Flip Flop Flying

Archive for June, 2008

Wenatchee

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I’ll be heading back to Seattle in the morning. I’ve had a wonderful time here in Wenatchee. It’s been really good to spend time in a small town and meet new friends. And while it’s been relaxing, I feel like the days have been packed…

Wandering around, checking out the town. It’s a small place, sitting low in a valley in the Cascade Mountains on the banks of the Columbia River.

I visiting a dam…

And, as I previously mentioned, I did some shooting. I’ve not ever held a real gun before never mind shot one. And it’s something I’ve often thought about trying one day. I’ve watched so many guns being shot on TV and in films, that I’ve often wonders what if feels like to do it. I happened to mention this to Lisa and her housemate Cameron. He made a phone call, and that afternoon, we were driving out to his parents’ cherry orchard to get my firearms on. His dad had prepared four guns for me to try out. First, though, was the beer-and-rifle photo that was begging to be taken.

The rifle was the first I tried. Bang bang bang. Oooh, this is fun! Next up, the shotgun. Aaaah, yeh, this is more like it. A big kick in the shoulder when I pulled the trigger, and it was peppering a pizza box with a target drawn on it all around the side of a hill. I must admit, there are few things in life that feel as cool as loading the next cartridge into the chamber like you’re some farmer about to see off a poacher. Third, was a pistol. A little one. Small enough to fit in your pocket and no-one’d know it was there. Then the really cool one: a Magnum. I am Dirty Harry, and you, Mr. Pizza Box, are a punk. Lisa’s son, Ben, had a go too, and we all had a nice time with Cameron’s parents, his brother, and his sister-in-law. We said our goodbyes and walked to the car. Blocking our way out of the driveway, though, were two police cars. Some pesky neighbour had called the cops about the shooting, and Cameron’s dad had to go and show them where we’d been doing it.

After some guns and beer, what else is there to do in the United States but get really high on crystal meth? Just joking, Mum; we went to a baseball game. It was a West Coast Collegiate Baseball League game between the Wenatchee AppleSox and Kelowna Falcons. The home team won 10-4.

Not having drank enough booze, we went to a bar. And drank more booze.

Not sure why I had the guts to ask this fellow if I could take a photo of his t-shirt, cos he looks like the kinda guy who’d happily kick my ass, but I did.

One hangover and a breakfast at Denny’s later, and we were heading out to a cabin by Lake Chelan. We were there with Drew and Loni, Cameron’s brother and sister-in-law, and, we were busy sitting in the sun, swimming, eating hot dogs, drinking beer, kayaking, jumping off cliffs (about 50 metres up… alright then, about five metres up really), watching mermaids doing synchronised swimming in the lake, kicking a football around, and sitting around a fire just, y’know, talking.

(Hmmm, maybe this brand of football explains why Americans don’t really like soccer.)

It was so beautiful up there by the lake. Crystal clear water, beautiful weather, and lovely people. My time here in Wenatchee has been nothing short of wonderful. And it was all capped off with Lisa’s friend Rebecca, a woman who works in the cosmetics business, giving me a facial.

Guns and a facial. What more can one ask for?

Written by Craig

June 29th, 2008 at 11:59 pm

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Fuck off, motherfucker

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Sorry Europe, but guns are fuckin’ cool as fuckin’ fuck.
(Thanks to Lisa for the photograph.)

Written by Craig

June 28th, 2008 at 1:36 am

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Skookum Indian

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This sign is on top of an Office Depot building here in Wenatchee. It’s called the Skookum Indian, and apparently the building used to be the packing plant of an apple company for which this chap was the logo. Apologies for the audio. It was windy.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQ0b93SsUgE]

Written by Craig

June 26th, 2008 at 10:55 pm

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Washington

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The knowledge that I’m on the home stretch of my trip is beginning to hit home. I’m in Washington state; three hours on a bus east of Seattle, in a town called Wenatchee. Once I’ve travelled down through Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, I’ll be flying down to Mexico City to get my return flight to Europe. Thoughts of what life will be like after this have started to become less abstract. No clearer, but the fact that I’ll soon have to think about it are getting more in focus. Part of me wants to change what I do completely, get a regular job, and return to doing this kind of stuff simply as a hobby. Part of me fancies buying a hot dog stand and selling sausages, buns, and mustard all day long. Part of me wants to go to the seaside and become a Punch and Judy professor. Part of me fancies building a model village, oops; this kind of model village. But, I assume that none of those will happen, and I’ll go back to being someone who draws pictures for a living. A good job, of course, but, where’s the profound change in my life that I’d hoped this trip would bring me? I can’t see it yet.

Anyway, I flew from Minneapolis to Seattle on Monday. Nice flight. Good view of lots of mountains out of the window. Shitty cheeseburger. But empty seat next to me, so all in all, a good flight. In Seattle, I was staying with Andrew and Heather, some old friends who used to live in Berlin. Lovely to see them again. They are nice, nice people, and have a lovely home in West Seattle with, if you stand on your tippy toes, a view of Puget Sound. We had some fish and chips in a local restaurant which – sorry Britain – was better than I’ve tasted in many, many years.

Tuesday was a day for the seeing of sights. I stared longingly at the Mariners stadium as I went past on a bus (I’m not gonna get to see another Major League Baseball game until the 30th: that’s four more bloody days!), and eventually got off in the Pioneer Square area, and went on a tour. I, err, went on the wrong one. Both of the tours left from the same place, and, if you’re not paying attention, it’s kind of easy to get the names of the Underground Tour and the Sub Seattle Tour mixed up. I’d wanted to go on the latter, but ended up on the former. Still, it was pretty interesting stuff. Not a huge amount to look at, taking part as it did mainly in some tunnels under the pavement that, back in the day, used to actually be the pavement. Still, it’s mainly a story-telling kinda tour, and the guide was pretty good, and it’s deffo worth doing if you’re interested in the history of Seattle. I’ll do the other tour when I get back to Seattle at the weekend, cos, being a ghoulish fucker, I wanna see the house where Kurt Cobain shot his head off.

Walky walky walk along some streets, and, well, Seattle looks pretty nice. I inadvertently stumbled upon Pike Place Market, something that everyone I’ve spoken to has told me is the one thing not to miss in the city. And, well, erm, I kinda don’t really give much of a shit about markets. I know that people love markets of all sorts, but, I dunno, if I’m not there to buy vegetables or fish – which I wasn’t – I’m not really sure I see why they are so appealing. Especially this one, which, despite having some nice typography on display, was rammed full of other tourists. The bastards. With their cameras.

I took some photos and went to the [insert angelic choral sound here] first ever Starbucks shop. Weirdly, it tasted exactly the same as every other grande cappuccino I’ve ever had from Starbucks. More walking, more photos (not got time to re-format the size and stuff right now, but there’s a bunch of them on my Flickr page), and I could see the Space Needle poking up between buildings. So I walked in that direction, and went up there. Of all the tall buildings I’ve been up, I reckon this one is up there with Berlin’s Fernsehturm in terms of coolness. Nice view of the city and all that. But, the best thing about it is being stood underneath and looking at its groovy spacey-ness. Then had a quick look at the Olympia Sculpture Park with its lovely Calders and Oldenburgs, then I took a nice walk along the waterfront and got a bit too excited seeing the pier where Real World Seattle was based. Dork.

Yesterday, I got on a bus to Wenatchee. And what a lovely journey it was too. The Cascade Mountains all around, beautiful clear rivers winding along, the occasional phoenix flying around as unicorns and centaurs frolicked along the river banks. The bus driver was a short guy with no neck and a good droopy moustache from Georgia. He was based in Scotland during the war (not sure which, cos he didn’t look old enough for it to have been WWII), so we had a chat about haggis and sporrans. He was a smoker, too, so every opportunity he got, we stopped long enough to have a fag.

My friend Lisa was there to meet me when the bus dropped me off. She, her flatmate Cameron, her pal Rebecca, and I went and got a burger at the EZ’s Burger Deluxe drive thru. Fucking tasty it was too. Mushroom, cheese, and onion. Yummity yum yum. And we settled down for a lazy evening of boozing on her porch. Not seen much of Wenatchee so far, but the burger and boozy porch evening make me think I’ll enjoy my next few days here.

Written by Craig

June 26th, 2008 at 1:45 pm

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George Carlin

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Sad news about George Carlin’s death. It seems appropriate (to me) to watch this particular clip right now.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YphEUa5LPjM]

Written by Craig

June 24th, 2008 at 11:20 am

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I got mad hits like I was Rod Carew

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It had to happen sooner or later, I suppose: going to a game that didn’t excite me. I really don’t care either way about either the Minnesota Twins or the Arizona Diamondbacks, and, from all I’ve read about it, and seen on telly, I wasn’t expecting much from the Twins’ home, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Guess what? It completely lived up to my expectations.

It’s a multi-purpose stadium, used for baseball and (American) football. To be fair to the Twins, they are moving to a new stadium of their own in 2010, but that’s two years away, and I’m here now, and their stadium is shit. Although the roof does look quite cool. But the place is all echo-y. The nice sound of a baseball hitting a bat sounds different in the Humpydome.

Still, the afternoon began with Rod Carew – Hall of Famer who played a chunk of his career for the Twins, and whom the Beastie Boys got mad hits like there were him – coming out onto the field to promote some charity stuff. So that was nice.

That was swiftly followed by the ceremonial first pitch. I’ve not seen any properly famous people doing this; so far I’ve mostly seen kids or corporate drones who are sponsoring the game do it. The Twins game, though, began with a line up of people and some talking over the PA about the soldiers from Minnesota who have died in Iraq. Lots of clapping and stuff for them, as you’d expect. Then they brought out a guy who either a colleague or family member of the first Minnesotan to die in Iraq back in 2003. It just seems weird to me that they do this nice thing of saluting the soldiers, then make his mate throw the ball to some guy in a bloody bear suit.

Anyway, the game happened. Aside from two half innings where, first, the visitors scored three runs, then the Twins scored five, it was a fairly average game. Still, it was live baseball, and when I get back to Europe I’ll be craving it, so mustn’t grumble. I suppose the one thing that was markedly different here was the friendliness of people. Or lack of. I’m not judging the whole of Minnesota by this one afternoon, but I just didn’t find people very friendly here. In fact, the only people in my whole time in Minneapolis (all of 28 hours) who’ve shown any willingness to chatter have been foreigners; a Kenyan taxi driver, and two Canadians at the game. Oh, I tell a lie, there was a guy in the Wendy’s restaurant across the street from the hotel (I’m not really staying with Prince), he was nice. He was an old fella with a dodgy knee, and when I asked for a Dr Pepper, he beamed a big smile and said, “That’s my drink, too!” and shook my hand.

Oh, one good thing that the Hubert H Humps My Humps My Lovely Lady Lumphrey Metrodome did have was, when you enter, you go in through revolving doors, because of the air pressure needed inside to keep the roof up; when you leave, people just go out of the emergency doors, which are your bog-standard doors. At that point, there’s a really fun rushing of air, like you’ve suddenly stepped into a cartoon hurricane. So, y’know: go Twins! On that note, I’d better get going to the airport. Got me a new city to see later today.

Written by Craig

June 23rd, 2008 at 10:14 am

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Minneapolis

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Milwaukee was a good hub for the last couple of weeks, serving as a place to launch trips to Chicago and Denver from, and to see the city itself. Rather lovely it is, too. I would highly recommend a visit. But, it was time to move on, so last night I went to the Greyhound station and got a ticket to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was getting the 11.15pm bus, and feared it might be a bus coming via Milwaukee from Chicago, (potentially meaning it could already be fairly full), so as soon as I could, I did what other people had done and marked my spot in the queue with my backpack, went outside to have a smoke, then came back in and sat down on the empty seat nearest my bag. As luck would have it, I managed to sit next to a chatty fella. He looked all the world like an urban hipster. One of those that dresses in that style which is tough to work out whether he’s actually a dorky-looking dude who’ll stab you in the eye, or just really into a band you’ve never heard of and mates with Terry Richardson. Turns out he was the former. Within minutes of getting chatting, I’d found out he hates his country, he’s never been outside of the United States, but probably wouldn’t be allowed to leave because he’d committed a felony and been in prison, and that he “don’t like it here [Milwaukee], cos they don’t like me cos I’m white.” Okaaaay. It soon became apparent through the odd hint that, actually, he was the one who was likely a racist. How glad I was to have sat down a couple of seats away from the only other white person in the bus station and that he don’t like the “coloureds.”

Thankfully, the bus was beginning its journey in Milwaukee, so no worries about having to spend seven hours next to a snoring stranger or White Power Johnny. Being on a bus leaving a city, heading somewhere that I’ve never been to, is still thrilling for me. I chucked on my headphones and caught up on the Guardian’s football podcasts from the last few days (sadly, the European Championships has all but passed me by this time, which seems like a shame considering how good a lot of the games have sounded). About 90 minutes later, we were in Madison, Wisconsin picking up a few more passengers, then back on the road again. As we whizzed past the Alliant Energy Centre – seemingly a concert venue – the big electric billboard outside advertised two forthcoming events which I never thought I’d see next to each other. 12 July: Poison In Concert, and 19th July: A talk by His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama. While I was still smiling to myself about that, we passed a sign underneath an illuminated Dunlop sign proclaiming the (presumably) gas station to be a “great place to take a leak.”

On we trundled to Tomah, Wisconsin, and I managed to get about 40 minutes sleep before the driver barked that we’d arrived and would be having a 20 minute break. Not many food options here, considering the Greyhound shack (and it was a shack) was right next to a car park and a solitary restaurant: McDonald’s. I don’t know why I do it to myself, but every now and again, I try a McDonald’s coffee. I last did it in Montevideo, and it was fucking horrible there, just like it was in Tomah.

After the coffee, sleep was out of the question, so I got back to my podcasts. This time, three episodes of This American Life. There was something so perfect about the next part of the journey. Listening to little tales of America, while watching the sky turn from nearly-black to Prussian blue to Cobalt blue and then that lovely area just above the horizon with pale yellows and oranges that indicate the day is rising behind the silhouetted trees.

By the time we arrived in Saint Paul, Minnesota – the first of the Twin Cities – it was 6am. A short trip across the Mississippi, and I was in the other Twin, Minneapolis. Hurrah. I’d spoken to a friend last week, and he was there waiting to pick me up. His name is Prince. You might’ve heard of him. He’s a singer. And he’s got a lovely car, a 1980 Corvette. He had told me it was red, but in the early morning Minnesota light, it looked more cerise. We drove for a little while. Prince pointing out local landmarks and places where he’d got funky with ladies, then went for breakfast at his favourite diner. The waitress there was lovely. She had such a pretty dress, but wore different colour socks. Her name was Cynthia Rose, apparently. Nice name. I ordered the house special: starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam, butterscotch clouds and a tangerine, a side order of ham. Not bad for ten bucks, too.

Now I’m back at Prince’s gaff. It’s quite large and a bit showy, if truth be told. Everything’s purple. But, the sofa is dead comfy, and I’ve got silk sheets and wifi, so I’m a happy bunny. Better get a few hours kip, I suppose, before I go and see the Minnesota Twins play Arizona Diamondbacks this afternoon.

Written by Craig

June 22nd, 2008 at 8:15 am

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A year of streets update

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A little update on how we’re getting along with the A year of streets project. It’s two months since I started collecting street that are named after dates, and with the help of plenty of you, we’ve now got 101 of the possible 366 dates covered. From countries like Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Belgium, United States, Poland, and even Belarus.

I just wanted to say thanks to all of you who helped out, and let’s plough on to our goal! If you’re on holiday somewhere fancy this summer and see a street with a date in it, it’d be super if you’d drop me a line about it. Email address is in the column on the right.

Finally, thanks to Väös, who pointed out that in Almere, Netherlands, there’s a nice little neighbourhood with all the months covered. Here it is on Google Maps.

Written by Craig

June 21st, 2008 at 3:01 pm

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Window seat

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Technically, yes, I suppose this is a window seat; but I’m sure that Midwest Airlines know that, really, this seat just has some glass nearer to it than an aisle seat does. When one requests a window seat, one wants to look out at clouds and the odd field here and there, not the bloody engine.

Slightly off-topic, but still air travel-based: you’ll feel safer knowing that at both Milwaukee and Denver airports I managed to go through security without taking my toiletries out of my carry-on rucksack. They weren’t in a see-through plastic bag, and I had a bottle of shampoo in there which was 50% bigger than the 100ml limit allowed. The first time, I just plain forgot to take them out. The second time, I was interested to see if they’d neglect to notice it again. Which they did. Another blow for Al Qaeda right there. Take that, Osama.

Oh, and I rather enjoyed reading Matt Taibbi’s piece about John McCain in the current paper-and-ink version of Rolling Stone on the flight. As luck would have it, it’s on their website, too.

Written by Craig

June 20th, 2008 at 1:26 am

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Denver

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As airport security personnel goes, those doing it at General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee were by far the friendliest I’ve ever experienced. Hurrah for that. I flew with Midwest Airlines, who, refreshingly, haven’t re-branded themselves with a capital “w” in their name. Sadly, though, their planes suck. Well, not the plane itself which did an adequate job of making sure its passengers didn’t die, but the seats. They are very, very skinny. I was in the middle seat of three, and when either I or my neighbours moved a thigh, the arm rests moved with them. But, my new-found calmness when journeying kicked in fairly quickly, I listened to Coldplay’s wonderful new album, and giggled as I tried to think of desciptions for the stewardesses. There’s something slightly melancholic about air stewardesses who are beyond the age of 40. Like pornography, it seems that being an air stewardess is a young lasses market. And these older ones, who tend to look like waxworks of Dusty Springfield at various points of her career, but with faces made of bronzed scrotum skin wrapped around a broken goat skull, seem, to me, like they are desperately hanging onto a job. It’s an unkind way to look at them, I know; and I realise that women are put through way more crap for their appearance than men, but, rest assured, I did think the same when I saw a couple of older blokes doing the job on Copa Airlines amongst the young boys stewarding on the flights, looking for all the world like they’re fresh out of a Pet Shop Boys video.

Denver International Airport is confusing as fuck. They seem to have forgotten to put exit signs up. And there’s very little to help you decide if you’re going towards a departure gate or the place where you can a cab. And it’s a long way from town, too. Sixty dollars worth of cab ride away. Bugger that for a game of soldiers; I got on one of the shuttle minibuses and paid twenty. On the bus, I was chatting with Chad Businessman from Detroit, who tried to convert me to being a Detroit Tigers fan, and a woman from Los Angeles who looked like Liza Minelli’s drunk sister in a Dustin Diamond wig who’s neighbour’s son is Toronto Blue Jays catcher, Gregg Zaun. She was proud of this.

The hotel I stayed in was one of those that looks very American to a European person: a car park with a row of rooms all around the edge. Countless movies have featured this type of hotel, so I paid homage to them by looking both ways suspiciously before putting the key in the door. Aaaah, a smoking room without an ashtray. Perfecto. But, it mattered not, cos that’s what the loo is for, right?

Anyway, I was in, quick shower, and out again, heading to the Lower Downtown area in a cab. I had an excellent driver. He was an old fellow who’s grandfather was from Cornwall and came over to Colorado to work in the mines for better money than he was getting in England. Sounded like a grim job, mind: up before dawn, twelve hours down a mine, home after dusk. Six and a half days a week.

At a bar near Coors Field, the Colorado Rockies’ stadium, I met up with Amy. Yet another fine example of the nice people who I’ve got to know through doing a website. I’m lucky. We and her friends Elisa, Dom, Joe and Michaela were going to the game. Colorado Rockies vs. Cleveland Indians. While we were approaching the stadium, a bunch of black helicopters flew over. All of them going to the downtown area and hovering there. Apparently the Department of Defence were doing some military training exercises. And if the newspaper that’s next to me right now on this table in the cafe is correct, they’d not bothered to tell Denver citizens it was happening. Thus, lots of cameras and camera phones were pointing at the sky wondering what the heck was happening.

The Rockies are the first team that I’ve seen playing at home and away. Last Friday, I went against my plan to nominally support the home team at all the stadiums I’d be visiting by rooting for the Rockies against the White Sox. So I was happy to be supporting them properly on home turf. There’s something quite appealling about the Rockies. It’s kind of the opposite of what makes me like the Yankees. There’s no tradition, and their choice of colours (black, purple, and silver), logo, and uniforms are all ugly. But I can’t help liking them.

And, yet again, I was lucky enough to see something special in that game: an inside-the-park home run. The Rockies creamed the Indians. Hurrah. But more than that, this game was one of hanging out with new friends. I had a lot of fun just drinking and chatting with five people I’d not met until an hour before. After the Rockies had won 10-2, we went and had some more booze, then to a Mexican fast food place called Chubby’s. Their chili cheese fries were magnificent. Not that my rear-end thought so the next morning.

I had a hangover, and overslept. I’d wanted to visit Red Rocks, but by the time I’d woken up and got into town, I’d missed a tour bus by a few minutes. Dang. Red Rocks is only about 12 miles away, but there’s no public transport that goes anywhere near it. A cab would cost over $50 each way, and I’ve already spent way too much money coming to Denver. So instead I visited the Denver Art Museum. Pretty good it is too. It’s in some fancy modern schmodern building, and has a nice little collection. Lots of good cowboys and Indians-type paintings.

I spent some time mooching around in Denver’s thin air and hot heat, looking at the old buildings. For example:

Soon enough, I was back at Coors Field for another game. This time I bought their cheapest bleachers ticket. Just four dollars. Plus, the stadium is set up so you can walk around, drink a beer, stand and watch the game from the main concourse that goes all around the field, so one gets one’s four dollars worth. There’s even user-friendly smoking areas that are numerous and close to most seating areas. In the bleachers, you can even – shock! – see the game going on while you smoke. I wanted to sit up in the top tier of the main stand, cos there’s one row of blue seats amongst the regular dark green seats. That blue row is exactly one mile above sea level.

The ushers at the stadium were main
ly senior citizens. I wanted to get up there, but had the wrong kind of ticket, so I connivingly checked for an entry point where there was a woman, and turned on my Prince William-est of accents and before she could ask to see my ticket, exclaimed that the view was amazing (it was), that the stadium was great (it was), that Denver seems lovely (it does), and, oh, you’ve got the same name as my mother (she does). By the time I’d charmed her, she didn’t bother checking my ticket and even offered to take photos of me looking goofy on one of the blue seats. Another enjoyable game, another Rockies victory over the Indians (4-2).

I walked back to the hotel. The road is a six-lane affair that runs from the north-west into the city centre. There’s a pavement, there’s even a pedestrian crossing. But the pedestrian crossing gives you exactly seven paces before it turns red again. That’s about one-and-a-half of the lanes. Anyway, the pavement is deserted. And, well, sometimes I’m a pussy, and deserted pavements after dark in a city I hardly know put the willies up me a bit. Then I heard a noise. A noise on my right. A noise ahead of me. And a noise behind me. It sounded like hundreds of tiny rodents had suddenly woke up. But it wasn’t, of course. The buried sprinklers that watered the grass verge had all kicked in at the same time, and it was the sound of water flowing and pffffftting through the pipes.

Back at the hotel, I convinced myself that I should go to Red Rocks. Fuck the expense, I should see it. I should’ve remember to set my alarm, though. By the time I’d got ready, I would only have had an hour and a half there, before having to head to the airport, which is where I’m going right now.

Written by Craig

June 19th, 2008 at 2:55 pm

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One sensor

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Here’s “One Sensor, a Button, and a Squirty Thing,” the sequel to “Two Sensors, a Button, and a Sensor That Doesn’t Work.” Another video art masterpiece…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLI5slTuMUI]

Filmed this afternoon at the Denver Art Museum.

Written by Craig

June 18th, 2008 at 5:23 pm

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It’s Thingamajig Time!

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Monday, I went on a tour of the Miller brewery. Not much of a Miller drinker myself, but I kinda wanted to see what a big brewery does, even though there are, apparently, better brewery tours in Milwaukee; simply because I tend to drink more beer that comes from bigger breweries. As has often been the case on my travels, I totally underestimated the distance on the map from downtown Milwaukee to the brewery. Rather than getting a bus, I walked. There was a point, too, about halfway, that I kinda got the feeling I might have found myself in a bit of a shady neighbourhood. It turned out to be not too bad, a bit scruffier around the edges, but nothing to get too worried about.

By about the time I saw the big sign for “Miller Valley,” I’d already realised that I was close to the brewery. The area stank of yeast. Around a corner were a bunch of big factory/warehouse-type buildings and one cutesy little wooden place that is, apparently, a replica of Mr. Miller’s original brewery back in the day.

The visitors centre was full of Miller-related crap to buy, but the tour itself was free. A quick flash of my driver’s licence to prove I wasn’t under 21 years old, and we’re off. First, there’s a film which told me and the three other people taking the tour how wonderful Miller is. I didn’t add up while it was going on, but I’m fairly sure that the phrase “It’s Miller Time!” was mentioned somewhere in the region of 750,000 times during the ten minute film.

A quick summary of the film: German dude who likes making beer somehow manages to find himself in Milwaukee. He makes some beer. People drink it. He makes more. More people drink it. Bigger and bigger. Introduction of new types of beer. Still more people drink it. They help the children in the community cos they care. It’s Miller Time! But drink responsibly.

Actually, they defined “Miller Time” as the point in an evening where good things get great. At that point in the film, a guy with a beer in his hand looks across the bar and sees a foxy chick with a Miller, too. Who’da thought it? It’s kismet. He drinks Miller, she drinks Miller! I’d imagine that evening ended with some drunken fumbling, a quick bang in an alley, and the realisation that at some point during proceedings the condom came off inside her vagina, and now she’s either pregnant or riddled with diseases. And then she’ll go to a clinic to get tested and she’ll be up the duff, and she’ll call him, and he’ll be like, “Who the fuck are you?” And then she’ll go and get an abortion, but the clinic will be being protested by Christians, and she won’t go in, and she’ll end up deciding to keep the baby, but complications will occur, and they’re gonna have to deliver it early. But things go from bad to worse, and she’ll die during childbirth, and the hospital will try to find the father, but he’ll be in a bar somewhere, eyeing up a foxy chick who’s drinking a Miller Lite. It’s Miller Time!

The tour, including that introduction film, lasted all of 40 minutes. We saw where they put beer in cans and where the cans go around the factory thingy. Oooh! And then to the shipping area, which, as you may imagine, was just a big warehouse full of pallets of beer. And then to the place where the beer is brewed. Our tour guide Danny told us lots of facts, all of which passed through my ears without pausing. That was it, the tour was over.

Then we go across the street to the Miller Inn, where we get three free beers a piece (I tried Miller Lite, Miller High Life, and Miller Genuine Draft) and some pretzels. From our tour group, the young couple from Chicago sat on their own, leaving me and the older fella to chatter. He was Gary from Chattanooga, Tennessee. He drinks Miller Lite for pleasure. He was one of those people who over-estimates one’s interest in his career. He works for a flour production company and told me about the different types of grain produced in different parts of the country, and what that grain was good for, and even how much protein each type had. My interest perked up a touch, though, when he told me that his son used to play baseball in the minor leagues for one of the Cincinnati Reds’ farm teams. He pitched for two years, then got tendonitis and was forced to give it up. While telling me about the life of his pitching son, he began one sentence in a way that never ends well: “I don’t wanna sound prejudiced or nuthin’…” He carried on to tell me that all the players from the Dominican Republic had it easier. Whatever that means. We sank our booze, said our goodbyes, and I went and spent a lovely evening at a barbecue with some of Rebecca’s friends. And after a few hours sleep, I got on a plane to Denver, Colorado.

Written by Craig

June 18th, 2008 at 12:11 pm

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Fifth, sixth, and seventh

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In this trip around baseball stadiums there’s been one that I’ve been looking forward to more than others: Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. It’s a beautiful old thing built in 1914, and before I became interested in the sport, Wrigley was the only stadium I recognised; mainly because it was in The Blues Brothers and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

And it was wonderful. I was a tad worried it might not live up to expectations, but seeing the people with the barcode-y ticket-reading machines at the gates in straw boater hats got rid of that straight away. The hats were, I assume, because I was lucky enough to be there for the Cubs’ first-ever throwback game at Wrigley Field. Celebrating sixty years of Cubs baseball on WGN-TV, the Cubs and their opponents the Atlanta Braves, wore uniforms like they would’ve worn back in 1948. This, most notably, included the Braves wearing a cap with “B” on it, because they were the Boston Braves at the time.

Aside from that, it was an enjoyable game. The Braves taking a 2-0 lead in the 2nd inning, which the Cubs cancelled out with a run each in the 7th and 9th, giving us some extra innings free baseball. A comedy end ensued: in the bottom of the 11th, the score still tied at 2-2, the Cubs loaded the bases with nobody out, the Braves brought in a new pitcher, and with his first pitch he hit Reed Johnson on the leg, forcing home the winning run.

My luck has been fairly good so far on this trip. Especially when it comes to pitching. I’ve seen the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera flawlessly save a game; I’ve seen hot shot Mets pitcher Johan Santana; I saw Cole Hamels of the Phillies throw a shut-out; 2006 Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and at Wrigley, the Cubs’ ace Carlos Zambrano.

My luck continued the next night on the south side of Chicago, at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. I got to see my first interleague game which, coincidentally, was the first time that the Colorado Rockies have played at U.S. Cellular Field; and I saw six home runs, too.

I must admit, U.S. Cellular Field hadn’t been one of the stadiums I’d been much looking forward to, especially considering it would be the stadium I visited immediately after Wrigley Field. But I rather enjoyed myself, and it’s a pretty cool stadium. The White Sox, for some reason, are one of those teams that I don’t like much. I don’t know why, just one of those things. Plus, against the Colorado Rockies – a team that I enjoyed watching unexpectedly get to the World Series last year – this was the first game where I was kinda rooting for the visitors. When I set out on this tour of stadiums, I decided that I’d probably have more fun if I joined in and supported the home team. But, despite not particularly liking the White Sox, I did find myself liking their fans.

It was good to get off to a flying start by getting chatting to a rather attractive White Sox fan on the subway ride to the stadium. She, amongst other things, gave me a quick run down of why White Sox fans are better than Cubs fans. A handful of stations later, and she offered to take me over to the spot in the car park where the Sox’s old stadium, the original Comiskey Park stood. There’s a stone home plate where the actual home plate used to be before the old Comiskey Park was replaced with the new Comiskey Park in 1991; which was renamed U.S. Cellular Field in 2003. That was nice of her. We said goodbye, I wished her team good luck even though I didn’t really mean it.

I had a great seat; high up, directly above home plate. For some reason, the dudes who walk around the stadium selling beer don’t like my UK driving licence, and refuse to accept it as valid ID when I try to buy beer. Aside from the patently ridiculous idea that I, a 37-year old man, look anything like I’m under the age of 21, it’s a pain in the arse to have to keep going down the steps to go and get a beer from the vendors in the outside-y bit.

I’d bought a Montreal Expos cap the day before going to the White Sox game. Much as I like wearing my Yankees cap, there are certain stadiums where I can’t be doing with the potential grief I might be given for supporting them. So, to bypass that I bought the Expos cap because a) it’s got a magnificent logo, and b) the team no longer exists (they relocated to Washington and became the Nationals in 2005). From the moment I put it on my head, it has elicited comments. I’ve had several people say “Nice cap!” on the street, and in the stadium, at the beer stand, it got me talking to the guy serving there. Every beer I bought continued our conversation about baseball teams, stadiums he’d been to, stadiums I was going to, and the fact that he was a Cubs fan forced to wear a White Sox cap when he worked.

The Expos cap got me talking to a middle aged woman who was admiring the sunset, and it got me talking to a guy with a lip piercing who was also surreptitiously smoking on a ramp, while we looked down on the designated smoking area, three tiers below. An Englishman in a defunct Canadian team’s cap doing a trip around baseball stadiums seems to be the perfect way to bring out the best in people. It may be cheesy, but everyone I’ve met at games has been so nice.

Still, all these nice White Sox fans didn’t stop me feeling a bit sorry for the Rockies who scored four solo home runs, yet still managed to lose 5-4. As soon as the game was over, the lights in the stadium went out, the rock ‘n’ roll music got pumped up, and a special fireworks display began. I don’t know how often they do this sort of thing here, but it was certainly a lovely bonus at the end of an enjoyable game. Especially considering that I was pretty drunk by that point.

Back in Milwaukee after my brief time in Chicago, and the baseball don’t stop. Another interleague game, this time one which is a bit of a local rivalry, the Milwaukee Brewers hosting the Minnesota Twins. I went to the game with my pal Rebecca and her pal Kate. Soon enough, on the bus to the stadium, the Expos cap got me talking to a woman who, not to be too unkind, was the kind of dumpy middle-aged woman with season tickets to a sports team, who was probably still a virgin. She asked where I was from, and when I told her, she knew that Lincoln had a rather splendid cathedral. My heart skipped a beat. Then I noticed her moustache. We chatted all the way to Miller Park; she giving me a quick Brewers history lesson, mainly.

Miller Park is the first stadium I’ve been to with a roof. When we arrived it was closed, but just before game time, they opened it up, which was something I’d rather been hoping t
o see. Hurrah for me. Not much more to say about it, really. Not in a bad way, it’s just that I get the feeling that if you’ve read this far, I don’t wanna push my luck by blah blah blah-ing any more about pitchers and double plays.

Although I should say one more thing: sorry to the guy who was sat in front of me, who left the stadium covered with dusty bits of peanuts shells all over the back of his t-shirt. What can I say? I’m a messy de-sheller…

Written by Craig

June 15th, 2008 at 11:15 pm

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Chicago

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We’ll get to Chicago’s two baseball teams in another post; for now, though, here’s some pictures (more on my Flickr page) of my three days in that fine city.

As I said, more Chicago photos on Flickr.

Written by Craig

June 15th, 2008 at 1:57 am

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Hot dogs

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It wouldn’t be over-stating things to say that I love hot dogs. They’re tasty and all your food groups are covered (bread, meat, vegetables, condiments). Here’s ten that I’ve eaten in the last five days. Weirdly, they’ve been playing havoc with my innards.

Top to bottom: “Berlin’s Best” with sauerkraut, from Dogg Haus, Milwaukee; two from the Beloit Snappers game; one with a ton of peppers from Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs’ lovely stadium; a second one at the Cubs game, this time from one of the dudes who walks around the stands selling them; one from a snack booth near Lake Michigan; two-for-one at the White Sox game; a “Magnificent Dog” from Gold Coast Dogs, Chicago; and finally, one from Navy Pier, also in Chicago.

The best hot dog? S’gotta be the Magnificent Dog. Just looking at all these pictures makes me want another.

Written by Craig

June 14th, 2008 at 9:41 pm

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Softball

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So, from Major League Baseball to Class A Minor League Baseball to Milwaukee Parks and Recreation League softball. Just around the corner, under the flight path of General Mitchell International Airport, a bunch of Wisconsinites sucked down beers, smoked cigs, and hit, caught, and threw a big yellow ball until a-team-I-don’t-know-the-name-of beat the Guerrillas 13-6. Tomorrow, I’ll be standing in the baseball department of Modell’s Sporting Goods, watching dads buying baseball gloves for their kids.

Written by Craig

June 11th, 2008 at 10:57 pm

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Snappers

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Last night I got the chance to have a little side-salad of baseball: going to see a Class A Midwest League game in Beloit, about an hour southwest of Milwaukee. I knew that I’d be going virtually a week without a game, so had a quick look on the Internet, mentioned it to Rebecca, who mentioned it to her friend J.P., who just so happened to be a big baseball fan and a native of Beloit. A trip was arranged; we, and J.P.’s missus Mirta got in his car and hit the road, on our way to the Harry C. Pohlman Field to see the Beloit Snappers play the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

This is only my second ever minor league game, and in a way, they’re more enjoyable that major league games. This is the where those on their way up are hoping to impress the bosses and get a chance to get closer to the big leagues. And it’s where the fans can see the future stars before they are stars. It’s utterly wonderful to see the players finish a game and stop and talk to kids and adults, sign autographs, have their pictures taken. One of these guys could be the next A-Rod.

And for me, it was a chance to chat to J.P. who knows a ton of stuff about the game, to get a bit drunk, to wander around and take lots of pictures (plenty more on the Flickr page), and to simply enjoy a decent game of baseball at close quarters.

Every game I go to reminds me how lucky I am, and how much I enjoy this game; and that, in a way, it seems faintly ridiculous that it was less than three years ago that I went to my first ever game.

Finally, I love this picture (below). Don’t wish to blow my own trumpet too much, cos it’s not particularly a great picture; but the scene, for me – being in a slightly romantic-about-baseball mood – sums up the great thing about sport: being a kid and idolizing one of the players on the team you love. And at this level of baseball, I’m guessing that the players love it, too.

Written by Craig

June 11th, 2008 at 7:17 pm

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Milwaukee Art Museum

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As small-ish town art museums go, the Milwaukee Art Museum is quite lovely. Must be kinda difficult in this day and age to run an art museum if you’re not in London, New York, Paris, etc.; but this one does a fine job indeed. Not so keen on the rather ostentatiously groovy building, but the collection is ace. Most of the photos are of details of works on display there, and I really couldn’t be arsed to write down the names of the artists, so, y’know, sorry.

Written by Craig

June 11th, 2008 at 12:26 pm

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Milwaukee skies

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Written by Craig

June 11th, 2008 at 12:12 pm

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Forty winks in Borders

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Written by Craig

June 11th, 2008 at 11:59 am

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