Results tagged ‘ Return to the Road ’
Well, this is it: after today’s post I am officially out of 2012 in-season content. Be it content supplied by teams or content that I garnered myself while on the road, there just isn’t any more of it left. The next post, whatever it may be, will be covering that which has occurred since the cessation of on-field play.
At this juncture, it would be appropriate to let out a long, terrified scream. I’ll wait.
All that I’ve got left to share is this: an account of my final moments in Vancouver before flying back to the United States. Upon the conclusion of Friday’s “Nooner at the Nat” I had about five hours of free time, and no real idea what to do. And then inspiration struck — I’d hang out aimlessly! So I drove through downtown Vancouver at a snail’s pace (or whatever “snail’s pace” converts to in the metric system) until reaching the glorious swath of public space that is Stanley Park.
This park is huge — larger than Central Park (my most immediate reference point) and boasting approximately 120 miles of roads and trails. Its namesake is Lord Stanley, former Governor General of Canada and, also, the man for whom the Stanley Cup is named.
Lord Stanley sez: “To the use and enjoyment of people of all colours (sic) creeds and customs for all time I name thee STANLEY PARK.”
I’m not really sure where in the park I was. I was just there, and that was the point.
This monument is in honor of the 190 Canadian soldiers of Japanese ancestry who lost their lives in World War I.
This, meanwhile, is a tree.
Water, water everywhere.
Lord Stanley wasn’t the only statue-esque acquaintance I made out there in the park. Here’s one of Robert Burns, “Scotland’s National Bard.”
The plaque reads, in part: “Robert Burns’s sincere desire for friendship and brotherhood among all peoples is clearly shown in his many poems and songs. His poetry and letters, both serious and humorous are worthy of study by those who value liberty and freedom.”
I eventually wandered to the park’s perimeter, which provided a view of the high-rises lurking just beyond the water.
I eventually wandered out of the park altogether, drawn in part by a desire to commune with this public art installation.
These jovial lads of identical height, girth and facial composition could be found at the end of Denman Street. As I had never spent time on a street named “Denman,” ever, in any city, I decided to see what it had to offer. The short answer is that Denman Street had a lot of restaurants, dozens and dozens of them, over the course of many blocks. I was up for a meal, no doubt, but the combination of my gluten-free specifications and being solo on a Friday evening led me to rule out many of the contenders. (Talk about a familiar feeling…)
This DIY establishment certainly looked intriguing…
but in the end how I could I go with anything but the Number One option?
Look…this whole celiac disease thing can be a drag, no doubt, but at the end of the day there are still plenty of options. Within 20 minutes, this wonderful plate of food was presented to me by a personable waitress who I may one day marry or, more likely, will never see again.
Vietnamese pork chops = one of the best dishes on the planet. And anytime a crispy fried egg is part of the entree equation, quality quotient only increases. As for a beverage, I was immediately intrigued by an option going by the name of “Coco-Rico.” When I asked the waitress what it was, she explained that it was a coconut soda.
“A lot of people ask about about it, only the adventurous ones try it,” she said.
As a lover of coconut, adventure and waitresses, I ordered it without delay!
After going number one at Number One (the door in the bathroom said “Door locks automatically (So don’t worry!)”), it was time for my final act as a visitor in the beautiful, seemingly utopian city of Vancouver: more loitering! This time, the location was English Bay Beach Park.
The Bowling Green Cave Shrimp goes international!
I remained on the beach until the sun went down, reading A Prayer for Owen Meany and contemplating scenarios that could result in me starting a new life in Vancouver (very few of these scenarios involved murder, I’m happy to report).
Somehow, I was able to make it from the beach to the wilderness of Stanley Park where my rental car was located.
And that, finally, for real this time, is all I’ve got. The road had reached its nadir. After a long stint of overnight travel I made it safely back to Brooklyn, where, as usual, a very reliable individual was waiting for me.
There’s nothing left to do now but start brainstorming 2013′s slate of Minor League journeys. Please get in touch should you have any suggestions in that regard and — hey! — I really (really, really) hope you enjoyed all of the content that I was able to squeeze out of the 2012 season. This is all a work in progress, as always, but I do my best. Thanks for reading — now it’s time to batten down the hatches here in NYC as Sandy, purported to be the storm of the century, bears down upon us. Good luck, and Godspeed.
The blog post that chronicled my evening with the Vancouver Canadians was the longest such missive in Ben’s Biz history, but that doesn’t mean that I exhausted all of my Vancouver content. Of course not! The game I attended was on a Thursday evening, and I wasn’t due to fly out of the city until Friday night.
And wouldn’t you know it? On Friday afternoon the Canadians were hosting one of their popular “Nooner at the Nat” day games, so back to the stadium I went. Except this time, I opted to stow my vehicle in the public park located across the street. My thinking was that this would start the day off with a different perspective, and as always my thinking was correct.
Queen Elizabeth Park is located at quite a prodigious elevation, and as such it offers some spectacular mountain and city views.
The park’s parking lot is located a proverbial hop, skip, and a jump from the domed glory of the Bloedel Conservatory.
Among those enjoying the view from the top of the park was this bronzed family — note that brother and sister (or at least I presume they are brother and sister) are both wearing vintage Great Adventure shirts.
I was sorry to leave my statue-esque acquaintances, but baseball was calling my name (in a shrill, unnecessarily loud falsetto). As I walked down the hill and toward Nat Bailey Stadium, I came across a species of tree which may or may not be indigenous to the wilds of Vancouver. This tree was getting a kick out of using its snout-like appendages to tickle the undercarriages of unsuspecting passersby, but when it tried that on me I was ready with a swift uppercut and it shrank away in defeat.
Back on the street, cars were lined up at the stadium entrance. Vancouverites are serious about their Friday afternoon baseball!
However, I soon realized that “Nooners at the Nat,” while a great name, is a bit misleading. Gates open at noon, yes, but the game doesn’t start until one. It was around 12:30 when I arrived on the scene, and no tickets whatsoever were available. Just read the sign!
I mingled with the masses for bit, in the hopes that someone would recognize me and that I could then claim to be “internationally famous.” But, no, it was not to be. (I remain only nationally famous, and by “nationally famous” I mean recognized at a bar this one time and by a concert merch table this one other time). With delusions of grandeur squashed, as they quite mercifully always are, I made my way into the stadium in time for the National Anthems (this is Canada, after all). Performing both anthems was a group called the “Altar Boyz,” and as one of the groundskeepers near me noted “That’s Altar Boyz with a zed.”
As you may recall, my experience at the previous day’s Canadians game had provided some quite memorable food experiences (in the form of an oversized corn dog and an even more oversized “Fungo Dog,” click on the link at the top of this post to read all about it). But this time around, I was interested in trying some ballpark sushi.
While not at the standards one would expect from one of Vancouver’s many fine sushi restaurants, this was still a tasty and unique ballpark meal. The Fuji Combo on the left consisted of two California rolls, two spicy California rolls, two shrimp nigiri, and one smoked salmon. The Red Dragon Roll, meanwhile, was salmon, seaweed, crab extract (not sure what that means), and cucumber.
Oh, and this marked the first time I’d ever had ginger and wasabi in single-serve condiment packets. What a life milestone.
New online dating profile pic:
Thumbs up for the best sushi in the Northwest League!
It was a beautiful day. The game? It was underway
As I had done the evening before, I then hitched a ride in the Smart Car for a lap around the infield.
I filmed said lap around the field with my handy FlipCam, but you know what? It just didn’t come out very well. So, nevermind. Let’s move on.
The Canadians’ dancing grounds crew, whom I had performed with the night before, are bonafide Vancouver celebrities. By the time I returned from my Smart Car journey, they were engaged in an interview with a national sports broadcast (who would later film their dance performance as well).
At this point in the afternoon, I was feeling good. The previous evening’s ballgame had provided me with all of the content I would need from Vancouver (and more), so there was nothing that I felt I HAD to do. I just took in the scene.
Much of the sold-out crowd was lurking in the shadows.
The evening before I had been a Sushi Race competitor. This time around I just took it all in from the cheap seats.
I then adjourned to an even more elevated vantage point: the roof.
On the roof is where the press box is situated, and its denizens were hard at work.
Did I mention that it was a beautiful day, and that Vancouver is a stunningly beautiful city?
Vancouver is also filled with stunningly beautiful dancers — of both the grounds crew and dugout Chicken Dance variety.
I eventually clambered down from the roof, in order to procure a new vantage point from which to snap a photo.
The Canadians bullpen is located down the third base line, and there is no escape from the fans whatsoever (note the standard-issue pink backpack down there by the catcher’s knee).
Unceremoniously and without warning, my “Nooner at the Nat” photos ended here. The above shot of a brooding bullpen observer is the last picture from a ballfield that I am able to post from the 2012 season.
Upon the conclusion of the contest, I returned to the manicured splendor of Queen Elizabeth Park.
And…scene! But would you believe that I have one more post’s worth of material to share from Vancouver? It’s true! Just one more, and then my 2012 road trip content is finally, officially, mercifully, complete Thanks for tolerating my continued attempts to milk it for all it’s worth.
The last “Return to the Road” dispatch ended with some pictures from what I declared to be the swankiest team lodging in all of Minor League Baseball — Tacoma’s Hotel Murano. And from the Murano this post shall begin.
The Murano’s hallways offer guests the chance to view a “private collection of some of the world’s finest contemporary glass treasures.” Each of the hotel’s 24 floors showcase a different artist; I, on the 23rd, was located within the realm of Mr. Hiroshi Yamano.
The Murano’s focus on glass artisans was no mere act of random whimsy — Tacoma is home to the Museum of Glass, in recognition of the influence that artists from the Pacific Northwest have had on the medium. So when I set out to briefly explore downtown Tacoma before heading to Everett, the Museum of Glass was my destination.
Along the way I passed this statue, without stopping to learn who this woman was and what she stood for.
Union Station — formerly a train station, currently a courthouse — had charm, style and panache to spare.
As did the statue out front, entitled “New Beginnings.” It was installed as part of the city’s 1984 centennial celebration, and the man depicted is an early 20th-century railroad passenger with a jaunty step and optimistic world outlook.
Inspired, I strolled through Tacoma’s downtown with the same levity of spirit I imagined the above bronzed passenger to have once possessed.
Finally (and by “finally” I mean “within 5 minutes”) I came to a vantage point which included the conical Museum of Glass as part of the backdrop.
Of course, time is always at a premium when I’m on the road. So as opposed to actually going into the museum, I just checked out the glass specimens lining both sides of a pedestrian bridge that led to the museum.
The view from the ground.
Anti-climactic as it may be, that’s all I’ve got from Tacoma. My next destination was Everett, whose team hotel was a Holiday Inn.
I knew I was in the right place when, upon parking, I looked up to see a team bus poking through the trees.
And while this Holiday Inn lacked some of the Hotel Murano’s more memorable amenities (for instance, I was not able to have the Bhagavad Gita delivered to my room), it did boast what is certainly the most wonderful view of any Minor League team hotel.
I attended that evening’s Everett AquaSox game, and wrote like crazy all about it. (In fact, my writing was so passionately incendiary that even the links to it have since burned up.) Time was even tighter than usual the following afternoon, as an international journey (to Vancouver) awaited me. Nonetheless, I spent about an hour wandering about in downtown Everett before getting lunch at a Thai restaurant and then resuming my travels in earnest.
Everett had character, and I’d love to return some day.
Lunchtime! (Use of exclamation mark extremely debatable)
After that it was goodbye to the antiquated signage of Everett…
and hello to Peace Arch National Park, my entryway to Canada.
Peace Arch Park was beautifully maintained, and as a big fan of Paul Robeson I enjoyed driving through the locations of one of his most significant public performances. From Wikipedia:
In 1952, African-American singer and activist Paul Robeson, banned from international travel during the Red Scares, performed several concerts at the site. He sang from a flatbed truck on the American side to an audience in Canada.
And would you believe that the Peace Arch was built by Sam Hill, the peripatetic Quaker who constructed the full-size Stonehenge replica which I had visited several days prior? That guy was real go-getter, and as a slow-moving and rapidly-stagnating blogger I can’t help but feel that I’m not quite living up to the high surname standards he established.
It took approximately forever to get into Canada, and I pity those who have to cross the border on a regular basis. I did enjoy the interrogation I received from the border guard, who tried to poke holes in my “Minor League Baseball writer traveling to Canada in order to cover the Vancouver Canadians” alibi.
Guard: And how long have you been writing about the Minor Leagues?
Me: Seven years.
Guard: If you’ve been doing this for that long, then why is this the first time you’ve visited Vancouver?
I explained, as succinctly as possible, that Vancouver was the only Canadian team in the Minors and that, therefore, visiting Canada as part of my job was not, nor was it going to be, a common professional occurrence. (In fact, I was looking at it the highlight of a perpetually uncertain odyssey that began with writing game recaps on the night shift on a part-time, hourly basis. What I wanted to say was “Look, lady, you should be proud of me that I’m here talking to you at all.” I then would have felt an overwhelming sense of guilt for referring to her impolitely as “lady.”)
I’m not sure who’s bored-er at this point — the guard or the straggling few readers who have stuck with this post to the end. So, anyway, yeah: I made it to Canada, and I have the fake money to prove it.
The road will be returned to (at least) once more, with all of the supplemental content that’s fit to post from the wilds of Vancouver. Stay tuned for another installment of the most low-stakes and meandering series of blog posts to be found on the internet…
I was out of town for the last five days or so, and during my time away the fifth anniversary of the first post in Ben’s Biz Blog history came and went. My original plan had been to commemorate this milestone in some way, but instead it just kind of slipped by whilst on its quick path to complete and total obsolescence.
So, yeah, this blog is now five years old. Celebrate at will. As for me, I’ll just do what I do best: relive the recent past! As you may recall, my last post in the apparently never-ending “Return to the Road” series covered the beautiful scenery to be found betwixt Salem, OR and Yakima, WA. Today, then, picks up in Yakima (home of the since-relocated Bears) and travels northwest to Tacoma (home of the not-going-anywhere Rainiers).
The day started with me following a reader tip: get lunch at Miner’s, an iconic Yakima fast food joint.
I was smitten with this establishment as soon as I arrived, if not a bit confused. Somehow, I managed to bypass the entire drive-thru lane. (And is that a strange location for a house or what? Not sure if I’d want my front lawn obscured by huge fast food menus).
Instead, I ended up in a lot immediately adjacent to a spacious outdoor eating area.
Also spacious: the inside.
I placed my order, was given a number, and then walked approximately a third of a mile away to a back room seating area.
And here, inevitably, is where I end up disappointing you. As much as I’d have liked to, the celiac disease prevented me from ordering a Big Miner Burger. Or any kind of burger. In fact, the bun-heavy and oft-breaded menu made the whole experience a bit fraught for gluten-averse individuals such as myself. So while I’d like to present you with a photo of this 64-year-old establishment’s signature item, instead here are some fries posing amidst an array of dipping sauces and a vanilla milkshake. I do my best.
After that it was time to hit the open road. And I do mean open, and I also mean road.
I would have been content to drive amid such vast expanses for a good 10 hours or so, while listening to the first 33 seconds of this Dr. John song a million times over. The drive was far less than my wished-for 600 minutes, unfortunately, but before re-entering more populated areas I did have the pleasure of stopping at this well-advertised establishment.
And — look! — within this vast expanse of commercial real estate they even cater to afflicted souls such as myself.
I bought an array of groceries. The bottle of Moxie cola was later confiscated at the Vancouver airport, and I have no idea what became of the mustard. None at all. It just vanished on me.
The next destination was the Hotel Murano, located in downtown Tacoma. Of the dozens of Minor League team hotels I’ve stayed in over the last several years this was the most expensive. And also, by far, the nicest. (In fact, I’m still kind of in awe that this was a team hotel.)
The Hotel Murano had an uber-hip intercontinental vibe, complete with Teutonic dance music music pumping in the lobby, but it wasn’t not so exclusive that they won’t enter into an enthusiastic partnership with a Pacific Coast League franchise. (Hotel Murano ads could be seen throughout the Rainiers’ Cheney Stadium).
The nighttime exterior:
with a view.
I’m still kicking myself for not having the Bhagavad Gita sent up to my room.
Some of the other in-room signage was less spiritually minded, however.
“Goodnight Tacoma!” said the moron in the Murano.
That moron was me.
The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful part of the country. So when I went on a road trip to that region at the end of the season, this was something that was written in all caps in my notebook to-do list: EXPERIENCE BEAUTY.
Of course, time is tight when I’m on the road and often the most beautiful thing I see over the course of a given 24-hour period is a particularly well-constructed plate of nachos. But this was most emphatically NOT the case on the third day of this Pacific Northwest road trip. The day began in Salem, Ore. at which point I had to drive about four and a half hours northwest to Yakima. And this drive, it was absolutely gorgeous!
I opted to travel along the Historic Columbia River Highway (scenery over expediency!), and shortly into the journey I arrived at Vista House.
The Vista House was built in 1918, as both a rest stop and pioneer memorial. An informational plaque located outside of the building says that “Samuel C. Lancaster, design engineer of the Historic Columbia River Highway, envisioned this outcropping as the ideal site for a rest stop and observatory where the Gorge ‘could be viewed in silent communion with the infinite.’”
I realize that America in 1918 was far from an ideal society, but sentiments such as that are phenomenal and indicative of a spiritually-informed progressive public mindedness that seems to be in short supply here in the 21st century.
As for the building specifically, “[A]rchitect Edgar Lazarus designed Vista House to ‘recall the ancient and mystic Thor’s crown.’ Braced against the famous Gorge winds, this small building embodies strength.” (I would like to think that growing up amidst such scenery and sentiment is what inspires Oregon-based bands such as Yob to write such awesomely heavy songs.)
Exploration opportunities abounded along Scenic Route 30, and I took advantage to the extent that I was able. As a collector of Victorian-era bridal veils, I decided that a walk along Bridal Veil Falls Trail would be most apropos.
After a 2/3rds of a mile “journey,” I reached the titular attraction.
I was unprepared to do so, and therefore didn’t, but I really can’t think of a better place in which to go swimming.
Keep in mind that all of this is only about 25 miles outside of Portland! To be able to live in a vibrant urban area with such close proximity to nature would be truly phenomenal.
The next stop was Multnomah Falls, one of the most visually stunning, accessible and therefore best-known waterfalls in the state.
I guess it’s only natural that Multnomah would have a downfall, and that is that it’s almost too accessible. It was tough to find a parking spot at the visitor’s center, and the scenic bridge seen above was packed to the gills with camera-toting fools such as myself.
The view in the other direction:
Back at the base of the falls, I had an appropriately outdoorsy lunch of smoked trout on (gluten-free!) almond crackers.
There was certainly much more to be seen and explored in the vicinity of Multnomah Falls, but time constraints (the bane of modern existence) were such that I cruised right on into the state of Washington — via the incredibly-named Bridge of the Gods.
Wikipedia informs me (and, by extension, us) that the Bridge of the Gods was named after a “famous geologic event.” Okay, then, Wikipedia. You may as well fill us in on what that was all about:
The Bridge of the Gods was a natural dam created by the Bonneville Slide, a major landslide that dammed the Columbia River near present-day Cascade Locks, Oregon in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The river eventually breached the bridge and washed much of it away, but the event is remembered in local legends of the Native Americans as the Bridge of the Gods.
As for the bridge itself (as in the bridge I was driving across, not the one of local legend), it provided great views but I didn’t really see any places to pull over. So I just snapped a few quick pictures as I drove across at a very low speed.
And then — bam! — Washington. The greenery was dense.
From here I got on the Lewis and Clark Highway, yet another incredibly scenic road that made me happy to be alive. Working my way eastward, the landscape gradually flattened out and took on a sunbaked and vaguely extra-terrestrial sort of hue.
The above photo was taken at the Maryhill Museum of Art, an unexpectedly expansive establishment.
But I was at the museum mistakenly. What I was looking for turned out to be just a bit up the road.
A full-size replica Stonehenge!
Called the “Stonehenge Memorial,” this structure was built by the pioneering Quaker entrepreneur Sam Hill. Why? The website of the Maryhill Museum of Art explains thusly:
During World War I, Hill delivered relief supplies to Belgium and Russia, and reinforced his interest in travel. While in England, he made his first trip to see Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain where he was told that the structure was believed to be constructed by Druids as a place of human sacrifice.
Hill concluded there was a similarity between the loss of life in this, the greatest of human wars, and the sacrifices of ancient Stonehenge and planned to build a replica of it on the cliffs of the Columbia as a reminder of those sacrifices and the “incredible folly” of the war.
The architecture and precise plan of the structure was guided by leading authorities on archaeology, astronomy, and engineering who combined their knowledge to duplicate, as nearly as possible, the original size and design of the ancient Neolithic ruin in England.
I think at this point I was almost numb to how beautiful everything was. What a country.
50 yards from his quixotic creation, one finds the tomb of Sam Hill. “Amid nature’s great unrest, he sought rest.”
My Mom has told me that she had wanted to name me Sam, but didn’t because it would be associated with the phrase “What in the Sam Hill?” (in which Sam Hill stands in as a euphemism for hell). No one seems to know for sure where that particular expression came from, but it apparently has nothing to do with the Samuel Hill who is buried at the Stonehenge Memorial. (Wikipedia, suddenly my source for everything, makes that clear.)
So what in the Sam Hill am I doing living on the east coast when such splendor is readily available out west?
That, my friends, is a query for another day. For now I’d simply like to extend my gratitude to Jared Ravich, a Pacific Northwest-based Senior Technical Producer here with MLB Advanced Media whose thoughtful suggestions provided me with the template for this most memorable afternoon.
We have now entered the month of October, and in the world of MiLB.com this means one thing: it’s MiLBY season! For those who, somehow, inexplicably, are unaware, the MiLBYs represent our annual attempt to create order from the chaos via an online vote that will determine the top players, plays and promos of the season that just was.
The MiLBYs are a present-day concern, but here on the blog the endless summer of 2012 remains the fixation. Today marks the first in a new series of “Return to the Road” posts, in which we return to the Pacific Northwest for all of the non-ballpark content that’s fit to print from my August road trip. That particular trip began on a Saturday in Eugene and when you’re in Eugene on a Saturday then what better thing to do than visit the Saturday market?
The Saturday Market runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown Eugene, from April through November. Approximately 300 vendors sell their hand-crafted and oft-edible wares, and a loose bohemian vibe prevails. Some scenes from the market:
Roasting some chili peppers. This would be a great ballpark snack, right?
The highlight of the Saturday Market wandering was meeting Bag Man, who seeks to eradicate that which he is composed of. It’s a great cause!
Also wandering about the Market was Eugene Emeralds general manager Allan Benavides and his family. They suggested a stop at the iconic Voodoo Doughnuts, which got its start in Portland and now has a Eugene location located right next to Ken Kesey Square.
The menu is rated PG-13, as double entendres abound.
Good things come in pink boxes, they say.
But none of these good things, not a single one, was gluten-free.
Therefore, I outsourced my doughnut eating duties to Benavides and his son Christian. On the right there is the bacon maple, one of Voodoo’s most famous offerings. Christian opted for some sort of Froot Loops-enhanced creation.
Next door to Voodoo Doughnuts is the aforementioned Ken Kesey Square, which pays tribute to the counter-cultural icon and long-time Eugene native. The Eugene Storefront Art Project had set up shop here, raising awareness of their mission to place short-term exhibits in empty Eugene storefronts.
Later Benavides and I took a quick drive through Eugene’s eccentric Whiteaker neighborhood.
I stared at this for 3.5 hours.
Our final destination was Civic Stadium, which was built in 1938 and first hosted Minor League Baseball in 1955. The Emeralds played their last season there in 2009, and since then the facility (which is owned by the Eugene school district) has fallen into a considerable state of disrepair. Its future is still very much in doubt, although there is a dedicated “Save Civic Stadium” volunteer group working diligently to find viable 21st century options for the old park.
Civic Stadium is located in a residential neighborhood, and many fans used to simply walk to the game. The Emeralds’ move to PK Park, which they lease from the University of Oregon, therefore represented a remarkably different ballpark experience (Benavides’ first season with the team coincided with the move to PK Park, and it has been a considerable challenge to acclimate the team’s fans to this totally new Minor League reality).
Our access, it was restricted.
The playing surface has clearly seen better days.
Behind the stadium lurks a beautiful view.
And if you’re lucky, you may get a glimpse of some truly alternative forms of transportation. (You just gotta love Eugene. I was only there for two nights, but in that time became completely accustomed to seeing quirky people doing quirky things. It’s just how that town rolls.)
So, yeah, that’ll do it for all of my content from Eugene. The next morning I left this small metropolis and its outsized eccentricity and set out on the road to Salem, OR. Shortly into this journey, I became enamored with the following dining establishment.
This place had a powerful aesthetic appeal, but I did not eat there as it was very crowded on a late Sunday morning and I always feel very self-conscious eating at crowded restaurants by myself. But just down the road there was a Mexican joint!
Thank goodness for Mexican restaurants. In this gluten-free reality in which I find myself, they have proven themselves to be an ever-reliable culinary option. This plate of food, I salute you:
Next up in this “Return to the Road” series: a day of stunning natural beauty in Oregon, en route from Salem to Yakima.
Over their first five years of existence the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have been a rousing success, and in 2012 they once again led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance. I have visited the team on several occasions, the most recent of which are documented HERE and HERE.
On a personal level, I am pleased by the IronPigs’ exemplary operation because they provide that much more reason to visit the Lehigh Valley specifically and Pennsylvania in general (I grew up in neighboring Montgomery County, in the town of Ambler). Last month a group of friends and I spent a weekend in the region, which is documented in this “Return to the Road” post. The purpose, as always, is to document the myriad ways in which a trip to a Minor League Baseball ballpark can be combined with other regional activities.
Ben’s Biz Blog: Exploring the country through Minor League Baseball, one stadium at a time. Let’s go!
This particular Lehigh Valley excursion began in the town of Nazareth, home of the esteemed Martin Guitar company.
Martin Guitars was established in 1833, and is now in its sixth generation of family ownership. Free factory tours are offered daily, and a museum detailing the company’s history is located on the premises as well. The tour was free, although there were strings attached in that there were literally strings attached.
From Nazareth it’s a short drive into Allentown, where we had lunch at the unassuming and welcoming Wert’s Cafe.
I enjoyed my meal here, but this was a case were the restrictions of a gluten-free diet become quite pronounced. No sandwiches, no pies, and no signature onion rings for me! But one regional specialty that I was able to sample was birch beer on tap! I had never had such a thing.
Central Pennsylvania is a haven for birch beer enthusiasts, and in past visits I have been simultaneously confused and delighted by the many varieties. I was certainly confused by the tap offering seen above, at first thinking that the waitress had brought me an actual beer of the mass produced pilsner variety. I enjoyed its smooth, sweet taste, but no ice and low carbonation made it a beverage experience that took some getting used to.
After lunch, Ben’s Biz Blog guest-post writer Steve May suggested that we visit Allentown’s Double Decker records. Great idea!
The store’s exterior may not inspire, but the inside is another story.
Double Decker had a great selection of vinyl both new and used, representing a vast cross-section of (mostly) American music. The store boasts a passionate clientele, whose frequent browsing helped to insure a high turnover rate when it comes to what’s in the bins. If I lived in the area, Double Decker would quickly become part of an early Saturday afternoon routine.
Of course, I couldn’t help but add to my own collection (cat sold separately).
One album I considered buying was Blues Control’s “Valley Tangents,” and I really wish I had. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the band had re-located to Lehigh Valley to record the album (hence its title), and there is even a track titled “Iron Pigs.” This song is awesome and I think it should be played during extra innings at Iron Pigs games once things start to get a little surreal.
As for us, it was indeed time for another valley tangent, as the record store was located quite nearby to the Playdrome Rose Bowl!
I did not bowl nearly as well as I am capable of, but my form remains impeccable. (A rant for another day: Why are 16-pound house balls so hard to find at many bowling alleys?)
Two games of bowling was the opening act — the day’s headline event was, of course, the IronPigs.
As you know, this particular IronPigs experience has already been chronicled in copious (some would say excessive) detail. But instead of ending this post, I’d like to extend my definition of “Lehigh Valley” to include Elysburg, PA. This humble burg is home to Knoebel’s Amusement Park and for my money (the only money I’m spending these days), Knoebels is the best amusement park in the country — It’s family-run, and there is a level of quality and attention to detail that permeates every aspect of the operation. (Plus, there’s no admission charge! One pays with tickets on a per-ride basis, and a $20 ticket pack has always lasted me throughout the entirety of the day).
The Knoebel’s parking lot, buffeted by rolling hills and formidable cloud cover.
A pickle on a stick and birch beer (in this case a sparkling white) can be had for $2.50, total.
Getting the lay of the land.
The mighty ferris wheel, from below and above.
There was a Theater of Magic pinball machine on the premises. I left my mark.
Each of these airplanes has a built-in rudder, which one can manipulate for maximum aerial advantage.
I miss summer already.
My favorite of all carnival games — you have to roll the bowling ball with enough force to get it over the hump, but delicately enough where it doesn’t simply roll right back to where it started.
A metaphor for life, because what isn’t?
The Haunted House is scary.
“Fascination,” in addition to being an awesome name for a game, is extremely addicting. It’s a form of bingo, basically, in which you fill your card by rolling a ball into numbered holes.
The bumper cars are world class.
As night fell, a large crowd had gathered to see a rock n roll revival show. The band, whose name I cannot recall, devoted the set to covers from each of the Beatles’ solo careers.
So, yeah: Knoebels. It is an awesome place, as is the Lehigh Valley, as is Pennsylvania. I’ll leave it at that, but please know my love extends to all corners like the ever-expanding tentacles of an obtrusive octopus.
Talk to you later.
This may be the first Ben’s Biz Blog post to appear in autumn, but the content remains rooted in the (seemingly) endless summer of 2012. Today we return, one last time, to the city of Memphis. I attended a game at AutoZone Park on June 12, and the following morning had a bit more time to explore before heading to the next destination of Jackson, TN.
One of the first sights I came across after departing the Sleep Inn in which I had been sequestered was this unorthodox art “battle.” Ghostly cowboy vs. tank-driving alien: who ya got?
From there, a bit of wandering soon brought me to this Memphis institution.
The Orpheum, 84-years young and (allegedly) haunted, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Also occurring in 1977 was the death of Mr. Elvis Presley — a nearby statue commemorates how he appeared in his prime, far removed from Me Decade degeneration.
I didn’t have the time to make it to Graceland this time around, but that remains a goal. (In the meantime I’ll just be hanging out here in New York City, looking for the human trampoline.) Walking along Main Street, I found a more recent example of a Memphis-based musical striver.
It’s easy to make fun of a dude named “Lil Wyte,” but he’s found a way to make a living as a rapper for 10+ years (largely via his own label) and that is something that takes a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication. I’m not all that into his style of hip-hop, but he has my respect. (In a perfect world, my Minor League Baseball road trips would be coupled with profiles of local rappers and doom metal bands, as a way of more fully being able to capture the personality of the city in question. But, for now, you’re left with out-of-focus pictures of telephone pole advertisements).
These wanderings through the relative desolation of Memphis’ Main Street did have a final destination: the Lorraine Motel. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated here in 1968, and the building has since been expanded into the National Civil Rights Museum.
Also part of the museum is this area directly across the street, which includes the perch from which Ray fired the fateful bullet.
I did not have enough time to tour the museum proper, but I did engage in a conversation with one of its biggest detractors.
That shadowy figure is one Jacqueline Smith, a former resident of the Lorraine Hotel who has since dedicated her life to railing against the museum. I went into the conversation with the intent of being receptive to her point of view — Ms. Smith is a life-long Memphis resident with a personal connection to the Lorraine Motel, and there is clearly much to be said about the mixed effects of gentrification as well as the mainstream co-option and subsequent neutering of radical modes of thought. But Ms. Smith has been on her single-minded crusade for so long that there isn’t any nuance whatsoever in her viewpoints (if there ever was). She told me that “black people who visit here are brainwashed” and that a “good white person is like finding a $3 bill,” and put me in a thoroughly no-win situation. If I agreed with any aspect of what she said, she’d berate me for my lazily acquiescence (“You don’t know anything, you don’t read anything, you just shake your head and say ‘yeah.’”). But if I disagreed, I was characterized as simply the latest deluded soul to wander by her quixotic encampment.
It was frustrating, to say the least, and I replayed the conversation in my head for hours afterward. (Being sensitive and overly-analytical is hard work!) My final conclusion was that her dismissive and oft-hateful viewpoints were a more substantial desecration of Dr. King’s memory than any aspect of the museum itself. But what do I know? She’s been camping out at that spot for 23 years. I wandered through during the course of an unfocused early afternoon.
Look, here’s a picture of a restaurant. I took it myself.
Did you know? The Arcade is Memphis’ oldest restaurant, and inside there is an “Elvis Booth” in memory of one of the establishment’s most dedicated customers.
The downtown walk continued to reveal locations both boarded up and still vital…
But, as always, my ultimate destination was a baseball stadium. The Redbirds were playing an early afternoon contest at AutoZone Park, so before heading on my way to Jackson I stopped in for the final few innings. This brief “fan mode” respite, I enjoyed it.
One last glimpse of the largest videoboard in Minor League Baseball.
The RedBirds mounted a ninth-inning rally (three singles and a walk to start the frame), but in the end they couldn’t push across that crucial winning run. Final score Nashville 5, Memphis 4.
And with that, I left Memphis — but not before an attempt to find a meal on Elvis Presley Blvd. I ended up at Jack Pirtle’s, a Memphis institution that served up some quick and tasty fried chicken. (This would turn out to be the final time I enjoyed fried chicken, as upon my return from this trip I began a gluten-free diet.)
Livers and gizzards were on the menu, but I went with a good old-fashioned two piece meal.
You know what was in that cup, just beneath the fries?
Gravy. There was gravy in the cup.
Thus concludes all the odds-and-sods “Return to the Road” material that I have, not just from Memphis but the entire OKARKMOTN road trip. I hope you enjoy this sort of thing, because later in the week it’ll be time to “return to the road” once again. Next up, Pacific Northwest!
There’s a lot going on throughout the season, and therefore it can be tough to keep track of all the narrative threads that are dangling around me at all times (they taunt me, these threads). One thread that has been neglected since those halcyon days of late July is that which chronicled the non-baseball goings-ons of my MiLB.com-sponsored trip to Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. The previous post in the series ended with this shot — the view from the hotel parking lot after I arrived in the city of Memphis (home of the Redbirds).
“Jefferson Davis was fronting Deep Purple,” I wrote at the time, and I stand by this bon mot.
The Redbirds were in the midst of a ballgame when I arrived, but my plans with the team were for the next night (that evening is chronicled HERE). I therefore decided that my first order of business, as it so often is, would be to procure a meal. I began meandering about in downtown Memphis, and along the way got my first glimpse of AutoZone Park (home of the Redbirds).
My first choice for dinner was the very well-known and loved (and perhaps a wee bit touristy) Memphis institution known as “Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous.” But upon making my way to the eponymous alleyway which houses this establishment, I made the disconcerting discovery that it was closed on Mondays.
It was getting late, and I was tired, and seemingly everyone I encountered on the largely empty streets expressed the desire to show me a “good time” of some sort. These claims were of dubious validity and possibly nefarious intent, and I was beginning to feel a little besieged. So I took the path of least resistance and headed to the tourist mecca that is Beale Street. By Beale Street standards, the vibe was positively sedate.
I chose to patronize this presumably iconic establishment: the Blues City Cafe.
Where were you on the night that the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup? I was here, in full-on “awkward guy eating alone” mode, indulging in this meal at a rather desultory bar seating area.
Blues City Cafe claimed to have the best ribs in Memphis, but I cannot confirm nor deny as they were the only ribs I had in Memphis. Of more pressing concern to me, as I look at this photo, was the extent to which this meal was or wasn’t gluten-free (I adopted a gluten-free diet immediately upon returning from this trip, after being diagnosed with celiac disease). Eating in restaurants has become fraught with the unknown — what are the ingredients in the ribs? The baked beans? The cole slaw? The fries are gluten free, but what else was in the fryer? Who knows? Who cares? Why, in a blog ostensibly devoted to the business of Minor League Baseball, are you writing in hand-wringing fashion about a meal from nearly three months ago?
Time to blow this joint, but not before a little bit more narcissism. On the way back to the Sleep Inn, I noticed an alleyway which commemorated what happens to be the day on which I was born.
But why? The answer, courtesy of an article in Time magazine, is not one I would have expected:
[November 6th Street] commemorates the day in 1934 when Memphis, urged on by its utility-baiting political boss, the late Edward H. (“Mister”) Crump, voted against private power and for the Tennessee Valley Authority power system (it was the first major city to enter TVA).
In today’s political climate, such a resounding defeat of private enterprise would result in hysterical accusations of an impending government takeover by those secretly in thrall to Bolshevik theories. But maybe that was also the case in 1934? Who really does know? What I do know is that I had the entire next day to spend in Memphis. It began with some frenzied writing from the hotel room, which offered a great view for those seeking voyeuristic white-collar thrills.
The inexorable passage of time meant that another meal was in order, and I’ll write about this one sans-celiac hand-wringing. The destination was Cozy Corner, recommended by loyal road trip recommender Rex Doane. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I knew that it was gonna be good.
At this friendly and unassuming spot, one orders at the counter and then retreats to the dining area to await the comestibles that will soon be brought forth.
I ordered a Cozy Corner specialty, which was something one does not have the opportunity to order often: Cornish Game Hen. It was delicious!
After leaving the Cozy Corner, I made a pit stop at another Rex-recommended establishment: Shangri-La Records.
Record stores are my favorite of all establishments, and Shangri-La had an eclectic selection and very appealing sensibilities (with an emphasis on Memphis music, including that which has been released on their eponymous label). I was feeling a bit rushed, in that I had a ballgame to get to, and was therefore not on top of my record store game. But I did purchase the following:
Starting at the top and moving clockwise, that’s James Gang “Rides Again,” Bruce Springsteen “The Rising,” Rufus Thomas “Crown Prince of Dance,” Creedence Clearwater Revival “Mardi Gras,” and Oneida/Liars “Atheists Reconsider” split. I could discuss the motivations behind each purchase, but am already feeling a bit self-conscious re: the insertion of myself into this post.
So, y’know, I’ll just continue talking about myself. Inspired by my hotel bed record arrangement, I did the same with the road snacks I had accumulated. Three observations regarding this picture:
1.Despite being part of a snack food monolith, Doritos has become downright avant-garde in its relentless pursuit of new flavors and ways in which to present them.
2. Pork cracklins are far better than chicken cracklins.
3. When I am on the road and in a region in which cracklins are available, I quickly become addicted to them. As in, literally cannot stop eating them. (They are crazily unhealthy, so I am actually glad that they aren’t available here in the northeast.)
Finally, mercifully, it became time to head to AutoZone Park. This establishment was along the way, but I resisted from shelling out more of my cash toward the sort of food products I was already eating too much of. But, my goodness, it was tough to resist.
Also tough to resist: the urge to stop writing. This narrative thread has been pursued enough for today, but, as always, there’s more where that came from.
It’s time to end the blogging week by, yes, once again returning to the road. The last post in the series ended with a wonderful hamburger in Tulsa, and from there I drove on to Springdale in order to attend that evening’s Northwest Arkansas Naturals game. Perhaps you already read about it?
The next day, the plan was to drive from Springdale, AR to Springfield, MO — the home of the Springfield Cardinals. My lunch destination was the AQ Chicken House, which received a glowing recommendation from regular reader/grizzled Minor League traveler/esteemed DJ Rex Doane. The problem was that it was early on Sunday afternoon when I got there, and the place was overflowing with a post-church lunch crowd. I felt self-conscious waiting alone for a table amidst this rollicking social atmosphere, and scrapped my poultry-related plans.
I wish I had gotten to know thee, AQ Chicken House!
At this point it became time to improvise, and I settled on this unassuming Mexican place about 10 minutes down the road.
And you know what you get when you go to an unassuming Mexican restaurant? Unassuming Mexican food! This is never, ever a bad thing, especially when the salsa comes in a carafe.
I ordered a beloved old standby, which, in my new gluten-free reality, will only become more prominent. Huevos Rancheros!
Huevos rancheros gave me the strength I needed to complete the drive to Springfield, and I only stopped once along the way. I just couldn’t resist:
I found the items contained within this alleged village to be exceedingly tacky, and, coming from me, that’s saying a lot.
Upon arriving in Springfield, I checked into the University Plaza hotel. The following note was laid out on the pillow, and while some might be turned off by the overt religiosity I was impressed by its heartfelt and genuine tone. A real rarity in this day and age!
The business that brought me to Springfield did indeed prosper, as that evening I enjoyed a very well-attended Springfield Cardinals game. (And, again, you may have read about it.) The next day, my travel between the eternities included a pit stop in downtown Springfield. A reader had recommended that I check out the Springfield Brewing Company, and who am I to defy a reader recommendation?
This was a cool operation, as beer was indeed brewed onsite.
As for me personally, I felt a bit agitated. As I’ve mentioned several times before, this trip came after my celiac disease diagnosis but before I decided to strictly follow the gluten-free diet that such a disease requires. The menu of heavy beers and upscale bar food didn’t include many gluten-free options at all, and I felt bummed out that in the near future (as in, now) my options at such a place would be severely limited.
But, whatever. I was cheating. Therefore, I ordered an excellent dark beer (forget the name) and the “Brewben” sandwich ($7.95, a great deal!)
The Springfield Brewing Company’s website mentions that their establishment is “an anchor to the re-birth of downtown Springfield” and, indeed, this is a downtown area that is decidedly in flux. While there are many empty and dilapidated storefronts, there are also many creative, risk-taking entrepreneurs involved in a bona fide downtown renaissance.
I was just passing through, as I am wont to do, so I don’t know anything about the history of Springfield or the long-term goals of this ongoing revitalization project (if you do, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email). But I do know I enjoyed wandering around a bit, while sporadically documenting what I saw.
I wish I had done more investigating into this “Robert E. Smith” building (no, it was not named after the Cure singer). It turns out that Robert E. Smith is a “nationally known folk and ‘outsider’ artist.”
I heard that this establishment used to sell Philadelphia Hot Dogs:
This is the Springfield Little Theatre, over 100 years old and still staging live productions.
It took all of my will power not to go into this record store, my favorite type of store in the entire history of stores. But, alas, I was on a tight schedule and, therefore, unable to stick it in my ear.
And what a great entrance way!
Fortunately I was pretty well-stocked with new music as it is. I still buy cds (old habits die hard), and on each trip I give three recent purchases three listens each. Obsessive compulsive much? On this trip, the three honorees were:
– Neil Young and Crazy Horse — Americana
– Grinderman — 2 RMX (this song could not be any more awesome, the 2:20 mark is basically what I want all music to sound like always)
– Late Night Tales Vol.2 compilation, curated by Belle and Sebastian
(and, for my own enjoyment when I’m an old man reading this post, the three albums on the April/May Florida trip were Quakers self-titled, Nicki Minaj “Roman Reloaded,” and Unsane “Wreck.” If anyone ever wants to talk about music, you know where to fine me.)
But anyway! The ride from Springfield to Memphis was a long one, and was highlighted by some of the most low-hanging clouds I’d ever seen.
Pork skins and Mello Yello sustained me throughout, as did unexpected tributes to long-ago baseball greats.
And when I arrived in Memphis late that evening, none other than Jefferson Davis was fronting Deep Purple.
And that’s where we’ll leave off for now. (Sorry for using the royal we, which, really, should be reserved for assent-giving French monarchs).