The 2004 version of our own little Homers Odd-yssey began Friday, June 25 as Gerry, Kevin, and Mark arrived around noon in Kansas City. Scott, courtesy of a US Airways mechanical malfunction, was to be a late arrival – so much so that the three musketeers already on the ground in KC considered modifying the itinerary.
A word here about BIB trip itineraries. Scott plans the trips, with the help of the Tasmanian Devil Travel Agency. Remember the little Bugs Bunny Cartoon character who would suddenly pop out of the ground somewhere, begin zipping around all-the-hell-over-the-place like a whirling dervish for no particularly valid reason? You get the idea. This itinerary was typical, wherein we arrive at a location, whip ourselves into a wild frenzy trying to drive 900 miles in 48 hours, pausing along the way for only one of three reasons: to visit a ballgame, to satisfy our unending thirst for quirky roadside attractions, or to find a place that serves up suitably large portions of food and attempt to break the four minute meal. These itineraries do not tolerate late arrivals well, and Scott’s little stunt threatened to send our whole BIB universe spinning out of kilter. We’d planned for Scott to be the last arrival anyway, just after noon, at which time we’d exchange pleasantries, grab some lunch, and drive the 200 miles before taking in an Iowa Cubs’ AAA game in Des Moines. However, this unexpected development – he was saying he wouldn’t get in until 5:30 – might call for us to eighty-six the Iowa Cubs and take in a Kansas City T-Bones’ game instead, then drive the 200 miles to Des Moines afterward, likely arriving circa 2:00am or so. A quick check of promotional dates for the T-Bones revealed good news and bad news. The good news was that Friday was to be “Sky-Diver Night” at the ballpark (cool!), but sadly, we had missed “Mullet Night” a few weeks earlier (damn!).
Gerry, Kevin, and Mark decided to ponder the options over lunch at Gates Barbecue, a local KC favorite featuring ribs that look strikingly similar to the ones that tipped over Fred Flintstone’s car at the drive-in. In tribute to our absent colleague, the three of us had four healthy portions of barbecue between us (sort of the BIB equivalent of the Blue Angels flying in the missing man formation). In a thrilling upset, common sense prevailed over the prospect of subjecting ourselves to some sort of cruel sleep deprivation experiment - we opted to stick with the original itinerary, even if it meant arriving late for the Iowa Cubs game.
Scott arrived at 5:30, we stuffed him in the car, and we bolted for Des Moines, arriving in the fifth inning. This was the only game on this year’s itinerary for which we had free tickets…general admission, but free tickets nonetheless. We have found over the years that for no particularly good reason, major and minor league teams alike will frequently give us free tickets if we just ask, even though there is virtually no prospect of repeat business from us – what idiots (unless you, the reader, work in the public relations department of a professional baseball club, in which case “we’ve found that many clubs are savvy enough to make an investment in securing our robust concession spending”). When we arrived, the Cubs were trailing 4-1 to the Nashville Sounds in what looked like a pretty well-attended game (actual attendance was 11,469). Armed with our general admission tickets, we searched high and low for four unoccupied seats. No luck after searching down the third base line and all the way out to the left field foul pole. On our way back around toward the first base line, however, we spotted four empty seats perched majestically a few rows behind home plate. Not since the Clinton White House has a seat been grabbed with such gusto as those four were. But alas, we had flown too close to the sun, as an usher showed up in just a few moments to separate us from our holy grail and relegate us to the cheap seats. All was not lost, however, as the Cubs came back for a 5-4 walk-off win, aided by a Nashville baserunning blunder and a drop of a fly ball to right field that should have been a can of corn (a baseball term we’re guessing is used more often in Iowa than elsewhere). And did we mention that there were some damn fine fireworks following the game!
After the game, it was 10:30pm and time to explore the Des Moines night life. There was none. So instead, we went to Buzzard Billy’s Flying Carp Café, home of “incredible Cajun-Creole food”. Suffice it to say that eating creole in Iowa is the rough equivalent of shopping for a tuxedo at WalMart.
Day 2 (Saturday) began at the Cracker Barrel in Clive, Iowa. The BIBs have become so enamored with Cracker Barrel that this year, it officially joins the BIB Restaurant Hall of Fame, joining IHOP, Waffle House, and Bob Evans in the breakfast wing. In recognition of its becoming the first member to join the BIB RHOF Breakfast Wing without the aid of laminated menus, it will henceforth be known to BIB as simply “the Barrel”. After enjoying a feast that would make Dr. Atkins turn over in his grave (did someone say turnover?), we took off for the Bob Feller Museum in nearby Van Meter, Iowa (the lesser known portion of the thriving Clive-Van Meter metroplex). Easy to see how Bob could become such a hero in a state with nothing but corn as far as the eye can see, what with having pitched the only opening day no-hitter and all. But what about all the other baseball greats that Iowa has tried to claim…like Willie Maize, Ty Cob, and Texas Rangers manager Shuck Bowalter? In any event, the BIBs agreed that Bob’s a jolly good Feller.
We had a few hours in the car before our next breathtaking roadside attraction – the Twister House in Eldora, Iowa…okay technically it’s a few miles east of Eldora…we’ll call it Greater Eldora. This place absolutely defied description. It was the location where the last few moments of the movie “Twister” were filmed. So here’s the visual…we’ve traveled hundreds of miles to reach a house in the middle of absolutely %@#!-ing nowhere that was specifically chosen by Warner Brothers because they figured nobody would give a damn if they subjected it to a tornado. To call it a four-bedroom trash heap would be unfair to trash heaps. Nevertheless, it advertises itself as a “Bed and Breakfast - RV Park”. Trust us on this, if you make it through a night in one of these beds, breakfast will be the last thing on your mind. We knew we had seized on another magical moment of BIB-esque oddity (see “2003: Branch Davidean Complex”, “2000: La Brea Tarpits”, and “1999: Underground Seattle Tour”). There was the dog lying on the couch inside the house. There was the cat climbing on the kitchen table, after spreading its Friskies Fancy Feast all over the kitchen floor. There were the assorted wasps in every room. Even the guest toilet was “pre-furnished”, if you know what we mean. Then there was the owner - a friendly sort of Caucasian Fred Sanford, who insisted we sign the guestbook (we noticed no one else had in almost a week), claimed his dog had rescued him from a diabetic coma, tried to get us to hang around for the “4:30 karaoke” (huh?!? with whom?!?), and then, as we left, asked us if we’d like to “take one of these ammo boxes from Afghanistan – they’re free”. Surreal.
Lunch, after scrubbing ourselves down like we were going to perform surgery, was in Grundy Center, Iowa at the Park Place restaurant. Grundy Center is where you can find…uh…corn…just like everyplace else in Iowa. The Park Place restaurant, however, is home to something they call “the cake shake”. We couldn’t help but wonder which National Merit Scholar employee one day declared “a milkshake doesn’t have enough fattening crap in it…let’s throw in a piece of cake and grind it up.” Hell yes, we tried one (well, Kevin did). Yummy!
Then it was on to Dyersville, Iowa (okay, Greater Dyersville) and the Field of Dreams, from the movie of the same name. Yes, it still exists – and it’s free! Visiting here was roughly the BIB equivalent of a voyage to Mecca. We weren’t sure whether to take the field or simply genuflect in homage. Unfortunately for the 15 or so other folks that were there, we chose the former. Bats and balls were in plentiful supply (and again, free!), but gloves were slim pickings. So it was that Kevin was pitching a hardball to Mark wearing a left-handed child’s glove on the wrong hand when Mark took a line drive right back up the middle – RIGHT back up the middle! As in not-quite-belt-high. Instinct and reflexes being what they are, Kevin still meets the BIB eligibility requirement of being male, but it was a close call.
Saturday night’s game in Cedar Rapids pitted the Quad City Swing vs. the Cedar Rapids Kernels. This game was full of surprises, starting with the fact that it was the “Kernels” (as in corn) and not the “Colonels” (as in Kentucky Fried Chicken). Then the cheerleaders showed up (cheerleaders, for baseball?). Then the Quad City team removed their tacky baby-blue warm-up shirts with rust-orange lettering to reveal their tacky rust-orange game shirts with baby-blue lettering. Oh yeah, and the second digit of their numbers was bigger, so like if Jackie Robinson had played for them, he would have been number 42. Nevertheless, Quad City took a 6-0 shutout from the Kernels, breaking a modest 2-game BIB home winning streak dating back to Houston last year. More driving...we got a heapin' helpin' of it this trip, as we headed back to Des Moines for the night.
We woke up Sunday and, as tempting as it was, bypassed “the Barrel” for breakfast in favor of our newest friend, Baker’s Square. Scott had suggested we go there so he could enjoy the usual breakfast fare…y’know…bacon, eggs, apple pie ala mode. Afterward, we hopped in the car and headed off toward Kansas City for the Cardinals vs. the Royals in interleague play. Not much time to spare…or so we thought…then it started to rain. First just a drizzle, then a steady drizzle, then “Uh oh, should we just skip the game and start building an ark?” Our trip was drawing to an end the same way it had begun…with an unwelcome itinerary-wrecking rain delay. Fortunately, the game did get underway soon enough that we could see about half of it before leaving to catch flights. Actually, the rain was a decent metaphor for the game itself, as St. Louis applied Chinese water torture to the Royals, beating them 10-3 behind 15 hits, every one of them a single. The BIBs got to feel a piece of the action with two close (but not quite catchable) foul balls and Scott’s “hand model” debut. Perhaps we best explain. Our seats were directly next to the TV cameras in the stands on the third base side. At one point in the game, the cameraman needed a volunteer to show the page in the program where a player’s autograph was good for fabulous prizes. Thus it was that Scott’s hands became Jumbotron stars while the rest of us harassed him mercilessly.
So that was it for BIB 2004. We headed for the airport and back to what we now routinely refer to as “the 363 days of dull ache that passes for the rest of our lives”. It occurs to us that these little trips, with their sense of unpredictable offbeat adventure, are a lot like the movie “Stand by Me”…if, instead of four kids walking along railroad tracks, it had starred four pasty middle-aged white guys and been filmed at a Cracker Barrel. Where to next year? A Florida swing? Back to the rust belt? Anaheim and the BOB? Whereever-the-hell-the-Expos-land? Or maybe we just come back to Kansas City and try to catch Mullet Night.
BIB2004(b): Mark's 50th Birthday Bash!
BIB 2004(b) – A Party in the Park: When Mark’s wife suggested early in 2004 that she’d like to have the BIB brethren congregate in the Bay Area for a surprise 50th birthday party, it sounded like a great idea for several reasons. Obviously, it was an excuse for us to sneak in a second trip this year, under the guise of celebrating Mark’s hitting the half-century bogey. More importantly, given the inherently sedentary and well-fed BIB lifestyle, it was an opportunity to witness the only one of us likely to live to see 50. BIBs, having a somewhat twisted view of Darwinism, prefer to put our faith in “survival of the fattest”.
BIB 2004(b) almost never happened. The plan was to arrive a day ahead of surprising Mark at his birthday party on Saturday. Scheduled to fly out early Friday morning, Scott checked his online flight reservation Thursday evening – only to realize that he had never made one. Now, Scott is our trip planner – the rock we rely upon to keep everyone moving along and on schedule – a voyage virtuoso, a Priceline Picasso. If BIB were an airliner, Scott would be its captain. This disturbing development was like opening the door to the cockpit and finding Pee Wee Herman at the controls!
Nevertheless, some quick maneuvering that included cashing in some frequent flyer miles secured Scott a last-minute reservation. Never mind that US Air called him at 4:00am to change his flight plans, adding insult to injury. Scott and Gerry were the first on the ground in San Francisco, about noon on Friday, August 13. Plenty of time before Kevin would arrive to visit 3COM (formerly Candlestick) Park, where nothing particular was going on, other than preparations for a Saturday pre-season football game between the 49ers and the Raiders. Evidently looking the part of the accidental terrorists, Scott and Gerry managed to get thrown out of not one, but two, parking lots there.
Kevin arrived at 3:00 and the three now immediately headed off to Stockton for a minor league game Friday night. Scott was familiar with driving in the Bay Area. Gerry, operating on 3 hours sleep (went to bed at 3:00am, something he mumbled about preparing a video for a sports banquet), and having flown across the country, was already showing signs of being a little disoriented. Although he hadn’t been to the Bay Area in quite some time, he remembered that it could get chilly in the summer, so he wore jeans (those would serve him well in the 90-degree heat of Stockton), but didn’t think to bring any sort of jacket that he could put on when it got really cold at night. He looked pretty disheveled…like he could fall asleep at any moment. We decided Gerry should drive.
Gerry had secured a smokin’ cherry red Mitsubishi Outlander – perfect for sitting in 3½ hours of traffic covering the 50 miles to Stockton. We might have saved a few minutes had we not gotten lost on the way to the ballpark (there’s a shocker – somebody call Ripley’s). Of course, we had no directions (“this is your pilot, Pee Wee, speaking to you from the flight deck”), so Scott called home for directions off the web, while Gerry enlisted the help of some…uh…youngsters on the side of the road under a bridge. Here’s and excerpt from Scott’s conversation: “yeah…honey, type in the corner of I-5 and Alpine Road. The noise in the background? That’s just Gerry asking some gang members for directions.”
The three of us finally arrived at the stadium to see the Stockton Ports take on the visiting San Jose Giants. Just our luck, it was “Raider Nation Night”, wherein a veritable smorgasboard of Jeff Foxworthy material dons silver and black and congregates in one spot for the sole purpose of…well, we’re not sure what. The ring leader is a guy named “Spike” with a prosthetic second head (more accurately, a skull) sitting on his shoulder wearing a Raider helmet. What appears to be Michael Jackson’s costume from the mid-eighties “Bad” video adorns the rest of him. Raider Nation Night turned into Raider Abomination Night when this character tried to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch. He compensated for not knowing the words by not knowing the melody either. As one fan walking by put it, “That was the worst.” [Note to reader: lest there be any confusion, the sausage races in Milwaukee were the wurst.]
It should be noted that Billy Hebert Field, where the Ports play (at least until the end of this season, before moving to a new downtown park) is home to the world’s finest steak sandwich, bar none. The guy cooking them in the barbecue pit, enticed us by offering a free sample. When we obliged (kicking small children and senior citizens out of the way in the process), he handed each of us a napkin with what appeared to be the better part of a side of beef perched atop. Delish! By the time we put a crow bar into our collective wallet and bought three of the actual sandwiches, it was love at first bite, reminiscent of that teary scene from Jerry Maguire: “you had us at free sample…[sniffle] you had us at…free sample”. Despite a relatively small crowd (announced at over 1400, though it would be generous to say that half that were in attendance) and vomit in the only bathroom (evidently a byproduct of Spike’s singing), the steak sandwich and a 4-2 come-from-behind Ports victory made for a fine evening.
Saturday morning started with breakfast at Denny’s (nothing like the old Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast to wash down those steak sandwiches, eh?) and a ride to Scott’s former home in Fremont to blow some time before Mark’s big surprise at the Athletics’ game. Scott actually showed us, in succession, the three Fremont homes he lived in, his kids’ grade school, his former church, the school his kids would be attending if he still lived there, and the asphalt parking lot where he taught his kids to ride bikes. We let Scott know we’ve selected a time that we hope to repeat this segment of the trip again with Mark along. We just hope that the weather will be conducive, what with hell having frozen over and all.
We arrived at Network Associates Coliseum about an hour ahead of Mark’s big entrance. Mark was under the impression that he would be sharing the suite with a bunch of mortgage bankers he didn’t know. Our first order of business was to get the inscribed bat we’d bought him as a gift into the stadium – no small task in a post-9/11 world. We debated whether to lie about what was in the 3 foot long box, or to show them the bat and appeal to their sense of nostalgia: “Hey, 30 years ago, you gave away 40,000 of these things on bat day.” We decided to make Gerry the spokesperson. As he approached the gate, he realized he didn’t have anything to open the box with and started fumbling for a key or anything sharp. Before he could come up with anything, the security guard asked what was in the box. Gerry said: “a bat”. Security guy says: “OK, go ahead”. We’re pretty sure it could have been a pipe bomb and we could have been dressed like the Frito Bandito, with a gun on each hip and ammunition slung over both shoulders and still gotten in.
It was Dennis Eckersley Day at the ballyard…honoring him for his recent induction into the hall of fame by handing out figurines. The figurines seemed kind of cheesy until somewhat mentioned the magic word: E-bay. Suddenly, they seemed more like potential family heirlooms.
Mark arrived shortly before the start of the game and was suitably startled, then shocked to see the three of us. He later confessed that his thoughts quickly progressed from “that’s odd” to “wait a minute – did they fly all the way across the country for this?” to “HOLY CRAP! I HOPE MY WIFE DIDN’T PAY FOR THEIR FLIGHTS!”
After the game, we invited ourselves to Mark’s home, where we expected security to put up slightly more resistance than at the ballpark (not so much because of the bat as because Mark’s 16-year old daughter had never before been exposed to the pathetic results of not taking one’s college education seriously, exacerbated by 40-odd years of indiscriminate feasting). Oddly, Mark’s family not only let us in but fed us chocolate chip cookies (“now they’ll never go away!”). Afterward, we accompanied Mark to downtown San Francisco for a walk around SBC Park (a first for all but Mark…the park, not the walk) and an uncharacteristic dinner with white tablecloths and no laminated menus. Thus ended our first two-trip year. Not to worry, though – only 320 days (give or take a few) until BIB 2005.
BIB2003: The Hell-A-Heat-and-Humidity Tour
Houston, Austin, and Dallas in July?!? What were we thinking? Or did we just have our collective head up our Astros? Mark dubbed it the “Hell-A-Heat-And-Humidity” tour. Truth is, as we look forward to these trips more and more each year, we’ve come to realize that our lives are really just a series of 3-day BIB trips, interrupted by the 362 days of dull ache that passes for our real lives.
So it was that we all began arriving in Houston on Friday morning. Kevin was first on the ground and should have been there to greet Scott as he arrived, except that Kevin couldn’t seem to master either the underground railway system or the complex naming convention of the terminals (4 of them, lettered A through D) at Houston Intercontinental. As a result, he spent about 45 minutes riding around on the disorient express before locating Scott. Gerry arrived a few minutes later.
Since Mark wasn’t scheduled in until early afternoon, it gave the three of us time for a big old BIBesque if-you’re-not-sweating-you’re-not-eating-fast-enough lunch. In other words, Mark’s late arrival contributed two hours to our weight.
Once Mark arrived, it was off to the rental car van, where we met the first of two odd women with a dog in tow, a “Nut-With-A-Mutt”, as it were. It seems that NWAM-1 had flown to Houston with her dog, Blitzen, to breed (the mutt, not the nut). It was nothing short of barf-making when she kept leaning over to the little carnal canine saying “C’mon, Blitzie, we’re going to take you to do the Hokie-Pokie.” It gave a whole new perverse meaning to the adage “every dog has his day”, not to mention the phrase “dog eat dog”.
Once in the car, it was off to Austin (okay, Round Rock, a northern suburb). While this is normally less than a 3-hour drive, we allotted some extra time to negotiate rush hour traffic in Cypress, Hempstead, Burton, Carmine, and, of course, the Paige/McDade metroplex. Remarkably, we arrived in Austin with time to have dinner before the game.
Since, BIBs are to fine dining what Courtney Love is to understated elegance, we found ourselves at the Round Rock Hooters. You’d thing that our waitress would have been a greater attraction than the food…you’d be wrong. Not since Linda McCartney has a female been so outclassed by wings. She insisted on repeatedly trying to extort 3 dollars from us in exchange for a copy of the 2003 Hooters calendar (remember, this was July, for crying out loud). Finally, Scott had had enough, started waving a few bills at her and offered, “Here’s 3 bucks if you’ll just go away!”
Our first stadium stop on the 2003 Tour-de-Franks was Dell Diamond to see the Round Rock Express. The PR director of the club was there to greet us with front row seats and to inform us that Jeff Kent was playing in a rehab assignment (this would have been a lot cooler, had Jeff not committed two errors and gotten caught in a base-running blunder). We mentioned to the PR guy that we had dubbed this the “Hell-A-Heat-And-Humidity” and, sure enough, a few innings into the game, The Jumbotron was repeating it to all 11,600 in attendance.
Scott had selected the Round Rock La Quinta as our home for the evening – a fine choice by BIB standards…but then, “BIB standards” is very nearly an oxymoron. Truth is, Scott is still smarting from the Chattanooga debacle two years ago. That was the time he put us up in the place where, I swear to you, I think they filmed Shawshank Redemption. Anytime anyone mentions Chattanooga, Scott hides in a corner and sort of rocks back and forth, muttering to himself, like it was his own personal Hanoi Hilton. But we digress.
The hostess at the La Quinta was the lovely Nadiya, whose English vocabulary consisted of approximately 14 words, none of them verbs: “Rooms through door. Breakfast in Lobby”. She was attractive enough…if you don’t mind girls who speak like Tonto. Her limited ability to speak the language was matched only by Mark and Gerry’s limited ability to interpret. These two brainiacs got lost trying to find their rooms…really lost…as in, “Hey Gerry, how’d we wind up back in the parking lot?” and “Geez, Mark, is this the courtyard?”. Mercifully, Nadiya found them and escorted them to the correct hallway.
The next morning, we had a couple of surprises waiting for us. First, Mark, ever the thoughtful comrade, placed wake-up calls for all of us. Then, NWAM-2 made her appearance. This Rhodes Scholar had evidently taken her dog for a walk, then forgotten which room was hers. So she proceeded to try all of them until, like some sort of urban Goldilocks gone bad, she found one that was just right. Conveniently, her appearance at Kevin’s door occurred as he was exiting the shower. So…here’s the picture: “Full Monty” Kevin carrying on conversation through peephole with woman and dog. Let’s move on.
Big BIB dilemma that morning…Cracker Barrel or IHOP? Much time spent arguing the relative merits…this is roughly the BIB equivalent of “Ginger or Mary Ann?” Cracker Barrel wins in an upset as the BIBs decide that being on the convenient side of the road carries more weight than having laminated menus. While waiting for food, Gerry enjoys the little triangular golf tee toy (roughly the BIB equivalent of a Rubix Cube), while Kevin instructs and entertains by explaining the placement of Great American Ballpark vis-à-vis Cinergy Field by drawing a Venn diagram (yes, he called it that) on a napkin.
In our continuous quest to see the offbeat, we stopped in Waco to see the Dr. Pepper museum on our way to Arlington for that night’s Ranger game. Finding that just a little too mainstream, Kevin suggested afterward that we try to find the site of the Branch Davidian compound. The guy at the Dr. Pepper museum ticket window found our inquiry a little creepy, but pointed us to the town information center. We thought the town might be trying to forget about the whole FBI-ATF-killing-and-burning-down-the-compound thing, but the Tourist Bureau handed out a nice typed up sheet of the directions to the site (right after warning us that “there’s nothing to see there; today’s their Sabbath”).
The map led us to some place probably 15 miles outside of Waco. It seemed a lot further; and, ever in the BIB tradition, we were low on gas. With each mile we got outside of the city, we expected more and more to start hearing banjo music playing the theme from “Deliverance.” Seems like we have a talent for taking these “little” detours on an empty tank.
Eventually, in a barren field off a dirt road off a gravel road off a seldom-traveled country road, we came upon a broken-down shack crudely marked “visitor center”. Oh yeah, did I mention that there was a metal gate that we had to go through to get to this little unwelcome center. Hell, it might as well have said “Bates Motel”…we’d come this far. As promised, it was the Branch Davidian Sabbath, so no one was there to greet us. However, in a Freddie Krueger-esque moment, we noticed that the door was slightly ajar, so we wandered on in. It couldn’t have been more than 12 feet square on the inside…a charming place, what with the religious propaganda pamphlets, charred remains of dolls that had belonged to children killed in the FBI raid on the complex, pictures of the deceased, model of the compound before incineration, etc. Kevin, who had the led the charge to this point, decided it was time to “take a knee” and get the hell out before this turned in to a full-fledged Children of the Corn incident. Mark, Scott, and Gerry, on the other hand, noticed what appeared to be a chapel off in the distance with a few people mulling around.
Suddenly they thought they were at Six Flags over Waco and didn’t want to leave without seeing everything. So that’s how it was that we came to meet a fellow who approached us near the chapel gave us a little guided tour of everything there was to see here at the Lunatic Hilton (heretofore a moniker usually applied only to Paris and her sister). We saw the ruins of the compound. We saw the burned out bus. We saw the motorcycle that had been run over by government tanks. We saw our lives flash before our lives. And just to add one crowning moment of surrealism to the whole deal, a young German woman, who claimed to be a reporter, approached us and asked if she could take our picture standing next to the ruins. I think it was the specter of Dan Rather speaking with that grainy picture in the background as he related the strange disappearance of four full-grown men that finally scared us straight.
At last, we were back on the road to Dallas, with a full tank of gas, no less. Upon arriving in Dallas, there was still time for a little sightseeing, including a tour of the Texas School Book Depository. We toured the official museum in the Depository, and got a full helping of the conspiracy theorists camped out on the “grassy knoll” hawking their books and “unofficial-official” autopsy photos.
Then it was on to the Ballpark at Arlington – a genuine baseball cathedral a la Crash Davis’ description of “The Show” in Bull Durham. Scott had inadvertently gotten us two sets of tickets for this game. Now, we’ve gotten pretty good at shamelessly begging for free tickets in advance of our annual trips, but in this case, Scott had paid for four tickets before realizing that the team had also provided us with a set of freebies. This led us to the concourse of the Ballpark, where ticket selling is strictly forbidden, to try to unload four of our tickets. Scott walked up and down the street, peddling his wares, trying to keep his contraband out of view of the bicycle cops. Imagine Pretty Woman, if the prostitute had been played by John Goodman instead of Julia Roberts.
Once safely inside the stadium, one of the first things you notice about the Ballpark at Arlington is that there is so much of the stadium to see that the game itself kind of gets lost in the shuffle. There’s the mini-diamond where kids can play whiffle ball. There’s the statue of Nolan Ryan. There’s the silent auction going on in the concourse area down the third base line. There’s the really cool memorabilia shop in right field. It was that last one that distracted Gerry to such an extent as he was walking around the stadium that a home run ball nearly landed at his feet without his noticing. Gerry’s dizzying reaction speed has earned him his own Chris Berman nickname. Way to go, Gerry-atric.
After the game, it was off to—what else—the local Hooters. This was the first trip to involve two Hooters (at least until the bylaws are modified to allow the participation of significant others…think about it), but either the quality of “service” at Hooters must be slipping or we are just getting too damn old to care about putting up with crappy food to ogle young girls in tight t-shirts and orange gym shorts, at least more than once per trip. The Brethren have agreed to amend the bylaws to limit our Hooters visits to no more than one per BIB trip.
We were up early the next morning and opted to start heading toward Houston rather than grabbing our typical power breakfast (that cool breeze you just felt may, indeed, have been hell freezing over). Of course, we weren’t on the road more than an hour before several of us began exhibiting signs of waffle and bacon grease withdrawal. This was particularly troubling, since there appeared to be nowhere to eat between Dallas and Houston. Nowhere, not a Bob Evans, not a Cracker Barrel, not a McDonalds, not so much as well-stocked vending machine.
We finally stumbled across a goofy little aqua and pink place in the middle of nowhere with the shades drawn called Ponte’s Diner. You half expected to open the door and find mirrored walls, a DJ, and a floor-to-ceiling aluminum pole. Sadly, we did not, and had a damn fine country breakfast.
We arrived in Houston with time to enjoy Minute-Maid Park before the game. Luckily, they had the roof on for the game, given that the temperature outside was well into the 90’s. The Astros were playing the Pirates, which gave us an opportunity to see Randall Simon in person, the person who had just recently been in the national news for swinging a baseball bat at one of the Milwaukee Brewers’ racing sausages. Not since Lorena Bobbit had someone made such headlines by taking out a weiner.
In order to make flight times, we had to leave a bit before the game was over, but we heard the finish over the radio on the way to the airport. As we parted ways, we girded ourselves for several days of overeating detox, followed by another year of stumbling through the twilight of our mediocre middle-management careers as we look forward to BIB 2004.