Archive for Wilmington

Music and Time Travel – A Night With Susto

Posted in Music, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2017 by Mike

susto-with-fan_finalAs you get older, you move further and further away from your past selves. One of mine, as an example, is Wildman Mike. Though he still appears now and then, makes a headline, and disappears again like Bigfoot, Wildman Mike resides in the past and survives mostly in embarrassing photos and fuzzy group memories. Once in a while though, if you’re lucky, you get to reconnect with a past self and it’s like a reunion.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were invited downtown by another couple to see Susto, a band out of Charleston, SC. None of us had any idea who Susto was so I spent a good week watching YouTube videos, reading snippets, and finding out what I could about these guys prior to the show. This is what’s it’s like to discover an unknown band through social media and word of mouth – something that is new to me, a guy who entrusts our local hip radio station to keep me current. But a band doesn’t need radio. They just need a genuine presence and a unique quality that gets people talking and buying tickets.

As it turns out, susto (the word) is a Spanish term that refers to when the soul gets separated from the body, connoting something akin to a panic attack due to trauma, and is treated with the ritualistic, plant-based hallucinogen ayahuasca. Susto (the band) is a five-piece group that can rock or skirt Americana with songs that are both introspective and visceral, and their personal themes elicit personal reactions. The songs conjure the emotions every lost 20-something experienced as he wandered between reckless youth and the vague frontier of What Comes Next. Front man Justin Osborne has a southern growl and backstory that involves anthropology studies, living in Cuba, and getting ACID BOYS tattooed onto his knuckles as a means to remove the mainstream path as a viable option, forcing him to pursue music do-or-die, music as the potential Promised Land for a talented misfit with an aversion for the middle of the road.

There’s drugs, alcohol, a party on every periphery, but the festivities have a dark undercurrent and these aren’t wide-eyed wannabes writing about their first acid trip – these are the guys the next morning. Tired, reflective, the ones at a table at the Waffle House. They’ve been up all night (up for years, even) having their circuits rewired and worlds spun like a bald, dirty basketball on God’s index finger. I’m the dad at a nearby table with the wife and kids in booster seats. I can tell by their eyes where they’ve been and what they’ve seen because I’ve seen it too, maybe 25 years ago but I had the same fleeting glimpse into the other place, the place without the veils, it’s just hard to remember what was behind them all these years later.

This isn’t about a specific song or album though Susto is currently touring in support of their new CD – “& I’m Fine Today” – and the opening one-two punch of Far Out Feeling (soaring and disco-tinged) and Hard Drugs (a dreamy introspective country ride) is a thrilling combination that sets the tone. But to just know the new record is to ignore the gold stuff from their first self-titled release – Dream Girl and County Line, and all the mysterious tunes you will hear at the live show that will simultaneously pull you in and spin you around amid the other listeners undergoing a similar transformation.

These songs are transformative for everyone – they were surely transformative to write and to play, but they also do work on the listener. At least this listener – a 45 year-old existing in two chronologies at one time. Wildman Mike came to the show but behaved – he’s grown up too, maybe. We reflected on our own good times, the ones flecked with blackness, feeling and refeeling what it meant then and what it means now. The music coursed through it all, the source and destination.

In another time I would’ve been right there on the porch of the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, their renowned Charleston gathering spot, HQ, crash pad, and hub of revelry for this new generation of Merry Pranksters. Though I’m the old dude at the party, it feels good to be here. Nostalgic but nice. I raise my High Life and tell them that the good times change shape, but they do continue.

Ultimately Susto is not the condition – it’s the treatment.

The current lineup of Susto includes Justin Osborne, Corey Campbell, Jenna Desmond, Marshall Hudson, and Dries Vandenberg. A 6-song set from Audiotree will give you a preview but go see them live – they’re playing all around the US for the next few months. Visit their website here.


Slow Ride – Take it Easy

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , on March 26, 2010 by Mike

My wife and I just sold our second car. We work for the same company and generally stay close to home with our son, so it’s usually a non-issue. However, it does occasionally force us to get creative when one car does not suit our needs. I recently had the pleasure of escaping on a responsibility-free Guys Weekend that was almost derailed by a lack of transportation.

I needed to get to Raleigh to meet my brother-in-law. Our rendezvous had to happen on a Friday morning and my wife couldn’t miss work to take me all the way up there from Wilmington. I’d made an offer on Craigslist’s Ride-Share board to buy someone a tank of gas in exchange for a lift.  A few randoms responded but my wife put her foot down, doubting the intentions of my would be drivers, and fearing I would be raped, gutted and dumped in a nameless swamp off of I-40 long before I reached Raleigh.

 So I took the Greyhound.

 Riding the bus gets a bad rap. Most of us assume that this mode of transportation is kept alive solely by pitiful people who need to go from one depressing spot to another. Like Con Air on wheels, they imagine that a passing bus contains the dregs of society: the convict and criminal, the downtrodden and insane, the imbecile, the pedophile, the homeless and lost, all who need the combined momentum and refuge of a hulking tube of metal and exhaust fumes.  With a firm and self-righteous tone, let me state that those critics are wrong! The bus also contains comparatively normal people who don’t have a second car.

 But it wasn’t so bad.  There were maybe a dozen other passengers: college guys, one family, a smattering of solo riders, both men and women, one dreadlocked dude carrying a guitar case who demanded attention by having loud cell phone conversations and outer monologues between calls. Most everyone snoozed or read or zoned out on their iPods. Granted, there was one bearded, cross-eyed, sinister looking individual who sat near the bathroom and caught my eye for a second, but he was doing nothing more than sitting there with his freaky vibe and plotting something.

 I did suffer one unpleasantness during my voyage. I was maybe four rows up from the bathroom (bad choice on my part and I guess I could’ve moved but it was not a problem until late in the trip.) Someone took a crap on the bus. There’s nothing to churn your gut like a fresh, human bowel movement unloaded in your general vicinity. Either someone did it in the bathroom or the freaky, sinister looking gentleman had plotted to poop his pants. Whatever happened, it lingered in the back of the bus for several miles, settling like a fog and choking all the people in the rear seats who sat there and suffered in a quiet, polite agony. In that respect, a Greyhound bus is like a rolling Porta-John and I encourage any future riders to please try to hold it, and suggest that riders stay near the front, even going so far as sitting on the driver’s lap.

 Overall though, it was an enjoyable experience. It was a sunny morning and we followed a country 2-lane road north for most of the trip. The barren winter boondocks bounced along through the dingy windows and my spirit lifted with each passing mile.  There’s nothing like having someone drive you around. It’s nice. I read my Tom Robbins (who is a brilliant companion on any kind of trip), looked around at the other passengers, texted my buddies back at work, and basically tapped my foot to the beat of a laid back Friday morning with a wide open agenda.  The bus made three short stops between Wilmington and Raleigh to pick up more passengers and allow the people already on the bus to get off and grab a soda or inhale a cigarette.  So it took 45 extra minutes to get to Raleigh—big deal—it’s well worth it for the convenience and reasonable expense ($35 one way).

 The simple adventure of riding a public bus for a few hours has a way of connecting you to a serene state of consciousness that you would not get by driving yourself. So next time you need a perspective shift, hop on the Greyhound and let it take you someplace you’ve never been. Just sit up front.

Delivering the Goods

Posted in Family, From the Vault, Writing with tags , , , , on October 5, 2009 by Mike

1 yr later

Just one year ago, we took our first anxious steps into parenthood. The following piece was written at that time, commissioned by a local real estate website that was looking to get a personal profile of Wilmington’s new baby hospital. The website went under, leaving this article a homeless orphan playing with matches in a ditch. So for Foster’s 1st birthday, let’s go back in time to relive his grand entrance. Happy birthday, buddy! You’ve come a long way!


Carrie is pregnant. Very pregnant. My wife has journeyed far beyond the baby bump stage when strangers would pat her stomach with shameless adoration. Now she’s feeling large and immobile, ready to be done with it, a little anxious and impatient after nine long months. Those same strangers now give her a wide berth, expecting her water to break at any moment. The bags are packed, we have our guidebooks, the paid time off is safely stashed. It’s like we’re loaded up and ready for vacation but our son won’t come out of his room. Meanwhile, across town sits our destination. Wilmington’s brand new Betty H. Cameron Women’s and Children’s Hospital is our Disneyworld.

The Women’s and Children’s Hospital is the stunning new addition to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, the hub of our local healthcare system. Over the years the hospital has seen structural growth, technological advances, and a diversification in services, but it’s arguable that these components have been simultaneously augmented like this before. The new facility will revolutionize how women and children receive care in Wilmington for years to come. Groundbreaking on the 195,000 square foot hospital began Jan.19, 2006 and it received its first patients Sept. 14, 2008. An estimated 4,000 children are born at NHRMC each year. With this opening, each one will receive treatment in a state of the art facility that is worthy of its superb medical staff.

Clearly, the staff is excited about their new workspace. Jane McLean, Clinical Coordinator for Labor and Delivery and Obstetrics Coordinator for the Operating Room, highlights the upgrade. “The large, private rooms are more accommodating for families and their guests. There are hydrotherapy tubs that can be moved from room to room. There are also multi-head showers, which are great tools in early labor to manage contraction pain. We’ve tried to make things easier for the mother, while encouraging them to get out of bed and move around.”  Accessibility to staff is another key component to the mission of the new hospital. McLean continues, “Our systems are now decentralized. There are charting stations throughout the unit so we can stay close to our patients. We used to have a call bell but now it goes through a computer and to the mobile phone of the assigned nurse. It’s quicker for the patient to have their needs met.”

Meanwhile back home, Carrie is now in the throes of early labor. It has been going on for two days and her contractions are getting stronger and closer together. All of our instincts and Lamaze handouts are telling us to go to the hospital. So we gather our luggage and laptops and massage tools and a giant red fitness ball and pile into the wagon like a Cirque du Soleil troupe, heading off towards 17th Street to have our baby.

We arrive at the front desk and explain our urgent business. We are sent to the Perinatal Evaluation Center for assessment. Once inside the facility, I am struck by the calm and quiet. I was expecting an asylum of moaning, birthing women. It is so quiet I start to wonder if the entire wing is still closed to the public. When we are taken to a private room and Carrie is examined, we learn that she has dilated one centimeter and has a paper-thin cervix but is still possibly a day or two away from delivery. It is too early in the process to admit us. We trudge back home to wait some more.

With a population of nearly 100,000 people, Wilmington is too large to rely on Durham and Winston-Salem and other state hospitals to take our sick and needy.  The construction of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital gives families the chance to stay in town even when their loved ones are facing high-risk pregnancies and other medical complications.  Barbara Buechler, Registered Nurse and Hospital Administrator, illustrates the importance of such services. “Our 45-bed, all private room Neonatal ICU is the only private room NICU in the state of North Carolina.  Private room neonatal intensive care provides an environment that improves clinical and developmental outcomes for sick and premature infants.  In addition, the sleep sofa in every room allows mom to stay with her baby during hospitalization.  This provides the benefit of parent-infant bonding and parents feeling confident caring for their baby at discharge.”  This December, the Betty H. Cameron Women’s and Children’s Hospital will open southeastern North Carolina’s only Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. As a result, emergency situations involving children can be handled close to home and Wilmington will continue to establish itself as a leader in state healthcare.           

Back home again, Carrie and I jump at every gas bubble. We wonder if we’ll even know when it’s time. But then her water breaks and it is as dramatic and exciting as it seems in movies. We lock down the house, pile back into the car and leave knowing that when we return, it will be as a trio.

We are finally admitted and set up camp in our room on the Labor and Delivery ward. The room is immense and the sofa is soft. Our families come and go, taking full advantage of the visitation policy that allows the patient to decide who is admissible and how long they can stay. Carrie’s contractions are breathtaking and we take arduous walks around the maze of hallways in the hope that gravity and movement will conspire to push him out. It doesn’t happen.  During the night it becomes clear that there is a problem. Her dilation stops at 6 centimeters. Excruciating contractions are not advancing him through the birth canal. Depending on her position in the bed, his heart rate nosedives and our entire team spends long hours frowning at monitors.

In the wee hours of a Monday morning, despite our hopes of having a natural childbirth free from interventions or undue pain management, Carrie ends up having a C-section. The umbilical cord had wrapped around our baby’s neck and prevented him from coming out on his own. This wasn’t our plan, but who can plan for a medical emergency? The wonderful part of our story is the strong, healthy son we eventually took home with us. Would it have been the same ending in a smaller, older, less-equipped facility? Perhaps, but it would have been a much darker road. Despite the gravity of the situation, we knew we were in able hands. The staff at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital was amazing and touched our experience with professionalism and warmth. The facility was the Disneyworld we were hoping it would be. Our son, Foster, will say thanks when he learns to talk.