Guarding my entry carefully

First of all, hooray for the Avett Brothers playing Radio City Music Hall. A big moment for all involved. I'll be seeing it from a seat somewhere on the floor, but not quite as close as I'd hoped because buying tickets to a show at a theater in NYC in 2010 is more trouble than it needs to be.

But as I was refreshing the Ticketmaster page in the hopes that their stupid system would start dropping tickets in the middle and not on the sides, I noticed some disturbingly worded instructions regarding Radio City's arrival policy. To wit:

So, not only does Ticketmaster metaphorically violate you with $15 in service charges and a refusal to release tickets to a venue box office the day tickets go on sale, but then when you get to Radio City Music Hall, you need to look out for the metal wands going up your entry. Yikes.

See you and your entries on October 13.


Milwaukee, Here I Come

Milwaukee, the final leg of my journey, was a solo mission. Fellow Traveler #1 was headed home on the Amtrak (but not before catching another game at Wrigley), and Fellow Travelers #2 and 3 were staying in Chicago for a few more days. So I was on my own as I hopped on the Amtrak in Chicago for the short trip to Milwaukee for a day that I hoped would include some baseball, some bowling, and a visit with the Bronze Fonz.

When I got off the train, it took me a little while to get my bearings, and I actually wound up overshooting my hotel and walking a little ways up the wordy North Old World Third Street. But that detour led to the discovery of a block containing three restaurants/bars that I wanted to visit immediately, including one with a bronze pretzel hanging over the entrance. Unfortunately, it wasn't much past noon and I wasn't in the mood for a heavy German lunch before the ballgame. But I made a mental note to return after the game and before my bowling expedition.

I finally made my way to the Best Western, checked in, and then set out to knock the easiest thing off my list: a picture with the Bronze Fonz. The Bronze Fonz, on the off chance that you don't know, is a statue of the Henry Winkler character partially commissioned by TV Land for Milwaukee's River Walk as a salute to "Happy Days." It took me a little while to spot it, but when I did, I was quite pleased with the result.

Things were definitely getting off to a good start in Milwaukee.

Since I had plenty of time before the game started and I was alone and, thus, didn't have to worry if I'd kill any of my friends with my dogged devotion to walking, I figured I'd just wander in the general direction of Miller Park. With any luck, I figured, it wouldn't be that far and I'd get some exercise.

So, once I figured my way around and scoped out a path around the highways, I discovered that I was on the Hank Aaron State Trail. That seemed like a fortuitous occurrence, so I continued on the trail. Soon I saw a sign for the Potawatomi Bingo Casino. "Oh," I thought. "That must be the sign for the highway that takes you to the casino." Then I turned a corner and thought, "Hmm...that building sure looks like a casino." Sure enough, as I got closer, I discovered that that was in fact the Potawatomi Bingo Casino. Yes, I had stumbled upon a giant bingo casino.

I was really starting to like Milwaukee.

I went in for a bit and looked around the area outside the bingo hall (pretty substantial, but maybe not as big as Foxwoods) to see if there was an evening bingo session. There was, but it was a Night Owl session starting at 11:30 p.m., and since I had an early train to catch the next day, I decided against it (I know, I know...I've let you down...I'm sorry). And I was a little bummed to discover that the session going on while I was there had started about five hours earlier and consisted of, if I remember correctly, 86 games if bingo broken up by two intermissions. Perhaps that sounds like torture to you, but it sounds like heaven to me. If I had known about it in advance, I'm pretty confident that I would have spent an extra day in Milwaukee and gone to the Brewers game on Sunday. Lesson learned. I will definitely do my due diligence next time.

After my quick stop in the casino, I headed back out on the trail and, eventually, made my way to Miller Park about an hour before game time. Google Maps tells me it was about a four-mile walk. That's why I travel alone most of the time. It's in everyone's best interest.

There was, not surprisingly, a hearty tailgate scene going on at Miller Park. There were people playing Cornhole, drinking heavily under giant tents, and peeing in their own private Port-A-Potties that had signs on them warning others to keep out. They've got tailgating down to an art in Wisconsin.

As I walked through the Uecker lot, I saw in the distance a motor cart. As it got closer, I realized that I had arrived at just the right time, for riding on that cart were four of the sausages from the famous Miller Park Sausage Race. Yes! I was going to see the sausages up close. What more can a 33-year-old man ask for?

The sausages were on their way to a D.A.R.E. get-together in the parking lot, in which they mainly stood on a stage while a DJ yelled out "Let's hear it for Chorizo!" "How about Italian!" and so on as the kids went wild. Then the sausages descended to mingle with the kids, at which point I headed toward the box office to buy my ticket. And on the way there, I saw Bernie Brewer on his way, I assume, to the same party (then again, maybe he was going to see the people with the private Port-A-Potties).

I bought a ticket for a seat in left field and still had plenty of time to do a lap around the ballpark before the game started. I was a little skeptical about going to a game at a stadium with a dome (even though the roof stayed open), but I wound up liking Miller Park a lot. There's lots of cool little features around the park (including a completely awesome area for kids that made me wish I was 10 again--a wish, to be fair, that I make quite frequently), and you can't beat watching Bernie Brewer go down the slide after a Brewer homer. I missed his descent the first time, but captured the moment when the second Brewer homer of the day (hit by Alcides Escobar) cleared the fence.

The food was good, too. I'm not a big brat guy (though I'm occasionally a big brat), but I decided since he was the one I was rooting for in the Sausage Race (he got trounced), I should support him at the concession stand. I thought about ordering waffle fries, but it didn't appear to me that one could order fries without cheese. That's some hardcore cheese love, Wisconsin. Later, I saw some people with cheese-less fries, so I guess it was possible, just not recommended.

Despite a late rally, the Brewers fell victim to the continuing home-team jinx, losing 10-6 to the Phillies and becoming the fifth straight team to lose at home in games I attended (I had seen the Mets lose at Citi Field the night before the trip). I took some photos of the statues on the way out, decided not to take the four-mile walk home, and boarded a bus back downtown, anxious for some sauerbraten and a jumbo pretzel on North Old World Third Street.

This is the point at which Milwaukee started to take a turn for the worse. First, when I got back to the hotel, I noticed a lot of camera crews around, and what looked to be a press conference across the street. There was a definite weird vibe in the air, but I didn't have time to reflect on it, as I had places to go. So I dropped off my Brewers stuff (a glass, a Bob Uecker CD, and a magnet) in my room and headed off for dinner. When I walked outside, a TV reporter was interviewing a young woman, and I overheard the question, "Do you think that downtown is still safe?"

That's when I put all the pieces together--the news conference, the reporters, that collection of flowers and balloons over there on the other side of the street--and realized something I confirmed later that night.

Someone was murdered outside my hotel.

Turns out three people were shot and one killed roughly eight hours before I arrived at the hotel after a disagreement at a bar a few doors down. How about that? I'm not sure if I was just so exhausted at this point that it didn't really register, but I wasn't overly concerned. The neighborhood didn't seem bad at all, and the chances of another murder happening seemed remote, particularly with the ridiculous police presence now in the area.

So, on to the sauerbraten and pretzel at Mader's.

Except they ran out of the pretzels just before I got there (8 p.m.? Really?), so I had to settle for the sauerbraten, which was, I'm pretty confident, the best I've ever had. The spaetzle definitely was the all-time champ, and the red cabbage was pretty good, too.

Then it was off to the Old German Beer Hall, where there was some genuine German music going down in the back room. OK, things were looking up again. But I couldn't linger, because I had three bowling establishments I wanted to check out before the night was through. I vowed to come back after the Night of Bowling.

The first stop was the Holler House, home of the oldest bowling lanes in the United States (also pinmonkey-operated). Since first reading about it, I had been anxious to roll a few here. So, as I got off the bus and headed in the direction of the bar, I got giddy. Right up until I saw a completely dark and closed Holler House. Sigh. A dream deferred.

Now it was dark and I was in a not particularly inspiring area of Milwaukee. But I persevered, heading toward Bowling Establishment #2, Koz's Mini Bowl, which was not a real bowling alley at all. The balls were slightly larger than a skeeball, the pins were short and squat, and the lanes were short, too. I was more interested in seeing the set-up than actually bowling, which is a good thing because the place was crowded when I got there (and filled with smoke), and they're looked to be some sort of bachelorette party going on, as there was a young woman wearing a veil. There were also a few guys wearing bathrobes (perhaps a Lebowski homage, perhaps they just didn't have any other clothes). I wasn't about to interject myself into whatever the hell was going on, so I took some pictures and headed out the door.

Exhaustion and frustration were both setting in at this point, so when I got to the bus stop for the bus that was to take me to Bowling Establishment #3, Falcon Bowl, I made a deal with the gods of travel. If the bus didn't arrive in 15 minutes, I was gonna cut my losses and call it a night. Then I extended it to 20. Then 25. And then I threw in the towel and headed back to the hotel, probably another three miles or so. So at least I got plenty of exercise in Milwaukee.

When I got downtown, I briefly got on another bus heading in the general direction of Falcon Bowl but then realized it was the last bus of the night, meaning I'd have to take a cab back to the hotel after bowling. And a cab wasn't in the budget for the evening. So I got off the bus, walked past Johnny Rzeznik from the Goo Goo Dolls signing autographs and taking pictures with fans outside of a theater (Larry the Cable Guy was also in town), and then headed back to the Old German Beer Hall to drown my sorrows in some German oom-pah music. Unfortunately, in my absence, the hall had morphed into your average college bar, with generic, thumping bar music playing over the PA. Realizing that the only German music I'd be likely to hear would be Rammstein, I hung my head and went back to the crime scene, er, my hotel, watched Tom Petty on SNL, and called it a night.

I'll be back Milwaukee. Make sure you have enough pretzels next time.


I made my early train to Chicago in plenty of time, decided to do one last dash through Wicker Park to get breakfast at Milk & Honey (home of my favorite granola, available at a Whole Foods near you, or at least near me) and a few more sweets at Alliance Bakery. And then I was off to the airport, where my flight was delayed yet again (while we were on the plane this time, so at least there was a little variety). But we were up in the air before too long, and soon I was back home.

And, now, a few weeks later, I've almost recovered.

And ready for my next jailbreak vacation.


My Kind of Town

My only full day in Chicago had a pretty packed schedule. Two more fellow travelers joined the caravan Friday morning (they had arrived in Chicago the day before and had their own full day of sightseeing), and the four of us headed to the Eleven City Diner for brunch prior to the Cubs game. I swear I took a picture of my meal, but I must have erased it in my rush to consume said meal, the Eleven City French Toast. Luckily, through the wonders of the Internet, I can just show you someone else's photo (thanks, Flickr user Emperor Anton!):

That's challah bread french (or freedom, if you prefer) toast, with strawberries, bananas, and toasted coconut. Probably the best french/freedom toast I've had.

Fellow Traveler #1 decided to go for it and ordered the Tom Waits 2 A.M. Breakfast 1987: two eggs, two pancakes, two strips of bacon, two sausages, home fries, and toast.

The Eleven City gets a big thumbs up all around.

Then it was onto Wrigley the way it should be seen: nine innings on a clear afternoon, with the "nickel-dime people," "the other 15," at the playground for the ... nevermind (just go here to catch up on the lingo...VERY NSFW language, so listen with the headphones, fool.) It makes you feel good to be alive to get off the train, head down into Wrigleyville, and stroll on through the front gate (we had to use the bleacher entrance Tuesday night). We had pretty kick-ass seats, too (thanks, Fellow Traveler #1!), and we got to see your American Idol, Illinoisan (Illinoyance?) Lee DeWyze, throw out the first pitch. OMG!

I had to settle down for a bit after lots of picture taking, partly because I was getting a little out of control and partly because I was attempting to keep score. I generally get bored after doing this for an inning, but I figured for my first full game at Wrigley, I should at least try to make an effort. Plus, Fellow Traveler #3 (we're giving his fiancée Fellow Traveler #2 because she's a lady, and that's how we treat ladies on Tinsel and Rot, although now that I think about it, being called "#2" isn't that much of a treat...oh well, this parenthetical aside has gone on too long...what I have written, I have written) was also keeping score, so I had a fallback if I either got distracted or went out to get some food.

And, let me tell you, friends, I did get up to get some food. And when I did, I came upon one of the greatest things I have ever seen, at a ballpark or anywhere. I was originally just going to get a hot dog, but then I saw something called the "Northside Twist Giant Soft Pretzel." The phrase "Giant Soft Pretzel" and the fact that it was $10 compelled me to purchase it. When I ordered it, the vendor asked me if I could handle this "B.A.P.--Big Ass Pretzel." I assured her I could. Then she handed me a small pizza box. I opened it and fell in love.

Now that's a pretzel, with mustard, icing, and, I assume, nacho cheese (it went unopened). When I brought it back to my seat, the fellow travelers were duly impressed, as were the people behind me. I let a guy further down our row take a piece and offered it up to the other guys behind me, but they said they'd be more interested in watching me try to finish it. It all went, with a bit of help from the fellow travelers, and I received kudos from the guys behind us when the game ended.

As if the pretzel and the sheer joy of being at Wrigley weren't enough, we were also lucky enough to see someone pretty cool sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." After getting his intro from the PA announcer Jeff Garlin from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" started off by saying, "Hey, can you believe it, it's me, Jeff Garlin!" and then led a pretty strong rendition. Sure, it wasn't as cool as Mr. T's take, but it was more on key.

Unfortunately, the game itself was another disaster for the Cubs, starting with giving up three runs before they even got to bat (though they put up four in the bottom of the first to take back the lead) and bottoming out with a horrid outing from erstwhile ace Carlos Zambrano, who gave up three runs on four hits (including a homer to Garret Jones, who went 5-for-6 on the day) in one inning of work, bringing his ERA up to 7.07 for the season. Zambrano took the loss, as the Pirates won 10-6.

After some souvenir shopping and a quick look at Uncle Buck's apartment building (which my Internet info had as the wrong address, meaning I have pictures of the building next to Uncle Buck's; I blame myself, as the other building was clearly the more logical site), we hopped on the train and headed toward Great Lake, which GQ's Alan Richman claims has the best pizza in America. Since two of the fellow travelers had had Italian the night before, we didn't stop there for a full pie (there were no tables available anyway), but they do sell slices, so I bought one for $5.50. I forget what all was on it, but I remember mushroom and garlic and some kind of fancy aged cheese. It's hard to judge on just one, warmed-up slice, but it was pretty damn tasty.

The other fellow travelers, due mostly to my ineptitude/poor sense of time (sorry, fellow travelers), did not have time for dinner, though they did sample some of the baked goods at A Taste of Heaven, which seemed to be enjoyed by all (I had a German chocolate cupcake, and it was pretty good, though not anywhere near the one from NYC's Buttercup Bake Shop).

Then we hopped on a bus toward the Old Town School of Folk Music, where we were to see Carrie Rodriguez, The Pines, and Tim Easton. Well, three of us were going to see Carrie Rodriguez. One of us had decided to see The Pines and Tim Easton and then hop in a cab to FitzGerald's in Berwyn to see The Knitters. Guess which one of us that was?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We got to to the Old Town School just before the show started, so there wasn't much time to soak the place in. But there were lots of interesting photographs on the walls, and the theater itself was really cool. Photography wasn't allowed, so you'll just have to go to the Old Town School's website to look at pictures and read up on the history of the place (or better yet, just go to Chicago and check it out for yourself). I was a little bummed at having such a rushed experience there, but I made my bed.

Tim Easton had a really strong set (if you've never heard his song "Next to You," you oughta, because it's a good one), and The Pines, whom I'd never heard before, had a few good songs in their set, too. But after they were done, I wandered around the school halls for a bit looking at the pictures, bought an Old Town School of Folk Music t-shirt (T-shirt #3 on the trip so far), and headed out to find a cab to take me to FitzGerald's, which I was looking forward to almost as much as I had been looking forward to Wrigley.

Why would I be looking so forward to going to a club in suburban Chicago? Was it because I really liked The Knitters? Well, sure, I like them just fine, and any opportunity to hear "Dry River" played should be acted upon in my book. But that wasn't the main reason. Was it because the club sounded like a really cool place? Yeah, that had something to do with it, mainly based on the excellent coffee-table book, Live from FitzGerald's. But that I wasn't leaving a concert just because of what I read in a cool book.

No, there was really one main reason why I was taking a cab (something I hate doing, by the way, but public transportation wasn't a reasonable, timely option) to Berwyn, Illinois, to see the Knitters play in a place I'd read about in a book. And that reason is that FitzGerald's is where one of my all-time favorite movie scenes was filmed. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the "Babysitting Blues":

Yes, I have stood mere feet from where Elisabeth Shue and Albert Collins sang "Babysitting Blues." I can't tell you how happy that makes me. And how sad I am that there isn't an official soundtrack for "Adventures in Babysitting." There are so many great songs in that movie (in addition to "Babysitting Blues," there's The Crystals' "And Then He Kissed Me," Edwin Starr's "Twenty Five Miles," and Southside Johnny's "Future in Your Eyes," among others) that it seems impossible that there isn't an official soundtrack. Someone must pay for this.

I'm getting off track again. FitzGerald's was everything I'd hoped it would be. There's a really cool vibe to the place, with neat stuff decorating the walls, including a bad-ass accordion signed on the keys by everyone from Garth Hudson to Boozoo Chavis.

I realize I'm sort of discrediting The Knitters here. I was, after all, going to see them play, not just stare at the walls at FitzGerald's. I could have easily gone to FitzGerald's Tuesday night for open mic night, but I wanted to see a real show there. So when I saw The Knitters were playing there, but on the same night that we already had tickets for the Old Town show, I started to do the math in my head (always a dangerous proposition) to see if it was possible to see at least half of the Old Town show and most of the Knitters show. And it wound up working out perfectly, because I got to FitzGeralds's about 10 minutes before the show started and found a good corner at stage left where I wasn't blocking anyone's view.

The Knitters (John Doe, Exene Cervenka, D.J. Bonebrake, Dave Alvin, and Johnny Ray Bartel, if you were wondering; Cervenka and Alvin pictured above) sounded as good as ever, and did particularly strong versions of the aforementioned "Dry River," "Wreck on the Highway," "Rock Island Line," and X's "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts," whose title runs through my head on an almost daily basis. The Knitters always put on a fun show (or at least they try; I am thinking of a Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors show at which the predominantly older audience seemed too perplexed to engage in the give-and-take necessary to create a fine show), and I assumed everybody was in on the fun at FitzGerald's, until a tipsy gal turned to me at the end of the show and asked, "I liked it, but do you think they were for real?" I assured her they were, but she seemed hesitant to take my word for it. I can only hope she was able to find John or Exene after the show to inquire upon their realness.

I planned to buy a Knitters shirt to support the cause, but then I saw a FitzGerald's shirt and plans changed. So I bought the FitzGerald's shirt (I'm wearing it now, in fact--if only I blogged live on a webcam) and bought something else from the Knitters' table (it just occurred to me I haven't told the person I bought the item about that, so I'll keep it on the down low). Then I headed back to the Blue Line train that took me downtown, where I transferred to the Red Line to get closer to the hotel. It occurred to me that I hadn't eaten since that cupcake about six hours ago, so I bought a banana and some peanut butter and crackers at 7-Eleven, walked around for a bit, and took a picture of the building used as the exterior for Chez Paul in "The Blues Brothers" (i.e., the restaurant where Jake and Elwood harass Mr. Fabulous into rejoining the band and Jake asks the immortal question, "How much for the women?"). It was right around the corner from our hotel. I suppose I looked odd taking a picture at a little after midnight, but so be it.

So, to recap, the day featured: a hearty breakfast, a full game at Wrigley, the biggest pretzel I've ever seen, a strong slice of pizza, a decent cupcake, two concerts, and seeing three places where my favorite movies were filmed.

I'd call that a good day. Thanks, Chicago. Go Hawks.


What I Liked About May (Super-Sized Edition)

*Seeing 6 (and 1/3) pro baseball games live
*Peter Wolf, Bell House, Brooklyn, NY
*Bowling the third 200 game of the year (on the nose)
*The Northside Twist Giant Soft Pretzel, Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

*The pancake sundae, Sweet Sue's, Phoenicia, NY
*Marah, Bowery Electric, NYC
*Eleven City French Toast, Eleven City Diner, Chicago, IL
*Levon Helm's 70th Birthday Ramble, Woodstock, NY

*Trampled By Turtles, Mercury Lounge, NYC
*Mother's Day with the fam, Merri-Makers, Sea Bright, NJ
*Billy Goat Tavern, Chicago, IL
*The Knitters, FitzGerald's, Berwyn, IL

*The Bavarian-style sauerbraten (w/ spaetzle and red cabbage), Mader's, Milwaukee, WI
*French Dip, Hartmann's Kaffeehaus, Round Top, NY
*Southport Lanes and Billiards, Chicago, IL
*The Bronze Fonz, Milwaukee, WI

*The botched construction of the Iron Man 2 promo banner at the Asbury Park 7-Eleven
*Red pizza, Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, Chicago, IL
*Hoboken Arts & Music Festival, Hoboken, NJ
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places