First Impressions Aren’t Always Right

Susan Boyle is a 47 year old unemployed woman from Great Britain. She lives alone with her cat, Pebbles, and according to her has never been kissed. She recently appeared on the television program Britain’s Got Talent. When asked by Simon Cowell what her dream was, she replied “to be a professional singer.”  Cowell then asked who she’d like to be as successful as; she replied “Elaine Paige.”

At this point, probably everyone in the audience and the three judges thought she was a joke. Maybe because of her looks, or her station in life. Maybe because they were all cynics. Whatever the reason, probably everyone in the place was against her.

Then she sang.

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Her song was “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables. I don’t usually watch these types of programs, and generally think Simon Cowell is a pompous ass, but this performance was epic. Watching Susan Boyle makes you think no dream is too big and that you can do anything, regardless of what others think. She didn’t seem to notice or care what others thought. She knew she could do it, and boy did she ever.

The Road Goes On Forever, and The Party Never Ends

“I like your music,” she said as she hopped into my truck. “Who is it?”

“Joe Ely.”

“I never heard of him, but I like it!”

“You aren’t from Texas, I reckon?”

“No, Alabama. You?”

“New Jersey.”

I was in Mississippi helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina in September of 2005. On the long drive from New Jersey, I had been listening to several Joe Ely tapes that a friend had given me. On that day, we were listening to Live at Antone’s. Headed down Old Spanish Trail, south of Highway 90 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the song came on. It was one of those moments that one never forgets. The song was Joe Ely’s cover of “The Road Goes on Forever” by Robert Earl Keen.

The Road Goes on Forever

Sherry was a waitress at the only joint in town.
She had a reputation as a girl who’d been around.
Down Main Street after midnight, a brand new pack of cigs,
A fresh one hangin’ from her lips, a beer between her legs.
She’d ride down to the river, and meet with all her friends.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

Sonny was a loner, older than the rest.
He was goin’ in the Navy, but he couldn’t pass the test.
So he hung around town, sold a little pot.
The law caught wind of Sonny; one day he got caught.
But he was back in business when they set him free again.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

Sonny’s playin’ eight-ball at the joint where Sherry works
When some drunken out-of-towner put his hand up Sherry’s skirt.
Sonny took his pool cue, laid the drunk out on the floor.
Stuffed a dollar in her tip jar, walked out the door.
She’s running right behind him, reaching for his hand.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

They jumped into his pickup, Sonny jammed her down in gear.
Sonny looked at Sherry, said “Let’s get on outta here”.
The stars were high above them, the moon was in the east.
The sun was settin’ on ‘em when they reached Miami Beach.
They got a motel by the water, and a quart of Bombay Gin.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

They soon ran out of money, but Sonny knew a man,
Who knew some Cuban refugees, who dealt in contraband.
Sonny met the Cubans in a house just off the route,
With a briefcase full of money and a pistol in his boot.
The cards were on the table when the law came bustin’ in.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

The Cubans grabbed the goodies, Sonny grabbed the jack,
He broke the bathroom window and climbed on out the back.
Sherry drove the pickup through the alley on the side,
Where a lawman tackled Sonny and was readin’ him his rights.
She stepped out in the alley with a single shot .410.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

They left the lawman lying, they made their getaway.
They got back to the motel just before the break of day.
Sonny gave her all the money, and he blew her a little kiss.
“If they ask you how this happened, say I forced you into this.”
She watched him as his taillights disappeared around the bend.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

It’s Main Street after midnight, just like it was before,
Twenty-one months later, at the local grocery store.
Sherry buys a paper and a cold six-pack of beer.
The headlines read that Sonny is going to the chair.
She pulls back onto Main Street in her new Mercedes Benz.
The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

It was a moment that I can’t fully explain, but I’ll never forget. I’ve been listening to a lot of Joe Ely lately, and when I hear “The Road Goes on Forever,” I think of that moment on Old Spanish Trail specifically, and my three weeks in Mississippi in general. The moment is clear in my mind more than three years later. I had a brand new pack of cigs, a fresh one hanging from my lips and a Dr. Pepper between my legs. That road seemed to go on forever, but I loved driving it. I was free. I don’t remember the name of the woman who was with me, nor do I remember where we were headed exactly, but I’m sure we were going to help someone who needed help. That was why we were there.


The Party Never Ends

There was a local bar/pizza place on MS-90 that was heavily damaged but open. It was packed every night with volunteers from all over the country (and the world) and locals. I pictured one of the bartenders as Sherry from the song, and although there was never any trouble, there was a guy who was either her friend or her brother, or just some random dude who was protective of her. He was Sonny in my mind. I often wonder what ever became of the people I came across while there.

Sometimes when I’m driving, and I hear “The Road Goes on Forever,” I think of that day on Old Spanish Trail. I was so happy. Everything I did there meant something to someone.

On the long ride home in early October, 2005, another Joe Ely song came on that I’ll never forget: “All Just to Get to You.”

I have stumbled on the plains
Staggered in the wind
Stood at a crossroad or two
Cried to a river
Swept to the sea
All just to get to you…

To this day, when I hear that song, I remember that long ride home to be back with my wife, family and friends. I made it home in seventeen hours. I only stopped for gas. I smiled the whole way home.


April Snow Showers

I have now recorded at least a trace of snow in seven straight months! While this greatly amuses me, my wife, who loves playing in the dirt and planting things, is not amused.

It all started with snow on October 28, 2008. Since then, I have recorded at least a trace of snowfall in each of the following six months. Although I only measured 20.8″ of snow this season, the fact that snow has fallen in seven straight months is a bit of an oddity. While snow in October is uncommon, as is snow in April, I cannot remember ever having October and April snow in the same season.

Here’s a rundown of the snowfall at Chateau Kessel (Snowfall recorded in the 24 hours prior to 07:00 am on date given):

    4/9/09 Trace
    3/21/09 Trace
    3/20/09 0.5″
    3/3/09 Trace
    3/2/09 3.8″
    3/1/09 Trace
    2/19/09 Trace
    2/4/09 2.0″
    2/3/09 0.5″
    1/31/09 Trace
    1/29/09 Trace
    1/28/09 2.3″
    1/20/09 2.0″
    1/19/09 0.5″
    1/18/09 0.6″
    1/16/09 0.5″
    1/15/09 Trace
    1/11/09 1.5″
    1/10/09 Trace
    1/3/09 Trace
    1/1/09 Trace
    12/22/08 Trace
    12/21/08 0.4″
    12/20/08 2.7″
    12/17/08 2.2″
    12/7/08 0.3″
    11/30/08 Trace
    11/18/09 Trace
    10/29/08 1.0″

I have the feeling my friends and relatives in Wyoming, Colorado and the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California are not impressed.

The Importance of Backing Up Your Data

I should have known better.

Last week, in a fit of geeky goodness, I upgraded the video card in my computer and doubled my RAM to 4GB. Yay for me. Since things were going so well and I thought myself the king of tech upgrades (as simple as this one was) I figured, “What the hell! Let’s update the BIOS!” (BIOS stands for Basic Input/Output System; it is the set of instructions the computer follows to identify, test and initialize various system components prior to running the operating system). It is at this point that things didn’t go so well.

My first mistake was not backing up my data. I’ll get to that later. The second mistake I made was using a Windows-based utility. Never, ever use a Windows based utility to update your BIOS. Right about now I’m guessing my readers are thinking “OK, why would I update my BIOS in any way, Windows or otherwise?” Well, you probably won’t. I probably didn’t need to either. While this computer was toward the high end of things when I built it, that was more than three years ago, in March, 2006. Updating the BIOS will not increase performance in any measurable way. Probably the biggest mistake I made was not recognizing that the new BIOS I was about to install was not compatible with the existing chipset driver on my motherboard. The chipset is basically what links the Central Processing Unit (CPU) of your computer to everything else: memory, hard disk storage, video, audio, etc. Turns out I needed to update the chipset driver prior to updating the BIOS. Oops.

So here’s what ended up happening: After I updated the BIOS (called flashing the BIOS) via that poison Windows utility, the computer wouldn’t reboot. Uh oh. It got as far as the BIOS checking the various system components, but wouldn’t load Windows. “I’ll just reinstall the old BIOS!” I thought. Brilliant. Except to do so required a 3.5″ floppy disk drive. I don’t have a 3.5″ floppy disk drive. This was all becoming terribly annoying. Time to call in the big tech guns: my sister. After much tinkering and fussing, and her consulting with coworkers, it was determined that Windows was corrupted and needed to be reinstalled. Although we were able to reinstall an older BIOS, Windows still wouldn’t boot. Here’s where the whole back-up-your-data-regularly thing comes into play: had I been backing things up like any self-respecting computer geek should, I’d only have needed to dig out my Windows install discs and reinstall. Since I didn’t do that, I needed a way to retrieve my data from my hard drive and put it on my external backup drive. Believe it or not, just prior to this fiasco, I had purchased a 1.5TB external hard drive. With backup software.

Enter Bart PE. Bart PE is a bootable CD that allows you to work all kinds of computer magic when you can’t boot into your operating system. Quite a handy life saver in this case. It wasn’t long before we had things running through Bart PE and the data were flowing from the computer to the external drive. Shortly thereafter, Windows was reinstalled. Woot!

Lessons Learned

Backup your data! Music, photos, videos, receipts, letters, spreadsheets, program settings, on and on. You don’t realize how much stuff you have until you can’t access it.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. BIOS not giving you problems? (This probably applies to 99.9% of us) Leave it alone.

Ask for help. I had heard of Bart PE before, but if it weren’t for my sister’s help, I’d still be tinkering with the thing trying to figure it out. Hooray for

xcopy "C:\Documents and Settings\USERNAME\My Documents\*" "E:\BACKUP\My Documents\" /s /e /i /h

As troublesome as this whole episode was, at least I learned a few things. Back up your data. Have I mentioned that before? I’ll say it again: Back up your data!

I was also able to learn some basic DOS commands (via Bart PE) and some file structure stuff, plus I was able to do a much needed reinstall of the operating system. After a couple of years of installing and uninstalling various programs, and making changes to the system, files and miscellaneous data get left behind. An occasional reinstall cleans things up and keeps your system running smoothly.