Roller Derby Announcer BoomCase

Inspired by Mr. Simo’s BoomCases, (and preceded by the fellows at Hive76), I took apart a Roland Mobile Cube and reassembled it inside an old fabric-and-pine Singer Featherweight sewing-machine carrying case that Kate found by the side of the road.

This is not a very complex hack (Step 1: make a hole in the box! Step 2: Put your junk in that box!), but it’s very practical — the Mobile Cube is set up for batteries or DC power, it takes a wide variety of inputs, and there’s various reverb knobs to twiddle.

PLUS, I can put my roller-derby announcer microphone inside the case. And a music source! So the whole thing becomes a self-contained, er… something! It’ll also look good strapped to the luggage rack of the sidecar.

Plus, it’s loud. REALLY loud. Bolting the speakers into a pine box seemed to take an already-loud amp at make it even louder. I’m really excited!

Roller Derby Announcer BoomCase

Accidental Roller Derby Svengali

The picture that Randy took of me with the Brandywine Roller Girls at my 40th birthday party has taken on a life of its own, first getting picked up as the new team’s temporary Facebook profile photo, and now this:

Accidental Roller Derby Svengali

The picture just got picked up as the cover of the Daily Local’s nightlife supplement, which hits stands today. So I am now accidentally portrayed as some kind of… Roller Derby Svengali? I can live with that. Thanks, Randy!

I am incredibly proud to be portrayed as an unexplained tuxedo-wearing member of the team’s entourage. Though now that I think about it, who’s the one person who wears black tie to a brutal sporting event? We all know the answer to that question:

Accidental Roller Derby Svengali

Michele Melcher sketch for Brandywine Roller Girls

Here’s a candidate logo for the brand-new Brandywine Roller Girls team. The team just picked their name, and are in the middle of selecting a logo. As you already know, I’m really excited about having a hometown roller derby team, so I asked Michele to do a sketch based on Archibald Willard’s Spirit of ’76 painting:

Sketch for a Brandywine Roller Girls logo by Michele Melcher

Mere moments after posting this picture to Facebook, local parade mogul and one-time next-door neighbor Todd Marcoccisaw it and asked if they would be willing to be in a parade. This made me simultaneously ecstatically happy (a logo that immediately snags a parade invitation is a GREAT logo, right?) — and extremely jealous (Todd has never asked me to be in a parade!)

Michele Melcher sketch for Brandywine Roller Girls

The Tikaro Roller Ball: Everything I could have hoped, and more!

Imagine a karate warrior, a motorcycle racer in full leathers, and a six-foot-six gorilla, all on roller skates. Now imagine that they’re mixed in with men in tuxedos, women in floor-length silk ball gowns, and girls in tutus — all on skates, under disco lights. Now add to that luchador masks, viking helmets, and a whole roller derby team in crash pads and eyeblack.

What I’m trying to convey here is that my fortieth birthday party turned out better than I could have hoped!

Kate looked smashing in my grandfather’s fox-hunting scarlet:

Roller Ball

The newly-reopened Caln Roller Rink, before it filled up with skaters in formal gowns, tuxedos, and costumes:

Roller Ball

Randy volunteered to set up a photo booth, and boy, am I ever glad he did. You can click on any of the thumbnails below to see some of the pictures he took. Look for the enormous Claymore sword he brought, which I’m pretty sure is high on the list of “things you really shouldn’t bring to a roller rink”:


The best part of the party, for me, was seeing West Chester Twitter friends meeting Guerilla Drive-In members and local bloggers, and everyone meeting family members and friends. I know perfectly well that many of my friends are creative, intelligent free spirits, but OH MAN, when they walk through the door in a cape and deerstalker hat, PLUS a snake-headed walking stick, PLUS a meerschaum pipe and magnifying glass, completely nailing the Sherlock? It restores my faith in… something, I’m not sure exactly what. But it’s something important, and having it re-affirmed so completely, by watching women fly past fearlessly in gowns and tiaras on rental skates, well, it’s just pretty damn wonderful.

Speaking of fearless, members of the nascent Chesco Roller Derby team came out, with their helmets, kneepads, and sequined shorts:


The team is in “fresh meat” stage, and are working on their skating skills. Once the team members pass their skill tests [PDF link], the team will be cleared to start having matches. The first one might be some time in March! Ever since stumbling on the Roller Derby Nationals in 2009, I’ve been hoping for a local team. In front are local West Chester Twitter-ers @kimdec and @jennruss, who just got their gear yesterday, and are 110% psyched about the sport (they’re at practice right now as I’m writing this.)

The evening ended (for us) at Doghouse Burgers in Downingtown, where we were serenaded by Terri Moss, playing Paris cafe standards and “Happy Birthday” on the accordion. Is there any more stylish way to end a party? I don’t think so.

Thanks so much for coming out, everybody! I had a wonderful time, and would like to think that I’ve continued the tradition of my Chester County ancestors, who used to hold fancy-dress galas on Lincoln Highway, stopping any cars that might come through so they could come join the festivities. With this group, any party is wonderful. I’ve already got some ideas for the next one…

The Tikaro Roller Ball: Everything I could have hoped, and more!

You’re Invited to the Tikaro Roller Ball!

A few months ago, the Daily Local News wrote about the re-opening of the Caln Roller Rink. Caln was a local landmark since 1974, and has been closed and empty for years. For a year, a passionate group of volunteers has been moving mountains to re-open the rink.

In August, we stopped by to talk to them and take some pictures. What a great place! Kate remembers seeing "Thriller" here on the big screen, which was a big premiere event: “Okay, everybody sit in the middle of the rink, HERE COMES THE MOVIE PROJECTOR!”

Just a few short weeks ago, CALN SUCCESSFULLY RE-OPENED! HURRAH! We’ve all had a great time tottering around the rink with friends and family. Here’s Lydia with her playschool friend Kylie, both beaming over their matching pink skates:

Lydia and Kylie at Caln Roller Rink

One of the most fun things about going to Caln is that, since it’s been closed for so long, everyone is learning (or re-learning) at the same time. We visited on Thursday over winter break, and some teenagers were tentatively trying crossovers and making cautious, elemental boogie motions. That Sunday, the same teenagers were scissoring through turns and putting their hands in the air during the “boom boom” parts of the song. Soon, they’ll be whizzing around the rink and flipping frontwards-to-backwards as though they’ve been skating JB Style all their life. Now’s the time to get in on the ground floor!

I said “wow, we should have a party here!” and Kate said “Yes, we should. In fact, we should have YOUR BIRTHDAY PARTY HERE.” And she’s been adamant ever since: “Go now, John. Go put the deposit down. QUIT ARGUING, DO IT!” It might not seem like it (at all), but I was kind of shy about the whole thing. But she perservered, and soon my reluctance gave way to… um, the opposite of reluctance.

And so I’d like to invite you, dear blog reader — yes, I’m talking about YOU — to my fortieth birthday party at Caln Roller Rink. We’ve taken the place over this coming Saturday, January 22nd from 5-7PM.

One important thing to remember: the party is fancy-dress. Wear your cutaway tails, your military dress uniform, your beekeeper suit, your turnout gear, or your diving rig. Wear your Dior gown, your tearaway sequin skirt, your bridesmaid dress. Wear rainbow-striped knee socks and Dolfin shorts. It’s the TIKARO ROLLER BALL:

40th Birthday Party Invitation by Michele Melcher

Save the date! Sponge off your fox-hunting scarlet! Come one, come all to the TIKARO ROLLER BALL! Details here:

You’re Invited to the Tikaro Roller Ball!

Michele Melcher’s Oakbourne Water Tower Watercolor

You may have seen me gushing about the fantastic, amazing, and improbable Oakbourne Park before. Not to mention the colorful characters that can be found there.

When the Friends of Oakbourne group asked if I would be willing to make them a website, I said “absolutely, yes of course”, and I immediately commissioned Michele Melcher to do a watercolor of the water tower to use as the “hero” image.

And here it is! Oh, how I love it! From the moss-stained shingles to the flared crosspieces at the top, to the tiny garden gnome that Michele added at the bottom. Click through to see the notes I added on Flickr:

Oakbourne Tower, by Michele Melcher

Michele Melcher’s Oakbourne Water Tower Watercolor

Gotcher Bumpus!

I often get email meant for other John Youngs. My favorite accidental correspondent is Terry B_____., who accidentally sent me this letter today:

“As many of you know, I am the Union County Director of the National League of Junior Cotillions. We teach manners, etiquette and Ballroom Dance to 5th through 8th graders at Rolling Hills and Firethorne Country Clubs.
Recently I have had several Parents request the possibility of a full class on table manners and etiquette.
I would like to hold a Three Course Informal dinner at Mucci’s Bistro downtown Monroe on a Monday evening in the next few weeks before the busy Holiday rush. I am looking at Monday, November 29th as my first option. The students will be served bread, salad, entrée’, dessert and beverage.”

It’s taking all my willpower not to order fifty pounds of live white mice, plus a Burmese python in a burlap sack, to be delivered to the front door of the restaurant on Monday night. Or deliver a towering stack of Boston cream pies, clearly marked with stern signs saying “NOT FOR THROWING”, which will of course immediately result in a free-for-all pie fight.

Or I could hire a runner to securely tape a box of itching powder to the bottom of Mucci’s banquet table. A note announcing its presence could be taped inside the restroom, where middle-schoolers will retire to hide from all the ETIQUETTE TRAINING. These poor, wretched pawns will see the note, check under the table, and realize that they have become an instrument of pure, glorious chaos.

The possibilities boggle the mind.

(The phrase “Gotcher Bumpus” is from immortal free-spirit Penrod Schofield, the hero of Booth Tarkingon’s turn-of-the-century novels. The Penrod books are as relevant today as in 1910, and should be required reading for everyone.)

Gotcher Bumpus!

Illegal to feed other people’s parking meters?

Over at Lose It or Lose It, we’ve been making short videos demonstrating what we’re doing with the money that folks forfeit when they miss a weigh-in. We mean to be funny and upbeat — Randy is going out and making people happy with the money, but he is getting the credit. The point is that you should keep your money by hitting your goals, so you can go out and make people happy!

In our first video, Randy went out and tipped big at Salad Stop and Fennario with JP Toto’s forfeited fifteen bucks, and in the video below, Randy donates fifty bucks from Corey Floyd to the United Way:

We’re thinking about what else Randy can do: stand at Wally’s Wiener World and buy everyone’s hot dogs? “Thanks, RANDY!” folks will say to the camera. “You’re the best, RANDY!” Or, for instance, Randy can feed all the parking meters up and down Gay street in West Chester, becoming a hero to the townsfolk.

While we were discussing the parking-meter idea, the nice woman behind the counter at Salad Stop told us “you know, it’s actually illegal to do that. It’s illegal to feed someone else’s meter. Crazy, huh?”

I was intrigued. This sounded an awful lot like urban folklore (no, it’s not really illegal to write on a dollar bill, for instance.) So I Googled up the phone number for the West Chester Parking Department and asked the woman who answered the telephone if it was illegal. “Why would you that?” she asked, laughing. “Can I have the money instead? Anyhow, I don’t know, I’ll ask the manager.”

A pause of a minute, and then a gruff male voice came on the line. “Why would you do that?” he asked. Except he wasn’t laughing. “No, really — WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?.”

The bizarre thing was, he really sounded angry, as if I had offended him. I told him it was just a hypothetical question, that we were talking about it and it sounded like urban folklore to me. Was it true that-

“Yes, it’s true”, he said, “and if we see you doing it, we’ll call the police and have you arrested.”

Now, let me be clear — this is not a blog post about a parking services manager being grouchy. Fine, the guy was grouchy, I’d expect that. But why did he sound so deeply angered? What previous history was I unaware of? Had West Chester been beset by a lawless gang of Bolshevik meter-feeders in the sixties, and this fellow was duty-sworn to enforce the draconian meter-bolshevik measures enacted forty years ago?

The answer, says Snopes, is “maybe”. In some towns, apparently, folks would follow ahead of the meter-readers, stuffing quarters in the expired meters, then putting an envelope under the windshield wiper announcing what had been done and asking for a donation – more than a quarter, less than the fine that had just been avoided. If I were a meter-reader, I would be annoyed by that. Was that the explanation?

After reading Chapter 104 of the West Chester Ordinances, I can’t see anything about feeding someone else’s meter at all — only a prohibition on feeding a meter so that a car overstays its maximum time. For instance, if you’re parked on Gay street in West Chester, you’re only supposed to stay for two hours max. If the car had been there for an hour and forty-five minutes, and I went up and pumped the meter so that an hour remains, I’d be violating the ordinance by allowing the car to overstay its welcome. Is that what the problem is?

Or is it just as simple as “full meters don’t generate tickets, and tickets are where the money is?

UPDATE: some more googling reveals this Jackass clip of “The Meter Fairy” involving a mincing ballerina. A lot of Jackass stunts started as Camp Kill Yourself pranks here in West Chester… yeah, that might explain the anger.

Illegal to feed other people’s parking meters?