STL, and has a great university (SIUE, where Buckminster Fuller taught). The sky changes down can see so many stars, and the road is wide open, and it’s here where the road turns west, to St. Louis and the Gateway, to the desert and the coasts. Which is probably why I’ve spent so much time passing through, and why everytime I’m here I want to just get on these rolling highways and hit Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, and California, out to LA and up to San Francisco. It calls to you!

I’m glad to be back in this part of the world. Mike, Ellen and I are heading out in just a few minutes in the Bug, going to go along the river road, probably to Alton? I’m not sure. But Ellen and I have our cameras, and we’ll certainly document it. Louisville tomorrow!!


2 Responses to “The Kids are Alright”

  1. justanotherfolksinger Says:

    I wish I could have been there. 🙂

  2. JJ Says:

    love this! love you! E is five, not four.

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