Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bad postcard of the week: Waffle House highlights road trip culinary adventures

I would have chosen the Waffle House over the Hansa House.
There was no vomit on the floor. Yes, I checked. 

Road trips provide opportunities for culinary adventures.

You should always look for different and exciting and new places to dine when you are traveling and can’t find a Panera Bread.

Our drive to Florida provided such adventures. Caroline and I set out our non-Michigan dining goals. She wanted a Jack in the Box taco, I wanted a Stuckey’s pecan roll and we both wanted to explore a Waffle House. My wife wanted no part of any of these things.

I get the feeling that the Hansa House, the subject of this week’s bad postcard, is the kind of place you visit while on the road and are hungry enough that you don’t care anymore. The back read tells us that the restaurant features a smorgasbord, can seat 350 people and is a block south of Disneyland.

The front photo reveals that there are plenty of seats available!

I’m sure it’s nice, but Caroline and I had our hearts set on Waffle House. There are none in Michigan, but we were in intrigued after hearing Jim Gaffigan’s routine.

Gaffigan is famous his stand-up routine's assault on Hot Pockets, but has since moved on to poking fun at Waffle Houses.

Bits include:

“Now, if you’ve never been to a Waffle House, just imagine a gas station bathroom that sells waffles. You’ve been to a Waffle House.

“Eh, that’s where I want to go at 2 a.m.. That’s where everyone goes. Their slogan should be: ‘It’s 2 a.m., still time to make one more bad decision.’”

“You ever go into a Waffle House during the day? That’s weird. ‘This place looks familiar; I think I threw up in here. Oh, there it is!’”

We are not deterred that easily.

I think we started spotting Waffle Houses at the first exit in Ohio. And then we saw another at the next exit, and the one after that and the one after that. In fact, I think we can honestly claim there was a Waffle House at every exit along I-75 in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

They can’t be bad, I argued, if there are so many of them. 

We finally stopped for the night outside Chattanooga, and, of course, there was a Waffle House. This was our chance! Caroline and I were allowed to walk over for a snack. This one was technically a “Waffle Ouse” since the familiar yellow sign was missing a letter. It was about 10:30 p.m.

We surveyed the surroundings. There were about four booths in front by the windows, then about six stools at the counter, and several more booths along the open food prep area that included a two-tier bank of waffle makers.
The two-tiered bank of waffle makers, complete with oozing batter.
Caroline, the Gnome of Victory of Celebration and I slid into a booth with a good view of the waffle makers. There were groups of high school kids or college kids in the booths near the front.

Our cheerful waitress approached from the other side of the counter. She didn't seem confused by the sight of a gnome on our table. She’s seen worse, probably that evening.

She handed us menus, as if we were ordering something other than waffles. It didn't occur to me that there were different kinds of waffles, including peanut butter! We are bold, but we weren't going to be crazy on the first trip. We ordered basic waffles.

We also learned that the cook called in sick, and the waitresses were preparing all the food. I was OK with that, since there’s probably no culinary arts degree necessary to pour waffle batter into to wall of waffle makers.

We watched the waitress spray the waffle maker with copious amounts of non-stick spray then pour waffle batter from a big, white plastic bucket into two of the five waffle makers.

Within seconds, warming waffle mix started overflowing from the sides. I noticed each of the five waffle makers had trays underneath to catch overflowing batter. 

Now, you’d think that people working at a place called Waffle House, and repeatedly carrying out the task of making waffles would give someone the knowledge of how much batter is required to fill the waffle maker.

Or, maybe watching batter bubbling out is part of the fun.

A few minutes and a couple beeps later, our yummy waffles made the short trip from maker to plate to table, and we happily dined, basking in the glory of our adventure.
The waffles were great, and we'll go back -- on our next road trip!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bad postcard of the week: The Hall of Presidents and the lesser attractions at Walt Disney World

This bad postcard doesn't present the Hall of Presidents in its proper majesty.

OK, a lot has happened since we went on sabbatical.

We went back to the U.P., walked across the Mackinac Bridge, chaperoned marching band trips – including an awesome second-place, statewide finish at Ford Field -- volunteered on a campaign, met Chris Christie, planned college visits, celebrated being victorious on Election Day, celebrated Christmas, and celebrated Inauguration Day. Oh, and Mike Piazza got hosed, again.

We were dealing with a lot of heavy stuff!

The Inauguration was a fantastic celebration. And what do people do when they celebrate big victories? They head to Disney World!

And the best part of Disney World? That would be The Hall of Presidents, of course.

This week’s bad postcard just doesn’t do the attraction justice. The photographer’s attempt to get every president in the frame means we get lots of dead space on the top and bottom, and still only half of Andrew Jackson.

And that’s a shame, because the Hall of Presidents has all the thrills of Space Mountain without the motion sickness.

For those who are unaware, The Hall of Presidents is an attraction in the Magic Kingdom that includes a lesson about American history. The curtain pulls away to reveal moving figures of all 43 presidents.

Yes, Barack Obama is the 44th president. Grover Cleveland, with his twice-counting, non-consecutive terms, only appears on stage once.

So I’ve been looking forward to this magnificent and educational display of patriotism since we started planning the trip.

Disney’s gone all high-tech, and you can download an ap that does all kinds of things, including telling us the wait time on rides in real-time. In the weeks leading up to the trip, Caroline and I would check the times people were standing in line to get on the Pirates of the Caribbean or Splash Mountain.
The Gnome of Victory and Celebration  came along.

I can’t explain this, but there was never a wait listed for the Hall of Presidents.

I assumed the ap was malfunctioning, because even It’s a Small World had wait times while people were apparently walking right in to the Hall of Presidents.

It the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day – the busiest week of the year at Disney – the ap listed three-hour waits for some rides. And yet, people were still just walking right in to the Hall of Presidents.

The big day finally arrived and Caroline was in charge of plotting our plan of attack on the Magic Kingdom.   We started with the Seven Drawfs Mine Ride, but it was shut down for technical issues.

So we hit The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Space Mountain – twice! – the Astro Orbiters, the Tomorrowland Transit and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin before heading through Cinderella’s Castle on our way to the Haunted Mansion.

And, as we walked through Liberty Square, there it was, shining like a beacon of goodness among the “Frozen” t-shirts -- The Hall of Presidents.

Once we enjoyed the frights, my wife said the magic words: “We might as well get it over with. At least it will be warm inside.”

For the unaware, the Hall of Presidents technically started, like Shea Stadium and so many other good things, at the New York World’s Fair in 1964-1965. It was just Abe Lincoln then.

The rest of the presidents came with opening of Walt Disney World, at least through Richard Nixon. The show expanded with the arrivals of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Bill Clinton became the first sitting president to have a speaking role, a feature that has continued with George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
President Obama had a speaking role, Franklin Pierce said nothing.

The show was overhauled in 2008, closing on Oct. 31 and not reopening until July 1, 2009. Can you imagine eight months of people charging into the Magic Kingdom, stopping dead in their tracks to discover that the Hall of Presidents was closed? Did they get a refund? Were there signs on the way in alerting them that the magical experience wouldn’t be quite as magical that day?

Amazingly, the 700-seat theater was only about a third full when we entered, which allowed for a seat right in the middle.

The show is just as wonderful as when I last attended, with Morgan Freeman as a new narrator. After Lincoln spoke by himself, the curtains pulled back to reveal the rest of our heroes. They all moved – nodding, fidgeting, looking around, and making fun of William Henry Harrison – as they were introduced.

Some of the Audio-Animatronic figures look better than others. But they are good enough that I could probably name them without the introductions. George Washington spoke, as did Obama, without a TelePrompTer.

It was all pretty glorious and I’m sure I wasn’t the only who got a little weepy. (Then again, I was busted getting weepy when Elsa covered Cinderella's  Castle in ice later in the night. It was really cool.)

I suggested that we try to set the record for most consecutive viewings. My companions suggested that record would be set by remaining in the theater for a second viewing.

With that, we proceeded to ride the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. On the bright side, I got to meet Tigger and he was really nice.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bad postcard of the week: Insensitive Hiawatha and the Upper Peninsula bucket list

Postcards of large plywood paintings could be their own special genre of bad postcards – especially if the painting is an image offensive to anyone not rooting for Washington football teams.

The back reads: “Hiawatha, located on Hwy. M-28, Munising, Michigan. The spirit of Hiawatha can be found at Hiawatha’s Gift Shop on the shores of “Gitche Gumee,” home of the World’s largest replica of Hiawatha, which stands 36 feet high, and 18 feet wide, towering in the primeval forest, he is a sight to all who are young at heart.”

Having just returned from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and having passed through  Munising on Highway 28, I can say that the giant Hiawatha sign is no more.

I did see a giant plywood Santa Claus and the folks from the “Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” story.

But more importantly, I explored much of the beautiful U.P. with my bucket list in mind. 
Let’s see how we did:

Upper Peninsula bucket list:

1) Cross the Mackinac Bridge.

Didn’t have much of a choice here. The bridge is beautiful and we’re returning Labor Day to walk across the 5-mile span with many, many others. It’s a tradition.

2) Eat a pasty.

I started seeing pasty places as soon as I crossed the bridge into St. Ignance. 

Many of the stores also has signs advertising smoked fish and jerky.

I decided to wait until it was closer to meal time -- and learned that there are plenty of miles between restaurants of any kind once you get out of town. 

And it's a long way between town.

For a pretty big stretch it seemed like the only places I saw were closed motels that once tried to lure motorists with signs reading "electric heat."

I was getting worried that I missed my opportunity and would leave the U.P. pastiless.

Luckily, on day three of the adventure, I spotted a pasty booth at the U.P. State Fair and the long wait was over.

I ordered a chicken pasty and my roomie for the trip dined on a ham and cheese version.They were filled with out meats of choice plus carrots, potatoes, carrots and peas.

Pretty darn good!

A U.P. native I met told me that her grandfather used to take pasties to work and kept his metal lunchbox hanging over a candle all morning to keep them warm until the noon meal.

I did find a store on the way home that sold frozen pasties so I could bring some home for the whole family.

3) Touch Lake Superior.

Done! My route from Munising to Marquette was along Lake Superior, and I was able to slip into a roadside park and touch the lake, as did the Gnome of Victory and Celebration.

It didn't seem as cold as advertised, but I didn’t exactly go wading, either.

But check this out! Driving along this route, the radio station played “Wreck of the Edmund Fiztgerald,” which is about the freighter that sank in Lake Superior, not far from where I was driving.

This might be a very cool coincidence, or the station has the song in a heavy rotation considering the location.

I’m suspecting the former, because the only song I heard repeated was Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” Not only should that song not be played twice on the same day, it shouldn’t be played at all.   

4) Find something with “Say ya to da U.P.” on it.

This was more difficult than I thought. There are many UP stickers for sale, but I had trouble finding the iconic green “Say Ya” sticker. I saw one in a window of a closed store, but there were none to be found when I returned the next day.

Finally, I found one in a gas station outside Escanaba. Uff da!

5) Cross into Wisconsin!

Got it! We had some events in beautiful Menominee, which I knew was near the border. One of my co-workers accidentally traveled into Wisconsin earlier in the day, and pointed out how to get there. Naturally, there was a store with a giant Cheese Mouse.

6) See a moose.

OK, this one is open to interpretation. There are moose in the UP. The Marquette DNR office provided me with a Michigan Moose viewing brochure. There are many references to moose in the UP on signs, shirts and souvenirs.

I did find not one, but two moose statues outside businesses in St. Ignace and more in Manistique. Of course we took Moose selfies.

Nowhere did we say that we needed to have live moose. I’m calling this one good!

7) Get my National Parks passport stamped at the Pictured Rocks Visitors Center.

This was an easy one. There is a shared visitors center for the Hiawatha National Forest and Pictured Rocks National Park. In fact, there were five stamps available. Passports are awesome!

My friend Tammy Webber suggested several more items.

8) Wade in Lake Michigan.

We've done this before, as Lake Michigan is only a half-hour from Grand Rapids. On this trip we saw the very top of the lake – including Green Bay! I did pull over to a public boat launch area and walked out on a rickety dock that was perilously close to the water. That was our bold act for the day.

9) Wade into Lake Superior without crying.

I can report that the Gnome of Victory and Celebration shed no tears!

10) Drive through the Hiawatha National Forest.

Done! This was my route to Marquette. You know, there would be nothing wrong with adding the occasional Panera Bread in a national forest. It was very big.

11) Climb the stairs to the top of the ski jump at Pine Mountain.

We didn't get that far over. But I did get a call out of the blue two weeks ago from a magazine based in Minnesota that writes about Lake Superior. The writer found one of my MLive bad postcard columns about the Copper Peak ski jump and wanted to use some of the photos.

12) Buy Sayklly’s chocolate.

I thought this might be a stumper. But we were in the Delta County Historical Museum in Escanaba and right there on the counter next to the postcards were packages of Sayklly’s chocolates. My friend Lois behind the counter said the store was actually just a couple blocks away.

We scurried over and snagged several yummy Yooper Bars to bring home to the family.

So I enjoyed my first UP adventure, exploring many interesting places and meeting friendly people. I waited 24 years as a Michigander before making my first trip, but I know we’ll head back again. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bad postcard of the week: Moose, pasties and other adventures in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Not exactly what you think of when you think fine arts.
Fine arts folks are, by nature, a creative bunch.

They don’t just color outside the lines. They create the lines. They like things bold and different

So I can’t imagine the fine arts faculty and students at Northern Michigan University in Marquette were excited to see this week’s bad postcard.

The Russell Thomas Fine Arts Building is depicted in our ghost town genre of bad postcards, where we find somewhat undistinguished government buildings with nary a soul around. This particular postcard gains bonus points for showing us the main building in the unflattering shade.

Well, there’s a chance I might get to see how this building looks today, as I’m headed for my first-ever adventure in the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

OK, technically I’ve been to the U.P. Like many people here in The Mitten, I’ve driven over the iconic Mackinac Bridge, touching down in St. Ignace. We've stopped at Castle Rock, a touristy place not far from the bridge, bought postcards, checked out the fiber glass Paul Bunyon and Babe, climbed to the top of the rock then scurried back over the bridge.

This is like people who cross from Jersey into Staten Island then declare that they've seen New York.
So this week I’m heading all over the U.P. to see some neat things and meet some nice people. There are a number of things I want to check off the personal U.P. bucket list before heading back.

Upper Peninsula bucket list

1) Cross the Mackinac Bridge

OK, this is an easy one. Unless slipping in from Canada or Wisconsin or arriving by boat, the Mighty Mac is the only way to get there. But it’s a good starting point. And the toll booths are the stars of many bad postcards.

2) Eat a pasty.

A U.P. treat! I hear a pasty is meat and veggies wrapped in dough. So, it sounds like a calzone but without the cheese. Legend has it that pasties were brought over from England when the copper and iron mines were first opened in the 1850s. Miners could take them to work for lunch. 

Pasties seem like they'd be good with gravy, but a co-workers says they're better with ketchup. I think she might be setting me up to be outed as a troll -- someone from below the bridge -- and be laughed out of town. I'll carefully peek at what other diners are doing before making any bold condiment requests.

The top one is a pasty, the bottom is a calzone.

3) Touch Lake Superior.

This will complete my collection of Great Lakes. Note that we’re planning to touch Lake Superior and not swim in Lake Superior. Lake Superior is cold. Really, really cold. There might still be ice on the lake.

4) Find something with “Say ya to da U.P.” on it.

This is the Yooper play on the famous “Say Yes To Michigan” tourism campaign. That campaign has long since been replaced. We’re now “Pure Michigan” and proud of it. But the “Say ya” thing remains in the U.P. as a point of pride.

5) Cross into Wisconsin!

Michigan directly borders on three states, and I’ve already crossed into Ohio and Indiana. Now the goal is to see if Yoopers really do affiliate more closely with the Brewers and Packers.

6) See a moose.

OK, New Yorkers are not acquainted with the ways of the moose.

Our vivid imaginations come up with wild stories of moose packs charging unsuspecting cars, smashing glass with their mighty antlers, sucking people out through the windows and dragging them back to their moose dens, littered with the bones of tourists and tattered North Face fleece.

Co-workers claim that none of this is true, and that moose are actually vegetarians.

We’ll see. The Department of Natural Resources publishes a Moose Country guide for moose viewing and I want to see one. I've dubbed this MooseQuest 14.

And take note: The DNR warns that “Caution must be taken when watching moose. Moose should not be approached. They can be unpredictable and aggressive.”

So, moose have something in common with New Yorkers.

7) Get my National Parks passport stamped at the Pictured Rocks Visitors Center.

The National Parks system years ago published passports that encourage travelers to pull into a park visitors’ center and stamp a page with something that looks like a post office cancellation.

This idea has spread to presidential libraries and, more recently, baseball stadiums.

To no one’s surprise, we've driven miles out of our way on several occasions to get our parks passport stamped. We don’t even have to walk around the part, just the visitor’s center. It’s not like there are rules.
In fact, in Washington D.C., there are some places where you can get whole bunches of stamps in one stop.
Michigan does not have many national parks. But there’s one in the U.P. and I won’t be all that far. Must get the stamp!

OK, Yoopers. What am I missing? Let me know and I’ll try to get there or experience it this week!

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Mets, Yankees and the perils of Pop-Tarts

Pop-Tarts used to be carefree. But now I’m wrestling with big decisions.

The pastries taste good whether you toast them or eat them right out of the package. They’re made by Kellogg, based in Michigan, and made right here in Grand Rapids. How can you not love that?

So I was pretty excited when Kellogg rolled out a special, limited edition Printed Fun Pop-Tart featuring Major League teams.

“Favorite or foe, every team has its own Pop-Tart Toaster Pastry in this MLB Limited Series,” the box reads. “Find all 30, and prove you’re a Crazy Good baseball fan.”

The box even comes with a checklist. I’m in – especially since they were on sale at Meijer. 

There are about a million different Pop-Tart flavors these days, and I’m assuming Kellogg picked strawberry for the MLB edition in reference to Darryl Strawberry, the former Mets slugger.

My first box was uneventful, with the Nationals, Marlins, Dodgers, Blue Jays. Yum. We can reflect on nice times with those teams, visiting ballparks and meeting players.

A few days later I opened the second box. The first package – each sealed bag has two Pop-Tarts – produced a Padres Pop-Tart. The brought swift memories of the disastrous first game at Citi Field and Mike Pelfrey serving up a homer to the first batter he faced.

I put it right in the toaster. No need to dwell on unpleasantness.

The second one in the bag –I saw blue and orange, a familiar skyline—It was the Mets! Yes!

The search was over and the MDP – Most Desired Pastry – was obtained!

But this produced the first dilemma. What can we do with a collectible Pop-Tart? The basement baseball room is the family shrine to all things Mets, and surely there could be a place for the Mets Pop-Tart among the bobble heads, posters and yearbooks.

But how long would it last? None of the other collectibles in the room are edible. It’s not like someone makes a screw-down Pop-Tart plastic protection slab like the ones used for baseball cards.

We considered shadow boxes and those little easels you can use for little picture frames. No decision has been made and we’re open to suggestions.

So the Mets Pop-Tart remains in the bag in the box, safe from danger.

Today I was ready for another Pop-Tart and happily opened a bag, hoping that there could be a second Mets Pop-Tart in one box.

Then it happened. A Pop-Tart with a big NY, but not the one we all love. It was a Yankees Pop-Tart.
I quickly dropped it on the counter.

I suppose that deep down, I knew this could happen. But with 30 teams and only eight Pop-Tarts to a box, I was hoping to be spared.

Shouldn't there be a warning on the box? It does say in big red letters "Due to possible risk of fire, never leave your toasting appliance or microwave unattended."

So why not add: "Warning. This box could contain a Yankee-decorated Pop-Tart. Apologies." 

Even worse, it’s a Yankees Pop-Tart during St. Derek F. Jeter’s final season. 

While this Pop-Tart would have better range at short than Derek, it lacks his intangibles.

If Yankee myths were true, he’d make all the other Pop-Tarts in the box better. I can tell you that is not the case, because I ate the Rockies version that also was in the bag, and it tasted like a regular strawberry Pop-Tart.

So here’s the second dilemma: What am I going to do with this thing?

I’m can’t eat it. I can only imagine what it tastes like – old, broken, over-hyped. Yuck.

It’s not like I can give it to my family. The last thing I want is crying kids. “Daddy, we thought you loved us!”
I could take it to work. At my old job, people would leave things on the kitchen counter and it would be gone in seconds. At one point we realized it was pretty sad that we were pouncing in Panera Bread leftovers from a honcho meeting. It didn't stop us, because we like Panera Bread. But it was still sad.
Not even the squirrels wanted this thing.

I thought maybe I could stick it in the bird feeder and keep the squirrels away.  Maybe the Blue Jays and Cardinals could peck away at it.

No luck. It scared them away, too.

Tomorrow I’m going back to poppy seed bagels. It’s much safer.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Baseball Hall of Fame thinks fans are easily confused by two-syllable names

Big problems with the Baseball Hall of Fame plaques unveiled today.

The obvious issue is that neither of the two guys representing the Mets are wearing the Mets logo on their plaque caps.

Tom Glavine as an Atlanta Brave? Seriously? As if any one remembers Glavine’s time down South. Remember, earned No. 300 as a Met.

Then you have Joe Torre, who, for some odd reason, is shown wearing a Yankees cap. Right city, wrong cap.

You’d think the Hall would want to salute the next-to-last player-manager in baseball, a highlight of Torre’s tenure in Flushing, rather than guiding a number of steroid-soaked Yankee teams to ill-gained championships.

Torre would  be wise to simply slip those trophies over to the more deserving teams, especially the one from 2000.

But I’m not even talking about those slights.

The Hall, apparently, thinks baseball fans are easily confused by common two-syllable names.

In the past, Hall of Fame plaques would list a player’s full name. If necessary, it the plaque also included a nickname.

Let’s use plaques from some other former Mets misidentified with lesser teams as examples.

Sometimes this was essential, as with Lawrence Peter Berra, “Yogi.”

Sometimes it was more playful, as with Willie Howard Mays, Jr., “The Say Hey Kid” and Gary Edmund Carter, “Kid.”

But in recent years, for some odd reason, the Hall decided that fans needed to see in quotes shortened versions of very common names.

Glavine’s plaque reads Thomas Michael Glavine, “Tom.” Torre’s reads Joseph Paul Torre, “Joe.” Tony LaRussa’s plaque reads Anthony LaRussa, “Tony” and Bobby Cox’s reads “Robert Joe Cox, “Bobby.”

Greg Maddux’ plaque is a total mess, with Gregory Alan Maddux, “Greg” “Mad Dog.” Yes, two nicknames. Imagine -- a guy named Gregory getting called "Greg." Didn't see that one coming.

Frank Thomas benefits from having a one-syllable first name, with his plaque reading Frank Edwin Thomas, “The Big Hurt.” You just know there was a heated conference call discussion where someone debated that “Frank” should be added along with “The Big Hurt.”

Enlighten me, Hall of Fame. After 75 years of hanging plaques on the wall, why was this suddenly necessary?
It seems that 2001 was the last year when basic, common shortenings were not included, as Dave Winfield’s plaque simply calls him David Mark Winfield without being followed by “Dave.”

There were a bunch of years with one-syllable names like Ryne and Barry, Dennis and Paul and Bruce.
Then we started getting Tony Gwynn’s plaque including “Tony” and “Mr. Padre,” Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr. with “Cal.”

Was there confusion in the past? Do people walk by the Michael Jack Schmidt plaque and wonder if it’s that’s the same Mike Schmidt who played all those years for the Phillies? Could Roland Glen Fingers be the guy with the mustache known as Rollie?

And in an example near and dear to our heart, George Thomas Seaver is identified as such without “Tom” and we all still can figure out who he is.

Hey, Hall of Fame – baseball fans are smart people. Give us some credit!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bad postcard of the week: Warm pigs, social goats, champion sheep and other adventures at the fair

Somewhere, off in the distance, is a fair.
Pigs are warm to the touch. I learned this over the weekend.

First, somebody needs to tell our postcard photographer about this concept called “framing.”

The idea, generally, is for the subject of our postcard to take up most of the space in the photo. Perhaps this one should be called, “Greetings from the sky above the Kent & Sussex Fair.’ 

It’s a little tough to figure out what‘s happening at the Kent and Sussex Fair even in the sky above it since our photo seems to be taken from a completely different county. The back doesn't help: “Amusement Area, Kent & Sussex Fair, Harrington, Del.”

Luckily, I know what happens at fairs since I just spent two days at one of the largest in the state.
Such events were fascinating to this New York native. The closest thing we had were catholic church bazaars, which included some of the rides, some of the games and some of the food.

Oh, sure. Those are fun. And I’m always up for a good debate about whether funnel cakes are better than elephant ears – as if either is bad.

No, the real action lies beyond the neon and the Journey cover bands.

I’m talking about the animal barns. Some of them might be visible off in the distance on this bad postcard. 

Then again, Maryland is visible in the photo of the bad postcard.

When we learned we were headed to the fair this week, I told all coworkers that my goal was to touch a goat and eat a corn dog, and I wasn't particular about the order as long as there was hand-washing involved.
I did touch and consume, and so much more.

We saw a glassed-in hive with real bees.  It’s good to be the queen. We also saw bees wax crafts, including an entire nativity scene.

I settled for the bees wax policeman and fireman holding a flag with “God Bless America” on the base. My daughter thinks the figures might actually be Teletubbies with a re-purposed mold. I say it’s awesome either way.

We saw real cows hooked up to a machine getting milked. This was very cool, and they let us inside to get a close-up view. I got a pretty sweet cow sticker, too, which I wore with pride.

There were newborn baby goats in the Miracle of Life barn, with young cows, ducks, chickens and rabbits. 

Across the way were chickens and roosters, who are far more interesting than would seem when breaded and slapped between a bun. (Though that’s pretty good, too.)

Then we ventured to where the big animals were hanging out.

Here’s the thing with sheep. If you are a champion sheep, you get a special coat-like thing that you get to wear to the fair. It’s like a baseball player’s championship ring. We saw a sheep who was named champion in 2010 who was still showing off his coat.
Champion sheep are allowed to boast.

Most didn't seem to mind being petted.

“It’s OK, she won’t hurt you,” one goat owner said. “About the worst she’ll do is suck on your finger.”

I took her word for it, because there is a fine line between adventurous and reckless. We patted the head, far from any area were finger-sucking or worse could occur.

Then we saw goats, which seemed to be having a good time. Most of the larger animals were lounging around, napping or eating, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around them. Not the goats. They are social animals. Many were standing on their hind legs, peering above the fence, looking to see what was going on.  One kept sticking his face into a fan to chill out.
Goats were eager to make friends.

Finally, we saw the pigs, which were easy to pet because none of them were moving. Seriously, it looked like a daycare center at nap time. While other animals felt soft, pigs felt warm, like little ovens. I thought that was neat.

Having accomplished our goal of goat-touching, we snacked on corn dogs and funnel cake and slowly walked back through the neon, content that we had supported Michigan’s thriving and important agricultural industry and learned many things. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chatty Cardinals fans, Pokeman and other adventures at Busch Stadium

Caroline takes awesome photos.
One aspect of attending a baseball game is that you develop short-term acquaintances with the people sitting around you.

You are elbow-to-elbow with a stranger, as well as getting to know the back of the head of the person in front.  This can be a pleasant experience. Or it can be an adventure, like the one Caroline and I shared when we attended the Cardinals-Marlins game at Busch Stadium this month.

Busch is a nice ballpark, and we’ll get to that in a minute. But first let me tell you about the guy sitting behind us. He would not stop talking. Ever.

You’re pretty much trapped in these situations. It’s not like there is a no-talking rule at the ballpark. Nor can you turn around and say, “Dude, you are driving most of section 452 crazy, especially the middle of rows seven, eight and nine.”

There was no avoiding this guy, who was in is early-to-mid 20s and wearing a hunter camo cap with his free Cardinals jersey. 

He had a loud voice, and since he was in the seat right behind me, talking at the back of my head the whole game. It was impossible to tune him out.

Sometimes people get settled and chill out a bit. Not this guy. He had stamina. 

It started out annoying, before turning into one of those can’t-help-but-listen things, wondering where this guy was going to go next.

Before the first pitch he was talking about a strange fantasy baseball league he was in where he somehow was allowed to include non-baseball players on the roster. 

He had a president on there – a good one, too – and former Jets quarterback Tim Tebow and finally a Pokémon in the outfield. Don’t ask how this could work. He didn't explain and I sure as heck was not going to ask.

But there was a long discussion about the particular Pokémon he selected and his powers. I’d tell you which one, but I've tried to purge all knowledge of Pokémon from my memory since being the parent who volunteered to take all the kids to the first, soul-sucking Pokémon movie years ago.

Then we learned, in no particular order, that:

He’s still afraid of his high school football coach. 

He quit scouts because he didn’t like a lot of other kids in the pack. His parents made him drive to the scoutmaster’s house and tell him in person. The scoutmaster was not happy with this decision

He was on the wrestling team. So were other scouts, so this did not sway the scoutmaster.

He occasionally smokes dope, but will not allow anyone to bring it in his car.

This went on and on. Not a lot of baseball talk, save for his fantasy team. He's a football fan.

At one point, he saw that Caroline was taking photos, and looking over her shoulder, noticed that she was able to zoom in on the observation deck windows of the Arch from our seats in the Busch upper deck.
Caroline was able to zoom in on the Arch windows.

“That must be a nice camera,” he said.

Caroline, being polite, said that it was.

“You guys must not be from around here.”

Danger! I know better to engage with one of these guys. You just don’t want to do it, because you don’t want to get sucked into the conversation and hear about the football coach, Tim Tebow and the Pokémon again.

But I also don’t want to be rude to anyone, especially a Cardinal fan. I like Cardinal fans.

I explained that we are from Michigan, but attended University of Missouri, so we did, in fact, have some St. Louis cred.

He asked about my major, and I told him that I studied journalism, which I offered tentatively because I've learned the subject either interests or horrifies people and I didn't want to prolong the conversation.

“That’s one of the top five journalism programs in the country, isn't it?”

OK, he got points for that. Flattery and accuracy bought him, a “Well, yeah, there are a number of good schools,” before I was able to disengage thanks to new antics from Fred Bird on the Cardinals’ dugout.
Thank you, Fred Bird.
Oddly chatty fans aside, Busch is a nice ballpark. No stadium is at its best when it’s near capacity. The concourses were packed, the lines were long and it was difficult to get a good look at everything.

But it's certainly better than the multi-purpose Busch Stadium that this new version replaced. True story. Former Cardinals outfielder -- and later Met -- Bernard Gilkey once told me that the artificial turf at the old stadium was so hot in the summer that players would run off the field and stick their feet into buckets of ice water in the dugout to cool off.

One interesting thing about Busch is that some of the neat features are outside the gates.  The big statue of Stan Musial and the smaller statues of Stan and other Cardinal greats as well as broadcaster Jack Buck are all on the sidewalk, which is nice because you can check them out before or after the game and not worry about missing anything.

New this year is a “Ballpark Village” across the street, with rooftop seats like Wrigley – but I suspect owned by the Cardinals. The team’s Hall of Fame and Museum is part of the complex, but the $12 admission was a little steep. It seemed like that should be part of the game experience. The rest of the village appeared to be a bunch of bars.
These fans are across the street.

Give the Cards credit for a great scorecard, too. It came with four pages of stats. If you’re like me, and one of the handful of people still keeping score, this is a cool thing.

The game was exciting, with the Cards building a lead and giving part of it back. The team had a one-run victory in its grasp, with the apparent final Marlin down to his last strike. 

Fans were on their feet, going crazy as the Casey McGehee fouled off what seemed like 10 pitches. Then he got a hit, driving home Donovan Solano to tie the game. 

Then pinch-hitter Jeff Baker got a hit, and the Marlins went ahead.

The crowd was stunned into silence, even our compulsively chatty friend.