The car is running, the doors are locked, and the horn is bellowing into the winter night, alerting every neighbor to my enormous and noisy mistake.
It’s cold out, man. And that’s why the car’s running; I’m heating it up to drive my partner’s daughter a few miles down the road to her dad’s house. That trip, however, is put on hold until I can get into my car -- the car that has a breathalyzer on the ignition that I haven’t blown into since starting it and is now on full alarm freakout.
You see, I got that well-deserved, court-appointed interlock device (breathalyzer) in my car because I’m a multiple DWI offender. That damn thing is screaming bloody murder because while the car is running, the device requires breath tests at random times, and upon alert of a random test, if I don’t blow into the device, the car horn starts blowing; not once or twice, but every other second, with some honks lasting for several seconds.
And no, I don’t have a spare key.
This goes on for half an hour, until a police officer arrives, listens to my tale told with a calmness that I’m not feeling inside, and finally jimmies the driver’s side door open. I blow into the device, pass the test under watchful officer-eyes, and silence the alarm threatening to drive me crazier than a shithouse rat, if doesn’t embarrass me to death first.
This is only one example of the fun awaiting anyone willing to drive under the influence -- risking their safety and the safety of others -- and roll the dice on getting caught. The fun, as it were, goes much further and deeper than that.
There’s the fun hinted above: you have to blow into the device to start the car, and blow into the device at random intervals -- usually every 5-15 minutes. And of course, for the car to start, you’ve got to blow triple zeros. Here’s one way the fun gets heightened -- it’s not just beer, wine, and liquor that register on the breathalyzer. Oh no, my friend. Alcohol is in all sorts of stuff, such as mouthwash and even the vanilla in your Dunkin Donuts french vanilla coffee.
Check this out -- some synthetic sweeteners show up too. Any ingredient that ends in “...ol” or “...yl” is sniffed out by the breathalyzer, registering as alcohol. I found this out the hard way while eating an apple-filled doughnut and blowing for a random alert. The apple filling, turns out, has a whole bunch of synthetic sweetener in it. Thankfully, what I ate only showed up as a small amount and didn’t require me to stop my car. After blowing the 0.04 for the doughnut, I immediately washed my mouth out with water. In just a couple of minutes the breathalyzer chirped again, I blew, and triple zeros showed on the LCD display.
Another way to keep yourself entertained with your very own breathalyzer is to make certain to put the device into “power save” mode when you shut off your car. Forget to do that after coming home from work at night and the next morning you’ll likely find that your car battery is dead. Sounds fun, right? Well it gets better.
The device records more than your blood/alcohol content via your breath; it also tracks your miles traveled, making certain your mileage is consistent with the time and expected use of your car. And don’t go messing with the device such as, say, unplugging it. The device knows. Mind you, in your recorded use-data, a dead battery can be perceived as unplugging the device.
So, any time you do anything to your car, whether it’s bring it to your mechanic for maintenance, or replace the dead battery like I did, you have to notify the device manufacturer immediately. Otherwise, your device records, what can be, some suspicious-looking data that gets shared with the state in which your privilege to drive teeters precariously on whether or not you behave.
Now, every month you’ve got to bring your car to the authorized breathalyzer dealer. There the device is removed and the data on it from the past month is sent to the manufacturer, which then shares that data with the state you are hoping lets you keep your license.
I haven’t even gone into the expense of leasing the device -- the bulk of which I’ll spare you -- leaving you only with my total cost which reached about $1500 for the year of my mandated lease. For a guy like me, that’s a large sum of money.
Then there’s learning the correct way to blow into the device. My experience with interlock devices is limited to one model from one manufacturer. However, I’m willing to wager that most devices work and act similarly. To get my car started, and to keep it running free from relentless horn-honking, I learned the correct breathing pattern: blow into the device for a four-count (the device beeps), inhale through the device for a two-count, and blow for another count or two until it vibrates. In a moment, the device sniffs out your breath and displays your blood alcohol content (BAC).
Fun fact -- on two occasions, my BAC test results after eating a banana while driving showed up as a 0.03.
Everything about a breathalyzer, or interlock device, is a super-fun. For instance, after a particularly cold winter night, you may have to sit in your parked car with the frozen breathalyzer under your coat until it thaws enough to breathe through it. Living in New England, I spent plenty of winter mornings sitting still in a metal box that stays outside every night and snuggling up to a frozen device.
No matter what kind of hassle the breathalyzer was (my time has been served), every frustrating, embarrassing, taxing, exhausting, maddening moment was well-deserved. That I’m allowed to drive at all is a privilege I’m so very grateful for. As I write this, the device has been off my vehicle for six days. Thus far, every time I’ve gone to start, or after I’ve stopped, the car engine I’ve looked for the old electronic fun-box. But that’s a box o’ fun that I won’t be seeing ever again: I stopped drinking five and half years ago and am tired of that brand of fun.
It's the first snow-storm of autumn 2017 and I'll be damned if I don't go out walking in it because there's nothing like being outdoors in New England in falling snow. All these old towns in the northeast, at least the ones such as Rochester that have held onto the 100 year-old neighborhoods and streets with their leaning barns, stoic New Englander-homes, stone walls, and downtowns that, if they haven’t been ruined by the race towards box stores and drive-thru convenience, are built on mom and pop shops and other independent, family-owned businesses.
It's not even winter yet. There's still another two weeks left to autumn. Yet the snow doesn't care about the calendar; it's going to fall regardless. And this first significant snowfall of autumn for our little city of Rochester has the same effect as all first snowstorms: everything and everyone hunkers down, pulling knit caps over ears, wrapping scarves around necks, and craning heads downwards while awkwardly shuffling to and from cars, houses, and other destinations, over slick, snow-covered walkways.
|Rochester Public Library, Rochester, NH|
The sky, filled with monochrome clouds, drop wet New England snow. Under this slate-sky people look at each other differently than they usually do. It reminds me of how we all look at and talk to each other after something particularly tragic happens in our country: people make tentative eye-contact, filled with a kind of hope, something child-like or defenseless, knowing that we're all in the same boat, that the snow is "part of it all", and being the harbinger of winter, no one's ready to gripe, like we New Englanders can, about being fed up with the white stuff, just yet.
|Veterans Memorial in Rochester Common|
After a brisk walk filled with boyish enthusiasm to Rochester Common, I wrestle with a fancy-pants digital camera; my partner’s camera. There’s a statue in the park that I know will make for a terrific picture. It’s a man from the civil war era standing on top of a monument that puts the soldier well out of reach but close enough to see the details in the sculptor's work. The snow covering his shoulders and union army infantry hat as he stares unblinkingly into the storm seems the perfect sight of a stalwart and true man doing what he hopes is right, and doing it with conviction. But since I have no idea how to work the damn-fool camera, having just barely done more than read the first few pages of the owners manual, what my imagination sees and what pictures I get are worlds apart. Turns out, a cell phone camera, while not as artistically satisfying, is much more forgiving. The civil war soldier still proves too challenging to capture in image, but with a tilt of the phone to get an interesting frame, the historic bandstand with its 100+ year old roof (the rest of the structure has been rebuilt) makes for a dramatic photo.
|Bandstand in Rochester Common|
The snow, like most snowfall in New England, is wet. The sea of frozen water flakes stick together making for quick snowballs or, if a greater amount were to fall, the iconic snowman. Sticky snow has also made for a ridiculous situation, one in which my cheap-ass, flat-soled shoes don’t shed the snow with each step. Rather, snow gathers under each shoe, one step at a time, forming snow clumps under the arches of my feet. With each step, and growing clump of snow, I grow taller while my feet, without touching the ground, rock over the snow-clumps.
Marking the transition from day to evening, a blueish hue colors the previously gray sky. Walking as best I can up south main street towards downtown, I watch oncoming headlights cut through curtains of snowflakes as tires of those passing vehicles part and throw the slush coating the road.
|South Main Street, Rochester, NH|
I stop into my favorite little independent eatery, Fresh Vibes Cafe, owned by a young woman who took a huge risk to follow her passion by opening her business. At this point I’m covered in snow, much like the civil war soldier in the Common, perhaps wearing a look less of conviction and more of childish wonder. Snow covers my shoulders, hat, and my beard, and looking the way I do draws some looks of interest from the owner and her family members that run the restaurant with her.
|Fresh Vibes Cafe, Rochester, NH|
The snow on my face and coat melts making me look like a haggard old dog. I relish the moment. Stepping inside from the cold, and gray, and falling snow, and into the warm, welcoming, well-lit cafe feels right. It’s New England, man. And this building, like most of the others in downtown Rochester, is old. It’s historic. The ceilings are high; the floor boards are gigantic, old wide pine boards; solid, plump posts wrapped with red and gold ribbon bookend the balusters on the stairs, and windows much taller than my 6 foot 3 frame, one with a holiday tree festooned with deep-colored blue, red, and gold bulbs, open up to the winter-like scene outside.
|Rochester City Holiday Tree|
I go to the lineup of coffee urns to pour myself some of the precious black gold inside them. The coffee is hot and dark, as it should be. I reach for the collection of homemade baked goods and grab the first sugary delight to catch my eye; a soft gooey, marshmallow treat, that pairs perfectly with the Italian roast coffee, and friendly conversation. In this storm downtown, nearly no one is out and about. The few who are, are nestled into their respective shops, gathered together, looking out the windows wistfully, and carrying on with quiet storytelling. The storm outside and the warmth inside foster this environment where the few gathered look to each other for human connection. I guarantee under most circumstances that the few of us in Fresh Vibes would be less inclined to strike up conversation out of the blue. But this storm, and warm, welcoming downtown storefront creates the communal feeling to turn to each other and share stories, as if we’re turning to each other in a time of need. It feels really good.
|North Main Street, Rochester, NH|
And that’s living in a small city: people seeking human connection, gathering to protect each other, to comfort each other, to hunker down and wrap each other in neighborly blankets, and huddle around the fire of community.
Cheer and community engagement lit up the festive evening
A good number of eager people stood outside the door, waiting for Rochester's 2nd annual Festival of Trees to kick off. The line of eager festival-goers was kept warm during their wait in Studley's Flower Garden shop, who repeated as gracious hosts of the event.
When the doors opened, they let in a four-hour blizzard of smiling people, happy to support event coordinator Rochester Main Street -- a downtown-improvement non-profit -- and to test their holiday luck on winning one of the many colorfully decorated trees up for raffle.
Nearly two dozen area businesses decorated their own tree for the raffle; each with its own twist of style. Sprague Energy opted for a rubber ducky themed tree, while event-host Studley's chose to weave a gorgeous and enormous large bow throughout theirs.
|Sprague Energy tree|
|Studley's Flower Garden tree|
Other businesses who contributed to the raffle to raise money for Rochester Main Streets ongoing community engagement included The China Palace, Athletic Instinct, Studio 109 Voice & Dance, along with several others, many of which also included gift cards to their tree decorations.
Mayor McCarley greeted those in attendance at the door, taking the five dollar per adult admission which granted the festival-goer five raffle tickets. The kiddos got in free. Once in Studley's greenhouse, where the trees stood, people could buy more tickets to increase the odds of them taking home their favorite tree, not all of which were decorated by are businesses: a few clubs from Spaulding High School got involved, too.
|Spaulding High School Spanish Honor Society tree|
Angela Mills, Director of Rochester Main Street, coordinated the event, and did so with resounding success. Along with the help of President Emily Pelletier, stalwart board member Jeffrey Bisson, and several volunteers, Angela provided a smooth, cheerful experience for all to join in.
Those in attendance were treated with beautiful singing from the Granite State Choral Society, an string ensemble, and even old Saint Nick himself made an appearance. Upon Santa's arrival, more cries of joy could be heard from festive adults than from the children -- it was a joyous night for all attendees.
On a side note -- it was a privilege to volunteer for the 2nd annual Rochester Festival of Trees. I worked a little table on the side as you walked in the door to the greenhouse. From that table Leah (an RMS board member) and I sold those delightful sugar bombs of all sorts that get made only during the Christmas season. Each of the snacks were homemade and donated by caring citizens, and all (save a special few) were sold for $1 each; we sold over $150 in snacks that night.
It was awesome: I got to meet all sorts of people and felt a little more connected to the community because of it. I'd do it again. In fact, I'll be there for the 3rd annual Festival of Trees in whatever capacity I'm allowed.
Is a cigar box guitar destined to play only the blues?
What exactly can you play on a cigar box guitar?
In this post you get 6 different videos showing how one man is changing the way cigar box guitars are perceived, and revolutionizing how they are played.
Looking for some new music?
Want something to point to when someone asks, "Is a cigar box guitar a real guitar?"
In this post you’ll discover an artist who has stepped forward, representing the cigar box guitar world, with heartfelt original music played on his handmade cigar box guitars.
He deconstructs pianos and reanimates the remains into new musical instruments.
He erects monuments of music out of salvaged timbers, sinks, and fire extinguishers.
He opens your eyes to the potential for art in the discarded objects around you.
"As a former theater set designer I used to build beautiful things, and they'd be thrown in the trash when their use has passed. Now I take things out of the trash and make beautiful things." - Zeke Leonard
For seven years, Zeke Leonard has been sharing his stories of experimentation and instrument-building on his blog, Salt City Found Object Instrument Works.
Each of Zeke's stories builds upon the last towards a height yet unseen, but certain to dizzy the rest of us in its genius.
For Zeke, a university assistant-professor and traveling impresario for handmade found-object musical instruments, the story started with a simple stick and a box,
but turned into something much, much different.
This is a profile of Zeke Leonard and his found-object musical journey. I can assure you, his journey is like none you've seen before.