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December 31st, 2014

CHICAGO -- Last day of the year, first order of business: breakfast.

I decided to go to Wildberry Café, in part because it was attached to the underground walkway system. Except, when I got to the Aon Center, I discovered that the indoor entrance to the restaurant was walled off for reconstruction. So, throwing caution to a bitterly cold wind, I went outside and dashed around the corner to the restaurant.

Second order of business: The Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Here, radio and TV are segregated by floor. The second floor contained the Radio Hall of Fame, encompassing technical and corporate creators, DJs, sports announcers, and the like. Upstairs, some of the TV focused on the local -- WGN's "Bozo" program and Garfield Goose -- but it also covered the different genres of television. In the theater, they were airing the 1965 NYE episode of The Tonight Show.

Next order of business: Basketball.

Today was the Missouri Valley Conference opener for Loyola, who were taking on my-evil-twin-named Bradley University. My seat was directly behind the Loyola bench, which meant that I had a better view of the coach than of the half-court played in front of him. Of interest was the "I am a Rambler" video played during one of the breaks. One of the Loyola grads was Bob Newhart (c/o '52).

After a slow start, the Ramblers pulled ahead late in the first half, and didn't look back, winning 64-49.

Next order of business: Comedy, tonight.

After getting back to the room and decompressing, I sketched out my route to Second City for the 7:00 showing of "The Apes of Wrath." Like other Second City programs, it was a string of largely-unrelated vignettes mixed in some improve exercises, though some jokes were callbacks to previous skits.

Of note was an improv where one of the performers "recognized" an old high-school classmate in the audience. However, as an Australian, the audience member was unaware of Applebee's, thinking it a strip club.

Final order of business: Dinner.

After taking home my souvenir glass, I went back to the hotel for a late dinner. Responsible boy that I am, I had fish with a gin and tonic, and then aimed to go upstairs. However, the walkway to my tower was staffed by two guards checking wristbands, of which I was unaware. So I dashed back to the front desk, picked up my wristband, and quickly realized why I don't work the door at a nightclub.

And here we are. Happy New Year.

December 30th, 2014

CHICAGO -- After a good night's sleep, it was up and at 'em in a city expecting a high of 18.

The first stop was the Northwestern campus in Evanston via subway, only to find the bookstore closed for the winter break. So, after a little web research during the bus ride back into the city, I found a college-wear store at Water Tower Place, next to the John Hancock Building. To say that Campus Colors runs the gamut of colleges and universities, I should note that the store had shirts for the infamous Banana Slugs of UC-Santa Cruz.

A little further down Michigan Avenue, I stopped off for lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern. Longtime Chicago Tribune writers know it as a hole-in-the-wall across the street from the office. Baseball fans know of it as the alleged reason the Cubs haven't appeared the World Series since 1945. Pop-culture fans may recognize it as the source of the "Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger!" sketches from the original era of Saturday Night Live (for example)

Well, it's true. Every so often, the owner would yell out "Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger!". And no fries, only chips. (In my frost-induced haze, I mistakenly asked for a second bag of chips.) But John Belushi didn't consider that the restaurant would only accept cash, no credit.

After dropping off the morning haul, it was an artistic afternoon.

First off, it was the Art Institute of Chicago, made famous by Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Encompassing a million square feet, it is an easy facility to get lost in, which, if you're a real art fan, is not so bad, I suppose. I did hit the old familiars -- "American Gothic", "Nighthawks" (the diner one), and "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" (the one Cameron stares at intently in the movie) -- as well as art from multiple cultures, religions, and centuries.

After traipsing through 1500 years of art spread across four floors in several connected buildings, I found time getting short to take advantage of my Clay Center membership allowing reciprocal free access to other like-minded museums. So it was a quick dash to and through the Field Museum for a return visit with a T. Rex named Sue. (Had I more time, the Adler Planetarium was also on the Clay Center's list.)

The final stop of the day was the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago, where there was a women's/men's basketball doubleheader scheduled.

UIC's teams are known as the Flames, in obvious reference to the Great Chicago Fire, which started nearby. (In a wonderful bit of historical irony, Mrs O'Leary's home is now the site of the Chicago Fire Academy.) Both teams caught fire on the court.

The women played cross-town Loyola -- whose men's team I'll be watching tomorrow -- and dispatched the Ramblers quite handily, 63-28. (Highlights here.) A 21-0 run in the first half was key, as was Loyola's inability to finish off lay-ups. (You're basketball players. It can't be that difficult for you.)

Meanwhile, the men played Judson University, a small college located in the outer suburb of Elgin. Again, no worries about losing, as the final was 79-38. (Highlights here.) The real interest for me was off the court: the other people in my row parleed the français. As nobody on either roster was from a francophone country, I can only assume that it was a player's girlfriend's family; it is not my place to pry in another language. So I merely bid them au revoir at the end of the game and came back to the hotel.

December 29th, 2014

CHICAGO -- The trip started off Sunday evening across the river from downtown, as I headed to the train station. I was able to procure a parking space, then waited for the now-35-minute-late train.

I popped in a Little Mosque on the Prairie DVD and watched several episodes before deciding to turn in. And that's when the woman in front of me and the women across the aisle from me decided to get to know each other. Lovely. Just lovely.

I decided it to call it a night once we arrived in Indianapolis around 5:30am, although I did manage another power nap before dawn. Breakfast, though intended to be a bagel, was instead a Jimmy Dean sausage sandwich. I passed the trip to Chicago with more Little Mosque episodes, and we arrived about 30 minutes early.

After collecting my luggage, I hailed a cab and rode over to the Chicago Regency Hyatt. With all my food expenses racking up double points on my Hyatt card, I had two free nights to burn off before the end of the year. In other words, I'm paying for one night and getting two free.

The concierge directed me to where I could get a three-day transit pass, and then it was off to the Hard Rock for Chad's Chicago shirt. (Across from the Hard Rock is the Rock N Roll McDonald's, in the news over the weekend for a brawl breaking out.

It was a noble effort in front of the TV watching WVU lose yet another bowl game. Such is life.

After wandering the halls of Chicago's largest hotel -- two towers with over 2,000 rooms -- I was ready for dinner, and picked out an English pub, the Elephant & Castle. After a nice stout Guinness (of which I only finished half) and a Yorkshire pudding (no pudding), it was down the block to catch the shuttle bus to the hockey game.

When I reached my section (329), some random guy in the bar area between the staircases offered to help direct me to my seat by point down. Seeing there were only three rows down, and my row was 11, I quickly turned around and aimed upward. (After a trip to the restroom, I spotted him and called him out on his mistake.)

As for the game, the Blackhawks really were sluggish out of the gate, giving up two first-period goals and an own goal in the second before coming back to tie the game at 4 with 1:17 left in regulation. After a scoreless overtime, Chicago won the game after a 1-0 shootout.

December 17th, 2014

The 2014 Christmas memo

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Ed. note: This is the Christmas memo going out in my Christmas cards this year. If you're not on my IRL friends list -- or even if you are -- please accept my Merriest Christmakwanzukkah holiday greetings, and enjoy my year in review.

I hope that 2014 found you well and leaves you in the same condition.

This year, I’ll go in reverse. December has been a busy month as Chad and I been handing off a mild bug back and forth – all of this while I’m overseeing renovations to one of our garage apartments, which should be ready to rent out in mid-January. That explains the late hour of this Christmas memo.

It’s been a quiet year in the cubicle farm that is work. After an early return to Ritchie County for a little clean-up work, I’ve otherwise been in my office or elsewhere locally.

Chad’s birthday trip this year took us to California, where we viewed the grandeur of Yosemite, the streets of Bakersfield, and the leftover hearts in San Francisco, among other places. We were the special guests of Dad’s cousin Cecelia, who lives in the city. Unfortunately, her parents were unavailable for a visit, as my great-uncle was suffering from hip pain and didn’t feel like company. (As for my birthday, yes, I turned 40 this year. That’s why my present was to see Elton John in concert, who’s 67.)
Jul 3 | Jul 4 | Jul 5 | Jul 6 | Jul 7 | Jul 8 | Jul 9 | Jul 10 | Jul 11 | Jul 12

For Memorial Day week, we went down south again, expanding our route over last year. Yes, we visited Nashville again, but we also stopped in Pigeon Forge and Huntsville.
May 25 | May 26 | May 27 | May 28 | May 29 | May 30 | May 31

Chad is still working with his charity. I often come home to find odd-shaped packages of celebrity paraphernalia on the porch.

In early April, we had a three-day, two-night tour of North Carolina, bounding over Tobacco Road and through the Triangle. Being the obnoxious Marshall fan that he is, Chad wandered into the North Carolina campus bookstore with an NC State shirt on.
Apr 3 | Apr 4 | Apr 5

Dad and the Mrs are well. One of her daughters got married this year, while the other is still suffering from back pain. It can’t all go well, I suppose.

Finally, the beginning of the year: I had a beautiful time in the Canadian Rockies and Plains. Driving on the highways as the snow wisped across was beautiful – until the last day, when an ice storm hit Calgary. I didn’t hurt for accommodations, either: a loft in Banff, the honeymoon suite in Medicine Hat, and a two-room penthouse in Calgary.
Dec 29'13 | Dec 30 | Dec 31 | Jan 1'14 | Jan 2 | Jan 3 | Jan 4

No telling what I might get this New Year’s week in Chicago, but hopefully it’s warmer than the -25C (-13F) in Saskatchewan.

Stay warm and stay safe.

July 12th, 2014

As expected, it turned out to be five hours of agitated semi-sleep in an airplane – not conducive to a good night’s sleep. Fortunately, we did have three hours to layover in Philadelphia, except I spilled my drink. Bye-bye, chai.

The cross-commonwealth flight was uneventful, and we got back to the car without incident. Once in the car, however, I did bypass the onramp to the interstate, instead – with the GPS assisting – driving through the corporate campus of Dick’s Sporting Goods.

As for the audiobook? Finally, Taft’s president.
(Ed. note: Transcribed Saturday in Philadelphia.)

SAN FRANCISCO – It was another unhurried day, as we didn’t need to pick up Cecelia until 1:30.

During the 30-minute drive from Stockton to Modesto so Chad could get an Oaks shirt (if not a home game experience), we received word that LeBron was coming back. Chad’s a Laker fan, and I’m indifferent about the NBA, but it’s good to see a more mature LeBron realizing additional ways he can help out the community he grew up in. Needless to say, we listened to sports-talk stations all the way into the city.

We crossed the Bay Bridge and stopped by Candlestick Point to see the stadium one last time, and then drove up Telegraph Hill to take in the view from Coit Tower. Once atop the tower, we had our own platform, since Chad’s wheelchair obviously couldn’t take the stairs. Our private guides were two imported mates from New Zealand, who were still learning the local lay of the land themselves.

Cecelia works for the San Francisco Ballet, so we picked her up in the artists’ entrance of the War Memorial Opera House, with City Hall looming in the background a block away. She was the most polite backseat driver I’ve ever had, handing out lane changes and directions well in advance as we traded East Coast/West Coast family gossip. She even blew Chad’s mind by using the word “bifurcate”, as in, “The road’s gonna bifurcate ahead. Stay to the right.”

The Cliff House is located along the ocean, near the historical Sutro Baths. A restaurant has been in this spot since 1863, and in the dining room are pictures of celebrities past and present who have made their way here. Cecelia paid for our lunch – thank you – and also threw in Cliff House’s famous popover mix.

We then headed down the coast and into Golden Gate Park, where we stopped off to see the bison paddock. Cecelia then directed us to Twin Peaks for another on-high view of the city; we were also a little self-indulgent, snapping some “groupies”. (If there’s more than one person in the picture, it’s not a selfie.)

It was then back down the hill, driving through Haight-Ashbury and the Castro, although I forgot to suggest the Full House house (aka, The Painted Ladies). She also pointed out one of the despised Google employee buses. (The high-tech employees hop on buses at public bus stops for the 40-minute ride to the Googleplex causing, in no particular order, inflated real estate prices, delayed city buses, and general luddite anger at technology.)

We dropped Cecelia off near her office, and drove on to Pier 39 along the Embarcadero. While we had visited the San Francisco Hard Rock the last time we were here, apparently they’ve changed their frequent-visitor card, so Chad needed to re-register here. Being full from the late lunch, we just grabbed two drinks and watched a bit of the Giants game across town on TV.

We then hustled over to Golden Gate Park for a near-sunset view of the bridge, and then took off down the peninsula to the airport.

After dropping off the rental car and riding to the terminal, I reached for my cell phone, which was not to be found. So after checking Chad and the luggage in, I went back to the rental car center, knowing full well where it was. The habit in my car is to place the phone in the little coin container on the door, but when I did this with the rental car, I’d shut the door and the phone wound wind up under the seat. That is where I found it, after a wild ride by the rental car agent to the return staging area.

So instead of a calm 90-minute wait at the gate, I was an agitated (if not embarrassed) mess at the gate – still 30 minutes before boarding, but with a red-eye flight looming, I had been hoping for a calmer mood.

July 10th, 2014

STOCKTON CA – I had to rustle the birthday boy up early for our three-hour drive to San José – the GPS knows the way – for a 12:30 game against Bakersfield. En route, Chad’s nose discovered what I already aware of: that the town of Gilroy was the Garlic Capital of the World. Once you reach the bottom of the hill on Route 152, your nose knows.

As required by Chad, we stopped off at the team shops for the San José Sharks and San José State University for shirts. I may or may not have noticed the sign about needing a parking permit in this particular SJSU parking lot, but fortunately we caught the ticket agent and pled out-of-state-itis.

Finding our seats at the San José ballpark, I was a bit disappointed at the placement of the wheelchair seating. It was next to the elevated grandstands down the first-base line. If you weren’t in the front row of the section – basically an empty picnic area – you couldn’t see home plate or third. So instead, I curled up with my radio and program, and figured it out from there. I should note a positive about the stadium: Turkey Mike’s BBQ. Delicious, and based on the lines, it’s not just me. Another positive: the Giants beat Bakersfield 6-2.

Before leaving San José, Chad needed to find a medical supply store for more supplies. While he did find it, that meant we were trapped in rush-hour traffic heading out of the city towards Stockton. Again, we had to check in and then dash.

It was a nice walk through the park and along the lake to the stadium. Along the way, dad’s cousin Cecelia (who lives in San Francisco and who we’re planning to visit tomorrow) called to say that her parents wouldn’t be available because of my great-uncle’s hip pain, but she would be taking the afternoon off to show us around. Fine.

If you weren’t a regular fan of baseball, this game would provide you with some infrequent occurrences. The lead-off batter for Modesto hit a home run on the first pitch, Stockton would get a grand-slam in the bottom of the first, and then pulled off a triple play in the top of the fourth. The homestanding Ports would win 7-2.

I mentioned the stadium being along the lake. After having been subjected to 100-degree temperatures throughout California’s Central Valley for most of the week, it was a culture shock for an 81-degree first pitch and then a cold wind coming off the lake in the later innings. Thank goodness for the chai stand behind third base.

I sent Chad on to the room, as I went a couple blocks further for a newspaper. Apparently, I passed the county courthouse, as several stations’ live vans were lit up like it was 10:00. As for our hotel room, meh. At some point prior to our arrival, our door’s electronic lock had been damaged, so the front desk handed me an actual key placed in the card packet. The TV only had four local channels -- one of which told me about the court case in Stockton -- and limited cable options.

July 9th, 2014

VISALIA CA – Today was the first of two back-to-back, day/night, bi-city doubleheaders.

First off, it was a 10:35 start in Jack Benny’s favorite community, Rancho Cucamonga. We had been through here before, but couldn’t find the Quakes’ stadium, which is unfortunately no longer called the Epicenter. This time round, we parked behind the outfield scoreboard, with fingers crossed that our windshield wouldn’t get cracked by a home run.

It was Summer Camp Day, so Chad and I were dodging anxious tweens looking for a hit off of Tremor’s water gun. As the clock struck noon, I went to the Dodger Dog stand, and ordered a Dojer Dog, meant to be the Spanish edition of a Dodger Dog with jalapeños and the like. The Quakes defeated Lake Elsinore 3-0.

On the way out of town, I had hoped to find the statue of Jack Benny, but it’s on a plaza in front of the local performing arts center, I didn’t feel like putting out the money to park just to take the picture. So instead, it was on to Anaheim and the Honda Center, home of hockey’s Anaheim Ducks. The arena is within eyesight of Angel Stadium, and since the Angels were in the middle of their day game against Toronto, we were able to sneak in without too much traffic… well, Orange County traffic, so it’s all relative.)

Retracing our steps from Monday we headed north on I-5, listening to the remainder of the Angels game along the way. (They would win over the Blue Jays 7-6.) We arrived in Visalia about 6:00, prompting another night of running into the hotel to check in and then heading to the stadium.

Home of the Rawhide, Recreation Park is one of the smallest parks in the minor leagues, seating 1,800 but with grass berms (called “Pasture Seating”) closer 2,500. The seating area is perched on a man-made mound, so Chad required a chairlift to our seats, and then an elevator to the concession area above us. Surprisingly, nobody in the ballpark takes credit cards; it’s all cash, accessible via ATM in the cowboy-themed gift shop, right next to the bale of hay. (Continuing the theme, part of the outfield wall is a painted barn.)

Coming in to tonight’s game, the Rawhide were riding an 11-game losing streak. But after watching tonight’s game against High Desert, it seems to be more hard luck than poor performance. Yes, they fell behind early 9-3, but after a six-run rally in the ninth, they only lost 13-12.

July 8th, 2014

LANCASTER CA – There was literally nothing scheduled for the morning and afternoon, and since the drive over to Lancaster was only an hour we dragged our feet this morning.
Breakfast was at a restaurant that shared its name with our friend’s wife -- Molly Brown’s Country Café. We then went to the local post office to ship some stuff home to free up luggage space.

I was allowed to check us in at about noon. So once we got settled and were in shock at Germany’s 7-1 win over Brazil, we made separate afternoon plans. While Chad wandered around the neighborhood, I went downtown to the local indie film house to watch Obvious Child -- oddly enough, a serious comedy about the repercussions of having an abortion. I was impressed with the seats, as they were actually double-wide leather recliners with cup holders. Sweet!

Dinner was the next block down at BeX Bar & Grill, unique in that has a bowling alley downstairs. Parking wasn’t along Lancaster Boulevard, it was within Lancaster Boulevard. Fortunately, proper measures were taken for Boulevard traffic to be going slowly enough for departing parkers to back out.

Located outside the Lancaster Jethawks’ ballpark, The Hangar, is a mounted F/A-18 Hornet. And although the ballpark doesn’t resemble a hangar, the Pilots’ Pavilion down the third base line does.

Seated next to us at the game were a wife and incapacitated husband. (I would presume he has ALS or some other type of degenerative disease; I didn’t ask.) He had several game cheers pre-programmed into his speech synthesizer that he would sometimes activate at random times during game action. Unfortunately, his actions were in vain this night, as the Jethawks fell to the Inland Empire 66ers 14-8.

July 7th, 2014

VICTORVILLE CA – We spent the large portion of our day in LA, driving down to North Hollywood and hopping on the subway. We wandered through the Exposition Park Rose Garden to the Coliseum, and then walked through USC’s basketball arena one stop up. We then shopped at the Lakers/Kings/Clippers team shop at Staples Center, and finally had lunch at the Hard Rock across the street from Jimmy Kimmel Live. (He’s in repeats this week.)

It was then up I-15 through the Cajon Pass into the high desert country. And as big as our Rodeway Inn room was in Bakersfield, our Travelodge room was that small: a double bed and two end tables constituted the width of the “living room” area. (The bathroom was large by comparison.) We had a nice little down-home dinner at Farmer Boys on Roy Rogers Drive – he and Dale lived in nearby Apple Valley – and then drove on to the ballpark in Adelanto.

The High Desert Mavericks’ ballpark was a bit spare compared to the other parks we had been to, but considering the field is an oasis of grass in the middle of desert you don’t have impress people too much. The closest I could come to a program was just a sheet with the players’ names on them, so I quickly gave up any attempt to scorekeep. However, Chad discovered a homemade root beer stand down the first-base line, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

It was the Mavericks who had the complete loss, 9-3, to Lake Elsinore.
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