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Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Our Journey Home – Experiencing Ohio

In Family, Life, Pursuit of Happiness on June 6, 2011 at 6:26 am

We were all up early this morning.  After reminding the kids that today was the day that we would be back in New York at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, my little one instantly started acting like a clown, dancing around the room with a dance she called “The Waddle.”  As usual, she had us all laughing out loud at her antics.

Visiting Ohio has been an experience that we’ll remember for many years to come.

We started out in Cincinnati, which is only an hour-and-a-half from Louisville (our shortest drive on the trip).  The ride would have been a breeze compared to our other travel had we not encountered some maniac on the road who nearly hit each of our cars while speeding and tailgating.  I can only hope that karma takes care of this Kentucky a-hole before he hurts innocent people with his dangerous driving.

If not for the fact that the Reds were playing a home game against the Dodgers (our favorite team), we may very well have driven right through Cincinnati without stopping.  We didn’t see much else of Cincinnati besides the baseball stadium, but seeing a game at Great American Ballpark was good enough for my son and me.  The stadium has great scenic views of the river and surrounding area (particularly from the cheap seats behind home plate).  It was surprisingly easy to get in and out of the stadium area with very little traffic.  This never seems to be the case with New York ballparks.  Even though the Dodgers lost a close game, it was still a fun experience.

When we were leaving Cincinnati, our plan was to spend two nights in Akron because it is situated between Canton (where the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located) and Cleveland.  Severe weather warnings and a terrible hotel experience altered our plans a bit, but it all worked out in the end.

My son and I planned on going to see the Indians play the Texas Rangers in a night game and then go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame the following day, but we didn’t want to take the chance of going all the way to Cleveland with weather forecast, so we decided to go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame first, and catch the afternoon game the following day.

We arrived at the Quality Inn in Akron, intending to check in, put our stuff in the room, and head out to Canton.  Despite my research before booking the rooms, this hotel turned out to be a nightmare.  I have no idea what the majority of reviewers were thinking on this one.  The two-story hotel had no elevators, and we had far too much stuff to bring in to be making trips up and down the stairs.

When I asked for a room on the first floor, the incompetent attendant said that it would be a $30 charge to change the room (since it was pre-paid).  I agreed to pay the $30, but then she said that it couldn’t be done.  When we went around the building to the entrance nearest our room, we saw that the door was unlocked.  I mentioned it to the other incompetent attendant, and he said that it probably would be locked later on.  I immediately called Hotels.com and cancelled the second night in the hotel, and just decided to take the loss on the room that was too late to cancel.

After a bit of scrambling, we decided to just take both cars to Canton and all go to the Hall of Fame together.  Even though my wife and daughter didn’t plan on going with us, we ended up having a fun time with the whole family.  My little one was surprisingly well-behaved, and made the most of the experience.  My wife found the Hall of Fame to be very interesting.  Of course, it was a dream-come-true for my son and me because of our love of the game.

We spent almost four hours at the Hall of Fame, but could have easily stayed longer if time allowed.  There was so much to see beyond the busts of all of the greats who are enshrined there.  It was a tremendous learning experience about the history of the game.  The highlight for me was the Super Bowl Theater where you get to experience an inside look at various games through coaches and players wearing microphones.  After seeing and hearing so many violent hits, it left me wondering how NFL players can keep taking such a constant pounding, only to get up and do over and over again.

The inside look at the most recent Super Bowl was incredible.  Even though we knew the outcome, I found myself cheering for the Packers as if the game were being played live.  While I loved the experience, if I were a Steelers fan, I would have been miserable reliving the moment in high def with surround sound.

Thinking that we had left tornado alley upon arriving in Ohio, I was surprised when we were ushered into the basement area because the tornado sirens were going off.  Thankfully, it turned out to be nothing but a thunderstorm.  And while I wasn’t thrilled to be taking cover from a potential tornado, it did help that we were in the area of the Hall of Fame filled with video and sports games.  My son and I didn’t even get through a half of a game on Madden before we were allowed to leave the basement area.

We finished touring the Hall of Fame, grabbed some souvenirs for each of us, and headed out to Cleveland where we decided to stay for two nights.

Although we hit some stormy weather on the way, it was a pretty clear ride for most of the hour-long trip.  The hotel that we ended up in was infinitely better than the one that we left in Akron (although the late-night dining options were few and far between).

We got a good night’s sleep and set out early the next morning to explore downtown Cleveland a bit before going to see the Rangers play the Indians in the afternoon.

The city of Cleveland is nice enough, but there wasn’t much going on when we got there.  It’s hard to say whether it was because it was a Sunday morning, or if it was just the way that it is in the city.  If this trip has taught me anything, it is that New York City is truly one-of-a-kind, with an energy that doesn’t exist in other places.

After walking around a bit, we got to the stadium about a half hour before game time.  There was no wait at all to buy tickets.  We ended up buying seats in the upper deck behind home plate.  Actually, we ended up with seats in the last row in the stadium, which gave my wife an uneasy feeling, so we moved to the empty second-to-last row in the next section.  Even though we were high up, it was still a great deal for $8 per ticket.  In fact, Progressive Field is the first stadium that I’ve ever been to where the cheap seats are in the shade.

Even though there were plenty of empty seats if we wanted to move down for a closer vantage point, I enjoyed the comfort of the upper deck so much that we stayed there the entire game.  Between the shade and the breeze blowing through the openings at the top of the stadium, my wife actually said that she was chilly at some points.

The game was a low-scoring affair, but the home runs hit by Mitch Moreland and Elvis Andrus were enough to seal the 2-0 shutout by C.J. Wilson.

We were amongst the very few Ranger fans in the stadium, but we were able to cheer for the visiting team without any incident.  The fans in Cleveland are great, and Progressive Field was my favorite stadium to visit.  Yesterday’s game was my favorite baseball experience of all-time.  Aside from the comfort of our seats, and the incredible stadium, it was the perfect way to say goodbye to Texas one last time.

The Rangers have become our second favorite team.  Living in close proximity to their home stadium for two years has given us a connection to the team that will last a lifetime.  The only disappointment of yesterday’s game was that we didn’t get to see my son’s favorite player (Josh Hamilton) in the game. He was given the day off to rest.  Other than that, it was a perfect day, and a perfect way to end our journey.

The time has finally come for us to complete our journey home.  We’ll be heading out shortly, and will cross the New York State line before the morning is out.  Part of me is disappointed to see this incredible journey come to an end, but more than anything, I am excited to finally be back in New York for good.  We can’t wait to see all of the family and friends that we’ve missed while we’ve been in Texas.

Hopefully, the rest of our journey today will be as enjoyable as the past week has been.  There will be updates about our trip back to New York and our experiences when we get there to follow.

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Our Journey Home – Experiencing Kentucky

In Family, Life, Pursuit of Happiness on June 4, 2011 at 6:53 am

Half-way across the bridge heading east out of St. Louis, we crossed the state line into Illinois.  Like most people who are not from the area, the only thing that comes to mind when talking about Illinois is Chicago, so the drive through southern Illinois came as quite a surprise.

Far removed from the vibrant city life of Chicago is a land filled with trees and almost no people, houses or places to eat or refuel.  As we drove through this area, I couldn’t help but think that this is what it must feel like to drive through the desert on the way to Las Vegas, the only difference being trees instead of sand.

We finally found a place to eat as we approached the Indiana state line, but it was still a far cry from Chicago.  The Subway that we found off the beaten path had a redneck feel that made you forget that you were in the Midwest.  I can honestly say that this is the first time that I had to navigate around a gigantic dead bird in the road.  My wife and I still aren’t sure if it was a wild turkey or a buzzard, but either way, it was very strange to see.

Driving through Indiana was much the same as the drive through Illinois.  The only point of interest was seeing road signs and billboards for a town called Santa Claus.  And though Indiana couldn’t compete with the crazy road signs that we saw in Missouri, there was one that we found while pulling off the road to go to a gas station.

The sign read “Prison Area – Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers.”  Maybe it’s just my upbringing, but I’ve always been taught never to pick up hitchhikers in any area, not just prison areas.

After a few detours and some construction traffic, we ended up getting to Louisville a bit later than expected.  We checked into the hotel, dropped our stuff off in the room, and headed right back out to catch a Minor League Baseball game.

We arrived at Louisville Slugger Stadium in the middle of the first inning of a game between the hometown Louisville Bats and the Syracuse Chiefs.  We were all impressed with the five-year old stadium…even my little one.  It took a few innings, but she eventually discovered the carousel and play area on the opposite side of the stadium.

Journeying back to New York, it felt strange rooting against Syracuse, but since we had no allegiance to either team, it was more fun to join the crowd in rooting for the home team.  The game was kind of slow early on, but ended in exciting fashion as the home team sealed the victory with some towering home runs in the late innings.

Everyone had a great time at the game, but the highlight of our trip to Kentucky came the next morning when we visited the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.

Before the guided tour of the factory where bats are manufactured, we spent some time exploring the exhibits.  My son and I both got to pose for pictures holding Mickey Mantle and Cal Ripken Jr. game-used bats (something that even the most casual baseball fan can appreciate).

Seeing how the bats were hand-crafted when Louisville Slugger first started was interesting.  Experiencing how they are made now with expensive machinery was amazing.  What used to take 20 minutes now takes a mere 45 seconds to create.

At the end of the tour, we were each given mini bats to take home as a souvenir.  It’s a nice gesture, but one that seems to be kind of hazardous as kids can’t seem to stop themselves from swinging them without looking to see who or what is near them.

I got my son a small bat with his name inscribed on it.  This is a keepsake that he will undoubtedly treasure for many years to come.

My son and I each took one round of swings in the batting cages when our tour was complete.  The balls were only coming in at around 45mph, but that is still fast enough to hurt when the machine goes haywire and hits you in the ribs with a pitch.  After I “took one for the team” in the batting cage, the operator explained to me that they had been having problems with that cage, which is why they were only letting the adults use it.  Thankfully, I’m none the worse for wear, and now I’ll have a story to tell for years to come.

Before we left to get back on the road, we took the opportunity to visit the Norman Rockwell exhibit which was on loan to the museum for a two-week period.  It was very cool to see all of his original work.

If not for this journey, it’s hard to imagine ever taking the opportunity to visit Kentucky to experience some great baseball memories.  As a lifelong baseball fan, I’m glad that I got the chance to do this with my family.

The final stops on our journey home will be in Ohio.  I’ll post about our Ohio experiences soon.

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Our Journey Home – Experiencing Missouri

In Family, Life, Pursuit of Happiness on June 3, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Sometimes even the best laid plans don’t work out as expected.  Our original plan was to leave Tulsa, OK right after rush hour and get to St. Louis by mid-afternoon.  We ended up leaving later and making more stops along the way than anticipated.  After a long day of driving, the last thing that my son wanted to do was to get back in the car to sit in traffic and go to the Cardinals game, so we decided to just spend the night with my wife and daughter.

Aside from great dinner at a restaurant called Trainwreck Saloon and a ride in an outside elevator (which the kids thought was a lot of fun), the only other things that we saw in Missouri were Busch Stadium and the famous Gateway Arch on the way out of town.  Unfortunately, there was no easy way to park the cars loaded with all of our stuff, so we didn’t get the opportunity to get out and see the Gateway Arch in a meaningful way.  But at least we can say that we saw the most famous landmark in the state.

Most of our time in Missouri was spent on the road.  Like Oklahoma, the drive was very scenic and as relaxing as a long drive can be, with one exception.

Driving through Joplin, the town recently devastated by a massive tornado, was kind of surreal.  My closest experience with a tornado was taking cover in a closet the week before we left Texas due to a severe tornado warning.  It never materialized in our area though.

As we passed through Joplin, I was fixated on the leveled land to the right of me.  Every tree had been destroyed, and the few houses that were visible from the road were in very bad shape.  However, the houses on the left side of the highway is where the major destruction took place.  My wife glanced over to that area briefly and was amazed at what she saw.  She said that everything in sight was destroyed.

I’ve been tracking the weather regularly before we travel to make sure that we are not driving directly into a dangerous storm.  Even though I had seen storm clouds many times in Texas, the ones that hovered over Joplin as we drove through still gave me a very uneasy feeling.  Adding to the chilling feeling was the music playing on the radio – “Life Is Beautiful” by Sixx: A.M.  The irony was not lost on me.  The eerie feeling continued as “Diamond Eyes” by Shinedown came on the radio as I left Joplin while seeing signs for a town called “Diamond.”

The rest of the ride through Missouri was uneventful, although we did see some very strange road signs on the way to St. Louis.

The speed limit signs read “Speed Limit 75mph / 50 mph Minimum…No Tolerance.”  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  Did it mean that tickets would be issued at 76mph or that they were keeping a close watch out for those who inexplicably travel at 49mph or less?

The other sign that kept popping up read “Do Not Drive Into Smoke.”  No other instructions were given.  Maybe this means something to the locals, but to us, it was just puzzling.  What if we saw smoke?  Were we just supposed to put the car into park right there on the highway?  Or were we supposed to turn around and go against traffic?

A bizarre sign read “Broken Guardrail Ahead.”  Was this supposed to be a warning for those looking to crash that it would be safer further up the road where a guardrail could help to protect them?  My wife astutely pointed out that they should have spent the time fixing the broken guardrail rather than having a sign made to alert travelers of the danger.

The last signs that had us scratching our heads while laughing read “Hit a Worker – Pay a $10,000 Fine – Lose Your License.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll all for seeing road workers remain safe, but I would think that most people try not to hit them because they don’t run people over as a rule, not because they are deterred by the strict laws forbidding it.

So even though we didn’t get to experience anything particularly fun in Missouri, I will never forget the driving experience.  Aside from the crazy signs, there were also gigantic bugs slamming into the windshield.  So much so that I ran out of wiper fluid while cleaning them off.  It made me wonder how anyone rides a motorcycle on these roads.

On a final note, Missouri has a chain of gas stations called “Kum and Go.”  We didn’t fill up there because we didn’t need gas at the time, but even if we did, we may have gone to the next station anyway.  The last thing that we needed was to have our bank reject our cards because they thought that someone stole them to buy porn in Missouri.

That’s all for now.  I’ll post our Kentucky experiences soon.

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Our Journey Home – Experiencing Oklahoma

In Family, Life, Pursuit of Happiness on June 1, 2011 at 7:57 am

We said Goodbye to our family and Texas, gassed up the cars, and set the GPS for Oklahoma.  I knew that this was going to be a difficult time for my son, who had spent the entire night before playing with his cousin who he has grown very close to since our arrival in Texas.  It was hard for me to watch him hug his cousin goodbye, but I knew that he would feel better once we were doing things on our way back to New York.

Texas is Longhorn country when it comes to college football.  Not a day went by where I didn’t see people sporting the instantly recognizable burnt orange team colors or a Longhorn logo emblazoned on the back of a pick-up truck.  When we arrived in Texas, we didn’t really have an opinion about the Longhorns, but we tired of them quickly because their presence is so ubiquitous.

The Longhorns biggest rival is the Oklahoma Sooners.  Each year, they play against each other in a game called the Red River Rivalry.  Truth be told, I thought that Red River was just the name of a river that flowed between the two states.  I had no idea that it got its name because it actually gives the appearance of red water due to the clay that lines the riverbed.  It was a very cool sight to see.

Unfortunately, by the time that I was able to dial the phone to call my wife and kids in the other car to talk about it, we had already passed it by, and I was the only one who saw it (one of the drawbacks of traveling separately).  Luckily, the Red River isn’t the only river in Oklahoma which appears to flow red, so they did get to see something similar later on.

Because my son was tired of seeing the Longhorns everywhere, and because one of his best friends is a Sooners fan, my son chose to become a Sooner fan.  The Sooners play in Norman, OK, which happened to be on the way to our first stop in Oklahoma City, so we surprised my son by taking him to see the stadium.  He was still kind of sad, and very tired from traveling and a lack of sleep, but he perked up when he saw the stadium.  We walked around a bit and took some pictures.  He read about some of the famous alumni on the statues by the stadium.  By the time that we got back in the car, I could tell that his spirit was already starting to lift.

The drive through Oklahoma was very scenic and peaceful.  Parts of the drive reminded both my wife and me of the Catskill Mountains in New York.  On the way down to Texas a few years ago, we chose the most direct route.  This time, we chose to go another way so that we could see different states, and experience things that we hadn’t already before.  It’s early on in the journey, but so far, driving through Oklahoma has been much nicer than driving through Arkansas (although we did see some strange things along the way).

On a 65mph highway, we saw a guy with a Mohawk haircut riding his bicycle on the shoulder of the road.  Neither my wife nor I had any idea what the guy planned to do when the shoulder ended to allow for merging traffic.  Later on in the drive, we saw another man jogging in the middle lane of a three-lane service road.  I can only conclude that Oklahoma drivers are the polar opposite of New York drivers, because this would never happen in New York.

After checking in to our hotel in Oklahoma City, we set out to an area called Bricktown.  It’s a cool area filled with restaurants, bars, shops and a Minor League Baseball stadium.  As we walked past the stadium, we saw that there was a game going on.  We walked up to the gate, and we were invited in at no cost.  It turned out that we had inadvertently stepped into the Big 12 Championship Game between the Missouri Tigers and the Texas A&M Aggies.

It was late in the game when we arrived.  The Aggies held a one-run lead going into the eighth inning.  A throwing error by the Aggies third basemen allowed the Tigers to tie the game and eventually take a lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning.  Since we lived in Texas up until that morning, and we ended up sitting on the Aggies’ side of the field, it seemed appropriate that we would root for Texas A&M.

Trailing by one run, with two outs in the ninth inning, the pinch-hitter for the Aggies hit a high chopper over the third baseman’s head, and the score was tied.  For a game that we just ended up walking into, we were instantly invested in the outcome and thrilled to see the game go into extra innings.  The Tigers didn’t score in the top of the tenth inning, giving the Aggies a chance to seal the victory if they scored.  The crowd rose as it looked like the game was going to end with a home run, but the strong winds kept the ball in the park.

With two outs in the bottom of the tenth, Andrew Collazo (the third baseman who made a throwing error to allow the Tigers to tie the game) stepped up to the plate and ended the game in spectacular fashion by hitting his first home run of the season.  My son’s face lit up with excitement, and we were all high-fiving each other as if we were lifelong Texas A&M fans.

After the game, I bought my son the same championship baseball hat that the team was wearing after they won the game.  He smiled, gave me a hug, and said that it was his new favorite hat.  Suddenly, the kid who was very sad about leaving Texas was as happy as ever.

My little one has had her moments of sadness about leaving her friends in Texas, but those moments are fleeting.  One of the things that we promised her on the trip was the chance to go to a cupcake and candy store called Pinkitzel.  She had been asking about going there nearly every day for a few weeks.  After eating a decadent cupcake called “Birthday Surprise” with a glass of chocolate milk, my little one was very happy.  She talked about which cupcake she was going to get next time, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her first trip to Pinkitzel was also going to be her last.

We ended the night by taking the kids swimming in the hotel pool after a laughter-filled dinner at Denny’s.  By the time that we all went to sleep, the kids were happy and looking forward to the next day.

We spent the next day at Science Museum Oklahoma.  It was filled with fun things to do, and interesting things to see.  My daughter couldn’t get enough of what they call “the world’s biggest slide.”  It is several stories high, and twists all the way down to the ground.  My wife and I both tried it, but quickly realized that this was for kids.  We were both dizzy when we got to the bottom.

My son got called up on stage to be an assistant for a very entertaining program called “Science Live.”  It’s a young, funny chemist who does a show which demonstrates how to blow things up.  We all had a great time watching him on stage, and he got a kick out of being a part of it.

We ended the day by going back to Bricktown for dinner.  We ate at a place called Coach’s, which overlooks the stadium.  The food was great, and the view was awesome.  After dinner, we let the kids buy candy by the pound at Bricktown Candy Co.  Needless to say, this was a good way to end the day.

Our last stop in Oklahoma was the Oklahoma Aquarium (near Tulsa).  Everyone enjoyed themselves, but my little one was the most excited, and very brave.  She touched everything that they allowed her to without so much as a thought.  It was amazing to watch her stick her hand right into the water to pet the stingrays and small sharks.  Since my son got the souvenir at the baseball game, we let my daughter pick something from the aquarium gift shop.  She chose a bracelet with seashells and stars…the perfect gift since she is in a jewelry phase.

Overall, the kids are in great spirits, enjoying the adventure of the journey back to NY.  I guess we’ll see if that lasts today when we take our first extended car ride.  It’s almost time to head out to St. Louis….more updates to follow soon.

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