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Our Last Day in New York…

Our last full day in New York was going to be all about Brooklyn, at least the first 2/3 of the day. We got up fairly early, had some leftover pizza from Lombardi’s for breakfast and headed into the City.

Our first stop was to drop Yvonne off so she could walk the Brooklyn Bridge. After she got out of the car, I headed across to Brooklyn to wait for her. I knew I would have a decent amount of time because she said she wasn’t going to rush at all, I don’t blame her, so I drove around looking at things and then after a little while I had to go to the restroom so I started looking around for a place to go and thought about Junior’s in Flatbush. Junior’s is world famous for it’s cheesecakes. I have never had any, though we see it every year at Christmas time on QVC. I figured it was a great place to stop, so I did and OMG, the cheesecake is AMAZING! I had the strawberry cheesecake and it was simply the best I have ever had. As I was finishing up my slice Yvonne called to tell me she was almost off the bridge and to let me know where I could pick her up, so I headed that way to get her.

Once I had picked up the wife and got her something to drink, we decided to park the car and jump on the Brooklyn Loop of the double decker bus tours. As many times as we have both been to NYC and done the bus tours, neither of us have done the Brooklyn loop so we were both looking forward to it. However, it was easier said than done honestly as we parked by a library and walked up to the bus stop listed on their map. We stood there, in sweltering heat, for almost 30 minutes waiting til finally we could see a bus coming. It came and went right by us and down the block to the next corner where it stopped and people got off. By the time we tried to get there we missed it and it was on its way. This pissed me off, so I called the tour company and asked them what was up with that. The 3 people I talked to had no idea what was going on and why the bus didnt stop where it should have and told us to wait right there and another would be by in about 15 minutes. It was closer to 25 minutes before the next bus came pulling up and we were ready for it this time as it once again went right by us and down to the end of the block. Yvonne got there first and had them wait for me. When I got there I noticed that the top was jammed with people and the bottom only had a couple people there, so Yvonne went up top and I stayed down below. On a hotter than blue blazes day like it was this day this would normally be a good thing. However, the A/C on this bus was BROKEN! Man that sucked big time and as soon as I got the chance I climbed the small staircase up top to be able to get some air.

The Brooklyn Loop is pretty cool, I cant honestly say that I remember much about what the guide told us, thank goodness for pictures, but I do remember that after crossing one of the bridges back into Manhattan, we had to stop at the South Street Seaport and we were forced to switch buses. This put us in a line with a bunch of other people and people that evidently never grew up and don’t know what it means to stand in a line like adults as they kept crowding, pushing and shoving. Needless to say, we backed off, got something to drink and waited for the next one. The worst part of this is that we found out, thanks to the previous driver, that we were in the wrong line! Once we finally got in the right line it was just a matter of minutes before we got back on the bus and headed back into Brooklyn to complete the Brooklyn Loop of the tour.

We both had different things to do this night. Yvonne was going to go see “American Idiot” on Broadway and I was going to Citi Field for the Mets vs Cardinals game. We still had plenty of time though, so we decided to head out to “Coney Island” as neither of us had ever been there. The big pull for me to wanna go there was mainly so I could say “I’ve Been There!” and of course to have lunch at Nathan’s! 🙂

The drive out took longer than I thought it would honestly, but once we got there, found and paid for a parking spot and walked up to the boardwalk, it was worth it. I didn’t really care much for the rides and all that stuff, or for walking out on the sand to the water (Yvonne did), but to get to walk the boardwalk a little while and just look at things, was pretty cool. We eventually made our way back to the original Nathan’s and ordered up some lunch. I have been a fan of Nathan’s ever since I first tried them 5 years prior. To me they are without a doubt the best hot dog on the market. To get to have a couple where it all started was just simply awesome! This is also where every year at Noon EST on the 4th of July they hold the hot dog eating competition that can be seen on ESPN. After ordering our dogs, we went outside to find a table to sit and enjoy them. Man they were awesome! It eventually became time to leave as Yvonne had to get on the subway for her ride up into the City to see her musical and I was going to be driving up to Queens and Citi Field. As we got up from our table, I realized that our parking meter had about 2 minutes left on it and I had to go to the restroom. I opted to go first, then head to the car and as I got there, you betcha, I GOT A FREAKIN TICKET! It was written just 2 minutes after the meter expired. That tells me that someone was more than likely waiting for it to expire (btw, flash forward, I fought this one online last year as well and I never heard back from them on it. I explained that I am handicapped, my placard could be easily seen in the front window and how I had to use the restroom and was only a couple minutes late. Maybe they are ok with that as I never heard back from them.) For those scoring at home, or even if you are alone, that gives me 3 parking tickets on this trip (1 in DC and 2 in NY) for a total of $105 in fines! Let me also say that I have only got 1 parking ticket ever in my life and it was only for $10 and like 20 years ago. (flash forward, I got another one, this time for $30 in Olympia, WA… that trip jinxed me!).

The drive to the game at Citi Field was pretty uneventful, except that I did stop in Hollis, just so I could say “I’ve Been There!” when I hear Run-DMC’s “Christmas In Hollis”, love that song! 🙂

This was my 2nd game at Citi Field. My 1st was last summer with my buddy Bob. As I pulled up a couple things caught my attention. First off, to pay for parking they accept credit/debit cards. That is soooo awesome because I so very seldom carry cash on me. Secondly, my GPS was showing that I was driving in the middle of old Shea Stadium lol 🙂 Of course the parking lot I was about to park in was where Shea Stadium once stood. Guess this means it’s time to update my maps on my GPS. 🙂

What can really be said about Citi Field that hasn’t already been said? The entry rotunda is simple amazing. I do have 1 complaint about it though (there is always something, yeah?) and that is that to get to the main concourse you have to either go up an escalator or beg a ride on an elevator around the corner that is reserved for the “big wigs”. Both of my trips I have done the begging because I cant stand escalators (Thank you The Ballpark In Arlington!).

Once up on the main concourse I did my usual and started my walk around the park. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a full game in tonight because I had to pick my wife up in Manhattan after her musical got over, but I should be able to get until the 7th Inning Stretch. I first stopped just to the 3rd base side of home plate and enjoyed a couple innings from that vantage point. From here I was able to get some pretty decent picture of not only the ballpark, but Albert Pujols as well. That guy is simply amazing. Was great getting to see him play live as I have only been able to a small handful of times.

After leaving that viewpoint I made my around the left field foul pole and out to the center field area. When I visit a ballpark I like looking for things that are unique to that park. One thing I spotted at Citi Field was a beer stand called “Beers Of The World”. While there really wasn’t any that I would want to drink (mainly because I have before and , well, not my thing), I still found it to be pretty cool that it wasn’t your usual Bud, Miller & Coors stand. As cool as this stand was, the best beer stand in all of the Major Leagues (in my opinion) is out in center field at Citi Field… “Big Apple Brews”! They have at least 40 different beers there to chose from. They are all bottled, which is neither here nor there really, but they are kinda spendy at $7.75 a bottle! That’s quite the mark up, however, everything at ball parks is expensive and at least you have the chance to try so many different beers if you want to. I opted for the Goose Island Honker’s Ale. I had had the Goose Island IPA earlier in the trip, so I thought I would try this offering from them. It wasn’t bad, but nothing I have to go in search of, really.

As I enjoyed my beer I continued my walk around the park and headed towards the right field foul pole. In center field, on your way to either right of left, there is a bridge there. It’s very cool looking and is there to celebrate the bridging of the old and new, between Shea Stadium and Citi Field. I think it was clever as it fits in so nicely considering all of the bridges in the NYC area.

Like I said earlier, this was my 2nd trip to Citi Field. I remember leaving after my first game there last summer and really raving about it. Citi Field has taken some heat and to the point that some people refer to it as “Shitty Field”. I am going to have to assume that it’s Yankee fans that do so and simply because it is not a huge as the new Yankee Stadium. Well, to me, that is a VERY good thing. See, at Citi Field, it actually feels like you are at a baseball stadium. Yankee Stadium is just so freakin’ massive that I have yet to have that kind of experience (I will, again, admit that my 1st run through Yankee Stadium it rained the entire time and we didn’t see a game. My 2nd it was a gray day and started storming in the 6th inning, so maybe that’s why I feel the way I do, I dunno). No matter what the reasoning is, I currently have Citi Field ranked as # 6 on my list of the “Top 30” 🙂

After a quick look at a clock I realized I had to rush things a bit and the game was running long (normally this would have been just fine with me), but since I had to pick up the wife, I had to get going. I finished up my walk around the park, rode the elevator back down to the ground level, took my usual “I’m a tourist” pictures, got in my car and left heading back into Manhattan.

The drive in took longer than I expected, with road construction and all, so after a couple calls with the wife, she met me a couple blocks from the theatre and we headed back to our hotel across the river in New Jersey.  This sadly concluded our trip to New York City. It was an awesome trip with seeing Wicked, a 3 hour limo ride, Citi Field, Yankee Stadium, had  some amazing food and so much more. We are already looking forward to returning to The Big Apple! 🙂

Day # 3 in the Big Apple…

Our 3rd day in New York City was going to be all about sight seeing. In the past, both Yvonne and I, have used the Grayline double decker buses to get around town. To me, they are simply the best way to see NYC. For $60 you get 48 hours of “Hop On/Off” service. You don’t have to get off at different places if you dont want to, you are more than welcome to just get on once and ride the bus the full loop if you choose. We loved the idea of being driven around the city, as a tour guide tells you way more than you would even be able to remember. It’s a lot of fun, especially on days where they weather is amazing (unlike the 1st day Bob and I tried last summer and it was pouring rain!). We were just going to cab/subway our way around but decided to do the double decker bus instead. We did go ahead and drive into the city because Yvonne was going to try to walk the Brooklyn Bridge after we had an early lunch at Katz’s (that didn’t happen because I wasn’t sure where to drop her off and drove right by it, so we decided to do it the next day).

Lunch was great, the only thing I didn’t like about Katz’s Deli was the parking outside as I got a freakin’ ticket for not seeing a sign at the complete  opposite end of the block that said “No Parking”. It was literally on the opposite end of the block and hidden behind trees. No, where I was there was no such sign and there were pay stations as well, so I paid and put the tag on my passenger side window just like you are supposed to do. WHOOOPS! I still got a ticket. (Btw, flash forward, I fought it online last year and I lost. According to them if you are going to park anywhere, you need to walk the entire block first to make sure it is ok and if you pay at the little pay stations… you don’t get your $$ back either, even if you still have the receipt!). Anyways, back to lunch. We split a corned beef sandwich (which was awesome), had my first ever Magic Hat #9 beer (meh) and a Brooklyn Lager, took the usual “I’m a tourist” photo’s of the table from “When Harry Met Sally” and enjoyed the platter of several different kinds of pickles they brought out to us.

After lunch, and finding the $35 parking ticket, we found a garage where to park they car that wouldn’t cost us a 3rd mortgage on the house and left the car there as we got on the double decker bus for our tour of the City. We decided to do the “Uptown Loop” first (they have 3 loops during the day: Uptown, Downtown & Brooklyn). Our thought was that if we did this we could actually get off and walk through a part of Central Park, so that is exactly what we did. After riding for a while and getting to see things like Trump Towers, Grant’s Tomb, Columbus Circle and a whole lot of amazing architecture, we got off the by by the apartment building known as The Dakota on the corner of 72nd & Central Park West. The Dakota is of course famous for being where John Lennon lived and was shot and killed on December 8, 1980. His widow, Yoko Ono, still lives in the building.

My first foot step into the world famous Central Park was right across from The Dakota in an area known as “Strawberry Fields”. It is a memorial to John Lennon which has a really nice mosaic on the ground with the word “Imagine” in it. There were several people in this area as we got there, but it was almost eerie quiet. Of course to me, when I saw the word “Imagine” there all I could think about was my high school graduation almost 20 years ago because “Imagine” by John Lennon was our class song. Funny thing about that, most of us didn’t want it as our class song, we wanted “Friends In Low Places”, but our class advisor, Mrs. Cable, overruled us and we got ‘stuck’ with “Imagine”. Looking back now, I think it was a great choice, though come on, Garth would have best described my class. Lol 🙂

As we continued into Central Park, we took a left and headed up a path that would take us by The Lake, which is one of at least 4 different bodies of water in Central Park. We stopped for some pictures and then kept going. It was freakin’ hot and what got me the most about walking through there is that its so rocky. It’s by no means a flat easy ass walk in the park, nope! I guess I didn’t realize that but as we kept going we eventually made it up to “Belvedere Tower” which gave us a great place to not only rest a moment, but a great vantage point to look out at more of the park. As we continued around we came to the Central Park Boathouse restaurant. This was a perfect place to use the restroom and get a bottle of Gatorade before we got moving again. From here on back to our bus stop was kinda cool. 1st off, most of the walking was downhill at this point. 2nd it was just simply beautiful. Everything about it was awesome. I can’t really say what impressed me so much, but I really did enjoy it. Up a little ways was this plaza like area, with a huge fountain and you could see The Lake behind it. Was pretty dang awesome. Of course there were police and medics there getting into wet suits, not really sure what was going on beyond that.

When we got back to our bus stop, which did include a little uphill walk up into Strawberry Fields, we got back on the bus and continued around the “Uptown Loop”. This loop took us up into Harlem where we got to see the Apollo Theater. The loop continues down Central Park East to Central Park South and eventually back into Times Square where you have to get off. We did and just got on the “Downtown Loop”.

The “Downtown Loop” takes you, well, downtown. 🙂 It has some great places to check out like The Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, The United Nations Building, Battery Park, the Staten Island ferry terminal and of course from down there you can see the Statue of Liberty really well. We decided that due to time, we would just ride the complete loop. We’ve done the loop before, a couple times, but each and every time it is so much fun. The “Downtown Loop”, like the “Uptown Loop”, ends in Times Square. I honestly think that is because it is easier for most tourist to find and know where they are. Either way, it’s pretty cool.

After our bus ride we started walking back to the garage where we parked our car. As we were walking the wife decided she wanted to check out a couple stores and I was fine with that as long as she was fine that I was going to duck into an Irish Pub called Hurley’s. She was, so she went shopping and I went to have a few cold ones. This pub was wicked cool! It had several HD tv screens playing a few different ball games. Plus, the A/C was working nicely in there. The beer? Well, it was pretty good. Nothing that really jumped out at me. I know I had another Brooklyn Lager, beyond that nothing that I really cared to remember I guess.

Once Yvonne was done and joined me we set out to find something to eat. After we got our car we headed downtown to “Lombardi’s Pizza” which is called “The best on the planet” by Zagat. Lombardi’s is located @ 32 Spring Street in Little Italy. I gotta say this, it is cash only and it can take forever to get a table as this place is pretty small. Luckily they are open late so that helped. As we waited we grabbed a couple glasses of sangria, which was good. By the time we got our table, we ordered a pitcher of the sangria and our pizza and it was awesome! I still say that I liked the pizza in Mystic better, but this is more traditional, old school, pizza. The crust was darn near perfection on this bad boy. As I sit here typing this I am starting to crave it now lol 🙂

After we finished at Lombardi’s and as we made our way back to our car, Yvonne spotted a place called “Rice To Riches” across the street. It’s a flavored rice pudding place. She just had to try it. I admit that my first thought was, “Yuck!” But it was pretty good really. She got 2 flavors, one being strawberry, and it was pretty tasty. We shared bites of it on our drive back to our hotel in New Jersey which is only 8.7 miles, but due to traffic in the City and roads being closed, took us just over an hour. While that is a long time, there is so much to see that it really didn’t seem to take all that long. Either way, Day # 3 in NYC was awesome….

Headed to the Bronx…

Since we were staying in Secaucus, NJ, we decided to ride the train into the City. This is the same thing we did the last time we were back here so this time through we were old vets. Today was going to be a strange day for us because after the amazing day of being together yesterday, today we were going different directions. Yvonne was going to hit up a couple art museums and I, of course, was taking the train north to the Bronx for a Yankee game. 🙂 We were able to ride into the City together, then at Penn Station we went different directions with the plan being to meet up there for the ride back into Jersey that evening.

My ride was quite interesting, in so that I had to change trains to get where I wanted to go due to problems on a couple of the lines. Because of that, I am not really 100% sure how I got to the Times Square station, but from there I took the #7 to Grand Central and then the #4 up to the Bronx getting off at 161st & River Ave also known as the stop for Yankee Stadium. Back in the day as you come up from under ground just before the stop the first thing you would see is old Yankee Stadium. Now you see a field with some rubble in it and then you see the new Yankee Stadium standing up just past it.

I didn’t get there too long before the game started but I did have enough time to grab me a bite to eat at a street cart, a dog with the works of course, and to pay off a bet that I lost. See, I made a bet with my brother and since I lost I had to buy a Yankee’s cap and wear it the rest of the season. I got cocky, so I added to it saying that I would not only buy a Yankee hat, I would do it in New York, wear it to the game and post a pic to Facebook of me there wearing the hat. As a diehard Red Sox fan, this sucked beyond all that has ever sucked before. However, I am a man, so I pay off my debts and as such, I bought a hat (with ‘#13 A-Rod’ on it no less) across from The Stadium and took it in with me. Knowing the mess I went through last year here I didn’t bring anything except my camera. I put it into the bag I got when I bought the hat and was able to go right in. Once inside the park I did my usual walk around checking everything out before I took my spot on the concourse down just past 1st base.

After posting my picture to Facebook, I stood there watching the game and like everyone every single time A-Rod came up I was hoping for a home run. Normally I wouldn’t root for the lying dirt bag, however he was going for HR #600 and I thought that might be kinda cool to see… MLB history and all. Needless to say, as per “Ken Luck”, he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn if he tried. Oh well, the next thing you know in the 6th inning the winds started picking up. There was so much garbage flying around the Stadium. Before we knew it the rain was there and it was dumping! They cleared the field, brought out the tarp and we were under a rain delay. This is the 2nd time in 5 games (2nd in the last 3) that it started raining in the 6th inning on me on this trip.

I decided to stick it out a little ways, found me a place to sit down and just wasted some time. The rain didn’t seem to want to stop honestly but the longer it went on, the later I would be meeting up with my wife, so after about an hour, I gave up and started my walk towards the subway platform.

The train ride back to Penn Station was the same as before, only in reverse. The stop at Grand Central wasn’t bad really as I knew right where I had to go because I have now done that exact change (in either direction) several times in the past 2 years. Times Square was a bit different for my change to whatever train I had to get on to go to Penn Station. It took me a bit, but I finally got on the right train and made my way down there. Once I got there I found out she was running late, so I grabbed a slice of pizza and a coke at one of the vendors and just took my time getting to the terminal to head back to Jersey. Finally the wife showed up and after waiting a little while, we along with a ton of our closest friends were able to board a very crowded train back to the Secaucus station.

Our hotel wasnt that far from here so as we headed that way we decided to try a place called “Cheeseburger In Paradise” for dinner. It wasn’t all that bad, but nothing special. The only thing that really sticks out to me is that they serve their beer on tap at 35*. That is just awesome! 🙂

We got back to our hotel, kicked it a little bit, before calling it a night…

Broadway Bound…

After a quick drive through the beautiful historic Mystic to take some pictures, we were headed to New York City. We’ve both been to NYC before, heck I’ve been there several times including just last summer for a couple days, but this time was different. This time we had Broadway tickets, we were seeing “Wicked”! Of all the times I have been to the City, I have never gone to a show. For that matter, I have never stepped foot in Central Park either. Needless to say we were both really looking forward to this day. I was even more so than my wife because I had a surprise lined up for her, but more on that later.

Without traffic this is a 2 ½ hour drive, with it it can take you hours longer. This day it wasn’t too bad as we got to the City in plenty of time to find a parking garage close to the George Gershwin Theatre and we were able to walk around for a while before the show started. We enjoyed looking in different stores and heck we even tried a knish from a street vendor. We eventually ducked inside of an Irish bar to cool off and have a couple colds ones. Heck, before we make it to the theatre, we actually hit a couple different Irish bars. Was a lot of fun.

As we got back to the theater and took our seats, we were both so excited to be seeing a real Broadway Show in New York City… mark that one off the bucket list! If you have never seen “Wicked” and you get the chance, you simply must. It was incredible!

As we left the Gershwin Theatre on a ‘Wicked’ high, we were able to walk to the restaurant where I had us dinner reservations. That was planned. As well as the fact that we were just a short walk into Times Square, with the thought that after we ate we could stroll down that way and enjoy NYC at night, however unknown to my wife I had other plans… more on that in a bit. Dinner was great. We ate at a top rated, according to Zagat, Italian restaurant called “Basso56”. Everything I tried there was amazing. I had the seafood risotto and holy cow! First, I couldn’t finish it but secondly, it was simply incredible. This was also the first time that I had ever had sangria. I kinda liked it actually. Not much of a fan of those types of drinks, I’m obviously a beer guy, but it was good.

All through dinner I was watching the clock because I knew we had to be somewhere at a specific time and I didn’t want to be late. I couldn’t tell my wife that otherwise it would have spoiled the surprise. I had read reviews of Basso56 saying even with a reservation you might not get your table for a while, so be prepared for that. I was. Yet what I wasn’t ready for was getting the table as we walked in, getting our food rather quickly and being pretty much ready to go early. Like 40 minutes or so early. I knew I had to stall, so I headed to the restroom to buy me some time. I dilly dallied around, washed my hands 2 or 3 times, then went back out. Knowing we had time, even though I was stuffed, I decided that maybe we should get desert after all. After making our choice, my phone rang! It was a New York area code and I just knew it was going to be the surprise and sure enough it was and he was 20 minutes early. Before we ordered desert, this would have been fine. But not now. So I explained to my wife that it was a wrong number (I only talked to the guy by saying “Uh huh” and “Sure” a couple times as he told me he was out front ready for us). I’m not really sure she bought it, but that was fine as we finished up, I took care of the check, we each used the restroom and headed out front to see a long black limo sitting there. She looked at me and said “Now, which way do we go from here again?” I pointed at the limo and said, “I think we should go this way.” Needless to say she freaked out and all the little things along the way that I might have said to tip her off came back to life, especially the phone call.

A week ago today was our 6th wedding anniversary. We spent the day with friends of hers from work, then that night I flew out of Seattle headed on this trip. We don’t really ever do anything for our anniversary, but I kinda felt that since she allowed me to go to Minneapolis early to catch those games at Target Field and since we were in New York City, a place we both love to come… why not?! I had the limo booked for 3 full hours with no real plan in mind except for the driver to just go everywhere he could so we could see the city from that vantage point.

After driving around a while, with Yvonne calling just about everyone she knows to tell them what I had done and where she was, we made our first stop at “McGee’s Pub” on West 55th. It is the bar that inspired the bar, McLaren’s, on one of my favorite TV shows called “How I Met Your Mother”. While the inside looks nothing at all like the bar on the show, it was a pretty cool little neighborhood pub there in Midtown. We each had a couple drinks, beers for me including a Goose Island IPA, then it was back out to the limo and we headed downtown to go see the Statue of Liberty lit up. On the way down there Yvonne decided she wanted to go to Brooklyn so we asked the driver to take us there. He took us across the Brooklyn Bridge and dropped us off at this little park along the river with an amazing view of not only the Brooklyn Bridge but Manhattan as well. It was so beautiful. After spending a while there, we grabbed an ice cream from a vender close by and got back in the limo to head back into Manhattan. Our time was running out, it really is amazing how fast 3 hours in New York City can really go, so we decided to have the driver drop us off as close as he could get us to Times Square. I can’t really speak for my wife, but I can say that the entire day/night was simply incredible. From starting the morning in the beautiful coastal fishing town of Mystic, CT, to seeing Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre, dinner at Basso56 and then a 3 hour limo ride all over the city… it was magical! Thank you to my beautiful wife for sharing that with me.

The rest of the evening we spent in Times Square enjoying how they have blocked off a couple streets to traffic and allow people to walk out in the road. It’s crazy, but really cool. Once we left there we headed back to get our car and over to New Jersey to check into our hotel. The night might have been over, but the memories will last forever…

P.S.. let me add that if you ever get a limo in NYC and wanna trade the whiskey that comes with it for good beer, and you have to pay extra for it, don’t do it! I asked and gave detailed instructions on getting me anything IPA. I had to pay them $20 to go get it, plus the price of the beer. We get there, and they got Heineken! Are you freakin’ kidding me?!?

Wedding Day…

Knowing that the wedding didn’t start until 6pm, I was able to get up, hit Dunkin’ Donuts for some coffee for the wife (she is addicted to their coffee) and hit the road northbound headed to Boston! I abso-freakin’-lutely LOVE Beantown! This run was going to have to be a quick one and as my luck, aka “Ken Luck”, would have it the Red Sox were not in town. No, they were in SEATTLE playing my Mariners. Yep, that means not only am I missing the Red Sox/M’s series in Seattle, I am in Boston without a game… that’s a wicked pissah!

Much like several trips lately, this quick run to Boston was about “Baseball & Beer”. My first stop was for the tour of Fenway, then I was headed over to the Boston Beer Company to tour the home of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. As I pulled into town I grabbed my camera to take a picture and realized that I had not charged the battery and it was completely freakin’ fried! I was soooo pissed! Luckily I still had my phone to take pictures on, but damn it that sucks! As I got to Fenway, I actually spent some time looking around for an outlet to grab a free quick charge on. As the minutes before my tour winded down, I gave up, took the camera and charger back to the car and headed for the team store to join up with the rest of everyone and to meet our guide.

I’ve been to Fenway Park for 3 games and taken a tour previously, so why do it again? Why? If you have to ask why, you just don’t get it! IT’S FREAKIN’ FENWAY PAHK! That’s why! This tour was awesome. Our tour guide reminded me of Burgess Meredith’s character, Mickey, from “Rocky”. He was awesome and got so excited to tell us about ‘his park’. We got to go all over the park, the press box, the Bud Porch, the Green Monster and so on… but to my disappointment, even with the team out of town we couldn’t go to the dugout or walk out to touch the front of the Monstah, because they were working on the field, so we were restricted to the stands only. That sucked, but it was still Fenway and I had a great time!

I was meeting a friend, Dan, from the beer boards for the Sam Adams tour and he was calling me as I was late getting over there because the tour at Fenway ran long. I let him know I was on my way and got there a few minutes later. The tour itself was a bit of a disappointment, honestly. They first detailed the ingredients used and then explained fermentation to us. That was really it. The biggest bulk of the tour was drinking free beer. Now, ain’t nothing wrong with that, but I was really hoping to get the inside scoop of what they do there in Beantown. As for the beers, we got to try their Summer Ale (it’s a wheat and it’s great!), their flagship “Boston Lager” and then a darker beer, maybe a stout of some kind (not really sure, cause I really didn’t care for it). Needless to say, if you get the chance to run by Sam Adams, do it, but don’t be expecting much in the way of the business side… but the beer will be good!

After the tour Dan and I rode the free trolley over to Doyle’s Pub, a historical landmark in Boston that was once frequented by former President John F. Kennedy and seen in the movie “Mystic River”, to have some lunch and just hang out. That was fun. I always enjoy meeting up with someone that shares a passion of mine and with home brewing, Dan does. During lunch, I had a bowl of their clam chowdah and a rueben, we sat there talking about traveling and of course beer. Part of the reason to go to Doyle’s was that if you did, you would get a free Sam Adams glass or you could have bought it at the gift shop for $8. Heck, since we were gonna get something to eat anyway, why not? (btw, flash forward, I got that glass all the way home only to have my wife knock it off a shelf and shatter it!). The food was good, so good that Dan opted for a 2nd bowl of the chowdah. 🙂

After lunch and a trolley ride back to Sam Adams, I had to hit the road south to get back to Mystic so I could get ready and head to the wedding with the wife. On my drive down it started to rain, so I called Yvonne and sure enough it had been raining pretty hard down there and she found out that they moved the wedding inside, bummer.

As we got to the hotel, the Mystic Marriott, the rain had let off, but it was so muggy and sticky hot. I was almost glad they moved it inside at that point. The wedding, well, it was beautiful. Every since our wedding I have looked at them differently and started to enjoy them for what they are, not just a time waster before the real party. However, I gotta say, these guys did it up right! I have never been to a wedding, mine included (duh!) that was this awesome! After the ceremony we were treated to Hors d’œuvres and an OPEN BAR while the wedding party was taking pictures. Since they took off and went into the historic part of Mystic, they were gone easily for over an hour. Homeboy got his grub on enjoying the rumaki, the coconut shrimp, several kinds of cheeses and oh yeah, the OPEN BAR! It was this night in Mystic that I fell in love with Sam Adams “Summer Ale”. I had just tried it for my first time on the tour earlier that day, but dang, this was a great chance to drink as much as I wanted!

Once the wedding party got back, they opened the doors to the main ballroom and we all entered before the DJ introduced us to the entire wedding party as they walked in, which included my brother Judd (Sean’s Dad). Once they got in they served us one of the most amazing meals I have ever had. What is sad is that I don’t recall what the chicken was stuffed with, but it was sooooo good! Of course the dinner started off with lobster bisque with a puff pastry on top. It was awesome!

The rest of the night was pretty standard wedding stuff, the speeches, the 1st dance, the bouquet and garter toss and so on. What was truly different about this wedding is that I actually had a great time and even danced, several dances. I just don’t usually do that. Guess with so much family there I felt comfortable enough… or maybe it was the OPEN BAR! Lol Truth is I probably knocked back a 12 pack of Sammy’s Summer Ale, at least, if not more 🙂

Overall I had a great night getting to spend such a special occasion with not only my nephew and his new wife, but with the rest of my family, my wife, my brother Judd and his wife, June, and youngest 2 kids, Jessica & Jared. Wish we could have spent more time together back there, but after the festivities were over and we had danced the night away, it was back to our hotel to get some sleep as the wife and I were headed south in the morning to The Big Apple! 🙂

Baltimore to Mystic…

It took me a while to get to sleep last night, which kinda surprised me after being out in that heat all day long. No biggie though as I know I was only about a 15 minute drive to BWI so I had plenty of time to get up, get a shower and hit the road to pick up my wife. Or so I thought! As I was in the bathroom getting the shower running, my phone rings and it’s my wife. Her flight got in almost 40 minutes early… how in the world?!? I have heard of getting in early, but a full 40 minutes early? I told her I was just getting into the shower and I would be there asap!

When I picked her up I could see just how tired she was as she looked exhausted. Part of the reason I flew East before her was to catch the game in Minneapolis, and so much more, but also so I could be rested and ready to drive us to Mystic and let her rest on the way.

As we headed out of town we decided to do a little sight seeing and we made our way over to the corner of Remington & 30th to the little bakery there known as “Charm City Cakes”. This is where Duff Goldman and his crew from “Ace Of Cakes” do their thing. We knew we wouldn’t be able to go in, they are by appointment only, but we went by there anyway just to see the place and get a picture taken outside. We also got to see “The Dizz” across the street, that was cool.

After a quick stop at the corner 7-11 for some caffeine (Coke for me, coffee for the wife) and to pick up a few bottles of water for the cooler, it was time to hit the road… next stop, Philadelphia.

Last summer I was in Philly with my buddy Bob and we decided to get a cheesesteak from both Pat’s & Geno’s to see which one was the best. This has been much debated with people on each side being diehards! In my previous run thru here both Bob and I agreed that without question, the winner was Geno’s! Unlike last time, this time the weather was great, so I had the wife get one from Pat’s and I trotted over to Geno’s across the street to get one from Joey Vento himself. We met back outside of Pat’s and took a seat at one of the picnic tables there. After we each had a few bites from each sandwich, we started to discuss which one we liked best. I did my best to want to not like Pat’s and declare Geno’s the official winner…. But I couldn’t. In 2009 the main problem with Pat’s was it was too dry. The meat was over cooked, the onions under cooked and it just tasted “Blah” or like Bob said “I can get a better cheesesteak than this at Jack-in-the-box!” This time, it was the exact opposite. Pat’s was so juicy, so tasty, it was done right! That’s not to take anything away from Geno’s, because it was really good as well, but on this day, at that time, Pat’s was the better sandwich. That puts me at 1-1, which means I will have to make my way back to Philly again for a grudge match tie breaker!

After our cheesesteak breakfast, we hit the road north headed to our next tourist stop, Hoboken, NJ. Now, when you think tourist locations, I am sure that Hoboken isn’t the top of your list or for that matter even on your list, however, Hoboken is the home of Carlo’s Bake Shop where Buddy Valastro and his familia do their thing on “Cake Boss”. As we got close we started noticing people milling around and within a few blocks we started talking how we doubted it would be too busy and we should be able to get in and out pretty fast. Then reality hit us like a ton of bricks as we spotted a HUGE freakin’ line waiting to get in. This line stretched down the block, and continued almost another full block down the road. There were a ton of people there, it was crazy! Needless to say, we didn’t get to go in and buy anything, but we were able to take pictures from the outside.

After that crazy reality check, we hit the road headed north again. After a short 84 mile drive we made our next stop in New Haven, CT for lunch at the birth place of hamburgers, “Louis Lunch”. This place still uses the same exact vertical stoves to cook the burgers as they did when they first started making them. I have to say that I enjoyed the burger, but it was a tad undercooked for me. However, there is a sign there that clearly lets us all know that “This is not Burger King. You don’t get it your way. You take it my way, or you don’t get the damn thing.” Well, there ya go then I guess. I will say this much, if I am ever up that way again, I will certainly go back and try it again. Btw, don’t ask for ketchup, they aint got any… and remember, cash only, no credit/debit cards.

After lunch we still had an hour drive to Mystic and by now the wife was ready to get outta the car for a long while. She was really unable to get much sleep, probably due to the coffee (ya think?!). So naturally that means we hit some serious traffic and lost about 35 minutes or so just sitting there on the highway. When we did finally make it into Mystic, we went straight to the hotel to check in and thankfully the room was ready. We still had a few hours to go before the rehearsal dinner that night, so Yvonne opted to grab some sleep, as I headed into town to do a couple loads of laundry.

It was a pretty hot day and the laundry mat I found was ‘en fuego!” Luckily I was only there about 90 minutes and I was able to go outside and get a little bit of air from the breeze. After leaving the laundry mat I went in search of a cold beer and found myself at “Mystic Pizza”. The last time Yvonne and I were through town, May 5, 2005 (05/05/05), we ate there and I started calling it “Hands down the best pizza I have ever had”. I had to go grab a slice to see if it really was or not and I knew they had cold beer. Well, just like last time… best pizza I have ever had! Plus, the beer was freakin’ COLD! Loved it! I knew as I sat there that if Yvonne found out I went there without her she would be ticked, rightfully, so I ordered up a pie to go and when it was ready, I headed back to the hotel to wake the wife up.

Today has seemed all about the food (from cheesesteaks in Philly, to a hamburger in New Haven, which we split one, to pizza in Mystic) and now it was time for dinner. Let me say that we each only had 1 slice of the pizza, put the rest in the fridge for later, before we got ready and headed down to “Go Fish” to meet up with everyone.

When we got there the Maitre D took us to the wrong party, so that was a bit awkward, but when we finally found the right place, it was quite strange for me to be this far from home, on the complete opposite coast and see my brother and his family there! It was the first time any of them had been up to this part of the country, except for Sean who was now living up this way and of course he was up here with me in 2003 (we even stopped in Mystic lol). I had just seen them a week earlier at their house back home, but this was something special.

The rest of the night we hung out there, had some lobster bisque, clam chowder and a few cold ones before calling it a night so the bride and groom could get some sleep and get ready for their big day.

Fryin’ @ The Yards…

My #1 priority this morning was to get the strap on my leg brace fixed because walking with it broke the way it is wasn’t much fun.  Last night I had Googled some places to call this morning so I got up early and started calling around.  Everywhere was full up with appointments and couldn’t even see anyone on an emergency basis (I felt it was an emergency anyway!).  I finally found a placed, about a 30 minute drive from me, that could see me and as she told me, “The sooner the better”.  I jumped thru a shower, got dressed and headed on my way.

To make a fairly long story short: 1) This place was located at a hospital, 2) I had to pay to park at the hospital and 3) About 90 minutes after I got there I was walking out with a new strap on my leg not knowing 100% for sure if it would be covered by insurance and realizing that compared to my last one, this one sucks ass! (Side note: it must have got better, or I got used to it because months later, I am still using that same one).

After getting the new strap I made my way straight to Camden Yards.  Today’s game was an afternoon game and it was already freakin’ hot!  I got there, parked and headed across the street to “Pickles”.  Pickles is a sports pub that my buddy Bob DeVries had told me I had to try when I was in town and like I said, its right across the street from the ballpark, so all the better.   Needless to say, I loved it!  Great beer, “Flying Bitch”, and great food between the “Baltimore Wings” (coated in ‘Old Bay’) and the deep fried pickle spears.

For today’s game I decided I wanted to try something different, to sit in a different section.  Not just a different section, but a completely different part of the park than I have ever say before.  This would be my 5th game at Camden Yards and I have always sat out in the bleachers by the Warehouse.  This time I wanted to sit behind home and get the view of the entire park, including the Warehouse, so I grabbed a seat up in section 336.  I had a great view from my seat.  I really enjoyed it… for the most part.  The only issue I really has was that it was so friggin’ hot!  It was so hot (how hot was it?), it was so hot that they started handing out free cups of ice.  I can usually handle the heat ok, but today it was so bad that when I got the chance I moved up a section to the other side of the walkway and into the shade. Getting the direct sunlight off me was nice, but it was still hot and an ice cold lemonade sure sounded good.  Now if I could just get the guy selling them to walk by.  It took darn near 5 innings before he did and he sold out his entire tray in a matter of moments.  When he left he must have went straight back, filled up his tray and came right back because in less than ½ inning he was back and it didn’t take long for his $5.50 lemonades to disappear again!  As for the game, it was nothing exciting really.  The Rays beat the Orioles 5-4 with Evan Longoria going 2-4 with 2 runs scored and 2 rbi’s.  The game lasted 3:13 and it seemed to drag on and on.  I honestly think it was because of the heat, because I love being at the ballpark, and Camden Yards is amazing… especially when it’s not raining!

After the game I took off for the Fells Point neighborhood.  I had been doing some research on different places and found a place called “Max’s Taphouse” that sounded like my kinda place.  It’s just a neighborhood bar that has a ton of different beers on tap, including several casks.  When I finally found it, got a parking spot (paid for parking), got in and looked around I was blown away!  For everything I had read, I didn’t say anything about it being a ‘dive’.  This surprised me, but I LOVED IT!  The coolest thing, besides all the different beers on tap, is that they have a menu that details all of their beers and even tells you a little something about them, including who makes it.  I had a great time getting to hang out there, enjoy several of their beers, talk to lots of locals and just relax.  I will most certainly go back again the next time I am in Baltimore.

After leaving Max’s I headed back to my hotel, changed clothes and headed to dinner at a place called “G&M Restaurant & Lounge”.  It’s located in Linthicum Heights, MD, which is pretty close to the BWI.  I had heard they had amazing crab cakes, so I wanted to check them out.  From the moment I walked in I could tell I wasn’t going to be enjoying myself here.  The bar itself only has a small number of seats, which were currently full.  Of all of the other tables, the smallest one was a 4 topper and being by myself, I would have rather just waited for a spot at the bar, but I could tell those guys were there for drinks and to watch the game so I wasn’t going to wait.  Just moments after walking in and taking a look around a lady working there yelled, and I mean YELLED, at me saying “Over this way!” and pointed to the waitress station which was on the complete other end of the place from where I was at.  I nodded my head and proceeded to walk through the crowded room all the while getting looks from people.  Freakin’ lovely!

The gal working there, the Maitre D if you will, wasn’t that nice either as she took me to my table.  Top that off with the look from the waiter as he walked over to me (I’m certain it was the disappointment of 1 person at a 4 top table aka smaller tip!) and they already had more than 3 strikes on them at this point!  From there it just got worse.  The beer selection sucked, my order was wrong, the food was cold and the “Award Winning” crab cakes were 1) Expensive and 2) Sucked!  I have had better crab cakes at Camden Yards!  The only thing that was even remotely good is that they had the ESPN MLB game on the big screen.  However, it was not HD and I mean seriously, what kind of place worth anything isn’t running HD these days?!?

After leaving there I head back to my hotel, filled up the gas tank, started packing up some loose ends and watched some tv.   In a matter of a couple hours my wife would be starting her flight to BWI and I will be picking her up early for our drive to Mystic, CT.

Onward to Baltimore…

After dropping my rental car off I headed into the airport.  If you have never been to Milwaukee’s airport, DON’T GO!  To get to the ticket counter I had to go in from the rental drop off garage, up 2 levels, into the airport, down a level and clear to the other side of that floor to get to my airlines (Air Tran) ticketing counter.  Once I got checked in, I had to go back across the floor, up 1 level and walk a ways to get to security all while carrying that “Dead Hooker”.  I tell ya, I learned a valuable lesson already and that is if I am ever going to do just carry on luggage again it will have WHEELS!  I am not going to be hauling that over my shoulder ever again!!

Ben's Chili Bowl in NW Washington D.C.

Security wasn’t bad at all, much to my surprise because 2 days ago as I walked by on my way out of the airport, it was jammed!  Had a great conversation with the guys working there about beer (1 of them commented on my “Dick’s Manfish Brewing” hat) as I stripped down having to remove my shoes, brace, phone and belt buckle.  I was afraid my pants were going to fall off they were so loose!  When I went to put everything back on, and my laptop back into my carry on, I saw a sign there above my head that read “Recombobulation Area”… not THAT is just plain out funny airport security humor!!

My flight to Baltimore was just about 2 hours long and fairly easy honestly.  I only got about 15 minutes of sleep, sure wish it had been more.  However, once we landed I hit the ground ‘running’ yet again.   In Baltimore to get to the rental car counters you have to ride a shuttle bus from BWI to the rental facility.  Having done this a few times prior, I had no problem doing it again as I got on the bus and got to relax for a few minutes talking to a family from Chicago about the Cubs (I had my Cubs jersey on).  When we got to the rental facility I headed straight for Budget, saw their “FastBreak” sign, found my car and got out of there in less than 15 minutes… take THAT Milwaukee!

Having really not eaten anything since my wings at Psycho Suzie’s in Minneapolis yesterday afternoon, I headed straight for U Street in Northwest DC and Ben’s Chili Bowl.  Ben’s is famous and has been there for just over 50 years now.  Many Presidents have ate there, including President Obama on Inauguration Day.  Ben’s is also a favorite restaurant of Bill Cosby and his favorite item is the “chili half-smoke” so naturally that’s what I was having.  Not just because of him, but because of the 3 I have had before that were all soooo good!  This time I sat at the counter, right up front, so I could watch everything going on.  Along with the half-smoke I ordered a side of the chili.  I was surprised to see that the side of chili comes with beans, where the chili on the half-smoke doesn’t, as it’s more of a sauce really.  Either way they were both so good, but by the time I was done, I was also so full I didn’t want to move except for I had a ticket in my pocket for the 1:30pm tour at National’s Park I needed to get to.

At National's Park

I left Ben’s just before Noon and I figured I would go to Nat’s Park and see if I could jump into the next tour instead of waiting until mine at 1:30pm.  That would have been a great idea except for the fact that there was no more tours until the one I was in at 1:30pm.  So with almost 90 minutes to waste I texted my buddy Bob DeVries and asked for a suggestion on a sports bar to go hang out at and have a beer or 3.  He suggested “Capital City Brewing Co” so that’s where I went.  Capital City if a pretty cool place with a decent selection of their own beers on tap.  I asked if they had a hoppy IPA and was told that they didn’t, but their Pale Ale was “Good and hoppy”.  I smiled and said I would try it and holy hops batman, it was!  I had a couple of those and just before I left I was introduced to a new style of beer, to me anyhow, a Belgian-Style IPA.  I’m not big on Belgian beers because they are usually a bit sweeter and a tad creamy.  This was no different except that it had a great hop flavor to go with it.  I liked it but didn’t have time to get another cause I had a tour to get to!

As I arrived back at National’s Park I noticed the thermometer was reading 98*!  Nothing like a mostly outdoor walking tour in 98* weather with some seriously high humidity!  The tour itself was pretty cool.  We had a small group so our guide took us all over the park.  The only real disappointment is that the Nationals advertise that with their tours you get to go into the bullpen and throw a pitch off the mound.  We were unable to do that today because they were setting up the stage for a Dave Mathews concert that would be there in a few days.  That sucked, but our guide tried her best to make up for it and our 1 hour tour turned into an almost 2 hour tour.  We got to see the Clubhouse, indoor batting cages, Presidents Club (both inside and outside), got to go into the press box, a couple different suites and so on.  I learned that National’s Park is the 1st and only ballpark to be certified “Green”.  That’s cool!  At one point our tour guide was telling us about their HD video board and said that it was just over 5000sq ft.  I got to thinking and I asked her if I heard that right and she said I did and I said, “My house is only 1808 sq ft!”  She laughed and replied, “So that video board is over 2.5X the size of your house.”  Holy cow that’s huge!   As the tour ended and I got to my car I took a quick peek at the thermometer, it was reading 105* now.  I betcha I lost 2 pounds, at least, on that tour.  No matter, my Sante Fe had AC and I was off to Baltimore for the game at Camden Yards.

Getting Soaked at Camden Yards

The drive up to Camden Yards was stop and go for most of it.  I knew if I didn’t get out of DC in time, and with the tour running long I didn’t, that the Beltway would be a mess and it was.  No matter, I still had plenty of time and I got to the ballpark, was parked and walked up to the gate on Eutaw Street before it even opened.  As I stood there, in the sweltering heat, I kept my eyes on the sky cause as the clouds rolled in I could smell rain coming and about 20 minutes after the gates were opened, as I was sitting in my seat in right-center, it started to sprinkle.  The sprinkles quickly gave way to a full on downpour! I just sat there in my seat because I figured that while I was going to get soaked, once it passed, the sun would come back out and I would dry fairly quickly.  At one point I took my glasses off and leaned my head back and just let the rain beat down on me.  Honestly, it felt quite nice as it was a rather warm rain.  Before long the rain had passed and the sun was coming out and an usher walked over to me to ask me why I just sat there.  I told her it felt good and should help me wake up considering I have been awake for almost 36 hours at this point.  I also explained to her how rain was nothing new for me there at Camden Yards because of the 4 times I have been there for games, this was the 3rd time it’s rained.  She joked how it was my fault that it rained.  I can’t recall her name, but she was really nice, unlike a lot of ushers at ballparks I have been to.

Due to the rain there wasn’t gonna be any  batting practice, naturally since I brought my glove for my 1st row seat in the bleachers, so I got up and walked out to Eutaw Street to look at things and wondered over to the Bud Light Warehouse bar.  Inside here is a bar, naturally, and they have a table set up on the right side where the Orioles pregame radio show is broadcast from.  Since I was there I figured I would check it out and ended up staying almost an hour watching them.  Partly because it was interesting and one of their guests was Baltimore great Boog Powel and partly because as I stood there it started pouring yet again outside!

Just before heading back to my seat I heard one of the radio guys mention how traffic was tight around the park tonight and if you were coming you better do it soon because the 1st Lady of the United States would be here to throw out the 1st pitch.  Wicked!  As I walked back to my seat I could see, rather obviously, several secret service members walking around.  A buddy of mine later told me they do that so you pay attention to those guys and not the ones in plain clothes… I guess that makes sense.

First Lady Michelle Obama walks to the mound @ Camden Yards

About 10 minutes before the game was to start they announced Michelle Obama and she was joined by a boy and a girl from her new “Let’s Move” foundation which helps fight childhood obesity.  Mrs. Obama didn’t actually throw a pitch, each of the kids with her did, which I thought was pretty cool.  Whether you like the current administration or not I found it very cool to be in attendance the night that the First Lady was there and being able to see her was a highlight for sure.  Just before the game started that usher lady from earlier came up to me and said with a big smile on her face “Any more rain and I am tossing you outta here!”.  I couldn’t help but laugh.

As for the game, Orioles vs Rays (Arrieta vs Garza), this was my 3rd time seeing Tampa in Baltimore (I need to plan that better).  I was excited to get to see Matt Garza pitch, yet this night he had nothing.  He gave up 10 hits and 7 runs in 6 1/3 innings.  By the time the rain started failing again (with 1 out in the top of the 6th inning) it was 4-2 Orioles.  As the rain kept coming down and really hard at times, I decided I was done with getting soaked, was freakin’ tired and needed to get me a bite to eat.  Honestly I figured that they were going to put the game in a rain delay at any moment, so I left.  As I got up to walk out I stopped by and told my usher lady, “I’ll make this easy on you and toss myself out!”

As I walked out of Camden Yards on Eutaw Street headed to my car, in a downpour, I felt something pop on my leg.  It was the strap on my leg brace… it broke!  There I am, 4 days into a 2 week trip, walking to my car in the rain, with a broken brace strap.  Lovely!

Chap's Special @ Chap's Pit Beef

For dinner I Googled the address for “Chap’s Pit Beef”, another place I have seen on “Diners, Drive-in’s & Dives” and headed over there.  I am not a big BBQ fan, but from what I had seen on their show, their sandwiches looked awesome.  I got the “Chap’s Special”, which is a hoagie stuffed with fresh turkey, ham and roast beef smothered in BBQ sauce and fresh onions.  It wasn’t much to look at, but it was awesome!  Big enough that I ate it for 2 meals!

I was listening to the game as I made my way to my hotel out by the airport.  I was shocked that they hadn’t even called it yet even though it was still raining, though not as hard as earlier.  Once I got checked in and up to my room, I looked for it on TV, couldn’t find it, so I followed the rest of the 13 inning affair online and was happy to see that the Orioles pulled it out 11-10 in 4 hours and 38 minutes.  I still think I made the right choice since I will be back at the game tomorrow.  Better to cut one short and get some much needed rest than to run super long at 1 and make the rest of the trip miserable.  As I said, there’s always tomorrow’s game…

Spending the day in Minneapolis…

I didn’t have to be at Target Field until 7pm so I had plenty of time to waste here in Minneapolis.  My problem is that I have never heard anyone say, “I really want to go to Minneapolis”!  That said, finding something to do is going to be a challenge.  I decided to just kick it at the hotel until I had to check out and then head to the Mall of America.  I have been to the Mall of America twice before and to me, well, it’s just a friggin’ large mall.  I don’t like shopping and I am not into the amusement park stuff, but I figured it would be a good way to kill some time.

Located at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN

I got to the MOA, parked and headed in to find a sea of teenage girls!  After walking around a bit, what I found out was that Zak Efron was going to be there in a n hour to do a signing and talk about his latest movie.  I decided to take my obligatory pictures of the old Metropolitan Stadium home plate and chair and get out of there.  Total time wasted about 20 minutes!

I figured that I might as well go ahead and get lunch at the 5*8 Club now, since I wasn’t that far from it, before I headed into downtown.  The 5*8 Club has been around since 1928.  At one time it was a Speak Easy.  Now it’s famous for its Juicy Lucy.  Just the same with Matt’s up the road, I had to try it.  As I walked in I noticed a difference right away and that is that the 5*8 is more upscale as compared to Matt’s.  It is also so much bigger than Matt’s.   Even though it was just after 1pm, I was able to get a seat at the bar right away, so I took my spot, ordered up my Lucy (identical to the one I had at Matt’s) with rings and slaw.  The beer choice wasn’t the greatest, like at Matt’s, so I opted for the Summit Pale Ale again.  When my burger came the first thing that hit me was that it was cooked more than the one from Matt’s.  As I took a bite, I nibbled to try and not have the cheese squirt out at me, like it did at Matt’s, but there was no need as this one wasn’t really juicy.  I had to squeeze, rather hard, to get the cheese to come to the surface.  The cheese was much more stiff and just didn’t have the flavor of the burger at Matt’s Bar.  There was an obvious winner here, sorry 5*8, Matt’s Bar has the far better Juicy Lucy!

After lunch I headed over to the Walker Arts Center.  This would be my third time there and of all the things to do in Minneapolis, I love this place.  They have several different art installations in a park that you can walk around.  In 2006 when I was in town my wife told me I had to go see the giant spoon and cherry.  I looked it up and found that it was at the Walker Arts Center.  I went, took a couple pix, and left.  In 2008 when we were both in town together, we did the same thing.  This time I decided to walk around and see more of the center and I was very glad I did.  While I wouldn’t call “Art” some of the things other people do, I had a good time strolling around looking at things.  When I was almost done I got a call from my wife and I told her how I still had a couple hours to kill and she suggested I head over to Psycho Suzie’s Motor Lounge & Tiki Garden and check it out. So after I finished getting some “culture” I headed across town for a cold beer.

Walker Arts Center

We originally saw Psycho Suzie’s on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives”.  I have over the past few years tried to get to some of these places we have seen when I am in these towns and I can check another off my list.  When I got to Suzie’s I was excited to see that they have Bell’s 2-Hearted Ale on tap.  I have heard so much about it that I was glad to finally get to try it.  It did not disappoint!  The atmosphere was different than any place I have been in a while.  It had a real party feel to it.  I wish I could have been there when there was a lot more people there, but you take what you get.  After a couple beers I ordered up some of their “Barracuda Buffalo Wings”.  The bartender told me right away how good they were and how his mouth was watering just thinking about them.  He then told me that they were “dry”, that they don’t come out smothered in sauce – STRIKE 1!  When my ordered arrived I saw that the sauce was on the side, for dipping.  It was a tequila buffalo sauce and it was awesome!  The wings themselves were breaded and deep fried to the point of almost too much, yet not.  They were so crispy and simply amazing!  I have to say that of all the wings that I have ever had, and there have been way too many to count, these were the 2nd best, right behind the Anchor Bar in Buffalo.

After paying for my wings and $2 pints of 2-Hearted Ale, I headed out to Target Field.  Just the same as the day before I parked at the Midtown/Lake Street park & ride and rode the train in.  I got to the park before the gates opened and got in line.  My plan for today was to just get to my seat (section 139, row 5, seat 1 in the right field bleachers) and just enjoy the game from there.  Yesterday I walked around and took in as much as I could but today, I just wanted to grab my seat and enjoy the game, ballpark and crowd from my seat.  So this is what I did and since I got there early enough for batting practice, I brought my glove.  Sadly, there wasn’t a single ball hit into my section.  1 hit 1 section over and that was as close as one came.

Target Field - Minneapolis, MN

As for the game (Laffey vs Baker) it was a blow out.  The Indians pounded out 20 hits and beat the Twins 10-4.  The crowd was taken out of the game early and it was quite painful to watch really.  The biggest thing about this game, with the 32 combined hits, is that the game was moving along quite slowly.  I needed a fast game or at the very least, it needed to be under 3 hours in length so I could ride the train to my car and get to Milwaukee in time for my 6 am flight to Baltimore.  It was almost 10pm as the Twins came up to bat in the bottom of the 6th inning and I decided I had to get going or I would be late.  So I got up from my seat as Jim Thome came up and was going to walk towards the gate.  I had just got to the plaza on the main concourse when I heard the crack of the bat and the crowd going crazy.  At that point I looked up and I could see the ball coming right at me!  I drifted a little bit, along with a group of about 15 people, and when the ball came down I was about 8 inches from getting it!  It was so close, I really thought I was going to get it!  I could see the stitches on the ball as it bounced around and then the ball just disappeared!  Nobody knew where it was.  People were scrambling around looking for it.  They were looking under the beer mans cart, by the stairs, in a storage area… nobody knew where the ball went!  Finally someone said they thought the beer man had the ball and he said he didn’t.  Nobody knew where it was as 3 security guys walked up and said to the beer guy, “If you have the ball, you MUST give it up now.  Jim Thome wants it!”  After repeating himself, the beer man reached into his ice chest, past a few bottles of beer, grabbed the ball and handed it to the security guy who tucked it under his jacket and took off with it.  Come to find out that it was Thome’s 575th HR, I guess that’s why he wanted the ball.

As I was flying high on adrenaline from almost getting that ball, I exited the park, got on the first train (much easier than last yesterday) and headed for my car.  The train ride was about 15 minutes or so and easy breezy.  I made it to my car, loaded up, punched in MKE to the GPS and hit the road.  About 20 minutes after I got on the interstate I was sitting still, stuck in construction traffic.  It took almost 30 minutes before I was able to break free from the construction and put the hammer down.  This was the drive I was really worried about.  After running all day long a 5+ hour drive over night into morning isn’t really that smart.  However, I ended up having no problems at all.  As a matter of fact the first drive 2 days ago to Minneapolis from Milwaukee was much harder than this one.  I guess it was from the excitement of almost getting that ball. Whatever it was, I was doing great.  I made my 1 stop at the Black River Falls Oasis for gas and got back on the road and made it to MKE by 4:30am.  My scary drive was over and it was time to get on my flight headed to Baltimore…

Minneapolis Bound…

We landed in Milwaukee just over 20 minutes early!  Man that’s awesome!  That means once I get off the plane, I can get to Budget’s counter, see what Fastbreak stall my car is in and get on the road… EARLY!  This will really help me out.  As I made the long walk to the rental counter, it was only long because, yet again, my gate was the very last one on the concourse, I started thinking about the long drive ahead of me.  It’s just over 5 hours from the Milwaukee airport to the Mall of America.  I plan on parking at the Mall of America since it’s free to do so and just ride the Hiawatha Light Rail train in to Target Field.  It’s a 40 minute ride, but its only $1.75 each way, so why not?

It was a ghost town!

As I get to the Budget counter, there is no signs of anything mentioning Fastbreak, so I go outside and there is nobody at their booth and no signs there of anything Fastbreak related.  I finally see a lady walking around the cars that looks like she works there and I ask her.  She tells me I have to wait for the counter to open first and lets me know that it wont open until 7am!!  ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME?!?  After a couple calls to Budget’s 800#, what I found out is that the rental companies at General Mitchell International do not staff anyone 24 hours, like most airports do.  As such, you have to wait for the counter to open.  That means from that point I had to wait 1 hour and 20 minutes!  So much for getting in early, instead of that being a big plus for me, it now just means I have that much longer to wait!  I was livid!

I finally got my car and was on the road headed out of the airport at 7:04am.  At that point my GPS was telling me that at best I would get to the Mall of America by 12:12pm.  With a 40 minute train ride, as long as I was on the 12:20pm train, I would get to the park by 1pm, 10 minutes before 1st pitch.  That WASN’T gonna work.  With just over 346 miles to drive I knew that I was going to have to make at least 1 stop to get gas.  My plan at this point was to text my wife and have her get me the address of a park and ride lot on the Hiawatha line that was closer to Target Field.  I would  then try to make it only 1 stop and do some creative driving, as Mike calls it, and get there ASAP.

When I heard from my wife, I was about 30 minutes from where I wanted to stop.  She got me the address for the “Midtown/Lake Street” park and ride and I was good to go.  I wanted to stop at the Black River Falls Oasis in Black River Falls, WI.  The 2 previous times I had drive through here, the first being a few days after 9/11, I have stopped there.  Call me a creature of habit, or a Memory Lane kinda guy, but I wanted to stop there and see the orange moose and big mouse.  I took a couple pix as I pulled in and then I gassed up, went in used the facilities, grabbed a 6inch turkey sub from Subway, a coke (hoping the caffeine would help me as I still had about 170+ miles to drive) and I got back in the car and headed out.  As I got back in the highway the GPS was telling me that I would now arrive at the Mall of America at 12:23pm at best.  Since I had gained 6 minutes on the first part of the drive, that means I lost 17 minutes there.  I KNOW I wasn’t at that stop for more than 10 minutes, so I have no idea how its possible that the GPS says I lost that much time.  No matter, it was now time to make back as much time as I could and I reset the GPS to take me to the Midtown park and ride.

The second half of the drive was a tough one.  There isn’t much out there to keep you awake and since I only have 1 power port in my car, which I had to have the GPS plugged into, I was unable to plug in my satellite radio so I had to keep scanning the local channels hoping for something decent.  I had actually got pretty lucky as I found a few really good Country stations that played some great classics, including several from George Strait’s early years like “Maria Del Rey”, “Unwound” and “Amarillo By Morning”.  At one point I came across a station playing “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me.  I have a love/hate relationship with this song.  It’s an amazing tune and it reminds me of my trip with my nephew Sean back in 2003 when he introduced me to it.  But it also reminds me of my Mom, as it was played at her funeral on December 12, 2008.  So naturally as I was singing along, I was also crying my eyes out.  I am not afraid to admit that cause of 2 things: 1) I was freakin’ tired! and 2) being out on the road, by yourself, especially when you’re tired like that, your mind plays with you.  If you have never been there, you wont understand it.   I always say that I LOVE being out on the open road and I do, there is no doubt of that.  I would much rather drive cross-country than fly, yet there are those moments.  This was one of them.

As I neared the Minnesota state line the adrenaline started kicking in.  At that point I knew I wasn’t much further, about 23 miles.  I had gained another 3 minutes at this point and should make it to the Park & Ride by about 12:20pm, depending on traffic.  I got a call from Bob (Mason) as I neared Minneapolis and we talked for a bit cause traffic had slowed down just by my exit.  I was 3 miles from my destination and traffic was at a stand still.  I finally made it and was parked right at 12:30pm.  I got out, headed to the train station, met some really nice people who weren’t sure how to use the machine to buy tickets and didn’t want to slow me down so were gonna have me go ahead of them.  I laughed and told them, “To be honest, this is my first time, so I was kinda looking over your shoulder to see how to do it”.  We laughed about it and he tried it again and we learned together.  It was their first time going to Target Field and I explained that it was mine also and gave them one of my cards. The “small world” moment for the day came when the lady, I cant recall their names (Sorry!), said after reading my card, “Oh, I know where Lacey is, I have a friend in Olympia and we have been through there a few times!” What are the odds of that?

After we got our tickets we headed up to ride the train.  We had to wait a few minutes but no biggie since there was a huge escalator or stairs, I took the stairs (which was good for me, but honestly, I only did it cause the elevator was shut down) because I don’t do big escalators, so it was nice to catch my breath.

I met a few people on the train that asked me if I had ever been to Target Field before and I said I hadn’t and neither had they.  Everyone that I have met so was going to a game at Target Field for their first time.  I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me since its only been open since April 12th and they sell out routinely now, but it did.  The train ride was cool.  It takes you right into downtown, past the Metrodome (which was all decorated with Minnesota Viking stuff) and right to the corner of Target Field.  Pretty cool!  I suggest anyone that’s coming here to do this (getting on the train after the game is another story coming up later).

It was just after 1pm when we got there so I had only a couple minutes to get to agate and get in before 1st pitch so I rushed in… and I MADE IT!  Take that Budget and your Not-So-Fastbreak!  Where I came in at was down the 3rd Base line in the outfield.  I spent the entire game walking around the park, on the main concourse, checking out the game from various vantage points.  I will review Target Field in detail after my 2nd game there on Monday.

The game itself, White Sox vs Twins (Garcia vs Blackburn) started off good enough.  The Twins jumped to a 2-0 lead fairly early, but it didn’t hold up and just before he was pulled Blackburn got scorched for 6 runs, 6-3 White Sox.  That’s where it stayed until the bottom of the 9th.  At that point I was standing just above the bullpen talking with this nice couple.  He has season tickets and told me about coming in last October for the season ticket holders day and getting to walk around and check the park out from all angles with only about 1000 people here.  They were also playing Twins game “#163” on the big screen and he told me how awesome that was to sit here and watch that.  We talked about my journey to see all 30 parks and he asked if I was following the the Twins or White Sox and I said “Neither.  Just hoping for a good game”.   We both agreed that thanks to Blackburn, that was probably not gonna happen.  This was his wife’s first game at Target Field.  The White Sox had brought in their closer, Bobby Jenks, after a lights out 1,2,3 8th by J.J. Putz.  Jenks started off walking the first 2 batters.  He wasn’t even close to the strike zone.  The next 2 singled, its now 6-5, with runners at the corners and no outs.  I thought that brought up Jim Thome, but forgot he had been pinch run for in the 7th.  I was hoping to see him beat his former team.  His replacement, Reneko, walked to load the bases.  Once I saw that Thome was out, I called Delmon young to win it.  Win it he did.  He laced a single the deep centerfield, 1 run was in, and when Rios bobbled the ball, the winning run came in!  The Twins scored 4 in the bottom of the 9th, with no outs, to win 7-6.  What an awesome finish and I got just what I hoped for, a great game.

After the game I headed back to the train, me and several thousand of my closest friends that is.  After being herded like cattle, it took just over 30 minutes to get on the train.  It probably wouldn’t have been so bad, had it not been freakin’ hot and we were standing directly in the sun.   After that and the 16+ minute ride back to the park & ride, I still think it’s the only way to go.  I just hope I can get on a train faster tomorrow night to make my get away and start my 5+ hour drive back to Milwaukee.

For dinner I had decided I wanted to partake in something that is very Minneapolis.  If you ever watch the Travel Channel or Food Network (which is porn for fat people like me) you have heard about the “Ju(i)cy Lucy”.  There are 2 places in town, Matt’s Bar and The 5-8 Club that have made these famous and they fight back and forth on who’s is the best.  I spelled it with the (i) because Matt’s bar says it’s a “Jucy Lucy” and the 5-8 Club says it’s a “Juicy Lucy”, so they can’t even agree on spelling.  Each claim to be the original.  I knew I wanted to go to one of these places so I plugged Matt’s Bar’s addy in my GPS and I was only 1 mile from it, so Matt’s is where I was eating dinner tonight.

I pulled up and was surprised not to see a ton of cars around the place as I was able to park right up front.  As I got out of my car the aroma of what I was about to experience hit me in the face!  As I got to the front door and walked in, I was met at the inner door by a long line of people waiting to get into an already packed place.  I was shocked.  No biggie cause according to the guy behind me, “It’s always like this, should only take 10-15 minutes to get a seat”.  He would have been right, however, since they were that busy and I was there alone, I didn’t want to take a 4 top table to just myself, so I waited for a counter seat…. And I waited…. And I waited… and I waited.  I passed up several tables waiting.  I would have felt bad taking a table to myself when it was that busy and there was a constant line of people coming in.  At one point the waitress, she was the only one, came over and asked if she could buy me a beer as I waited.  I told she didn’t have to, but she insisted and I ordered a Summit Extra Pale Ale and drank it while I waited.  Finally some stools at the bar opened up and I got me seat about 30 minutes after I got there.

The Jucy Lucy from Matt's Bar

As I sat down the waitress asked me, “So, have to had time to study the menu while you waited and know what you want?”  I said I did and I ordered my very first Jucy Lucy, a ½ order of fries and another beer.  Matt’s Bar is a small place and what most people, myself included, would call a “Dive”.  I don’t say that negatively, because this place obviously has character and is very popular.  Their kitchen is tiny, only has a really small grill (everything they serve is grilled, their burgers or their grilled cheese sandwich…except for the fries) and is in plain sight right behind the counter/bar just inside the door.  I was sitting at the opposite end of the kitchen, so I was able to watch everything going on.  Because the grill is so small, and as such there is only 1 cook, it takes time to get your order.  As such I had plenty of time to have a few beers.  Matt’s tells you to “Fear the cheese” and if you know what a Jucy Lucy is, you understand that.  If not, let me tell you that a Jucy Lucy is 2 burger patties put together, but with a couple slices of cheese in between.  As the burger grills, the cheese melts and it because a hot lava core.  When I got my burger I was careful not to take a big first bite.  I wanted to just pierce the core to let the cheese flow.  That didn’t happen and I learned in a hurry that the cheese is indeed freakin hot!  After my first bite I was ready for more.  You have to eat it carefully, but I gotta say that this was an amazing burger!  I got it with the grilled onions, which come diced up really fine.  The burger also has pickles on it.  That’s it.  You can put on ketchup or mustard if you want to, but I chose to eat it naked, with nothing else on it… and it was the right choice.  Each bite was better than the first as you make your way into the cheesey center.  But as I got about 2/3 of the way… and that’s where I hit the wall!  After taking a quick breather, I finished my burger and beer and gave up my seat for someone that was standing in the still long line trying to get in.

After dinner I made my way to my hotel, the Sheraton in Bloomington, which took me right by where I will have lunch tomorrow, the 5-8 Club.  After checking in, I got to my room, turned the Cubs/Phillies game on and it didn’t take me long before I was asleep cause minus the maybe 2 hours nap on the plane, I had been up and running for over 36 hours in which time I had won $ betting on the ponies, had a 3 hour flight, drove 346+ miles…. It was time to get some sleep!