Results tagged ‘ Return to the Road ’
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).
It’s time for another “Return to the Road” post, in which I, yes, return to all of the road trip content that I wasn’t able to get to the first time around. My previous post in the series focused on Oklahoma City; today we move on to Tulsa.
But after taking in the game on Friday evening, I spent Saturday late morning/early afternoon checking out the area surrounding the ballpark. It’s located in Tulsa’s Greenwood District, which was once known as “Black Wall Street.” There is some serious history here, including a sickening act of mass violence that every American should know about.
My hotel was located about a mile or so from the ballpark, and as I wandered over there Tulsa felt empty and quiet — sleeping in on a Saturday after another long work week, I suppose.
The purpose of my return to the Greenwood District was to visit John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, located directly across the street from ONEOK Field.
Dr. John Hope Franklin was a civil rights activist and scholar best known for his seminal 1947 work From Slavery to Freedom. The non-profit John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation was founded in 2007, and it was this organization that envisioned and secured the funding for Reconciliation Park.
The Park memorializes the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, which is explained thusly (click to enlarge!):
Just the day before I had visited the memorial for the victims of the 1995 Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City, and now here I was contemplating another vicious act of violence. The motivations and methods of the two incidents are vastly different, but they are united in that they are both notable examples of domestic terrorism.
The park’s website explains that the following “represent actual images from the 1921 riot.”
“Hostility – A white man fully armed for assault”
“Humiliation – A black man with his hands raised in surrender”
“Hope – The white director of the Red Cross holding a black baby”
This is the “Tower of Reconciliation,” which “depicts the history of the African American struggle from Africa to America.”
The final word (again, click to enlarge):
Further memorializing can be found on the sidewalk outside of ONEOK Field, which pays tribute to the businesses destroyed in the riots:
Just around the block is North Greenwood Avenue, a quaint street filled with local businesses.
It was here that I found my lunch destination, one that was wholeheartedly recommended by several members of the Drillers’ front office staff: the self-explanatory “Fat Guy’s Burger Bar” (note the placement of the apostrophe; the place is named after one particular fat guy as opposed to a coalition of them).
This place is not for the faint (or weak) of heart, but the burgers were absolutely fantastic. From the website:
“We take two beef patties, put butter and cheese in between them, seal them up and then cook ‘em. When it’s ready you have a burger with molten butter and cheese filling the inside.”
As you can see, most of those who have attempted to take the “Fat Guy Challenge” have failed. This is probably a good thing. The challenge: two pound patty, pound of bacon, two hot dogs, eight slices of American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, choice of condiment and a pound of french fries.
When I was there, no one was attempting such a suicidal endeavor.
And I wasn’t about to, either. My order, in words:
And, as it actually looked:
I’ve never been all that much of a burger guy, but this one was as good as it looks. In this new post-celiac disease era, I would have to order it sans bun. That seems a little absurd, but it would still be worth it. And the fries – those wonderful, wonderful “ballpark fries” — are okay! Not sure about which of the 16 dipping sauces are gluten-free, but I’m sure there would still be options.
And that’s about it for my supplemental Tulsa content. On the way back from the hotel I did take note of this notable piece of Tulsa architecture:
This trailer was parked in front of said building, and I would have liked to meet its owner.
The “I Believe Guy” is one Brian Jackson. From his website:
- Brian Jackson, a Cherokee, Creek and Seminole Native American, is a Nationally known motivational speaker who uses true stories of how he has turned struggles into success. Brian has blown up over 6000 hot water bottles in his career, held the Guinness World Record for “Fastest Hot Water Bottle Burst” for over 3 1/2 years and the Guinness World Record for Blowing up until bursting 3 hot water bottles in 1 minute 8 seconds! He has been known to break walls of 2″ concrete bricks, even on fire at times, has bent 1 1/2 ” of steel rebar over his head, torn a deck of playing cards in half in 3 seconds, and is known for making some awesome balloon animals! His most impressive feat to date, “Heaviest Vehicle Lifted with Breath” 2520 pounds!
Somebody book this guy at a Minor League ballpark!
Hey! Remember last month when I went on a road trip and visited Minor League stadiums in Oklahoma City, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee?
No? That’s okay. No hard feelings or anything.
But the trip did happen, and one only needs to scroll through the recent archives of this blog for proof. And, and is always the case, when I went on this trip I accumulated content above and beyond what occurred at the stadiums in question. So, starting today, I’ll “Return to the Road” with a series of blog posts highlighting some of my non-baseball “adventures” while on this trip.
It all started in Oklahoma City, home of the Pacific Coast League’s RedHawks. But before traveling to the “Bricktown” entertainment district where both my hotel and the ballpark were located, I stopped here:
I didn’t spend any time at the Stockyards proper, but the area surrounding them couldn’t have been any more evocative of the cattleman’s lifestyle. Some shots of the neighborhood:
It’s a sign!
But Flipper-referencing storefront tomfoolery was not the reason I visited the stockyards. It was lunchtime, and I was there to get a meal at the iconic Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. Somehow I failed to get a shot of this establishment’s exterior, but here’s the view from the inside.
Just so we’re all clear on the chronology here: this trip occurred after I was diagnosed with celiac disease, but before I went public with it in a professional context. My decision on this trip was to keep it under wraps and eat whatever I wanted to. It was, in effect, my final week of enjoying an unrestricted diet. So why not go all out?
I ordered the euphemistically-named “Lamb Fries,” but let’s identify them for what they really are: fried lamb testicles.
I ordered these out of curiosity, and you know what? They were good! The lemon and cocktail sauce gave the whole platter a seafood sort of feel, and the taste was relatively mild. I can understand why people might be repulsed by such a dish, but my take on it is that if you’re going to slaughter an animal for food then you really should make use of as much of it as possible.
Still, in giving the final word on the dish I have to defer to this far more eloquent write-up that I came across on roadfood.com:
They are earthy-tasting inside their golden crust, the exquisite organ meat quivery and moist, with nut-sweet savor.
I didn’t want to over-do it on this, my first meal of the trip, so I paired the lamb fries with a simple bowl of steak soup. Gluten-free? Probably not, as wheat flour was likely used as a thickener for the broth.
So long, steak soup, it was nice knowing you:
After lunch I made my way to the Brickyard, and that experience is already chronicled (and linked to above). But the next day, before heading onward to Tulsa, I made a stop at a location that was imminently worthwhile and exceedingly well-done: the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial to the 168 victims of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
This was one of the most thoughtful, tasteful and deeply moving public spaces that I have ever been to, and an absolute must for anyone visiting Oklahoma City. The outdoor memorial is adjacent to a museum that offered a thorough multi-floor interactive tour, and I would have loved to visit that as well if time had allowed.
But, as it was, I still had plenty to take in. The outdoor memorial is framed by the “gates of time,” which are described in the memorial brochure thusly: “These monumental twin gates frame the moment of destruction — 9:02 a.m. — and mark the formal entrances to the memorial. The East Gate represents 9:01 a.m. on April 19 and the innocence of the city before the attack. The West Gate represents 9:03 a.m., the moment we were changed forever, and the hope that came from the horror in the moments and days following the bombing.”
In between is the reflecting pool — the brochure explains that a “shallow depth of gently flowing water helps soothe wounds, with calming sounds providing a peaceful setting for quiet thoughts.”
Over 60,000 personal tokens have been left on this fence through the years, in remembrance of the victims. It’s just heartbreaking.
Graffiti left by a rescue worker in the immediate aftermath of the bombing.
A park ranger speaks to a tour group about the “Survivor Tree,” a 90-year-old American Elm whose message to visitors reads “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”
Again, I want to say that this memorial was phenomenal. I was deeply affected by it, and will not forget my visit. I hope to one day return and devote a full afternoon to it and the museum.
I apologize for the abrupt tonal shifts in this post, but what is life if not a series of abrupt tonal shifts? After visiting the memorial, my final task in Oklahoma City was to get some lunch. The night before, RedHawks corporate marketing manager Gary Olsen had recommend I check out a BBQ joint named “Leo’s.” I decided to follow this recommendation.
At first I ended up at a defunct location:
But if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again!
For future reference — Leo’s is located right across the street from Happy Foods.
Leo’s was, in a word, great. And, in another word, unassuming.
I got a small sampler platter, but in this case “small” was a relative term. Buried in here are brisket, ribs, sausage and fried bologna, with fried okra and cole slaw as sides. (And, yes, the plate is atop the Mad magazine that I was reading at the time. Old habits die hard.)
The ribs and the brisket were the standouts here, and coming in a distant last was the fried bologna (the version served at the Jackson Generals game turned out to be far superior). And as for my new $1,000,000 question — no, this meal was not gluten-free. But in the future I think I could still have meals here — no white bread or fried okra, obviously, but hopefully most of the meats would still be good to go. I’ll figure it out eventually.
Definitely not gluten-free, but definitely awesome, is the free cake that comes with each and every meal.
And with free cake I shall end this post. Perhaps I can make that some sort of new Ben’s Biz Blog tradition?