Posts Tagged ‘Island Casino’

Gramps’s Watch

December 24, 2013

Sunday December 22nd, 2013 – Harris, MI

For whatever reason, I have always been pretty good at remembering dates. I don’t claim to be perfect, but I am better than the average male in keeping up with birthdays, anniversaries and the like. It’s just something I have always thought about, and why that is I have no clue. I just do.

Today happens to be the date my grandfather died in 1981. I know that 32 years is not a ‘round number’, but it was still cause to bring up memories we had together. He’s been gone a whole lot longer than I had him in my life, and to have had the kind of impact he still has really says a lot.

When my uncle died in January of 2012, my cousin Leah and her husband Rob cleaned out his possessions and came across a watch Gramps received when he retired from his job as dispatcher of garbage trucks and snow plows for the City of Milwaukee in 1972. They weren’t sure what it was, but they knew I was close to him and would probably want it. I recognized it immediately.

There was a retirement party for Gramps, and he received the watch as a gift. He rarely wore it, but I remember it meant a lot to him when he got it. It was also the symbol of his freedom to do what he wanted, which was get into show business. He’d put in his time at work, now it was fun.

For the few years left in his life, Gramps was a wild man when it came to chasing his dream of being an entertainer. He would sign up to be in any kind of show he could – most being put on by the Washington Park Senior Center in Milwaukee. He became a whale in a tiny pond, but he was as happy as I’d ever seen him. Being on stage was what he lived for, and he savored each second.

When Gramps was in hospice care, he told me he wanted me to have that watch. I wanted it as a memory of him, but when he died it got lost in the shuffle. I never knew what had happened to it, and whenever I’d ask I’d never get a straight answer. After a few years I just stopped asking.

I was thrilled when my cousin Brett told me Leah and Rob wanted me to have it, and I brought it to a jeweler to see if it could be gotten into running order again. It’s a Bulova Accutron, and is apparently a collector’s item according to the jeweler. He said the parts were rather expensive to replace, and it could cost up to several hundred dollars to fix should I decide to go that direction.

I told him it had more sentimental value to me than anything, and it wasn’t important to me if it ran at all. I was just curious to find out what it was and how much it might cost to fix. I had put it in a drawer, but recently rediscovered it as I was moving. To my surprise it was actually running.

Having the jeweler look at it must have gotten the parts moving again, but sure enough there it was working again. I set it to the right time, and it’s been running since. It loses a few minutes on a regular basis, but that’s ok. Just having it is a great memory of someone who meant a lot to me.

Tonight I had a show in Harris, MI at the Island Casino. I decided I’d wear the watch on stage as a tribute to Gramps, and it made me feel bullet proof. I knew it was there, and knew that I had a little bit of Gramps on stage with me all these years later. He would have LOVED to be able to do standup comedy, and this is a small symbolic way I can honor his memory. I plan on wearing that watch from now on every time I perform for the rest of my life. Nobody else has to know.

This is the watch my grandfather got when he retired from the City of Milwaukee in 1972.

This is the watch my grandfather got when he retired from the City of Milwaukee in 1972.

The inscription looks like he was in the Mafia, but in fact he was only a dispatcher of garbage trucks and snow plows.

The inscription looks like he was in the Mafia, but in fact he was only a dispatcher of garbage trucks and snow plows.

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Weather Worries

December 21, 2013

Friday December 20th, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

Hear that sound? That’s my bung hole slamming shut. There’s supposed to be nasty weather on the way, and it’s really scaring me. I know it goes with the territory this time of year living in the place I do, but I happen to have a lot of places I have to be in the next few days and I’m worried.

There are buckets of money in those places, and if I don’t get there live and in the flesh to pick them up I don’t get paid. They’re not huge buckets and they’re not filled with money, but there is enough at stake to make me risk driving through a blizzard to get it. I do hope that’s not the case.

Tomorrow I have to be in LaGrange, IL at 1:30pm to do an afternoon Christmas party show for Marc Schultz. I performed for this group before several years ago, and they were very nice. They hire a comedian every year, and they wanted me back. That’s very flattering, but LaGrange is far from where I’m living and if there’s ugly weather it could be a nightmare getting there on time.

After that I have to be in Milwaukee for two more performances of “Schlitz Happened!” at the Northern Lights Theater in Potawatomi Casino. On paper in ideal conditions there shouldn’t be a problem and I will make it with plenty of time to spare. Life isn’t lived on paper. I’m concerned.

On Sunday I have a booking at The Island Casino in Harris, MI which is near Escanaba. That’s in the Upper Peninsula, and that’s never an easy trip even in the summer. It’s a two lane highway north of Green Bay, and last time I did it it was winter and it was white knuckles the whole way.

The people at Island Casino are very nice to the comedians, and I enjoy working there. I enjoy working at Potawatomi too. They treat us about as well as anywhere I work, and the last thing I’d ever want to do would be to give them less than my very best show. I want to get there on time so I can relax and do what I was hired to do. Right now, I have no idea how the weather will play out.

Allegedly, the nasty weather is supposed to hit Wisconsin in the early evening and last through the night into Sunday morning. The Chicago area’s weather reports say if anything it will be later on Saturday as well. I’m going to be leaving the Chicago area in the afternoon, so I hope I’m ok.

But nothing says the snow can’t show up earlier, later, or even not at all. Usually they can get it halfway accurate that we’re going to have some kind of snowfall, and that’s what’s making me a nervous wreck. I need all of this money very badly, and I don’t want to miss any of these shows.

The biggest risk looks like on the way to Harris, but then I have to get back and start my drive to Tucson, AZ where I’ve got shows on Friday, Saturday and then New Year’s Eve. I have a few days of a cushion to get there, but not a lot. Who knows what kind of horrors await on the roads?

I wasn’t able to get a cheap enough flight to make it worth my while, and ones I did find were in and out of Phoenix so I’d have to rent a car anyway. I decided to rent a car and make the drive across country so I could spend Christmas by myself and not have to bother anyone. Again, that sounded great on paper but there’s not a lot of paper between Chicago and Tucson. There’s road, and about 1800 miles of it each way. I’m hoping I’ll be able to make it by Friday, but there’s not any guarantee. I’ll do my best, but Mother Nature has the final say. I’ll earn every penny I make.

Hopefully this won't be me in the next three days as I have to get to some shows with nasty weather in the forecast.

Hopefully this won’t be me in the next three days as I have to get to some shows with nasty weather in the forecast.

I'm fine with a White Christmas, but this is a little too white for my tastes.

I’m all for a White Christmas, but this is a little too white for my tastes.

Parallel parking is hard enough. Perpendicular parking is out of the question.

Parallel parking is hard enough. Perpendicular parking is out of the question.

These are the only blizzards I want to see for the rest of 2013.

These are the only blizzards I want to see for the rest of 2013.

Golden Rule Enforcement

February 24, 2013

Thursday February 21st, 2013 – Sault Ste. Marie, MI

   If I can ever help someone else out of a bind, I always make a sincere effort to do it. I know the feeling all too well of needing help myself, so I’m extra sensitive to pitching in when or however I can. It’s never a matter of getting anything back for myself – I just feel it’s the right thing to do.

I know it sounds corny and sappy, but I really mean it. The Golden Rule is a wonderful base on which to build a successful life and I am a big proponent of trying my best to live by it every day of my existence. Today I had a chance to help two people with one action, so I had to get it done.

Joe Nuccio is one of my comedy students who is taking it farther than most and is getting some actual bookings. He’s been a successful professional musician for years, but always wanted to try comedy and is doing quite well despite his short time in the business. He understands the game.

Joe was booked this week on a run of casino shows that started in Sault Ste. Marie, MI tonight and includes Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee on Saturday and the Island Casino in Harris, MI on Sunday. I’ve done that run many times myself, and am familiar with all the driving it entails.

Joe’s brother-in-law passed away unexpectedly earlier this week, and Joe found himself having to participate in the funeral which turned out to be today. He was extremely frazzled, and knew it wouldn’t be a popular decision to cancel on the booker the day before the gig – and it wouldn’t.

I happen to also know the booker, Joe San Felippo from Bonkerz Comedy Clubs. Joe now lives in Orlando, FL but is originally from Milwaukee and I’ve known him for twenty-five years. He’s very down to earth, and we’ve always gotten along very well. He has a human side and has never been unreasonable, unlike a lot of bookers who can really hold grudges. Joe is easy to work with.

I was in the unique position of knowing all sides of this situation, and I knew the consequences should Joe Nuccio back out would not be good. Joe San Felippo doesn’t know Joe Nuccio, so it’s not a matter of calling in a favor. If a professional entertainer books a gig, it’s his or her job to be there as agreed upon. Deaths in any family are unfortunate but inevitable, and work comes first.

Joe Nuccio knows that from being a professional musician, and he was in a real bind. I’ve been in similar situations myself and it’s never fun. I happened to be off this particular week and knew the only solution that would allow everyone to walk away happy would be for me to fill in on the run and make the brutal 500 mile drive to Sault Ste. Marie. I told both Joes I’d volunteer to do it.

I wasn’t thrilled about having to make that drive, but if that was the worst part of it the benefits far outweighed any inconvenience. The Kewadin Casino always treats comics well, and I would be doing the opening slot so that’s like a night off. I wasn’t doing anything, so why not help out?

Everyone involved was delighted I was willing to do this on short notice, and the drive turned out to be a breeze – especially for February. There was no bad weather, and I got there in plenty of time to get my complementary dinner. It felt good to be able to help two people in one pinch.

Piper Payment

December 11, 2012

Sunday December 9th, 2012 – Milwaukee, WI/Harris, MI

   Today was the day to pay the piper for all the weather breaks I caught on this week’s run to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I knew when I accepted the booking that the wrath of winter could end up with a starring role as the week unfolded, and that’s exactly what happened. I can’t bitch.

I left a day early on Wednesday to hedge my bet, and I’m glad I did. It eliminated a lot of stress or at least postponed it until today. I had smooth sailing from home to Sault Ste. Marie, and from Sault Ste. Marie to Negaunee. It snowed a bit from Negaunee to Milwaukee, but not a whole lot.

I crossed my fingers and toes before going to sleep after last night’s shows I’d be able to dodge the bullet one more day, but that doesn’t happen to Mr. Lucky. It started snowing about half way to my friend Russ Martin’s house who lives on the south side of Milwaukee. He wanted to come along for the ride and do a guest set at the Island Casino in Harris, MI, and I was happy to oblige.

The scheduled opening act was Steve Purcell, who lives near Madison, WI. He was also on the bill in Milwaukee, but drove home after the shows as comedians tend to do whenever possible. It isn’t a thrill to stay in a hotel past the first few times doing it, and I totally get it. He has a family.

It started snowing about halfway between Russ’s house and Madison, and didn’t let up all day. It got wetter and sloppier, and it was the kind of snow that made lane changes almost impossible and required both hands on the wheel to keep the car on the road. My knuckles were lily white as I kept both hands on the wheel at all times and my eyes glued to the road. This was road combat.

It got even harder as we crossed the border from Marinette, WI to Menomonie, MI with about a 50 mile home stretch to the Island Casino in Harris. It’s all two lane highway on US 41 which merges with US 2, and conditions worsened by the mile. We made it within just a few minutes.

Showtime at this gig is 7pm Eastern Time, which is 6pm Central Time. That’s a lot earlier than most show times, and it’s good and bad. It makes it more difficult to get there on time, especially after doing two shows in Milwaukee the night before, but it also ends early to give us a head start on the drive home. Steve had to get home for work in the morning, and we all knew it going in.

There was a surprisingly large audience waiting for us when we got there, and the show ended up being a lot of fun. There’s a radio personality named Bo Reynolds who hosts the show, and he used to work in Chicago. He’s a great guy and very hip, and sets the tone for a really fun show.

Russ, Steve and I had a blast on stage as is per usual at this gig. It’s a long drive, but the people really enjoy the shows and we love doing them. What none of us loved was the journey home. It kept snowing while we were on stage, and we crawled back to Menominee at 25 miles an hour.

To make it worse, we hit Packer traffic on I-43 from Green Bay to Milwaukee and that slowed us down further. By the time I got home I was ready for a massage or a sedative – or both. I love to perform, but getting there and back can be pure stress. I should be a piper. They get paid well.