Americana, Autobiographical, Inspired by a Place, Inspired by College, Introspective, Nostalgia, Redbird Country Essay, Storytelling

Where is Redbird Country?

I came across an interesting fact when I typed in a Google search for “redbird” years ago. It wasn’t just that one fact that a Redbird is the same as a Northern Cardinal. It’s also a “Summer tanager,” which is not as well known, but it is a medium-sized songbird that was described by a Swedish naturalist back in 1758. The location given was Carolina but it was revised to North Carolina.

As a Santa Cruz County native, I knew that Santa Cruz High School’s mascot is the Cardinal and so is Stanford’s, which is a school I longed to go to when I graduated from High School. I didn’t have the grades for it but I still liked going there to visit with a friend of mine, Mark Hernandez, who was our Senior Class President at Watsonville High School with other friends like my good buddy Gary Rojas who also made the trips during his Freshman 1987-1988 school year.

We eagerly hung out with his new friends in his dorm and I remember one weekend, we got to see the Cardinal Men’s Basketball team and it was such a blast to be able to be inside that arena, watching the excitement, feeling that rush of being alive, seizing the moment while still in our youth, seeing this team out on the court working their butts off for adoration and respect, but most of all, to win the game.

My wife Melanie, who you will be learning a little bit about in these columns I am now writing as a freelancer, graduated with the Class of 1989 from Webb City High School in Webb City, MO, and was part of the school’s dance team called the “Redettes”. Their team was the Cardinals.

The St. Louis Cardinals are a popular team to root for out here in Central Illinois. Sure, there’s the Cubs, but you still will see those diehard fans with their red and white jerseys and hats, parading around town or at work on game days.

Then we know that Illinois State University is the home of the Redbirds and they had several students that went on to become celebrities such as Jane Lynch, Craig Robinson, John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Sean Hayes, and one of my personal favorites, Gary Cole, who played Bill Lumbergh in the cult classic Office Space.

Illinois State had banners all around Uptown Normal calling it “Redbird Country” but I have not seen them up in a while.

There are 7 States that have named the Northern Cardinal as their “state bird.” They are Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, and then finally, Virginia. They are thought of as being a symbol of hope, joy, health, rejuvenation, and celebration. What I’ve found out is that it is also known among bird watchers that fans of the Northern Cardinal are rare, energetic, and always willing to take care of those in need.

Victoria McGovern once famously said, “May you come to find comfort in and remember: cardinals appear when angels are near. So go now, sit outside and drink your tea. Keep a look out for the little red bird — if it is there, your loved one will be.”

I don’t know if Redbird Country could be considered one place though. I think it’s all around us, because in my travels around the Midwest as an Uber & Lyft Driver, I’ve met countless people from all walks of life who are much like the cardinals mentioned in McGovern’s quote. Those people were like angels to me. I had a passenger last night who I talked with and she said, “I’m proud of you for going back to school.” I didn’t know her before that ride and I may never see her again.

So, in the question, “Where is Redbird Country?” – I have to reply that Redbird Country is everywhere but especially, after living here in Central Illinois for almost 20 years now, that even if I was not raised here, it is most certainly in my heart.

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Adult Themes, Americana, Inspired by a Place, Inspired by People, Inspired By Situations, Lyrics, No Music Yet, Optimism, Snarky

Hardcore Country A**holes

You came in with a chip on your shoulder
Wearin’ a ripped Pabst Blue Ribbon shirt
Your hair’s greasy under that STP cap
And your jeans are covered in mud & dirt

Take a look around and what do ya see
I’ll give ya a hint, all our Harleys outside
We just got off the road and restin’
From a three hundred mile ride

This bar ain’t for rednecks or hillbillies
It’s for good ol’ boys like the Hag
We don’t want any troublemakers
Or any sissy boys on the rag
We’re here to take a load off from bein’
hardcore country a**holes out there
So best be on your way, goddammit
Any fight with us would be unfair

You came in with chaw under your lip
And just spit into my hard earned beer
I got news for you, new kid in town
We don’t do that here – Are we clear?

This place ain’t for hillbillies or rednecks
It’s for good ol’ boys like us and you
Outside, we’re called troublemakers
We’ve hurt a lot of people, it’s true
So take a load off from bein’ like us
hardcore country a**holes out there
As the leader of this tough guy gang
Here’s my jacket you can have & wear

August 16, 2022

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Adult Themes, Americana, Autobiographical, Folk Ballad, Growing Up, Inspired by a Movie, Inspired by a Place, Inspired by High School, Inspired by People, Introspective, Lyrics, No Music Yet, Nostalgia, Old Wounds, Rites of Passage, Wistful

The Movie We Made

It’s the movie we made
Without filming it to be shown
It was just for ourselves
It was for us alone

It’s the movie we made
It oftentimes in my mind
It’s a past I can’t shake
Or even get behind

It’s the people I left
It’s the ones who left me
It’s the regrets I have
It’s why I’m not free
Of the battles we fought
They almost took me down
But here I am still
Kickin’ ‘round this town

Out on Vega Road
Stands a house on the hill
It’s where my friends lived
Where I took a red pill

I bought their kindness
I bought their upset
It was a few short years
That I’d never forget

It’s the people I left
It’s the ones who left me
It’s the regrets I have
It’s why I’m not free
Of the battles we fought
That almost took me down
But here I am still
Kickin’ ‘round this town

The Palm Avenue house
Still looks the same
As it did when the mailbox
Had their last name

And I think about them
Those days we spent
But I cannot believe
Where all the time went

It’s the people who died
It’s the places I cried
It’s why I was right
To take off that night
To go find my old friends
To make my amends
It wasn’t for show
But they’ll never know

When on Virginia Street
I see the house is still green
It’s the place I’d practice
A new song or scene
And the Doblers still live
In 815, the house across
Last I heard of Craig,
He’ll soon be the farm’s boss

It’s the people still here
Those who won’t return
It’s all those promises made
It’s the hours I burn
Creating the new things
And setting fire to the past
The movie we made,
It’s one that won’t last

The movie we made
It’s one that won’t last

June 4, 2022

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Adult Themes, Americana, Autobiographical, Boating, Fishing, Growing Up, Inspired by a Place, Inspired by Outdoors, Introspective, Lyrics, No Music Yet, Nostalgia, Wistful

The Ocean Is No Better Than The Lake

My parents settled in a college town by the sea
First came oldest, than the middle one, then me
We’d go to the beach and watch the waves break
But the ocean is no better than the lake

I loved that boardwalk town, it’s my childhood
Then we grew up as we three knew we would
Where it seemed like burgers more than steak
But the ocean is no better than the lake

Cause as I lived through those years
And I worked through my fears
Of being liked, of being loved
Of all the horses and steers
I met new kids, made long lasting friends
We get together every now and then
And we remember the good times
The crazy days and nights
Over bourbon, cokes, wine coolers or beer
And it’s all so clear,
No matter where we live,
We’ve learned to give and take
And the ocean is no better than the lake
The ocean is no better than the lake

Now I head out with my boat outside of town
Whether I’m a happy camper or feeling down
I swear by the local diner’s apple pie and cake
But the ocean is no better than the lake

And as I live through these years
And I work through my remaining fears
Of being tossed, of being thrown
By the old horses and steers
I now have kids, have new friends
We get together every now and then
We make memories, have good times
The crazy days and nights
Over sweet tea, cokes, spritzers or lite beer
And it’s all so clear,
No matter where we live,
It’s all about that give and take
And the ocean is no better than the lake

That ocean I miss is no better than the lake
That ocean I miss is no better than the lake

May 13, 2022


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About Family, Americana, Ballad, Growing Up, Inspired by a Place, Inspired by Outdoors, Inspired by People, Introspective, Lyrics, Nostalgia, Poem, Verse Poetry, Wistful

Santa Cruz Young

Dedicated to my brothers, Russell Gray & Jeff Gray

Just to ride down that trail again
To see the whole Monterey Bay
And to feel that strong breeze
Against my golden brown face
Just to walk in that neighborhood
To Westlake with my schoolmates
And not have too worry about
What was on our dinner plates

When we were Santa Cruz young
We didn’t think too much about
Things our parents were doing
Like who they were countersuing
Or who had extra special clout
We only cared about each other
Fitting in and good sportsmanship
Riding our bikes around UCSC
We were wild and oh so crazy
As we’d go to the beach for a dip

I remember playing capture the flag
I remember how it all was and felt
And I remember my first crushes
How I thought my heart would melt
I remember my first childhood kiss
With a girl from down the block
And how my Daddy worked so hard
While Mom stayed in and was his rock

Just to be in my old room again
Just to listen to that old record play
And to be around my older brothers
So the mem’ries wouldn’t fade
If I could go back in to Calvin Place
Or hike to the bottom of the hill
I’d want to also go and visit
Ron, Shirley, Christine & Bill

When we were Santa Cruz young
We didn’t think too much about
Things our parents were doing
Like who they were countersuing
Or who had extra special clout
We only cared about each other
Baseball cards and Harvey West
Fitting in and real good manners
Visiting with the Catletts & Danners
And making sure we did our best

Just to ride down that trail again
To see the whole Monterey Bay
And to feel that strong breeze
Against my golden brown face

And to feel that strong breeze
Against my golden brown face

When we were Santa Cruz young
Oh, when we were Santa Cruz young.

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Adult Themes, Autobiographical, Growing Up, Inspired by a Place, Inspired By Situations, Introspective, Lyrics, No Music Yet, Nostalgia, Power Pop, Young Love

Screw City Nights

Back in 1999 my bro called me
He needed help with Expediting
From what he said, I got excited
He was baiting and I was biting

So I gave 2 weeks at the Hotel
And headed to the Midwest
Qualified for that fast freight job
Then I didn’t get much rest

Pre-Chorus:
Cause we were on the go
We were headed everywhere
But I wanted to go back home
Cause I loved the scene there

Chorus:
Screw City Nights
At the Office
Screw City Nights
At Uncle Nick’s
Screw City Nights
With my co-workers
Screw City Nights
It was the time of my life
Screw City Nights
Searchin’ for a wife

A part time job in retail
Was the better fit for me
I quit my job with my brother
Cause I wanted to feel free

Pre Chorus 2:
I wanted to drink ‘n dance
Remember it was 1999
I wanted to find romance
Make a girl mine all mine

Screw City Nights
At the Office
Screw City Nights
At Uncle Nick’s
Screw City Nights
With my co-workers
Screw City Nights
It was the time of my life
Screw City Nights
Searchin’ for a wife

Screw City Nights
Searchin’ for a wife

May 9, 2021

Lyric Notes:
Inspired by Weezer, The Cars and Cheap Trick!
Screw City is the nickname for Rockford, IL.

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About a Friend, About Family, Americana, From The Trunk, Growing Up, Inspired by a Place, Inspired by People, Inspired By Situations, Introspective, Lyrics, Nostalgia, Poem, Verse Poetry

Maui

Mom and Dad took a trip to Maui
I was all alone for a few days
Gary said we’d throw a party
And for it, I’d get high praise

Don’t know how many were invited
But it got out of hand pretty fast
Word of mouth was how it got out
Everyone but me had a blast

Our dog Joey got out of our yard
Our rotary phone disappeared
A plant fell off the microwave
And that’s when things got weird

I found some girl in my parents room
Trying on Mom’s dresses and shoes
Someone got into my brother’s records
Everyone drank all the booze

It smelled funny in the main bath
The fire poker walked out the door
Someone was locked in my bedroom
There was trash all over the floor

Cops showed up and were speechless
I was ashamed by how bad it looked
They didn’t charge anyone with anything
But I was sure my goose was cooked

My parents got home from Maui
They grounded me for a little while
It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done
But when I think about it now, I smile

MKG

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Americana, Inspired by a Place, Inspired by College, Jazz, Lyrics, No Music Yet, Nostalgia, Optimism, Piano Song, Relationships, Romance, Young Love

Wallet In The Snow

Found a wallet in the snow
Opened it up and I saw the ID
She was born in the Summer
I was so reckless and free
Her name was Jennifer Ann
Her home base was Evanston
She must have come down
To have drinks and some fun

With college friends in town
Her bank card was in there
And so was one for a library
It was missing, I knew she'd care
On a receipt was a phone number
Of a person named Chris
So I decided to call her up and
The conversation went like this;

The reason why I’m calling
Is because of somethin’ I found
I’d like to talk to Jennifer
Is she still around?
Chris said she left this mornin’
And said she’d get it to her ASAP
she was headin’ up there Thursday
Then Jennifer would be happy

So Chris called up Jennifer
She said it was dropped outside
Jenny then called me to say
When she found out, she cried 
I dropped it off at Chris’ place
And thought that was that
But she invited me inside
Chris wanted to have a chat

We talked for a long time
Turns out they were related
They were cousins & best friends
She said they were frustrated
Chris didn’t have her ID, so
They walked to the liquor store
For beer and snacks, you know
They later passed out on the floor

I said I’ve gotta get back to work
She said hey, what do you do?
I told her I was an Lyft driver
She said oh, I could pay you
For a ride up there Thursday
We could all go out for a drink
It’s the least she and I could do
She’d like to meet you, I think
 
And I can’t believe I said yes
That Chicago night was the best

Because Jen brought a girlfriend
Who I hit it off with so well
And the whole thing was fate
How I loved dating sweet Michelle
It all worked out, we got engaged
Jen & Chris were her bridesmaids
Now I work at her father’s law firm
‘Cause I graduated with good grades

Just so now all of you know
What can happen when you return
That found wallet in the snow
What a lovely lesson to learn
You could meet the love of your life
When you return that wallet you found
Oh I’m so happy I returned that random
girl’s wallet I fatefully found
In front of that liquor store in the snow
In front of that liquor store in the snow

February 7, 2021
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Adult Themes, Failed Relationships, Heartbreak, Inspired by a Place, Jazz, Lyrics, No Music Yet, Piano Song, Relationships, Saloon Song

What’ll It Be, Charlie?

What’ll it be, Charlie?
 Would bourbon heal your heart
 Now that she done left you
 Now that you’re split apart

 What’ll it be, Charlie?
 How ‘bout a tonic and gin
 Now she’s out of the picture
 It was a game you couldn’t win

 They say a man can get over a heartbreak
 By meeting someone else right away
 So, Charlie have a drink on me
 Your time is now, don’t delay
 Don’t waste your time thinkin’ of her
 There’s plenty of trout in the river
 What’ll it be, Charlie?
 Let’s marinate that thirsty liver

 What’ll it be, Charlie?
 How ‘bout an ice cold beer
 Get back in the saddle, my friend
 Plenty of good women in here

 What’ll it be, Charlie?
 Don’t sit there and be down
 Cheer up, we’ve got your back
 Let’s get rid of that frown

 They say a man can get over a lost love
 By meeting someone else right away
 So, Charlie your drinks are on me
 You sure might find someone today
 Don’t waste your time thinkin’ of her
 There’s plenty of trout in the river
 What’ll it be, Charlie?
 Let’s marinate that thirsty liver

 What’ll it be, Charlie?
 Let’s marinate that thirsty liver

 February 6, 2021

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