Results tagged ‘ Return to the Road ’

Return to the Road: The Road Ends in Portland

For the last two and a half months, when time has allowed, I’ve written “Return to the Road” posts detailing my non-ballpark traveling experiences during the 2015 season. Today, that series of posts ends with this, a brief account of my time in Portland, Maine.

I arrived in Maine’s most populous city on the evening of September 3, and the next afternoon I had a couple of hours to spare before heading on over to the Sea Dogs’ home of Hadlock Field. Given that this would be my only full day in Maine, I felt like I almost had no choice but to get some lobster. After a thorough research effort (okay, an overwhelming Yelp consensus might have had something to do with it), I chose to visit Fishermen’s Grill.

IMG_0417In the above photograph, the Fishermen’s Grill looks impossibly tiny, kind of like the restaurant version of floor 7 1/2 in Being John Malkovich. But I made it inside, all 68 inches of me, and ordered a “lobstah” roll. Given my gluten-free obligations, I chose the option in which the lobster was served separate from the bread. There was a specific term for this option, but it now eludes me. I’ll call it the “Celiac Compromise.”

The lobster — tender, generously portioned, dipped in butter — was fantastic.

IMG_0415Afterwards I went for a brief stroll in Mayor Baxter Woods. When I came to a fork in the road, I took it.

IMG_0418I then took a short drive to Portland’s downtown, where parking was an ordeal. Finally finding a space for my (rented) Dodge Charger represented a moment of triumph so profound that I documented it for posterity.

IMG_0421The statue in the below photo is reads “PORTLAND: To Her Sons Who Died for the Union.” I like that the dude on the right accidentally snuck into the shot, representing Bob Marley to the fullest on this late summer afternoon.

IMG_0422While parking was tough in Portland’s downtown, the flip side was that it was good for pedestrians.

IMG_0423I’m a big fan of Little Lad’s popcorn, whose “herbal” variety is available here in New York City. Therefore, I was happy to have stumbled upon the Little Lad’s Cafe, which had a plethora of Little Lad’s flavors I had not previously enjoyed. (That said, the original “Herbal” flavor remains my favorite.)

IMG_0426Time was running out (time always seems to be running out while I’m on the road), but I was able to squeeze in one last record store visit. In addition to LPs, Electric Buddha had a variety of old video games as well as a nicely-curated selection of pop culture detritus.

IMG_0425I focused my energy on the records, per usual, and among those I walked away with was “Early Steppenwolf.” This 1967 live LP has since blown my mind to an extent I wasn’t expecting.

And, hey, that’s all I’ve got, as my 2015 road trip posts are now 100% complete. I ended the season looking like this; expect a leaner, meaner and cleaner Ben’s Biz in 2016.

IMG_04132016 ballpark trip schedule coming soon. Hope to see you on the road!

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Return to the Road: Keeping Vermont Weird

Yesterday’s post detailed my thirst-quenching visit to the Burlington, Vermont headquarters of Citizen Cider. That was just one element of a whirlwind weekend in and around Vermont’s most populous city,  a weekend which also included a Vermont Lake Monsters game.

I spent said weekend with my cousin, Ali, and her family, who live in nearby Hinesburg. I arrived on the evening of Friday, July 10, after a downright idyllic ride on Amtrak’s “Vermonter” line. The next morning I participated in my first-ever 5K race, and it was a 5K with a distinctly Vermont flair: The Brain Freezer.

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At the halfway point of the Brain Freezer, participants had to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. (Hence, the “Run, Pint, Run” tagline.) Really, though, my primary concern was with “run” part of the equation. In my youth I was a real skinny and naturally in-shape; my 30s, on the other hand, had (until recently) been characterized by a slow descent into a sloth-like state.

The race — proceeds of which benefited the People Helping People Global micro-lending organization — began in Burlington’s Battery Park. The “competitive” runners were lined up in the front. I, meanwhile, was a “Fun Runner” (an oxymoron, if I’ve ever heard one).

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I ran the race with Ali and her son, Jason. Always prepared, she had obtained green “Keep Vermont Weird” shirts for all three of us as well as armbands which could hold our ice cream spoons.

I’m in the right hand portion of the below photo, huffing and puffing between Ali and Jason and already desirous of a nap.

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My apologies for the brain freeze, but I don’t have any photos of the actual ice cream-eating portion of the race. The pints were handed out on a downtown city street, and I opted for a Cherry Garcia as it was the only gluten-free option. It was pretty much on the honor system, as regards eating the whole thing before continuing. I didn’t, and am sorry for sullying the sanctity of the Brain Freeze’s core premise.

Maybe I should have an asterisk after my name (denoting pint consumption failure), but I did finish the race. Jason overtook me at the end; finishing 221st out of 297. I then came in 222nd with a less-than-inspiring time of 42:45.

freezer3The following day, Vermont got even weirder. Weird Al Yankovic, one of my all-time personal heroes, played a show at the Flynn Theater in downtown Burlington.

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Before the show I enjoyed a “Wit’s Up” Citizen Cider.

IMG_1602Ali and I also had time to poke around the excellent Burlington Records. There were a lot of off-the-beaten path weirdo vibe records in the used bin, and I know I bought a few but can’t remember what. Next season, I’m gonna keep a record store log.

IMG_1603And then — Weird Al!

11698768_10207553734507235_7695033495968297565_oThis marked the sixth time I’ve seen Weird Al, and never in the same place twice (Red Bank, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Glenside, Pennsylvania; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Oakland, California; Burlington, Vermont). The one constant is that he puts on an awesome show, full of costume changes and multi-media elements and a start-to-finish commitment to each and every song and routine.

The Flynn is an intimate and classy venue, and Ali had scored us some great seats.

IMG_1605One of the most unique elements of Al’s “Mandatory Fun” tour is that, at each stop, he opens the show with a rendition of “Tacky that starts with him outside the venue and ends on the stage. Footage from the Burlington show is at the 1:15 mark in the below video, but the whole thing is very much worth watching. It’s one of many examples of Al’s total commitment to each and every detail of the performance.

Anyhow, another massive leg of the “Mandatory Fun” tour begins in June and ends in September. He’s making stops at many Minor League markets, but I’ll be at the tour-concluding show at Radio City Music Hall on September 24. Sorry to come off like such a fanboy here, but I’ve been a Weird Al fan for a very long time.

alDare To Be Stupid.

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Return to the Road: New England Fun Spots

Opening Day is less than three weeks away. Believe me, I am aware. But before debuting my 2016 road trip itineraries (coming soonish!), I’d like to finish my series of 2015 “Return to the Road” posts. (These posts, as you probably know, highlight my non-ballpark road trip experiences.)

My fifth and final road trip of the season was a late August/early September jaunt through New England. As you can see, the Vermont Lake Monsters trip was actually a one-off stop in July, but I’m going to write about it as if it was part of this itinerary. It’ll all make sense in the end.

neFrom Norwich to New Britain to Lowell to Pawtucket, this trip was a blur. Regarding those cities I have nothing in my files regarding anything that happened outside the ballpark. It was simply a matter of keeping one foot in front of the other as I mixed metaphors while bouncing from one place to the next.

The only random picture I have from those first four days is this selfie, taken at a Vietnamese restaurant somewhere in the vicinity of Lowell.

Beautiful.

IMG_0320The narrative, such as it is, begins on the morning of September 2. I woke up in Providence, where I stayed after having seen the PawSox the previous evening.

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IMG_0362Early that afternoon, I met my friend Jake for lunch. We were comedy scene pals in NYC, but he abandoned me in favor of pursuing a modeling career in Rhode Island. Go figure.

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Jake and I grabbed lunch from one of the food trucks set up in downtown’s Kennedy Plaza, and then took a seat in this rather idyllic wooded environment.

IMG_0363After lunch, we checked out the local waterways.

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IMG_0366Our time together was brief. Jake had to rush off to a photo shoot, and I had to make my way to Manchester, New Hampshire.

Before leaving Providence, I checked out the site of the proposed downtown ballpark that would replace Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium. For myriad reasons, this plan has since been abandoned.

What could have been

What could have been

I saw a New Hampshire Fisher Cats game on the night of September 2. The following afternoon, before leaving town, I made a pit stop at a local record store.

IMG_0389Unfortunately, The Music Connection was closed. But now I know where I’m celebrating my next birthday.

IMG_0390I had better luck later on in the day, when I swung by Pitchfork Records in Concord, New Hampshire.

IMG_0396Pitchfork Records had a ramshackle, curmudgeonly vibe. I know I bought something, but, at this late juncture, I can’t remember what it was. Just know that if I bought it, then it had to have been good.

IMG_0398Deeper into the evening, I made a pit stop in Laconia, New Hampshire. You wouldn’t know it by looking at this particular photo, but this building houses one of the world’s largest collections of classic video games.

IMG_0402I had arrived at Funspot, the iconic arcade that was prominently featured in the 2007 documentary King of Kong. Being a weeknight in September, the place was kinda dead.

IMG_0401My photos do not do Funspot justice, but for people of a certain age it is a major nostalgia trip. For people of a younger age than those of a certain age, it is a blast from an unknown and now largely incomprehensible past. Coin-op is dead. Long live coin-op.

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A tribute to Keith Apicary, video game legend:

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And this, I assume, is a tribute to a Minor League Baseball legend:

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I skipped the miniature golf.

IMG_0405But I did try my hand at candlepin bowling. Unlike standard “10 Pin” bowling, the balls and pins are much smaller.

IMG_0410Though I’m a fairly decent bowler, my candlepin efforts were abysmal. You get much less pin action than with “normal” bowling, and I could not get in any sort of rhythm. I was also confused by the fact that one gets three rolls per frame, but a spare only counts if all the pins are knocked down in the second shot. I didn’t get any spares.

Afterwards, I was too frustrated to join — or start — the party.

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Return to the Road: Nashville Sights Before Nashville Sounds

Yesterday’s post detailed my visit to Nashville’s Third Man Records. Upon the conclusion of this late morning jaunt, Tyler and I swung by Gabby’s Burgers for lunch. (Tyler, as you may recall, is a Nashville local who, among other life accomplishments, served as my designated eater at that evening’s Sounds game.)

I was familiar with Gabby’s Burgers, having already visited there (thanks to a reader tip) during my 2013 visit to Nashville. I was happy to be back.

IMG_0180I must have taken the above picture after leaving Gabby’s, as when we got there there was a line out the door. It’s an unassuming place — get your place in line, place your order, find a place to sit, wait for your number to be called, retrieve foodstuffs, consume.  IMG_0176Regarding the “Answers to Common Questions” on the wall above the grill, my favorite is the second from the right:

NO

We don’t serve beer. 

I just don’t want to deal with the headaches.

Being gluten-free (I have celiac disease, remember?), it can be tough to get a good burger on the road. But at Gabby’s, you simply have to order it jazz-style. Nothing quite connotes the improvisatory, exploratory nature of jazz quite like meat wrapped in a lettuce bun.

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Anyhow, these burgers (and fries) are great — greasy (but not too greasy), salty, well-seasoned, decently-proportioned and all-in-all satisfying. If you’re in Nashville I’d highly recommend a trip to Gabby’s, which sits in the shadow of the Sounds former Greer Stadium home.

After lunch, I parted ways with Tyler and poked around downtown Nashville for a bit. IMG_0181The Bridgestone Arena, home of the Predators, has a separate entrance for a what I assume is a sizable portion of the fan base.

IMG_0182Here’s the arena, in full part:

IMG_0183My wanderings soon brought me to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

IMG_0184My take:

I would have loved to spend a few hours at the CMOF (that’s what people call it, right?), but the time I had available didn’t justify the required expenditure. It would have been great to learn about Taylor Swift at the Taylor Swift Education Center, for instance.

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No caption, just a Blank Space

Basically, I just wandered around the Country Music Hall of Fame lobby. Or, as I like to call it, a spacious atrium.

IMG_0189Hatch Show Print, an iconic Nashville print shop, is located on the premises. Vintage baseball advertisements were among the many things for sale.

IMG_0187For lack of a better term, they were also selling hipster Bibles.

IMG_0186I ended up buying these two classic CDs at the CMOF gift shop.

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The clerk told me that he used to play Rubber Room at closing time as a way to clear people out of the store. To each his own, I guess. I’d never leave when this is playing.

Back outside, I admired statues.

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IMG_0194I would have visited this museum devoted to Johnny, but I didn’t have the…money.

IMG_0196The John Seigenthaler pedestrian bridge is anything but, as it offers great views of the Nashville skyline. (Previously known as the Shelby Street Bridge, the structure was renamed in honor of journalist and first amendment crusader John Seigenthaler.)

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Storm clouds were beginning to roll through, an ominous sign for that night’s scheduled baseball action (the game was called in the second inning).

IMG_0198Finally, I hoofed it on over to Broadway. This is the most touristy section of the city, what Beale Street is to Memphis. With time running out, I decided to make a brief stop at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop.

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This establishment has a great marquee, and the display at the back of the store (an homage to the still-ongoing Midnight Jamboree) adds a lot of character.

IMG_0205But as for the records themselves, this store was lousy. Understocked, with a selection comprised of overpriced (and generally not hard to find elsewhere) CDs.

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But I don’t want to end on a negative note. I loved being in Nashville, and this is the only way I’ll rag on such a great city.

Thanks for reading this penultimate series of “Return to the Road” posts. There’s still more to come in that regard (from my New England trip), which should segue nicely into the reveal of my 2016 travel itinerary.

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Return to the Road: Third Man, a First Person Account

August 4, the final day of my sprawling ballpark road trip through the South, was spent in Nashville. My primary objective in the Music City was to check out First Tennessee Park, the new home of the Nashville Sounds. Stadium visits are always the primary objective.

But the secondary objective, as always, was to explore the city to the extent my limited time frame allowed. In this regard, I received a major assist from Tyler Glaser. Tyler, who works at Grimey’s Records as well as the historic Belcourt Theatre, had volunteered to be my designated eater at that evening’s Sounds game. Utilizing some local connections, he also set up a tour of Third Man Records. Third Man is the music shop/record label/house of curiosities/recording studio/performance space established by Jack White. The company began in Detroit; the Nashville branch opened in 2009.

Third Man is located on 7th Avenue South, in a rather unassuming location.

001 (2)The open-to-the-public portion of Third Man consists of two rooms.

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005Restoring turn-of-the-20th century coin-op entertainment is a Third Man specialty.

This is the Scopitone, which plays music videos on 16mm sound film. Third Man co-founder Ben Blackwell, who gave Tyler and me a tour, said that this is the only Scopitone in operation and that they had to “Frankenstein it together.” He went on to say that maintaining it is a “nightmare.”

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16mm films at the base of the Scopitone:

IMG_0170“Fully automatic” Photobooth:

IMG_0173This is the “Voice-o-Graph.” One can step inside and record anything they want direct to vinyl. Blackwell said that customers do “marriage proposals, jokes, whatever.” More ambitiously, Neil Young recorded his 2014 LP A Letter Home on the Voice-O-Graph. And let’s not forget that Weird Al and his band stopped by and recorded this.

Records, all released by the Third Man label, are available as well. (I, forever and always, am a fan of Mudhoney.)

008Blackwell described the whole Third Man operation as “Simple DIY on a large scale.” Our tour continued throughout the entire facility, but unfortunately cameras were no longer allowed. The “Hipster Willy Wonka” vibe (as I heard one person refer to it as) continued throughout. We passed thorough a graphic design station (staffed by four full-time designers) and a recording studio featuring live direct-to-acetate recordings. If my notes are to be believed, the studio uses a Rupert Neve 5008 console and the signal is sent to a 1955 Scully Lathe.

The musicians who record at Third Man set up in a literal “Blue Room”, augmented by soft lighting, carpets and taxidermy.

Ben’s Biz solo record, coming soon:

thirdmanphoto My notes include a lot of other interesting tidbits from my time at Third Man, but a lot of it is out of context and kinda hard to convey without accompanying photos. A few random notes:

— The operation is bigger than it looks from the outside. Third Man Nashville has grown from two to 27 employees since it opened in 2009, and has expanded to include the building next door (which had been an auto body shop).

— All Third Man Record order fulfillment is done in house; when Jack White’s Lazaretto LP came out they shipped 25,000 in a single week.

— A “super-top secret” master tape storage room is located on the premises, climate-controlled and fire-proof. In the (increasingly likely) advent of the apocalypse, it’s possible that Third Man recordings will survive and perhaps even thrive in a post-human reality.

Anyhow, thanks to Tyler for setting up the tour and Ben for showing us around.

010

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Return to the Road: I Went to Jackson, and That’s a Natural Fact

On August 2 I visited the Mississippi Braves, who play outside of Jackson, Mississippi. I bypassed that particular Jackson entirely, however, in favor of its Tennessee counterpart. Jackson, Tennessee, is perhaps best known in pop culture via the country duet “Jackson“, an exemplar of marital dysfunction and misplaced masculine confidence. The tune wasn’t written with any particular Jackson in mind but has since become most associated with Tennessee. In 1967 it was recorded by both Johnny and June Carter Cash and Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Both versions are stellar (though make me choose one and it’ll be Nancy and Lee every time).

After witnessing August 3’s Jackson Generals game, I had a little time to poke around the next afternoon before moving on to Nashville. So, I poked. Said poking soon brought me to the Madison County Courthouse; the monument seen on the right is dedicated “To the CONFEDERATE DEAD of Madison Co.”

IMG_0145On the courthouse lawn stands my favorite historical plaque of all time. It made me laugh for a couple minutes straight, and over the last six months it has continued to make me laugh at semi-regular intervals.

IMG_0150The First United Methodist Church, which boasts an interesting history, is located nearby.

IMG_0153It was now (past) lunchtime. I needed to get a meal in Jackson before heading out of the city. The West Alley BBQ and Smokehouse was just a short walk away; how could I argue with that?

IMG_0158I stopped by West Alley on a Tuesday afternoon, and the place was nearly deserted. This certainly looks like more of a late-night, party-oriented live music kind of environment. I wish I could have experienced it as such.

IMG_0155Nonetheless, the atmosphere was very welcoming. The waitress, a young African-American woman whose name I unfortunately cannot recall, pulled up a seat next to me and made various menu recommendations while asking where I was from and what had brought me there.

I went with the rib platter.

IMG_0156West Alley only has 11 Yelp reviews and 13 on TripAdvisor, so from an internet-based perspective it’s a bit of an unknown. But the guest book was loaded with accolades from out-of-town guests, and I was happy to add my own.  IMG_0157After making my feelings known, I had to split.

IMG_0159Goodbye, Jackson.

IMG_0160And hello, open road. Soon enough, I found myself at one of our nation’s greatest rest areas.

IMG_0162I also ended up in traffic next to Ted Cruz’s tour bus. This marked the only time in my life in which I was to the right of Ted Cruz.

IMG_0163Somewhere on the way to Nashville, there was a massive AT&T outage. My destination had been (predictably) a local record store, but with maps and internet down on my phone I had no idea how to get there. It made me feel like a helpless baby, unable to function in a world without a smartphone, and served as a reminder to always have my destination written down as well as a supply of relevant maps.

While aimlessly driving around the city’s downtown, I stopped outside of the Tennessee Titans’ Nissan Stadium to recalibrate. I don’t find stadiums, they find me.

IMG_0164Finally, after much trial and error, I made it to my location: Grimey’s Records (and the adjacent Grimey’s Too).

IMG_0166At Grimey’s I met Tyler Glaser, who was to be my designated eater at the following evening’s Nashville Sounds game. But, prior to that, he had set up a visit to Jack White’s Third Man Records. That will be detailed in the next post in this series.

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Return to the Road: History en route to Mississippi

Once again, it is time to return to the road. This latest round of posts detail my late July/early August journey through a not-inconsiderable portion of the South. The previous installment detailed my time in the general area of Biloxi. Today we begin in Mobile, Alabama, home of the BayBears.

As is too often the case on my jam-packed road trips, I didn’t really have any time to explore Mobile. (I had the time when I was there in 2010, however).

Anyhow, here’s a picture taken from an elevated location.

IMG_0092And…that’s about all I have for Mobile. I was actively mobile throughout my entire stay and didn’t really have the time to take pictures. Early the next afternoon, before leaving town, I set my coordinates for a Vietnamese restaurant. Along the way, however, I saw this.

IMG_0094As a big fan of mudbugs — or crawfish, or crayfish, or whatever you want to call them — I felt compelled to alter my plans and stop in for lunch. However, I got confused and ordered a platter off of the “fried” menu instead of the “fresh.” This would be a mistake under any circumstances, but doubly so for me given my (unwanted but necessary) gluten-free reality.

After staring at this brown mound with a mixture of shock and horror, I left the restaurant in a state of shame and disgrace.

IMG_0093My bad luck (or, more accurately, ineptitude) continued at a nearby gas station, where a serious of payment issues, gas cap snafus and miscellaneous bloopers led to a prolonged ordeal. At the end of it I was so flustered that a fellow customer had to stop me from driving away with the hood of my car popped open. It was a complicated and embarrassing situation, and that night in my hotel room I recorded a six-minute monologue about it.

I will not share said monologue. Just know that, on the road, I sometimes experience mental meltdowns. But the bad times are more than made up for by the unexpected joys.

Unexpected joys such as finding this unorthodox salt and pepper distribution system in my Montgomery, Alabama hotel room.

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The next day, I left Montgomery (home of the Biscuits) and drove onward to Pearl, Mississippi (home of the Mississippi Braves). As it just so happened (I didn’t even realize it beforehand), my planned Route 80 excursion took me across the Alabama River via the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

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The Edmund Pettus Bridge was the location of one of the most indelible moments of the Civil Rights movement. On “Bloody Sunday” — March 7, 1965 — demonstrators were viciously attacked by police (and recently-deputized legitimized thugs) as they walked the bridge while en route to Montgomery to confront Governor George Wallace about the recent police murder of protester Jimmie Jackson. Two days later, with the nation watching, the demonstrators returned and, this time, were allowed to cross the bridge in peace. These events were powerfully depicted in the 2014 Martin Luther King biopic Selma. 

And there I was, driving across that very same bridge on a sleepy Sunday morning, while en route from one Minor League stadium to another. I pulled over in Selma’s nearly deserted downtown and walked across the bridge, feeling nearly overcome with emotion (including self-loathing, for not ever taking a true risk in service of a greater good). Pettus, a former Alabama governor, was a Grand Dragon in the KKK. And now his name will forever be associated with peaceful protest in service of racial equality.

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Downtown Selma

The Alabama River

The Alabama River

IMG_0120After that welcome pit stop, it was onward toward Pearl. Misunderstanding just how rural the drive would be, I didn’t fill up my tank when I had the chance and almost ran out of gas. I don’t know where this gas station was, but I was very happy to have found it.

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Finally, I made it to Mississippi.

IMG_0123In Mississippi, I found a pork rind that, to my addled brain, looked like baby Jesus’s manger. I shoulda sold it to the Weekly World News. 

IMG_0124Thanks, Truckland.

IMG_0139And thank you, for reading.

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Return to the Road: In the Vicinity of Biloxi

Hello, and welcome to the latest installment of “Return to the Road.” Yesterday’s post detailed a few highlights of my time in New Orleans from July 27-29. On the 29th — a Wednesday, for those keeping score at home — I drove approximately 90 miles northeast to Biloxi. I was in Biloxi for two nights but, unfortunately, spent very little time in the city itself outside of MGM Park and a nearby hotel.

I did poke around the area a little, but let’s back up a bit. During the Shuckers game on the 29th, I met local restaurateur Brad Orrison. He’s the co-owner of The Shed, a barbecue located in nearby Ocean Springs that also has a stand at MGM Park.

Brad Orrison and his little "Shed-Heads."

Brad Orrison and his little “Shed-Heads.”

On the afternoon of July 30, I decided to drive to The Shed. It is a self-consciously ramshackle and very spacious establishment.

IMG_0044A closer look.

IMG_0048Upon entering, you place your order at the counter, and then, take a seat. To pass the time while waiting, you may want to take a dimly-lit photo.

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To my left, there was a live performance area. The Shed is a “Blues and BBQ joint,” and I imagine that it gets pretty lively on nights and especially weekends. Thursday afternoons, not so much.

Here’s a (poorly lit) photo of brisket and baked beans (My fries never arrived, but I decided not to make an issue of it after remembering that I’m too fat as it is).

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I should really keep tasting notes or something, because I’m writing this some seven months later and my memory is hazy regarding how The Shed’s barbecue actually tasted. I recall liking it, but that the meat could have stood to be a little tenderer. In retrospect, I wish I had gotten the ribs, which are the house specialty.

Also during the Shuckers game on the 29th, then-general manager Buck Rogers (now with the Lancaster JetHawks) told me that his favorite barbecue in the area was the burnt ends at Murky Waters. In order to get ’em, though, you had to arrive early. Therefore, on July 31, after checking out of the hotel, I drove back to Ocean Springs.

Murky Waters is in downtown proper, as opposed to The Shed’s more remote Highway 57 location.

IMG_0059I arrived early enough to snag an order of burnt ends. Success!

IMG_0058Burnt ends are the best, in general, and these were particularly good. Soft, fatty. melt-in-your-mouth meat contrasted with a crisp blackened crunch (a description that, metaphorically speaking, could be applied to many of my favorite bands).

Anyhow, Ocean Springs is a picaresque town.

IMG_0060This is the “Tatonut Shop”, specializing in potato flour donuts. I would’ve loved to have tried them, but they were not gluten-free so in lieu of eating I stood forlornly outside and took a picture.

IMG_0061Wandering begot more wandering.

IMG_0062Somewhere in the vicinity of the tree-lined street shown above, I stopped at a local pharmacy to pick up toothpaste and pens (two of my biggest road trip needs). I was quite taken with the store’s selection and decor.

IMG_0072From there, it was just a short drive to some waterfront views.

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IMG_0064My final act in Ocean Springs, as it is in so many of the places that I visit, was to take a picture of a spider in a port-a-potty.

IMG_0067And with that, it was time to bid adieu to coastal Mississippi. Mobile, Alabama, awaited.

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Return to the Road: A Little Time in the Big Easy

Return to the Road 2015: Trip IV, Chapter I

Things are getting busy here at MiLB.com HQ, as the season is now only five weeks away. Therefore, while I still have the sliver of opportunity, I am return to my ongoing “Return to the Road” series of blog posts.

Today marks the first installment in a series of posts that will cover my late July/early August trip through the South. The journey began in New Orleans on July 27th and ended in Nashville on August 6th.

road_trip_shucking_6le23wlkI arrived in New Orleans on July 27th, a day before I was to see the New Orleans Zephyrs. So, I had a little free time. A mini-vacation, if you will. I got a cheap hotel room at the Hotel Royal in the French Quarter (it was a last-minute booking for a Monday night in late July, a great time to get affordable lodging in New Orleans).

The room itself was unremarkable, but the courtyard was great.

IMG_0011I didn’t see any ghosts while I was in New Orleans, but I could occasionally feel them whispering veiled allusions into my subconscious. The whole city is haunted, apparently, to the point where real estate signage actually makes it a selling point.

IMG_0008I don’t think that this waving figure was a ghost, but she definitely wasn’t alive.

IMG_0006I am saddened and embarrassed to report that I didn’t make the most of my “off” night in New Orleans. I was kinda stressed about the trip, and had many logistics to coordinate and writing to get caught up on. When not in the hotel room I just kinda wandered around, including a depressing 90 -minute jaunt amid the claustrophobic clamor of the Bourbon Street tourist traps. I sulked about, hand grenade in hand (drink, not weapon), and soon called it a night.

The next afternoon was better, as I spent a couple of hours with my friends Rachel and D.J. (who live in the city and — hey! — just had a baby. Congrats). They live in Uptown, on a street boasting “only in New Orleans” parking signage.

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Rachel and D.J. took me to Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, a New Orleans institution.

IMG_0017Hansen’s Sno-Bliz sells sno-balls, a New Orleans specialty. They are basically high-quality snow cones, in which flavored syrups are poured atop soft mounds of shaved ice. I was overwhelmed by the number of flavors available.

IMG_0015I don’t remember what I ordered, but it was some sort of combo and Satsuma was involved. It was delicious.

IMG_0016The evening of July 28th was spent with the New Orleans Zephyrs, who are actually located in nearby Metairie. A dedicated “Return to the Road” reader has since informed me that Gram Parsons is buried in Metairie. (The legendary country-rocker died in Joshua Tree, and getting his body back home was, to put it mildly, a complicated situation.)

R.I.P. Gram.

Photo Nov 12 2 18 43 PMMy final act in New Orleans was to have lunch at the Camelia Grill with Rachel and D.J. Behind the stately exterior lies a beloved greasy spoon diner known for its bow-tied wait staff and cramped, communal counter seating.

IMG_0030Thus concludes one of the most ramshackle and arbitrary New Orleans write-ups that has ever graced the internet, as I was soon on to Biloxi. Please, stay tuned. There will be more where this came from, all the way until there isn’t.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Return to the Road: Peanut Country, Pulled Pork and Pittsburgh

Return to the Road 2015: Trip Three, Chapter Two

The previous installment of my “Return to the Road” series of blog posts covered my time in Richmond on June 25 and 26th. On the afternoon of June 26th, I left Richmond and drove straight to Norfolk’s Harbor Park for that evening’s game between the Tides and Toledo Mud Hens. That was a horrible drive. I got stuck in horrific traffic en route to a tunnel whose name I do not care to remember, and by the time I arrived at the ballpark I could barely think coherently.

The next day, my mind had returned to an acceptably functioning state. Before embarking on the 200-mile drive to Lynchburg, I set my coordinates for — you guessed it — a record store. This is The Groove Record Shop, located on the ground floor of a new(ish) apartment building on Granby Street.

IMG_1504I was greeted at The Groove by Paul Levine, the store’s amiable sexagenarian owner. He told me an abbreviated version of that which is explained in this local news article — namely, that the original Groove Record Shop opened in 1949 and was owned by parents, with the store eventually moving to Granby Street. When Levine opened up the “new” Groove in 2014, it marked a triumphant return to Granby Street after a 46-year hiatus.

Why can’t I ever take a good picture when I’m inside a record store?

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The Groove’s overall selection was solid but relatively sparse: All vinyl, both new and used. I picked up a used copy of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” and a slightly damaged early Bob Seger record (“Smokin’ O.P.’s”, which is unfortunately not a reference to on-base plus slugging percentage).

After leaving The Groove, I briefly admired Granby Street’s faded historical signage.

IMG_1507I also noticed that the Granby Theater would be hosting my next special event. Thanks, guys.

IMG_1506It was then time to hit the open road. Within an hour, the landscape had changed greatly. Wakefield, Virginia, is peanut country.

IMG_1508I stopped in at the Peanut Co. and got some brittle.

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Shortly thereafter, I pulled in to the Virginia Diner. Because, you know, it’s a Legend in a Nutshell.

IMG_1510It was too crowded in the diner, however, filled as it was with glassy-eyed peanut devotees. I abandoned my plan to get a meal there, trusting that the road would provide, and it did.

In Waverly, Virginia, I found Cowling’s BBQ.

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This was North Carolina-style barbecue, with a vinegar-based sauce. I prefer a vinegar-based sauce, especially when it’s atop a pile of succulent pulled pork.

IMG_1511After that, things are kind of a blur for the next couple of days. I attended that evening’s (rained-out) Lynchburg Hillcats game, and was on the road the next morning for a pleasant Sunday drive to Salem. After seeing the Salem Red Sox that afternoon, I visited a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I forget the name of this Mexican restaurant, but after doing a little internet research I’m going to guess that it was El Toreo.

At any rate, this is the most absurd amount of food I’ve ever ended up with after placing a single order.

IMG_1531From there, the blur continued. Salem gave way to Potomac, and while I enjoyed visiting the Potomac Nationals I did not enjoy driving around the greater D.C. area.

At all.

I live in NYC, which also has terrible traffic, but the difference is that you can live in NYC without a car. I don’t understand how people can live in suburban D.C. and not have the traffic drive them insane. Their tolerance for daily suffering is greater than mine.

On June 30th I finally left the confines of Virginia, crossing the state line into Maryland en route to West Virginia to see the Black Bears. Along the way, somewhere in Maryland, I stopped at a convenience store and bought the local Dutch delicacy that is the beet egg. (I was already aware of beet eggs as a result of buying one at a Hagerstown Suns game I attended in 2011.)

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Contains: EGGS

Beet eggs are naturally reddish-purple in color, as a result of being pickled in a beet-based brine, but for some reason the eggs I bought listed “red food coloring” as an ingredient. This just makes them redder, I guess.

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After witnessing June 30’s West Virginia Black Bears game, I drove straight to Pittsburgh and arrived late that night. I went to college in Pittsburgh (Pitt, class of 2001) and still have friends there, so this was a good opportunity for a quick visit.

When in Pittsburgh, visiting Jerry’s Records is a must. An absolute must. As I’ve written before (and will write again), it is the world’s greatest record store.

This is the main room of the store, but there are several other rooms and thus plenty more records beyond what can be seen in this picture.

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I contemplated buying this album and sending it to Wisconsin Timber Rattlers broadcaster (and noted ’70s TV aficionado) Chris Mehring. Instead, I just took a picture. I mean, why would one buy a Kojak album instead of watching him on the Telly?

IMG_1569 Speaking of ’70s TV…

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And on and on it goes. Jerry’s is a goldmine, and I bought a bunch of stuff. I won’t bore you with the details. There have been too many of those already.

Thank you for, once again, for returning to the road with me.  I’ve got two more trips left to write about in this manner, which should then lead to the announcement of my 2016 travel itinerary. Is it ever not the season?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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