Friday, June 30, 2017

National Handshake Day

The Morning Show is the blog companion to the podcast audio

  Hey!  OK, taking a break from the deep life thoughts today, and here's something fun for you:  It's National Handshake Day!  I googled this to look into it a bit.  The instructions on how to observe are:  Shake the hand of at least one person you normally wouldn't.

  SWEET!  Who's with me?  Let's shake on it!

  Gonna be like a politician, and shake everyone's hand today.  What a fun thing!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Room Full of Mirrors

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

 Here's some Hendrix read as overly dramatic poetry: "I used to live in a room full of mirrors, all I could see was me.  Well I take my spirit and smash my mirrors, now the whole world is there for me to see."  WOW MAN, that's DEEP!

  We were talking last week about how many great teachers are running around the world.  It can be difficult to see them, though, especially if you're like me, and spend a lot of time in a room full of mirrors.  I work hard at being good at several things:  music, teaching, and speaking.  These things have become part of who I am, sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse.  The mind is an absurd neighborhood sometimes, houses of thought standing haphazardly around cul-de-sacs that should be throughways of logic.  For some reason, until recently, my "musician" label was a mirror that prevented me from seeing who I was talking to.  I'd hold it up, measuring my skill against theirs, often completely unrelated.  I know it sounds silly, but as I gradually realized that their talent at say, art, didn't diminish my particular skill, I was able to put down the mirror, and see them...and WOW there are a lot of seriously talented people walking around, experts in so many fields, and often willing to share their knowledge and love of what they do.  The more I look, the more I find, and the more excited I get.  So long, room full of mirrors!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Mechanical Mindset

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Hey there, and welcome to The Signalman show!  I hope you're having a great week so far!  OMG...that stupid mower.  I'm working on fixing this cool old 1971 John Deere mower, and I think it should be called a "Dear John" instead.  I broke it again.  It's yet to mow the whole yard.  However, by the time it's all said and done, it will mow the lawn, and get me material for an entire book on philosophy and patience.

  If I had to pick a breed of dog that accurately reflects my personality, unfortunately, my mother was's not a boxer, or a pug...but a poodle.  "You're fussy like a poodle" she retorted when I insisted I wasn't akin to that fancy dog.  I've turned a lot of wrenches in my life, and have learned that there's a balance to the poodle side, and that is what I call The Mechanical Mindset.  It asks "what is the solution?" instead of "OH NO OH NO IT'S BROKEN CAN IT EVER BE FIXED IN A MILLION YEARS I SHOULD BUY A NEW ONE."  Shifting from "can it be fixed?" to "how can it be fixed?" is empowering indeed!

 For example:  I'm painting around the house, and one of the doorknobs fell apart.  It obviously went back together, but how was a bit puzzling.  I sat there and like the Grinch, puzzled until my puzzler was sore.  Now it's working, and I'm entirely too smug about it.  My students should expect a show and tell of the doorknob..."Now, let me tell you about something called "The Mechanical Mindset".  Hopefully a squirrel doesn't show up.  I am a poodle, after all.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Business and Heart

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Hey there, and welcome to the Signalman show!  Well, today was the day.  I gathered the tarps, packed up the final odds 'n ends, chased all the guitar picks down, looked out the window one last time, and dropped the keys to my office off in the deposit box.  I drove north, and turned off Old Washington Road for good.  

  I've recently moved my guitar teaching practice to my home studio, closing out 13 years in Waldorf, MD.  It's taught me a lot about running a business, and, the thought of the day - business and heart need not be unrelated.  We usually think "professional" means dressing boring and never having a long knife too far away.  "It's nothing personal, it's just business."  I've acted like that at times, and been on the receiving end of it as well.  And sometimes we all carry it farther, making the business actions personal in a bad way.  That's a doozy of a bad hop to field, and often counterproductive in addition to being mean.  But today, there was one final affirmation of a good business lesson from Old Washington Road.  My room was painted.  There was another renter lined up.  All the business was taken care of.  I had said thank you and goodbye, and started to walk down the hall. My kind landlady called out that she was going to miss me.  This small gesture of friendship and appreciation was a fitting final lesson that we can make the bucks, run empires...and to quote Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol...make mankind our business.  

Thank you, Waldorf!  And thank you, A.  

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Awards Show

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Good morning, and Happy Friday!  Seems like I say that a, the weeks sure go by fast!
Welcome to the show.  I was in Wal-mart yesterday...more returns.  The mower battery wasn't right.  I tried not to be "that guy", but I was, in my weird obscure T-shirt, plunking a dirty lawnmower battery down on the counter, and wondering why I couldn't get a full refund.  The lady took care of it, but took a minute to get through my thick skull.  I got the new one, walked back, and wanted to say something nice to her.  "How's your day?" is so lame, and suddenly I remembered a Dale Carnegie bit about compliments.  "You must be really good at logistics" I said.  "Oh, well...I try."  "Funny you should say that" a guy in line chimed in, dressed in only what could be described as High Walmart Fashion. (It was pretty epic.)  "She's really good."  The lady had an earned smile on her face for a legitimate recognition of a talent, and suddenly, the trenches of the return department seemed a bit more human.  It was awesome!

  I am recognizing that most everyone I meet is worlds better at something that I'm learning, something that I appreciate, or something that I admire.  It's been fun to realize this, and point it out to them.  I need a backpack full of trophies, so I can have a traveling awards show.  We're gonna talk a little more about this idea next week, as it turns the world into not only a friendlier place, but a classroom.  For now, have a GREAT weekend, and see what talented people you meet!

Friday, June 23, 2017


The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Good morning, and welcome to the 100th episode of the Signalman show!  AND, the first day of summer.  MAN, what a day!

  Wanted to say "THANK YOU" for listening to this show!   It's been fun so far, and we're just getting warmed up.  In particular, I've enjoyed the opportunity to interview such a rockin' crew, with an especially wide range of views.  The division online and in person seems to be getting worse by the day, and I see an increasing need to address it.  I should specify, though.  Difference in thought isn't a problem, but the intolerance to it is, poisoning friendships at best, and in extreme cases, condensing into actual lead, the trigger fingers as blind as their owners.

  So, we can talk, we can listen, we can disagree with respect, and we can learn. It seems like it's all we can do, but perhaps, like doing pushups, the simple, basic, everyday is the way forward.  It's not fancy, but let's see what happens.   In the next 100 episodes of the show, I'd like to host more interviews, with an even broader range of topics and views, and listen to more people.  I could use your help.  If you have any suggestions of people you'd like to hear on this podcast, be it yourself, a friend, a local political or religious leader, or anyone you admire...please let me know!  Let's get 'em by.  We all have work to do.  Let's make it a summer of listening.

  Thanks for 100 episodes!  And Happy Summer!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!  The forces of mediocrity were defeated on Friday evening in Washington.  Christoph Eschenbach took the conductor's podium in front of the National Symphony Orchestra, raised a baton, and smashed the idea that enthusiasm was reserved for clowns.  He dealt a crushing blow to the smirk, the scoff, the tepid answer of "can't complain."  The people tried not to cough in the concert hall at the Kennedy Center, but only about half succeeded.  That didn't stop Eschenbach, though.  He threw thunderbolts at the timpani, winding up his hands like a relief pitcher with an strange delivery, uncorking lighting, this boss of Zeus, the CEO of Thunder, inc.  He swayed in the perfume of the strings, wafting the sound so sweet you could smell it,  his hands like a baker, and deftly conducted a hundred person choir with his fingertips as a clockmaker tunes the gears in an ancient and honored timepiece.  It was a farewell concert, and Beethoven's last fitting.

  The rest of us just watched, our jaded wings unable risk flight.  And here this orphan of World War II, who didn't speak for a year after his father was killed until some blessed soul asked him if he wanted to play music, this slight man in a crisp suit who waved life with his hands, he...he showed us a way.  I awoke the next morning, and remembered the good news.  The forces of mediocrity were defeated, at least for 74 minutes in the humid city of Washington.  The crowd only let him offstage after every hand in the building ached with the applause of five encores.  Bravo, sir.  And now, about that way you showed us...time to think about that.

Monday, June 19, 2017

End of an Era

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

  Our minds are funny things.  I've been spending a disproportionate amount of time on eBay this morning.  I've got a bid on an impact wrench, and picked up a nice used MAC tools air ratchet for $23. Now that's a deal!

  I don't know about you, but when I have a choice between a big, real thing to think about, or a triviality, well, I always choose the little thing.  Gaa, I wish I'd stop doing that!  Maybe it's because it has the illusion that it would be easier to control.

  Today is a big day.  It's my last day working on Old Washington Road in Waldorf, MD.  If someday there was a group of people who decided to form the Josh Urban Historical Society, paid handsomely by my estate, of course,  their tours would surely start midway up on Old Washington Road.  They'd gather in the hot August sun, I'd imagine, their floppy hats no use against the ubiquitous asphalt that is Waldorf.  The guide, a sporting a vintage "Sup Comrade" shirt, would point to a dinky window where I studied guitar for years.  They'd move south, getting stuck in traffic that backed up at the slow light, and pull into the weedy parking lot of the now-abandoned teen hangout and strange combination of ministry and punk club called My Brother's Place.  Perhaps the little brass plaque would still hang by the door "Dress code enforced by management's discretion", incongruent with the teenage ghosts sporting tri-hawks, plaid, and fake leather.  "This is where Mr. Urban learned to mix sound, and was generally a grumpy teenager.  It took him years to realize that he hated working in the sound booth, as the crowd  had it's back to him."  Someone would inquire about the DC sounds of punk and go go, and the guide would realize he missed that aspect, masking it in a "I'm glad you asked" remark, mentioning that combined with the punk mixing at the club, there was the go go guitar stint in the gospel band, the funky sounds of the nation's capital graciously taught, along with certain handshakes so patiently instructed.

  Across the light, they'd shuffle, past the dubious TNT Fashions store, the same faded suits in the window for years, arriving at a hulking, dilapidated storefront that used to be a guitar shop.  "He put the Christmas decorations up one year, and a medivac helicopter landed in the parking lot, blowing the wreath off the front of the guitar shop" someone would point.  The porta-john trucks would still rattle out of the neighboring lot, and the daily coal train would shake the ground as it rumbled by the first tiny teaching studio wedged in the back of the music store, glass panes on the doors that bored colleagues would stand in front of and try to distract their fellow instructors in lessons.

  Finally, this imaginary group of my fabrication would arrive at The Treehouse, as it was called, the second studio, and first leap out on entrepreneurship...A nondescript office building across the street from a grocery store.  For almost ten years republicans, democrats, hippies and preachers would trudge up the stairs and sit next to the lava lamp to learn, teach, laugh, and cry.  "If it sounds good, it is good" was a motto.  Many struggled, many triumphed.  In guitar, too, but Life was the main focus.  There was a lot of learning, for everyone in the room.  One of the imaginary tourists leans in to put an ear to the drywall, seeing if she can hear the echo of the phrase "Any questions?" The cars would still roar up the road like they were stolen (and probably were), and just then, the daily coal train would announce with an ominous blast.  "I hear that train a comin', it's rollin' round the bend" someone would reference, and they'd all file out down the 13 steps of the stairs.

  So, I've also been shopping for impact wrenches on eBay, too.  I'm terribly excited to move my teaching studio to my garage and continue the fun...but I will miss Old Washington road, it's mad rush of suburbia masking the rich memories not only of an entire career, but the people who walked the path alongside me.  Thank you, Waldorf!  And Goodnight.  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Next Thing

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Good morning, and welcome to The Signalman Show!  I was record shopping the other day, and wandered into the book department.  Browsing the shelves, I discovered that I'd never read This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Five bucks is a small price to pay for at least the idea of improving one's mind, so I bought the book, and have been using it as a worthy substitute for Family Guy videos on over dinner.  Well, it's getting there, I should say.

  I read something last night that has been intriguing me.  A mentor character in the book, Monsignor Darcy, states this:  If we can do the next thing, and have an hour a day to think in, we can accomplish marvels."  A bit later, elaborating:  "I have just learned to do it myself.  I can do the one hundred things beyond the next thing, but I stub my toe on that, just as you stubbed your toe on mathematics this fall."  

  The next thing.  I could be missing the point entirely, but that's actually beside the point.  My interpretation is:  the challenge immediately at hand on our path to our goals.  It's often un-glamorous, something like paperwork, an uncomfortable phone call, sending that invoice, or the daily dedication to practice.  But now it has a name, a focus, and the title of an idea:  The Next Thing. Moreover, it takes on a Zennish simplicity, and clarity for me, as I'm always getting my head lost in the clouds and becoming overwhelmed with the complexity of big ideas.   What's your Next Thing?  I've got quite a list of them for me over here.  And speaking of ones are due!  Gotta run!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Everyone Needs a Hug

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Good morning and welcome to The Signalman Show!

  OK, more stories from the street.  I went to Richmond this past Saturday, and well, was a bit nervous to start up the street music again.  I'm not sure why...maybe it's just been a while.  Well, it sure was good to be back.  I'm jammin' with my broom guitar, and the religious weirdos show up down the block, set up their signs, and start a street sermon video, the hipsters are walking by, and all of the denizens of the  concrete jungle were there.  So much fun!  Well, one of the local drunks stops by.  I didn't recognize him until he took off his sunglasses.  He's been a nuisance before, and I wasn't exactly thrilled to see him at first, but this changed.  He seemed a bit somber.  I asked him how he was, and he teared up.  His daughter, who I've seen before selling faded roses from her motorized scooter, was in the ICU.  He was worried sick.  She's his everything. I spontaneously offered a hug, which he accepted, clinging to me like his world was slipping away.  We talked a bit, and he felt a lot better when he realized one of her procedures wasn't as serious as he thought it was.  He wandered off to get a beer.  People sure are complicated.  And seems like everyone needs hugs.  

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Tallest Man on Cary Street

Hey everyone!

  I hope you had a great weekend!  I sure did...and met a remarkable gentleman while I was playing street music in Richmond.   Let's call him "Sam."  Sam, if you're listening to this show, please let me know if you'd like to do that interview we were talking about.  It would be an honor.  We got to talking about creativity a bit, and I mentioned that writing seems to be my primary form of expression.  Sam, I wrote you something.  I know it's a tough subject, and want you to know that I write this with respect and humility.  May we all strive to your level of dignity, service, and fortitude.

Our kneecaps should at least feel a prickle of shame as we walk by the Tallest Man on Cary Street.  Some gave all, some gave almost all...but most gave none at all.  "It's been a slow day" he says as the fancy girls and hipsters walk by, towering above The Tallest Man on Cary Street.

  He had jokingly requested "Freebird", and we exchanged hellos across the street.  Guitar strings eventually break, street music stops, and conversation starts.  A few minutes in, "Are you OK talking about war?" I ask him, my peer, only 1 year older than me.  "I hear this generation of vets feels invisible."

"It's more of how I'm treated now.  I got laid off, and my disability paperwork is taking forever.  I've got to put on this stupid sign and come out here to make ends meet, otherwise I'll lose everything I have.  But, I'd do it again, no regrets."  A strange avian sound reverberates off the quaint storefronts in the summer afternoon.  He glances up, mentioning how he won't let a hawk take off with his puppy.  Rolling by a dumpster the other day, he had heard a whimpering inside.  He discovered the puppy, took some money from his dwindling supply, and got the shots and food for Rufus, as was the name chosen.  "I was gonna take him to the shelter, but he slept on my chest the first night, and that was it."  They love each other, a sight of connection to watch behind the screen of people politely ignoring his polite sign.  There's a blankness on the street, and I've only tasted the appetizer.  People seal off in their own little bubbles.  If you want to feel lonely, try asking a crowd for help.

  I shake what's left of his hand, thank him for his service, and go back to my car.  I surprise myself and start to cry.  Not like the bee sting sob of a boy, but a smarting injustice that makes your jaw clench and eyes leak.  He left his legs in Fallujah.  I can't even spell that word.  And we left him there on the ground with his sign.  What a thanks. The pretty girls and hipsters walk by.  We should all pull our fancy skirts and designer jeans to cover our kneecaps, shudder as they should to meet his friendly, dignified gaze.  After all he's done for us...How we have failed The Tallest Man on Cary Street.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Happy Birthday, Matt!

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Good morning, crew!

  Happy birthday to Matt Hooke!  Matt is a friend, musician, radio host, and indirectly, one of the reasons for this podcast.  I met him at a show we were both playing last summer in Takoma Park, Maryland.  As gregarious as I am, sometimes I don't make a point to talk to my fellow musicians as much as I should.  I'm glad I talked with Matt, though.  We ended up jamming onstage, he later got me an interview on WOWD Takoma Park, which eventually got me thinking about podcasting.  He's guested on this show, and I've guested on his show in Cleveland on WRUW, and we continue to collaborate.  All from one "Hey man, how's it going?"  Not only would I like to wish him a happy birthday today, but thank him for yet another reminder that there are cool people walking around everywhere, and a single conversation can change a life!  I'm gonna start saying hello more!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A fun idea

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the podcast audio

Good morning!

  I've got a fun idea.  Bring flowers to the customer service department.  Ah, I'll explain.

  It was the day of a million errands yesterday, and an overcast sky found me lugging a big old car battery into Wal Mart.  See, I had bought a lawnmower battery there, and if you bring back the old mower batter, you avoid what's called the "core charge."  They re-manufacture the batteries, and sell them again.  Well, this wasn't a lawnmower battery, and it was covered with spiderwebs and dirt.  I thunked it on the counter of the customer service department, off to the side so the old guy with the jar of organic peanut butter that wasn't sealed right could get  his money back.  Poor Jen...the light had been knocked out of her eyes a long time ago.  She took care of the old guy, then asked her coworker about the spiderweb battery I had brought back, mechanically moving through the actions.  She didn't seem talkative, and I could totally see her point, especially as I started to look around, imagining that everyone needed to return something.  Wouldn't it be cool to go to a town where you didn't need anything from the customer service department, and bring them a snack or a treat as a keep-the-faith present?  I'm heading out to Gainesville VA in a few hours to DJ, and I'm gonna do that at their Wal-Mart.  Feel free to join in the fun!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Dragons and Lizards

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the Podcast Audio

Good morning, and Happy Monday!  I hope you had a great weekend!  I sure did.  Helped a buddy move into a beautiful new home (shoutout to Ryan!), got to dance with girls way more talented than me, AND DJ'd a wedding where the married couple was so happy they could barely stand it.  On Sunday, I took a road trip with my mom and brothers, out along a route we've been traveling for years. It was a beautiful day, and I treasure these excursions. I've grown up watching the road wind into those mountains, and have thought much along the way.  I got to thinking about subtlety.  You ever have those moments where you go "Huh, I guess this is Life!"?  There's no dragons, no epic battles of yore...just a road unwinding gently through pastures and farmland, yet so much happens over the years.  As you know, I'm a bit of a dramatic fella...but lately have been noticing how big things hinge on little things, and the little things are built on a pile of seemingly inconsequential choices.  Here's a little something I wrote about it...not sure if you'd exactly call it a poem, but here goes:

When I was a younger man,

  I heard tales of distant mountains looming in a vast sky,

with battles of old to decide fate and glory, silver clashing on silver,

Fate looking down from a white horse and saying

            "Behold, your Life."

But what if dragons are the lizards  

  Scuttling across my suburban driveway

And the drums of war the ticking of the mantle clock

That we must be vigilant to wind

And first, to choose to wind.

          Feel the key in your hand.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Robot Thoughts

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the Podcast Audio

Happy FRIDAY, and welcome to The Signalman show!

  So, I got to thinking about what the little fella said.  You know, about the robot and magic hot chocolate and flying to space.  Ah, a quick recap.  One of my 9 year old students went off on a tangent, and invented an incredible robot that could do almost anything, including brewing hot chocolate that could make us fly into space.  BUT - we'd have to come back to Earth, because we can't breathe in space.  I pointed out that the robot might be able to figure out a way around that, but since have been thinking:  Isn't that what we all do?

  Most of us are here by impossible odds in one way or another.  Pause a moment and reflect on this.  You probably have some miraculous story that you might have forgotten, be it past history and well, today is today.  We're so quick to accept that, yet draw from what I call selective realism, choosing a reason pretty much out of context as to why we can't do something.  In other words, don't we all have our own versions of magic robots, but "since everyone knows we can't breathe in space", we're forced earthward?  I'm still not sure what to do about this, but as they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem...Good things to ponder over the weekend!  Let me know what you come up with!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Let Your Imagination Breathe

The Morning Show is a blog companion to the Podcast Audio

There's nothing quite like the tangents a 9 year old boy will take.  I was sitting in my guitar teaching chair last night, trying to get the little fellow interested in not only holding his guitar fairly upright, but to also play a few notes, and have them sound decent.  It's literally and figuratively a balancing act - these little fellows are wiggly, and that's OK! I don't remember exactly what the cue word was, but probably something like "try it again" or "practice", and BAM, he was off on a wonderful tangent.  It started with a robot.  "We could ask him to make us hot chocolate!  And he'd be back in like five seconds with it, and it would be the best hot chocolate ever."  "This is superior hot chocolate in every way" I intoned in my best robot voice.  "And then I'd ask him to make a fleet of robots.  But then I'd let him rest."  "I need a nap now."  "But you've only been working for fifteen seconds."  "But it was very hard work."  "And he'd put something in the hot chocolate that could make us FLY!  And then we'd go to SPACE!....but then we'd have to come back to Earth, because we couldn't breathe."

  I felt it my job to point out the obvious flaw in his logic.  "But, I think if he could make magic hot chocolate and get us to space - he could figure out a way we could breathe."

  Why do we do that?  Why do we build robots that make us magical hot chocolate, and then worry about breathing in space?  It's got me thinking about self-imposed limits.  Sometimes kids say the darndest things...