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Well, Shakespeare, He’s in the Alley . . .

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At least that’s what Dylan said back in 1966:

Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells,
Speaking to some French girl,
Who says she knows me well.
And I would send a message
To find out if she’s talked,
But the post office has been stolen
And the mailbox is locked.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end?
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while; it’s been a busy month or so!

Here’s a little background and then some history, with photos! One of the main reasons Patty and I moved up here in 1987 was the fascinating history in the Washington, DC, area. We love exploring all the old places and learning what happened in those places in years past.

From mid-December until the beginning of March, I was a print-production contractor at the Society of Neuroscience in downtown DC. Great place and wonderful staff. In late February, I got an offer to return to a prestigious organization where I had contracted a couple of times last year, and decided to make the switch; they also have a wonderful staff and a great marketing department. But I’ll miss SfN and its amazing collection of people!

Anywho, in the alley behind SfN’s modern offices just south of Thomas Circle, at 14th Street NW and Vermont Avenue, is an alleyway. Just down the alleyway is this fantastic old carriage house, which now houses a bar called the Green Lantern. Here’s an iPhone photo I took of the 1860s building last month, on a cold and rainy afternoon while I smoked a cigarette in the overhang of a garage doorway:

GreenLanternBar1

Now, thanks to the wonderful folks at Shorpy.com, here’s the same alley in 1919 or so:

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Note that the building on the far right– you only see the corner– is the same carriage house that now is the Green Lantern. What nails the location is the dome shown in the photo’s background; it’s the Portland Flats, which is often called Washington’s first luxury apartment building. An online DC history website says that this Green Lantern bar carriage house building housed a brothel in the 1980s. In the 1919 photo, the horse-drawn grocery wagon has the name of P. Chaconas

And, thanks once more to Shorpy.com, here’s the Chaconas grocery store in 1915 or so:

Shorpy 00048a

The Shorpy caption reads:

“P.K. Chaconas Co. Market.” Pictured: Proprietor George Chaconas, whose grocery (“fancy fruits and vegetables”) was at 924 Louisiana Avenue N.W.”

Pretty cool, huh?

In the first old photo, the Society for Neuroscience office building– 11 stories high and as nice an office as I’ve ever worked in– is at the end of the alley where the ramshackle two- and three-story brick buildings were in the old days.

Just shows what you can discover while wandering around town.

The Parker 75 Pen

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In 1964, to celebrate their 75th anniversary, the Parker Pen Company introduced the Parker 75. Mine belonged to my dad and is, I believe, from 1967. At the time, they sold for $25 which in today’s money would be about $200, I guess. On eBay, the sterling-silver ones, like mine, go for anywhere from $100 to $250, depending on what it’s made of, nib size and collectable status.

Mine is the sterling-silver model with the grid pattern, which looks very elegant and slim compared to many of today’s black and bulky fountain pens. I had my dad’s fine nib replaced with a Parker France broad nib, which is more like what we’d call a medium-thickness nib today.

Some of these pens were made in gold and other finishes, and some were made from 1715-era silver coins from a sunken Spanish ship found off the Florida Keys in the late 1960s.

When my brother (thanks, Jeffrey!) gave me this pen a couple of years ago, I had it checked out and the interior-grip cap mechanism replaced by our friends at Fahrney’s, which is a wonderful Washington, DC pen store. Their store is across from the National Press building on F Street, NW, and their repair facility is in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Good folks. Send for their catalog!

These 75s take both the old-fashioned fill-from-a-bottle ink holders and modern-day ink cartridge refills. Tomorrow, I start a new print production assignment at one of my favorite places, so I’ll celebrate by using this pen, filled with the Parker emerald-green ink, which they call Quink for some reason.

Four Cents Is Four Cents!

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As I continue my pointless research into the folks who designed, built and sold the guitars we know and love today, I come across some funny stories.

Last night I read about Hartley Peavey, who started the Peavey Electronics company in Meridian, Mississippi back in the mid-1960s. Like Leo Fender before him and the original C.F. Martin before Leo, Mr. Peavey was a shrewd person who knew the value of money and didn’t waste it when making his instruments or amplifiers.

The story I found funny was that Peavey and a young and innovative guitar builder named Chip Todd collaborated back in the 1980s on a new guitar. This guitar eventually became the first of the T-series Peaveys and are still highly regarded for their tone and playing ease. It was the first guitar to use computer-controlled wood cutting and shaping for the bodies and necks. Chip’s design called for a small metal slug to be in the base of the neck, to be the bearing point of a neck-angle adjustment bolt.

As the time came to produce the guitars, the metal slugs still hadn’t been procured, and Chip told Mr. Peavey that, for now, they’d use a nickel coin for the slug they needed. Mr. Peavey, the brilliant business person, replied, “No; use a penny.”

Here’s Chip in a recent photo as he rides a Segway in his living room:

Another story of these wonderful music-industry folks: There used to be some music stores in the DC area called Veneman’s Music. Great stores. Veneman’s also made and sold their own line of guitars and basses and most of us in this area owned some of those; they were good utility instruments. The owner of the stores and guitar factory was a Dutch-born gentleman named Koob Veneman. He was a sweet guy with a beautiful smile and we all respected Mr. Veneman. But he was all business!

I had lunch a few months ago with an old-time salesman at Veneman’s rival, Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center, and he told us a funny story about Old Man Veneman, as he called him.

The salesman from Chuck’s was in Veneman’s Rockville, Maryland, store (now the Guitar Center on Twinbrook Parkway) and a young man was approached by Mr. Veneman, who said, “Hey, I recognize you. I sold you a Les Paul a few years ago. Do you still have it?”

The kid replied, “Why, yes, Mr. Veneman. I still have that guitar and I love it.”

And Mr. Veneman replied, “Well, I still have your $800 and I love that!”

Feeling Lucky, Steampunk?

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About a mile or so north of us, on Nicholson Street, lives an artist, Clarke Bedford. During the day, he’s the Conservator of Paintings and Mixed-Media Objects at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

But he’s really a steampunk genius.

I happen to love steampunk, and I like what this fellow has done to his cars. Patty, on the other hand, finds it so disturbing that she won’t even drive down that street if she can avoid it.

So here we go. Here’s car number one (my favorite):

Here’s the front of car number two, which is a van:

And here’s car number three, which began life as a Volvo:

I’ve never seen these cars moving down the road, but I’d love to!