Saturday, December 12, 2015

One day, people will say, “These guys saved Hip-Hop”


Finally, real Hip-Hop, a.k.a. Rap, is back. Let’s start with that.
There are two indie artist groups I’ve come across in my life (and still involved with) who I believed in so much that I was willing to sacrifice everything to help them succeed, at times not knowing anything about the music industry, just wingin’ it, for the love of the music.
Configa & HaStyle are now number three.
Having been in the industry for the past few years now, although still workin’ the 9 to 5, I can truly appreciate the work and effort involved in creating and launching new music.
These guys are the real deal. Don’t underestimate them.
I ran across Configa on Twitter by pure coincidence, as we all do in social media, connect with the right people at the right times, as if social media was the new face of Fate. I immediately got sucked into the vibe he was giving off. As I did with Mack Love when we become great friends and business partners, I thought, “This guy is the real deal. I want to be involved somehow”.
Now granted, I hadn’t even listened to Configa & HaStyle’s music yet, but was already engulfed into the message, which for me was basically, “We’re here to save Hip-Hop”, and they are doing a fine job at that.
I downloaded “The Calm Before Hastility” and “A Good Combination” EPs, both released this year, mind you, and wasn’t sure what to expect. My wife and I were rushing to hit the road to Chicago so I was downloaded these as I was walking out the door. The anticipation was swirling. Were they going to be just another underground rap group, or were they going to hook me like their personalities did on Twitter?
The latter, 100%.
I can’t say there’s been a day that’s gone by in the last two months I haven’t listened to them at least once during the day.
Why is that? Because finally, real Hip-Hop, what we called “Rap” back in the 80s, is back. Did I mention, finally?
Where to start. I can literally write pages on this, maybe even a small novel, each chapter outlining each song, but we won’t go there, yet…….. I’ll do that once I’m writing our book, “How Configa & HaStyle and Mack Love saved Hip-Hop”, because I truly believe these guys can all do it, which is why me, the normal, average working-class I.T. computer guy got involved, because I work hard for what I believe in, and I believe in all three of them.
And I don’t kiss ass or bullshit anybody. This is the real deal here.
I knew once my wife started dancing around our apartment singing, “Razor Bumps, Razor Bumps, Razor Bumps, Razor Bumps” that this music is just waiting to blow.
About the music… yes… let’s talk about the music. Incredible. The old-school beats and tracks are arranged in a way that sound modern. Every track is distinct, not like all of the re-hashed garbage we hear on mainstream radio today. This is the same feeling I had when I heard Mack Love’s music four years ago, which is why I’ve worked tirelessly to help him, who in the process became one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
The ability to take older beats and samples, rehash them into something new and keep the music flowing is not easy. Dr. Configa (yes, he actually has a Doctorate degree, and two others) is by far, a master at this. His beats and tracks suck you in. And I’ll hit my favorites in a bit.
But let’s talk about HaStyle, the rapper of the two, a real rapper, finally. He’s the reason why I say “Real Hip-Hop is Back.” Every song tells a story, and not just a generic, blanketed story. These are very well thought out, very well-written, chronological lyrics that tell a story. Remember that; when music actually had meaning and told a story?? Wow. Imagine that; A Hip-Hop song in 2015 that tells a story, and a different, unique story in each song, at that! I thought I was dreaming when I first listened to these EPs. There aren’t any “bitches trippin’ ‘bout my ‘Benz shakin’ dat azz wit’ all da haterZ hatin’” (noticed how I typed that grammatically correct) in every single freakin’ track, like most so-called “Hip-Hop” these days (Thank God). I mean, once in a while is OK, but when a so-called artist has the same lyrics in every song on every EP….. Come on, now. I mind as well bust out my 80’s Casio Keyboard and listen to that, since all the beats are the same as well. Not Configa & Hastyle. HaStyle’s lyrics are smart, well thought out and make sense. Run DMC or Beastie Boys, anyone?
I’m going to summarize a few of my favorite tracks (which is a tough decision because they are ALL great) in a non-traditional way, because that’s how I roll:
Paved The Way - (Music Video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GocmA_ecwg

(Music video available on YouTube) Talk about a tribute. Damn. This one is really great. It’s a tribute song to all of the female rappers and MCs who made females a force to be reckoned with in the Hip-Hop and R&B world and literally Paved The Way for those who followed. The smooth piano melody fits the lyrics well (which the song “12 Monkeys” also does very well) and the beat flows perfectly with the story. I truly hope some of the amazing female artists mentioned in the song/music video get to hear this track, because I’m sure they will love it. Watch the music video for some cool cameos. Take a listen to Love Loss, which has a very similar throw-back vibe.

Razor Bumps, featuring Rashan - (Music Video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkUdRtO3krM

(Music video available on YouTube) Razor Bumps… We have all had these, and they are annoying as hell. I never imagined I’d ever hear a song about it, let-alone a great song. Again, this song tells a story, as does the music video, which is basically, “For the love of God, don’t go to a punk-ass barber shop where they use dirty-ass clippers, or the ladies will send you off!” Not only are the lyrics great, but their featured artist, Rashan, made me a fan-boy of him as well. He’s good.

Shaka Zulu

Talk about old-school… The first time I heard this song, I instantly got transported back in time to when I was 21, cruisin’ the streets of Chicago with Cypress Hill pounding in the car. Shaka Zulu has that old-school Cypress Hill vibe to it but with a new 2015 twist. When you hear those xylophone and muted clarinet tones, you’ll know what I mean. Love it.

Ghetto USA, featuring Rashan

The beat in Ghetto USA is what the cool kids call “sick”. It has this very unique, one-of-a-kind Reggae-meets-Hip-Hop rhythm and vocal throwback to it that’s almost addicting, AND tells a story….. Rashan, one again, “killed it” in this song. Gotta love the cool kids. Listen to the story, though. I’m betting a lot of us can relate in some way to at least one situation in the lyrics. I know I can.

Lost in Space

This song is probably the most story-driven song I’ve ever heard in my life, period. Configa created a great mood-setting sci-fi vibe with this music, but the lyrics are nothing less than genius. If you listen closely, you can hear a real sci-fi story and being a sci-fi fan and in the process of writing my own sci-fi novel, this may be my favorite track on both EPs. I’m going to write a book based on this song, literally, and when the movie is made, this will be the theme song.

World War Rap

This song is almost a spiritual predecessor to Lost In Space. Again, listen to the lyrics. It’s all about the Hip-Hop world gone to war, real Hip-Hop Vs. mainstream (ha) Hip-Hop. The beat makes you put on your newly-motivated bad-boy face and want to go kick some ass, in whatever you pursue.

Wut You Got - (Music Video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRHbGW9C4-M

(Music video available on YouTube) OK. The music video to this song is just really damn cool, matching its throw-back theme to its music as it opens to this 70s-style TV show intro, which in itself is great camera and editing work. It features this 70’s synth guitar sound that was almost an iconic 70s sound. The great thing about this song and video is it features both Configa & HaStyle performing together. They managed to bring the 70’s into the current Hip-Hop age, which they also do very successfully with the song 7 MCs. So very, very cool.

And last but not least, a personal message from HaStyle and Dr. Configa:

Rap CPR

Yes, Configa & HaStyle both personally deliver a message to the entire current world of Hip-Hop, and I say current because it will change soon when they blow up out there.

What’s that message? It’s simple, as Configa states best in the song, “What the fuck happened to Hip-Hop? What happened to real rhymes, real lyrics, real beats?”

Well, I have the answer. It died, quite a long time ago.

Rap CPR is more than just a metaphor. It’s reality, and Hip-Hop is about to get resuscitated.

I got involved in the music industry because I came across one guy who’s sound revived real Hip-Hop, Mack Love, a true friend and someone with a passion to bring the old sound back to the modern era. Sound familiar (Configa & HaStyle)? I dedicated the past few years developing a plan for Mack and I to get out there, and it’s coming along slowly, but surely.

Just about when I was doubting the inevitable success of our mission, Configa Beats & HaStyle Rhymes come into the picture.

Now I know, without a doubt, real Hip-Hop is back, and this time, it’s not going anywhere. As long as we are all alive, so will real Hip-Hop be.



Check 'em out here:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Configa
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Configa & https://twitter.com/HastyleRhymes

And of course, here, where you can download their music:
http://confighas.bandcamp.com/

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Small Thieves of Christmas

The orchestral piece which goes to this tale:
The Small Thieves of Christmas

Christmas Eve is at hand
As children run to their beds,
Hoping good old St. Nick
Will fly in on his sled.

He travels abound
From house to house,
Leaving gifts for all children
Piled up in mounds.

But as Santa departs
The Small Thieves arrive,
Executing their plan
They have carefully devised.

They lurk all about
In the light and the dark,
While nobody is watching
Their plan, they do start.

Tip-toeing along,
With all of their might,
To steal all the presents
On this dark Christmas night.

But little do they know
They are watched by the guards,
The secret society
Of the Christmas Vanguards

They slowly approach
The sneaky Small Thieves,
As they raise their swords
They chant, “Get down on your knees”

The Thieves of the night
Of course, don’t obey,
As they, too, raise their swords
And a battle begins.

The Vanguards fight with honor
With courage and with strength,
But in numbers, the thieves
Overpower their ranks.

One by one
The Vanguards start to fall,
As more of the Thieves
Come running down the halls

All seems lost
For the valiant Vanguards,
As they just cannot last
Through the hordes of their charge.

But just as the Thieves
Believe they have won,
The cavalry arrives
To spoil their fun.

They march down the halls,
Ready to fight,
As they take out their swords
That glimmer from the night

With might and power
Never before seen,
The Cavalry Knights
Attack the Small Thieves.

One by one
They succumb to the sword,
As they fall to the ground
Gasping words, “Please, no more”

The remaining of the horde
Of the wretched Small Thieves,
Retreat far away
As fast as they can flee.

Before the children
Awake from their beds,
The Christmas Vanguards
Have laid the thieves to rest.

They retreat in formation
With dignity and power,
So the children can awake
At the top of the hour.

Don’t be alarmed
If the Small Thieves of Christmas,
Try to remove
Your Christmas tree presents

There’s no need to panic
No cause for alarm,
You will always be protected
By the Christmas Vanguards.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Time for Unity; A Time for Change.

What happened to us, seriously?  Where did our spirits go?  Are we that broken as a people that we have lost sight of who we are and what we stand for, not just unified, but as our own person?

Think back to 911.  Do you remember where you were, what you were doing and the one thing our generation hadn't seen yet that happened on that day, for everybody in this country?

We were united.  We stood proud in the face of evil, and as the United States, we stood together and showed the world no matter what you do to us, no matter how hard you kick us and throw us down, we will always get back up, always.

So what happened?  I remember that day very well.  I remember something spectacular that happened in the face of chaos and tragedy; strangers coming together in a way I had never seen.  People were in the streets, on the train, talking, sharing, crying, praying and above all else, loving.

Think about that day.  Do you remember any point in your lifetime where total strangers came together to support one another the way we did that day and during those times?  I don't.  I saw people of all nationalities, all backgrounds, all classes, stand together and share their lives with each other in a way I've never seen to this day, and in the days, weeks and months that followed, this country stood together as if the world could never break us.

And so I ask, what happened to us?  Look at us now, walking down the street, only concerned about ourselves, turning away when we see a homeless mother in need, a person in distress needing help or someone just wanting a bite to eat.  I see it every day, walking through the city.  Not one person can argue with me that it doesn't exist, and that it doesn't ten times over what it did during our time of unity.  We're so divided that whereas once we would look in the very eyes of evil and stand up for one another, we now run from it.  We are only so concerned about our own daily lives that we seem to have forgotten about helping those less fortunate, and also forgot the most important thing, we are Americans.

I've noticed over the past few years that this is happening, whether people want to believe it or not.  Greed and corruption has doused the hopes of the innocent that the American Dream is still alive and out there for anybody with the heart and passion to go for it.  Instead of looking and hoping for their bright future, they only hope they have a job the next day.

I still believe in our spirit.  It's unfortunate that only in tragedy we have found unity.  World War I, World War II, 911, etc.  I ask myself what it's going to take to unify us again.  I really don't know, but I'm tired of sitting back and watching good, hard-working peoples' spirits being crushed day after day and not being able to do anything about it.  I'm tired of not having a voice.  I'm tired of being told, nobody cares.

You know what? That's complete BS.  There are still many good-hearted, caring, hard-working people out there who believe in something and believe it so much that even in these hard times, they still get up every morning, hoping that there will be a better tomorrow.  I know I do, because I know that nobody can bring us down.

If you read all this and think to yourself, "Oh boy, here's another person trying to change the world" well you're damn right, and if you don't believe in it, then just stop now.  I don't need attention, I'm not looking for money or fame and I'm definitely not trying to make people think like me, but ya know, some people out there actually care enough to not just sit back and riddle the world with criticism, not doing anything about it, and instead at least trying to do something.

I'll leave it at that for now.  Who knows, this may be my one and only post I ever create, this guy out of nowhere that writes from the heart because he actually believes in something so great that he can't contain it anymore, who's tired of seeing people hurt, sad and down on themselves, who's tired of all of the so-called "smart" ones out there who are supposedly looking out for us and yet do hardly anything to lift our spirits.  If you want to think it's corny, cliche or anything else, fine.  You know what? That's what makes Freedom so great, the fact that you CAN believe that and have the right to express it.  There are some places in this world you can't.  Be grateful, no matter what you believe or don't believe, you have the right to do so.

But for those of you who still believe in something, do something about it.  One day, there will be no lines between race, religion, political beliefs and gender.  There will only be people and their ability to come together, again and unite as one, again.

Self-importance, greed and power is not the answer.  Unity is.  If you're too important, too "good" to help people out when you see they need someone, then I say, whatever, be happy with your self-important life, but there are still those of us who will never let anybody bring us down, and we are the ones that will always rise above and beyond to help one another in times of need.

That's called Unity.  Maybe we'll all find that some day again.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

From my heart, I thank you, United States Armed Forces men and women

Thank You, for all you've done for us, for all you do now and for all you will do in our future.

Where can one possibly start to thank all of our brave soldiers, past and present, who keep us safe? I don't think there is anything I can say or do to fully express the appreciation I feel for the simple things in life we take for granted, all because of these brave souls.

I sat here for a good hour day, trying to find the words to fully express how I feel, and I can't.  What can you say to those who have risked their lives so I can sit in front of a computer in my very own home I worked so damn hard for, because of those who fought, fight and will fight for us who don't have these luxuries and allowed me to have the opportunities to work hard for what I want?  I don't know what to say, so I'll just say what I can.

I have never been in the military, but I can appreciate, more then words will every be able to express, everything our service men and woman have gone through for us.  I've seen what Vietnam did to a very close friend of mine, who is not only like a brother to me, but also a father.  I've seen what it did to another friend of mine, coming back from Iraq, living with demons he can only control by being highly medicated.  I can't look at that and not be grateful.  Most importantly, I've seen the stress my sister endures on a daily basis for the past 10+ years she's been in the Navy, still serving as an officer, and I could never handle the kind of stress she goes through.

Even though I've been told again and again, I would have made a great Marine, I don't think I could ever have handled what you all have gone through for me, for us and for this country, and I can't thank you all enough for our freedom.

If I was famous, if I had millions/billions of dollars, if there was something I could do to influence people in this country to come together to fix our most disgusting and embarrassing problem, homeless Veterans, I would.  I'm not an angry person, far from it.  I'm a happy, glass half-full kinda guy, but when I see a homeless Veteran on the streets, I'm disgusted, angry and embarrassed being in a country that allows this to happen to people who have fought for this very same country.

And you know what gets under my skin?  These millionaires and billionaires fighting over money in the NFL, who sit in their million dollar homes, having enough money collectively to end homelessness for not only our Veterans, but much of the United States, and instead of focusing their efforts on helping the very people who Protect and Serve us to make sure these self-important people have their cushy fru-fru lifestyles, they sit their arguing over their millions and billions, instead of arguing who's going to build the biggest homeless Veteran shelter or hospital, who's going to create the most Veteran jobs, or most importantly, who's going to pay for the funerals for these brave souls.

See, as I write this now, I'm getting very emotional.  It pisses me off so much with a mix of sadness, anger, hurt and frustration, because if I had their money, I would end this travesty.  If I was famous, I would use that fame to support our troops.  People may not care for or like Lady Gaga, but ya know what, that's what she does.  She advocates and fights for those who fight for us, and that's why I admire her.  Why can't there be more of her kind around?

I say to all of the millionaires and billionaires out there in the United States, what the hell is wrong with you?  You sit there enjoying your cushy lifestyles because of people dying for you, and all you do is argue over your money without people fighting for our Freedom, we wouldn't have the lives we have now.  We wouldn't have hospitals and research organizations and other charities because we wouldn't have Freedom.  There is so much money out there to end this problem, and nobody seems to care.  I see it every day.  I see people on the street walking past homeless vets, looking the other way, pretending like they don't exist.

Do people think Freedom is an entitlement?  It sure seems like it.

And let's be very clear about this.  I'm talking to the ones that do not care, the ones who do not help or do not take the time to show their appreciation, either vocally or monetarily.  I'm not generalizing and stereotyping all of the rich, successful people out there, but only the ones that are so self-entitled, self-important and narcissistic who don't believe they have to care, rich or poor, because they are too important to bother.

If you are one of those, then get the hell out of our country.  You don't deserve to be here.  Find another country with the heart that our soldiers have to protect you.  See if you can.  I seriously doubt you will.

Hell, you don't even have to donate a dime, but just show some appreciation. Make an effort to say "Thank You" to any Armed Forces individual, past or present, when you see them. That's all it takes. If you did that, even I would be content you did so.  Words can be more powerful then anything in this world, so at least give them that much.

I, for one, don't sit on my ass in my house thinking I deserve this.  I am grateful every single day I wake up that people are out there, that don't even know me, will to die to keep me safe so I can have what I have.  I worked my ass off coming up fairly poor to achieve what I have.  I know what it's like to start life with nothing and work hard your entire life for something.  Unfortunately, for many of those service men and women out there, when they come back from war, they aren't even given the opportunities we have had because they are either haunted by their service, or there is nothing left for them to come back to.

I know this went off on a tangent, from saying Thank You to this, but I wanted people to know that there are those of us Americans out there who really and truly appreciate what you do for us.  There is a not a day I wake up that I don't appreciate the fact I did wake up and have the freedom I have to go and do whatever I have to do to make it in this crazy world.

My favorite quote of all time is by John Force, NHRA champion.  His simple words he said during an on-track interview a few years ago said it all.  He was asked "How are feeling today?" since he was recovering from a major racing accident.  He simply said "Well, I woke up breathin' ".  Just that simple saying says it all.  We wake up every day because somebody is out there in the world fighting for us.  Just simply waking up should be enough to be thankful for in life.

Don't ever take life for granted, and most certainly, don't EVER take what our Armed Forces do for us on a daily basis.

I thank all of you, from the bottom of my heart.  There's no amount of donations I can give to help Veterans they way they need to be helped, or nothing I can possibly write to make things right, but at least I can try to spread the love by saying Thank You.

I hope by taking the time to share my feelings, somebody out there feels that appreciation and knows there are many of us that truly and whole-heartedly appreciate you.

Thank you!

Monday, June 1, 2015

NEVER Let 'em Tell You, You Aren't Good Enough or You Can't

I'll start off getting straight to the point.

Don't EVER let anybody tell you that you aren't good enough, you can't do this and you can't do that, you aren't strong enough, courageous enough, smart enough, young enough, etc.  Don't let anybody in your life shove those thoughts into your head.  You're better than that.  If people in your life treat you like you aren't capable of things that in your heart and soul you are so passionate about you KNOW you can do, those aren't the people you need in your life.  End of story.  No Exceptions!

I've lived most of my life hearing the same BS come out of everybody's mouth anytime I wanted to step outside of the proverbial box and try something those same critics either didn't have the creative capabilities to do, or just didn't care enough to do it.  But you know what, I'm still here, and I'm doing and living exactly the life people never thought I would have.

I'm not rich, I don't have a million dollars sitting in a bank account, etc.  Hell, I'm one of those people that lives paycheck to paycheck.  I love critics who say "Oh, that's not a good way to live."  I find it ironic that those same people who say it's not a good practice are the ones who have usually been brought up in well-off families and don't understand the struggles it takes to make something of yourself when you have nothing to start with, living on Welfare, being excluded from childhood field trips because you couldn't afford to go and being laughed at because of it.  Such is the story of my life, but that story is a long ways away from being told, simply because it's a long way from being completed.

My point is this.  Everything I set my mind to do, even when I was a child, in my teen years and as an adult, I accomplished on my own, when most everybody told me I wasn't good enough, energetic enough and all the other things negative people would say to you. 

When I wanted to start playing the Violin in 3rd grade, I was told I wouldn't be able to do it.  Well, I played until my junior year of high school, accumulating multiple 1rst and 2nd place awards throughout the years for my solo recitals, etc.  And what did this geeky kid listen to? Classical? Yeah, right.  I listened to Pop, Techno (yes, old school mix tapes abound) and of course, Rock.  I then went on in my life to start composing music of all genres.  Do you know why I started writing music? Because I was told that I couldn't.  I had a ex-girlfriend who lived with me that considered my classical music I would compose "playing on your computer".  Playing? Really? Well, later on, that "playing on my computer" turned out to give me opportunities (which I didn't take) to write background music for video games.  Ironically, do you know why I never took the chance to move to California and do it? Well, because again, I was conditioned to the old "what, are you crazy?" attitude.  I wrote music because I could, because it made me happy and also made me realize I could do something most people couldn't.  I gave that up years ago and recently just started learning how to play the guitar.  That's another story for another time.

When I bought my first motorcycle (Honda CBR) everybody said "You bought a bike? Are you crazy? You can't ride one of those things."  Well, guess what, I basically taught myself how to ride one, and even though I had a fear of it, I wanted that more then the fear I had of it.  I've owned 2 since then.

When everybody was partying in high school, and I was the 15 year old "playing with computers", I told everybody I know that this was what was going to make a career for me later on in life.  They thought it was an excuse.  Oh, I'm sorry, but at the age of oh, 19, I was working 2 jobs, one as a part time computer consultant and one as a computer sales guy.  This, coming from someone who was "playing with computers" for 4 years, working his entire summers since his freshman year in high school as a lifeguard, working side jobs throughout those 4 years to pay for things I needed for High School and all the while, watching everybody else living it up.  Oh yeah, this all was going on while at 15, I was also learning how to drive, in a manual transmission car, again, hearing "What? You can't learn how to drive in a stick.  That's too hard".  Yeah, right.  I was driving a sports car before I was 18 and with no accidents to this day under my belt, while everybody else I knew was wrapping their mommy and daddy's cars around trees and other cars.

When I hit 21, I was hitting the clubs like there was no tomorrow, completely turned my attitude and personality around and ironically running into people I grew up with.  They were all shocked, to say the least.  I eventually moved from the techno scene to the underground house music scene. Even played a little drums with the DJs here and there.

What's my point? All of these things in my early years were things almost everybody told me I couldn't do, but I did them, because I refused to listen to people tell me I wasn't good enough to do those things.  I had a passion for wanting a better life.  It drove me every day to better myself, to forget about the morons that made fun of me, since I was the skinny tall kid.  Well, I'm the one with the big house, hot wife and nice car.  I wonder where all of those people are? Oh wait, I've heard of a few, and they are stuck in dead-end jobs, hell, one is still working at the same bar he's worked at since we graduated high school.  Hm, and the irony of that being he was one of the partiers and I was the the "dork playing with his computer".  I went out ALL the time, but I rode my bike 20 miles a day, and almost started racing professionally when I was only 18.  I decided not to so I could pursue a computer career.

But the dorky kid from high school, who coincidentally in his senior year had a girlfriend whom every other guy in school wanted to be with, refused to listen to the negative BS and rose above it.

That was 20 years ago.  I'm 37 now, look like i'm about 25, feel like I'm 18 and where have I come?  I'm at a point where I realize ya know what, I'm tired of seeing people being brought down all the time.  I'm tired of seeing that woman crying because her husband is an asshole and tells her she isn't good enough to do anything but be a house wife, and her actually believing it, or the high school kid that wants to play in the NFL, who's parents and friends tell him he's no good and laugh when he talks about it.

Where I'm at now, is here to tell anybody that will listen that the old saying of you not giving up and believing in yourself is absolutely true.  AND, I won't even get into all of the hurtful relationships I've had.  I've been cheated on more times then I'll talk about, but did that stop me from wanting to be with someone else? No.  Did I give up and start saying "All women are cheaters" and all that BS that comes from multiple bad relationships? Absolutely not. Hell no.

This is just a taste of the negativity I've been through in my life, and it's made me a good-hearted, caring, strong person with a sensitive side that won't hesistate to stand up for the little guy.  Here's another one for you; sensitivite does NOT mean weak, because I'll tell you right now, if I ever see a man lay one hand on a woman, he better start walking away as soon as I look at him.  This sensitive, emotional, straight-from-the-soul passionate guy is also a guy that doesn't take crap or BS from anybody. 

To wrap up this crazy all-over-the-place post, I want to tell everybody out there that no matter what negativity you face in your life, no matter who doubts you, no matter who tells you that you can't do one thing or another, I'm telling you right now, that's complete nonsense.

A strong mind is the most powerful weapon in the universe.  Your will, passion and drive are things NOBODY can take from you, regardless of you being rich, poor, healthy, sick, etc.  Don't ever let anybody take those things from you.  I'm living proof.  If you want something bad enough, you'll get it, believe me.  The secret is just simply this; never give up and never let anybody tell you that you can't do something or that you aren't good enough, because I am telling you, it's complete nonsense.

Just so you all know, I paid my way through college completely on my own.  I bought my own cars (all 19 of them I've owned so far), my motorcycles, my house, etc. all on my own with no help from anybody.  I worked those 2, and at one point, 3 jobs, just to pay for everything I needed, and rarely had anything left over for what I wanted.  I worked my way up from growing up poor to being who and where I am today.  Anybody that says you can't do that has no clue what they are talking about.

So, whatever you are thinking right now, the "Yeah but" this and that, "but you don't understand", blah blah blah.  I DO understand, because I've been there, and understand this when I say, let all the negativity go and start believing in yourself.  Once you do that, it doesn't matter if anybody else in the world does, because once you do, it's on, my friends.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Dreams, dedication and hard work.. Do they mean anything anymore?

They say if you work hard, you'll go places in life.  I'm a dedicated, hard worker.  I've been working since I was 15, now 37.  I'm as loyal a friend as they come, I believe and have strong work ethics and put everything I can into what I do.  That's who I am.  I learned early on in life that if you want something, you need to earn it and work for it.

But as many in my world, including myself, have asked lately; does it mean anything to anybody anymore, I wonder if it really does. No matter, it won't change who I am or what I believe in.

I want to be a part of something big where people have a feeling of closeness, where the traditional white-collar business world does not apply and figuratively bending over backwards for somebody actually means something to people who recognize you aren't doing it to kiss their ass for more money or promotions, you are simply doing it because you believe in working hard and going after what you want in life.

I think to myself, why have I not realized before that I'm stuck in a life where only those select few who choose to pat themselves and each other on the back for how great they are and what a grand job they do are the ones that move up, and the hard-working ones who they command, who never asked for anything but respect, get meticulously put under a microscope, simply because they can't accept that somebody out there is actually better at doing things then they are.  That would be blasphemy.

Well, the time to change is now, not just for me, but anybody else out there that wants something more in life, that wants to be a part of something big.  I'm not looking for fame or money.  I'm looking for good-hearted, hard-working people that actually care about you and allow you to care about them, who look out for each other in times of need and most importantly, who appreciate a person that goes above and beyond, just because, not having to be asked, but feeling a part of something so great they actually want to.

I used to think, for the years I did that in my I.T. career, it would eventually make a difference, but it never has.  I woke up and realized that the only thing holding me back from being a part of something great is me.  I'm tired of being afraid of the "what ifs" in life.  Having that fear is like putting Stop signs all around you and never being able to progress personally or professionally because you have no direction left, all being blocked by a mental stop sign.

I get up at 4:30 AM every day since I can remember, make the 50-mile drive, to work, do everything I can to show people I am much more then what I appear to be, make that same 50-mile trip back, and I'm still in the same place I was before.

That stops now.

I want to wake up every morning, see the sun rising and think "I can't wait to go to work today and show 'em what I got".  I want people to see that I will bust my ass for them, expecting only a Thank You and some loyalty.  I don't even know if that world exists anymore, but I'm saying Goodbye to the Stop signs made of fear, and replacing them with the green lights made of hope.

A few years back, I got really into the NHRA.  I've always been a big race fan, and as a child, my hero wasn't a baseball or basketball player.  As a ten year old, my heros were Al Unser Jr, Mario and Michael Andretti and Bobby Rahal.  Even as a child, I knew what a team meant.  As I got older, I wanted to be a part of something like that.  It wasn't about the fame or the money, it was about freedom, about having a second family and just being happy.  Here's why I love the NHRA; when I went to my first NHRA race and realized these people weren't in it for fame or glory, that they were just like you and me, hard-working folks who believed in their hard work for the simple fact of just loving what they do and surrounding themselves with the people that inspire them to be better then they already are, well, that's when I started realizing what I wanted in life.  Not necessarily being a part of a race crew (hell, changing a timing belt on my Volvo wagon and replacing struts myself won't cut it at their level, but would be great to surround myself with good people) but just going to work everyday and being surrounded by all of that positive energy.  That's what I want.  I don't want to be in a place where everybody just puts on an act to be happy in front of the bosses but amongst themselves, they talk about how miserable they are, and those above them are none the wiser unfortunately.

Ever since that day of self-realization and for the past 2 to 3 years after, everything I have done in my life has been to pursue that, but recently realized without putting fear aside, I would not get anywhere.

I'm a happy person.  I always try to see the cup half full.  I don't ask for much in life as I'm a humble guy, but the one thing I want now more then anything is that feeling of being a part of something great.  I always try to see the good in everybody until they give me a reason not to.  Why is wanting to be among positive, inspiring people so hard to achieve these days?

I'm about to give up the one thing that people can't understand how I could, my first home, built from blood, sweat and tears (and a night or two in the hospital), literally, not figuratively. Hell, I don't even want to be a computer guru anymore. I've thought about being a truck driver, a train engineer or hell, even a cruise ship captain, maybe even learning how to fly.  What's stopping me? Simple.  Me.  That's gotta stop.

You have to make goals for yourself and then take it one step at a time until you achieve those goals.  I'm a writer, though not professionally, I am working on a story that will appeal to everybody in one way or another.  Will I finish it? Eh, that's becoming debatable, but I work on it constantly.  I struggle with writing, the same way I do with computers and I.T., thinking to myself that I'm almost obligated in life to pursue these things I'm gifted with simply for that reason.

Is there any profession left out there where you can be a part of a team and be an inspiration to people who love what they do, fuel their motivation and become someone that people love to be around?  I've been there once in my life, and without that, I feel empty.

It's time for a change.  More to come.......

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Society's Manufactured Idealistic Contentment? Not For Me.

People spend their entire lives looking out into the monotony of their world, wondering if something else greater then themselves is really out there waiting for them, and yet, most of them never get any further then that. I used to be that person, going to the Chicago lakefront a few times a week, sitting there on the edge of the glistening waves bouncing the sun off of themselves after a 15 mile rollerblading excursion, just wondering, what is it I'm meant for? I would look out upon the skyline thinking to myself, "I know there's something more out there then this. There has to be. This can't be it. I was meant for something more then this." Are these the words of a delusional optimist, or the feeling of truly knowing that fate has laid out a path for me that I have not yet taken the first step on?

My worst fear has been realized as of late; my fear of contentment. I've become to content with life, with the way people tell me the world really is or should be, and not what the world has yet to offer me. That feeling of "that's just the way it is" has absorbed too much into my existence. The switch that has long been turned off in my soul has finally clicked back on, and instead of sitting there at that lakefront, writing a journal which nobody will ever read, pouring my very existence into it with words, here I am, sharing it with the world. The time for complacency is over. It's time to get back to being me.

Irony is a funny thing sometimes. Some people view irony as signs of fate, a destiny in which your path is laid out for you and no matter what life throws at you and what path you choose when presented with one, fate will always dictate the eventual outcome of your life. I've recently found motivation in stepping out of my complacent existence in the most unexpected place, the mind of a fictional man, John Teller. Yes, THAT John Teller. Any of you who knows that name knows it's a fictional character from the FX TV series, Sons of Anarchy. John was the former leader of a bike club who's ideology revolved around turning a rogue biker club into something greater then themselves. He realized life has more to offer and his fate presented a path for this idealist to do something more then himself.

Well, whoever wrote his character knows me more then they realize, with one exception. I'm not waiting around to figure it all out, because I realize if you sit there pondering the meaning of life, you'll never find the answer. The meaning of life is simply what you believe it should be and want out of it. I know I was meant for more then just being a prisoner of a monotonous concrete jungle every day. There's something more waiting for me out there. Think it's nonsense? That's fine, you have the freedom to think and believe whatever you want, but in the next ten years when you are in the same position, doing the same thing in life, wishing you would have taken that chance, I will have taken a hundred of them and living with no regrets. I've secluded myself into a world which isn't my own, but created for me by those who believe "that's just the way it is."

Well, that's not good enough anymore.

I used to be a biker as well, but for different reasons. I rode because it was out of my comfort zone. There is some truth in what they say, that if it's in your blood, you'll never stray away from it.  After an accident with my first bike, I had a second chance. What I walked away from with a broken ankle was a millisecond away from not walking away at all. As much as I feared getting back on, I did, after spending the entire summer on crutches rebuilding it, sitting in an office chair in a 100+ degree garage rebuilding my legacy. It wasn't just a bike, it was to be a symbol for myself of what it means to come back to yourself.

I gave all that up though, because I let myself be programmed by the world that the American Dream meant having a house, living your days out in peace and harmony, but realized every day I lived of that life was a day closer to the end of the road in which I haven't pursued anything I felt I was meant for.

The crazy idealist that I was always had this overwhelming feeling that fate had laid out a path for me in which somewhere in the timeline of my life, I would influence and lead mass amounts of people into victory and freedom, but in what symbolic way, I was never sure. Was it my words that would change the world, my actions of which I went about doing so or simply existing in a timeline where the smallest decisions I made would somehow have a paradox ripple effect in which would help those people I would never know, see or meet? Again, the crazy ramblings of a delusional optimist, or is there really something else to it?

The great thing about the human spirit is the ability to rise above the norms we typically allow ourselves to become all-to-complacent with and use that to overcome the limitations we put on our bodies, minds and souls. I was that person once, but have since strayed from it.

This ends now. I'm back. Hearing the word "no" on a daily basis over and over again will no longer dictate who I am and where my future lays.

I never think inside the box, but always outside. There is, however, one cliche saying that I do believe there is truth in, which is simply "You always have to put yourself first" which also goes along the lines of the other sister-saying "You can't love anybody else unless you love yourself." If I was to step inside life's box again, those are the only two mottos I would believe in, but the rest as of this moment are out the door.

For years after my accident, I couldn't walk without pain, I couldn't roller blade a mile, let alone the 15 a day I was doing, and I couldn't "ride" without the fear of going down again, even after buying another bike. It took me a long time to get my mobility back, and I let myself just exist, no passion for pushing my limits anymore, no soul, just the contentment of existence.

Ironically and transversely, the existence of contentment in my life is over.  It's time to get my life back. This time, the rules have changed and the only person in control of my fate is me.

I'm back. Let the games begin.

On to Step 1.... getting back in shape.

I'll figure out Step 2 after that.

What are you going to do? Think about it.......

Sunday, March 1, 2015

20k Miles, 8 months and my 2015 Toyota Corolla; A Short Story


A short story about when a car is more than just a car, how it makes my 86 year old grandmother smile when she needs it the most, and a thank you to the Toyota family.


8/5/2015

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything, and the things I have written have been emotionally-driven, to say the least.

This is no different. So why now? Why pick my car as the next topic? Simple. This car has given me super powers; the ability to make the life of somebody I care about just a little bit better; my 86 year old grandmother.

Maybe, just maybe, it will explain why people have emotional attachments to their cars, and why, for us, they are more than just cars.

I know what you’re thinking….and the answer is No, I did not get paid for this.

I’m glad we got that out of the way, but if you want to think that, go for it.

I live exactly 1009 miles door-to-door from her, Denver to Chicago (Cicero, IL to be exact), where I had to move away from in March of 2014 for my job because life just throws curve balls at you sometimes. I drive there once a month with my wife, leaving Thursday night and driving back Sunday.

Yup. We take a 2000 mile road trip once a month to spend roughly 44 hours or so there, mostly to help my grandmother, just to drive back to Denver in one big 13-14 hour swoop.

Why not fly? Well, it was either $500 a month for me to fly there for a 3 days (round trip tickets and a rental car) or use that money for a new car, insurance, fuel, hotel and food and the ability to bring someone with as an added bonus. That part is free, and definitely more fun.

I’ve spent the last 6 years of my life working on my last car, almost every other weekend, literally, just to keep it running enough to get me from point A to B. My 230k mile vehicle (which shall remain anonymous) had enough (and no, it was not a Toyota, because I would have never been stranded as many times as I was had I had one).

Don’t worry. We are getting to the life-changing part. I promise.

As much as I love cars, after years of what seems like endless weekends of maintenance, I had enough. It was time for a reliable car, one I knew would always be there for me when I needed it the most, one I have always wanted. I had previously owned a used ’93 Toyota 4-Runner SR5, new 2005 Scion xB and yes, indeed, a new 2014 Scion iQ, all of which not once I had a single problem with, so I knew what I wanted, and that time had come.

December 1st, 2014. Out with the old, in with the new. I had spent about $3k over the course of the last year or two in parts and repairs on my old vehicle, doing most of the work myself, so I had little-to-nothing left to spend on a new car, but I knew what I wanted, and I was determined to get it, somehow.
With a little help from a local AAA auto broker, I found my car, a brand new Classic Silver Metallic 2015 Toyota Corolla LE, .Car #20 for me, at 39 years old (told you I love cars), purchased from Groove Toyota, right outside of Denver (without a doubt, the best service department I have ever dealt with, period).
Yes…. Car #20 in 19 years, not to be confused with actually owning 20 cars. Only in my dreams!

Merry Christmas to me!

When I first opened the doors, I thought, “I hit the jackpot.”  Automatic climate control (which is THE best one I’ve used, hands down), 6.1” touch screen stereo (with all kinds of cool tech stuff for techie geeks like me) and one of the very few car seats to not give me back pain on long road trips (something my back has always been sensitive to, even though I have no back problems). The sound that comes out of this stereo is nothing short of amazing, and I’m a music guy and very picky about sound, especially in the studio and I’m telling ya’, that sound system is perfect, sounding better than most of my buddy’s upscale European and German imports (nothing against them).

Yes, I’m getting there. Be patient!

I had no money for a down payment, but Toyota has always been fair with me, and they came through for me again, because I had a history with them, and a good one at that.

Having very little money, Christmas approaching and a marriage happening in 2 ½ weeks, I signed the paperwork and drove away, feeling liberated knowing my days of working on cars were over. There’s a difference between working on a car for enjoyment, and working on it because if it doesn’t run the next morning, you can’t go to work. I do not miss those days at all. I do, however, still have a certain classic car from the 60’s, but that is in hibernation.

This is the nicest car I’ve ever owned. Little did I know it would also be the most important car I’ve ever owned.

If it wasn’t for my grandmother working her butt off to support her daughter, a single mom with her two kids (my sister and I) back when we were kids, I’m not sure where I would be right now or if I would have even had a place to call home, to give you the short version of the story.

Being away from her was hard enough without her being robbed by cowardess people pretending to be with “the water department” right in front of her own eyes in her own home, two months after I moved, taking all her money and my safe I had some irreplaceable items in. This was the unfortunate catalyst for her declining health and I knew I wanted to get back, but just couldn’t.

But, after buying my new Corolla, I finally had a way to go see her and help her anytime I wanted (which, by the way, the Corolla is absolutely amazing in the snow, handling better than some all-wheel-drive vehicles when that stability control instantly kicks in.

Well, that time in need came when she took a turn for the worst, couldn’t walk and had to be hospitalized for three weeks in March. She only had her son, my uncle, there for her, because we are all scattered about the country.

It was time to take the car on its first road trip, weather permitting or not.

Now, by March, only 4 months into me owning the car, people had already dented the rear fender, scratched the paint and left me lovely mementos of their car’s colors on various parts of my car, not to mention my cracked windshield from the debris thrown up on the roads here (I’m talking major rocks). Yes, sadly, the one valuable possession I had left in this world was unfortunately damaged by others, the windshield of which is still cracked, because again, sometimes life doesn’t allow you to have what you want, and it’s either use my money to go see Grandma, or use it to fix my windshield. It’s an obvious choice.

We hopped in the Corolla and took our first road trip together as a couple, and let me tell you, this is by far, my favorite car I’ve ever owned for road trips. Not only is it comfortable, but the cruise control is amazingly accurate. I love this car, seriously. I set the temp on the climate controls, and it stays that temperature for hours, without even having to glance at it.

We left after work one day, stayed in Omaha (our routine) and continued the next morning, averaging 75 to 80mph and getting 37mpg (which is what we get with the AC ON almost the entire time), and at that speed, getting that mileage, is nothing short of amazing in my mind. We average 34 on the way back, AC on, going uphill towards Denver, into the wind, which in my mind, again, is pretty darn amazing.

Anyway (you can tell I love my car), we arrived in Chicago/Cicero to see my grandmother, and it lit her up. She had a huge smile on her face. We went to visit her in the hospital each of the three days we were there (it’s all the time we could get off), took care of some bills, cleaned up the house a bit and made her smile.

The Corolla made this possible, and still does.

Now, you may think, OK, so what? I can drive my car across the country as well.

Well, this car is being driven almost 3000 miles a month and not even a whimper of a hiccup with any part of the car. It’s a champ on the highway and in the nastiest of rain storms. It is our daily driver to get us both to work and back during the week, and at least 150 miles up and down twisty-turny, sometimes steep mountain roads on the weekends (and it corners like a sports car) without hesitation. That’s why I choose a Corolla, because I know they last forever, and this one sure seems like it will be one of them.

Anyway, as my grandmother got better and went home, we make it a monthly thing to drive there to take care of her bills, grocery shopping and do whatever else we can to help when the rest of the family can’t. Some people fly to weekend getaways, go to resorts and so forth, but for us, we can’t wait to hop in the car on our next road trip. It’s literally the highlight of our month. We do not take it for granted, not one second.

Not only does it help my grandmother get through her days, anxiously awaiting the next time we come, usually in 3 ½ weeks after we leave, but getting on the open road with this car is effortless, and having to stop only twice for gas is awesome. We drive for hours, maybe 5 or 6, before we even have to think about gas. We don’t even turn on the greatness that is the stereo. There’s something to be said about the therapeutic value of the open road, the sounds, the feeling of security in bad weather, knowing that your car can get you through anything, and it certainly has.

Set the cruise and climate controls, sit back and steer.  For that bit of time we are on that road, we find our happy place amongst life’s curve balls, the biggest one of which is not being there for my grandmother on a daily basis or when she needs something. She is a strong woman and for now, can take care of herself, but with much effort and pain, unfortunately.

This car is taking a beating, I won’t deny it, but it refuses to even give a tiny whimper complaining about it. For those 3 ½ days, we basically live in this car, our home away from home, and a great home it is.

There’s a deeper story here. My car has given me the ability to spend more time with my grandmother in a time where she could really use the smiles seeing her favorite person in the world, when everybody in the family seems to have stressful situations and can’t really be there for her too much. It’s becoming almost a lifeline for her until I can hopefully move back to Chicago for good (which will hopefully happen sooner than later).

It’s also a way for my wife and I, both who have had roller coaster relationships until now, become closer, being able to effortlessly escape to the mountains on the weekends, tackling those steep mountain roads like a champ.

My point? This is the first time in my life where my car isn’t just a car. It’s a lifeline, a solution to a problem, a tool used to relax, a vacation, a home away from home and most importantly, something used to bring some happiness and smiles to someone who needs it.

To me, that’s worth the 2000 mile, once-a-month round trip in 3 ½ days.

You have no idea how much stress has been lifted off my shoulders having a car that can handle anything I throw at it, considering the not-so-pleasant situations I’ve been involved with in my other vehicles.

I took the time to write this because I wanted Toyota and its engineers to know you made a difference in my life and my family’s life and there’s nothing I can do to repay that other than writing this for you. I don’t have to worry about being stranded again, or figuring out how I can get back to Chicago when I have little money to spare, or if that day the temps drop to zero I’ll be laying under my car trying to figure out what’s wrong with it or if I’ll even have the money to fix it. I don’t have to do that anymore. I don’t have that stress I had of what might happen the next day, or driving at 11 PM at night wondering if my car will make it to the hotel. I don’t have that because I drive a car that I never have to worry about those things with.

And most importantly, I don’t have to worry if or how I’ll be able to get back home to Chicago when my grandmother or uncle needs someone, or my mom in Wisconsin, or my sister in Orlando, because I know all I have to do is unlock that door, sit in that seat, turn the key and drive, and to me, that’s priceless, coming from someone who has lived a life of stress and finally found peace, this is the one and only valuable possession I have, my Corolla, and if that sounds cheesy, and I’ll be the first one to take a slice of said cheese.

Bruised and battered, windshield cracked, dent still..dented, slightly hail-damaged (yes, already, unfortunately), colorful front bumper-stained collage of insects who met their unfortunate demise in the thousands of miles of roads traversed,  and the miracle that was a thick nail which somehow tagged along in one of my tires during the entire last 1000 mile drive to Chicago before meeting its ultimate demise by my pliers (and sad early retirement of a tire), my Corolla is still driving like the day I drove it off the lot, taking its bruises with pride and dignity and not once complaining about it.

I can’t fly to Chicago whenever I’m needed because I simply can’t afford it, and if it wasn’t for this car, I wouldn’t even be able to go there, but now I can, and until I move back (hopefully soon, if some amazing miracle happens), I can drive my Corolla the 2000 miles a month it takes to go put a smile on someone’s face who sacrificed everything in her life to give us a home, and now it’s time to return the favor, which is a small price to pay.

Whoever you are who designed my car, you changed my life and made it a little better for someone who may not have much time left in this world, and for that, there are no words to thank you properly, so I wrote this to tell you, Thank You, because without my Corolla, being able to handle what I throw at it, the stress it has removed from my life and ability to drive 14 hours straight in comfort and peace, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do for my family.

Like I said, when a car is more than just a car……. because it sure is much more to me.


20,000 miles in 8 months?  Pfft. That’s nothing. This is only the beginning of this story.