Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Beetles of 2019

Simply sharing some more of the insects I photographed this year, grouping them by order (or whatever, as the case may be). In this case, order: Coleoptera, the beetles.

I found this elm borer (Saperda tridentata) resting on our front door the morning of May 30. It had no doubt been attracted to our porch light during the previous evening. This is one of the insects that got me in the habit of inspecting the wall and door under the porch light in the mornings!

This species is one of the many longhorn beetles (that’s a family), and it’s in a subfamily called the “flat-faced longhorns.” I think it’s spiffy looking. It lays eggs in cracks of the bark of stressed elm trees, and the larvae feed under the bark, creating squiggly galleries as they go. It can transmit the fungus that causes Dutch elm disease, but it’s not the main vector. Instead, three species of elm bark beetles are the primary vectors; they’re in the weevil family of beetles. We do have some elms in our neighborhood, but since the venerable old American elm that used to stand in front of my mom’s ancestral home was cut down (for no good reason), all that’s left are Siberian elms (“piss elms”) that are past their prime, so pfft, who cares, let the beetles have them, eh?

Seeing that nifty-looking elm borer inspired me to work outside on the patio that morning, keeping my eyes open, and this plain little ol’ click beetle came and visited me. Click beetles are in family Elateridae; I think this one is some kind of Melanotus species, but good lord there are a lot that all look alike!

Click beetles are the ones that, when harassed or worried, play dead. They lay on their backs, legs tucked in, then suddenly: Click! In a split second, they bend their abdomen/thorax segments, making an audible clicking sound, and the sudden click flips them away—somewhere, anywhere away—from the perceived danger.

Click beetle playing dead, just like an opossum, huh?

Then there was the very, very cool Hercules beetle I saw in Virginia on June 10.

We were walking along a strip mall and saw a few women making OHMYGOD gestures; this scarab beetle is very large, and the antlerlike extensions of the exoskeleton make them look formidable. When I picked it up (yeah, I picked it up, thinking “Ah, poor beetle, what are you doing in this lame strip mall place? You need to be in the woods!”), I held it by its sides, and it pressed hard against my fingers with its legs. Very, very strong beetle. What an impressive insect. I set it free in by bro’s backyard, which has a little wooded area near it.

Interesting (and sad) fact about the eastern Hercules beetle: they are declining and may soon be declared threatened: they need certain types of large hardwood trees to complete their life cycle, and ash trees are very important. Now that ash trees throughout North America are threatened by the emerald ash borer, the amazing, fantastic, proud, humble eastern Hercules beetle may also disappear from our continent.

On June 5, I photographed a flea beetle and a darkling beetle in our yard near our house.

The flea beetle was pretty attractive; I think it is species Disonycha procera. This is one of the many colorful and attractive leaf beetles.

The darkling beetle (below) (a Tenebrionid--again, that’s a family of beetles) was one of a bazillion that crawled out of the landscaping mulch along the front of our house one morning when I watered it really well. They all walked up the side of our white-painted house, so they were especially noticeable. They have such dark bodies; as if they were made out of black rubber. There are lots of species of darkling beetles that look more or less the same; I think this is species Alaetrinus minimus.

Then there was a longhorned beetle on our back porch screen on June 20:

This (above) is Acanthoderes quadrigibba, whose name (I figured out) can be translated as the four-humped flat-faced longhorn. There is no common name, even though these beetles aren’t especially uncommon. The larvae feed on rotten wood, so they’re not considered pests.

The dogbane beetle (above) has to be of one of North America’s most beautiful beetles! Another member of the leaf beetle group. We saw this handsome insect resting on a window of the Amtrak station at La Plata, the way we went there to watch trains. See what happens? You embark on your day thinking you’re going to see A, B, and C, and instead (or in addition) you get M, N, and O.

The bonus beetle doesn’t look much like a beetle at all! It looks more like a lizard:

But let’s not forget that most of a beetle’s life is spent looking like a grub, or . . . a teeny tiny lizard. So this is an immature multicolored Asian lady beetle. These are the ladybugs that crawl into little cracks and get into your home in autumn, then buzz around your light fixtures for weeks afterward, and leave squiggly lines of poop on your walls and curtains. Yes, they are from Asia. Yes, they are a nuisance. Many people consider them invasive, but I think it’s still legal to import them and set them loose supposedly to fight against crop pests.

. . . Um, right.

More arthropod pictures soon!

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Moths of 2019

Going through my pictures from La Plata, I fell in love again with an insect we saw there, a dogbane beetle. It was resting on a shaded, north-facing window, but it was shining beautifully in rich rainbow colors. And I realized, “Hey, I’ve met a lot of new insects this year.” Maybe you’d like to meet them too?

Although I’ve taken loads of “bug pictures” this year (I'm still taking plenty more), I’m only going to do the highlights. But because there are so many, I’ll present them in five separate posts: moths, beetles, true bugs, and a collection of flies, mantids, and others as a sort of “miscellaneous insects” category. I’ll finish with spiders and other noninsects. Ready? Let’s go!

This here is a boxwood leaftier (Galasa nigrinodis)—a type of pyralid moth—that was perched on the bathroom wall one morning in mid-April. It seemed very early in the year to be seeing a moth; Bugguide says they usually fly June through September. I’m pretty sure it must’ve come indoors as a pupa on a potted plant we brought inside for the winter. We have a box bush in the backyard, which must have provided its food last year before it pupated accidentally in some plant we ended up bringing inside. Isn’t it fascinating how they stand, like they’re doing a pushup? I was impressed by the beauty of its maroon and orange iridescence.


The next two are geometrid moths—the name means “earth measurer” and it refers to the caterpillars, which most people would call “inchworms.” As adults, they’re distinctive moths, typically posing with wings open and flattened out to the sides. The colors and patterns on fore wings and hind wings usually run seamlessly onto one another. If you’re thinking of learning more about moths, geometrids are a good place to start—because many of them are so pretty.

The first day of June, this geometrid, called the bent-line carpet (Costaconvexa centrostrigaria), was perched on our front doorsteps. Wow! It pays to look closely at insects, doesn’t it! It’s called a “carpet,” apparently, because the ornate patterns make it look like an oriental rug. As a caterpillar, this moth eats various species of knotweeds and smartweeds. I predict this species will be extra common in our area, given the flooding this year—we have a bumper crop of smartweeds locally, about everywhere the floodwaters had been a few months ago.

A few nights later (June 3), a juniper-twig geometer (Patalene olyzonaria) came to our front porch light. As the name suggests, the caterpillars of this species eat juniper foliage. The caterpillar, true to the typical geometrid pattern, looks JUST like a juniper twig—tan, with a series of little X markings—and when it stiffens and stands still at an angle to the twig it’s resting on, you’d have little luck seeing it. I truly admire how the adult moth looks like a dead leaf, right down to the kind of wavy texture to the wings. I'm grateful this insect let me photograph it.


I know you’ve seen plume moths before—probably on a screen window or the side of your house in the morning. You’ve probably wondered what they are. They always hold their wings folded tight and out to the side, so they look like a T. It’s easy to recognize them as plume moths (family), but narrowing them to species is much more tricky.

I’m confident that this species is the morning-glory plume moth (Emmelina monodactyla). First, it’s a common and widespread plume moth species. Second, its caterpillars eat plants in the morning glory family, including field bindweed, a plant we struggle with in (so far, only in) one sector of our yard. Also, it superficially matches the pictures in Bugguide. (Bugguide, my guide!)


On August 3, we enjoyed a few hours hanging out at Hermann’s Stone Hill Winery. We were getting ready to leave, and we saw this moth flying around; it finally lit in an oak tree near the parking lot. It’s not a great picture, because I was holding the camera way up above my head and zooming . . . and hoping for something decent. This is an imperial moth (Eacles imperialis), one of the lovely, majestic giant silkworm (or royal) moths. Others in the same group are luna moths, Polyphemus and cecropia moths, royal walnut moth, rosy maple moth, etc. Big, furry, gorgeous animals.


Working on field guide entries about moths and insects recently has taught me a lot about creatures almost no one would give a second thought to. And guess what: learning just a little about them makes them incredibly fascinating. This species is in the crambid snout moth family (used to be grouped with the pyralids, like the boxwood leaftier above). Both have mouthparts that tend to be pointed forward, making it look like they have snouts.

Most crambids are tiny and not colorful. Many curl their wings around the body, so they look like little sticks. Sod webworms are a classic example. Even though they’re not colorful, you still have to look at wing patterns to identify them. This species, the elegant grass-veneer (Microcrambus elegans) has a pattern that looks like a frowny Halloween mask! So it’s rather easy to ID, even from a distance. This moth has has a wingspan of only about ½ inch. The larvae feed on grasses. You almost certainly have some of these trapped in your lamp covers, inside or out. (One of my insect superheroes, Eric Eaton, addressed indoor bug safaris in a recent wintertime blog post. I love it!!!!)

Hashtag "I love insects." Hashtag "I wish other people could see how beautiful and interesting they are."

Next, I'll share some nifty beetles!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

More about La Plata and Trains

Here are a few more little fun facts about La Plata, which is indeed pronounced “luh-PLAY-tuh.” First, it’s an easy drive north from Columbia on Highway 63, and although I was born, grew up, and went to college in Columbia, I don’t think I ever visited La Plata. Seems like we always explored south, west, or east, and not much north.

1. A famous La Plata native was Lester Dent, who wrote 159 Doc Savage pulp-fiction novels under the pen name Kenneth Robeson. He wrote loads of other novels—crimes and mysteries—as well. He was well-traveled and an adventurer.

2. The Santa Fe Espresso restaurant in downtown La Plata was pretty nice. We were there in the middle of the afternoon and were the only customers. We found it quite pleasant, and we were glad we stopped in for our lunch.

3. The town square has a nice park in the middle of it, with a children’s playground and a lovely, well-maintained community shelterhouse, with loads of picnic tables.

4. At the end of August is the Annual La Plata Soybean Festival, with one of my favorite Missouri bands, Keota. It sure looks like a fun event, including a “Hometown Hootenanny,” a Queen Soya, a baby show and kiddie parade, ice cream and homemade pie, a Soybean Festival Parade, Soybean Olympics, Cake Walk, and—always better to watch than to participate in—a hotdog eating contest. We won’t be able to go this year, but I’m putting in on my calendar for next year.

5. Did you know that the horns of different railroad lines sound slightly different chords? If you’re a musician, you can have fun testing your ears as you learn to distinguish the different tunings.

First, a basic introduction to train horns, and how they work.

A fun collection of different train horns, including many vintage ones, with plenty of sound files.

Info on the very popular “K horns,” again with plenty of sound files.

Also, using long and short blasts of the horn, locomotives can communicate with anyone in earshot in using something like Morse code. Now that they have radios, the many kinds of signals used in the past are rarely used today. But here’s one key to the various signals.

6. Finally, for fun, and to get it hopelessly stuck in your head, here are two versions of Johnny Mercer’s “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe.” One with Judy Garland, from the 1946 film “The Harvey Girls,” and the other performed by composer Johnny Mercer himself, with Jo Stafford, the Pied Pipers, and Paul Weston & His Orchestra (1944).

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

You Say To-MAY-tuh, We Say La PLAY-tuh

Sue and I had been working up to a day trip to La Plata, Missouri, for months—Sue longer, because she’s the one who discovered the Virtual Railfan’s La Plata webcam this spring, when it came up as a suggestion while she was watching some other video.

Just in case you haven’t heard of Virtual Railfan, here’s the deal: it’s a group of people (with a YouTube channel) who are all about watching trains: “Virtual Railfan is the premiere provider for live train cams all over the United States [plus Revelstoke, B.C., Canada] providing live views from some of the most iconic railroading spots on earth.” They have webcams in 21 locations, and La Plata is one. Here's the camera that faces east:

Here's the view west . . .

And here's the view east . . .

The VR folks work with the different railroad companies and set up live webcams at various places—usually stations or crossings where there’s a pretty large amount of train traffic each day. And the webcams let us witness things like the sounds of far-off train horns, the sight and sound of railroad crossing gates, a widening glare of headlights (if it’s night), and then the thunderous succession of engines and cars roaring by. Like this.

In many places, there are two webcams set up, so you can view both directions of the rail line. You can “rewind” the video back for 12 hours, to see what you’ve missed, or just to see a train, if you don’t want to wait for the next one to arrive. Also, live commenting is allowed, but it is moderated effectively, so it’s actually a pleasant experience. Like, you could let your kids watch it. The chitchat reveals actual camaraderie.

So why La Plata? La Plata’s a small town in northern Missouri with a population of 1,366.

You’d think there’d be a Virtual Railfan webcam set up here in Jeff City, with our attractive Amtrak station in the historic Union Hotel, at the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site, with the Missouri State Capitol in the background. Seems like we’re always hearing train horns!

But apparently, La Plata gets much more train traffic. While Jeff City is on the Union Pacific line and has the Missouri River Runner Amtrak lines, little ol’ La Plata averages between 50 and 70 BNSF trains every 24 hours, plus Amtrak’s Southwest Chief comes by twice a day. And although BNSF owns the line, Union Pacific (BNSF’s main competitor) has trackage rights and often runs about 6 of its trains through each day, too. So although at times it might seem about as interesting as watching paint dry, it’s actually rather entertaining—with the messaging, it’s sort of like waiting for a train with somebody. And at any given time in an evening, there may easily be some 500 to 1,000 people watching.

So, yes, La Plata’s history is tied with the railroad. The WPA’s Missouri: A Guide to the Show Me State (1941) offers a snapshot of 1930s Missouri. It noted that La Plata had a population of 1,421 and was positioned “at the junction of the Wabash and Santa Fe railroads.”

In the town’s early days, it carried both the Wabash line (which later became the Norfolk Southern, which today doesn’t go through the town), AND the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe (ATSF, or “Santa Fe” for short). The ATSF ran through La Plata as it made a beeline from Chicago to Kansas City (bypassing St. Louis). The ATSF later merged with the Burlington Northern to became BNSF, and that’s the line that carries so much freight (both container and bulk cargo such as grains) now.

La Plata cherishes its railroading history. A motel in town, called the Depot Inn, has indoor and outdoor displays of railroad memorabilia and amounts to a small railroad museum. It is absolutely worth seeing, even if you don’t intend to stay the night.

And of course, we spent some time at the La Plata railroad station itself—after watching La Plata vicariously through a webcam, it was fun to see it in real life. The train station is definitely a historic structure, and it’s undergoing some restoration.

The current station is Art Deco style and dates back to a major remodel after a fire in 1945. In the late 1990s, people started working to renew the station: coalitions of town boosters and preservationists, railroad clubs, railroad restoration foundations. and other nonprofits. Money has come from grants, from a U.S. Department of Transportation matching-funds program, and even some money from the Missouri legislature—plus, of course, volunteer work and private donations. The American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) continues to work to find grants, organize fundraisers, and so on, to maintain the historic station.

So if you look at the La Plata webcams these days, you’ll probably see workers improving the walkways, railings, and other facilities at the station. They’re doing a nice job!

The station is closed most of the time, and although they don’t sell tickets there, a caretaker is at the station every day to open its doors and offer customer service and information during Amtrak train times. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief has thirty-two stops, including one at little ol’ La Plata, Missouri, as it runs from Chicago to Los Angeles. Judging from the live chat comments, I guess there are railfans who are especially interested in watching Amtrak trains.

So, we had a fun time snooping around the (closed) station, waiting for and seeing several trains go by, and driving around the town. We had lunch at the Santa Fe Espresso restaurant in downtown La Plata. After another visit to the station, we looked at the Depot Inn museum and then walked over the Brown Street bridge that crosses over the train tracks east of the station. No, there’s no decent sidewalk or even shoulder for pedestrians to be safe on that bridge, but on the baking hot Saturday afternoon there was hardly anyone on the roads, so we got our pictures in relative safety. Don’t tell anyone.

I also got a video of that. (You’re welcome!)

More on our La Plata excursion soon. Did I mention that Sue was really excited to see the La Plata railroad station in real life?

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Vines on Broadway, Jefferson City

“Here’s That Place I Was Talking About”

That’s a quote from one of the early social-media reviews for Vines, and the more I think about it, the more it seems perfectly apt for this friendly, cozy, relaxing piece of heaven on Jefferson City’s Southside. The place is a huge success without doing a speck of advertising; people just bring their friends, who bring more friends, and so on. “It’s a great place! Let’s meet there Thursday after work!”

There’s so much I want to write about Vines. I really could go on and on, singing praises and hallelujahs about it, but I kind of have a deadline: tomorrow (Friday, August 9, 2019) is its one-year anniversary of being in business, and I want to have this posted for it.

I remember its first night in business, because I was there, poking around, taking pictures, enjoying a glass of the Malbec. The appearance of a new business just steps away from our house was exciting, especially since Vines on Broadway is an establishment that sells wine and appetizers. And no joke about its nearness to our house. It’s exactly one hundred steps from our basement door. I counted. (This might mean that I’m “livin’ the dream,” folks!)

So I’ve been a regular customer for a year, now, so I can reflect on the development of this business. Sorry if you’re looking for a tough-minded critique—I decided long ago that I don’t have time to “review” places I don’t like. I do, however, have time for cheerleading sessions, so that’s what you’ll get from me: here is why you should check out this place.

Basic information: As of this post, Vines on Broadway is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, from 4 to 9 p.m. It’s at 510 Broadway Street, which is just south of the Highway 50/63 Expressway, about three blocks south of the Missouri capitol building. If you really want the “ins,” I suggest following Vines on Facebook, so you’ll know when they’re open for, say, Halloween night (which fell on a Wednesday), or New Year’s Eve (which was on a Monday). On social media, you’ll also be notified of any featured foods—because it changes—and other events, such as this summer’s new grilled goodies on the patio on Saturdays. Lorie, the owner, does not advertise . . . because she does not need to.

Vines, Like Real Vines, Likes to Grow and Develop

One thing that’s been a constant over the past year is growth and development—change—in an organic fashion. Think of how vines grow upward, into free spaces, toward light—that’s how this business has developed. Lorie Smith, the owner of Vines, has an artistic sensibility and approaches her business with a creative mindset. She tries new things. If something’s unpopular, she’s okay with letting it go. But if her customers like it, then she flies with the concept. Here are some of the things we’ve noticed in the past year:
  • The furniture changes. Lorie’s always discovering nifty old chairs, sofas, tables, and more, and she’s open to rearranging it, always looking for ways to make her customers more comfortable, in open conversational groups.
  • The decorations change with the seasons—she has collections of vintage holiday decorations, framed prints, colored lights, floral arrangements—and you can tell she has fun placing these around the parlors where customers sit. Even the decor in the bathroom is fun, even heartwarming (yeah, I know, in the john even!). Soon after Vines opened, she had a friend paint stylized grapevines all along the floor of her front porch. The decorations and furniture are eclectic. Most of it is vintage, which goes with the building. It’s like being in someone’s home. Lorie’s artistic tastes are apparent, with stained glass, chandeliers, nifty antique-mall and auction finds, and occasional quirky pieces, like a carved end table shaped like a hand. The table decorations change with the seasons. It’s all very attractive and creative.
  • The patio in back is a new development as of this spring. It had been about four parking spaces, but Lorie and her compatriots transformed it, enclosed it with a fence (a city requirement for serving alcohol), adding a variety of chairs, tables, string lights, patio umbrellas, and potted plants ranging from tropical elephant ears to tomato vines. When the temperatures got hot, she installed a fine-mist system that drops the temperature by at least 10 degrees. And now, she’s found friends who do outdoor grilling each Saturday night.
  • Special events happen; for a while, each Thursday was “Vegan, Vinyl, and Vino” night, featuring a bona fide record player and a bunch of LPs (think Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Jim Croce, Neil Diamond, and Rita Coolidge . . .). Now, Alexa typically churns out Van Morrison songs and similar. Then there was the Halloween Party, and the New Year’s Eve party, and the Fourth of July Party, and . . .
  • And the food has changed. In addition to the new Saturday-night offerings from the grill, there has been a lot of change and creativity in the past year. But the food should be its own category.

Tasty Nibbles

Vines has been described as a wine and beer bar with tapas. But calling it a “bar” seems wrong, because it doesn’t have a bar. It’s more like . . . a laid-back cocktail party in someone’s home. You’re sitting on real furniture, this is an actual coffee table, and that’s a genuine smile. And to me, “tapas” implies a distinct emphasis on Spanish tapas cuisine. But if you’re expecting oiled sardines, fresh squid and oysters, Spanish chorizo and butifarro, manchego cheese, and tortilla de patatas, you’ll be let down.

Actually, the menu at Vines started out much more eclectic than its traditional Spanish forebears. Changing the dishes makes it interesting, and it lets Lorie try different ideas, and have some fun in the process. It was also a way for Lorie to explore what her customers wanted. Over time, the menu has stabilized into two items that are available every night, plus two or three additional items that always change.

The “Vines Platter” is one of the two choices that are available every night. It’s a basic cheese and summer sausage plate, with sliced baguette, oil-cured olives, grapes, nuts, plus olive oil and seasoned grated parmesan for dipping. Usually, there’s a few squares of nice, healthy dark chocolate as well. (I've been lobbying for the possibility of a “Vines Plus Platter,” which would include some tastier, fancier, more adventuresome cheeses, and I am hopeful this will eventually happen.)

The other dish that’s available every night is the “Slap Yo Mama shrimp”: plump, juicy, shrimp sautéed in butter and garlic, served on crostini and dressed with a blend of Cajun spices. A customer favorite!

As for the other foods available on any given night, the choices have included
  • Sliders (like, roast beef and provolone with au jus, for example)
  • Wings (all sorts of sauces and glazes; now, especially nice on Saturdays, when they’re grilled)
  • Crostini (beef and herbed cheese; steak, caramelized onion, and gorgonzola; reuben—a favorite of mine; tomato, basil, and mozzarella . . . for example)
  • Spreads and dips (smoked salmon; homemade hummus; pizza hummus; spinach and artichoke dip . . .)
  • Soups (French country vegetable; Italian roasted sweet potato; Tuscan; creamy Italian sausage and tortellini . . . the soups were popular last fall and winter)
  • Miscellaneous appetizers (prosciutto-wrapped asparagus; goat-cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates; stuffed mushrooms; sweet potato taquitos; BLT lettuce wraps; pot pies; mini quiches)
  • Desserts (Oreo and cream cheese truffles; blackberry cobbler; pecan pie bread pudding; apple pie; salted caramel pecan cheesecake dip . . . and now, gelato and sorbetto from a locally owned food truck business)

When soups are served, Lorie and company are happy to divide the order into separate small bowls, which is an incredibly nice touch, so you and your friends don’t have to pass a bowl back and forth. They’re also fine with splitting orders on the bill, which is one reason Vines is popular with groups of friends: it’s a sharing menu, so they know that the food bill will be split between, say, four people.

Another wonderful thing is the kitchen’s flexibility and willingness to alter dishes for people with dietary restrictions, such as gluten-free foods. Indeed, Vines used to have weekly “gluten-free Fridays,” and although that idea got dropped for lack of enough interest, you can always request gluten-free options. If you have a special dietary need, you’ll find Lorie a sympathetic host. She’ll come out herself and ask about your preferences. She’ll work out something for you. Her hospitality is amazing.

And at some point, you’ll have to “ask about our balls.” One night last winter, Lorie and her friends were in the kitchen experimenting with making white-chocolate-dipped bonbons, and they produced a completely unique combination of creamy, tangy, sweet, rich, crunchy, chewy flavors and textures. She kept going around to her customers, asking them, “try one, and tell me what you think is in it.” Few people could guess, because the flavors blend so mysteriously and so well. I won’t tell you what’s in them, but it’s a very tasty, not-too-sweet, grown-up truffle—and “unique” does mean “there are absolutely no others like it.”

“Tonight’s Forecast: 99 Percent Chance of Wine”

Yes, Vines sells wine, by the bottle and by the glass. There’s a corkage fee if you bring your own, but why would you? Lorie and her distributor have curated for you a lovely selection that covers all the bases, and you can try samples, so you’re sure to find something you like.

The wines are subject to change, of course, but they are all great examples of their styles, including domestic and imported, dry, sweet, and everything in between. There is no “goof wine” (as Sue’s dad would call it) on the menu. Here’s a quick description of what you’ll find, from a recent list. (And hey, if you want to know the names of specific wineries/brands, then you’ll have to go there and find out.)
  • Whites: a Sonoma Chardonnay (CA); a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand); a Veneto Pinot Grigio (Italy), and a Mosel Riesling (Germany).
  • Reds: a San Joaquin Valley Moscato (CA); a rich Spanish red blend called Berola (which is kind of the house favorite); a Sonoma Cabernet (CA), an Uco Valley Malbec (Argentina) (my favorite of the reds); and a Pinot Noir and Merlot, both organic from Mendocino (CA).
Also available are a French Rosé and an Italian Prosecco, plus a selection of beer, and truly delicious water supplied by EcoWater.

By the way, I keep lobbying for Vines to offer at least one Missouri wine—for example, Stone Hill’s Hellbender Red (a dry, complex Norton blend, which is also a fundraiser for efforts to restore an endangered species) . . . but so far no traction. (I’ll keep pushing, my friends.)

“Home of the 7-Ounce Pour”

You want to know about the cost, don’t you. A glass of wine ranges from six to nine dollars, depending on the wine. Bottles start at eighteen (the Pinot Grigio); the most expensive is the Berola, at twenty-seven. In case you are interested, Lorie (who is also an accomplished stained-glass artist) etched a tiny little dash onto each of her wine glasses to mark the correct level for a perfect (and consistent) 7 oz. pour. (The industry standard, FYI, is 5 oz.) They won’t short you.

As for the other prices, unless you require large amounts of food (I’ve seen the enormous portions served at some restaurants), you will probably be impressed at how reasonable the food prices are. These are small plates—appetizers—tasty bites—prepared in a small kitchen, to order, just for you, and served on interesting little plates. Other, swankier places would charge you double for less. Which leads me to my last subject: The ambience, the feel, the vibe.

“What a Great Place . . . Warm, Inviting, and Unique!”

Okay, so they serve an interesting parade of fun, tasty little snacky-snacks, and there’s a reliably satisfying selection of good wine . . . but then there’s another, even better thing about Vines that I’d like to share with you: It’s just fun to go there.

First, it has to do with the layout and the decor. I’ve already told you about the changes Lorie’s made over the course of a year, but the basic framework—a charming historic brick home built by German immigrants about a hundred years ago—gives the restaurant a feeling of history and lots of charm. Lorie has learned about the family that owned it, the Schlehers, who had a hardware store uptown, back in the twenties. A recent renovation brought the building into the twenty-first century with flying colors, and Lorie’s using the first floor for the Vines business, while she actually lives upstairs.

So here’s the basic layout. You park on the street or in a small lot off the alley, walk up steps to the front porch, and enter the front door. There’s a host stand at the bottom of a staircase, and beyond the stand is a hallway leading to the small kitchen and to the restroom. Your greeter will lead you to the left, where there are three rooms for seating.

The first room is a front parlor, with a cozy gas fireplace, a sofa, coffee table, and antique stuffed chairs.

The next room is a second parlor, with another sofa and coffee table, plus a few other café tables with chairs. (I bet most people think of it as The Purple Room.)

Behind it, the third room has a big dining table. It can be used for small conferences or meetings. Nifty wooden pocket doors allow you to close off this room for privacy. I find myself thinking, Don’t I belong to some group that could have its meeting here—?

The patio is truly pleasant; I described its development above. The crowning achievement for the patio thus far was the Independence Day party. The place was packed with all Lorie’s regulars. She had some musicians on the back porch strumming guitars and singing. And the views of the Jefferson City fireworks display were excellent—while other people were a few blocks north, gathering chiggers on the capitol lawn and dreading the traffic to come, we were all sitting in patio chairs, sipping our beverages, enjoying the cooling effects of the misters.

I’ve been searching for the right way to say this: Vines is attractive, and beautiful, without seeming snooty or untouchable. There’s a casual feeling that tempers the elegance into something genuinely approachable, like the difference between some wealthy person’s mansion and your own beautiful, comfortable living room. Or Architectural Digest versus Shabby Style. Which leads me to my final subject: the mood itself.

“One Visit and You Feel Right at Home”

Lorie told me that when she opened Vines, her goal was to create a space where people could get together, socialize, and relax, and she’s achieved that goal. Her success, in large part, is due to the host herself; she is outgoing, kind, shrewd, and has an easy laugh. She is genuinely welcoming; she makes it personal. This is a chemistry that all the chain restaurants in the world cannot touch.

It really does start with Lorie; I don’t think anyone can long remain a stranger to her. She greets her customers, sits down with them if they seem agreeable, and chats. It’s not uncommon for her to bring out samples of something she’s cooking up or experimenting with. Like the time she brought around a plate of bonbons made by mixing crushed whole Oreos with cream cheese, rolling it into balls, and dipping them in chocolate. “Hey, wanna try one of these? Check it out. I just made them.”

When she was thinking of opening Vines, she had friends tell her, “You have to be on High Street,” and she insisted: “No.” She found the place on Broadway and knew it was ideal for her. Okay, if you’re not from around here, you might not “get” this. Jefferson City’s High Street (which runs atop a high ridge parallel to the river) is the main business district of the town, frequented by bankers, lawyers, judges, legislators, and lobbyists. But when you cross south of the 50/63 Expressway (which occupies the low valley of a now-diverted creek), you ascend up more hills as you enter Old Munichburg, Jefferson City’s German-settled southside. Working-class people lived here; innumerable state workers—clerks, secretaries, and charwomen—lived here; and the funky ghosts of sauerkraut-odor linger in the woodwork of many of these sturdy brick homes. Lorie, a Tipton native, I think, picked up on this vibe immediately and recognized its cozyness.

And this is the real reason to celebrate the first year of Vines on Broadway: its society. Don’t go there if you want to be in a bad mood, or if you want to sit alone in dour silence. Vines is built for conversations and interconnections.

You’d think by now I’d get used to it, but it thrills me each time: As I’m sitting there, sipping and chatting with my companions, I almost always see two separate groups of people become one. It’ll start with someone overhearing some part of the conservation at a nearby table: “Sorry for butting in, but I couldn’t help hearing you mention _____, and . . .” And the response is usually an enthusiastic, “Oh, you’re not butting in at all, and that’s interesting what you said about _____.” Eventually, often, the parties end up repositioning their chairs in a big circle so they can all visit together.

A few weeks ago, one couple was staying at the nearby motel and kind of stumbled upon Vines; they were sitting on the patio; and another couple, nearby, were visiting Vines for the first time, too. The topic that linked them was “Isn’t this a great place? I wish we had something like this where we live!” Soon, the first couple just flat-out said to the other two, “Why don’t you just come over here and join us at our table?” So that’s what they did, and they spent the rest of the evening there, chatting and having a grand ol’ time.

“Because It’s Not Good to Keep Things Bottled Up”

Vines is a place for the Chardonnay moms to get together and deconstruct their week. It’s a perfect place for date night (or double-date night), where there are no TVs to distract you from the one person you want to focus on the most. It’s a place for the gals at the office to meet after work on a Thursday, to share a bottle of wine and snort about their jobs. It’s a place for certain Munichburgers (ahem) to meet and strategize about the organization. It’s a place for book clubs to meet. Middle-aged Harley bikers staying at the hotel have turned the patio into their own mini meet-and-greet party.

Then there was the night were some women showed up with a board game they’d just bought at Carrie’s Hallmark uptown, called “Chardonnay Go!” Everyone at Vines that night was drawn in to the game and had a great time.

And it has occurred to me, more than once, that Vines is on some level “feminine space”—in the same sense that a parlor with nice furniture is feminine. You are expected to use your manners here; this is not a sports bar with a concrete floor that can be bleached and hosed off. Keep your feet off the furniture; use your “indoors” voice. Buckets of beer are not available. There are no televisions, so there are no flickering images of sweating athletes, no corrupt politicians and “shouting guys,” and no shoot-em-up cop shows. No strobelike TV commercials to agitate your mind. No wonder it feels serene.

One of my favorite memories of last winter was the night of January 11, a Friday night, when we got an exceptionally heavy, wet snowfall starting in mid-afternoon. Lorie had mentioned that Fridays were her slowest night, and as the snow accumulated, and moving cars gone from the streets, I peered out my window to see if Vines was even open. Her light was on. So Sue and I walked our one hundred steps through the snow, opened the door, and stamped the snow off our boots: “Are you really open? We didn’t want you to not have any customers!” So the three of us sat together, enjoying wine and chatting . . . about the neighborhood, about art, about ideas; about people; telling our stories . . . as the snow accumulated and the blue sky turned to deep midnight snow-cloud gray. It was well after closing time when we walked back home. And we had had a terrific time.

Vines is a place to not take yourself too seriously. It’s a place to enjoy life, cherish your friends, and cultivate new ones.

Although some people seem to think wine is a beverage for snobs, and use it to pretend they are somehow upperclass, I’ve read recently that wine has a very long history of being viewed as a “civilizing” beverage, compared to beer and especially to hard liquor. Wine asks to be examined, swirled, tasted, contemplated . . . sipped again. It inspires conversation, creativity, ideas, and sociality. Indeed, apparently Thomas Jefferson himself—our city’s namesake—believed this was so. How appropriate for Vines on Broadway to offer its tasty, friendly, civilized, social atmosphere to our City of Jefferson.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Jefferson City Tornado

Hi, folks, an overdue post about the tornado that struck Jefferson City at about 11:30 p.m. on May 22. I wrote the following the day after the event, while I was still in a daze. It’s based on something I shared with my peeps on Facebook, but mainly, I think it served as a way to kind of deal with what I’d witnessed.

Merely witnessed; I had no direct damage, thank goodness, but it’s still a shock. We humans kinda base our everyday lives on certain things being solid, unchangeable. Like stone or brick buildings you see every day, and large trees. In about five or ten minutes, those were drastically changed.

It was especially—ironic? I’m scared to use that term anymore—because the afternoon of the tornado, just hours before it happened, Sue and I had met a friend at Sapphire’s restaurant, at the top of the Doubletree hotel (a place I rarely go). Unless you score a trip to the top of the Capitol, Sapphire’s is probably the best view you can get of downtown Jeff City. And so we had taken a few moments to walk from window to window, admiring the view, commenting on how Jeff has become more beautified in the past fifteen or twenty years. Yes, ironic is the term.

One more note: My photos are from May 26, when Sue and I finally drive around to gawk at the devastation. We waited until the streets were cleared of debris and officially open. By that time, most homes with major damage had had their windows boarded up and roofs covered with tarps—looking over the city, a patchwork of plastic blue tarps and twisted, shredded tree trunks dominated the stricken parts of the town.

At the end, I share a link to a news helicopter video that shows lots of the devastation. It starts with images of the Capitol covered with plastic—the plastic has been there for months, as they’re doing major renovation to the dome. The helicopter news team was from St. Louis, so they obviously didn't know the Capitol was find. So it doesn’t represent tornado damage, FYI. Thankfully, the Capitol escaped the tornado.

May 23, 2019

Thanks, everyone, for checking in with me. It’s just more than 12 hours after the tornado as I write this. I haven't spent much time on social media today. Whenever I look at Facebook, I’m overwhelmed by the photos and videos of destruction. And each time I go out in our yard, I see bits of soggy fiberglass insulation, crumpled siding, and other detritus that got sucked up from the areas that got blasted and then rained down on our street.

But Sue and I, and most of our immediate neighborhood, have come through the tornado just fine.

Oddly, last night we were mostly concerned about an apparent tornado that was moving across northern Boone County, and we were concerned for my parents.

When the sirens sounded, we headed downstairs out of a sense of duty. There, we watched TV weather coverage on my laptop. Oddly, as the big line of storms swept from west to east across the weather radar, we were mostly concerned about an apparent tornado that was moving across northern Boone County, and we were concerned for my parents, who live in northeast Columbia. But once that had passed well north of them, it seemed the worst was over. The “blobs” heading toward us, from the west and south, seemed not very intense, plus, they ALWAYS divide in two before they reach us: one blob always veers north, the other south. So we headed back upstairs. I actually got into bed. Then the sirens sounded again—this time, it was headed at us.

This time, we put Patches and Lois in their kitty carriers and took them into the basement, and we got Mac to follow us down there, too. We grabbed flashlights and set up chairs between the furnaces and the workbench. Again, we watched the local TV coverage, with increasing anxiety as we heard things like “Confirmed tornado at Brazito, heading toward the south side of Jefferson City along Highway 54”—Well, we live in the “Southside,” and Highway 54 was basically straight in our direction—indeed, straight at the heart of town, including the state capitol building.

The storm got gradually worse; we heard that the tornado was verified by sight by a trained spotter on the ground. The tornado was at 54 and 179. We looked out our basement door: it was pretty windy, but I’ve seen it worse (indeed, I think it was worse on Tuesday, when it blew one of our storm windows into a room and shattered it on the floor). But, you know . . . sheets of rain, strong winds, the crisp tinkling sound of small hail. (I think.) Then the lights went out at the height of the storm. And so our Internet went out, too.

From our perspective, it never seemed more than any other big storm, with strong winds and drenching sheets of rain. We sat there, between the furnaces and the workbench, listening to the kitties paw at their carriers, trying not to think how bad it could be—and then it was over. It seemed to stop rather abruptly, and we were left there with our flashlights on, thinking, "well—was that it?" How do you know when it’s over?

We learned, bit by bit, that the tornado had gone through the city south and east of us, missing the very center of town, with us included. We were very lucky. We crept back upstairs to free our kitties and try to sleep. It was clear that something had happened. Our electricity was out all night, but cars and emergency vehicles kept going by.

Sleep was next to impossible; we heard sirens pretty much all night on the 50/63 Expressway (which passes one block north of our house), and there were lots of cars and trucks zooming up and down Broadway. The air in the house was heavy and warm, but we didn't want to open the windows with the sporadic rain. With our electricity out, we didn't know the extent of the destruction elsewhere in the city. A friend texted me with some initial news about destruction. Simonson school "destroyed," Reilly Chevrolet "destroyed," police station, hospital without power. It was starting to feel Dada. I managed to get some sleep, probably starting around 2 a.m.

At around 4:45 a.m., the electricity came back on: Yay! I got up and turned off a bunch of lights that had been on when the power went off. Then, as I stepped back into the bedroom, the power went out again. It was confusing: wait, did the power just go off again? Really? . . . Or did I just dream it had come back on? What?

The power came back on for good at about 5:30, and starting about then, it was nonstop texts and phone calls from family and friends, and with the electricity back on, I could see the press announcements and the videos . . . and there seemed to be helicopters everywhere.

So it’s been a Dada day. Didn't get much sleep, so I feel achy and crusty, and it's mostly been overcast, so it could be 7 a.m. now or it could be noon or even 7 p.m. Considering our immediate area is pretty okay (look at it this way: we have some potted plants in our yard that ALWAYS fall over in ANY wind, and last night they never fell over)—still, this morning I noticed random soggy fragments of fiberglass insulation here and there on the ground, and shiny crumpled-up pieces of siding; I wondered, "Is that part of what used to be Riley Chevrolet? Or maybe it's part of Community Christian Church, or the Sonic, or Braun’s storage units, or maybe it came clear from Brazito . . ."

And life goes on, in its weird way. I went for coffee at Three Story on Dunklin and there were people there, texting like crazy and dazed but talking agitatedly about the mayhem on Jackson Street. Dunklin, just past the next intersection, was blocked off, with law enforcement officials there telling people not to go through.

And this morning the air conditioning guy came over for routine maintenance (because why not), and then suddenly our water stopped, and soon the water company was on the corner fooling with the hydrant, so now that's working again.

I kind of know how this goes—I was in Columbia for the 1998 Southridge tornado, and my workplace was on LeMone Boulevard, which was hit hard, and I had to go there and remove anything that I might possibly need for, like, who knows how long, since I’d have to work at home. I remember the blobs of soggy fiberglass on the sidewalk—they give me flashbacks—and the flapping roof and siding that had been peeled off the building like the lid of a sardine can, the quiet, disheveled dead sparrows in the parking lot, the fallen florescent light fixtures sagging into the hallway, dangling by their electrical conduits. I remember carrying my office plants into my car, thinking it weird how some stuff survives perfectly fine, and other stuff is utterly blasted away. It’s a damn convincing argument for Dumb Luck.

I'm feeling pretty sick for my friends and everyone else on Capitol Avenue and all the other places in town that have suffered staggering destruction. Those people have spent decades repairing and shining and polishing those fabulous, famous, beautiful homes, fighting tooth and nail to pull the rest of their avenue upward with them—and they formed a True Community in the process. All their heart and hard work . . . blasted. Someone wrote that Capital Avenue is Jefferson City's “front porch.” They are the heart and soul of our city’s movers and shakers. Many core people in the local historic preservation community have properties there. For the sake of our town, I hope they can repair those gems, because our CITY will be greatly diminished without them.

I also feel very sorry for the many, many people displaced from the modest and run-down homes—the homes they won't show on the news—many of them renters, without savings, whose entire fortune (such as it is) amounts to the possessions in their homes. Many of these people must certainly lack insurance and the savvy to figure out how to cope financially with what's happened to them, and their much simpler problem will be: Here we go again, back to square one, where we've basically always been.

And I feel sorry for everyone in between—aching arms, shoulders, backs, and hearts, tossing things into boxes, hoping some of it can be cleaned up and saved. People suddenly unable to get around town, now that their car is, like, totaled, or upside down. People tramping back and forth through carpet soggy with a friend's blood, moving their valuables to safety. You never think it's REALLY going to happen to your town . . .