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.
BIB2002 Trip Report by Kevin
BIB2002 Day 1
Nancy (Kevin’s wife) had these parting words for Kevin as he left the house for his annual male-bonding ritual “Now don’t do anything dangerous. When you four guys get together, you’re none too bright…not one of you.” Truth is, if the three musketeers’ rallying cry was “All for one and one for all.” The rallying cry of the Brothers in Baseball would probably be, “All for fun and none too bright”. Bold planning for the 2002 Contraction Tour (editorial note: doesn’t “contraction” seem more like a term that should be used when the league “gives birth” to a new team than when it gets rid of one?) had everyone but Scott arriving within two and a half hours of game time (or so we thought – more on that in a minute). Given our checkered history of delayed and cancelled flights, this may not have been the wisest move (remember, “none too bright”).
In looked even less wise to Kevin when he arrived at his departing gate in Cincinnati to find out that his commuter flight was overbooked by one…and he was the one. Thankfully, some greedy soul wanted a free flight bad enough that he coughed up his seat at the last minute. Still, a flat tire kept Kevin on the ground long enough to make sure that things didn’t run too much like clockwork once everybody arrived in Burlington, Vermont. BIBs are always thinking of their brethren.
Gerry showed up with souvenir bags for everyone, chock full of memorabilia from the 2002 All-Star game in Milwaukee. Mark had a little surprise for everybody too…he’d shaved his back. Mark’s last official act of BIB 2001 as we left for the airport from the parking lot at Turner Stadium was (for reasons still unclear) to pose shirtless for pictures of his remarkably forested back, while parents shielded their children from what they undoubtedly thought was the first urban Sasquatch sighting. So here we were, in the parking lot of the Burlington airport and Mark is shirtless again…aw, the symmetry of it all.
But we digress… Centennial Field, home of the Vermont Expos, was only a few blocks west of the airport, so we got some verbal directions from the parking lot attendant, exited the airport, and headed due east (again, “none too bright”). By the time we came full circle after what must have been a 15 mile drive to go a few blocks, we found all kinds of people walking to the game…way too many it seemed for a minor league game that was still an hour away. We spent another 20 minutes or so driving in circles around the ballpark trying to find a place to park, before we gave up, parked a mile away, and boarded a shuttle from the University of Vermont Hospital parking lot.
When we finally arrived at the park, the reason for all the “early” arrivals became apparent. A suspended game from the night before was being played already, so we walked in to find a game already in progress (in the third inning, I think). Centennial Field has existed since 1906. The grandstand currently in use was constructed in 1922…and the seats felt like it…sort of a chiropractic purgatory. Lackluster defensive play by the home team Expos and zero runs scored offensively (at least while we were there) completed the painful trifecta as the Expos fell twice to the Lowell spinners 9-2 and 4-2. The highlights included the 1,000,000th fan in attendance since Vermont became part of the Expos’ system in 1994 and a mildly amusing Loch Ness Monster-like mascot named “Champ” (so named for nearby Lake Champlain). We never saw the end of the second game in Vermont, as we needed to make it to Pont Claire, Quebec at a somewhat reasonable hour.
This trip was going to be complicated by the fact that none of us was too damn sure just where the hell “Pont Claire” was. Oh sure, we knew it was in Quebec, and we knew Quebec was in Canada, but beyond that, the best we had to go by was some general notion of Scott’s that “It looked like it was between Montreal and Ottawa” (all together now…”none too bright”). The drive northwest, through some back roads and tiny little towns in extreme northeastern New York was classic BIB. We passed a carnival with a live band playing and a concession stand that advertised “Fried Dough”. Isn’t usually called “Elephant Ears” or “Funnel Cakes”? Yeah, we all know what it really is. But God bless’em, these New Englanders just call it what it is. Makes you wonder if they advertise honey as “bee barf”.
As we approached the Canadian border, we could smell the forest fires that had been burning for some weeks in Canada. Mark was doing all the driving for this trip and did a great job, but for two little incidents…and the first was about to happen. Mark was the one who had designated this the “Contraction Tour”, in part because we were going to see the Expos before they got contracted, and in part because we were all planning to lose some weight before this trip. Counting the 37 pounds that Mark dropped leading up to the trip, the total BIB weight loss across all four of us was, well…37 pounds.
With his new slimmed-down physique (not to mention aerodynamic back), Mark was a self-assured, confident, cosmopolitan sort of guy…until we pulled up to the border check booth, occupied by a strikingly attractive and personable young blond woman. Then, Mark turned into Barney Fife on a bad day. Like a shark sensing blood, she played him for all he was worth. She asked why we were crossing the border. Mark mumbled something about baseball. She upped the ante by asking if we were professional baseball players (look at any of the pictures on this web site and tell me if that seems even remotely possible to you). Mark made some sort of Neanderthal, guttural sound. Then the piece de resistance: she asks how many people are in the car (like she can’t see the four of us). Mark blurts out “Just me and four of my friends.” Then she asks what’s in the trunk (perhaps wondering if that’s where Mark’s imaginary fourth friend is hidden?). Mark says something like “our stuff”. Mercifully, she let us go on before Mark broke into a torrent of flop sweat.
It turns out that Pont Claire is a western suburb of Montreal. But, of course, we had to spend an hour driving around Montreal before we zeroed in on our hotel. Kevin is a crappy navigator when he’s reading directions in English. Give him a map that’s in French and he’d have to show a marked improvement to be crappy.
BIB2002 Day 2
One staple of all good BIB trips is what we like to call the Power Breakfast. Friday morning’s was at the Country Market Truck Stop on the way to Ottawa. We all clogged our arteries with bacon, eggs, and sausage, while Mark regaled us with tales of his previous night’s discovery regarding French Canadian television: the nude infomercial. The rest were frustrated by the fact that of 47 cable channels, only 5 included English dialogue. Mark, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less how many of the 47 even had dialogue.
There must have been plenty to drink at breakfast, since it seemed like as soon as we hit the road again, Kevin needed to stop. We pulled off at some trashy gas station in the middle of nowhere with bars on all the windows, but, as luck would have it, their restroom was out of order (or so they said). The other BIBs tried to tell Kevin to just go out back of the place, but the female attendant with enough video monitors to secure the Pentagon gave Kevin a serious case of stage fright. There was no way Kevin was getting back on the highway in his condition and the next best option was across the highway at a “Park-and-Ride” adjacent to a cornphield. Now, you may point out that “cornfield” has no “P” in it...let us assure you that this one now does. So Kevin, after far too much consternation for a simple mission of bladder relief, goes behind a parked pickup truck, and to the shock of us all in the car, he disappears! I guess it just goes to show how much a “man” Kevin is…he just can’t stand up and pee like a Real Man.
First stop once we arrived in Ottawa, under suspiciously grey and rainy skies, was the National Gallery of Canada, where we saw several Rembrandts, our fill of contemporary art (no, we don’t get it), and a whole bunch of “Inuit Art”, whatever the hell that is. Going back outside afterward meant everybody but Mark, who’d brought raingear, needed to purchase umbrellas ($7, Canadian). Bring umbrellas with us?!? Are you kidding? All for fun and none too bright, remember?
No matter, we were planning to take the Duck Tour of Ottawa anyway. Ducks, for the uninitiated, are those amphibious vehicles made famous by the Wisconsin Dells. They are the kind of tacky, off-beat, just-a-bubble-off-plumb attraction that we seem naturally drawn to (see Underground Seattle Tour, 1999 and La Brea Tar Pits, 2000). They can operate on land, on bodies of water, with bombs and bullets flying around, but not, it appears, in the rain...they were closed for the day. Next best option was a double-decker ride through downtown Ottawa. Aside from having a really attractive tour guide that we feared might render Mark’s motor skills completely inoperable (a la the “border babe”), we got some really nice views of the Parliament building and a chance to experience a taste of what BIB trips will be like in 2040, when we are dragging our walkers on every tour bus we can find.
We hopped off the bus long enough to just about literally run through the Museum of Civilization…entire history of Canada in an hour and fifteen minutes, eh? The rain had not let up when we bailed out of the bus tour to grab a beer and a few chicken wings at one of our favorite BIB restaurant (and we use that term loosely) chains. While waiting for our food, we watched the rain pouring down and contemplated the unthinkable: our first-ever BIB rain-out for that night’s Ottawa Lynx game.
It was clear that at the very least, we were in for a long rain delay, so we headed to the Keg Steakhouse for a rare legitimate meal. It was from there that we called to get the news that the game had, in fact, been cancelled. And what does a BIB do when the game is cancelled? Head directly to the park, of course.
Now you might think that a locked up ballpark would not offer much for us to do. Think again. Fortunately, Scott had remembered the name “Barre Campbell” as the individual on the Ottawa Lynx staff who had secured our free tickets. Well, Barre must be one powerful son-of-a-gun in the Lynx organization, because we quickly found that, even though he had left the park when the game was cancelled, the mere mention of his name could get us about anything we wanted: Issue: Park is locked up? Resolution: “Excuse us, but we’ve come all the way from the states, and Barre said we could get in to see the park and take a few pictures.” Issue: Never got our tickets from will call as proof that we’d been to the park? Resolution: “I’ll bet Barre wouldn’t mind if you stayed a few extra minutes and fired up the printing press so we can have our little souvenirs.” Issue: Scott really wants a program and you didn’t print those either? Resolution: Barre would probably just give us the master.
And so we headed back toward the Montreal Hilton for the evening, freshly printed tickets and program master in hand, as Scott contemplated building a small shrine to Barre Campbell on his mantle back in Virginia. For the first time in BIB history, we’d been rained out and now with only one game left, we still hadn’t seen so much as a run scored by a home team.
With so little baseball to discuss, the conversation along the way turned more sophomoric than usual (note that on a scale from “Three’s Company” to “Face the Nation, our “usual” would rate somewhere around “Gilligan’s Island”). This was not a good thing, because part of the trip was through a one-lane road construction zone in which the left shoulder was replaced by miles of rubber posts spaced about 10 feet apart to keep you from pulling a Dukes of Hazzard number into the actual construction. So somehow, the conversation turns to bachelor parties and a one-upsmanship contest to see who can recount the most lewd act they’ve seen performed at one. Well, something must have rung Mark’s bell, because all of the sudden we see (and feel) “THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP.” Just the kind of sound you’d hear if….oh, I don’t know…like maybe if you’d VEERED OFF THE ROAD AND WERE BEATING THE HELL OUT OF THOSE RUBBER POSTS THAT WERE THE ONLY THING SEPARATING YOU FROM CERTAIN DEATH!
Fortunately, Mark’s recovery here was far more graceful than in the border babe incident and we arrived safely back in Montreal.
BIB2002 Day 3
Day 3 began with a power breakfast (what else) in some downtown Montreal underground dive we stumbled upon. As official trip planner, Scott is also generally the one in charge of choosing eating establishments. As a public service, we pass along a couple of his rules of thumb that you may find helpful. First, under no circumstances should breakfast be eaten in a location where the menus are not heavily laminated. Second, when selecting a barbecue joint, the quality of the barbecue is directly proportional to the human-like characteristics of the pig outside (and there is always a pig outside). So, for example, “pig standing upright” means good barbecue. “Pig on all fours” means lousy barbecue. “Pig dancing a jig while appearing to derive the quadratic formula” means excellent barbecue.
Most memorable trait of this particular breakfast location was the waitress, who was a dead ringer for the Frau Farbissina character from the Austin Powers movies. A great waitress, and really charming…in a drill sergeant sort of way.
Breakfast was followed by a lengthy walk to Notre Dame Cathedral. Following a short tour there, it was off to the old port and the Museum of Archaeology. The museum tour began with a very difficult drill…at least for one of us. We sat down in a theater in alphabetical order…Gerry, Kevin, Mark, Scott (no, we don’t always do that; it just worked out that way). The tour guide then instructed each of us to pick up the headset on our right and put it on in order to hear the English translation of the introductory material. This was apparently the difficult part, as Kevin found himself without a headset and destined to listen to the French version, until Scott realized which side was his right.
We followed the archaeology tour with a walk to Jacques Cartier Plaza for lunch. Along the way, we happened to pass Chris Berman on the sidewalk, though, sadly, he did not bestow any of his famous nicknames upon us. Gerry then made the tactical error of suggesting that we dine al Fresco. He even attempted to wrest control away from Scott by selecting the establishment…one with sissy little paper menus (not a speck of lamination). We were actually seated and had received our menus before we decided that the service was not up to BIB standards. A good 5 minutes had passed without anyone taking our order…not an environment conducive to the Olympic speed eating and vacationing for which we’ve become so famous.
We left our table behind and found another restaurant more to our liking (read “big clown food and beer”). While everyone else was finishing lunch, Kevin decided that he absolutely needed – right now – to buy souvenirs for the family. There was some suspicion among the BIBs that just because we were on Jacques Cartier Plaza, he thought he could pull the wool over Nancy’s eyes by finding something for less than $10 Canadian that had the word “Cartier” on it.
This was an unfortunate decision on Kevin’s part, because his ill-timed shopping spree, coupled with Gerry’s al Fresco false start had left us behind schedule. Scott, resuming his rightful place as BIB disciplinarian, and the closest thing we have to adult supervision, pointed out that it was getting dangerously close to 3:40pm, the appointed time for our Olympic Stadium tour and we still had to hike back to our car (something like 15 blocks away) and then drive. We made a mad dash for our car, and got there about 3:00pm.
Since Olympic Stadium is about 15 minutes way by car, one would think we had it made. Unfortunately, we were working with directions supplied in broken English by the hotel concierge (by the way, “concierge” is French for “idiot like us masquerading as know-it-all”). Complicating the whole thing was that even though we generally knew what direction we needed to go, we had trouble translating that into Sud/Est/Ouest/Nord quickly enough to hit turn-offs. As it turned out, we arrived with precisely 1minute to spare and came flying into the parking lot like the Griswolds arriving at Wallyworld.
The stadium tour left a little to be desired, punctuated by the guide who presented himself as something of a baseball authority but had no earthly idea how the wildcard playoff system worked (damn French shouldn't have anything to do with Red-Blooded American Baseball!). He pointed out that, while the Expos had little hope of winning the division, he thought they could somehow get to keep playing after the season by coming in second. Scott volunteered the word “wildcard”, thinking that maybe he had just drawn a blank. The guide responded with what could best be described as a Vulcan Death Stare.
The highlight of touring the facility, however, had to be the trip to the top of the 45-degree inclined tower that overlooks the stadium from a height of 556 feet (exactly 1 foot taller than the Washington monument, for trivia buffs). There is a nice observatory at the top where you can read about the history of Montreal and purchase tacky souvenirs. One level below that, accessible by a stairway, is an essentially unmarked lounge that nobody seems to know about. Kevin, Scott and Mark found a couch, propped up their feet and relaxed for the first time all day, taking in the view and waiting for Gerry, who Kevin had seen upstairs and told to join them when he was finished buying tacky stuff…or at least Kevin thought that’s what he’d told Gerry. What Gerry recalls is Kevin pointing down and saying something like “meet you there”. Gerry assumed “down there” was “all the way down there” and proceeded back to terra firma, sans fellow BIBs.
After about 20 minutes, the three at the top wondered where Gerry was. After another 10 they realized he obviously had left and was probably lost. It was only about another 10 before they mustered the initiative to actually go find Gerry.
The Expos’ game that night was against the Florida Marlins and we had great seats behind the plate. The good news was that we actually saw two hometown runs scored; the bad news was that the Marlins scored 7. Tomo Ohka pitched for the Expos and dug himself a 5-0 hole after 1 inning. Perhaps most disappointing was that we felt deprived of the true “Expos experience”. Thanks to $5 seat and $1 hot dog promotions, there were over 19,000 in attendance, several times the usual Montreal crowd size.
There were a couple of interesting items that we noticed about the stadium. First, the foul poles: they’re red with white maple leafs from top to bottom…never noticed that on TV! Second, the fan defense is absolutely pathetic. Nobody appears capable of catching a foul ball. I guess it’s part of the Canadian upbringing...after all, what father would instruct his kid to catch a puck on the fly, eh?
After the game, it was a relatively short drive back across the border to Plattsburgh, NY for the evening. Along the way, we began planning in earnest for next year’s trip. Since Florida is looking like a logical next trip (what with the D-Rays possibly on the rocks in the near future), the question came up, as it does every year, of whether we should perhaps allow wives/significant others on the trip. Typically, the vote is 4-0 against, with the only commentary being a universal reaffirmation that we’re called the “Brothers” in Baseball for a reason. Being open-minded sorts, however, we did take one step toward a more progressive direction this year. Scott suggested that perhaps the women could participate by driving us around so we didn’t have to find parking, bringing us hot dogs, that sort of thing…essentially as indentured servants. We all applauded Scott for his out-of-box thinking and then voted 4-0 against involving the women.
BIB2002 Day 4
We can probably skip the part about the power breakfast, right? You already assumed that. From Plattsburgh, we headed for Lake Placid where we had every intention of paying $30 to ride the bobsleds…until we found the surrounding roads closed due to an Ironman Triathlon. We quickly retreated, fearing that any of that physical fitness stuff might get on us if we weren’t careful.
The trip through rural New York wasn’t a total waste, though, as it gave Gerry a chance to tell us a story about how an attempt on his part to be neighborly ultimately resulted in a SWAT team on his lawn and police searching his house. No sense relating the whole story here – just believe it. This is the kind of thing that can happen only to one of us. Some folks get together once a year and talk about how their kids did in school or soccer. We get together and compare notes on who had the most grotesque injury or illness (Kevin…surgery to remove a cyst on his inner thigh) or who came closest to a felony conviction (Gerry, hands down).
From there, we headed east, back toward Vermont. We decided to take a ferry back across Lake Champlain to Burlington. It felt like anything but July as we endured a stiff lake breeze along the way. Once back in Vermont, we headed directly to the Ben and Jerry’s factory tour in Waterbury, VT. The combination of quirky tour and free ice cream found us in our natural habitat once again (a relief, following the close call with that triathlon nonsense). One tip: do not have a milkshake at BandJ's...never, ever...'nuff said.
After Ben and Jerry’s, we headed back to Burlington, where we all had late afternoon flights awaiting us. But there was one more meal opportunity and we made it count, finding a cool seafood joint right on Lake Champlain. With that, it was back to the airport where we all said our good-byes for another year and hoped to goodness that a baseball strike didn’t dork up our plans for 2003.
BIB 2002 Photos
At Vermont's Centennial Field
Touring around a wet Ottawa
At Olympic Stadium for Dollar Dog Night
At Ben & Jerry's Flavor Graveyard
BIB2001: The Record Road Trip Tour
It seems that every previous tour had a convenient name. Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Detroit was the Rust Belt Tour. Seattle-Yakima-Portland was the Pacific Northwest Tour. Los Angeles-San Diego was the Southern California Swing. This trip defied a tidy label. Cincinnati – Louisville – Chattanooga – Atlanta. The Mason-Dixon Tour? The chili–n-grits tour? Sherman’s March-to-the-Sea Tour? Suffice it to say that the trip broke BIB records for most miles stuffed in a car together (1250, including the return trip from Atlanta to Cincinnati by Mark and Kevin), most times crossing state lines (KY-OH-KY-OH-KY-OH-KY-TN-GA-TN-GA-TN-GA-TN-KY-OH; that’s 15, for those of you scoring with us at home), and lowest median tooth-to-toe ratio for states covered.
Miraculously, everyone arrived relatively on time in Cincinnati for the start of Day One. This was particularly notable, given that we were starting on Friday the 13th (of July, that is). For Mark, it was really Day Two, since he took a Red-Eye from the Left Coast the night before. Gerry, Mark, and Kevin decided to grab breakfast before Scott’s arrival. They visited a Perkins restaurant in beautiful Florence, Kentucky, near the airport. There they sampled a local Cincinnati favorite – goetta. Goetta (pronounced get-uh, as in “goetta life”) is a concoction of beef, pork, oatmeal, and spices that has the rare distinction of being perhaps the only food that can be dressed with salt, pepper, syrup, and ketchup – simultaneously, if you’ve got the nerve.
When Scott arrived on time, we found ourselves in the unthinkable position of having a few hours to spare before heading off to dinner and the game. We headed to Kevin’s place in the east suburbs of Cincinnati. One of the first things everybody noticed was that Kevin and his wife Nancy had a wedding portrait taken in front of the Cincinnati skyline. BIBs being BIBs, however, we all immediately fixated on the fact that the most prominent feature of the skyline was Riverfront stadium. For one shining moment, Kevin was the the envy of all the brethren as they tried to figure out just how in the hell he managed to talk his wife into taking wedding photos in front of a ball field. We then took up a game of pepper in Kevin’s back yard. This was a bad idea. BIBs watch baseball very, very well; they do not play baseball particularly well. Truth is, BIBs are to athletic ability what roller derby is to understated elegance. It started in a civil enough manner, but then Scott started trying to demonstrate his range by stepping in front of Mark to field grounders. This is not to say that Scott distracted Mark by entering his peripheral vision – it is to say that Scott repeatedly heaved himself, like Shamu performing for raw fish, between Mark and the sun, forever earning for himself the nickname “eclipse”.
Speaking of Professor Scott, ever the detail-oriented trip planner, he had gone so far as to obtain dew point forecasts for the cities we would be visiting. It seems that the higher the dew point, the more we could expect to perspire. Scott had some sort of dew point scale for determining how much sweat could be anticipated. Well evidently the dew point range in Kevin’s back yard was somewhere north of “glisten”. In fact, it must have blown right on by “drippy” on its way to “Patrick Ewing at the foul-line”.
Following a change of shirts, we headed off to a brief tour of Cincinnati, including trendy Mount Adams, the ruins of old Crosley Field, Over-the-Rhine (where two wrongs make a riot) and dinner at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse. Then it was a short ride to Cinergy Field for the game. Great seats above the visitors’ dugout kept us right in the middle of the action. Cinergy had the worst “motivational chant” that we have experienced—there is a brief recording of a clap-clap-clap-GO! but the “GO” sounds like it is played on a tape that’s seen too many hot days on your dashboard and the thing sounds all stretched out and deep, and slowwwww. Gerry captured this as a short movie clip with his new wiz-bang digital camera, but more on that later.
Between innings, there was a mascot of sorts with a bat sticking out of his head. Scott kicked several small children out of the way for a chance to toss a ring around it. Mark’s mug made it on to the Jumbotron. Kevin caught a hot dog that was hurled into the stands between innings – then he nearly hurled himself as he took the first bite out of the unappetizingly colored tube steak. Apparently, the whole hot dog throwing promotion was entitled “Possum – the other yellow meat”. All of this, plus Ken Griffey Jr getting plunked and several chatty women sitting next to us weren’t enough to keep Mark awake after his red eye from the left coast, however, as he was caught snoozing by Gerry’s omnipresent digital camera.
Perhaps this would be a good time for a word about Gerry’s camera…and the word would be “complicated”. Gerry thought it would be a great idea to buy a camera to digitally record images from our trip. This was fine as long as Gerry was operating the camera. Taking a picture with Gerry’s camera is only slightly less complex than landing a jumbo jet in a hurricane. I think it was called an Olympus L-1011. Every time we roped some unsuspecting stranger into taking a group photo of us, Gerry had to spend twenty minutes training them on the use of the damn thing: “Here, just press this button, hold it down for three-and-a-half-seconds, press it again, hit ctrl-alt-shift, recite the preamble to the constitution, strip to your underwear and cough, then wait for the flash…and maybe you should wear this lead vest.”
Following the game, a 5-1 Cleveland victory, we headed off to Louisville, but not before a quick diversion to Kevin’s home one more time, since he’d forgotten his glasses and was the designated chauffeur for the weekend. Easy to see how he would forget them – only another 1200 miles to drive, most of it in the dark. No worries – it added another 2 state-line crossings to our award winning total on this trip.
Saturday morning it was breakfast at the Waffle House (having failed to find someplace really ritzy, like a Bob Evans), then off to the Louisville Slugger museum. The film at the museum’s theater featured great moments in bat history. Mark, a die-hard A’s fan since the womb, particularly enjoyed watching Kirk Gibson deposit Dennis Eckersley’s 3-2 pitch over the fence for a 5-4 win in the ninth inning of game 1 of the 1988 World Series. For Gerry, Scott, and Kevin, it brought back memories of a great baseball moment. For Mark, it nearly brought back the Waffle House breakfast. The rest of the museum and factory were full of cool sights and baseball artifacts – none more memorable than a guy who works the bat lathe and bears a striking resemblance to Elvis Presley (a hunka-hunka turning lathe?).
The trip south from Louisville through Nashville to Chattanooga, was an odyssey of traffic jams, traveling 4-wheel shrines to Dale Earnhardt, and at one stop for gas, what had to be the largest display of chaw in the entire civilized world. There was no mistaking that we were in the South – I mean the serious “if-your-family-tree-looks-more-like-a-wreath-then-you-might-be-a-redneck” kind of South. But we were soon to demonstrate to one of the locals that a quick swim around the collective Mark-Kevin-Gerry-Scott gene pool wasn’t likely to turn up any record-breaking SAT scores, either.
Maybe it was that we got disoriented when we unexpectedly found ourselves crossing the Georgia state line going from Nashville, TN to Chattanooga, TN (betcha didn’t know that I-24 does that…neither did we). Maybe it was all those hours dodging traffic jams. In any event, we were trying to find the Chickamauga battlefield near Chattanooga (had a couple of hours to spare – seemed like a good idea). Well, despite a AAA TripTik, several Tour books, and maps-a-plenty, we couldn’t find the damn thing. Understandable, I suppose…after all, it’s only the largest military park in the United States at over 8,100 acres! We drove in circles for about an hour, looking for a brown park sign (we may not be able to read maps, but dammit, we know our colors!). Somehow, we wound up driving past Rock City – that really should have been a clue. Anyway, we finally pulled into a gas station to ask an elderly local gentleman for help finding the battlefield. He just looked at Scott, contemplated his chaw for a minute, and said “Son, do you know you’re on top of a mountain?” For some reason, it was only then that the absurdity of the mental picture really crystallized - confederate and union soldiers lugging themselves and their armaments to the top of Lookout Mountain so they could enjoy a battle with a view.
We had mildly better luck locating BellSouth field for a game between the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Greenville Braves. Once inside, the most distinguishing feature of the ballpark has to have been the little train that came out from behind the center field fence (Chattanooga Choo-Choo, get it?) when the Lookouts hit a home run. Scott had scored us great seats just a few rows behind home plate (presumably because he ordered the tickets during the Clinton Administration). We found the local Chattanoga fans to be particularly hospitable (and mildly amused at our quixotic little baseball park adventure). So much so, that Mark started collecting autographs from surrounding fans on his cap. A couple who will live on in BIB lore as only “Becky and Cam” had the misfortune of being seated next to Mark and listening to his tales of the road. [ed. note: Becky and Cam, you are probably two of the six or seven people that will ever read this, so we wanted to make sure you knew that we hadn’t forgotten you]. Mark and Gerry also made friends with another individual behind us who evidently had ties to the ball club….but that’s another story.
After the game, as we always do at least once each trip, we went for a late night snack at our favorite chicken wing establishment. It’s named after an owl for some reason – evidently the founder was really into wildlife. We suspect that the service would have been terrible – that is, if we had encountered any service. As it was, we had some bad wings and headed off for a good night’s rest (actually early morning at this point). Upon arrival at the motel, we were horrified to see Scott’s credit card being rejected. How could this be?!? Professor Scott? The Michelangelo of road trip planning?!? The man who put the “rave” in travel? How dare they! Eventually they came to their senses and accepted our credit when Mark threatened to remove his shirt and braid his back hair in front of their pool guests.
Sunday we were up bright and early for breakfast at the Cracker Barrel and a late morning arrival in Atlanta. Once again, we found ourselves in the unfamiliar position of having about an hour to spare, so we decided to take in Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. Only parking we could find was $20 – Yikes! After considering our negotiating leverage (e.g., threaten to toss remnants of Kevin’s now two-day old possum-dog at parking attendant; pretend to be grieving relatives of Dale Earnhardt; remove Mark’s shirt and mumble something about “sasquatch” nervously under our breath), we decided to change our visit into a driving tour.
When we arrived at Turner Field around noon, we met up with some old friends. If the people around us weren’t relieved to know that Mark would have someone to talk to at this game, they should have been. Scott captured the essence of Turner Field pretty succinctly when he said something like “it’s a shrine to Ted Turner’s investments that happens to host an occasional baseball game.” About the best thing that can be said about the stadium is that it makes excellent use of primary colors. So much so that it seems almost cartoonish at times (no doubt some subliminal plug for Turner’s Cartoon Network). The rows are way too wide (20 or more across in some spots), the warning tracks are a funky gray color that doesn’t even do a good job of pretending to be real Georgia clay, and the banners all over proclaiming the Braves’ decade of dominance struck us as more arrogant than decorative. Thus, it was not with much of a heavy heart that we watched the Crimedog (Fred McGriff), a former Brave, park a couple in the seats to propel the Devil Rays to a 9-1 victory with two home runs and four RBI.
After the game, it was off to the airport to bid farewell to Gerry and Scott, who had the good sense to book flights home that night. Mark and Kevin were not quite as bright, preferring the late night drive back to Cincinnati so Kevin could stumble into work the next morning. Fittingly, there were construction zones galore on the 7-hour trip turned 9 hours by orange barrels. Not one actual worker to be found, of course. Highlight of the trip was a good old southern BBQ joint that Mark spotted just outside Knoxville; seeing Kevin and Mark tear into a plate of BBQ serves as a nice little reminder that “BIB” was spelled with lower case letters before it became an acronym. Arrival in Cincinnati was somewhere around 1:30 in the morning. Mark’s farewell to Cincinnati the next morning was a ride to the airport wherein he had to listen to a cabbie who went on endlessly about his incarcerated son. Somewhere Becky and Cam had to be smiling at the poetic justice of it all.
The four of us met back in New Jersey at a work assignment at the former Bellcore, and there were 26 other families back there as well. Called TIPB (Technology Internship Program at Bellcore), all 30 "interns" still keep in touch over 10 years later. For our BIB2001 visit to Turner Field, three Atlanta-area TIPBers (Darryl, Kelly, and Peter) joined us for the game and a whole bunch of catching up.
BIB2001: Cinergy Field
As you can see, our Trip Reports became a bit more formal and sophisticated starting in 2001, authored by the ever creative Kevin.
Outside Dodger Stadium
The Official BIB2000 Trip Visited Rancho Cucamunga Quakes, San Diego Padres, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
We flew into LAX on Friday afternoon, July 14th from our various homes, got the rental car and drove through the LA Basin out to Rancho Cucamonga, where we saw the Quakes trounce the High Desert Mavericks 8 - 4 in the Epicenter. Attendance was 5,086 fans.
On Friday night, we drove down to San Diego to stay in typical BIB-quality (meaning cheap) lodging, getting up the next morning to take a brief tour into Tijuana. Scott was the tour-guide since he grew up in San Diego and continues to be a rabid Padres fan despite living in Virginia.
In the late afternoon, we made it over to Padre Stadium. Our letter of introduction got us a "Pad Squad" tour of the stadium, with the highlight being able to stand behind the batting practice cage and seeing ARod and Sweet Lou talking to Bruce Bochte. The Padres won the game, 4 - 1, with 44,532 San Diegans in attendance. We stayed in San Diego that night after the obligatory post-game trip to Hooters for wings.
We drove up to LA the next morning, giving the midwesterners (Kevin and Gerry) a taste of LA-LA-Land by walking down Venice Beach. The Dodger game started at 5:20, with the hometown squad prevailing over the Pirates 7 - 3 with a late-inning rally. Attendance was 34,116.
Unofficial BIB Ballpark Visits throughout 2000 Mark gets Safeco (on vacation) and Coors Field (on a business trip).
Scott gets the Bank One Ballpark, but does not go swimming in the pool.
Gerry and Kevin are shut out for the year.
Mark's Safeco and Coors Evidence
Gerry's Miller Park Inaugural Game Ticket
Unofficial BIB Ballpark Visits throughout 2001 Gerry gets the inaugural game at Miller Park, complete with "W" throwing out the first pitch.
Kevin gets recovered memory therapy and remembers a childhood visit to Crosley Field for Opening Day, 1970.
Mark, in Chicago for a family wedding, scored tickets from Brother Gerry and drove up to Milwaukee to catch the inaugural season at Miller Park, seeing the Brewers shut out the Padres, with Tony Gwynn grounding out with the bases loaded in a pinch hitting appearance.