Monday, April 30, 2007

Turtle soup, moonshine and chx wings

I was sitting around the Phisbins campfire on Saturday night, when

I witnessed a total guy moment.

One of the Phisbins put a huge skillet on a rack over the fire to cook hot dogs and beans. Craig joked about how the skillet hadn’t been washed in two or three days. That wasn’t the guy moment.

After everyone had their fill of hot dogs and beans, someone sat the skillet in the dirt because it smothered the fire.
Billy, who had been munching on a box of chicken wings, sat wing-filled Styrofoam on top of the remaining hot dogs and beans in the skillet on the ground. It was his way of sharing the wings.

Muz plucked a hotdog from the skillet. Using his finger, he scraped the beans off the hotdog into the communal skillet. Yuck is right.

Craig who had been playing guitar and singing at the campfire complained about the boxes of wings sitting on top of the
hotdogs which were in a skillet that was sitting in the dirt.

Good point.

Offended, Billy grabbed a sooty cook rack, placed it near the fire and carefully removed the wings from the Styrofoam. Then he placed them onto the rack.

Craig grabbed a handful.

It’s all about presentation, he said.


Friday, April 27, 2007

John Paul Jones and Uncle Earl

It must have been too early for MerleFest fans to be hype on Friday afternoon. At the main Watson stage, a sedate crowd watched the female band Uncle Earl perform their old-time music.
The group’s joke about Jim Lauderdale doing hot yoga in his hotel room fell flat and a fiddle tune only inspired a little girl to get up and dance near the front of the stage.

The group got its biggest response when John Paul Jones, who played keyboard for Led Zepplin fame, joined Uncle Earl, whom he produced, for the last song. They played a fast-paced ditty that got the crowd excited.

At home at MerleFest

I haven’t been to MerleFest in a few years, but when I pulled into Phisbins’ Circle at the Wilkesboro Fire Department’s campground, it felt like home. All of the guys who adopted me back in the early 2000s were still there. Well, all of the guys except Boomer, who passed away couple of years ago.

MerleFest is the huge Americana festival at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro. This is their 20th anniversary. I went for two years straight, but stopped to cover CityFest, which is now defunct. When I used to go, I camped next to a group of guys from Pennsylvania, who called themselves the Phisbins. They’re lawyers, teachers and average working guys who drive down to MerleFest each year to camp. I’d say they want to listen to music, but I’m not sure they actually ever leave the campground. Why would they?

At campsite, turtle soup cooked on an open fire. The fellas took turns pouring beer from the keg, and freshly boiled shrimp sat on plates waiting to be eaten.

It’s good to be home.

Common returned hip-hop fans to their roots

No hype man, no dancers no party over here.

A hype Common, a banging DJ, a drummer and keyboardist was all it took at Grand Central on Central Avenue on Thursday. For about an hour, Common rapped and preached about hip-hop and God. The crowd filled the dance floor, singing and pumping their hands in the air.

The show, sponsored by Ciroc vodka, felt like a respite for fans who’ve seen their culture under attack in recent weeks in because of the Don Imus flap. Common talked about the importance of protecting hip-hop and recognizing its value as a form of expression for African-Americans.

Along with lectures, Common also gave fans the tunes they wanted to hear. Sporting an orange sweater over a long sleeve shirt, a signature hats and jeans, he performed “Be,” “Go,” “The Light,” “Testify” and other hits. Common’s albums sound mellow, but live he’s all energy. Sweat poured off the retro-smooth rapper as he jumped, sprinted and bounced around the stage.

The only low point of the show was his bump-and-grind segment. He brought a woman on stage and the DJ spun various slow songs while Common played the smooth talking brotha’ role and danced with the woman. He also did the obligatory medley of today’s hits and classic rap tracks, in which he and the crowd rapped together. Common improvised and tossed in names of Charlotte streets and clubs as he rapped to songs by Sean Combs, Rich Boy and others.

One of the biggest highlights of the night was DJ Dummy. While Common changed out of his sweltering sweater and shirt and into a fitted white T-shirt, Dummy made Rob Base, “It Takes Two” into an entirely new song. If you saw the DJ set during the EPMD show, this one was better. Dummy created a beat with the “It Takes Two” hook. He manipulated the records behind his back, with his nose, with his eyes closed and while hugging a girl and later pretending to be sexual with her.

In the song, Base sings, “1,2,3, get loose..” Dummy spun that and then made it sound as if Base was saying “3,2,1.” Oh, and he did “The Matrix” slow spin as well. Crazy. His set reminded hip-hop fans that deejaying is an art. It’s more than playing songs off your laptop and yelling into the mike every few minutes. Somebody has to bring him down here to DJ a party. He swears he never plays the same song twice in one night and his judging from the snipped we saw on Thursday, he could keep a party going all night.

For fans of hip-hop that moves your body and your spirit, Thursday night rejuvenated both.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Alley Cat will make other venues step-up

Alley Cat will make Charlotte’s live-music scene better.

I know co-owner Andy Kastanas, and I've heard the guys say they’re not a live-music venue and they’re not trying to compete with Visulite Theatre and Amos’ Southend. But whatever.

The club has a main stage, a sound system (that need more bass), and room to dance; they also have a smaller stage outside. More importantly, they serve food, and they’re in the heart of uptown. Plus, Savis -- who co-owned the Steeple -- is Alley Cat’s manager. He did a heck of a job booking acts at the Steeple, and he loves live music.

All of that spells trouble for Visulite, Amos’ and the Neighborhood Theatre when it comes to competing for acts that draw crowds of about 700 people or less.

Here’s what I envision: In the first six months, Alley Cat will build its fan base and focus on enticing people with cover bands on Saturdays. On Fridays, they’ve said they will book bands that play original music. I’m guessing they’ll start with local acts, which means those local acts won’t be available as much to play in the other venues. Eventually, I can see Alley Cat going after the same touring regional and national acts that go to Visulite, Amos’ and Neighborhood.

So they will be bringing the same ol'-same ol' acts uptown that already stop by the other venues? Why is that good? That’s exactly what I thought when I first heard about the concept.

But that means Visulite, Amos’ and Neighborhood will have to bring different acts to survive and flourish. I’m hoping these club owners are going to be more willing to book acts they wouldn’t have considered before, from hip-hop to Latin to country to rock genres I don’t even know about. Maybe we can get the same mix of shows that go to the Cats Cradle in Carrboro or the Orange Peel in Asheville.

Two questions: 1) Do you think Alley Cat will improve live music here? 2) What are some of the acts that you would like to see come here? Post your replies below.

Everyone came to Alley Cat's pre-party

If every night at Alley Cat could be like Wednesday night was, uptown’s newest club would be my favorite spot in the city.

At the club’s VIP party, the crowd from Dish and the Penguin mixed with the young professionals and frat-types that usually hang uptown. Oh, and I can’t forget the artsy folks. On the patio, men and women with pink hair and/or piercings and/or tattoos (and I mean full sleeves, not teeny-weeny tats) mingled with people wearing golf shirts, khakis and hair gel. Of course, there was also the who's who of uptown nightlife: Tommy from Tyber Creek, Jody from Breakfast Club, Adam from Loft, Noah from N.C. Music Factory, Big Ryan and Danny from Grand Central.

It was so awesome.

The Penguin Restaurant, which will serve food until 1 a.m. in Alley Cat's restaurant, was largely responsible for such a varied crowd. So many Penguin supporters came out that it felt as if someone had picked up Thomas Avenue and put it uptown. It felt great, and I hope the mix continues.

When I first heard about the Penguin teaming with Alley Cat, I figured it would be a great move for the restaurant to reach a new audience. After last night, I realize there is an even greater opportunity to change the face of College Street.

Here's my question: Do you think Alley Cat will continue drawing a wide array of patrons, or will it simply become another Cans and Buckhead Saloon? Post your replies below.

Another bus trip to see "The Color Purple"

Remember my bus trip to see "The Color Purple" on Broadway a few weeks ago? Since then, several people have asked about other bus trips to the see the musical. Well, Aboard w/Us Travel, which sponsored the last trip, is ready to do another one -- to see Fantasia play Celie in the musical.

The trip is Aug. 3-6, and costs $350.

As you may recall, mine was an eventful trip that left some people angry. (I wasn't one of them. You can read my blog to see why.) The organizers say they've learned from their mistakes. This time, they are hiring a different bus company, and will ensure that the drivers aren't clueless and are willing to take advice. Also, they plan to have the registration on the buses this time and won't be doing any pre-paid meals, which should cut down on the lengthy registration period prior to departure. I still think they should start registration earlier to avoid delays.

For more information about the trip, e-mail or

I’ll be camping on the north rim of the Grand Canyon that weekend, so I won't be making that NYC trek again. But if you're going, let me know how the trip went, and how you liked Fantasia. And please read my previous "Color Purple" bus trip blog entries, in which I offer helpful tips on how to plan ahead and have fun.

If you're wondering how Fantasia is doing in the play, I recently received this e-mail from an enthusiastic reader in Greenville, S.C.:

"I agreed with your hesitation and your final thoughts. I just returned from New York and I went specifically to see 'The Color Purple' on Broadway with Fantasia. I had previously seen it with LaChanze, but this time with Fantasia it was UNBELIEVABLE!!! She did an incredible job. Her own pain and personal story gave her the ammunition she needed to become Celie. She transitioned beautifully into "Miss Celie" and of course her singing lifted everyone there. The supporting cast was even better this time and they all seemed to gel better with Fantasia. It was so awesome; I saw it Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon! Tell everyone you know to hurry and see it with Fantasia. You forget who she is and embrace the story so much more."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cans block party

Mini-Kiss has to be the most hysterical live show I’ve seen since I saw Renelvis perform live several years ago.

They are a band of little people who play Kiss songs. They sound great until the singing starts. Once they start singing, they sound so awful it’s funny. The band’s make-up is impeccable, and they are crazy-energetic. If you ever get a chance to see them, you have to go.

The band opened for Rob Base and E.Z. Rock at the Cans one-year anniversary block party last Saturday. The hip-hop act only has two songs, “Joy and Pain” and “It Takes Two,” so they spent their set performing contemporary hits and old-school rap hits. The crowd loved it all and sang along. The highlight was Base’s singer and hype man Kyle Riffken. He looks thugged out, but he can sing.

Cans, at Graham and Fifth streets, held the party in the parking lot across the street. Along with live music, they had a Red Bull lounge area with giant bean bags, one of those bop ’em air things (where friends beat each other up with giant air-filled batons) and Cornhole games. Partiers either played games, chilled at patio tables or mingled around the stage area.

If a block party seems extravagant for only one year, the folks at Cans have reason to celebrate: Apparently, the Charlotte location did better than expected and the owners may have other concepts in mind for this area. Right now, that’s all on the hush, hush.

Snug Harbor coming to Plaza-Midwood

Snug Harbor will be the newest addition to the Plaza-Midwood nightlife scene.

It’s a live-music bar at the corner of Central and Pecan avenues. It used to be Fire and Ice martini lounge. The spot is owned by Scott McCannell, a bartender at Dish, and Daylon Brumfield, who worked for concert powerhouse Live Nation.

Snug Harbor is scheduled to open the first weekend in May, and will feature national, regional and local rock, bluegrass and jazz bands. It’s not a big space, but McCannell is used to booking acts for small venues. He booked acts at Fat City in NoDa for a while in the mid-’90s. The bands at Snug Harbor will be acts that draw small but enthusiastic crowds.

McCannell said they rebuilt the bar, removed the couches and added some booths. The stage is larger, the sound system is new, and they have beefed up the DJ booth, he said. He hopes to eventually open the patio out back.

His goal is to have people hanging out there even if a band isn’t performing. Along with live music, Scott Weaver will DJ and have go-go dancers on Thursdays. On Sundays, Brad Presley (a.k.a. the Rev. of Soul) will spin old-school music.

McCannell said he’s been looking for a place in the area for the last couple of years. He wanted to be in Plaza-Midwood because, “Everybody in this neighborhood, I consider them family.”

Alley Cat opens uptown Friday

The wait is over.

Alley Cat, the newest venture by the crew who owns the Forum and Cosmos, opens Friday.

Alley Cat occupies the former home of the Hut and Have A Nice Day Cafe on College Street, between Sixth and Seventh streets.
The newest features are an outdoor patio on College Street that will feature small bands, and there’s a kitchen that will be operated by The Penguin restaurant.

Although live music will be a big attraction for the bar, co-owner Andy Kastanas wants the club to be a destination, which is why the kitchen is an important feature. People can go there and hang out even if there isn’t a band performing.

Kastanas said Alley Cat isn’t trying to compete with other uptown music venues, and won’t be going after big-time acts. Instead, it will feature a lot of local bands and cover bands.

Alley Cat will be open Wednesday through Saturday. The nightly themes are: country night on Wednesdays, college night on Thursdays, original music on Fridays and a house band on Saturdays.
At tonight's grand opening, there will be acoustic acts on the patio and a band on the main stage.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Common is coming to Charlotte

The rumors are true. Common is coming Thursday!

Did you get into the Roots show last year at Grand Central? If so, you remember how hype it was. Ciroc Vodka is back with another invitation-only performance featuring rapper Common. The show is Thursday at Grand Central on Central Avenue. Q92 radio personality Jaye Delai will host the event. You must be on the VIP list to get in. The show is free.
You can win tickets on Q92 or register at by the end of the day today.


According to the web site, registration is closed for the concert.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Whips and knives

The shirtless guy stood with his hands bound above his head. Techno music blasted throughout the club. A petite woman drew her hand back as if she was winding up for a softball pitch, then lashed the bound man across his back with a whip.

He grinned broadly and bounced his head to the music as if to say: “Is that all you’ve got?”

She whipped him again and again. Then she ran her fingernails down his back. He kept smiling.

Similar scenes played out in various corners upstairs at Amos’ Southend during Purgatory’s fifth birthday party on Saturday. The fetish party started in small clubs such as Liquid Lounge. Back then, Autumn Twilight was the main performer and the most entertainment was her playing with fire and some liquid latex action.

Now, Single Cell has created a full party with elaborate stage performances, whip-wielding women stationed throughout the club, vendors downstairs and ominous hooks that suspend people from the ceiling.

On Saturday, several people lay on the floor with a rug across their chest. Partiers walked across their bodies.
Purgatory draws a mix of fetish fans and voyeurs. If you’ve never been, it’s worth experiencing. You don’t have to be whipped to have fun. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good whipping.

A beer crawl emergency

"We have an emergency," said a woman as she stood up.

Everyone looked at her. My mind flashed back to a dark Virginia road and a bus trip to New York. My heart pounded. Then I realized I was sitting in a chair at Dilworth Neighborhood Bar and Grille, not on a bus.

The woman pulled back chairs as her friend crawled on the floor. Another flashback: missing turkey pepperoni. The young woman on the floor lost her Carmex, and she was freaking out.

Dilworth was the fourth stop on the Charlotte Beer Week beer crawl on Monday. Judging from the way the young woman frantically searched for her Carmex, the effects were kicking in. A manager came over with a giant flashlight and located the missing lip balm under my table. Disaster averted.

Monday’s beer crawl started slowly. Seventeen people participated.
On the ride to the first stop at the Flying Saucer, most people paired off with their friends. By the time we finished at Mac’s Speed Shop later that night, many folks had exchanged business cards and a couple of people took turns dancing on the bus.

My favorite beer of the night was the Duck Rabbit at Brixx. Other crawler favorites were an Imperial Stout at Mellow Mushroom, and an I.P.A. on the bus ride.

Tonight’s Charlotte Beer Week event is the Gravity Head Mini Fest at Mellow Mushroom. Tomorrow, it’s the Becoming the Beer Girl competition at Dilworth Neighborhood Bar and Grille.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Don Imus is hip-hop's savior

During Nas’ performance at the Neighborhood Theatre on Wednesday, he took shots at President Bush and rapper 50 Cent. He also lamented the commercialization of rap music, and how MTV contributes to that.

But Nas didn't go overboard on his criticism of MTV, probably because the network had a camera crew there to tape his performance.

I get the feeling Nas’ "hip-hop is dead mantra" is more for publicity than it is to actually make hip-hop better. It reminds me of his inane feud with Jay-Z a few years ago.

This publicity ploy is worse because hip-hop really does need help, and it may get it in the most unusual place - Don Imus.

Thursday’s firing of Don Imus is going to reverberate throughout radio. If black leaders can rally enough to prompt CBS fire Imus, imagine what they could do if they really decide to unite against misogyny and violence in gangsta rap?

In announcing the decision to fire Imus, CBS President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said: “There has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society.”

Bryan Monroe, president of the National Association of Black Journalists and editorial director of Ebony and Jet magazines, said: “Something happened in the last week around America. It’s not just what the radio host did. America said enough is enough. America said we don’t want this kind of conversation, we don’t want this kind of vitriol, especially with teenagers.”

Monroe and Moonves are making a pitch to clean up the airwaves, and if others follow suit, the 50 Cents, Nellys, Snoop Doggs, Akons and similar artists -- who are getting rich degrading women -- will need to sing a new tune or watch their pockets get thinner.

Do you think Imus’ termination will affect hip-hop? Or do you think it’s a double-standard (that is, a rapper can call a black woman a derogatory name, but a white man can’t) with no lasting affect? Post your replies below.

Charlotte represented well for Nas

If hip-hop is dead, no one told the more than 1,000 people who crammed into the Neighborhood Theatre on Wednesday night to see Nas.

Bodies filled the aisles and every seat (upstairs and downstairs) inside the main area. The side stage was crowded as well, and unless you were packed up front, you couldn’t see anything.

With lights dimmed, Nas stalked out on stage reciting his eulogy for hip-hop, and then he lyrically resurrected the culture he so dearly loves. Sporting bright pink hair, Nas’ boo Kelis sat on the side of the stage and watched for several songs as he traversed through a set that included both hits and obscure songs that only hardcore fans know.

Of course, he performed “Hip Hop Is Dead,” along with “If I Ruled the World,” “Hate Me Now,” and “N.Y. State of Mind.”
It was a rare club appearance for Nas, and Charlotte represented well with a sold-out show.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Beer week kicks off tonight

The beer police are coming -- and I can't wait.

First, Observer restaurant critic Helen Schwab wrote a column lamenting frosty mugs and orange slices in beer. Egads!

Now, Creative Loafing wants beer drinkers to expand their palates, and embrace beers that actually taste good.


The Loaf's Chris Herring said he created Beer Week to tap into Charlotte's beer culture, especially people who enjoy homebrews and craft brews. He hopes people will learn about beer during the eight-day event, which features bar crawls, brewery tours and more.

I'm not sure Charlotte partiers want to embrace serious beer culture. It seems that partiers prefer large quantities of cheap beer, and aren't much interested in the taste.

I'm curious to see whether the people who participate in Beer Week will actually be interested in learning about beer ... or simply want to catch a buzz.

Are Charlotte partiers ready to embrace something classier than Bud and Miller? Or do they just want to get messed up? Post your replies below.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

710 now The Pub at Gateway

Eduardo Romero (known as Chachi in the nightlife scene) and three partners are opening The Pub at Gateway in the space on West Trade Street that used to be 710 and, before that, Cuvee. Projected opening date is May 3.

First, let’s straighten one thing out: Romero and his partners --
Mike Ivie and Aaron and Tasha Guido -- lease the condo space from real estate developer Scott Bianchi. Bianchi said there have been a lot of rumors and misinformation floating around about who owned the property, especially when it was 710. I’m glad Bianchi cleared things up, because I was confused as well.

Now, let’s talk about The Pub.

Cuvee and 710 were upscale spots, but Chachi wants to create the American version of an Irish or English pub.

“We’re not trying to be a martini bar,” Chachi said. “We’re a neighborhood bar with good music.”

It will feature a variety of bottled and draft beers. Food will include wraps and signature sandwiches. At night, music will be similar to what is played at Cans: ’80s and Top 40 hip-hop and rock. Renovations include the addition of eight LCD TVs, a projection screen and woodwork behind the bar and along the walls.

All of that sounds good, but 710 is tiny and only holds about 150 people, and I wonder how Chachi will succeed where others have failed. (He did manage Phil’s Deli and Liquid Lounge, so at least he’s used to being successful with small spaces.) The Pub will have smaller furniture and some of the seating will be removed on weekends.

The Pub will be open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Friday for the lunch and after-work crowd, as well as late night partiers. It will be open from 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Road trip to New York

A bus trip to New York.

You knew there would be drama.

And there was plenty this past weekend, when a handful of friends and I joined a group of 250 people who took four buses from Charlotte to New York to see “The Color Purple” on Broadway.

Before I get into the drama, I will say that I had a great time. I paid $350 for the trip, which included the bus ride, excellent seats for the play, and rooms at a Sheraton hotel.

In New York, I shopped, enjoyed the play, and went clubbing at Cielo in the Meatpacking District.

The lessons I learned:
1) Plan your own itinerary before the trip.
2) Bring your laptop.
3) Know the address of where your planning to go, and don't be afraid to ask New Yorkers for help.
4) Don't rely on a chartered bus to get you anywhere on time in New York.
5) Bring cash for cabs, trains and the subway.
6) Wear comfortable shoes.
7) Do not eat a Greek omelet at 3 a.m. knowing you have to catch a bus back to Charlotte in six hours. Really bad idea.

The drama

We arrived at Hopewell High School on Beatties Ford Road for the registration at 10:30 Friday night. All four buses were already there. Maybe -- just maybe -- we might leave on schedule at 11 p.m., I thought.


An hour later, I hoped we’d get on the road by midnight.
The delay? The line to register stretched down a hallway inside the building, and the organizers were collecting money for breakfast at the same time. Plus, there was confusion about whether we needed to have our bags while we waited in the registration line, and what we were supposed to do after we checked in.

Then there didn’t seem to be enough seats on the assigned buses. Everyone had to get off the bus and board one by one to make sure they were on the correct bus. Think of Noah’s Ark without the rain.

At midnight, we rumbled out of the parking lot. A few minutes later, I looked out of the window and realized that we weren’t cruising down I-77 headed to I-85. Instead, we were pulling into the parking lot of a mini-shopping center off Beatties Ford Road.

The bus driver dashed into a store, and then returned to the bus with an armful of toilet tissue. This trip wasn’t planned yesterday. Why wasn’t there any toilet tissue on the bus?

Who has the turkey pepperoni?

My friend Cee-lo is crawling on the floor of the bus looking for her package of turkey pepperoni.

Anytime you take a bus trip, you have to pack snacks. The traditional snacks for black folks are canned soda and fried chicken wrapped in aluminum foil.

But not L-Boogie and Cee-lo. They pull out two bottles of wine, turkey pepporoni and cheese. Somehow, the bag of turkey pepperoni (which was quite tasty) disappears. L-Boogie will not rest until she finds it. I swore I saw Frodo scurrying off with it toward the front of the bus.

Cee-lo crawls along the floor as passengers lift their legs and move their bags so she can see. Cee-lo finds the pepperoni!

Think of Gollum getting his hand on the ring -- my precious.

On the road again

It’s sometime after 2 a.m. on Saturday, and my friend Road Dawg yells, “We have an emergency! Stop the bus!”

I look under my seat for a defibrillator. I figure someone must be having a heart attack. Nope. Road Dawg’s sister is having a panic attack.

Apparently, the toilet tissue-less bus driver sprayed some kind of disinfectant in the bathroom (which hadn’t been cleaned prior to the trip) that smelled awful. The combination of the tight quarters and the odor made Road Dawg’s sister feel claustrophobic and sick.
We pass her plastic bags, and the bus driver pulls off the road so she cang get some fresh air.

The ugly rumor

We’re sitting in Golden Corral in Landover, Maryland, when the rumor starts. It’s 10 a.m., and we were supposed to be at the restaurant three hours ago. There’s a rumor going around that we're going straight to the city instead of stopping at the hotel, because we are so behind schedule.

Now, mind you, some women are wearing bedroom clothes and slippers, and folks haven’t brushed their teeth or washed their 2000 Lever parts in more than eight hours. Yuck. We plan a mutiny.

Homey We Made It

We arrive at our hotel about 3 p.m. I quiz the hotel staff about catching the train to and from New York. I bump into Road Dawg, who’s looking for ice, and ask when the bus will head to the city. She doesn’t know.

I return to the room. Road Dawg sends me a text at 4:17 p.m.: “Bus leaving at 4:15 p.m.”

I laugh. I haven’t showered, and there’s a Maker’s on the rocks calling my name. Road Dawg is on the bus. I text L-Boogie and tell her my girl and I are taking the train into the city.
L-Boogie, Cee-lo, my girl and I catch the 4:55 p.m. train to New York.

Road Dawg, who is on the bus, sends me a text: “We still riding.” It’s 5:42 p.m.

Our train announcer announces our arrival at Penn Station.
We get off the train. My spidey senses tingle. I look at the signs, and I see one for Newark airport. I don’t think we’re at the right Penn Station. We head downstairs and ask a police officer. He laughs. It's a common mistake. We’re at Newark Penn Station, not New York Penn Station.

The next train to New York is at 6:15 p.m.

It’s 5:45 p.m. We grab sandwiches and sit in a bar to kill time.

Road Dawg sends me a text at 5:59 p.m.

“Still riding.”

Partying at the Cielo

The DJ plays ’90s house music hits. Two men vogue.
The last time I saw guys vogueing was at a gay bar in Winston-Salem in October. I figured they were just country, and didn’t know vogueing was so '90s.

I don’t know what to make of these guys. We’re at Cielo nightclub, and it’s a Sunday night. The club is famous for Monday night’s Deep Space party, which features DJ Francois K. Co-owner Nicolas Matar DJ'd for eight years at Pacha, the renowned Ibiza club, before opening Cielo.

Cielo is an intimate dance club with a lounge feel. It has a sunken dance floor, cozy ground-level tables, and soft log-like seats surrounding the dance floor. There’s a heated patio outside, and the bar is only large enough to order drinks, not linger and sit.

On Sunday night, the club seemed like the island of misfit toys. There is an odd collection of people -- gay and straight, corny and cool. Nearly everyone in the club dances. A few smoke on the outdoor patio. A handful stand around the bar watching the dancers.
The DJ spins house music songs I grew up with, such as “Lonely People.”

It’s 12:15 a.m. Monday, and the last train back to New Jersey leaves at 1:48 a.m. I tell everyone in our crew -- my girl, Road Dawg, Cee-lo, L-Boogie and another couple -- that we have to leave the club by 1 a.m., or we will be stuck in New York.

OJ Simpson time

We leave Cielo at 1 a.m., and head to the subway station. It takes about 15 minutes to get there. At 1:25 a.m., we’re standing on the track waiting for the train that will get us back to Penn Station, where we have to buy tickets and catch another train to New Jersey.

L-Boogie says we’re not going to make it.

The train arrives a few minutes later. We arrive at Penn Station at 1:37 a.m. I sprint up the steps to find the NJ Transit kiosks. An announcer says the last train to New Jersey leaves in 10 minutes.
My girl looks for a transit official to figure out what track the New Jersey train leaves from. The rest of us buy tickets.

Five minutes to go.

Me, my girl and Road Dawg sprint down the steps to Track 9. The train is already there. Four of our friends haven’t made it down the steps yet.

I’m having visions of an earlier incident on Sunday afternoon, when L-Boogie and a couple of other folks missed a train. But that was in New Jersey, and the next one came 15 minutes later.

This time, we were in New York, and this was the last train out of the city. I look up the steps. The last four storm down the stairs.

We all make it.

I smile, thinking I will never take a bus trip to New York again, and I will never stay in New Jersey again.
But boy did I have fun.

What about "The Color Purple?"

I’m not blogging about the musical. Read my take on “The Color Purple” next week in my online column That’s Wassup!.

I will tell you this: Fantasia, who watched from a balcony seat on Sunday, is going to be great as Celie. She has a much stronger voice than the current actress.

Fantasia makes her Broadway debut on Tuesday, and I have a feeling that performance will be emotionally overwhelming for her. It’s her first, and too much of Celie’s life mirrors her own.