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Railroaded, Part II

11 Jan

Since I had so many people tell me that they loved the “Railroaded” post – one of my co-workers kept saying “so damn funny” every time he walked by me yesterday – and so many people responded with some railroaders of their own, I thought I’d write “Part II” to it.

As I said in “Railroaded” – that was written in 2010 – a few months after I restarted commuting to downtown Chicago on the Metra rail system for work. In the ensuing 2 ½ years since then, I’ve had occasion to observe a whole lot more folks, so let’s get started.

The Cosmetologist – Everyone who commutes sees this – and unfortunately everyone who commutes by car sees this. It is the women who apparently don’t have enough time to get their makeup done in front of the bathroom mirror, so they save the effort for when they hit the train or worse, get in the car to drive to work. In fact, straight across the train from me at this very moment, is a woman putting on her makeup. Her picture is below. Now … let’s be honest, among annoying tendencies, this is probably the smallest one – they don’t take up a ton of room, they don’t make noise, no weird smells, etc.

A Cosmetologist in action this morning

But, there’s always this guy:

The Razorman: I don’t experience it too often but every now and then you’ll see this – a guy whips out an electric shaver, fires up the fuzz-buzz and proceeds to “mow” his face. Thankfully, it’s not a real long time to listen to the buzz, and it’s again, a bit limited, but … nonetheless, having used plenty of electric shavers in my day, I do know those tend to generate a cloud of clipped hair as they operate, and well … it’s a bit gross. And once, just once, I watched a guy use a standard Gillette twin blade razor on the train – dry shaving himself as the train lurched and vibrated along. Really?

The Oral Hygenist: Again, you ride the train long enough, you see everything. Always there’s the toothpick guys – guys with a toothpick in their mouths, chewing on it. When this gets gross is when they throw them onto the floors. But … I’ve seen it all – full-on toothbrushing, using a water bottle and a coffee cup to rinse and spit, of course lots and lots of flossing, which again, is just something you don’t want to see. And mouthwash – but what’s amazed me on the mouthwash guys is that they seem to swallow it – and it usually is a fairly drunk dude riding a late train out to home after an after-work bender.

We’ll end the personal grooming habits, with one woman I liked to call “the reverse stripper“. I caught her routine about four times. She rode the train last summer and I’d put her age at “in college” or early 20s most likely. Young woman, likely headed to the city for an internship. She was riding the train from an earlier stop than mine, so I never saw her get on, but on the train, she’d be sound asleep behind huge sunglasses, a sweatshirt or other baggy t-shirt, and pajama pants with wet hair pulled up into a pony tail. She always carried a big sports bag. At some point in the ride about 15-20 minutes before we hit downtown, she would literally get dressed for work. Again, you see a lot of things on the train, but this little phenomena caught my eye when I happened to see her pull a bra out of her bag, slip it up under her big t-shirt, pull her arms in and put it on! Then, using an odd combination of plenty of dexterity with some illusion mixed in, she managed to then put on a blouse over the t-shirt and somehow slip the shirt over her head without exposing the rest of us (much) to too much of her, then sort of half-stood-up in her seat, shimmied into a little skirt over the pajama pants, and remove the pajama pants. Then a cute pair of heels came out of the bag, and she was done – she then turned into a “Cosmetologist” to do her hair and makeup, and of course the crowning touch was just a touch of cologne which wafted through the car erasing the coffee aroma. Everything else went into the bag, and when we stood up to leave, there she was – a young girl ready for work in a big downtown office. Pretty crazy! I honestly have to say I was impressed by her ingenuity. Now calling a category from yesterday, she was also a “Seat Hog” so she had the room to do this.

These days of 60 hour work weeks and the like, both train rides and train riders have changed a lot. With wireless internet, you can work from everywhere, so on every train, every morning you have:

“The Executive”: The executive is someone who is working 100% nonstop all the time on the train. They get on the train, out comes the laptop, usually there’s a wireless USB or hotspot involved, and they are off to the races. Now, this isn’t at all unusual, and I fit this category most days in the “light” version – at the computer, catching up on email, occasionally doing some writing, reviewing, etc. – but the “heavy” version is where it gets ridiculous – they turn their seat into a rolling office. On Metra trains at the end of each car compartment that is the “front” in the direction of travel, there are a pair of seats that face each other. Metra trains, they flip the direction of the seats to always face forward – the seatbacks flip over to do this. So, those facing seats are desirable because it is the only place where being a Seat Hog is acceptable behavior. There isn’t enough room, unless you’re married to the person across from you, or you’re with your kids, to seat four in those facing seats but two Seat Hogs fit nicely. There’s one woman that rides my train line most days and she’s a classic Heavy Executive. She always grabs that double seat section, spreads out across her two seats, opens files, lays out work, does stuff on her computer, and … holds conference calls. It’s all good until she dials into her 7:30 AM conf call. She is clearly the boss, and she’s clearly talking to a group of her staffers that are already in the office. In a loud, stern voice. And by the tone of her voice and how she runs that meeting, well … she doesn’t sound like a pleasant person in the least to work for or with.

Again, I do the The Executive Light thing most days, but I rarely hold conference calls from the train, and when I do, I use my headphones and do my best to keep my voice very low.

Phone Jerk: And speaking of keeping your voice very low, there’s these idiots. We’ve all experienced them. Their phone rings and they proceed to have a phone conversation at normal speaking tones, and they will say ANYTHING – even though it’s in public. I’ve heard people shouting at their kids and spouses, guys trying to arrange to get lucky, girlfriends speaking to girlfriends describing their dates IN DETAIL (yes, even THOSE details! I never thought I’d ever hear “Oh my God, his XXX was so small, I almost started laughing” on a train. But I have.) And the behavior isn’t limited to those that speak English. In fact, I think if you speak Russian, you must think it’s OK to talk loudly on the phone the entire train ride.

And since this train ride is approaching Chicago, I’ll end with this person:

The Petri Dish: Yup, it’s the sick guy or gal on the train, bus or airplane. Hack, wheeze, sneeze. Big wet drippy exhortations of the cold and flu season. Blowing of noses, coughing jags, huge sneezes, etc. etc. Touching everything and spreading the love everywhere they go. Having flown so much and for so many years, thankfully, I think I’ve got the immune system of an alley cat. I very rarely get sick (and by saying that, I’ve doomed myself), but when I do, I’m positive it is because of one of these jerks who cannot figure out that they should take a sick day until they stop being contagious.

Well, another “Railroaded” post has been crafted on yet another train ride. Hope you enjoyed the ride! And, stay tuned for “Railroaded III – the Late Night edition” … oh yeah. Riding Metra at night is a trip for sure!

As you were,

Stew

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That “This is Amazing!” moment

12 Jun

There is a fairly famous and popular “bit” by the comedian Louis CK, that he titles “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy”. In the clip he talks about stuff we take for granted now that is truly incredible, and we get upset when it doesn’t work right. His point: HELLO! It’s amazing that it exists at all! The best little bit of the clip is where he talks about people on airplanes using the in-flight WiFi and when it drops out they get all pissed off. His point to them? You’re in a metal tube, sitting in an armchair like in your living room, shooting through the sky at 500 miles per hour. That little feat is amazing enough. And now you’re pissed off that somehow you can’t connect from the internet from there? Here is the clip:

This post is somewhat close in relation to my “FM Technology” post – in that post, I talk about how so much of what we do works by FM Technology – defined as “F’ing Magic!”. I’m writing this right now in a “This is Amazing” moment. I’m on a speeding Metra train, using my tiny little, screaming fast laptop, connected to the internet via a Sprint 4G USB device, and somehow the words I write are getting published in real time to my Word Press account by the process of my laptop taking my information, turning it into a stream of data, that my little 4G device transmits to a series of towers as I speed along, which then gets transmitted through a telephone network, out to the Internet network and to some data center somewhere where that stream of data is stored. You then, once I click my “publish” button and enable to you see it, can then through whatever connectivity you have, send a request to that server, which then sends my words through a series of wires, satellite links, fiber optic cables, Cable TV lines, etc. into your computer or laptop or tablet or smart phone, which then decodes it and creates a visual image of my words that you can read.

Excuse me, that’s Amazing.

It seems like these days we do all take it all for granted, but I have to admit that I try as often as possible to have an “amazing” moment. My favorite Amazing moment has been when I’m hurtling through the air in the steel tube connected to the internet – that alone is plenty amazing as Louis CK says. But, add to that the rest of the story, whenI really experience that “This is Amazing!” moment is when I’m chatting through Facebook in real time, with my good friend, Simon, who lives in the UK, whom I met on the internet through an online travel site, and where he and I finally met in person last summer in Cancun. He and I are chatting in real time, and when I start deconstructing all the “This is Amazing” things to enable that to happen – all the way down to him reading my review of a resort in Mexico on CancunCares.com (that’s how we “met in 2007) … well … Ok, that’s all kinds of Amazing.

I could go on and on about all the little Amazing things we have these days – 10,000 songs in your pocket (iPod), computers in our hands (smartphones and tablets), cooking with radar (Microwave ovens), a whole room full of maps in our cars (GPS), etc. etc. As I noted in my “FM Technology” post, I often think of my grandfathers and my dad – all men that left the world too early – who all appreciated cool stuff, and try to consider what they’d think of all of this now. Anyway, onward to a different “This is amazing!” moment.

This past weekend, we went to Galena IL to go stay at a friend’s vacation home on the Eagle Ridge golf resort. Beautiful place. Galena, if you’re not familiar, is a town in FAR northwest Illinois, near the Mississippi. That area – pretty much all of Jo Daviess county in Illinois, is an area that opted out of getting scoured pool-table flat by the ice ages somehow, and does Illinois’ best imitation of actually having terrain. Northeast through south-central Illinois is table-top flat. I’m from Iowa. People joke about Iowa being flat, but I’ve ridden across it 4 times on a bicycle. Trust me, it is anything BUT flat. Maybe flat compared to Colorado, but compared to the flat parts of Illinois, Iowa is positively hilly. Well compared to the rest of Illinois, the Galena area is positively mountainous. Beautiful!

One of the unique features of this vacation home (besides being beautiful) is that it was totally disconnected. No cable TV or satellite TV, no internet. No phones. The owner has it that way intentionally. He does have a mad-good home theater installed –and a killer house-wide music system. But beyond that, pretty much a disconnected zone. That forced my internet-deprived sons out of their usual routine of online video games, YouTube, Netflix, etc. etc.

Anyway, it is also miles from any big city, and is considered by the government agency that considers such things to be a “protected dark sky” area – there are observatories and such there and they restrict the amount of light pollution to preserve the sky visibility. Tucson is another such area. Tucson is so dark it is as if they have piped in the darkness. This is one area where big government is accomplishing something great. These skies are incredible!

Therefore, our “this is amazing” moment this past weekend came not from high tech, but the heavens. We got back to the house after dinner and it was DARK. We all headed outside to look at the stars – and it was truly Amazing. In the Chicago area, our light pollution is so bad that you can barely see the Big Dipper. This was the total opposite of that. We could see so many stars, constellations, planets, satellites, shooting stars (meteors), distant airplanes, etc., that we all five of us pulled up chairs, fixed beverages and turned our faces to the skies and enjoyed stargazing for nearly 2 hours. And said “This is Amazing!” multiple times. We talked, we didn’t talk, we ooh’ed and ah’d, we all yelled “Hey, did you see that??” when a meteor shot across our view. We watched the show together. It was great.  We are so used to a sky with very few stars and a vaguely orange glow from all the street lighting, that when met with a truly dark sky filled with stars, well, it stopped us in our tracks.

Now that is Amazing. On so many levels.

Go have an amazing moment today, OK?

As you were,

Stew

Sweet Home Alabama – We All Live The Same Lives, Just at Different Addresses

10 May

This is the second installment of my blog posts about our Alabama trip last week – in this one, I address the people – our dear friends Keary and Lisa, Chris (Coach!) and Sharon, Brian and Leslie, and Tammy and Jerry.

This trip to Alabama, as I mentioned in my last post, was borne from meeting Keary and Lisa at a resort in Cancun in 2007, which led to us rendezvousing on a beach in Grand Cayman in 2010, and a week together in Cancun last summer. Last summer, they brought along the rest of the couples mentioned above and we all became fast friends – the two city kids became honorary “Bamy’s” and we joined in the chorus of “Roll Tide Roll” every time Sweet Home Alabama was played by the pool. This trip was born when we were sitting around the pool in Cancun and after about the 50th time we heard “y’all gotta come down and visit us in Alabama, we’ll have so much fun”, Robin threw down “Ok, sounds great – first weekend in May, next year. I’m done with tax season, the timing is perfect.” With the date set, we were game on.

As we were preparing for this trip, we kept thinking of what a different life we were going to observe in Alabama – these folks live in a tiny, one-stoplight town of 5,000 – we live in a bustling suburb of 42,000 people, surrounded by an unending carpet of suburban sprawl. Their entire county has a population of about 70,000. Our Metro area has a population of 9.8 million and spreads more than 100 miles north to south and 60 miles east to west. Life HAD to be different. Right? Well … no, not really, in actuality.

The title of this post actually comes from my pal “GASHM” who coined it one evening when we were commiserating over raising teenaged kids and talking about how we all have the same problems, hassles, etc. “We all live the same lives, just at different addresses”, he said. Truer words have never been spoken. And it applies here – other than geography, these folks are in the same boat we are – either raising or just finished raising their kids (Keary and Lisa just achieved “empty nest status” in the last 2 years), working for a living, trying to find the time to do it all and balance it all, while still seeking to have fun.

There are some characteristics of these folks though that do make them different than what we typically see in the big city.  First of all, they are fiercely proud of where they live – and I say that not in a “boastful/prideful” way – which would be negative – but in a simple “they love it here” way.  Each of them is deeply connected to the area and the community.  They are all from either Rainsville or the immediate towns nearby – like where I’m from in Newton, IA, one gets the sense that people don’t move here, but instead are born here, and if they stay, well, they stay and love it.  Secondly, they all recognize that life there is different than it is where we live, but they don’t see that as a negative, just a fact.  They marvel a bit about things like when we talk about the fact that our high school has close to 5000 kids in it when their K-12 school has 1600, or that I work in a 43 floor highrise in downtown Chicago, and ride a train to work every day.  But that wonder is matched with a healthy dose of “better you than me, man!”  They love the fact that their idea of a traffic jam is when they catch the redlight at the intersection of Hwys 35 and 75 red, and have to wait one minute.  While they wish they had more choices for shopping and restaurants and gourmet groceries, they wouldn’t give up for a second their quiet, small town lifestyle.  They all want to visit us here in Chicago.  We can’t wait to have them.  And after their visit, I’m sure they will hit Rainsville again with newfound appreciation of the quiet, easy pace.

Although I covered this in the last post, it also bears mentioning again – the impact of the tornadoes of April 27th, 2011 is unmistakeable.  The week before we arrived, the town unveiled a large stone monument to the people that were killed in the tornado – this was aggressively pushed through the city and county government by a committee that included our friends Lisa and Tammy.  Coach took us on a 30 minute driving tour of the damage area – and I was literally getting spine tingles when he was identifying empty house foundations with “and three people died here, two here, 15 people were killed here where this trailer park was, I knew the kid that was killed here”, etc.  Everyone in that town knows or knows of everyone that was killed.  We all marvel when we hear the news stories of these events “and 22 people were killed and more than 100 injured” in the national news – for these folks, those aren’t stats. They are people.  People they knew and loved.

Going individual, as I mentioned above and in the last post, Keary and Lisa own one of the two funeral homes in Rainsville, AL. Chris is a History teacher and the head football coach at the local high school and his wife Sharon is a nurse in a medical practice in the next town over, Scottsboro. Brian and Leslie own a DJ business, and Jerry works for the local John Deere business while his wife Tammy is the clerk at the local court, and together they own a small cleaning services business. With employment in small town America being what it is, this seems pretty typical. There aren’t a lot of big employers – to work for a big company means a long commute to Chattanooga, TN or Huntsville AL – both cities about an hour away or more, so you work local – own a business, teach, work for the municipality, work in a local service business, etc. Last summer after our Cancun trip, I wrote about these folks, and in that I said something to the effect of “work, for these people, does not define them – it is a means to which they live their lives.” And it really is true.

About the only person in the group that I can see is a bit defined by work is “Coach” (Chris) – and that’s merely because he so clearly loves what he does. It is not a definition by status like you see around where we live. He is all about the kids and all about the game and the experiences it brings them. We had a very nice moment on Sunday when we were standing around outside Keary’s lake house enjoying the afternoon, and Coach, Keary and Keary’s son Blake were talking. Blake is 20 and played football for Coach. He said to Coach “You know, I don’t think I’d be who I am today if it wasn’t for you.” Obviously, as a teacher, and as Coach, well, you hear that and you know you’ve done your job. His wife Sharon is one of the kindest, and funniest people I’ve ever met. On our Cancun trip last summer, she was reeling from a huge tragedy in her life – the death of her sister, which happened just before we went. But Sharon still managed to be the life of our party, and quite frankly, the person who was able to get me to bust out of work mode and into vacation mode. She had me laughing the entire time.

One of the more interesting experiences for us was staying with Keary and Lisa – as their primary residence is above the Funeral Home. They have built a beautiful apartment above the funeral home (which is an immense building, in Rainsville scale) – it allows Keary to be close to the business, “on call” at all times when possible, and yet be able to get away for a respite upstairs in their lovely home. Their home looks like an exhibit from Southern Living magazine – beautifully and comfortably appointed with not a detail out of place. I need to hire Lisa to come to our place and detail it like that – we just don’t have the eye for it. But being close like that allowed us to observe the rhythm of it. Like babies being born, people die on their own schedule, and well, that means that this business can be 24×7. On our last evening there, a case that Keary had been expecting – a 15 year old boy who had gone into hospice care just before we left for the lake house on Friday – passed away. Keary got the call during a late dinner at Brian and Leslie’s house. One of his staff was dispatched to the boy’s home to pick up the body, and when we got back to the funeral home, Keary had to go to work embalming the body at 10:00 at night. Just a reality of the business.

On our first night of the trip, Keary, Lisa, Brian and Leslie joined us in Nashville for the evening – it’s only a 3 hour drive and they came up on their beautiful Harley Davidson Electra Glide motorcycles to join us for fun in Nashville. I covered the music scene we hit in the last post, so I won’t bother now, but what was fun about this was that they got to show us some of their favorite things. Among them are of course, country music, and the John Stone band. But in addition, we also were reminded of how we met Keary and Lisa in the first place. The two of them are natural “friend makers” and Lisa is the ring leader – she will literally go up to anyone and start making instant friends with them. Don’t be a hurry if you’re with Lisa walking somewhere as she’s going to chat with just about anyone walking by. It’s just her natural, outgoing personality and it’s really cute and endearing. The way we met Keary and Lisa in 2007 was similar – they were sitting on the pool steps at the resort, having a drink and chatting up another gent they had met there – we came and sat down near them, enjoyed our first cocktail in the pool, and when I got up to walk/swim across to the swim-up bar to get another, Keary said “well, y’all mind getting us another round”, while Lisa invited Robin to join the conversation. The rest is history.

Our second night, we had the fun of going to watch Brian in action – in addition to doing weddings and parties as a DJ, he also does Karaoke at local restaurants and bars. On Thursday nights in Scottsboro, he’s at a local Mexican restaurant – Margarita’s. Brian is great at what he does – he has this terrific, “made for DJing” baritone voice, he is a great singer so he can fill in when necessary, and his between-songs banter keeps the fun going.  He has a great sense of “party pacing” and it seemed like he knew every person in the place.  Which, I’d bet, he does. I came to call Brian “Chamber of Commerce” as he possesses a great local knowledge about both the Nashville area and about the Sand Mountain/Rainsville/Scottsboro area. Leslie, of course, is his ardent supporter – she’s busy raising their daughters, and until recently, had a small resale shop. In what Robin and I consider to be such a sweet gesture, Leslie organized putting together our parting gift – “Bubba” the Big Boy tomato plant, planted in Sand Mountain dirt. Sand Mountain, the area where Rainsville sits, is well known across the southeast for its farmstand produce, and especially tomatoes – something about the sandy, acidic soil is great for tomatoes. Leslie got a tomato plant, a bucket of Sand Mountain soil together and loaded us up. Bubba now lives in a place of honor on the sunny corner of our deck where we have big expectations for him of tomato goodness!

Tammy and Jerry are such fun – Jerry is an easy-going, fun loving guy with great jokes. Tammy always has a big smile, a big hug and a big laugh for everyone. Tammy has hit the jackpot with her daughter and she is so happy for her – she’s finishing up at college with a very high GPA, has met a nice young man there and is set to take on the world. But in a great example of nothing ever goes as planned, Tammy and Jerry have taken in a young boy that is the son of one of Tammy’s family members – a bad situation where that family member wasn’t able to care for him – so right at the age that they thought they’d be heading into empty nester time, they are back in the parenting world again. He’s a nice young boy and I’m sure they will do great with him. Coach and Sharon are in a similar boat – they had one daughter of their own, who is a lovely girl in early high school – and with the death of Sharon’s sister, they have taken in her son, who is 11. I think the lesson learned here is that these folks take family seriously and it was never a question of if they’d do the right thing. The “right thing” is in their DNA. One of the best days at the lake house was Sunday, when all of the couples’ kids came out to the lake to join us for the day. They are a great bunch of well-behaved kids who are reflections of the qualities and values of their parents.  It’s not easy to raise good kids.  These folks are raising great kids.

Speaking of family, Friday was a special treat – we got a chance to meet the extended families on both Keary’s and Lisa’s sides of the family – first at a noon-time birthday celebration for Keary’s mother, held at the assisted living center where she lives, and then for a classic Southern family dinner at Lisa’s parents’ home. It was so special for us to, first of all, be able to meet the extended families, and secondly, that, as their weekend guests, they wanted to bring us around to meet the families.  Southern hospitality at its finest.  The families welcomed us with open arms (and in the case of Lisa’s mom – platters and bowls heaped with best Southern cooking!)  and a “y’all come back now” at the end. We will come back.

This arc leads me back to the beginning here – we all live the same lives, just at different addresses. Having grown up in rural Central Iowa, this was all very familiar to me. Geographically, the area that they live in reminded me a lot of the area around Greenwood Lake, NY, where Robin and I have vacationed several times in the past 10 years with the kids when I worked for a company based out there. We came into this trip expecting to see a very different lifestyle. In some ways, I guess we did – they don’t have the same access to big city culture, events and services that we take for granted here (example in point – we needed dry firewood for fires and when I said “well can’t we just call someone and have some delivered?”, all the guys broke out laughing), but that is really a minor detail. In the big city, we don’t think anything of a 15-20 minute drive to see something or someone – neither do they. Now in our area that drive will be through three other suburbs, while there it’s over a mountain and farm fields, but those are just details. Their lives are driven by family, work, friends and occasional fun, same as us.  Our biggest fun that we have at home is getting together with our friends for food, conversation and cocktails – the same with them.  They are very faithful people, involved in their places of worship, and we are as well – although their chosen faith is Christianity and Baptist, while ours is Judaism.  Nonetheless, faith and service to G-d plays a big part in their lives, as well as ours. We all struggle with parenting teen kids, but are generally successful at it – the same with them.  The same lives, just lived at different addresses.

We love our Sweet Home Alabama friends. I hope after this little introduction to them that you perhaps love them a little too.

As you were,

Stew

Sweet Home Alabama – the Trip

9 May

We just got back from a wonderful driving trip to Alabama for a week-long vacation. Time to blog!

This is the first of what will be a few posts in a series – I have to see how the thoughts come to me, of course, as my dear ‘ol blog is always done on the fly, extemporaneously, off the top of my head, pulled out of my ass, etc. That said, there seems to be a few topics to cover – the trip itself, the people we saw, and the places we went and food we ate. So, this one will be a light one – the trip itself.

Our trip was yet another version of the great American Road trip, similar to the one I just took with my sons in early April for their spring break. While that one was “one lap of Ohio – a trip from Chicago to Cleveland, to Dayton, and then back to Chicago, this one was a bit more linear, and more desitination-oriented. Specifically to Rainsville, Alabama. Population: 5000. Their civic motto? The Crossroads of Sand Mountain. Why Rainsville? Well, it’s not like we played darts or anything – instead it happens to be the home of some dear friends of ours, Keary and Lisa, whom we met in Cancun in 2007, then stayed in touch, met up again on a beach on Grand Cayman in 2010, and then joined them again for a week in Cancun last year. We met a bunch of their friends through that second trip – Chris and Sharon, Brian and Leslie, Tammy and Jerry, and now are fast friends with the lot of them. We’ll cover that in my next post – on the people.

As we were planning this trip, people were saying to us “Why Alabama?” We’d explain the friend connection and they’d say “oh, well, OK. Couldn’t they meet you somewhere else?” Obviously they hadn’t been to where I’ve now been and will return to many times more. As northerners, I think we’re conditioned that if you think of visiting a rural place in the deep south, you envision ramshackle tar-paper shacks, dirty kids running around throwing sticks, old coon dogs on the porch (which is peeling, sagging and gray) rusting yard cars, and people with no teeth. Not the case at all. Rainsville, and its nearby companion county seat, Scottsboro, AL, are tidy rural towns that would fit right in in any state in the union. They are agricultural – Rainsville sits up on a geological formation called Sand Mountain, which is a 1500 to 1700 foot above sea-level ridge that is about 25 or so miles wide and hundred or so miles long on average and is some of the highest ground in Alabama. Its sandy soils are supposed to be great for growing tomatoes. Leslie and Brian sent us home with a tomato plant set in Sand Mountain dirt – which is light brown and sandy. They say it grows the best tomatoes – so we’ll see if we can get “Bubba The Big Boy” to grow on our Chicagoland patio.

The trip was basically a 675 mile-long straight shot south – our route went down I-65 from the Gary, IN area to Nashville, then onto I-24 towards the NE corner of Alabama where you pick up US 72 into Scottsboro, hang a left, cross the Tennessee River and Guntersville Lake and up onto Sand Mountain and Rainsville. The next town southeast of Rainsville is Fort Payne, AL, made famous by the country Supergroup of the 1980s, Alabama. 675 miles is about 10 ½ hours of driving. We could have done it in one day, but half the fun of a road trip is stopovers, so we made our stopover on the way down in Nashville – about 8 hours from Chicago, and one the way back, made our stop in Louisville, which is exactly half way almost to the mile from between Rainsville and Buffalo Grove.

The driving from Chicago to Indianapolis is miserable. Dead flat, devoid of scenery. Like driving on a treadmill.   About the only interesting thing to see is a gigantic wind turbine farm near Rennselear, and the only good stops to make are at Fair Oaks Farms at Winamac and to eat at Triple XXX Drive In at West Lafayette (see my other post about Triple D restaurants). After Indy, it gets better – starts being more wooded and rolling and then south of Louisville, it gets downright beautiful – mountains and hills, big rock cuts for the Interstate – woods everywhere. Gorgeous! South of Nashville, it really gets interesting– with true mountain driving featuring 6-8% grades for miles at a time, steep turns occasionally, beautiful scenery. And once off the interstates and onto US 72 headed into Alabama, you follow Lake Guntersville and things are truly spectacular.

Our friends Keary, Lisa, Brian and Leslie joined us in Nashville – we stayed at the Marriott Courtyard which is in a beautiful converted bank/office building right in the heart of downtown and only 4 blocks from the Broadway music strip. Just a few steps away is the Ryman Auditorium, which Brian (who is a walking/talking Chamber of Commerce guide for both Nashville and his own area around Rainsville) liked to call “the Mother Church of Country Music” – the

original site of the Grand Ole’ Opry. We hadn’t been to Nashville in ages – I have been there about 3 times for business, and Robin only once for business, and each time we were there between us, we’ve just stayed at the Opryland Hotel. I did make it downtown once before to tour the music scene, but it had been ages. Thus, this was a real treat, made only better by our Alabama friends driving the 3 hours up on their Harley Electra Glides to join us.

The music scene in Nashville, as one would expect with the moniker “Music City” is fantastic. If you’re a fan of live music, this is the place for you. Downtown features at least 50 or more live music clubs playing everything from Country (lots of it), Rock, Blues, R&B, and even alternative and ska (as we saw from some places we passed on our morning walk the next day). After a brief and pretty good dinner at Demo’s Italian-style Steakhouse, we started up Broadway, with our goal being Tootsie’s Wild Orchid Club and a show from country music up-and-comer John Stone, a native of Fort Payne, AL and friend of our friends from Rainsville. Each live music club has a wide open front door and generally the stage is right at the front of the room – you walk past, turn around to watch. No cover charges anywhere – just a tip jar and a tradition of “pay to play” – you want to hear something played, you pay – $20 is the general medium of exchange. We hit at least three places – the final being Tootsie’s Wild Orchid – and danced and enjoyed a fun mix of country, rock, country/rock and country/ska. The experience at Tootsies was amazing – when we arrived, the early band was still on stage and rocking the room – two guitarists, a drummer, bassist and this beautiful girl playing a hot fiddle. Their focus was mostly country. The fun thing there was people kept offering them $100 and $200 tips to play additional songs, so they played an extra 20 minutes or so. A quick change of gear, and John Stone’s band came on – I think he called his band the Trailer Trash Trio or something funny like that. These guys rocked it though – great harmonies on the country stuff, played some great scorching rock including a fantastic rendition of Highway to Hell by AC/DC at the request of a Brit in the room. The place was jam-packed – it seems like fire marshall attendance laws haven’t caught on here. Downtown Nashville overall seems to be in a big renaissance phase with big high-end hotels being built, a new sports stadium and more. It is very impressive and we will be back.

Onwards to Rainsville, Sand Mountain and Lake Guntersville. Rainsville is a classic “crossroads” town of two major state highways that earn the town’s one primary traffic light (or “redlights” as they call them there) with businesses lining the two roads for about a mile in each direction, and the residential areas fanned out from there. The town is quaint, tidy and nice – a few too many shuttered storefronts of course, and some of the requisite chain encroachment including McDonald’s (but no Starbucks!!), but the usual – a couple of grocery stores, the usual service businesses of hair, dentists, cleaners, etc., auto parts stores, furniture, etc. While of course like any rural town, there are run down homes here and there, but for the most part, there are nice, tidy homes of smaller to average size. The town has an “all grades” school – Plainview  (Go Bears!) – that has about 1600 students spread from K-12. And a big business there, the Rainsville Funeral Home, where our good friends are the owners. Keary and Lisa’s funeral home is a huge, beautiful, stately building that’s beautifully furnished on a large tract of ground that includes a cemetery.

Rainsville and the whole area experienced a seriously defining moment on April 27, 2011 when the NE Alabama tornados tore through the town and the surrounding counties. That day, dozens of tornadoes went through the general area, and in Rainsville in particular, the largest one hit – an F5 that turned into a quarter-mile-wide monster, dropping down near the high school, destroying a large portion of that, tearing up the town’s civic center, then flattening dozens of businesses and homes and killing more than 20 people in Rainsville and the nearby area. We took a tour of the area and it is really eerie to see – the area is generally pretty wooded and there is a clear path you can see where the trees are all torn apart and every building is completely gone. There is rebuilding going on, which is great, and there are things that will never be rebuilt. The community, led by some of our friends – specifically Lisa and Tammy, recently erected a beautiful monument to remember those killed in the tornadoes.  The impact of this is unmistakable. Rainsville will clearly mark time for generations to come in terms of “before and after the tornado”.

 

 

We left Rainsville on Friday to head to

Keary and Lisa’s lake home on Lake Guntersville. Lake Guntersville, is one of the biggest competition bass fishing lakes in the southeast, and is just immense – something like 75 miles long and up to 2 miles wide at certain points. Nearby is a big state park, which I did not see, but featured a beautiful lodge on a bluff about 400 feet above the river. We saw eagles, cranes, pelicans, fish of course and much more. Keary and Lisa’s home is on a beautiful point toward Guntersville with sunset views. Just really didn’t get prettier. And there’s tornado damage there too – in fact the tornadoes took out a bunch of trees on his property, and damaged the house as well. Behind the house and in some other places around the lake you could see paths that the tornadoes made through the trees. We stayed out at the lake until Sunday around sunset, then back to Rainsville for one more overnight and then headed home, this time by way of Louisville.

We overnighted at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel – thanks Hilton HHonors for the free room! The Seelbach is a beautiful old property right in the middle of downtown Louisville. The 4th Ave Market is right next to it – an entertainment “district” of a block or so of restaurants and bars – with a covering over the street – very manufactured, but I’m sure quite fun. It has been at least 10 years or more since I was last in Louisville and it is impressive how much the downtown area is revitalized since then and is still coming up. This was a really dynamic place and there’s lots of good dining, hotels and fun to be had there. We walked to the Garage Bar – which turned out to be a much, MUCH longer walk east on Market Street than the hotel concierge made it out to be, through an area that, well, hasn’t been through the revitalization yet. While it didn’t feel dangerous in the 7:00 PM daylight, I’m sure it would be in the midnight darkness. I’ll write about the food in another post.

We got on the road after a wonderful breakfast (again, food details to come), and headed for home, stopping at Fair Oaks Farms for ice cream, and making a decision to come through downtown Chicago, even though rush hour traffic was building, just to enjoy the big city sights after being in the rural areas.

Our little VW GTI shined again for us – eating miles at a prodigious rate (cruise set about 80 mph most of the time), handling the mountain roads like it was born in Europe (wait, it was), blasting up slopes, burbling down them, hugging the curves and hauling it down fast when idiots without knowledge of the concepts of rearview mirrors would cut us off. All while turning in an average 29.8 mpg. The total: (which includes a fair amount of time driving around in Alabama): 1576 miles driven, 27 hours and 0 minutes spent in the car, 58 mph average speed with the 29.8 MPG. Fantastic.

Love our road trips!

And we loved Sweet Home Alabama.

As you were,

Stew

Triple D Road Trip and My Three Sons

19 Apr

Ostensibly, this post is NOT about the Triple D Road Trip – it’s about my sons.  The impetus, is of course, the Triple D road trip.  I have to count myself among a very tiny minority of exceptionally lucky people who have teenaged children that a) would want to go on a road trip at all (“17 hours in a compact car? Like, whatevurrrr …”); b) would want to go on said road trip with Dad, of all people; and c) would make the highlight of that trip two big museums, and the featured city of said road trip, Cleveland, OH.

Yet, I hit the lottery on all three.

As I’ve stated before, Spring Break is not anything special for us, between Robin working for an accounting firm, and now with Joel, the oldest, at school, not having even coordinated spring breaks.  So in years past, just to get the kids out of the house and away, we’ve packed up for Iowa and headed to my mom’s home, where the guys would hang out, be bored, play video games, occasionally go to the Y to burn off steam, and I’d eat and drink too much with my mom and our friends out there.  Therefore, this year, when the guys asked me, “so, when are we going to Iowa this year during spring break?” my answer was “well, actually, I was thinking we’d do something different.  Let’s Road Trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” (aka Rock Hall).   And that was met with “Hey, that sounds fun!”

On road trips, our guys are long accustomed to them – as I’ve said before, we’ve been a road tripping family since they were born, with 4+ annual trips to my mom’s in Iowa (5 hours) and multiple trips to Boston/Cape Cod, New York, Colorado, etc. – they feel like anything short of 3 hours there’s not even a reason to stop the car, and 5 hours is just a lob. So, a trip of this length wasn’t new territory for Alex and Brian.   And, I did make this Road Trip friendly for them as well – A&B, by the nature of being twins, have always been on the short end of the travel accommodations stick.  On trips where we’ve stayed in hotels, they’ve always had to share a bed – which as teen boys now, isn’t so fun for them.  They’ve always been the passengers, not the directors of the trip.  On this trip, I made it different.  For our hotel, we stayed in an extra-large suite at the Embassy Suites in Cleveland (overall hotel rating?  Meh.) – when we checked in, we got to the hotel, I said “you guys have the bedroom” – they pop open the door to the two queen beds and “Hey!  We’ve got our own beds!”   And they had an active hand in every decision on the way – from when we would stop for the bathroom, to buying road food (Jerky.  Road food of champions.), to destinations, the Triple D restaurants, etc.  And they were champs.  There were zero conflicts between us, between them, etc.  And other than “ugggh … I’m so full!” after yet another Triple D restaurant stop, no complaining either.

This trip really reminded me of this – I feel truly blessed with my sons – and this includes Joel, my oldest, of course.  Somehow, in the lottery of parenting, where nothing quite goes as planned, we are blessed with three sons who count long family dinners, sitting at the dining room table, time spent hanging out with mom and dad, time spent hanging out with mom and dad’s friends, and time spent with family in general, as among their favorite things.  I’d love to say it was all in our parenting style, but there’s got to be something more to it.  Clearly, all we did was raise them as our parents raised Robin and me, so maybe it’s that.  Maybe they are genetic anomalies that are born without the “whatevurrrr” gene.  Maybe it’s because that yes, while as their parents, we treat them as our children, we also recognize that they have a pretty much equal voice in our household and their votes do count.

I’d be remiss without spending a bit of time on them individually here.

Let’s start with Joel.  Since I’ve been writing a lot about A&B for the past few posts, Joel gets some “inches” here.  We’ve known since pretty shortly after he was born, that Joel was indeed a unique animal. He is scary intelligent, with an analytical brain and a memorization capability like none I’ve ever encountered.  The kid was making lists and organizing things since he was two.  As a little boy he was a HUGE NASCAR fan –  Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, the Labonte brothers, the Waltrip brothers, etc. – all his idols.  And so, he had a huge collection of the little 1/64th (“Matchbox” sized for those of us of a certain age) scale NASCAR toy cars and he’d have races on our dining room table with them.  He’d set them all up on the middle of the table like they were in the garages in the infield, literally grouping teams of them together (he knew all this info at like 3 years old, by the way), and then he’d have them qualify, methodically writing down the qualifying order, then he’d line them all up, and he’d have a race.  Somehow moving 30 or more cars around and around the table, and the best part was giving audible play by play as if he were the booth announcers.  I really am sorry I don’t have this on video.  As he got older, and got into sports, and video games and sports video games, he’s pursued the same thing in those areas – pressing the capabilities of those systems to create games, seasons, schedules, tournaments, etc.  He’s an engineering major at Illinois now – the car thing has carried over, he’s actively involved in building race cars at University of IL.   Joel was always our challenger – when you’re that smart, and that independent, it’s hard to grow up and still be a kid.  And well, it was hard for us as well – his senior year in HS was rough around the house – and well, we all didn’t get along.  He was pulling hard at the ropes and we were hanging on for dear life.  It was because we hadn’t come to terms with the fact that he really was already an adult. The best thing that happened in our relationship was him was him going off to school.  Now, he gets us, and we get him.  There’s still some battles of course, and normally it’s because, well, we’re still not quite ready to cut all the ropes yet.  That said, of my three kids, I worry about Joel the least.  He will make a great living, he will be a great husband to the lucky girl that gets him, and will be a great dad to his kids.

Alex has always been our complex one – he is also brilliantly smart, but instead of being analytic, he’s expressive.  Both he and his twin brother have embraced Rock music as much as their old man, and took several years of guitar lessons.  I’d love to see them pick it back up and continue with it – they were both becoming pretty accomplished players and they can still pick up the axes and jam with the old man.  Alex also has become a huge lover of film – and again, same with Brian.  I’m not sure if there’s a “who was first” thing there – but the way they analyze movies, film, etc. and by extension now, web video is amazing.  Lastly, Alex is positively hilarious – he never, EVER fails to make me laugh, and his humor is wacky, dry and amazing.  On our road trip, he was definitely the supplier of the wacky wit.  Alex also has a quiet intensity about him, he is amazingly handy, and has always been the “no problem” guy – you ask him to do something, it just happens.  Between his love of film and the internet, I’m thinking he will find his way into doing something in the internet content world – and in video.

 

We’ve always called Brian our “hippy dippy man”.  One of our favorite phrases has been to say to him,  “Dude, what color is the sun in your world.”  He looks at things from a different perspective.  He is the embodiment of “Hakuna Matata” – no worries in Swahili, always being relaxed and carefree.  Now, that has its ups and downs – school doesn’t come that easy for him, although he’s just as intelligent as his brothers – but hey, he’ll get to it.  But the thing with Brian is,  he is one of the most happy guys I’ve ever met.  Things just don’t seem to bother him – he finds the cool in everything and cool in the little things, he is relaxed and easy going, he has great friendships, he’s artistic and more.  He LOVES children and little kids – he’s really found a groove as a swim counselor at the camp where the boys work in the summers.  When we took a family vacation to Hawaii back several years ago, there was a guy working at our hotel that was the “beach concierge” – literally a hotel concierge, situated on the beach.  He could make you dinner reservations and also sign you up for the surfing classes, the snorkeling, etc.  He was the most easy-going chill guy ever, with huge local knowledge and was an instant friend to anyone he met.  We continually say that that would be the ideal situation for Brian – he makes friends instantaneously, he is extremely comfortable talking to anyone and he loves helping people.  And he’s mellow.  So, he could be that guy.

Anyway, in closing on this, we are just incredibly blessed with these three guys.   And the Triple D Rock Hall trip, and the trips that we take as a family, and just us guys (Indy 500 in just over a month – all four of us.  Look out.) and, most often, family dinners, continually prove that to me.

This ends the Triple D road trip saga.  Now I have to find something else to write about.

As you were,

Stew

Triple D Rock Hall Road Trip – the Museums

18 Apr

Well, it took me more than a week to get back to writing about the trip – sorry about that!  But, real life does intervene now and again.  So, let’s talk about the destinations on the journey:

My kids were laughing about how on this trip, it really was “let’s visit Stew’s favorite things” – and those favorite things would be great food, Rock-N-Roll, fast airplanes and fast cars.  On the trip, we visited the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, forever referred to going forward in this space as the Rock Hall – in Cleveland, then we visited the National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, near Dayton, OH, and finally, made a pit stop (literally) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame/Museum in Indianapolis.  And of course, the great food was the Triple D restaurants we visited in between.

The original destination of the trip was the Rock Hall – in planning the trip, Robin and I were talking about what I’d like to do with Alex and Brian for spring break – something different than going to Iowa since there won’t be many more of these – and I thought of the Rock Hall in Cleveland.  So the original plan was to just drive there one afternoon, stay overnight, do museum and drive back.  Then, I did a bit of checking on my hotel points accounts and realized I have a ton more points than I thought, so we decided to add a night to the trip. That gave rise to thinking about an interesting dinner one night in Cleveland, which, in between viewings of “Triple D”, inspired the Triple D eat-a-thon.   Then I began thinking of where else we could go – Robin has an aunt and uncle in Dayton OH, and we’ve been to the USAF museum there before, so that got added, and finally the Indy museum literally was a snap decision made the day before we left, as we wanted to stop in Indianapolis and visit the kind elderly woman who owns the house where we park every year for the 500.  Got all that?  Yeah, I’m still figuring it out myself.

So, the Rock Hall – first of all it’s a positively stunning building – designed by architect I. M. Pei, on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland.  Interestingly, it’s not that big of a thing – a pyramid of glass that’s maybe 200 feet or so on a side – not the typical big and monolithic building one associates with museums.  We got to the Rock Hall right as it was opening, spent about 4 hours there, took a break at 2:00 PM and then came back for another hour and a half until it closed at 5:30 PM.

The things that struck me about the museum was the level of incredible detail – and the small little artifacts that illustrate Rock music.  This really is a museum about a cultural shift, as much as it is a hall of fame for the performers of Rock Music.  There’s an entire section devoted to various efforts to try to “put down” Rock music – much of which sounded like the same sort of “we have to stop this …(name your outrage here) before it ruins our country” that is being spewed by the Republican Party at all times.  There’s a wall devoted to rock radio, there’s a wall devoted to venues, to cities, to the midwest, etc. etc.  All really covering what Rock music has done to our culture as much as the music itself.  Positively fascinating.

The detail in all the displays is stunning.  The unexpected little details like a lyric idea written on a cocktail napkin, an entire gymbag full of hotel keys (remember those … versus today’s key cards?) collected by Joe Perry of Aerosmith during years of touring, hand-written lyrics from every artist imaginable.  Here’s a “huh, who knew??” for you:  Jimi Hendrix was a well-recognized youth artist in his teens and won all sorts of awards and contests.  There was a whole display case of his sketches and  drawings.  One of the things that really got me was reading the hand-written lyrics, by Joe Walsh, of one of my favorite songs – Life’s Been Good.  That song came out in 1977 and my pal Phil Hadley and I played the grooves off that record.  But it wasn’t seeing that – it was seeing Joe’s handwriting.  Now Joe, in my view, is sort of an outlier – a wacky guy, who is both humorous and an incredibly talented musician.  For some reason, my “mind’s eye view” of his handwriting would be that it would be messy.  Like mine.  Nope.  He had beautiful cursive script, with flourishes not seen anymore.  I pulled out my iPhone, cued up “Life’s Been Good” and played it – reading along with the lyrics in Joe’s own hand.  Pretty cool.  Also on the lyrics theme as well, there were numerous instances where the song was clearly a “work in progress” or the paper displayed was “working sheets” – with scratched out words and phrases.  There was one Beatle’s tune where a phrase that we all know and love had at least 6 different scratched out versions before the final.

One thing I guess I did but did not expect was the theaters playing concerts and the amount of video content.  There was one theater, quite big, with the most amazing sound system and acoustics.  Outside of the theater you could hear music coming out of the doors, so it caught your interest but it wasn’t like it was disturbing anything else – but you walked in, and in the center of the room, it was big, loud and awesome – damn near concert-level loud, and most certainly “hey, turn that down!” loud.  That theater was playing the U2 induction concert from Madison Square Garden, and U2 played with Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Will I. Am and Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, and many more.  Very, very cool.  Another neat “watch” was in the entrance to the inductee’s hall where they had a constant flow of inductee speeches – and what was funny here was the sign on the wall:  “Caution, these videos contain adult language. Enjoy, but viewer discretion and evaluation for age-appropriate content is recommended.”  I’d characterize these videos as “Drunk rock musicians demonstrating artful uses of the F-Bomb.”  Adult language indeed!   Finally, in the Beatles section, there was a video wall that represented all of their albums released over their career, and video/film of the recording sessions for all of them.  We literally spent more than an hour watching that content, divided in two stints.  Amazing.

And then it got personal. I was standing in front of U2’s display case, which was dense with 75 or so items of memorabilia, when a word jumped out at me:  Ames, IA.  This was on the explanatory cards at the bottom of the case.  I bent down to read it, and it talked about how the item displayed was a window promotion card that was displayed on campus at Iowa State University, promoting the gig that U2 played there in their early days in 1981.  I scan up and there’s the card:  “Columbia NEW WAVE recording artists U2 (picture), at the Fillmore, Friday, April 10, 1981.  Below the picture, in small type, it said “With Special Guests: Jonesen” (sic).  HOLY SHIT – I about jumped out of my skin.  Jonesin’ (as the correct spelling goes), was a band from my hometown, Newton, IA, consisting of guys about 5-6 years older than me and they played all around the Central IA area at the time.  I knew or knew of most of the guys in the band and had even taken a guitar lesson or two from their lead guitarist!  And it was right there at the Rock Hall.  Awesome.  Never expected that.

I could go on for hours about the Rock Hall – all I have to say is, you should go if you are at all a fan of Rock music.  It is a really cool walk through the culture.

The USAF museum is again something I could write for ages about – but won’t.   It is an incredible collection of aircraft from huge to small, and again, just dozens of little details, from all eras of the USAF’s journey – every war, every era.  My favorite thing to do in this museum, and it’s one of the few where you CAN do this, is just walk around underneath some of these monsters – the big ones, you can do that.  B1 bombers (Pictured is a B-1B), B-52s, C-147s, etc.  Amazing that these beasts fly, and fly they do or did.  One of the most stunning things there isn’t actually in the museum, but is outside – the memorial garden.  It is more or less a grave yard (although no one is buried there) with monuments to individuals, squadrons, battles, etc., all donated or erected by those involved. It is a very solemn thing to visit there.  The USAF museum should be a must visit for pretty much anyone.  It is a both a demonstration of the incredible sacrifices of our military, and a visual demonstration of the immense capabilities and power of our country, when we can put our collective minds to it.

Finally, our pitstop:  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and Hall of Fame.  We didn’t actually pay the admission and tour the museum, we just stopped and hit the rest rooms.  We go every year to the Indy 500, and love every minute of it.  We’ve actually “not done” the IMS Hall of Fame yet, though have stopped by there (they have a big “fan fest” outside of it every year), and we’ve done the van ride around the speedway.  But, it’s pretty cool to go there when there isn’t a race going on.  It is a positively HUGE space and it seems even bigger when there’s no one in the stands, no cars parked everywhere, etc.  Folks who don’t go to the race don’t understand just what an event it is – 300,000+ attendees (which is down quite a bit from years past but still immense), and the speedway facility itself is positively huge – a 2 1/2 mile per-lap track.  The distance from the back of the North Vista stands (overlooking turns 3 and 4) to the South Vista stands is more than a mile.  Folks that have gone with me and haven’t been before are somewhat calibrated to sports venues on the scale of large football stadiums.  Something like 15 typical large football stadiums would fit in just the infield.  So anyway, we stopped, we gawked, we pee’d and we hit the road again.  I think this year, when I take my sons to the 500, we’ll go to the museum.  Should be pretty cool.

I would highly, HIGHLY recommend all of these stops to anyone looking for an easy weekender trip in the midwest.  Great stuff.

Next:  Awesome teenaged sons.

As you were,

Stew

Triple D Restaurants – Epic Road Trip

6 Apr

Time for installment #2 of Stew, Alex and Brian’s Epic Road Trip, AKA “we visit Stew’s favorite things”, AKA “one lap of Ohio and Indiana”.

So, this is the Restaurants.  In order to make this make a bit more sense, I’ve copied and pasted the content from my blog post last week below that gave the restaurant info, and then have added in my own commentary and pictures to this.  That way, if you stumble on this post or if you’ve googled “Triple D” or something, you’ll get the whole picture and this post will be actually useful for you.

Here’s where we went:

Lunch on Weds:

South Side Soda Shop & Diner
1122 south Main Street
Goshen, IN 46526
(574) 534-3790
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/withX9C85A0

Copied from my previous post:

The South Side Diner is about 3/4 of a mile south of the town square on Hwy 15/33 in Goshen – Main Street.  It looks a bit like a train car at the front, and inside is pure vintage diner – black vinyl booths, laminate tables, authentically vintage marketing signs and local school spirit signage.  Goshen is close to Notre Dame in South Bend, IN, as well, so plenty of Fighting Irish stuff too.  The owner of the diner, Nate, is so proud of his place and couldn’t stop talking about it.  Once he heard we were on a cross country “Triple D” trip, he spent 10 minutes talking to us, telling us about his home made bread, their award winning pies, how he imports his hoagie rolls from Philadelphia, etc.  Wow.

When you walk in, instead of a typical greasy diner smell, we were met with the overwhelmingly wonderful smell of freshly baked bread and pies.  They had just pulled out a large sheet pan with 10 or more big loaves on it and were cooling them on the counter – they bake much of their own bread.

They are very proud of their Philly cheese steak sandwich, their chili, their pies, their liverwurst and bacon sandwich, and their bread.  I was so enthralled with the bread that I had to go simple.  We ordered – Alex got a Philly Pizza sandwich – a Philly cheesesteak with pizza sauce, Brian got a New Englander Burger, which was a burger on homemade English Muffin bread, and because I had to have some of that wonderful bread, I went simple -a grilled ham and cheese.  We added to that a basket of their special curly fries and a chocolate shake to share, in addition to our soft drinks.  The food started to quickly come out, and last out was the shake.  The Philly Pizza sandwich was immense, the burger less so, and my ham sandwich was stacked tall but not obscene.  My sandwich was incredible – I had the “Swedish” bread which was pinwheel rye and pumpernickle with a great crust.  Ham was carved off the bone of course, and the cheese was melted perfectly. Heaven.  Their curly fries are different – they are flat swirls of fried potatoes, and honestly, needed an additional fryer run for crispness.  The shake was wonderful – we had a chocolate malt and it was that perfect thickness.  We capped it all off with a slice of Lemon Meringue pie.  Wonderful – creamy, tart curd with a huge mountain of meringue.  The bill was all of $32.00 before tip – and as we were checking out, we realized we were part of 3 different families there doing the Triple D thing – a family going west from Hoboken NJ, and another dad and two sons headed east – though they were going to the football and baseball halls of fame, versus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Funny final note:  This lunch was $32.00 – with tip, the bill was $38.  Starting a theme.

Dinner on Weds:

Geraci’s Restaurant
2266 Warrensville Center Road
Cleveland, OH
ph. (216) 371-5643
YouTube: http://youtu.be/SVb-ctwxMRM

Wonderful pizza/Italian restaurant on Cleveland’s southwest side.  All hand-tossed pizzas and the 80-some-odd year old owner is still tossin’ the pies, and her daughter runs the place with iron fists made strong by kneading pizza dough! Copied from my previous post:

Geraci’s is an old-fashioned family Italian restaurant.  According to the Triple D segment, it is owned by an old couple in their 80s, and their daughter, in her 50s,runs the place. Didn’t see any of them there tonight.  A decent sized crowd was there.  We ordered a large pepperoni pizza, an order of their Chicken Parmesan and meatballs – the ChixParm came with a side salad, which I promptly ate up.
First out was the pizza and OH MY GOD.  This is seriously among the best pizzas I have ever had – it’s not thin crust nor deep dish – a crisp-bottomed crust that was nicely thin but not cracker like, thick chunky tomatoes, and the pepperoni was obviously hand-sliced off sticks. Their ovens must be really hot – the crust had a good crunch on the bottom, and the cheese and tomatoes were browned and caramelized on top, and the pepperoni was curled and browned.

Next was the Chicken Parm – again, OH MY GOD.  The sauce was thick tomato-basil sauce with a unique, meaty flavor. We found out the reason for that in a moment.  The cheese was special mozzarella that they have made for them, and the chicken had a wonderful crust with a bit of a crunch, and was perfectly cooked and not at all dry.  The final item to come out was the meatballs – we ordered one but they brought two.  These are handmade every day out of a mix of beef and veal, with a substantial amount of Romano Pecorino cheese, plus seasonings.  Then they are first roasted in the oven to brown them, and then they pour tomato puree with basil and onion over them – and cook them the rest of the way – and that’s when we found out the secret of the sauce!  It’s the sauce they make the meatballs with!  Everything had such broad and bold flavors, but perfectly balanced.  Fantastic food.  I would seriously make a trip to Cleveland from Chicago just to eat at Geraci’s.

Final note – again, $38 bucks with tip.  I didn’t order alcohol as I had had two glasses of wine at the free cocktail hour at our hotel.  There’s a theme starting up here.

Thursday Lunch:

Melt Bar and Grilled
14718 Detroit Ave Lakewood, OH
(216) 226-3699
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/0TtkfwFders

Full disclosure – we managed to NOT go to the location that Guy Fieri went to … on the way to Geraci’s on Wednesday night, we passed by this Melt location on the east side of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights.  We all turned and said “That place looks cool” and then all went “Oh, hey, that’s MELT!”  The next day for lunch, we just drove there without even looking up the address we had saved, and had lunch.  I discovered the issue when I went to the bathroom and was reading a flyer on the wall that noted their THREE locations in Cleveland.  Ooops.  Oh well … doesn’t change the outcome.

Melt is seriously one of the best things ever.  The space is cool – sort of a retro-throwback look – tin ceiling, funky furniture, a bar where the liquor shelving is all fronted with the glass title cards from stand up video games from the 80s, a huge shelf along one side of the restaurant covered with plastic, lit up holiday yard things – snow men, pumpkins, Santas, etc. etc.  Lots of vintage merchandising on the walls as well.  The menus are old album covers – Brian had a Doobie Bros. album, Alex had Mike and the Mechanics and I had a Talking Heads album – they glue the menu to the back.

The menu is grilled cheese sandwiches in 30 variations.  Let’s be clear, these aren’t just grilled cheese sandwiches – these are sandwiches made on thick, crusty, made-in-the restaurant  fresh bread and of course cheese, grilled.  But that’s where that ends – they are full-on sandwiches made with a plethora of ingredients.  We decided we needed to try an “old school” plain grilled cheese – what they call “The Kindergartener” – so we ordered that as an appetizer.  Big mistake.  More on that later. It was completely delicious, but had nothing to do with enhancing our appetites – quite the opposite.

The menu ranges through all kinds of meats, cheeses and all kinds of unusual fillings.  I was considering one of the two sandwiches that Guy made with the owner – the “Parmageddon” – which is a potato perogi with a crunchy hot “vodka-nappa cabbage” slaw that is vinegary and amazing with cheddar cheese and grilled onion, or the Tokyo Tuna Melt – a large portion of rare-seared sushi-grade tuna with lettuce, tomato, muenster cheese and wasabi-tofu mayo.  Went with the Parmageddon.  Alex ordered the “Chorizo Hash” sandwich – loaded with a corned-beef hash-like stuff made from fresh-made Chorizo and diced potatoes.  Brian ordered the Wake and Bacon – a fried egg, bacon and cheese sandwich.  All came with a mountain of crunchy, double-fried, hand cut fries that were incredible, and a big mound of freshly made creamy cole slaw.

Well, the big mistake was the Kindergartener – we all battled through our sandwiches, and Brian seemed to posses the right plan – he quit after half and saved his for breakfast the next morning.  Mine was incredible.

And incredibly filling – I felt like I was OD’ing on carbs between the potato/cheese pierogi’s in the sandwich, the bread, and the fries.  Honestly, wish i’d gone with the Tokyo Tuna.  Alex loved his, ate most of it, but said the heat of the Chorizo built up in his mouth and did him in.  That and the Kindergartener.

The boys each ordered two root beers, and I had two great beers from their 40-or-so selection of beers on tap.   The total bill after tip, was $50.  Those drinks were $12.  If we had not ordered them … $38 … Woo …

We waddled out of there at 3:00 PM, wondering how in the hell we’d ever eat again, much less in 5 hours when we went to Sterle’s Slovenian.

Thurs Dinner:

Sterle’s Slovenian Country House
1401 E 55th Street
Cleveland, OH
ph. (216) 881-4181
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/kItZ9-L7AV4

German/East German comfort food – I hear the Chicken Paprikash is the express train to Flavortown!

At 7:30, the guys were half-sacked out in a carbo-load coma in their room when I went in and said “Time for dinner!”  I was also probably too full to eat, but we were on a mission from G-d, and by G-d we were going to eat Paprikash.  Come hell or high water.  More on that to come.  We all agreed we had to go, even though none of us were hungry.  Hopped in the car and made the short drive to the northeast side of Cleveland and Sterle’s Slovenian House.

Sterle’s is on 55th Street, just south of St.  Clair, in this area that’s more industrial than anything else, and well, a bit dodgy.  The building is this big brown affair and you drive under an archway that carries the name of the restaurant and into a parking lot that could host five soccer games at once.   There was only one car parked there.  Uh oh.

We were looking around – is it closed?  Then we noticed there was a cardboard “open” sign next to the door, which was also propped open.  Well, we’re here … let’s go in.  You enter down this long hallway past all these glass display cases featuring 8×10 pictures of all the polka bands that have ever played there.   At the far end of the hall, we spot Guy Fieri’s stencil that he leaves on the wall of every restaurant.  Ok, we’re in the right spot.

We enter an immense dining room with exactly one table occupied – and they are all up at the band stand taking pictures.  The decor is 1964 Polka Hall and we are greeted by a friendly 30-something woman – “Yes, we’re open, we’ll seat you.”  They give us the menus and …. NO CHICKEN PAPRIKASH … WTF???  I call the hostess over and she knits her brow and says “Oh, that’s a lunch special.  But I think we had it today.  I doubt we have any more, but I can check the kitchen.  Hang on. ”  While she’s checking that, and fetching our drinks, this waitress straight out of central casting for German grandmas rolls out of the kitchen – she’s a solid 250 lbs or more packed onto a 5-foot-nothing frame, big round German face. (That’s her at the top of this section, we didn’t get an exterior shot of the restaurant.)  We all look at each other and she says “hi” to us and starts servicing the other occupied table.  We decided her name was Helga.  At that point, the hostess returns and says “No Paprikash.”  Well, Helga hears that and hustles over to our table and scolds the hostess – “There is so

Paprikash, it’s right in the walk in” – she looks at us and pronounces “Three Paprikash coming up!” and hurries to the kitchen.  We all look at each other and then at the hostess and say “umm …not three – one – please …” – she hustles back to the kitchen to flag down Helga, who comes ambling back out.  “Ok, you only want one Paprikash?  What the rest of you gonna eat?” – gesturing to Alex and Brian.  I said “Well, we were thinking a half-order of Weiner Schnitzel” – Helga  would have none of that “What, the full order is a dollar more.  You’ve got two boys.  Full order” – and she turns on her heel and she’s off.  We all look at each other and crack up, and the hostess, who stood there during this whole exchange just shrugged her shoulders and chuckled.

In nothing flat, she’s back with the soup AND salad that came with our meal – the guys dive into the soup and I have the salad – dying for something green to cut all those carbs from lunch.   And shortly after comes the Paprikash and the Schnitzel.   The Paprikash was incredible – roasted chicken, cooked without skin, and well seasoned, and then covered with an incredible brown gravy that was spicy with garlic and paprika.    It came as a drumstick, thigh and breast – all huge, and then a big portion of these long finger-shaped potato dumplings.  Fantastic!  The schnitzel was delicious as well, but as basic as basic gets – boneless veal, pounded flat, double dipped in flour and eggs and fried.  Basic – served with a side of hot sort of sliced roasted potato dish which we barely touched.  We ate all the chicken and then kept dipping the schitzel in the gravy.  And the bill?  $38.  AGAIN!

Final note on this one – I wouldn’t go back.  It was a bit.  I think it does have good food, but there are so many awesome restaurants in Cleveland that if you’re going, don’t bother with this one.

Friday Lunch:
Skyline Chili
2805 Centre Dr
Fairborn, OH 45324-2670

Well, on Friday, we left Cleveland and headed to Dayton.  Since the three of us love Cincinnati-style chili, we decided to give the Cinci favorite, Skyline Chili a try.  It was fantastic … at the end of the day, it’s fast food.  But really good chili on a bed of spaghetti and covered with cheddar cheese – that’s the three way – I ordered the 5-way, which added beans and diced onion.  Loved it.  We also left with a “go-box” of their fantastic oyster crackers and a 4-pack of the canned version of this.  Gotta have at home.   That said, I have made home-made Cinci chili before, and well, mine is better than this.  Still, Skyline is really good – wish we had these up in the Chicago area.   And would have tasted better half-hammered at three in the morning though!

Friday Dinner:

Tank’s Bar and Grill
2033 Wayne Ave
Dayton
www.tanksbarandgrill.com 

Given the trip we were on, Robin’s Aunt and Uncle, Linda and Steve, whom we were overnighting with in Dayton had to take us to their version of a Triple D – Tank’s.  Tanks is near the University of Dayton, about 4 miles southeast of downtown Dayton, where Linda and Steve live.

My view on this place – not a Triple D, but should be!  Alex and Brian were craving protein, and when they heard that they had great wings, they ordered a platter of 20 of them.  I added 10 to that to share between Steve, Linda and I and then we added fries, and Steve and Linda shared fried chicken and a bowl of chili.  The wings were fantastic!   Fried without breading, tossed in a traditional Franks Red Hot Sauce and butter, to the original Buffalo recipe.  The chili was delicious too, as well as the fries, Mac and Cheese et. al.  A great stop!

Friday Ice Cream:
Graeter’s
Many locations in Cincinnati and Dayton OH
Far Hills Blvd., Dayton, OH

Even though it’s not Triple D, this is worth writing about – Graeter’s is a Cincinnati tradition (and of course Dayton mirrors the Cinci culture) – outstanding locally-made ice cream. They make it in small batches, 2 gallons at a time, in-store.  We were at the Oakwood store on Far Hills Ave in Dayton.  And the ice cream is just heaven. You just gotta try it to believe it!

Saturday  Lunch

Triple X Family Restaurant
2 North Salisbury Street
West Lafayette, IN
ph. (765) 743-5373
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/GxqW4ereOfM

This is it – our final stop.   Triple XXX is a classic “drive-in” restaurant of the highest order.   Funky orange-and-black striped building with the classic drive-in carport parking, and inside, nothing but counter seating at a counter that winds back and forth through the place.  Watch the video!!  The food is all super-fresh made with all fresh, non-processed ingredients (unless you count American cheese), and made to order.  Their speciality is “chopped steak” burgers – it is ground-in-store sirloin burgers, which are then machine portioned into thick discs in this diabolical machine that they show on the video.  Before they grill the burgers on the flattop, they hand-flatten them, then dredge them first in flour to seal the juices in and grill them on a hot flattop.  And juices there are.  Then served simply with cheese, lettuce, onion, and tomato on request.  All condiments are “put ’em on yourself”.

We got there at 1:00 local time and there was a crowd outside waiting to get in.  A girl who must have been hired expressly for her ability to shout loudly was keeping the wait list and told us “20 minutes”  … while cold out, it was a fun and festive atmosphere, and, well, after 850 miles of driving, we sure as hell weren’t getting back in the car.  The crowd in the restaurant and outside was a combo of mostly hung-over college students, locals and then at least two other traveling families doing the Triple D stop.  One couple had their dog, which got a lot of attention from us as we were all missing Sprite.  Then we were called in – we took our three seats at the counter near the front with a great view of the grill master taking pre-formed 3″ wide by 1 1/2″ thick discs of burgers, hand flattening them, then dredging them in flour and tossing them on the grill in front of him.

And this place has perfected the art of the perfect burger. We each had the “double” with cheese – the individual patties are just under a 1/4 lb., so a “double” is just over 1/3 of a pound, on a really fresh bun.  We ordered two sides of fries, a basket of onion rings – hand battered of course, and big, individual rings, not a big lump of an “onion loaf”.  And each of us had a cold mug of the Triple XXX root beer on tap.  Fantastic.  What a finish to our day.  Big, juicy, lots of cheese.  Perfect.

Triple XXX has been a Purdue University fixture for  eons and it’s easy to see why – tons of food at a very reasonable price – the perfect place for a college campus.

We pointed the GTI north for home at this point, and that was it!

So, one question that has been asked of me this week a lot:  “So, how much weight did you gain”?  Honestly?  I lost two pounds on the trip – has to do with being active, and the fact that while each time we ate, it was delicious, the reality is we did a LOT of splitting of stuff, and so the portions we ate (except at Melt and Triple XXX) were probably less than usual.  Go figure!

The other frequent question:  Was there an over-arching theme to these restaurants?  Yes, absolutely – and the word is “fresh” – everything in these places is fresh, home-made-style, using the best ingredients.  Proving over and over my mom’s axiom:  Put good things in, get good things out.  These guys all do it right.

Next post: The Rock Hall (with a bit about the airforce museum).

As you were,

Stew

For all the trip photos:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/stewpix/sets/72157629362357736/

Triple D/Rock Hall Road Trip – We’re back!

1 Apr

Well, we’re back from our epic Rock Hall/Triple D road trip – rolled in the driveway yesterday afternoon about 4:00 PM.  After writing the blog post from Wednesday, and that took me more than an hour in the evening, I decided to put off blogging about the trip until I got home – sorry about that!  And this morning as I sit here thinking about writing what I want to about this, I realize I have three core topics to cover – the Triple D restaurants, the Rock Hall (as those in Cleveland call the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame), and well, the reflections of what it’s like to travel with two awesome teenaged sons who truly both wanted to be on this trip, and truly enjoyed it and how special that is.

I do have to say that I’ve always loved road trips – we never flew on family vacations growing up.  For a family that had aviation in its DNA with my grandfather having been a pilot, because of where we lived, and the sheer cost of commercial air travel, I didn’t take my first commercial flight until I was around 11 or 12 and traveled with my mom to New Jersey to see my grandparents.  It was always the road.  And my folks did road trips right.  We weren’t one of those families that did the “let’s drive all night” thing.  The journey was always part of the destination.

We rarely drove more than about six or seven hours per day, either.  Our summer trips to New Jersey to see my grandparents included an overnight stopover in the Chicago area at our relatives, the Coxes – to hang and play with our first cousins, Tom and Doug, and then usually another overnight in Western or Central Pennsylvania.  Our Colorado trips always had a stop somewhere in Nebraska – Grand Island, York, North Platte, or Kansas – Salina or Lawrence.  About the only place we did the “straight through” drive was the years we went to Northern Minnesota and the fishing cabin.

Robin and I have done the same thing now as well – we’ve taken great driving trips with the family – twice to Cape Cod, twice to Greenwood Lake NY, once to Colorado, as well as countless driving trips to Iowa and Wisconsin.  We rarely cover more than 8 hours (although Colorado we did 12 hours in our first day, albiet with a full hour lunch stop at my mom’s in Newton, IA), we always made sure with the kids that we got to the hotel in time for an enjoyable dinner and a swim, etc.

On this trip, we drove 1040 miles and what was so fun about it was the trip WAS the destination.  Our first stop, about 2 1/2 hours out, was a Triple D restaurant.  That left about 4 hours of driving to Cleveland.  Cleveland to Dayton was another 3 hour run, then coming home yesterday, although the day’s total (like Wednesday) was about six hours, taking more than an hour break in West Lafayette at Triple XXX Drive In, as well as a 45 minute stop in Indianapolis to pee at the IMS Museum, and visit Mary Anne, our parking hostess for the 500 every year, really broke up the drive.

I come home having a great appreciation for a number of things:  1) My sons – more on that later, but they truly are great traveling companions.  They are funny, silly (different than funny), never putting on the sullen teenager act, they appreciate food the way I do, and we were all in sync the entire trip.  2)  Our country – this sounds strange, but the ease of which we can travel and cover great distances cannot be ignored.  While the highways can be smoother (and don’t get me started on the Republican’s goal to defund federal highway funding), and the traffic can be less, I nonetheless love traveling around our country and it truly is amazing that you can drive 1000 miles and really only tour around a small section of our country; 3) Music – if, besides eating, there was a single thing that defined this road trip, it had to be music.  We had a constant flow of great tunes playing, whether in the car or at the Rock Hall.  Between iPods/iTunes and Sirius Satellite Radio (Classic Vinyl was our favorite channel), this trip’s sound track was pure classic rock … with an hour-long dose of Jackopierce – the acoustic duo I recently discovered thanks to my pal Professor Troutstream.  4) Driving – while this is sort of a “well duh” item, let’s face it.  I love to drive.  I drove 18 of our 19 hours and never got sick of it.  Doesn’t hurt to have an awesome car to drive in my little VW GTI – that thing just eats miles and spits them out, all at 33 mpg going nearly 80 mph.  Awesome.

So, onwards.  I have a bunch of business travel this week, which means, inevitably, some serious downtime in which I’ll have time to write about the restaurants, about the Rock Hall, and the Air Force Museum, and about what it meant to me to travel with a pair of 16 year old boys who are both little kids and great grown men pals at the same time.

As always, the best part of a trip is often coming home.  Robin and Sprite were both very happy to have us home. We were done traveling yesterday.  But I’d do it again tomorrow if I could.

As you were,

Stew

Rock Hall/Triple D Trip – Day One

28 Mar

What a great day – a dad and two sons, hittin’ the road.  We got out the door about 9:00 AM, and made it exactly two minutes away – to Starbucks.  Once properly caffienated, we motored.  Our first stop?  The South Side Diner and Soda Shop, Goshen, IN.

First a bit about motoring – last year about this time we bought the car we drive now, a 2011 VW GTI. This thing is wonderful for the motorsports lover/driver that also needs reality in the insurance cost, the price tag, fuel efficiency and practicality.  A  back seat like a limo, combined with a short overall length, wheels pushed way out to the corners for great handling, light weight, tons of power and VERY fuel efficient.  From Chicago to Goshen we averaged 34.5 MPG, and then from Goshen to Cleveland, a little faster leg in terms of road speed (78 mph avg), we got 33 mpg.  Fantastic.

Ok, so on to Goshen and the South Side diner.  Goshen is this nice little midwestern town – seems to be about the same size as the town I grew up in, Newton, IA.  Tidy town square, a business district with a combo of local retail, professional services, dining, bars, etc.

The South Side Diner is about 3/4 of a mile south of the town square on Hwy 15/33 in Goshen – Main Street.  It looks a bit like a train car at the front, and inside is pure vintage diner – black vinyl booths, laminate tables, authentically vintage marketing signs and local school spirit signage.  Goshen is close to Notre Dame in South Bend, IN, as well, so plenty of Fighting Irish stuff too.  The owner of the diner, Nate, is so proud of his place and couldn’t stop talking about it.  Once he heard we were on a cross country “Triple D” trip, he spent 10 minutes talking to us, telling us about his home made bread, their award winning pies, how he imports his hoagie rolls from Philadelphia, etc.  Wow.

When you walk in, instead of a typical greasy diner smell, we were met with the overwhelmingly wonderful smell of freshly baked bread and pies.  They had just pulled out a large sheet pan with 10 or more big loaves on it and were cooling them on the counter – they bake much of their own bread.

They are very proud of their Philly cheese steak sandwich, their chili, their pies, their liverwurst and bacon sandwich, and their bread.  I was so enthralled with the bread that I had to go simple.  We ordered – Alex got a Philly Pizza sandwich – a Philly cheesesteak with pizza sauce, Brian got a New Englander Burger, which was a burger on homemade English Muffin bread, and because I had to have some of that wonderful bread, I went simple -a grilled ham and cheese.  We added to that a basket of their special curly fries and a chocolate shake to share, in addition to our soft drinks.  The food started to quickly come out, and last out was the shake.  The Philly Pizza sandwich was immense, the burger less so, and my ham sandwich was stacked tall but not obscene.  My sandwich was incredible – I had the “Swedish” bread which was pinwheel rye and pumpernickle with a great crust.  Ham was carved off the bone of course, and the cheese was melted perfectly. Heaven.  Their curly fries are different – they are flat swirls of fried potatoes, and honestly, needed an additional fryer run for crispness.  The shake was wonderful – we had a chocolate malt and it was that perfect thickness.  We capped it all off with a slice of Lemon Meringue pie.  Wonderful – creamy, tart curd with a huge mountain of meringue.  The bill was all of $32.00 before tip – and as we were checking out, we realized we were part of 3 different families there doing the Triple D thing – a family going west from Hoboken NJ, and another dad and two sons headed east – though they were going to the football and baseball halls of fame, versus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Onto the road again after a cheap fill of gas ($4.09 versus $4.40 in Chicago) and it was onwards to Cleveland.  We arrived into town about 6:00 Pm, checked in, got a drink at the free cocktail reception at our hotel (Embassy Suites), and then out to dinner.  Stop #2:  Geraci’s.  Geraci’s is an old-fashioned family Italian restaurant.  According to the Triple D segment, it is owned by an old couple in their 80s, and their daughter, in her 50s,runs the place. Didn’t see any of them there tonight.  A decent sized crowd was there.  We ordered a large pepperoni pizza, an order of their Chicken Parmesan and meatballs – the ChixParm came with a side salad, which I promptly ate up.  First out was the pizza and OH MY GOD.  This is seriously among the best pizzas I have ever had – it’s not thin crust nor deep dish – a crisp-bottomed crust that was nicely thin but not cracker like, thick chunky tomatoes, and the pepperoni was obviously hand-sliced off sticks. Their ovens must be really hot – the crust had a good crunch on the bottom, and the cheese and tomatoes were browned and caramelized on top, and the pepperoni was curled and browned.

Next was the Chicken Parm – again, OH MY GOD.  The sauce was thick tomato-basil sauce with a unique, meaty flavor. We found out the reason for that in a moment.  The cheese was special mozzarella that they have made for them, and the chicken had a wonderful crust with a bit of a crunch, and was perfectly cooked and not at all dry.  The final item to come out was the meatballs – we ordered one but they brought two.  These are handmade every day out of a mix of beef and veal, with a substantial amount of Romano Pecorino cheese, plus seasonings.  Then they are first roasted in the oven to brown them, and then they pour tomato puree with basil and onion over them – and cook them the rest of the way – and that’s when we found out the secret of the sauce!  It’s the sauce they make the meatballs with!  Everything had such broad and bold flavors, but perfectly balanced.  Fantastic food.  I would seriously make a trip to Cleveland from Chicago just to eat at Geraci’s.

After that, we’re just chilling at the hotel.  A wonderful day.  Rock Hall tomorrow!

A few pics below, will upload a Flickr album later in the week.

As you were,

Stew

At the South Side Diner:

Downtown Goshen:

Alex and is Pizza Philly

Brian and his burger

Lemon Meringue Pie

In South Side Diner:

Geraci’s

Pepperoni Pizza

Alex enjoying pizza

Brian with his pizza

Chicken Parm

Trippin’ Triple D Style – Cleveland Rocks!

27 Mar

We’re rolling out this week with the twin sons A&B for a fun little road trip – just the three of us.  Spring break is always a bit tough for the Campbell family with Robin working for an accounting firm – we’ve managed to take just one family spring break trip in all the time she’s been there, but I try to get away with the boys every year.  In a fit of poor planning that I’ll never understand, the state universities in IL don’t line up their vacations with that of the high schools – so Joel was off last week, and A&B are off this week.

In years past, we’ve gone to Iowa to visit my mom in the hometown and hang out there – drink some beers and scotch with friends there, but, reality is there is not a lot for the guys to do out there.   This year, I decided to do something a bit different – we are headed to Cleveland to tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the day on Thursday.  That will be fun enough on its own – as my previous post noted, I am all about the music, and the music in my soul is Rock and Roll.  But, to further increase the fun quotient, we’re going to eat our way around the midwest “Triple D” style.

Then, after the RRHOF, we are headed to Dayton OH and the National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, plus an overnight visit to our Aunt Linda and Uncle Steve’s home – Robin’s aunt and uncle.  No Triple D locations in Dayton, though we will get local flavor on TWO meals there.

For anyone not in the know, “Triple D” is the show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on Food Network.  Hosted by Guy Fieri, they visit hole in the wall joints known for amazing local food – most of it ethnic, all of it awesome.  We have been to a number of Triple D spots already in the Chicago area and each is a unique experience with outstanding food, and normally at ridiculously inexpensive prices to boot.  We watch it religiously as it represents what we enjoy the most – finding funky, out of the way, unpretentious and amazing places to have incredible food.  As much as I enjoyed my business dinner at Smith & Wollensky’s last night in Boston, this is going to be even more fun, and more tasty.

Thankfully, there’s a lot more “fanboys” out there of Guy and Triple D than just me – and whole sites devoted to helping us Triple D fans tour the country and try the food for ourselves.  My favorite is FlavortownUSA.com – which is a guide/locator/directory of all Triple D locations – indexed in a number of ways – by air date, by geography/state/city, etc.  You can search by zip code, by state, by food style – someone put some real work into that site.  And their effort is my reward.  We’ve mapped out our route of travel by stomach – here’s a list of everywhere we’re going and when.  By the way, there’s also a YouTube link to every location’s segment on the show.  Again, someone did their homework here.  Without further adieu … (not to be confused with “wackadoo):

Lunch on Weds:

South Side Soda Shop & Diner
1122 south Main Street
Goshen, IN 46526
(574) 534-3790
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/withX9C85A0

This is a little diner/soda shop joint with great burgers and sandwiches, and well … shakes and sodas too.  Yum!

Dinner on Weds:

Geraci’s Restaurant
2266 Warrensville Center Road
Cleveland, OH
ph. (216) 371-5643
YouTube: http://youtu.be/SVb-ctwxMRM

Wonderful pizza/Italian restaurant on Cleveland’s southwest side.  All hand-tossed pizzas and the 80-some-odd year old owner is still tossin’ the pies, and her daughter runs the place with iron fists made strong by kneading pizza dough!

Thurs Lunch (Optional?)

Melt Bar and Grilled
14718 Detroit Ave Lakewood, OH
(216) 226-3699
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/0TtkfwFders

Assuming we leave the RRHOF museum for lunch, this joint features an All-Grilled Cheese sandwich menu.

Thurs Dinner:

Sterle’s Slovenian Country House
1401 E 55th Street
Cleveland, OH
ph. (216) 881-4181
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/kItZ9-L7AV4

German/East German comfort food – I hear the Chicken Paprikash is the express train to Flavortown!

Friday Lunch:
Skyline Chili
2805 Centre Dr
Fairborn, OH 45324-2670

Our only non-TripleD stop – we’re headed to Dayton for the Air Force Museum and we’ve gotta get some Skyline Cincinnati-style Chili.  I like mine Five-Way Style – Chili, Spaghetti, cheese, onions and beans.  Bring it!  Robin’s Aunt and Uncle have also promised a unique local meal that evening.

Saturday  Lunch

Triple X Family Restaurant
2 North Salisbury Street
West Lafayette, IN
ph. (765) 743-5373
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/GxqW4ereOfM

Ah, the Triple X – homemade rootbeer, amazing “steakburgers” (they were probably making them there before Steak and Shake even thought of it), and more, right on campus at Purdue University.  Amazing.

So, that’s the trip.  I’ll be blogging during the course of the trip as we roll along and posting pictures both here on the blog, and on Facebook.

Think I’ll get back to Weight Watchers next week.  LOL

As you were,

Stew

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