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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Free Beer

My days run together sometimes.

I know I'm not alone in this. For many it's tough to remember exactly what we did on Monday, or perhaps it was Tuesday.

My days are varied in the stories, events and weather I cover, sure... but for the most part it's a lot of the same.

I come in and a tear off in my second office, the white Ford Explorer that has started to smell like my house. 

I see the same things, trees... a bridge... 

miles and miles of interstate.

road signs, lights.



I saw a guy holding a sign that said "Free Beer."

Could this be a trick? Kinda like the email SPAM  I've been getting lately about free trips to Djibouti, perhaps it was a trap.

With total disregard for anything, including my limbs, I hooked a U-turn and pulled into the parking lot where this dude was holding this sign.

"Free beer?" 

"Yep. Inside."

I went inside, it was a hair salon. The Hair Razer salon on San Jose in Mandarin. There was no gimmick, no request for a blood sample and my social security number. 

It was just two nice ladies, a mother-daughter team, who offered me a beer.

I didn't even need to buy a haircut.

"No way, if you come in we figure you could use a beer," said Kathy Belson, the mother and owner of the salon.

I didn't drink the Bud Light. I was on the clock.

But it was about the principal... I COULD have. 

Then I asked them why. Why would you do this? No one just hands out a beer and expects nothing in return.

Turns out they had been through some rough times about 7 years ago, times that could have called for a beer.

Kathy and her daughter Lacinda have been cutting hair together for more than 13 years. Seven and Hair Razers, the rest of the time at a salon owned by someone else right around the corner.

"We got a call the day after Thanksgiving from a customer asking us what happened," Lacinda told me. She said they ran into work, they were supposed to be off that day, and found the place boarded up. Lights out. 

They had nothing. Not even a cool one. 

"So we didn't panic," Lacinda said. "We found this place and a week later we opened up without even a dollar to our names."

But they didn't do it alone. Their loyal customers, who had been visiting them for years, showed up to help.

"We didn't have hot water, so we had a customer who fixed that."

"There was carpet in here, so another customer came in and put in flooring for us."

"A customer even helped us put up the sign."

So, simply saying thank you didn't seem like enough to them.

"How 'bout a beer?" Kathy thought.

The beer is a way for her to say thanks. And she's been doing it for seven years. 

"I treat this place like it's my home, and if someone walked into my house, the first thing I'm going to do is ask if they want a drink."

And even though a few weeks from now I may not remember that it was a Thursday that I did this story, when ever I drive that stretch of road from now on i'll certainly remember being thirsty. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Forget the Radio... Dial-A-Carol

Today's story started on a dare.

My wife has a tendency to challenge me to things from time to time, so after seeing a random phone number on a Facebook status she threw down the gauntlet.

"You have to call them," she said.

The number: (217)332-1882

The Facebook status said to call the number and request the person who answers it to sing any Christmas song you can think of.

So we did it and video taped it on my cell phone.

That's legit... wife's even holding the phone.

But it's not like I was prank calling someone in the middle of the night demanding the Grinch song. They were totally expecting it.

There are a group of students at the University of Illinois who spend the week of finals locked in a dorm room. But they aren't studying, they're singing Christmas songs called in and requested by people from all over the world. Including me.

"I was bored during finals week and I started singing," said senior Curtis Peterson.

He's one of the couple dozen students who volunteer in shifts to sing. They're answering calls 24/7, not for any other cause but holiday happiness.

"It's spreading Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear," Peterson said.

It's a tradition at school that's in its 51st year. Peterson says they'll get thousands of calls.

"We've been called from England, India, Jordan, Japan," he said it's domestic too. "We've gotten calls from all 50 states."

So what the heck does this have to do with Jacksonville? Well nothing really... it's just an awesome way for anyone to get a quick laugh, it's free (save for long distance charges) and they're happy to chit-chat with you about the experience. And unless the phones start ringing like crazy, they stop singing tonight (Wednesday) at midnight.

One more time: (217)332-1882


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's All About The Kids!

It's very rare that I get serious here on the blog, so I'll do my best here. 

Some of my best memories, and I know I'm not alone here, are of waking up on Christmas morning. I remember not being able to sleep the night before, I remember running and waking my parents up way too early in the morning.

I remember opening presents, specifically I remember getting my first guitar (I can't play it, but I still love that giant dust collector in my guest room). That was an awesome Christmas.

I know I'm not alone here. This is something that most of us share, a joy that most of us get each year.

Key word: Most.

There are so many families that aren't going to be able to pull Christmas gifts off this year. More now than ever, there are families that must choose heating their home, or getting the bare essentials instead of things for the tree.

Of course, having a roof over our heads, a warm home and food on the table is more than enough to be thankful for right now. 

However, it's so nice, especially for the kids, to have just a little bit extra on Christmas morning.

I bring this all up because there's a local music engineer and recording studio owner who is doing his best, and using his talents to give as much as possible back to families who could use just a little help to make their children's Christmas a bit brighter.

"The idea was born out of the understanding that the Christmas time, the holiday time can be either the happiest or the saddest time of year."

That's a quote Jim Stafford gave me during our interview for this story. He owns Eclipse Recording Studio in St. Augustine. He just finished his album "Happy Holidays From The Heart." It's a collection of original and traditional Christmas and Hannukah songs written and performed by local musicians as well as a couple national acts.

He does all this for free. Any money that comes in for the CDs, all of it, goes to the Empty Stocking Fund.

As a musician myself (I play drums, like I said the guitar thing didn't work out), I can appreciate how much of a gift he is giving. I was in a band throughout high school and a little bit of college... and I remember researching costs to make a demo CD for our group.

A lot of places prices were in the $300-$400 and hour range. 

Well, I'm not sure what Stafford's rates are... but he spends 16-18 hours a day working on this album each year, and it's a project he works on year 'round.

Stafford is driven. He's seen friends struggle this time of year, when, as he says, "All emotions are amplified."

And there's no point to even ask about the money he's giving up in order to make these albums.

"The reward is very simple. When you wake up on Christmas morning knowing someone has a smile on their face who probably wouldn't have, that's tremendous."

"You got St. Nick and then you've got St. Jim."

That's from singer/song writer David "Eli" Grimes. He's from right outside of St. Augustine, in fact you can click here for a story I did with him in the past.

Eli is one of the artists who helped out with the CD. He wrote and recorded "A Special Christmas Memory" for the album.

"I just think about who's getting helped out every time I listen to it," Grimes said.

So here's where you can get a copy of the CD, these are all stores in the St. Augustine area:

Music Matters
High Tide Gallery
Simple Gestures
Sea Bridge Landing
The St. Augustine Record (newspaper)

You can also go to the Eclipse Recording Studio or call to buy a copy (904)794-1872.

Finally, I've got a box of about 50 of these on my desk at the First Coast News station in downtown Jacksonville... you can come by and ask for me or email me lewisturner@firstcoastnews.com and I'll be glad to hook you up. They're $15, but remember, every dime is helping out a little kid have a special Christmas memory.

Here's the video story I did with them that aired on Wednesday.

Thanks for anything you can do...