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Chicago - The Northside

Holy Cow, are we bull$%/& lucky or what

Today looked like it was going to be a disaster. The forecast called for a thunderstorm right about when the ballgame was scheduled to start. I was going to spend the day with Scott and his family, but his daughter Aven was feeling under the weather. So instead, I decided to join the boys for a drive through downtown Chicago. We left the hotel and took North Avenue all the way in, it was over 25 miles. It didn't take long before the thunder rolled and lightning flashed in front of us. The rain quickly followed and we were certain that a rain delay was in our future.

Undaunted, we continued our drive down North Avenue. It had four distinct sectors that we passed through on our way downtown. The area near our hotel (not far from O'Hare) was a typical suburban area with a mixture of small houses and larger ones. Next came an area that was predominantly African-American. (Please note, I am just writing what we observed). We were amazed with the number of barber shops and beauty salons in this sector. At one point, there were three of them in a row. They averaged every two storefronts. Wayne considered getting an African braid done to his hair, but we talked him out of it. Then all of the signage switched to Spanish as we passed a bunch of storefront churches and Mexican restaurants. As we got closer to downtown, the street started to get a trendy feel. Starbucks and fitness clubs started to pop up.Then we passed a brand new Apple Store and a Crate and Barrel.

As we got closer to the lake, we passed plenty of pouting people who had planned to spend their day watching the air show. It looked very unlikely that they would get to see anything. We drove along the lakeshore area, but the weather ruined any view that might of been. It would have been great to get out of the car and spend a few hours wandering the Navy Pier and/or Grant Park, but nobody wanted to leave the safety of the vehicle. Instead I pointed out some of the sights that my wife and I enjoyed during a visit to Chicago pre-marriage.

We made our way to Wrigley Field, preparing for the worst. First off, we found a little parking lot that would give us EZ access out, in case we decided that it was time to hit the road, instead of sitting through a lengthy rain delay. It cost $35 to park, which was a deal compared to other lots. One place we stopped offered us EZ out for $45 and boxed in for $30. If you have never been to Wrigley, you need to understand that it is smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood of condos, pubs and restaurants. Parking is at a premium. We suited up in our rain gear and then hit a diner for lunch. While sitting there enjoying handmade milkshakes, the weather turned drastically. Proving that we are bull$&@? lucky, it cleared right up and turned into a perfect day for baseball.

Wrigley Field, simply put, is old (it was built in 1914). Ron was disappointed with the rundown look of the outside of the historic stadium. More disappointment waited for him inside the place. Along with our tickets in Minneapolis, these were our most expensive purchases of the trip. When you go to Wrigley, you are paying to soak in the history and the ambiance, not for the modern-day amenities (they are few and far between, heck the scoreboard dates back to 1937). In Ron and Wayne's case, they were paying for a view of a post. Their seats were directly behind one of the posts that supports the under deck. Thanks Stub Hub!
Scoreboard

Scoreboard


Scott and I were further back and to the left. A post only obstructed our view of third base. Luckily for the other two, there were two seats further down their row that went unclaimed for the whole game. Ron was not pleased! We also found out that good seats were available outside the stadium for less than face value. For example, someone could have purchased a $100 seat for a mere $20, if they so desired.

The first couple of innings were played with the sound of jets roaring in the background, the air show was finally underway. The St. Louis Cardinals quickly loaded the bases, but Matt Garza got out of it and the Cubbies went on to a 3-0 win. Scott and I managed to miss all the scoring while we were stuck on the concourse in the bowels of the building. Wrigley is known for two main things, it's Ivy-covered outfield walls and the fact that celebrities lead the crowd in the singing of "Take me out to the Ballgame!" Even that was a disappointment, our celebrity was James Denton of Desperate Housewives fame. He was no Will Ferrell, but at least he could sing.

Click for our rendition of the song... (Don`t ask who the fifth person its)

No matter what we paid for our seats, it was at least half the price that people pay to sit on the rooftops across Sheffield Avenueor Waveland Avenue. There $150 (approx.) will buy you a bleacher-burned butt and all you-can-eat and drink.
Rooftop Bars

Rooftop Bars

Posted by redrob 04:47 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Chicago - The South Side

Elvis has left the Building

Our seats at US Cellular Field were the worst ones of the tour. We were in the upper deck and they still cost $46. Apparently the game was considered a Premier one according to the team's flexible pricing. Last night's game was against the Texas Rangers, who are apparently in the same category as the Yankees and the Red Sox. The tickets were $16 more than if some other team was in town. I personally think the game was a Premier game because it was Elvis Tribute Night (more later).

Cellular is unlike any other stadiums we have visited. Once we got up to our seats, we were basically trapped. There was no way for us to get back down other than to leave the park. An attendant at Guest Relations allowed us to use the elevator to go down to the main concourse, but only after the fifth inning. He warned us not to try to sneak into the seats in the lower section. It was a whole new world down on the lower concourse. We could walk around and keep an eye on the game. There were better food options in the stalls on the lower concourse. We saw plenty of people dressed in their Elvis outfits. Scott and I took a walk all the way around. The center field area was like walking through a bar. There were plenty of people talking and drinking with very little interest in the game (of course the Sox were losing). There were also statues of the top players in team history. Obviously, Chicago is a much bigger city than our other destinations and part of the reason our seats were so far away is due to the corporations buying up the better seats in the building.
US Celleluar

US Celleluar


The game itself featured a lot of runs, 7-4 for the Rangers, but not that many hits. Keith Moreland accounted for five of the Texas runs with a three-run homer and a two-run one. The other interesting aspect of the game was that Juan Pierre hunted three times in the game. He had a bunt singled in the first. He bunted in a run the second time he came up. Then he bunted for a third time, trying to advance a runner to second. It worked when the Rangers made an error, allowing the runner to go to third and Pierre to safely reach first.

The fun really started when the game ended. First the E-team, the Elvises of the Sky (not to be confused with the Flying Elvises of Honeymoon in Vegas fame) made a night landing into center field. They also performed prior to the game. The E-team was followed by some dancing showgirls and then The King himself arrived in a '58 red T-Bird convertible. The King was played by world renowned Elvis impersonator Doug Church, who belted out some standards. As Elvis left the building, the sky beyond center field lit up with a 20-minute fireworks show that Wayne said was as good as any he had seen at the annual competitions at the Casino in Hull. Most of the 28,000 fans hung around for the spectacle. Our seats in the top deck gave us a perfect view of the fireworks and the parachutists.
Fireworks in Chicago

Fireworks in Chicago


Today was our longest drive of the Man Trip. All the way from Minneapolis to Chicago was about 400 miles. We stopes for lunch about halfway through the trip. Since we were boycotting McDonald's and had eaten at Subway for two days, it was mutually agreed upon that we would head to KFC. I now know why there is a childhood obesity problem in the US. We discovered the all-you-can-eat KFC Buffet. It's free for kids, if the parents order it for $7.99. The KFC was packed and people kept going back to the buffet. We steered clear of the buffet and based on Wayne's meal, KFC is off the list too.

Posted by redrob 22:29 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Minneapolis Part 2

The fourth horseman joins the tour

We met up with Scott, an ex-university housemate of mine, at the ball park tonight. He will be part of the Man Trip for the next few days, although he won't be traveling with us. Scott and his family drove down from Winnipeg as part of their summer holidays. Scott says the trip to Minneapolis should normally take about 7 hours, but it took them three days with various site-seeing stops along the way. Of course, they spent a few days at the Mall of America here in Minneapolis.

We spent an hour at the mall today on our way to the game. It is the largest retail and entertainment center in the USA. It features 520 stores, 50 restaurants, and a seven-acre amusement park in the middle of the mall. In an hour, I didn't have enough time to get off the first floor and the east end of the mall. It was just enough time to see a cap store, hockey shop, Lego Store, and a cool sports memorabilia store. I was close to splurging on some awesome autographed items, but figured Chantal would kill me if I brought home more "junk" for my basement.

It was a short drive from the mall to the stadium. We found some nearby parking and headed in. Target Field is the first stadium on our tour that is ideally located for mass transit. There is a Light Rail station right behind the park (hmm - something else that Ottawa could learn from another city). There is also a regular commuter train station next to the park. After the game, we were out of the park and on the road within minutes without any wait time.
Target Field

Target Field


Target Field is an ultra-modern facility, opened just last season. Unlike the parks in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, it is not trying for a retro feel. At least, I don't think it was trying for one. It is still an impressive place. We had to sit in one of the upper sections, because the Yankees were the opponent. We were in a section that was heavily populated with happy (and inebriated) New Yorkers. The coolest part was having free WiFi on my iPad. It allowed me to look up player stats during the game and to view game highlights. I had plenty of people looking over my shoulder to see the replay of the Morneau's homer that was changed to a foul ball. The replay we had access to, clearly showed it was foul, so the umps got it right.
The iPad at work

The iPad at work


There was plenty of offense in Thursday's game as the Bronx Bombers won 8-4 thanks to homers by Mark Teixeia, Nick Swisher and Andruw Jones. Jones was swinging a hot bat. His homer, No. 8 on the season, went to the upper deck in left, some 434 feet from home. He also singled and walked. At one point he drilled a foul ball into the top deck just missing a second homer. He also flew out to the deepest part of center.

Posted by redrob 21:50 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Minneapolis Part 1

Direct from Target Field

This entry is coming to you direct from the stadium thanks to the wonders of TwinsWiFi. We just experienced a first for our trip, a video replay. Canadian Justin Morneau hit what we all thought was a two-run homer in the bottom of the first. It was reversed after a replay, leading the early ejection of the Twins manager. The game started off with a special ceremony to celebrate Jim Thome's 600th homer a few days ago.

We are in the highest seats so far this trip. The stadium is packed because the Yankees are in town. We are surrounded by Yankees' fans and one young one keeps obstructing my view by holding up a sign. Other than that it is beautiful night and we are in another beautiful stadium. Canadian Rene Tosoni is playing left field for the Twins and Joe Mauer is in right. More after the game.

Is this fast enough for you Jose? I hear you read while enjoying your morning coffee.
Scott and I taken by the Best Buy Booth

Scott and I taken by the Best Buy Booth

Posted by redrob 19:14 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Milwaukee

What do you mean, No cheese!

Yesterday was our longest day so far as we gained an hour crossing into the Central time zone. We didn't get to our hotel until after midnight local time (past 1 a.m. back home) by time we drove from Indianapolis past Chicago, toured a museum, went to the game, and drove to Madison, Wisconsin. Wayne fell asleep in the back, while Ron and I struggled in the front seat to stay focused on the drive. This was the first time that we tacked on a bit of a drive after the game in an attempt to shorten today's trip to Minneapolis. I hope it is worth it, because I am exhausted this morning.

We learned that people take their driving seriously in this part of the USA. The speed limit in parts of Indiana was 70 mph and we were doing close to 80 as all kinds of vehicles zoomed past us. When we bypassed Chicago, the limit dropped down to 55, but we had to drive 70 to stay with the flow of traffic. Even then, we were regularly passed by cars on both sides of us (and we thought Quebec drivers went fast). Motorcyclists don't even need to wear helmets in some of these states. Imagine the damage a high-speed crash would do to your head.

Our first stop in Milwaukee was at the Harley-Davidson Museum. Not being a motorcycle enthusiast, I wasn't sold on the place, but it was very cool. It's a state-of-the-art museum and there was a lot to see. We only had time for an hour and a half tour. It was interesting to see how motorcycles have changed since the early 1990s. We took the self-guided audio tour and it was easily worth the extra four dollars. I was most interested in the company's years as part of AMF. It was a mixed blessing for Harley-Davidson. The company had money for research and development, but the product was often rushed out and of poor quality. Not to mention AMF was more known for making sporting goods. "Nobody wanted to buy a motorcycle made by a company more associated with bowling," was something I heard several times on the tour. At the time Harley also tried it's hand at snowmobiles, boats and other vehicles with no success. Wayne was in hog heaven!
Wayne on a Harley

Wayne on a Harley


Our next stop was Miller Park, home of the Brewers. For some reason, I thought this was going to be the stadium I liked the best on the tour. Although it is an impressive structure, it lacks the charm of Cleveland's, Cincinnati's, and Pittsburgh's parks. First of all, it isn't open like the others, and that has nothing to do with fact that it has a retractable roof. In the other parks when you are walking around the concourse, it's open to the outside of the park as well as the field. It's also not really in the downtown core and it lacks a beautiful skyline view through center field. Still as retractable roof stadium it puts the Rogers Centre to shame. At least it is open to the elements in center field, has big windows to let in natural light, takes a mere 10 minutes to close, and has natural grass.
Miller Park

Miller Park


The other difference was the crowd. There was a constant buzz in the stadium. Of course a pennant race and 42,000 people will do that. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Wednesday is that we were out of the parking lot and cruising on the highway within 15 minutes of getting in the car (the Senators and Ontario government could learn something here). Another great feature of the park was the kids section. There was a lot to do: a batting cage, a place to see how fast you pitch, another that allowed you to race to first against a digital player, a playground, and a sausage race where kids power the racers by pedaling.

Milwaukee is famous for its Racing Sausages, an in-game entertainment, where five people dressed up as sausages race while the crowd goes wild. It's also known for Berrnie the Brewer, a mustachioed mascot, who slides down a ramp into a fake pool when a Brewer hits a home run. He didn't get a chance to take the plunge yesterday except to signal the start of the game. It was another great pitching performance, as Zach Greinke improved to 12-4 with a perfect record at home. Our Canadian content was fulfilled when Brewer closer John Axford came out to slam the door emphatically in the ninth.

Now I did get into a little trouble when I decided to try the local food fare, The Bomber. It is a hamburger patty and Italian sausage patty on a pretzel bun topped with mushrooms, onions and cheese. I of course asked for it sans cheese, which is apparently unheard of. ("Are you sure you don't want cheese?") Wisconsin is known for its cheese, so much so that residents are affectionately called Cheeseheads. Oh well, we can't leave this state without offending people too. The Bomber, which I assume gets its name from the Brewers of the late 1970s (Bambi's Bombers) was absolutely delicious. It put my Fritos Chili Pie to shame. I had that concoction in Indianapolis. It was basically chili poured onto top of corn chips. It was better than it sounds. Trust me!

Posted by redrob 07:18 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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