Wednesday, December 19, 2007

There's no place like home, home on the range...

After spending the first 7 months of this year in Kansas and getting to know a lot of fantastic people there, originally it was all foreign to this humble Canadian, but now, I have to say in the immortal words of Dorothy, "There's no place like home."

Since December 4th, I've been in Chicago on a contract for the past couple weeks. But being in the American Midwest neighbourhood, I thought I'd take the Dec. 9th weekend, make a short flight to Kansas City and drive over to dear ol' Topeka to the best pub in the world.

I couldn't wait to get back to Frances O'Dooley's to visit with all the great friends I made during my stint and sing those oh so fun Irish tunes, especially my favourite, "Big Strong Man". My good friend and Masonic brother Mikey B. let me stay at his place. When I arrived, I was greeted by two big dogs, and he set up my bed and room with cute little night table and lamp, a couple Masonic books, an airplane bottle of Schnapps, and a prophylactic. Hilarious.

His roommate, Tom, a local cop, drove us to the pub where I was proud to display my Edmonton Oilers jersey--probably the first time that the Oil have been represented there.

My good buddy Rich "The Irish Rebel" Stevenson greeted me and all the other barmates were there. Throughout the night more and more friends arrived. I never realized how much I miss them so. It was a fantastic night. I told my friend Chasmo that I had to get this need to reconnect with these people in person out of my system.

So let me share something personal about this experience...

Looking back at that part of my life, it's like it was all a dream--that it didn't really happen. All the weekends I spent at a really fun Irish Pub, playing guitar, singing, and meeting people were all wonderful memories I'll never forget.

When I arrived at the Kansas City airport, everything was so familiar--the rental car place, the drive to Topeka, meeting up with friends and going to that Irish pub where most of my friends were all in their same stools.

I really couldn't believe I was actually there. It felt like a dream. It was truly a surreal experience. I've never had this feeling before. It was strange to me, but it felt great.

Believe it or not, but Kansas was a great experience for me spiritually. A lot of strange but meaningful coincidences happened to me. The latest coincidence was me being able attend Mt. Zion lodge for their installation. Being that I was sent on contract to Chicago and my company being able to fly me there for the only weekend I could have gone there, the timing could not have been better.

So I now wonder what was the cause, perhaps alchemical, of this odd feeling. Is it simply the massive amount of positive energy I received from these wonderfully friendly people? Is it the perfect pints of Guinness? Is it the wonderful harmony everyone experiences when we're all singing those familiar Irish songs together? Is it the witty remarks we belt out causing much laughter and frivolity? Is it the intelligent discussions on religion, politics, and philosophy we had around the table?

If someone has experienced something like this, please do share.

If you have an explanation for it, especially give some insight.

And finally, let me ask you this ... isn't this the feeling we should be having in our Masonic lodges and amongst our brethren?

And if our lodges are representative of our own spiritual temple due to the harmony and positive energy in it, what's so different about this humble little Irish pub and a good lodge?

What's been great is combining a positive Masonic experience with that Irish pub in Topeka. The brethren of Mt. Zion Lodge #266 and I have in the past gone to have dinner there after a few meetings now.

My congratulations go out to Worshipful Brother Chad Brewer on his installation as Master of Mt. Zion Lodge and a warm thank you to the brethren of that lodge who always make me feel at home in true Masonic spirit. The political discussion at dinner was great, proving that although we are prevented from talking about partisan politics and dogmatic religion inside the lodge room, with open minds we can most certainly talk about them outside the lodge, even at dinner or festive board.

Overall, I do look forward to my next visit to Kansas again. Here are the photos...

Next post... living and working in downtown Chicago and my Masonic visit to Oriental Lodge #33.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Ottawa Part Deux avec un peu Cleveland

This is way overdue. Below is a slideshow of me and my dear friend Rose in Ottawa (by any other name?), getting ready for the Rush concert and taking an outdoor tour of the Parliament Buildings of Canada, some shots in the Market area of town, and a few from Cleveland, including the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

I already described the Ottawa Rush concert, but allow me to now tell you about them there govamint bildins. Well, they are absolutely amazing--breathtaking really. I'm sure the good folks who live and frequent Ottawa perhaps don't appreciate it them.

Nah, how can they not! But for this armchair political analyst who watches Question Period in the House of Commons online and seeing the beautiful gothic architecture, the statues, the spooky bell, and the grounds way up from the Rideau, is an inspiring experience. The war monument and unknown soldier inspired me the most though, thinking about how many Canadians fought, suffered, and died in all those wars, just so I could stand there, free, and proud of my country. Ottawa is a beautiful city in autumn and I look forward to visiting there again.

Later that night, Rose and I met up with my fraternity brother Wolfie, went out for dinner and some drinks at a pub in the Market area of Ottawa, which has tonnes of bars, pubs, and restaurants. I made contact with my old friend Jamie, who told me that night she's moving to Pakistan for a while. Writing this now in December while that country is under emergency rule, I wonder if she's okay.

After Ottawa, I spent six days in Cleveland, on a work contract, obviously. That said, I met up with my Deke brethren from the Beta Chi Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon at Case Western Reserve University who were gracious hosts. I got a tour of their house, which had a stairwell of various fraternity shirts that I got a chuckle out of. One of the guys and I went down the street from the house to this wee red decor bar. The bartender, humble in his ways, perhaps didn't realize how freaking familiar he looked. I ordered dirty vodka martini, and let me tell you, it was one of the best I've ever had (although I'd probably had about a dozen in my life up to that point). I then told the barkeep that he made a very good drink and that he looked EXACTLY like Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Same hair style and colour. Same eyes. Same bunny rabbit teeth configuring the same smile. I wish I took a picture. Anyway, a good night.

Wednesday night I drove from East Cleveland to downtown to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now this was interesting. Authentic everything--clothes, posters, instruments, autographs, and more. The Doors, Pink Floyd, and The Clash had their featured exhibits in separate floors. Outside was Johnny Cash's tour bus mysteriously established in the drizzling rain, which I had to take a picture. The whole front of the museum is protected by dozens and dozens of large decorated guitars.

The next night, I met up with the Dekes again and we headed to a campus bar which had an odd dual electric-techno neo-prog band playing while undergrads droned on. The local beer was good, from what I remember.

But for the week, I'll never forget what is probably the nicest restaurant I've ever been in, and it's attached to the hotel I was staying at. The sea bass was exquisite! And again, the dirty martinis were delicious. So if there's one thing I learned about Cleveland was that 1) it rocks! and 2) good dirty martinis. Okay maybe that's two things. Plus, I've never seen so many huge big houses along a city street. Then again, I'm still travelling around.

So, without further Rideau...