Chicago – May 2017 – Scenes from around Wrigley Field

With a hotel in Wrigleyville, and a game scheduled, it was the perfect time to wander around the neighborhood while the crowd gathered. Without tickets, and being much too cold for late May, I skipped the game to focus on the outside scenes.

Th Addison El stop.

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Knock off T Shirts across the street from the stadium grounds.

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Pay homage to Cubs great Billy Williams.

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Security was out in full force.

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Some San Francisco Giants fans hanging out in front of the fire station.

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Need a Cubs shirt?

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Riding in style.

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With parking a premium, the flaggers go all out to attract attention. His 10′ high PARKING sign was mounted in his backpack. Many are jammed under the El tracks, and throughout small lots in the neighborhood. Most cost $40 for a 3 hour game.

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Columbus – April 2017 – Minor League Baseball

The Columbus Clippers are a AAA minor league team for the Cleveland Indians. As one of the larger cities in minor league baseball they tend to draw well, but on this warm, windy Sunday the crowd was somewhat sparse.

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Still it was a beautiful day for baseball, and the action was exciting.

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As with all minor league games the in between innings promotions were amusing – this one was a ‘human Wendy’s hamburger’ build.

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The obligatory T-shirt toss.

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As AAA players they are almost to the big leagues. The skill level was quite good, although there were a few mistakes in the play.

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Pittsburgh- June 2016 – Weekend in the ‘Burgh

A quick weekend road trip to Pittsburgh was in store in late June, primarily to go to a Pittsburgh Pirates game. But first up was a stop at the University of Pittsburgh, specifically taking a self guided tour of the Cathedral of Learning. Built in the late 1920s, and finished in 1934, it is the tallest educational building in the Western hemisphere at 535 feet high, built in a gothic style.

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As you enter the building you come into the lobby, a massive 3 story high room. Around the perimeter of the first floor, and third floor are 30 Nationality Rooms designed by the various ethnic groups (mostly European) from throughout Pittsburgh.

When we arrived we immediately went to the 42nd floor, where we could look out small windows to the north, south and east, providing vistas across much of Pittsburgh, but unfortunately not a complete downtown view. Prior to the construction of Three Rivers Stadium on the north side in 1970 the Pirates played at Forbes Field, which was just to the south of the campus. A very famous photo shows fans watching the 1960 World Series from this vantage point.

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Returning back to the ground level we received a key from the attendant and wandered in and out of the various Nationality rooms for about an hour. Most of the rooms had a religious feel to them, but the furniture and artwork was very interesting, and dramatically different from room to room.

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We left Pitt to head downtown to park the car at our hotel, a Hilton Garden Inn near Market Square. Once downtown we found that numerous streets were closed or re-routed, or had changed course since I regularly drove them. Eventually we did make it to the hotel and into the garage. The Hilton Garden Inn had recently opened, and our room on the 10th floor had a decent view of the surrounding buildings.

We dropped the bags off and headed out on foot to find a couple of the Roadside America attractions previously missed. The one I really wanted to find most was the Lawrence Welk bubble making machine supposedly at the William Penn Hotel, a classic old hotel. The difference in the look and feel of the new, contemporary hotel we were staying and the William Penn were striking, but all we wanted was a bubble machine. After asking a couple of the workers we finally found a maintenance man who was familiar with it. He took us to an area that had a small museum of the hotel, and we look, and looked again, still not finding it. Finally I  went back upstairs where I found a display underneath a stairway that contained the famous bubble making machine.

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After a lengthy walk out to the Strip District and back down Penn Avenue through a jazz festival we headed to the game. A full house, beautiful weather and an exciting Pittsburgh Pirates game made for a great evening. The return trip the next day was uneventful with no interesting side trips.

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Western Pennsylvania – March 2016 – Chainsaws and Groundhogs

The second full weekend in March was very warm and snow free so we decided to make a run to Western Pennsylvania for a few sights. But first we made a stop in Warren, Ohio to check out Dave Grohl Alley. Dave was born in Warren, but moved to Washington DC at a young age. Still Warren is proud he was born there and have a Dave Grohl Alley in downtown Warren, next door to a Burger King. The display is pretty cool, and since he specialized in Grunge rock being in a grungy alley somehow seems appropriate.

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We continued our drive until we reached Clarion, Pennsylvania where we spent the night. Early the next morning we were on our way to Ridgway, our destination, for the annual Chainsaw Carvers Rendevous. This event draws artists from all over North America and Europe, well over 100 different artists. We arrived to the sound of chainsaw and the smell of wood, nothing like chainsaws in the morning.

The festival had been going on for a couple of days so there were already a number of completed carvings, with each artist displaying their work in their own booth. The booths lined 3 streets for about 10 blocks. If they weren’t blasting away with a chainsaw they were more than happy to talk about their works, and their story on how they got into chainsaw carvings. Amazingly everyone I shook hands with had all of their fingers.

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We spent a long time talking with a couple of the competitors who had come down from Ontario. They said it is easier to get chainsaws into America than it is to get guns into Canada, which makes total sense to me.

While there were plenty of bears and eagles, the collections didn’t stop there. In the first block alone we saw two squirrels fighting with light swords, a horned/winged female with two giant serrated knives (which I can’t even begin to give a name to what she represented but I know I wouldn’t want to meet her live), a Sasquatch,  a knight and a crab.

There are two primary objectives to the festival; win the competition and sell their work. They start with a large block off wood, carve the basics with the chainsaw and then do the finish work with Dremel tools. Depending on the intricacy it takes them anywhere from 1 to 4 hours, or more.

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The contestants were all very happy about the March weather in North Central Pennsylvania, as it is usually brutally cold, earning the town the nickname of Fridgway. After spending a few hours wandering the streets we headed on, but very satisfied we made the long drive to Pennsylvania for a bunch of chainsaw people.

Our next stop, about an hour away, was Punxsutawney,  home (of course) of Phil, the prognosticating groundhog. The town clearly plays it up to the hilt, with fiberglass Phil’s decorated as different characters displayed around town. The real Phil has a home in the local library, where you can go see him anytime, which we did. Having lived in Pennsylvania previously we knew that the Groundhog Day movie itself wasn’t filmed there (it was filmed in Illinois), but it still a nice little town and well worth a visit. Someday I will go freeze my tushie off and get up at 4 AM to see a rodent pulled out of a tree stump, but that will have to wait until another year.

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Our day ended in Latrobe, home of Arnold Palmer,Pittsburgh Steelers training camp, Mister Rogers and the Banana Split. Having lived there it is always interesting to stop by when we can. We went to the highest rated restaurant on Tripadvisor, only to discover someone in Pennsylvania is doing a poor job of rating, because it wasn’t good, but at least before we went we stopped at the Four Seasons Microbrewery, which was excellent.  Our hotel in Latrobe had a nice little Arnold Palmer display of old golf equipment.

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The next day we drove into Pittsburgh for a couple of Roadside America sights, starting with a McDonald’s in Irwin that was the birthplace of the Big Mac, complete with a mini McDonald’s museum. From there we went down to the South Side to see Fredasaurus Rex, a fiberglass dinosaur decked out like Fred Rogers. Also in Pittsburgh was a collection of quirky looking musicians sculptures, a growing vertical garden up the side of a skyscraper, and a randomly place 10′ pole at a 60 degree angle with little people glued to the top of it at Carnegie Mellon University. With all of those engineers you think they could get it level.

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The highlight of our morning in Pittsburgh was a stop at Bicycle Heaven. Founded in 1996 by someone who found a bike in a junk pile, he started selling used bikes and collecting vintage ones, ending up with over 3000 bike scattered in a number of garages. In 2011 he took over an old industrial building on Pittsburgh’s northside, and now it is one of the largest bicycle museums in the world.

We roamed the multiple levels of bikes stuffed absolutely everywhere. Interspersed with the bikes were various collections or art works made out of bike parts, including a chain of gear shifters. One room was full of tires and inner tubes, the walls covered in forks and seats. They even had a day glo room where all of the bikes and parts were painted in day glo paint lit up by black light.

The collection featured a number of bikes with advertising from various companies; Oreo Cookie Bikes, Volkswagen, Rolling Rock, and a Pittsburgh Steelers bike. The latter was in a large display of Pittsburgh sport memorabilia including nearly 100 bobble heads, statues and photos. A stop at Bicycle Heaven is very highly recommended.

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Not far from Bicycle Heaven is Randyland, in the Mexican War Streets area of the northside. Randyland is an explosion of color in a courtyard and sides of some old row houses. He purchased a number of the abandoned buildings in 1996 to start Randyland. According to an article on Randy, he is sort of like Mister Rogers on speed. Unfortunately Randy was out the day we were there, but a volunteer was hanging around and let us in.

One complete wall is a 40 foot high mural with dinosaurs, butterflies, giant ladybugs, waterfalls, mountains, two moons, a castle, and birds. There are planters made from sewer pipes; plastic pink flamingos and parrots amid the banana trees; old metal lawn chairs hang from a fire escape, and mannequins just hanging around.

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The entire place is painted in bright colors, as though a giant PPG can puked over the entire place. Having seen this neighborhood in the old days, it has taken a bright turn for the better with Randyland.

Before we left town though we stopped by Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill. If you are a music fan, and have any appreciation at all of records you must go to Jerry’s at least once. Jerry, who used to bear an amazing resemblence to Jerry Garcia, has the upper floor of a strip of businesses. The building must be strong because there are nearly a million records in stacks and stacks of shelves. We were lucky on this day as Jerry was in the house, even posing for a picture. But alas it is time to leave the Burgh.

A scenic route home took us through Steubenville to find a Dean Martin mural, amazingly (and sadly) painted on the side of a Kroger store. How can you paint a mural of arguably the coolest person ever from Ohio on the side of a damn grocery  store? We moved on to another ‘cool Ohioan’ landmark, Clark Gable’s childhood home in Cadiz, but it was closed.

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Our last stop home was in the tiny little town of Peoli, home of Cy Young’s eternal resting spot. His grave is adorned with old baseballs people leave as a tribute. We stood in the drizzle admiring this as the Amish buggies would roll by. I could only wonder what those people think of some crazy people standing in a cemetery looking at a headstone full of baseballs.

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Plain City, OH – January 2016 – Phoenix Bats

Finding yet another relatively unknown tour option in Central Ohio, we spent an hour visiting the Phoenix Bats in an industrial park in Plain City. Located northwest of Columbus, Ohio, Phoenix Bats has been in business for 20 years. It turns out if you have enough money to buy a high end lathe, the skill to choose the correct wood, marketing to convince up and coming players to sign on to use them, you too can become a Major League Baseball bat maker.

In the classic case of starting out in a garage the founder did exactly that, making bats for friends. They have been approved for use in the majors since 2000.

Arriving in the small light industrial park and parking outside, you arrive in a small showroom that was packed with a number of little league players and their parents and siblings the day we were there.

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The tour starts in the office area where the tech showed us how he designs the bats using a CAD system. From there we proceeded out to the area around the lathe, which takes a ‘blank’ and cuts it down to the correct bat in 60 seconds, making a couple of passes. From there it is sent to the finishing area where the varnish and/or paint is applied.

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It is great that a small niche company can make it in a business against the big guys, but also in that it is a long fly ball from home. Having always enjoyed baseball, and the smell of fresh cut wood, this place gives you both making it a great stop.

 

Albuquerque – National Parks Road Trip – Day 18

Easily the best breakfast we have had on this road trip was at the Drury Inn in Santa Fe, setting us up for another excellent day. Before we retrieved the car from the valet and checked out of the hotel we set off on a two hour walking tour of more of the city. Santa Fe was settled in 1610, making it one of the oldest towns in America, and as a result they have some very old structures, including what is commonly thought of as the oldest house in America, an adobe structure in the historic downtown district circa 1646. The doors and windows are small to combat the desert heat. Directly across the street is the San Miguel Church, which, according to its plaque, is even older than the Oldest House.

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Our morning walk allowed us to admire even more art along the street, eventually leading us to the New Mexico State Capitol. It is a round building with a southwestern style filled with galleries of art. We took a self-guided tour after registering at the front desk, wandering through office hallways of people working as part of the tour. The capitol had paintings in watercolors, oils, fabric as well as photography.

We stumbled into the governor’s office where Fran, the governor’s assistant, kindly gave us information, pins, and a map, as well as the opportunity to purchas a Christmas ornament as a souvenir which helped support the governor’s art program. After returning to the hotel and checking out we took a last drive down Canyon Road through the art district to see the many galleries and the exterior art displayed outside their shops. Santa Fe is a beautiful city and we enjoyed our time there.

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Immediately upon our arrival late morning in Albuquerque we went to the Balloon Museum, finding it closed that day (a Monday). For an alternate choice took us to Sandia Peak Tramway. The tram took  20 minutes to go up the mountain reaching an elevation of 10,378 feet lifting us up 2.7 miles.

The 11,000 square-mile panoramic view of the Rio Grande Valley was striking. The temperature dropped dramatically at this elevation from the valley below and it was also windy. One of the features of the tram is the opportunity to see different climate zones as the tram made its way up the mountain. Once at the top there is a ski lift for snow trails and ski runs at the top of the mountain during the winter months.

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After a quick lunch of Kobe burgers (they were excellent) at the High Finance restaurant, situated at the top of the mountain, we went back outside to photograph the tram and the view of a distant Santa Fe and Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Amazingly, at times, the tram will stop at the towers to let workers climb out of the tram to grease the equipment then let the tram continue up the mountain. Another tram picked up the worker after he finished. Maintenance is performed regularly during its operation. This seemed extremely dangerous while the worker hung to the tower in the wind more than two hundred feet above the ground. Fourth-grade schoolchildren poured out of the next tram and things got noisy. Later we rode the tram back down the mountain with the last load of school kids.

It was time to find another Roadside America offbeat tourist attraction. So we drove to a residential section of Albuquerque to see the (bug house or spaceship house as some refer to it). The bug house is tucked into an average neighborhood but the sight of this house is not average. It looks as if a giant caterpillar is mounted to the top of the house where the roof should be. The house has a glass and rounded metal facade The house was designed by Bart Prince, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright. Two metal dinosaur sculptures stood guard in front of the home. The house across the street was also interesting with its angular style.

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We moved on to see the Albuquerque Isotope baseball field. After yet another t-shirt purchase, and a brief explanation about our 24 day road trip around America, the manager opened up the gate allowing us to walk in the stadium and pose with the Simpson characters and to look around. The Simpsons are part of the theme of the park since the team is called the Isotopes and Homer Simpson worked at a nuclear plant.

The Isotopes earned their name by a majority vote of its city residents influenced by a TV Simpson episode threatening to move the Springfield team to Albuquerque, New Mexico and also because Albuquerque has research labs. The Isotopes are a Triple A team for the Colorado Rockies.

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Old Albuquerque is just west of downtown, and is the original site of the town. While the buildings are very old, the entire area is very touristy, with the typical trinkets shops. We spent a brief time here before returning downtown to check into our hotel.

We reached our hotel, The Andaluz in downtown Albuquerque. The Andaluz was a sophisticated boutique hotel opened in 1939 by Conrad Hilton for the wealthy. The lobby has classic Moorish decor with private dining rooms built into alcoves behind heavy drapes. It also has a hotel library, a terrace lounge and a tapas restaurant.

Beautiful art decks the halls and every piece of furniture and lighting is interesting. A three-panel colorful glass wall is at the end of the lobby. The Andaluz was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. I love this building and it is the most outstanding thing in Albuquerque. We ate dinner at the tapas restaurant and tried multiple dishes, spicy shrimp with chorizo, scallops and the Mexican cheese plate. The food, atmosphere and service was excellent. After dinner we strolled the halls of the hotel admiring its unique but lovely atmosphere before retiring for the night.

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