Monday, December 31, 2018

College football fans, lick your chops!

First of all, I apologize for getting this post out this late. [This year's been one of so many life events...from a biopsy to my car's starter needing replacement to me needing an MRI. (By contrast, I got the chance to go to a high school reunion.)] 

But, anyway...I finally got the chance to find out which teams would populate the 2018 version of an NCAA Division 1-A football playoff (that is...if Mark Emmert and Co. actually conducted such a sports event instead of leaving it up to the people who run the five biggest revenue-producing collegiate conferences). 

Without further ado, here's the 24-team field, with each club's record as of 12-15-2018 (just before the bowl games):

1. Clemson (13-0; ACC champ)/2. Alabama (13-0; SEC champ)/3. Notre Dame (12-0; independent at-large)/4. Central Florida (12-0; AAC champ)/5. Oklahoma (12-1; Big 12 champ)/6. Ohio State (12-1; Big Ten champ)/7. Georgia (11-2; SEC at-large)/8. Michigan (10-2; Big Ten at-large) 

9. Appalachian State (10-2; Sun Belt champ)/10. Washington State (10-2; Pac-12 at-large)/11. Fresno State (11-2; Mountain West champ)/12. Cincinnati (10-2; AAC at-large)/13. Army (10-2; independent at-large)/14. Utah State (10-2; Mountain West at-large)/15. Washington (10-3; Pac-12 champ)/16. Boise State (10-3; Mountain West at-large) 

17. UAB (10-3; C-USA champ)/18. Buffalo (10-3; MAC at-large)/19. Penn State (9-3; Big Ten at-large)/20. Louisiana State (9-3; SEC at-large)/21. Kentucky (9-3; SEC at-large)/22. Syracuse (9-3; ACC at-large)/23. North Carolina State (9-3; ACC at-large)/24. Northern Illinois (8-5; MAC champ) 

Some surprises jump out right off the bat.

*First of all, maybe the biggest surprise is how Dabo Swinney's Tigers jumped ahead of Nick Saban's Crimson Tide to snare the top seed in this year's "shoulda-coulda-woulda" D-1-A playoffs.

Clemson earned 680 quality points this time around, while 'Bama totaled 670. (The figures include the 55 bonus points each unbeaten team gets.) The difference: The ACC's best team played eight teams that ended up with winning records, and the SEC's kingpin took on (as things turned out) seven winning squads here in 2018. And Alabama's Division 1-AA foe, The Citadel, had a 5-6 season (same as in 2017!)...while Clemson's single 1-AA opponent, Furman, came in at 6-4 this time around.

Now's a great time to tell you how this point system works. For starters, a Division 1-A team earns 50 quality points for defeating a 1-A club that had a winning record and 45 points for stopping a 1-A squad that played .500 ball or worse. If the 1-A team beat a winning Division 1-AA entry, that's 40 quality points. If the D-1-AA member had a losing (or .500) campaign, that means 35 points. 

A team in Division 1-A can lose quality points, too. If a club loses to a winning D-1-A squad, 50 quality points are subtracted. Had a nonwinning 1-A team administered the defeat, our contingent loses 55 quality points. 

What if our 1-A team lost to winning 1-AA one? Well, the 1-A team surrenders 60 points...while the 1-A team coughs up 65 points for losing to a 1-AA foe that faced a .500 campaign or worse. 

*Well, this version of a 24-team playoff includes four SEC addition, the ACC, Big Ten, and supposedly inferior Mountain West each contributed three entries. And in this cycle, the only three leagues with one squad apiece are Conference USA, the Sun Belt, and- that's right- the Big 12.

*Speaking of Conference USA and the Sun Belt Conference...their champions were involved in tiebreakers.

And both won out!

In these playoffs, the first tiebreaker involves the number of wins a club's Division 1-A opponents racked up. And here in 2018, UAB's 1-A combatants won 68 games to Buffalo's 1-A opponents' 65.

Even more startling is how Appalachian State beat Washington State to the ninth seed. The 1-A teams that played the Mountaineers won 67 games while those that took on the Cougars racked up 66 victories. (And, yes, Louisiana-Lafayette- Appalachian's SBC championship-game victim- counts twice on App State's schedule. Conference title games count in this tiebreaker...even if they're rematches of regular-season tilts.)  

*Fresno State and Cincinnati were involved in another tiebreaker. The Bulldogs bested the Bearcats because Fresno's Division 1-A opponents won 72 games to the 62 wins picked up by Cincy's 1-A foes. Jeff Tedford's club took on Boise State twice (losing to the Broncos in the regular season, then beating them for the MWC crown)...but if you count just one Fresno State-Boise State game (ending up with a 62-62 tie when it comes to 1-A opponents' wins), the Californians still beat the Ohioans because Fresno's 8-1 conference mark topped Cincinnati's 6-2 AAC showing.

Had Luke Fickell's Bearcats taken on Fresno State, the head-to-head competition would've taken precedence over conference marks.

If the tied teams' conference records are the same, point differential is examined, first in head-to-head competition, then inside the conference(s)...then in all games. 

Just in case all else fails, it all comes down to a coin toss. 

Well, at any rate, I can't wait to play these games! I'll be using trusty ol' 3-in-1 Football, from Lance Haffner Games (and it'll all be computer vs. computer).

Wishing you all the very best in 2019 and beyond...and thanks for reading this blog!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

I wasn't going to let construction work stop me from voting!

Well, yesterday, I did it.

Finally got it done.

At 12:20 PM (Central time), I walked inside Dundee Presbyterian Church (52nd St. and Underwood Ave.) to cast a midterm ballot.

Took me 25 minutes to go through the whole procedure...from giving the Election Day attendants my name all the way to filling out a two-page ballot.

And once it was all done, I was able to join millions of other Americans in scratching an itch that had been festering for two years.

Two long years.

Two excruciatingly long years.

Two years of- let's face it- this country's Republicans setting the stage for full-fledged fascist rule, what with the Elephants dominating all phases of government...from the national level all the way to (in too many places) the local level. 

Speaking of local seemed as if Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert (she's a Republican) and her staff were determined to make it difficult for folks in the precinct around Dundee Presbyterian (and people living in the precinct centered by nearby Brownell-Talbot School) to get to their respective polling places. 

Roadwork along 52nd Street gave the game away.

So...I ended up parking on Webster Street and walking across Happy Hollow Boulevard to get to the church. 

And when voting was done and I left the polling place, it felt good.

But I ended up spending most of the next ten hours on pins and needles.

I'd feared that the Republicans had retained both divisions of Congress.

They didn't. 

The Democrats took back the House while the Republicans added to their Senate majority. And according to, the Elephants won 18 gubernatorial races while the Donkeys got 13 of 'em.

I didn't get everything I voted for (Kara Eastman and Jane Raybould didn't unseat, respectively, Don Bacon and Deb Fischer, while Pete Ricketts got reelected as Nebraska's governor), but I'm glad about the fact that in two months, this country's House having more Democrats in it than Republicans should help to bring checks and balances back to Washington. 

And here's hoping that Nancy Pelosi and Co. investigate, investigate, and investigate.

And oh, yes...start impeachment proceedings.



Sunday, November 4, 2018

And what's more, the school didn't look the same!

Well, it was Sunday, 9-23-2018...the third and final day of the Class of 1973's 45th get-together in the Des Moines area.

This time, the final major activity of the reunion was scheduled to take place at the very school itself: West Des Moines Dowling Catholic High School. 

Nope...not a pep rally.

No, not another sports event.

It was a Mass.

And two of our classmates- now men of the cloth- were tabbed to say that morning's Mass.  

But was time for interested classmates to tour the very school that gave so many of us so many great, great memories. (This was the tour that was originally scheduled for the previously Friday afternoon.)

And, thanks to a recent construction project, the physical plant at 1400 Buffalo Rd. is bigger and better than before. 

Our host for the understandably brief tour was Ron Gray...the longtime (and legendary) DCHS head wrestling coach who's now the longest-tenured teacher in school history. 

He's been at it for a whopping 41 years!

We got a chance to tour the hallways (lockers, trophy case, and all) and Ron's classroom. (By the addition to currently being the school's head boys' golf coach and head girls' golf coach, he teaches economics and social studies.)

What if we'd had this kind of a classroom back in the late 1960s and early 1970s?'s not really the size of the classroom (or style of classroom) that counts.

Now it was 10:30 AM...and time for Mass.

I hadn't been to an out-of-town one since Saturday, 6-11-2005.

It's a long story (and a possible blog post in itself), but after high school, I largely stopped going to church (only to go back to Mass on visits to Des Moines while an Iowa State student). 

I'd had my fill of the downbeat messages the monsignor at the Catholic church I was going to in DSM was giving his parishioners. (Whenever the church wasn't taking in enough money to suit the monsignor there, he'd tell the churchgoers: "You're throwing defiles in God's face!")

I switched to the Unitarian Universalist Church not long after I first moved to Omaha in 1980...only because First Unitarian is within walking distance of where I first lived when I moved to the Big O on 8-2-1980. (I moved back here on 3-29-1997.)

Moved to Sioux City, IA on 6-30-1988 to manage a used-record-and-tape store...and spent the next five years and two months shunning church services.

All this time, though, I'd still go into church basements and get some practice in on those congregations' old-fashioned upright pianos (something I started doing in October 1976, back in Ames). 

Well, that all changed in February 1994.

That was the month I decided to fill up the hole in my life and join the United Methodist Church.

I've felt more comfortable as a United Methodist than I ever did as a Catholic. 

Even so, that wasn't going to stop me from participating in a Mass that Jim Gould and Dennis Wright were to preside over.

It was supposed to be Mike Peters teaming up with fellow Catholic priest Jim G., but Mike P. got called away to another assignment.

So Dennis W., now a deacon in the Des Moines area, took Mike's place. (I remember Dennis' cartoons in the school newspaper...the publication originally called The Aquin but renamed The Paper once the old, all-boys' Dowling merged with the all-girls' St. Joseph Academy in time for the 1972-73 school year and set up shop on Buffalo Rd. in the 'burbs.)  

The Mass took place at DCHS' brand-new St. Joseph Chapel, a much bigger one than the chapel that originally came with the new Dowling.

And it went beautifully...from Julie Russell Craven's music (she played the hymns on an electronic keyboard) to Jim G.'s homily to everything else. 

Once the service- meant to honor the 29 classmates who've passed away- was finished, we went right to the school lobby for coffee and donuts.

This coffee-and-donuts session was more enjoyable than those I was able to attend when I was younger and going to a church whose top priest railed away about all those defiles. 

Tom Meyer, Ron G., Jim G., Dennis W., Julie R., hubby David Craven, and I got together with Joni Hockins Edwards, Lisa Lamberto (one of Joni's fellow cheerleaders), Meg Tibbetts Williams, Margo Munoz O'Meara (never had a chance to see her at the other reunion events), and so many other classmates to talk up old memories and current goings-on. 

We had such a great time that our time together ran into overtime...and the DCHS Class of 1973's 45th Reunion broke up around 12:15 PM.

All I can say is:

Please, please, PLEASE let circumstances allow me to get to the 50th Class of '73 get-together! 

About that Mass I went to on 6-11-2005: The Mass was actually a wedding of Matt and Liz, a young couple I met earlier that year at the Omaha Children's Museum. (From October 1997 to June 2006, I volunteered at the OCM, where they let me entertain visitors of all ages on an old-fashioned upright piano in the museum's music room. The best part of it all: When I wasn't playing, I got a chance to hear the children and some of the adults they brought with them tickle those ancient keys.) 

After they heard me play, Liz and Matt invited me to perform at their wedding reception. I said "yes," and on the second Saturday in June that year, I traveled to Shenandoah, IA, to watch the two of them become husband and wife.

I'm Jim Boston...thanks for reading this blog!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

We still didn't look the same

Well, it was Saturday, 9-22-2018...the second day of the Dowling Catholic High School (West Des Moines, IA) Class of 1973's 45th reunion.

It started out with a golf outing put together by classmate Mike Chenchar.

But not for me. (I'm not a golfer at all. My younger brother is.)

Instead of trying to embarrass myself at eighteen holes, I had my heart set on going bowling with my younger brother Mike and my thirteen-year-old nephew Jordan (my younger brother's and younger sister-in-law's son). 

Last year, our favorite Des Moines-area bowling center, Plaza Lanes, burned down due to an electrical fire.

So, this time, we got together at Air Lanes (4200 Fleur Dr., Des Moines, IA 50321; 515 285-8632).

I'd never been to Air Lanes before...despite the fact that the bowling center opened in the late 1960s, at a time when I was finishing my growing-up years right there in America's Raccoon River City.

You know how at most bowling centers here in America, the large-screen TVs show you sports events in between the scores the customers are rolling up?

Well, at Air Lanes, in between the scores its customers are racking up, you get music videos.

That's cool, too!

On 9-22-2018, Air Lanes became the very first place where I ever won a game in a family bowling outing...and it came down to the very last ball Mike B. rolled in the third and final game.

Speaking of firsts...all the time I was a Dowling student, I'd never gone to a "mixer." 

Well, back in June, when classmate (and former varsity cheerleader) Joni Hockins Edwards sent me the letter announcing the 45th get-together, I not only said "Yes!" to the invitation, I decided I was going to, at long last, get to that "mixer." 

The reunion's "mixer" took place at another Des Moines landmark, Christopher's (a restaurant at 2816 Beaver Ave., 50310; 515 274-3694).

Jeff Gass and I arrived at Christopher's party room just before 6:00 PM, the "mixer's" start time. Already, a good-sized crowd had gotten seated, awaiting the chance to eat the great food the Saturday-night event promised...while some hits from the 1970s poured out of the stereo speakers in the party room. 

I was able to recognize Dwayne Carter, Chris Adams, Rick Vasquez, Paul Koester, Ann Gladfelder Lawson, Rick Benson, Meg Tibbetts Williams, Bill Lawson, Tom Naughton, Paul Duwelius, Mark Cooper, Ron Gray, and Dan Mueller from the night before at Fire Creek Grill in West Des Moines.

But the Christopher's get-together attracted some classmates I didn't see (or don't remember seeing) at Fire Creek: John Nesbit...Kelly O'Brien (I ran track alongside him)...Mary Manning Bracken (she works for Iowa Public Television; she and I took photography our senior year)...Mary Gallo Eckerman...and two classmates who go back to the eighth grade with me: John Duffy and Greg Murray.

It was fun, fun, fun being able to reminisce (as well as being able to dish on what we've been doing since 1973)...and Jim Gould (he's now a priest in Virginia),
Sue Boesen, Jim Conway (ran track alongside him, too), Cecelia Kirvin (a classmate from senior-year business math), Molly Maloney (she was a varsity cheerleader), and Joni herself came in to the party room to join in on the fun. 

The food was, according to the reunion brochure, supposed to be "heavy hors d'oeuvres."

It turned out to be one heck of a spread instead.

Besides the hors d'oeuvres, Christopher's offered a veggie tray, two kinds of pizza, meatballs, and four kinds of well as your choice of alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks.

Among other things.

And then- among the other things- there was the table full of yearbooks and old newspapers in the tap room. 

Some of us- especially John N., David Craven, Julie Russell Craven, and I- just got lost in the yearbooks and old Des Moines Register copies. 

Matter of fact, it got to the point where those of us who'd turned the tap room into a library were the last ones to leave Christoper's. was off to the bar at Christopher's, where we watched Iowa blow a 17-14 fourth-quarter lead and end up coughing up a 28-17 decision to Wisconsin.

That bar's also where I caught back up with CeCe Lynch...and caught up with Larry Quijano. (Larry and CeCe run their own eatery, too. It's Quijano's Bar and Grill, at 1930 S.E. 6th St., 50315; 515 243-9595.)

Not long after the Wisconsin-Iowa football game came to an end, it was time for me to go back to the hotel (EconoLodge Inn and Suites on Merle Hay Rd.)...and time for me to get ready to do something else I hadn't done in ages.

I'll let you know what that was when I come back. 


Sunday, September 30, 2018

We didn't look the same

Last weekend, I traveled to the Des Moines area to meet up with people I hadn't seen in forty years (and a few I hadn't hung out with since the mid-2010s).

The occasion: West Des Moines Dowling Catholic High School's Class of 1973 45th-year reunion. 

It was a tremendous success.

And it was fun, fun, fun! 

First event on the reunion agenda was a football pregame warmup at a West Des Moines restaurant, Fire Creek Grill (800 S. 50th St., 50265)...owned by a classmate named Meg Tibbetts Williams, who used to be one of Dowling's varsity cheerleaders. 

I didn't know what to expect once I walked inside Fire Creek's party room (once I found the restaurant) at 5:20 PM on 9-21-2018.

Within a minute or two, it felt like home again. 

Good thing they gave us name tags to fill out, because without the name tags, I couldn't recognize many of the classmates who came to the event.

I met back up with Bill Lawson...Ann Gladfelder (she married Bill)...Marty Ades...CeCe Lynch...Rick Benson...Cathy Vonderhaar...Mike Timmins...Don "Doc" Henry...Dwayne Carter...Chris Adams (he now sports a white beard!)...Rick Vasquez...Mark Cooper.

Yeah, I know.

We didn't look the same. 

But it didn't take us long at all to remember all the good times we had during the 1969-73 period...or to get up-to-date with each other.

Fire Creek Grill is several blocks away from Valley Stadium, a high-school football facility built in 2002 to replace the famous 1938 structure of the same name.

Well, at about 6:30 PM, the Two Ricks and I walked from Fire Creek to Valley Stadium to check out the 2018 version of DCHS football (the Maroons were set to play host that night to the Ankeny Hawks). When we took that walk, we met up with two other classmates: David Craven and Julie Russell (they're now husband and wife). 

Julie, David (he was a debater in high school), and I talked football. 

Once she found out I now live and work here in Omaha, the question came up: "Since you live in Nebraska now, are you a traitor?"


Sorry, but...I just don't get the same vibes about Husker football as I do about Iowa football and its Iowa State counterpart. (The nitpicking done by many of my fellow Omahans about everything UNL football was the clincher.)

Getting back to prep football, well...I hadn't attended a high-school football game in person since 1976.

Dowling (Iowa's five-time defending Class 4A football champ) had lost its last two games...and things weren't looking so good in Maroon Nation. 

However, on a cold, windy night, behind a spectacular performance by RB Jayson Murray,
the Maroons crushed the Hawks, 42-0. [By the way...Ankeny was the most recent team other than DCHS to rule Class 4A grid action in the Hawkeye State (the Hawks turned the trick in 2012). In all, Ankeny, Dowling, and other Central Iowa Metropolitan League teams have snared the last eight big-school (that's what Class 4A is in Iowa) football titles and nine of the last ten, with Iowa City High spoiling the party in 2009.]

Rick V., Rick B., and I left after the third quarter came to an end, and the three of us walked back to Fire Creek Grill.

And in the party room, a big-screen TV was playing the rest of the Ankeny-DCHS game.

All the while, I was able to hook back up (and reminisce) with some more fellow 1973 Dowling grads: Paul Duwelius...Dan Mueller...Steve Heithoff (by the way, Dan, Steve, and Paul were two of Bill's football teammates)...Jim Bugler (he played football, too)...Paul Koester. 

Well, the 45th reunion of the first coed class to graduate from DCHS (a previously all-boys school that, in 1972, merged with the all-girls St. Joseph Academy; the two newly-merged high schools left Des Moines and moved out to a new building in West Des Moines) was off to a rousing start.

Wait 'til I tell you how the Saturday leg of the get-together went. (That when I come back!)

Sunday, August 5, 2018

I've found the right one, baby! Uh huh!

And I'm proud to say I'm not alone. 

If it weren't for a coworker at the plastics factory where I'm employed hipping me to Markus Heinsohn's Out of the Park Baseball seven years ago, I wouldn't have been able to experience what so many of the computer game's users have been raving about all these years. 

I've been playing computer sports games since 1992 (the very year I bought my first PC- a used Commodore 64); all this time, I've been trying to put my own pro sports leagues to the test.
[Each circuit consists of teams whose Real Life players had brief (or solid-if-not-spectacular) pro playing careers or didn't get to make it to big leagues at all. And the clubs largely represent sizable American and Canadian cities that don't have major-league pro teams in this or that sport. Nonetheless, the leagues I've made up also have squads in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago...America's three biggest media centers.]

Out of the Park Baseball came on the market in May 1999, a year after Heinsohn wrote the text-based game up in an effort to wed a realistic baseball simulation with career play...and gain the favor of hardcore gamers and casual ones.

Markus developed his own product after four years of playing computer baseball games couldn't yield a management-based simulation he liked.

A sportswriter named Sean Lahman teamed up with Heinsohn to get OOTP into people's computers, and at first, you could buy a copy of the new game through Lahman's own Website, 

OOTP gained the attention of several online gaming sites, but didn't really break through until 2001, when OOTP 3 came out. 

Over the next decade, improvements got made to Out of the Park; along the way, Computer Games Magazine bestowed the 2006 version of OOTP with that year's "Best Sports Game" award.

The first OOTP copy I received (the coworker I mentioned gave it to me on a CD) was 11 (released 4-14-2010). 

I just couldn't get over the game's statistical accuracy. In fact, it beats that of the three other baseball simulation games I've tried.

I really liked how I could replay a past American League-National League baseball season in a minute or two...but I was still unable to set up my own Continental League-Federal League baseball seasons, the way I wanted to.

That finally changed with OOTP 18 (out since 3-24-2017). 

I'm perfectly content with 18...and I'm glad to stick with it.

With OOTP 18 and the current version (OOTP 19 was introduced 3-22-2018), you can stock your baseball leagues with fictional players or with historical, Real Life they actual AL-NL players or ones who never made it out of the minors. 

Any era in baseball's long history is, well, game. And that means you can see what Satchel Paige would've done to Babe Ruth...or see if Walter Johnson could prevent Hank Aaron or Barry Bonds from driving one out of the park. (On top of that, you can see if Jose Altuve or Giancarlo Stanton could hit Roger Clemens or Bob Gibson.)

Now that I'm actively playing OOTP, I've developed a rule of thumb for stocking CL-FL rosters: If a player isn't listed in, I won't put him in.

Unlike the three other computer baseball games I've tried, OOTP entices you to think about a baseball team's front office. As a result, I've been busy poring over my copy of Baseball America's 1998 Directory (subsequent directories are available online) in order to populate the CL-FL teams' front offices with people who actually were in professional baseball.

After all, if a team's going to have historical players, why shouldn't it have historical executives?

All I've got to do is go to an in-game database (it recognizes to get players...and that way, I can use OOTP's artificial intelligence to control the squads. 

OOTP 18 was the first version to add minor leaguers to the in-game database. (Before that, you had to choose solely from the roughly 19,000 players who put on AL-NL uniforms.)

And since an entire schedule can take as little as a minute or two to play, I'm able to play a season per day if I want to...
but since I'm trying to keep such a tight rein on personnel and trying to keep the fictional players out, I've decided to play a season per month.

I've just completed the 1998 CL-FL campaign, and this month, I'll launch the 1999 season.

At this rate, I'll be caught up by May 2020...when I'll be able to get my 2020 Continental-Federal campaign off the ground. 

If you'd like to learn more about a baseball simulation game even lots of people inside the majors (like Boston Red Sox owner John Henry) rave about, just log onto

And once you start playing OOTP, you'll start raving about it, too. 

[By the way...I'm curious to see how OOTP handles the 2001 CL-FL baseball season (especially when September comes around).]


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Now that's more like it!

For a while, the 2018 Ragtime to Riches Festival looked as if it was going to be a bust.

Only six people showed up to each of the last two early-July old-time piano celebrations here in the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area. 

Fifty chairs were set up for spectators in Memorial Hall at the Big O's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ. The stage was set up with the greatest of care. 

The doors to Memorial Hall at Omaha's oldest currently-practicing Protestant church were opened at 1:00 PM (Central time) on 7-8-2018.

Nobody came.

About ten minutes into the festival's open-piano session, I went over to the church's turn-of-the-20th-Century Anderson & Newton upright to go over the tunes I wanted to do as part of the event's workshop: "Four Ragtime Composers You Might Not Have Known About."

Well, 2:00 PM came...the very time the workshop was to begin.

Still, nobody came.

2:10 PM came and went. So did 2:20 PM.

And yet...nobody came.

Not even the two featured performers I was scheduled to play alongside. 

Finally, at 2:31 PM, one of my fellow members of another local church (St. Paul United Methodist) walked inside First Central's Memorial Hall.

Marc May and I shot the breeze for a while as he and I wondered if this was going to be it...despite all the work to get the word out about the fourteenth annual Omaha ragfest.

One thing was for sure: The workshop had to get canceled. 


Between 2:45 PM and 3:10 PM, twelve people came inside...including featured performers Faye Ballard and Diana Stein.

At 3:05 PM (five minutes later than scheduled), I went up to bat first with R to R 2018's initial concert.

This time, instead of using songs whose titles include the names of states of the US (last year's personal R to R fare), I went for some tunes that were in the Number One spot on the various US pop music charts on Independence Day. And the first number in the concert was a ditty from 1892, "Throw Him Down, McCloskey," written by J.W. Kelly and recorded by a man named Charles Marsh. (Charles was one of music's first one-hit wonders: His wax cylinder made it up to the Number One spot on 6-18-1892 and stayed there for three weeks.)

My next number turned out to be Tin Pan Alley's first blockbuster hit: "After the Ball," the Charles K. Harris tune that sold six million pieces of sheet music once it hit the streets in 1892...and became a smash recording the next year when George J. Gaskin put his lips to it (and made it Number One for ten weeks, beginning on 4-29-1893). 

Those were the only tunes where I used sheet music.

The remaining eight songs in my set were all done from memory..."Golden Slippers," "Sweet Rosie O'Grady," "Hello, Ma Baby," "A Bird in a Gilded Cage," "The Preacher and the Bear," "Sweet Georgia Brown," and two from outside the 1890-1929 period: "Sentimental Journey" and "I Can't Stop Loving You." 

Well, the crowd liked it. (Whew!)

Had to cut my set short so that Diana (a Memphis, TN native who, six weeks earlier, was one of the first finalists in the newly-created Senior Division competition at Mississippi's World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival) could make her Ragtime to Riches debut on time...4:15 PM. 

Actually, Diana launched her set at 4:10 PM...when she took to the church's 2015 Yamaha grand piano.

It was great not only to see her again (first time since the 2012 OTPP Contest), but also to hear her again. The audience really enjoyed Diana's robust, powerful blend of rags, stride, boogie woogie, and blues...and she kicked it all off with two Scott Joplin numbers: "Magnetic Rag" and "Pineapple Rag." (Diana added two more of Scott's compositions later on in her thirteen-tune set: "Solace" and the one that kicked syncopation into high gear, "Maple Leaf Rag.")

Diana's versions of "Nickel in the Slot," "Singin' in the Rain," "Monkey Strut," and "Memories of You" stood out, too, as did her version of James Scott's "Climax Rag." 

The community-college instructor closed out her concert with two Fats Waller tunes: The famous "Ain't Misbehavin'" and the not-as-well-known "Viper Strut."

Diana, what a debut you put on! You tore that Memorial Hall down!

At 7:00 PM, OTPP's contest coordinator kicked off this year's R to R anchor leg by firing off two medleys- one consisting of the theme songs of America's five Armed Forces branches, the other medley devoted to George M. Cohan's music. 

Staying at the Yamaha grand piano, Faye changed the music to "Puttin' on the Ritz."

She likened her set to a party...and what a party it was!

To substantiate that, the Champaign, IL native went back to the medley well to join "Beer Barrel Polka" with "Too Fat Polka." And Faye showed two of ragtime's Big Three composers some love by doing James' "Frog Legs Rag" and Joseph Lamb's "Cleopatra Rag." Plus, the former University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana office manager put in old favorites like "It Had to Be You," "Mack the Knife," "Harlem Rag," and "Sailin' Away on the Henry Clay."

Faye's one of the first people to tell you that the Illinois-turned-Mississippi get-together is, at its core, a cutting contest. And as a case in point, she played her famous version of one of the rags Diana put in her own set: Luckey Roberts' "Pork and Beans."

After playing ten ditties, Faye turned it over to one of this year's C&F Junior Division finalists: Rich Bliesener, a thirteen-year-old who lives in and goes to school in Burlington, IA. (Rich's number was "Humpty Dumpty," a rag written in 1914 by Charley of the coauthors of "Mockingbird Rag.")

Faye's fifteen-tune set ended with "Charleston Rag" and "12th Street Rag." 

And then...the fun spilled over into the afterglow party, where Rich and Faye took to the two pianos. 

In fact, Faye and Rich made this year's R to R afterglow the most successful one in the festival's history.
What's more, the Great Plains Ragtime Society took in $90 in ticket sales...a 50% increase from 2017.

Those of you who came to R to R 14.0, well...all I can say is: 

Thanks for picking this festival up off the floor...and thanks for bringing the FUN! 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Overlooking and letting go

When I'm not writing blogs or getting involved in music, I work in a plastics factory here in Omaha. 

This company recently hired a new director of human resources after firing her much-appreciated predecessor, a long-time company executive.

This past Wednesday, a question the firm's new HR chief asked me got under my skin...big time.

At 4:55 PM that afternoon, I was trying to leave the break room at the plant I work at in order to resume production. A fellow machine operator of mine (a middle-aged woman) was talking with the new head of HR about trying to recover items stolen the previous day from the machine operator while she herself was in the women's restroom at the same plant. 

The operator was attempting to find the culprit.

As I was trying to get back to the machine I was assigned to run, our company's new exec asked me: "Did you do it?" 

I felt stunned.

Nevertheless, I answered: "No, I didn't! I was raised better than that." 


When I returned to the break room that night to eat dinner, I told another machine operator about the incident...and this coworker asked me to "let it go."


I'm still stunned by this question.

In fact, three days ago, I regained enough composure to write down what had happened in the break room and submit the report to the supervisor's office...then got a copy made for personal safekeeping (and to provide documented proof that this HR honcho asked me this inane question). 

By the way, I learned that this isn't the first time said executive popped off like this to a rank-and-file employee.

Every late summer or early fall, the firm holds a picnic, and all the executives within the company get involved in it. (And that means the head of human resources will be, among other things, help conduct an employee raffle.)

This year, I'm not going to show up.

And I'm going to continue to boycott the company picnic as long as this new HR leader is part of the firm I'm still with. 

You know, all of this overlooking and letting go has, in recent decades, led America to the point where- let's not kid ourselves- a dictator is in the White House (and his fellow Republicans, especially the ones on Capitol Hill, are fighting tooth and nail to help him convert America from the constitutional republic it was founded to be into a police state). 

During 2016, 231.6 million of America's 323.1 million people were eligible to cast ballots. 

62.9 million people voted to turn these United States into a fascist nation. (I mean, let's face it. They're getting what they've been on their knees begging for.)

They sold out their country...and, in the process, trashed the Allies' 1939-45 efforts to keep full-fledged fascism from spreading beyond Germany, Italy, and Japan (let alone hit America's shores in a complete and total way). 

In addition, according to the United States Election Project, 108.6 million citizens stayed away from the polls on 11-8-2016...but 21.0 million of them were forced to do so on account of voter-suppression laws enacted in state after state after state after Barack Obama picked up his second term of office (and because the Supreme Court ruled against the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013). 

So...87.6 million citizens are, like it or not, just as complicit as the aforementioned 62.9 million folks in saying "yes" to the nightmare we entered into on 1-20-2017.

That's right...the self-inflicted nightmare. 

After all, when you don't vote, you give the other side the choice. That's all there is to it. 

Do you enjoy GOP efforts to take away more and more of your rights- especially the right to speak out against injustice? Are you okay with the Republicans' drive to capitalize on Russia's heavy hand in the 2016 US election? [By the way, do you remember when US Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) talked about how much they admired Russia's Vladimir Putin? This was just four years ago!] 

You cool with families being torn apart at the border...
with the children thrown into cages? 

Well, if you don't like this Great American Nightmare, all you've got to do is make sure you get out to your neighborhood polling place on 11-6-2018. 

Vote to take Congressional control away from the Republicans. Today's Elephants keep proving that they don't give a crap about America.

They just care about power.

Come on can't really expect a Graham (or a Mitch McConnell or a Paul Ryan or a Steve Scalise) to call Donald Trump out when they have the same basic core beliefs Trump has.

And you can't expect the heads of this country's biggest media companies to call DJT and his fellow Republicans out on the carpet when Big Media helped bring all of this garbage about. 

It's up to us rank-and-file citizens to save this country.

We won't do it by overlooking and letting go.