Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wild and Willey at Wiley's, or Sometimes There's Another Reason...

Hello Folks...lotta catching up to do here...

I believe I left off with me about to do my shows in Dayton, OH...Walt Willey presents "Wild and Willey" at Wiley's!  A real mouthful, to say the least...

With Kristi and Jeff
Dayton is a beautiful town, with a gorgeous river walk right downtown of which I took great advantage, walking a few miles everyday.  The media there, Jeff and Kristi from Mix 107.7 and my old friend Kim Faris at 94.5 Lite FM, were welcoming and very helpful getting the word out.
Old Friend Kim Faris...hey why
didn't we get a pic this time?

Owner Rob Haney was super-hospitable and did everything right, but all the shows were lightly attended (small but mighty!). Maybe because of the economy, maybe because of the beautiful fall weather and many festivals (even a sauerkraut festival, with everything sauerkraut, even sauerkraut brownies!), but everybody had a great time.

And sometimes there's another reason to be in a place...there sure was one this time.  Kim and her station had arrange a listener meet and greet for lunch time on Friday.  There was a woman there who - knowing of my involvement in autism and Asperger's issues - said "I have a son, 26 years old, who has Asperger's and is so unhappy...we've tried everything and he says he would like to just die!"  Having a son with Asperger's myself, I know that it is rare that these individuals say things that they don't really feel, so this was a real cry for help.  I suggested she bring her son to the show that night and we'd find some time to talk.  I met with them before and after my first show that Friday night.  This young man was absolutely delightful!  Kind and well-spoken and just as beautiful a heart as one could imagine!  We talked about diet and occupational therapy and speech therapy.  It just so happened that there was a speech pathologist in the audience, and they made arrangements to get together to work on his stutter, something that was having an incredibly alienating effect.  We traded email addresses and I'm awaiting an update which I will pass along.

And that is why I was in Dayton...and I am so thankful that all our paths crossed!

The riverboat at Starved Rock
It was back to Chicago then and down to my hometown of Ottawa, IL.  Ottawa is a truly beautiful little town, situated at the junction of the Fox and Illinois Rivers and the leaves were just beginning to change.  Having lived in LA for the past two autumns, I really missed being a "Leaf Peeper" and wasn't going to miss this opportunity!  Headed out early in the morning for Starved Rock State Park, mere minutes from Ottawa, and hiked a few of the trails there.  This park is the winter home for the American bald eagle.  They fish the locks there because they never freeze over even in the coldest months.  There were no eagles yet, but I've hiked these trails in January with a fresh snowfall and it is breathtaking to watch them swoop and dive, their wingspan wider than I am tall!

I then headed over to Utica, IL just on the other side of the river.  As I came over the top of the bridge I saw a quite a sight: a town of 1000 absolutely swarmed by at least ten times that many people!  I found out in the newspaper the next day that the famed Burgoo Festival was visited by over 30,000 people!  I found that easy to believe having seen the cars parked up and down Route 178 on both sides of town, the Dee Bennett Road jammed all the way to the lock, the vehicles parked in lawns and private lots for $5 a car.  The place was packed!

I'd heard about the Burgoo Festival but had never been in town for it.  No way I was going to miss it!  I parked my car in someone's backyard and headed in the throng.  Food, food and more food and bags filled with corn and emblazoned with sports team's logo for the ubiquitous "corn hole toss" game played in this area (it's like bocce ball, bean bags and skee-ball had a baby!)  And more food.  I did not, however, find even a spoonful of the famed Burgoo Stew...where the heck was it?

I headed back to Starved Rock, but the line of cars was a couple miles long to get in and park!  Matthiesson Park was really jammed, Buffalo Rock was better.  After a short walk there I  made for Ottawa to have a walk around there.  And then I remembered: the "Radium Girls" memorial statue was now up!  I had to go over and check it out...

Radium Girls statue in Ottawa, Illinois
Last year, WilleyWorld Community Productions helped co-produce a show in Ottawa called These Shining Lives, a wonderful play about the Radium Dial and Luminous Processes plants that had been in Ottawa more than fifty years.  The women that worked there painting radium-based paint on watch and clock faces kept their brush points sharp by spinning it between their lips, in the process introducing radium into their systems.  Many died, many became deathly ill.  All the while, these companies claimed no responsibility for the horror that had befallen their employees.  In a famous case, one of these women brought suit, and her victory - a paltry award sum and too late to save her life - did make way for women's rights in the work place and OSHA.

When the play was presented in Ottawa, I was lucky enough to be there.  It was a moving experience, as the lives of these women were played out on stage.  The survivors and their heirs in the audience were clearly moved, as were all present.  A wonderfully healing experience....

The play, originally produced by the Rivendell Theatre Company, was brought to Ottawa to raise money for a memorial to these workers and to their living descendants in the area.  The statue was crafted by local sculptor Bill Piller (who did the Wild Bill Hickok sculptures in Mendota and Troy Grove) and dedicated on September 2, 2011.  So proud to have been a small part of this...

Back to Chicago and a very interesting meeting with a radio station there.  I have many friends in the media in Chicago and have been kicking around the idea of joining them for some time.

At The Rosie Show!
One of my friends - new to Chicago - is the inimitable Rosie O'Donnell.  Rosie called me a few weeks back to come to Chicago to tape some promos for her new show on OWN, The Rosie Show, and it just so happened I'd be in town for her premier, broadcast live form Oprah's famed Harpo studios!

In the audience were her children, friend Suze Orman, and - wonderfully! - folks she'd just run into on the streets of Chicago! It was so exciting to see Ro "back in the saddle"!  I wish her the very best!

I headed back to pack for Nashville and Jackson, TN...and one of the best experiences of my life!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Little Down Time...For Now!

Hey Folks!  After a whirlwind Wild and Willey Tour through Florida, I took a little break in beautiful Marco Island, Florida.  I have been coming down to this beautiful part of Florida for many years to the Southwest Florida SoapFest, run by my friend Pat Berry.  I have had the honor of being the "auctioneer" as we raise tons of money to help with autism services in this area.

Pat's one of the creator's of a new community theatre group on Marco Island, the "Island Players".  Pat know I love community theatre and have a theatre in my hometown of Ottawa, IL so she invited me to be on the Advisory Board.  I was only too happy to say "Yes!"  She asked me if I'd come to the last week's rehearsal to give them a "fresh eye" on the play.  Again, it was my pleasure!

These folks had worked really hard and only needed an audience.  I cleaned up a couple of spots, gave a few notes and they opened to fabulous reviews!  I'm so proud to be a part of this!  Thank you all!  And keep up the good work...I'll see you soon!

While in (or is it on?) Marco Island, friends set me up in a great apartment at the Esplanade.  What a great place!  My digs overlooked the pool and the bay...not too shabby!  I spent the days either in the      sun or working madly on new material for the DVD I'm going to shoot next week in Jackson, TN...that's right..."Jackson" in Jackson!

Stan's from the water...nice!
My hosts took me to Goodland, FL to a place called "Stan's".  It was right on the water and it was Opening Day.  What a blast!

Stan's a good ol' boy of indeterminate age but clearly will never see 70 again, and maybe not 80!  He likes to kick things off with the l-o-n-g-e-s-t version of the Star-Spangled Banner I've ever heard!  I mean, this thing went on forever!  Soaring vocals and writhing orchestra, turning back on itself in a seeming finale only to swoop again!  If they tried something like this at a baseball game, there'd be a riot! Seriously, folks would be throwing the wieners and beer about halfway through!

Stan and me!

But, hey, Stan clearly does things his way and he is a patriot, pure and proud.  He's been known, from time to time, to harangue people not standing at attention with their hands over their hearts for this marathon National Anthem...good for you, Stan!  It's your place, your rules!  Stan likes to tell stale jokes during the band's breaks and asked me if I'd like to tell a couple.  Much as I love getting up on stage there was no way I was going to try to follow that act!  God bless you Stan, and thanks to all the kind folks I met that afternoon...what a great bunch!

The Andean Bear
It was on to Chicago yesterday and some of the most beautiful Fall weather I've ever seen.  A great day for a walk so I headed for the Lincoln Park Zoo.  I've always enjoyed zoos and can stand for long periods of time just watching the animals, especially the great apes.  They have some beautiful chimps and lowland gorillas there and time just slipped away as I watched my "cousins" cavort.  As I was leaving, I saw this stunning creature to the left, enjoying the beautiful weather as much as I and posing for anyone who wished to capture his image.  He's an Andean bear, the only bear of South America and the least carnivorous bear in the world.  That really made me want to pet him!  But I took a look at those claws and any fantasy of rolling around with this bruin quickly vanished!

As I write this, I'm in Dayton, OH getting ready for my shows here tomorrow and Friday (10/6-7) at Wiley's Comedy Club! That's right, it's "Wild and Willey" at Wiley's! What are the chances of that?  Come on out!  I'm getting material ready for taping my new comedy DVD next week and it's gonna be a blast!  See you there!