Upcoming Gigs:

Sat, Nov 15: I'll be joining Ken Slauf and Glen West with Crazy Wizdom at Adelle's in Wheaton.  8PM to 11PM.

Sat, Nov 22: Second Time Around will be rocking it at the Mortan Arboretum from 5:30 to 9PM.

Thurs, Dec 12: The trio Crazy Wisdom takes the stage for a private holiday party in Schaumburg.

Fri, Dec 19: I'll be joining Ken Slauf and Glen West with Crazy Wizdom at Adelle's in Wheaton.  8PM to 11PM.

You can also catch me and my colleagues almost every Sunday at 10:30am at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church for contemporary, uplifting music. 

Music

(2012)

Click on

an album

cover for

more info

(2011)
(2010)
(2007)
(2003)
(2000)
(2000)
(1996)
(1992)

Non-Nav Pages

For my upcoming gigs, check out the right hand margin.

Lots of other gigs on the docket, so check out the right hand margin and see if you can make it out for any of them.  You can also catch me most Sundays at 10:30AM at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, 367 Spring Road in Elmhurst, IL.  

Fiction: As always, I continue to submitted short stories to various publications and contests, and I'm busily reviewing submissions for http://www.sixfold.org/.  You can still check out my most-recently published short stories in Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the YA periodical, Sucker Literary Magazine

 

Original Song of the Week: Clock Strikes Twelve


 

Stuck in Comcast Hell

I’m going to preface what I’m about to write about Comcast and their wretched customer service by stating that my internet service was eventually restored to its full capability and that the technician who assisted me at my house was outstanding: he was polite, friendly and thorough.  

However, everything proceeding that visit was bungled massively.

Two Saturdays ago, my internet went off and on several times, and when it finally went back on for good, my wired connection was fine but my wireless connection was a shadow of its former self; no longer was I able to pick up a satisfactory signal from anywhere in my home except in the same room as my modem.  At various points in my house, the download speed I measured varied from 6mbps all the way down to 1mbps.  I could no longer stream any video downstairs where I’d been doing so happily for the past five months when I switched from AT&T’s U-Verse to Comcast’s Xfinity.  I rebooted my modem a few times, read Comcast’s technical page for ideas on how to rectify the problem, and ultimately drew a conclusion: my wireless modem was shot. 

It would take me 2 hours and 40 minutes to convince Comcast of his fact and get them to schedule a tech visit.

On Monday, after collecting some data, I called Comcast.  Twice.  Both times, my call was disconnected before I could speak to a live person.  I suspect this is done on purpose, as they believe speaking to people is less efficient.  I had to resort to the dreaded Live Chat “service” that’s provided by organizations who believe that the bulk of its customers are 22 year-old geeks who are too nervous to speak to a real live human being – the kind of geek who might pass a company’s selection questionnaire with flying colors, only to blow the interview due to an inability to look someone in the eye and have a real conversation.

Alas, I am forty-six, I knew that I had a blown modem, and I wanted it replaced.  Unfortunately I  had to go through the following rigmarole – nearly three hours of hell. 

November 3, 2014, 8:30AM. 

NOTE: I had a 10:15 AM meeting, I foolishly believed that an hour and a half would be ample time to finish my chat.

Maechel: Hello PAUL_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Maechel. Please give me one moment to review your information.

PAUL_: My Issue: I've called Xfinity twice for help, but it keeps hanging up on me. My internet when on and off several times on Saturday. Now my wired service is fine, but my wifi is extremely slow. Nothing has changed on my end.

Maechel: Thanks for contacting Comcast! I look forward to helping you today.

Maechel: Hi Paul.

Maechel: I'm sorry to learn that your internet connection is not stable.

PAUL_: Hi. I tried resetting router and restarting, but no improvement

Maechel: Rest assured I will do everything within my means to address your concern today

Maechel: First, I will be asking you a series of questions regarding your account and equipment to better help us in tackling this issue of yours. Are you good with this?

PAUL_: Yep

Maechel: At the end of this chat and once all troubleshooting steps are done, we will decide whether a next level resolution is needed- that is having a field technician dispatch or swap the modem. Are we good with these resolutions?

PAUL_: Yep

Maechel: How often does Internet go down?

PAUL_: It usually doesn't at all. On Saturday it went off and on several times. Now it's been on consistently for the last 24 hours, but wifi not working properly

Maechel: To ensure that we are checking the right equipment, please provide me your CMAC or HFC MAC address located at the back of your modem.

Maechel: It will be a 12-digit number, comprising of numbers and letters, and may be separated by colons or dashes.

PAUL_: Note: I provided this info for him. 

Maechel: Thank you for providing that information.

Maechel: Are you using a separate router?

PAUL_: No - that's it.

Maechel: Let me perform a ping test to your modem to check if there are lags.

PAUL_: That's fine. The ping wired is at about 9ms

Maechel: Here is the result: 10 packets transmitted, 10 packets received, 0% packet loss

Maechel: round-trip (ms) min/avg/max/stddev = 35.0/35.74/36.3/0.393

Maechel: The result is good so far.

Maechel: Here’s what we will do no will be sending a refresh signal to your equipment so that it can sync up to our system.

Maechel: *now

Maechel: Please be advised that we will get disconnected during the process. I need an email address where I can send a reconnect link in case you are unable to return in this chat session within 4 minutes. May I have your preferred email address?

PAUL_: Note: I provided this for him.

Maechel: Thank you! Reconnect link was successfully sent to your email.

Maechel: In case we got totally disconnected, just click on the link I sent to your email so you will be routed back to me. In case somebody else entered my chat window, you will be routed to my troubleshooting partner with the chat transcript we have so you can continue where we left off.

Maechel: I’ll be sending the signal now.

NOTE: This took a long, long time.  It finished around 9:17, so already I’ve wasted 47 minutes on this ridiculous chat.  Of course, we got disconnected…

PAUL_We're up.  You still there?

NOTE: nope.  Have to try again...

The user has joined back using Reconnect feature

analyst Geneva has entered room

GenevaHello PAUL_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Geneva. Please give me one moment to review your information.

GenevaThanks for contacting Comcast! I look forward to helping you today.

GenevaHello, Paul.

NOTE: The Internet went back out just then, at 9:22AM.  You know why?  Because my modem was shot!  At 9:36 I finally got back on.  At this point I now have at most 25 minutes before I have to leave for my meeting.

The user has joined back using Reconnect feature

analyst Ma has entered room

MaHello PAUL_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Ma. Please give me one moment to review your information.

MaThank you for choosing Comcast, home of Xfinity. You may just call me Maria for your convenience.

PAUL_HI.  My internet went down again while I was chatting.  I'm back on-line, but I have to leave in 10 minutes.

MaI hope you are doing well. I would be more than happy to assist you with your concern today

MaI understand that you are not having the maximum speed that your internet service is offering. Let me go ahead and check that for you.

NOTE: So now I’m having to explain things all over again.  Thank you Comcast!

PAUL_Wired is fine.  But wifi is really bad, especially if I walk out of the room with the router.  It was fine last week, but things stopped working well on Saturday.

MaAlright.

MaThanks for letting me know.

MaLet me check your account first. May I have 2-3 minutes?

PAUL_Sure, but I have to go in 12 minutes.  I've already been at this for 75 minutes.

MaI understand where you're coming from, Paul.

MaLet me speed up the process for you.

Ma> Paul, I am currently checking your account right now.

PAUL_Okay.  It seems likely that something is wrong with my router.

MaHave you tried connecting hardwired?

NOTE: WTF????  Is there no way for her to access the previous conversation I had?  I’m doing everything in my ability not to lash out at her (him, whatever).

PAUL_Yes, of course.  I've already said that my wired speed is fine.  Wifi is terrible.  So our phone connections are bad as is out Roku box in a different room.

Ma> Okay.

MaThanks for letting me know.

MaCan you please run a speedtest by going to http://speedtest.comcast.net and then post the result link in the chatroom afterwards so we can compare your speeds later.

NOTE:  Holy s**t.

PAUL_Already did this.  Wired is good, around 29mbps download.  6mpbs upload.  Wireless is the same room is around 13mbps download, 6 upload.  BUT as soon as I leave the room I get awful results.  If I'm downstairs (where it was fine before) I get .42mbps download.  Even if I'm just one room away, I get 1.91 mbps

MaThanks for the doing the extra mile, Paul.

MaLet me do the troubleshooting steps for you so that we can figure out what's the main cause of this.

PAUL_I have to go.  So basically this is the situation: the range of a good wifi signal has decreased dramatically.  Other than a router problem, I don't know what else it could be.  Can you please get someone to come over to my house and replace the router?  Send me a link or a phone number so I don't have to rewrite any of this information.

NOTE: it s now 9:58 AM.

Ma> Sure, I can certainly process that for you. Just please a give me a minute to furnish the note and schedule a tech visit for you.

Ma> I want to know if we are still connected. Are you still there?

PAUL_Yes, but I'm leaving in 1 minute

MaMay I know if you're equipment was self installed or tech installed?

PAUL_Tech installed.  Last May I think.  Worked fine until a few days ago.

MaAlright. I will just furnish the note now and we're good to go.

PAUL_> I'm leaving now.  Please send email to paulheinz6@gmail.com

PAUL_Thanks for your help

NOTE: Did she (he?) send me an email?  Of course not!  Which meant that when I arrived back home at 12:35PM, I had to start ALL OVER AGAIN!!!  I entered this next chat with much less patience than before.  Unfortunately, it would be 1 hour and 16 minutes before the chat ended.  I kept going back and forth between expressing my anger and recognizing that my chat could be “accidentally” terminated at any time.  It was a tough balancing act.

user PAUL has entered room

The user has joined back using Reconnect feature

analyst Kaye has entered room

KayeHello PAUL_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Kaye. Please give me one moment to review your information.

KayeI hope you are doing well. I would be more than happy to assist you with your concern today.

PAUL_Thanks. I had to end the last chat to go to a meeting.  I don't know how much of my info you already have, but I can copy for you the chat exchanges that have already taken place.

NOTE: please note that I offered to copy my previous exchange.  She will decline this offer, which I will assume means she has access to my information.

KayeI understand that you are not having the maximum speed that your internet service is offering. Let me go ahead and check that for you.

PAUL_Wait...I don't want to repeat what's already been done.  The last chat ended with "Just please a give me a minute to furnish the note and schedule a tech visit for you." But I waited and then I had to go.  So a note needs to be furnished and a tech visit scheduled.

Kaye> Let me go ahead and check for your account, Paul.

KayeI acknowledge the importance of a working and stable Internet connection as I also use the Internet for work and online gaming. You just reached the right person and I assure you that we will work on this together to have your connection back.

KayeWe need to go on with some trouble shooting steps first.

NOTE: So instead of believing that my previous tech chat ended with me needing a tech visit schedule, Kaye decided to start at the very beginning.

PAUL_> But it sounds like we're starting from the beginning, and I don't want to start all of this over.  I've already chatted with THREE people and we did all of the trouble shooting.  My last chat ended with a tech visit needing to be scheduled.  Why can't we go ahead with this???

PAUL_Here's how the last chat ended...

PAUL_I have to go.  So basically this is the situation: the range of a good wifi signal has decreased dramatically.  Other than a router problem, I don't know what else it could be.  Can you please get someone to come over to my house and replace the router?  Send me a link or a phone number so I don't have to rewrite any of this information.

Ma> Sure, I can certainly process that for you. Just please a give me a minute to furnish the note and schedule a tech visit for you.

Ma> I want to know if we are still connected. Are you still there?

PAUL_> Yes, but I'm leaving in 1 minute

Ma> May I know if you're equipment was self installed or tech installed?

PAUL_> Tech installed.  Last May I think.  Worked fine until a few days ago.

Ma> Alright. I will just furnish the note now and we're good to go.

Kaye> Thank you for providing that information.

KayeI'm still checking for your account. Please stay online.

PAUL_As I said before, to catch you up to speed, I can copy for you the chat exchanges that have already taken place.  Let me know if you'd like me to do that.

Kaye> It's fine, Paul. I'll go ahead and process a priority request for you.

NOTE: She SAYS this, but then decides to go back to the usual troubleshooting nonsense meant for people like my mother who have to technological clue.

Kaye> Have you tried connecting hardwired already?

PAUL_Yes, of course.  I've already said that my wired speed is fine.  Wifi is terrible.  So our smartphone wifi connections are bad as is out Roku box in a different room.

PAUL_> Wired is good, around 29mbps download.  6mpbs upload.  Wireless is the same room is around 13mbps download, 6 upload.  BUT as soon as I leave the room I get awful results.  If I'm downstairs (where it was fine before) I get .42mbps download.  Even if I'm just one room away, I get 1.91 mbps

KayeIt's because of the barriers that's why you encounter slow connection if your downstairs already.

NOTE:  Now I’m extremely pissed. 

PAUL_No it isn't!!  Last week I was watching movies in my basement.  Now I'm getting .42mbps download!  Last week everything was fine.  This week it isn't.  Nothing has changed on my end.  Why can't I simply get someone to swap the router??  This conversation is ridiculously infuriating.

KayeI apologize for the inconvenience, Paul.

PAUL_That isn't good enough.  I have spent 2 hours now "chatting" with Xfinity reps and I don't have time to spend all day on this.  Please hear me: for four months my wifi has been terrific.  But on Saturday, everything changed.  Why is that?  The only thing I can think of is the router is faulty.  A previous tech already synched up my router and it didn't improve performance.  Nothing on my end has changed.  So why has the wifi suddenly dropped to a snail's pace?

KayeI'm already processing a priority request here in my end. Please bear with me, Paul.

PAUL_Can you tell me what that means?  What is a priority request?

Kaye> So that we can send a technician and fix your internet concern, Paul.

KayeI will need to have the speed test result for this. So that I can include it on my notes to have a priority request.

PAUL_I already sent you speed test results.

PAUL_When I'm about 20 feet away with no walls in between, I get 48ms ping, 2.22 Mbps and 5.96 Mbps upload.  The upload speed is pretty good, but the download is drastically low.

Kaye> Can you run speed test as of this moment? http://speedtest.comcast.net.

NOTE: I’d already done this, but felt at this point that I needed to mollify Kaye.

PAUL_From where?  Right next to the router or a distance away?

Kaye> A distance away.

PAUL_Just did it 20 feet away with no walls or doors in between me and the router.  The results are: ping 36ms, download speed 2.57 Mbps and upload speed 6.00 Mbps

Kaye> Can you please send the result link?

NOTE: There was no obvious way to do this from my phone.  From my computer, yes, but not the phone.

PAUL_How?  I just did the test on my phone and gave you the numbers.  How would I send a link?

KayeOkay, Paul.

KayeAllow me a moment to process your request.

NOTE: after ten minutes I sent the following…

PAUL_> Can you give me an estimate of how long this will take?

Kaye> Just give me 3-4 minutes.

NOTE: this was at 1:14

Kaye> I apologize for the late reply, Paul.

KayeI'm still on the process.

KayeCan I have the exact day when you experience the issue?

NOTE: AHHHHHH!

PAUL_Saturday.  The Internet went off and on a number of times.  I thought it might be because of the strong winds on Friday. The connection went back on for good I think on Saturday night.

NOTE: it’s now 1:25

Kaye> Okay.

KayeThank you for providing that information.

KayeIs this a self installed or the technician installed your equipment.

NOTE: by now I’m banging my head against my desk.  I’d already provided this information HOURS ago.

PAUL_I already sent you this information.  A technician installed it last May, I believe.

KayeThanks you. I apologize for asking the question again.

PAUL_Fifteen minutes ago, you said you would need another 3 or 4 minutes.  In order for me to properly schedule my work, can you now give me a realistic estimate of how much more time this is going to take?

KayeI apologize for the delay. I'm already trying to speed up the process.

PAUL_That's not the question: the question I'm asking is can you please give me a realistic estimate of how much more time this is going to take? If you tell me 30 minutes, then I at least know that it might take 30 minutes.  You told me 3 or 4, so I assumed it would take 3 or 4 minutes.  Now please give me a realistic estimate.

Note: it’s now 1:31PM

Kaye> This will be done with in 5 minutes. Please bear with me.

NOTE: um…no.  I would not be done in five minutes.

Kaye> The soonest schedule that we have is on Tuesday with in 3:00-5:00 p,

KayeI can see that you would like me to provision this modem to our customer's account which I can surely help you with. Did I get this right?

KayeSorry for the typo.  Please disregard that last message.

NOTE: Clearly, Kaye is dealing multiple customers as once, which is in Comcast’s mind a better way to go, since a phone call you can only effectively deal with one customer at a time.  In my mind, Comcast blew it.

Kaye> Is 3:00-5:00 okay with you?

PAUL_Okay.  So tomorrow between 3 and 5?  Unfortunately I have to leave at 4 tomorrow.  If they can be here at 3 it would be okay.  Otherwise, is there a time on Wednesday?

KayeYes there is. We have 8:00-10:00am . Is that fine?

PAUL_Perfect.

Kaye> That's great! I will be taking the 8:00-10:00am for you.

Kaye> This is your priority number (she gave me a priority number)

Kaye> So everything is set?

KayeIs there anything else I could assist you with today?

PAUL_Tell me now what happens.  Will I get a phone call?  If I need to contact Xfinity regarding the tech visit, who should I call?

KayeYes. The technician will call you before the tech visit. You can chat us back if you want to inquire regarding the tech visit.

PAUL_This chat lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes to get a priority request.

PAUL_Unbelievable.

Kaye> You can also call this number 1-800-XFINITY

Kaye> I apologize for the inconvenience, Paul.

PAUL_I tried calling twice this morning, and I got hung up on twice.  That's why I ended up spending several hours chatting.

Kaye> It seems that our hotline number has a maximum number of calls that is why they were not able to attend with your request. Nothing to worry. You will have the technician on Wednesday.

NOTE: that is complete bulls**t

PAUL_> Okay.  So I'll hear from tech on Wednesday and expect to see them between 8 and 10AM.

Kaye> Exactly!

Kaye> Is there anything else I can assist you with today?

PAUL_No thanks.

Kaye> If you need future assistance, we are available 24 hours a days and 7 days a week. Thank you for choosing Comcast for your entertainment needs. We appreciate your business and value you as a customer! Our goal is to provide you with a consistently superior customer experience – that’s our guarantee. Learn more about the Comcast Customer Guarantee at http://www.comcast.com/corporate/Customers/CustomerGuarantee.html?fss=customer%20guarantee

(CHAT ENDED AT 1:51PM)

Two days later a tech came – real nice guy, and did some things on the outside of the house to make sure I had the best connection.  Of course, in the end all I needed was a new modem as I knew all along, but whatever.  At least things were working, right?  And then…

…I realized that I didn’t have phone service.  The light on the modem just blinks and blinks.  No dial tone.

user PAUL has entered room

analyst Renelie has entered room

Renelie: Hello PAUL_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Renelie. Please give me one moment to review your information.

PAUL_: My Issue: Comcast tech just swapped a faulty modem today for a good one in my home. We checked the Internet (which was the problem) and that's great, but now I have no phone. Phone modem light flashing, and my phone is plugged directly into modem.

Renelie: I'm sorry to know that your Xfinity home phone service is not working at the moment, Paul. I rely on my phone for important calls myself, and I wouldn't want any interruptions either.

Renelie: You've reached the right person. I will personally work on this today. Let’s see what is going on and get this fixed for you.

Renelie: I will be asking a couple of questions to troubleshoot the issue and so that we can get to the bottom of this. Is that alright?

PAUL_: You bet.

Renelie: Thank you for your cooperation. May I have the affected Comcast phone number please?

PAUL_: I'm at (I provided my telephone number)

Renelie: Thank you for providing that information.

Renelie: Can you check if the TEL 1 light on the new modem is lit?

PAUL_: Tel 1 is flashing, once per second.

Renelie: Thank you for checking. Allow me to send an activation hit to the modem to reset and refresh the equipment and the line.

Renelie: We will get interrupted on this chat once this action is made. However, please do not close this chat session since we will be reconnected once the device is back online, okay?

PAUL_: Sounds good.

Renelie: Before that, can you please unplug your phone from the modem for now? I need the TEL 1 port to be empty.

PAUL_: Okay. It's unplugged.

Renelie: Thanks. I will reset the modem now.

PAUL_: I already did that, but if you want to try again go ahead

NOTE: Reset started at 4:02.  Took until 4:12

user PAUL_ has left room

user PAUL has entered room

user PAUL_ has left room

user PAUL has entered room

Renelie: Great! I can see that the reset has been successful. Let's give the modem a minute more to complete registration.

PAUL_: Okay. Let me know when you'd like me to plug the phone back in.

Renelie: Please replug your phone to the TEL 1 port now and confirm if you are already getting a dial tone.

PAUL_: It worked this time. Got a tone. You think I should be good to go?

She said I was (I forgot to copy this part of the chat) and then gave an ill-timed sales pitch for cable, which I don't have. 

So...what’s the take away from all of this. To me, Comcast clearly has its collective head stuck up its collective ass.  And they owe me three hours of my life back.  Here’s their customer guarantee:

 

We will quickly address any problem you experience.

Comcast’s definition of “quickly” is clearly not the same as mine.

James Taylor in Milwaukee

At sixty-six, James Taylor has no doubt uttered the same song introductions and comebacks to yelling fans hundreds of times, but on Tuesday night at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Taylor made it sound  as if he was bantering with the audience for the first time, using the same easygoing delivery that he employs with his music: endearing, charming, playful and never over the top.  When one fan yelled out, “I love you!” Taylor paused, looked out and said dryly, “I’m beginning to have feelings for you too.  This is all so sudden.”  After two sets totaling almost two and a half hours, one got the sense that fans were wowed as much by Taylor’s remarks between songs as they were by his music and all-star cast.

Taylor's easy-going nature led a friend of mine to ask during intermission: "Does he ever rock out?”

Um…no.  Like the Jackson Browne concert I saw last month in Chicago, Taylor’s version of rock is something more subdued, the kind of rock one might prefer on a rainy Sunday morning.  But whereas Browne’s lyrics are laced in sorrowful, melancholy tones, Taylor’s ooze with optimism, from the heartfelt expressions of love in his beautiful new song, “You and I Again,” to the overly saccharin (for my tastes) “Only One” and “Shower the People.”  Where Taylor really shines is in songs that offer just a hint of reverence or longing.   Taylor playfully described “Country Road” and “Carolina in My Mind” – mainstays in his touring repertoire – as "hippy, tree-hugger bullshit," but these songs are nothing if not an ode to nature filtered through the eyes of Taylor’s childhood in North Carolina where the landscape colored his world.  It’s not just a celebration of nature; there’s a twinge of something beautiful lost along the way.

Taylor offered a few surprises, including three new songs as well as deeper cuts such as “Lo and Behold” from 1970’s Sweet Baby James, “Millworker” from the failed Broadway musical Working, and “One More Go Round,” a tune from 1991’s New Moon Shine that he introduced by stressing that while the groove is good, the lyrics are somewhat subpar.  As with most of Taylor’s concerts, too much of his set list remains constant year after year.  He played the usual four songs from his debut album (plus one extra), plus another four or five mainstays, and it would have been nice had he performed a few more songs from lesser-known albums.

Like Jackson Browne and Paul Simon, Taylor consistently assembles a fantastic band.  Even the simplest of tunes can appear interesting and complex when watching drummer Steve Gadd, guitarist Michael Landau and bassist Jimmy Johnson execute their craft.  The sound was also excellent, though at the booming Bradley Center, I could hear another James Taylor Band playing half a second after the real live band on stage as the sound bounced off the back of the arena.  Since only the first level of the arena was used, it would have made more sense to play at the underutilized Milwaukee Theater.

For the final two songs, Taylor sported a personalized Brewers jersey that a fan had offered him during his first encore.  It was a nice touch, as was Taylor's thank you to the audience for allowing him to continue to play music for all these year.  He’s clearly a man who’s still in love with performing, and luckily his voice has remained strong.  Judging from last evening’s concert, I imagine there will be many more tours in Taylor before he decides to call it a day.

Why Brewers Fans should be Encouraged

As a lifelong Brewers fan, I admit that watching the Kansas City Royals battle for their first World Series title in twenty-nine years gives me just a twinge of discomfort.  After all, three of the Royals’ starters are former Brewers who Milwaukee dealt in trades (Escobar, Aoki and Cain) and two are players the Royals acquired as a result of the Brewers dealing Jake Odorizzi to KC in the Zack Greinke trade (Shields and Davis).  The Aoki trade – one that upset me at the time – paid dividends as Will Smith stymied hitters consistently before Brewer manager Ron Roenicke overused him, resulting in a tired arm, but there’s no arguing that the Greinke deal was instrumental in propelling the Crew into the playoffs in 2011, when they fell just two games short of their first World Series in twenty-nine years.  Still, a little part of me wonders what might have been had Milwaukee played its cards differently.

But overall, Brewer fans should be encouraged by what the Royals have accomplished: not only a World Series appearance, but a miraculous 8-0 run before losing game one of the Series.  Kansas City, long the doormat of the American League, has finally achieved some success despite it playing in the second smallest market in the MLB (Milwaukee is now the smallest) and competing in the same division as Detroit and Chicago.  Other small markets – Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay – have also achieved some success, though Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are still trying to get to their first World Series since 1979 and 1990, respectively.  The St. Louis Cardinals are perennial playoff participants despite playing in the sixth-smallest market in Major League Baseball. 

In short: it can be done.  Maybe not every year, but every once in a while a small market team can in fact make a run at a World Series ring.  And Milwaukee has no excuse despite it playing in the smallest market.  Milwaukee’s attendance continues to impress, drawing more fans relative to the size of their metropolitan market than any other team in baseball.  In 2014, Milwaukee drew 2.8 million fans, good for eighth out of thirty teams.  Not too shabby.  (By contrast, Kansas City drew 1.9 millions, good for twenty-eighth.)  And as the success of Cain and Escobar shows – not to mention Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and numerous others – Milwaukee’s farm system has in fact produced some quality players. 

It can be done.  Kansas City has proven it.  Win or lose, I am happy as heck for Royals fans everywhere.  But I’m even happier that maybe – just maybe – I’ll get to witness the Brewers in a World Series before the bottom of my ninth inning.

Review: Jackson Browne in Chicago

At sixty-six, Jackson Browne could easily phone it in and play concert after concert of the certified hits that came with regularity during the first decade and a half of his 40-plus year career, but on Tuesday night at the Chicago Theater he went a different route, playing deep cuts and new material along with a few crowd-pleasers for a balanced and effective show. 

Beginning with 1996’s “Barricades of Heaven,” 1972’s “Looking into You,” and two songs from his new album Standing in the Breach, it was apparent that this wasn’t going to be a greatest hits show, and the evening was all the more rewarding because of it.  Browne stitched his new material seamlessly with his older tunes, which you could take one of two ways I suppose: 1) his new material is as strong as his old material; or 2) his new material explores the same territory he’s been exploring for decades.  It’s probably a little of both, but when you have an absolutely stellar band with equally stellar sound backing you up, and you’re reciting lyrics like: The seeds of tragedy are there/In what we feel we have the right to bear… well, I’ll take a little familiarity with my new Jackson Browne.  All told, he performed seven songs from his new album.  If you had asked me beforehand if that was a recipe for a successful evening, I would have demurred, but to my ears many of the new tunes were as strong as the old ones.

After being assaulted at several arena shows lately, I was thrilled to be able to hear every instrument on stage without reaching for the earplugs, and I spent much of the evening admiring the guitar work of Val McCallum and Greg Leisz (who played dobro, guitar and lap steel), both absolute monsters at their instruments, and one got the feeling that Jackson Browne had as much fun watching these guys display their craft as he did singing his compositions. 

Alternating between guitar and piano throughout the evening, Browne sported an all-black outfit (as did the rest of the band), and the stage lighting bathed the musicians in shades of violet, with occasional splashes of color to enhance various songs, most notably the desert shades of “Leaving Winslow,” a song Browne introduced with a childhood memory of playing on a trestle bridge with his buddies and flattening pennies on the railway.

Early in the second set, Browne asked, “What would you like to hear?” and after a deluge of requests, he answered, “Yeah, I thought so.  But after that what do you want to hear?”  But as far as I could see, the request resulted in only one audible, the 1980’s hit “In the Shape of a Heart,” and the rest of the evening proceeded much as his previous concerts in Philadelphia and New York. 

I knew I could leave a happy man after Browne performed 1993’s “I’m Alive,” albeit a whole tone lower than his studio recording.  It became apparent during the show that keys had been adjusted to accommodate Brown’s aging voice, but that said, his signature mellow tone still sounded excellent, and I got the feeling that he could have hit the high notes consistently had he been forced to.  If there was one complaint about the evening, it’s that the band played on a similar energy level throughout with little in the way of dynamics; even some of the rockers came off sounding country.  But this is a minor quibble, and for the last selections of the concert, Browne broke into crowd favorites and rocked a bit with “Doctor My Eyes,” “The Pretender,” “Running on Empty” and “Take it Easy.”

As I was buying junk food at Walgreens after the show, a woman behind me said to her boyfriend, “I was hoping for ‘Late for the Sky.’”  I was too, but I give Browne a lot of credit for playing so much new music that was actually worth playing and worth hearing.  He continues to sing about the stuff that matters, from the Haiti earthquake, to politics, to the Gulf oil spill.  We need guys like Browne to continue to fight the good fight and to be willing to put new music at the forefront.  I'll take that over a greatest hits show any day.

Of Tina Fey, Randy Newman, Ebola and Kate Upton

In 1999, Randy Newman sang these words: “I have nothing left to say, but I’m going to say it anyway” and “Each record that I’m making is like a record that I’ve made, just not as good.”  In Newman’s inimitable self-deprecating style, it comes of both hilarious and ironic, since his album Bad Love is arguably among the artist’s best efforts; it’s actually my favorite album of his illustrious career.

I too have nothing left to say, it seems, as I’ve spent the last month pursuing activities that include not a word written, a note composed nor a chord recorded.  However, since I recognize that age forty-six is quite a long way from the coffin (once can hope, at least) that I better begin writing something or I’ll simply have to go the way of Billy Joel and call it a career (without, um…the actual career).  I figure, if Bob Seger can come up with something say even after no one cares, why not me?

So here goes…just a few things on my mind:

I’d be a lot happier for the Kansas City Royals were it not for all the former Brewers.  A little glimpse of what might have been.

I could not be less worried about Ebola.  So why is it taking up so much news time?  Somewhere around 32,000 U.S. citizens die from influenza each year, garnering less than a front page headline.

In a perfect world, I would be that guy who reads The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, I'd be up on my politics, I'd have read all the classics and I’d know three languages.   Alas, I am not that guy. 

Tina Fey, while an excellent writer and comedic genius, is no dramatic actress, and the film “This is Where I Leave You” suffers as a result, not to mention that author Jonathan Tropper writes his own screenplay and is just a little too faithful to his original work.  Sometimes an editor is necessary.

If an artist is going to go through the trouble of printing out its song lyrics with a CD, wouldn’t you suppose the lyrics should be easy to read?  Yeah, I’m talking to you, Rufus Wainwright, The Shins and Dave Matthews and Pink Floyd and Prince and…

The fall of the Milwaukee Brewers, as demoralizing as it was to witness, did in fact prove my preseason prediction correct.  On March 26 I wrote to some friends, “I said between 83 and 85 wins (earlier).  I'm going to go on the low side.  83-79, good enough for third place, but no playoff.”  The Crew finished 82-80.  Third place.  No playoffs.  I’d rather have been wrong.

I’ve heard that you should never look at another woman who’s younger than half your age plus seven years.  So for me, that’s thirty years of age.  Kate Upton is twenty-two.  So yeah, I’m failing that test.

Running once every six months does in fact make the run much more painful.  I finished a 5K last month in relatively good time and felt it for three days.

If my daughters are any indication, senior year of high school is no longer considered a fun year (mine was a blast).  They have been trudging through their existence, almost as if they were well into their second decade of a dead-end job that earns little pay.  I guess, in a way, they are into their second decade of a dead-end job with little pay, except that this year there is an end, and a year from now their lives will dramatically improve.  But for goodness’ sake, whatever happened to the notion of enjoying the ride?

Some gifts keep on giving: the vertebra I fractured in December of 1990 is coming back to wreak havoc on my neck.  Perhaps I should have taken a beginners lesson after all.  Unfortunately I was immortal when I was twenty-two.

In the category of “Lessons You’ve Learned but Don’t Heed,” I went on a record and CD-buying binge last month, and now I feel the stress of having all these albums that need listening too.  Perhaps this is why I have nothing left to say: I’m too busy listening to music!