Friday, December 17, 2010

Mexicali

An Introduction:

Having seen every major league stadium and starting off on all the Japanese stadiums, I thought I had few baseball mountains left to climb, until I started to think about it. Unlike those people with birthdays during the regular season, my parents saw fit to hobble me with one in December. This year, I decided to finally get over that hump and see a professional game on my birthday. This left me with two practical options: Mexico, and the newly christened Australian league. Australia, while having the benefit of speaking some manner of English, was a 22-hour plane ride and several thousand dollars away, not to mention the impracticality of a short-duration excursion there. So Mexico it would be.


On The Things We Can't Control


Flight
Delays, delays

Thursday, December 16, 2010
San Diego, CA


Outside of the Game: An open letter --

Dear Scientists Working on Transporters: Hurry the hell up already, because having airplane travel as the only reasonable way to cross long distances is just not working out.

I suppose I should focus on the positives. I actually got to Newark Liberty Bald Eagle God Bless America Airport on time; I didn't get Freedom Groped passing through security; and I was at the main Continental terminal, so I was able to have a nice sit-down breakfast instead of scavenging a beat-up bagel from a lone terminal concession cart at the satellite terminals.

That positivity out of the way, my outgoing airplane was delayed getting to the gate because the flight ahead of us was delayed in leaving. This lead to a late boarding of a full flight, which made us lose our departure slot, which put us in the air nearly an hour late.

And then there was the purgatory that is other passengers. There was a pair of people who wanted to sit together near me, so I swapped my aisle seat with aisle seat in the row behind me where one of the women was sitting. Not a problem as of yet, except that these two women were junior female royalty of a hyphenated ethnology and a monotheistic persuasion. In addition to talking constantly and loudly for the entire flight and calling the flight crew to their seats to demand and/or complain about something every half hour, the one with whom I switched seats almost immediately performed the knee-destroying sudden full recline of her seat.

Alright.

I decided to try to be civil. I asked her if she wouldn't mind please moving her seat up a little. She said it was her seat and if they weren't supposed to recline, they wouldn't recline. I pointed out that it wasn't, in fact, her seat, and she has the choice of moving her seat up, or I would call over the already-sick-of-her flight crew to reclaim my proper seat.

If looks could kill... well, I'd have already killed her. But she positively scowled fury at me, and then even more loudly than normal talked to her companion about how rude some people were. But she moved the seat up.

There was no meal on the flight, and that was a detail to which I probably should have paid more attention. Under normal circumstances, I most likely would have been okay, but with the delays, I was getting pretty hungry five hours in. Unfortunately, it seems most people didn't have breakfast and quickly bought up all the boxed snacks and lunches available, leaving me to sit there and think of the folly of my ways for the remainder of the flight. The thoughts were not particularly filling.

So it was of great interest to me once we landed to discover that the plane occupying our assigned gate was having mechanical problems of an indeterminate source. We got some quality tarmac-sitting time as the brain trust of the Continental maintenance crew got to work on the problem. Another hour later, we finally got to the gate, and a full planeload of surly Easteners made their way quickly out into sunny joy of San Diego.

It was nearly two in the afternoon local time when I got out, and I decided to get to my rental car and hotel before eating, because that's the kind of decision you make when you aren't thinking clearly because you're weak from hunger. I got the shuttle to the Budget rental office, picked up my car, and spent the requisite ten minutes trying to figure out how it worked. Once on my way, it was a quick drive to the hotel, which mercifully had a restaurant next door.

Rental car
Sensible

After throwing my stuff in my room, I went and got... lunch, I suppose. It was a french dip roast beef sandwich with fries, whatever its nomenclature, and it was the best whatever that meal was that I ever had in my life.

After what we'll call lunch, I decided to drive down to the city proper to see what I could see. I immediately found something out about San Diego: all the cultural attractions seem to close down at 4. I parked down by the piers to find that everything was closed or closing. Seeing this was going to lead nowhere, I drove over to the Gaslamp District, which was more night-friendly.

I spent a couple of hours just walking around and working up an appetite again. One of the first places I went was down to Petco Park to see if they were offering stadium tours during the off-season. There was only one customer service booth open at that hour, with one guy behind the counter. I went in and asked him about tours, and he told me the schedule and gave me a pamphlet. For some reason, we got talking about the weather, and he asked me where I was from, and when I told him, he said his sister also lived in Hoboken. It turns out that his family is from New Jersey, and he said he was originally from Clifton, and I said I was originally from Clifton, and we had that small world moment. He did a hitch in the corps and ended up in San Diego, and he and his wife decided to stay out there after he got out.

Gaslamp
Gaslamp

After that, I was just wandering around all over the place, down to the Convention Center and then up and around Gaslamp, stopping in stores and sizing up places for dinner. Eventually walking around enough to be hungry again, I selected a place called Acqua Al 2 that had won all sorts of awards as "the best Italian restaurant in Gaslamp" or somesuch. I decided to eat outside, because how couldn't I in December? Most of the other people doing so were bundled up like they were going to a Packers game and huddled under the outside heaters. By contrast, I took off my jacket and asked them to turn off the heater by me as it was a little on the warm side.

Blueberry filet mignon
Not as weird as it seems

My waiter suggested a filet mignon with a blueberry sauce that apparently was a regional specialty in Italy. I had never heard of anything like it before, but to the waiter's credit, it was spectacular. Thus fortified, I decided to go back to the hotel to get some rest.


The Accommodations:
Comfort Inn & Suites
Comfort Inn &Suites

I was staying at the Comfort Inn & Suites on the big hotel strip by the airport. When I first got in, I wasn't paying all that much attention to the room, and didn't give it a good looking over until I got back after dinner that night.

And there were some issues. The alarm clock didn't work, and I found that was not because the alarm clock was broken, but because the wall outlet it was plugged into was literally smashed. A lamp or two also didn't work, but the biggest problem was the guy next door. He was apparently leaning against our common wall and screaming a conversation in Spanish (into what I assumed was his phone because I couldn't hear the other half of it). It was so loud that he drowned out my TV. So I went down to the lobby and explained the situation, and the person at the desk moved me to a room further down the building, and everything was fine. Hurray for customer service.


On Birthday Baseball


Estadio Casas GEO
Estadio Casas GEO, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010
Caneros De Los Mochis vs. Mexicali Aguilas
Estadio Casas GEO
Mexican Pacific League
Mexicali, Mexico
7:00 PM


Outside of the Game:
Truth is not an absolute defense, but we'll get to that in a bit.

It was only about two hours to the border, and my game was at seven at night, so I had most of the day to kill in San Diego. After the breakfast buffet at the hotel, I went back down to Petco to go on the park tour.

It turned out to just be myself, a family of four, and three guys who were down from San Francisco for the Chargers-Forty Niners game from the night before. As with most stadium tours, it was half informational and half marketing for the special sections of the park that most people only get to see on the tour. It started in the Home Plate Club (which at $325 per ticket wasn't a bad deal at all -- free food and drinks, the best seats in the house, and access to a bar that the players frequent after the game), then went through the press area, the luxury suites, and then the Hall of Fame bar in the attached historic Western Metal Supply building.

PETCO Park
Petco Park

The meat of the tour was down into the locker rooms, training areas, dugouts, and the field. Amongst the firsts for this birthday was the first time I had been in a MLB dugout, and the first time I went on a MLB field. Although the grass had been resod so we couldn't go on the field proper, I was in the on deck circle and the area behind home plate. And until you get that close, you never realize that the specs on a major-league field are just the same as the ballfield where you live, and that pitcher's mound is just awfully close to home plate to be throwing that fast at a person.

Contact list
Don't use this for evil

Our guide spent a good deal of time pointing out the differences between the facilities for the home and visiting teams, and how the former had it much better than the later in big and small ways. The home indoor batting cage was about twelve steps from the home dugout, for example, while the visiting indoor cages were past the grounds crew area, up a flight of stairs, and down a hallway.

After the tour was over, I drove back out to the piers to go to the Midway museum. By definition, anything made out of an aircraft carrier is going to be on the big side, but this museum was huge. It took a brisk pace all the way through to see it all before I had to leave to go to Mexicali. They had dozens of veterans working as tour guides and the like, and the museum did a good job of spanning the history of the boat from the late forties to its last service in the Gulf in the early nineties. But the models in the dioramas of shipboard life were a little... awkward, and the one animatronics they had brought to mind early incarnations of Chuck E Cheese.

Dummy
Hellscape

But both on the main flight deck and the middle deck, they had out the military planes used during the course of Midway's career, with several that had cockpits that you could enter. Boys couldn't run fast enough to get into them, and men of sheepishness that rose as a function of age also failed to resist the temptation to jump into the cockpits, while wives, mothers, and girlfriends looked on with a distinct lack of understanding. Veterans who used to fly the planes were around many of them, so it was pretty interesting to know exactly how your flailing around on the yoke and slapping random buttons would have gotten you killed five times before you cleared the flattop deck.

Eventually I realized it was time to head out to the game. I programmed in the destination to my TomTom, and followed its calming directions out town. The big task was getting onto 8 Eastbound. Once there, it was a matter of hooking a right at El Centro and stopping at the border. It was uncharacteristically raining as I drove out of San Diego, and the highway through the desert reached some rather impressive altitudes, so for a good portion of the journey, I'm fairly certain I was driving through the actual clouds.

While thoughts of the irony of a rainout in the desert flashed through my head, the rain had tapered off before I reached El Centro. I drove the rest of the way to Calexico dryly, and I reached the border at around 5 PM. And there was traffic, which was to be expected, I suppose. I had gotten a great deal of useful groundwork information for this trip from someone who does a great deal more baseball traveling than myself, and he had told me about a parking lot close to the border fence a little away from the main road. As I wasn't actually driving across to Mexico, I ditched off the main road and drove the back streets to the wall, found the parking lot, and parked.

It was a quick walk to the crossing, and the line was as far as the eye could see for coming into the US, but nearly non-existent on the US side. This wasn't for lack of people going into Mexicali, but for the fact that the Mexico border crossing involved going through a dangerously symbolic revolving metal gate, while the US crossing involved a passports and searches and the like.

Once across, the adventure began. I changed some dollars to pesos at one of the uncountable such booths right across the border, and then went upstairs. I also had some instructions on how to get a bus to the stadium, but I couldn't find the stop and wasn't feeling that confident on the procedure, so I just went to the taxi stand and waited.

And waited.

It was rush hour, and what taxis did come by already full of people and looking to shove in one more person. When I told the drivers I wanted to go to the baseball stadium, they all said "no" and drove off. And so I waited some more. I tried to find the bus stop and then waited some more. Eventually, an empty cab came up, and said "yes," and a short time later I was at the stadium.

Although the parking lot and outside of the stadium were poorly lit, I was able to find my way to the ticket booth. A pantomime and point later, and I had my ticket for the game.

After the game, it was much the same process in reverse. Using some vestigial Spanish and my phrase book, I managed to successfully ask if there were any taxis nearby, and then located and contracted one of said taxis to take me back to the border.

And then the magic started.

As mentioned before, instead of an implacable iron turnstile, the US border was manned with actual human agents. At this time of night, it was just a modest string of Mexican nationals and myself looking to get into Calexico. So to set the stage: middle-aged gringo saunters up to the customs desk carrying a gallon clear bag filled with papers, a towel, and pencils.

We start off well.

"Good evening." "Evening, officer."

He asks if I'm a citizen as I had over the passport, which I confirm. He looks at the passport, looks at me, and then swipes it.

And then it goes horribly wrong.

"New Jersey?" "Yes."

"What brings you out here?" "I wanted to see a baseball game on my birthday."

I've seen looks of incredulity before, but this one had to rival the one Joseph gave to Mary that fateful summer.

"You came all the way here from New Jersey to see a baseball game?" And you know, when he said it out loud to me like that, I kind of questioned the whole situation myself.

"You sure you aren't carrying anything else on you?" he asked, and the parenthetical "comma Mr. Drug Mule" was clearly audible.

What followed was five minutes of questions an pat downs and emptying of pockets and questions. It came just shy of my offering to show him the pictures of the game on my camera and the scorecard I kept before he gave up and waived me through. His partner just shook his head at me.

I retrieved my car, and settled in for the drive back to my hotel, most of it in the same rainy conditions on the way out, but with the added benefit of darkness thrown in. Just shy of one in the morning, I got back to the hotel and went to sleep, now probably on fifteen different federal watch lists.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Estadio Casas GEO
Home plate to center field, Estadio Casas GEO

Estadio Casas GEO would be very much at home in a AA or AAA league. It had one deep main layer of seating that went all around the playing field, with an additional upper deck behind home plate and concrete bleachers above the regular seats in the outfield. There was a row of luxury boxes behind home plate and some retired numbers (I think) out in the right-field wall. The field looked like it could use some love, but I've been spoiled by the preternatural green of MLB turf.

The prerequisite vending machines and concessions stands all were present, though obviously with a Mexican leaning. A mariachi band entertained patrons on the concessions ring behind home plate, and there were also two scantily-clad flagbearers who appeared throughout the evening. And there were two mascots, an adult and child eagle, that did the standard mascot antics. An on-field accident showed that the younger eagle wasn't played by a short adult, but rather a child in a costume. I wasn't sure how to process that particular information. The visiting team also had a little person as their ballboy, another piece of information I couldn't quite process.

The crowd was sparse for the game, and it started out with few people in the box seats and the rest scattered throughout the cheaper seats in the stadium. By the middle of the game, however, the crowd had begun to coalesce in the area behind home plate. Though I'm always bad at such estimations, there were probably about a thousand or so people there. The crowd was for the most part quiet and lifeless throughout the first half of the game, with the exception of when the stadium cameras were on them. This prompted nearly all of the featured people to jump up and dance. One frequent on-screen group was a party of early teenaged girls who were in one of the luxury suites. They all danced in such a way as to make the fathers of young teenaged girls lose sleep at night, but no one seemed particularly offended, and when the mascot visited their box later in the game, he was grinding it up with them, so what do I know?

The crowd started to get more into the game as the Eagles made their comeback. By the end of the game, they were actively cheering or jeering in the appropriate places, and made a good deal of noise when Mexicali closed out the win.


At the Game With Oogie:

Scoring
More multi-country scoring

The game was rather sparsely attended, so there weren't very many people around me. I was in the first seat of the first row behind home plate, and there was a family sitting in the luxury area in front  of me, but until the late innings when two gentlemen in suits sat down a few seats down from me, there wasn't even anyone in my row for the entire game.


The Game:

First pitch, Sugar Cane Growers vs. Eagles
First pitch, Sugar Cane Growers vs. Eagles

The game looked to be over almost before it began. The Mexicali pitcher couldn't record an out, and the opposition nearly batted around in the first inning. The pitcher didn't help his cause by booting a routing grounder to extend the inning, and the Mochis took advantage of sluggish early fielding to extend singles into doubles and go first to third on routine singles. The first half inning took forever, and it looked to be a long slog of a night ahead as Mexicali went down meekly in the bottom of the inning, leaving the score 3-0 after the barrage of hits, walks, and errors. But then things evened out, as both teams went scoreless for a long stretch, with the exception of a single run in the 4th by the Mochis on a walk and two singles.

Then Mexicali began to show some life in the fifth. A two out single was followed quickly by a two-run home run that put them on the board, but the following walk was quickly snuffed out with a strikeout, leaving the score 4-2.

The bottom fell out for the Mochis in the 7th, with Mexicali batting around and the Mochis going through four pitchers. A leadoff solo home run got things going, and the next batter grounded out for the last out for a good while. Two singles were followed by a pitching change, a walk, and another pitching change. The new pitcher gave up a double that brought home two of the runners. The next batter got an intentional pass, and the pitcher finally got another out, but it was a sacrifice fly to center that brought home the fourth run of the inning. The pitcher gave up another walk, before being pulled in turn for a new hurler that finally got the third out to pop up to second. But the damage was done, and Mexicali was leading 6-4.

Mexicali finally switched pitchers, and but the new guy gave one back on a two-out home run. He was pulled, and the next pitcher had a shortstop error put the tying run on base before fanning the last batter of the inning.

Both sides went down in order until the end of the game, giving Mexicali the come-from-behind 6-5 win.


The Scorecard:

Sugar Cane Growers vs. Eagles, 12-17-10. Eagles win, 6-5.Sugar Cane Growers vs. Eagles, 12-17-10. Eagles win, 6-5.
Sugar Cane Growers vs. Eagles, 12/17/10. Eagles win, 6-5.

My information source told me that they don't sell MLB-style programs or scorecards, so I brought my Scoremaster book that I used in Japan with me. Keeping score was a little bit of an adventure, as I don't speak Spanish, they apparently don't put player names on the uniforms, and the people working the main scoreboard can be, at best, called desultory in their duties. They sometimes didn't show the graphic for the player at bat, and when they did show it, they often showed the wrong graphic for the player at bat. While they did announce the players over the loudspeaker, it was fairly impossible to pick out the player names from whatever else they were saying.

All this lead to difficulties early on, as I was trying to keep up with what was going on the chaotic first inning while rusty from not having kept score in a couple months and trying to work out the intricacies of how the players were displayed. I eventually figured out that I had seen the uniform number of a player incorrectly as two separate numbers, and so had an extra player in for the visiting team. I managed to sort it out by the second inning, but I just corrected all the player stats and crossed out the extraneous player line. Sloppy, sloppy.

I eventually managed to get all the players matched up to their numbers and positions, except for names of the visiting pitchers (whom they never bothered to put up on the screen) or the starting home pitcher (for the same reason). To the best of my reckoning, the Mexican Pacific League uses a DH, as the player batting in the "1" position was not the same guy out there on the mound and didn't change when the pitcher did.

All that said, once I got the mechanical basics sorted out, there wasn't anything particularly noteworthy scoring-wise for the game besides an unearned run in the first and the complete lack of any double-plays.


The Accommodations:
I was at the Comfort Inn again. After hitting the breakfast buffet and leaving in the morning, I didn't see my room again until I got back late after the game.



On Happy Birthday to You, You Belong in a Zoo

Protest
Spoil-sports

Saturday, December 18, 2010
San Diego, CA


Outside of the Game:
I slept in a little on Saturday, having gotten in on the late side the night before, but it was more along the lines of getting up at nine as opposed to rolling out of bed at noon.

After breakfast, I had an unscheduled day to kill in San Diego. This weekend was the first appreciable time I had to spend as an adult in San Diego. My last time through had literally been several hours to see a Padres game and then nearly immediately leaving to head out to Phoenix for the next day. My only visit besides then was one when I was in first grade.

I decided to start at the zoo, which I had visited with my parents my first time though. The zoo turned out to be one of the only things revisited from my youth that did not turn out to be much smaller than I remember it -- if anything, the sprawling grounds were even much larger than I recalled.

Once again, some mild showers had the local Wicked Witch population terrified, and the attendance at the park was apparently on the low side, which was fine by me. Overcast and rainy days can be the best time to see the animals, especially the big cats and other African mammals that tend to sleep the afternoon away if it is too hot out. The day seemed to get all of the rain out of its system on my drive down to the zoo, as it remained mostly overcast, but did not much more than infrequently mist for the remainder of the day.

I started with a double-decker bus tour, and very few people braved the upper deck with me. The tour helped give me the lay of the land, and the next several hours were spent just tramping around the enormity of the place. While the zoo was laid out very well, there were a number of "trails" that overlapped each other in confusing ways that managed to have me double back several times, and always, always uphill. However, the zoo helpfully provides several electronic foot massage stations at regular intervals that will vibrate your feet into another dimension of existence for a quarter.

San Diego has a reputation as one of the pre-eminent zoos and the world, and it really lived up to the reputation. All the exhibits and facilities were top-notch and there was an extensive variety of animals. They even had a baby panda, and frankly those things need a warning label, because that kind of adorable can kill if you're not properly prepared. I stopped by that exhibit twice, separated by several hours, and there was the same Chinese family there both times, and I'm not sure they ever left. They may yet linger.

In the computer game, Zoo Tycoon, you can throw different types of animals into the same enclosure and wait for the inevitable fight to the death. With that knowledge, it was with extraordinary interest that I saw an exhibit that had a dog and panther-like big cat in it together. I knew the museum was progressive, but I thought bloodsports was beyond their mission statement. It turns out that this isn't for some vicious kicks of zookeepers that snapped from the pressure but an acclimatization program for the big cats. When they are in stressful situations around people, being able to watch the calm reaction from the dog apparently helps keep the big cats calm and prepares them for ambassador programs with schoolchildren and the like. So check mark for Saturday for learning something.

Teamwork
Not a death-match

Several hours later, I had finally realized why this place sold two-day passes, but I had also finally seen everything by late afternoon. There were several holiday events scheduled for later in the night, so I got my hand stamped and then walked down to the museum district just to the south of the zoo in Balboa Park.

I found out the rule of cultural attractions closing at around 4 extended to the weekends as well as the weekdays, but the Science Center was open until late, so I went in there. It had been a while since I had been to a nerd physics museum, so I amused myself with all the exhibits for an hour or so and then walked around the park some more before heading back to the zoo.

I watched a few of the Christmas performances and then took the skyride and buses around at night to try and see some of the nocturnal animals. Just before closing, I had reached my final quota of walking for the day and drove back to the hotel, grabbed dinner at the restaurant next door again, packed, and went to bed.

The Accommodations:
The Comfort Inn again. I again spent very little time there.



On Getting Out of Dodge

Flight
No delays now

Sunday, December 19, 2010
Hoboken, NJ


Outside of the Game:
And so it goes -- another day of packing up and heading home. After going to bed so early the night before, I got up relatively early at the hotel, washed up, finished packing, and headed down for breakfast.

The rest of the morning was uneventful except for one minor moral victory. When I picked up my rental car, I had opted for the "unlimited gas" option, so it didn't matter how much gas was in the tank when I returned it. Outside of the drive out to Mexicali, I hadn't used any significant amount of gas, and was cruising at about an eighth of a tank when I started out Sunday morning, with the rental return about ten minutes away. As I pulled out of the hotel driveway, the "get gas soon" light came on, and by the time I parked at the Budget lot, it was just on "Empty." So after many times of forgetting to refill the tank before dropping off a rental, or having to pay five bucks to top it off before returning, I finally got the exact limit of my money's worth on rental car gas. Surely, future generations will tell stories of this great victory.

I managed to return my car just as the shuttle to the airport was getting ready to leave, so I was at the terminal and through security with a good two hours to go before my flight left, once again avoiding the Freedom Grope. They seemed to be pulling every other person on the security line for the backscan, but I just ignored the one woman and walked through the regular metal detector with no problems. I then got a sit-down lunch, and remembering my flight out, I also bought a sandwich and some snacks for the flight home, and then wandered around until I found some rocking chairs looking out onto the tarmac, where I settled in for a good sit until the plane boarded.

There never seem to be any delays going home. Everybody boarded the plane, and beside a ten-minute delay to fix some air conditioning situation, we were off close to on-time, and the rightgeous tail wind had us scheduled to land ahead of time. Land ahead of time we did, to the point that the previous plane at the gate had not left yet, so we got to wait until it got out of our parking space. I was seated amidst a five-member family, and after being quiet as a mouse for the entire trip, the youngest daughter started acting up, and frankly, I was with her. The extra little turn of the knife was when the cabin crew started to try to bum rush us out of the door and complained we weren't going fast enough. I thought of pointing out that it wasn't our idea to sit around for five minutes as your people tried to get the door open, but I thought better of it, and just went out into the cold, dark reality of Newark to meet my father for the drive back to my apartment.


The Accommodations:
Home, sweet, Hoboken.


2010 Stand-Alone Trip

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pittsburgh

On Driving Someplace Westish

Friday, August 20, 2010
Morgantown, WV


Outside the Game:
I started all of this baseball nonsense with a in a proof of concept run in 2006 visiting my friend going to grad school at the University of West Virgina. PNC Park was the first stadium I saw on these trips, and it was the first next-generation park I'd visited. But this was all before I turned these trips into an OCD journey to take over a hundred pictures at each park, and I had exactly three pictures of my third-favorite stadium in the majors. So when the opportunity came up to visit my friend the weekend the Mets were playing the Pirates, I signed up rather quickly to re-visit this gem.

This was scheduled way back before I started my new job, and this Friday off was one that I had required as part of accepting the job. As I had managed to not be home on the weekend for the entirety of the month of August, I started the Friday with getting a bunch of chores done before heading out on the road about noon.

It is about a six-hour drive out to West Virgina, and it wasn't the drive I was worried about as much as my car. My car is nearly twenty years old, and I keep it around for driving to places out of Hoboken and the occasional road trip. This would be the furthest I had driven it in four years, plus I was having all sorts of problems with it right before the trip, including getting all my belts replaced the week before I was setting out. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I was embarking on this drive.

I should have been more worried about the traffic. Although I was heading out at noon, it was a Friday in summer, and I hit nearly constant slow-downs and stops in Pennsylvania until I got past Harrisburg. The drive in all took more like seven and a half hours instead of six, and even after the trial of the 16 hour plane ride to Japan, it started to rub my patience raw at the end. Still, my car held together, and I managed to get to my friend's apartment before 7:30 that night.

It was also move-in day for the freshmen (first yearers, whatever the hell they are calling them these days), so my friend had some concern the town was going to be over-run with students and parents. While there was a certain amount of expected house parties going on, downtown was mostly deserted, and us old fogies were able to grab a burger in relative peace and then wander around for a bit.

We went back to his apartment, played some video games, and watched the "Dungeons & Dragons" animated show DVDs for the rest of Friday night. Go Team Nerd.


The Accommodations:
I crashed at my friend's apartment on his pull-out couch. Not exactly four-star, but the price was right.


On Rain, Rain Going Away


PNC Park
PNC Park, 2010


Saturday, August 21, 2010
New York Metropolitans vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
PNC Park
National League
Pittsburgh, PA
7:25 PM


Outside the Game:
I ate breakfast at my friend's apartment, and after some more video game tomfoolery, we headed into Pittsburgh to kill some time fore the game. We had a lunch of bangers and mash at a Scottish/Irish pub that was showing Premier soccer matches, and then walked around uptown Pittsburgh for a while.

We stopped in a bookstore in the area and ran across a book called "The Baseball Bucket Book," or something similar. It was a list of 70 or so things that a real baseball fan should due before he died. What was disconcerting to me is that I had done all but perhaps five or so of the list (never threw out a first pitch, housed a foreign player, and a few other eclectic ones). For some reason, it cast a pall over my mortality. We stopped at a few other stores before driving across town to the game, where we managed to find the exact same parking lot we used the last time we came. Since we had such good luck there last time, we parked there as well before heading over the bridge to the park.

It proved as good the second time as the first, although the crowd was obviously extremely thinned by the rain. But we once again got out of the city with little problem, and outside of a misstep due to construction, we got ourselves home with few delays.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, PNC Park
Home plate to center field, PNC Park


I wanted to get in early, as I hadn't really done the whole picture extravaganza on PNC Park, plus the Mets were in town, so there would be plenty of opportunities to see them during batting practice. Even sitting in what qualifies as the nosebleeds last time, I absolutely loved PNC Park, and even the Pirates (with not much to crow about on the field) tout it as the "best park in the majors." Although I don't quite agree, number three ain't bad by a long shot.

It was "African American Heritage Night" at the park, and the giveaway was a Pittsburgh Crawford Hat. The teams would not only be wearing retro jerseys, but retro Negro League jerseys, as the Crawford would face the New York Cuban Giants. The street outside the park was closed off and a stage and tables had been set up for the festivities, but everyone had one eye on the sky, as it was positively on the edge of raining from the moment they opened the gates.

We took a walk all around the park, and the one thing that PNC can safely claim above all other parks in the title of "Most Statues." There are three around the outside of the park (Clemente, Wagner, Stargell), a Highmark Legacy area inside the park to pay tribute to great Negro league players (with seven more statues), a statue of long-time owner Carl Barger, and even a statue of Ralph Kiner's hands. As if that wasn't enough, there's a new statue going up sometime before the end of the season of Pirates great Bill Mazeroski.

We entered through center field, and we took a walk through the Trib Hall of Fame Club, which is opened to the public during batting practice and houses the Pirate Hall of Fame plaques in addition to letting people eat and drink with a panoramic view from center field.

The park is tied together with a promenade that goes around the entire infield and then drops down into the river walk behind the outfield with specialty concessions and a small children's area. The park offers a stunning view of several bridges and downtown Pittsburgh just across the water. In addition to the river walk stands, there is another open area with specialty concessions called "Pop's Plaza." Various topiary around the park also promote the team, culminating in the "Pirates" hedge in center.

The stadium is anchored by two spiral ramps that go up at either side of the field, providing access to the upper levels and quick egress after the game. Concessions stands ring the rotunda, along with some restaurants near the Highmark Legacy area (which has the Negro League statues and interactive displays on the players). While there are some club and luxury areas, most of the park is open to all comers, and it does a really good job of providing an amazing platform to watch a game while giving some connection to the long history of the franchise. In addition to the statues, the Hall of Fame, and the standard retired numbers, there are banners with historic moments from the franchise dotting the walkways.

It is, perhaps, a little depressing to see the World Series banners that proudly, but agedly, wave over the stadium. The Metropolitans provide me much sadness, but at least they didn't just break the record for the longest streak of losing seasons in all of professional sports. God bless them, the Pirates fans still come out, and how could you not in a park this gorgeous?

That said, the crowd was probably more Mets fans than Pirates, at least by eyeballing it. Part of the charm of the New York teams is that people from our area spread out stealthily over the country, then appear in droves when our sports teams visit. Certainly, a trip to PNC is several orders of magnitude cheaper than a similar venture to Citi Field (actually, some back of the envelope calculations show that it was cheaper for me to drive all the way to Pittsburgh and see a Mets game in better seats than it would be to get an equivalent seat in Not Shea), and you get to see the team in, frankly, a better park and much closer than you would at home.

Mascot
The Parrot

The Pirates fans did make a good showing of things, and when the rain did start coming down, it was mostly they that toughed out the storm until the game ended with the whimper.


At the Game with Oogie:

Rain
Some rain

As should be surmised by now, I went to the game with my friend. We got into the stadium right when it opened, and he stayed in left field trying to get a batting practice ball while I did my normal stadium thing. We had tickets for the "Pittsburgh Baseball Club" area, and we ended up meeting in there. You get your hand stamped when you get in (presumably to keep out the riff raff), and the area is a series of upscale concessions and sports-bar type places, including a pool room and other such things with memorabilia all over the walls. My friend was making friendly with the bartender, who was a student at Pittsburgh, who apparently are deathly rivals to UWV or something. It's all college sports related, so I can't be bothered to care.

At any rate, he held a seat for me at the bar as I tramped around, as when the rain started falling, the bar became a popular and crowded place, as it was the closest indoor area to the patio that lead out to the premium seating areas. Not coming prepared with a rain slicker as I was, he retreated down to the bar at several points in the rain delay to dry out and have another drink.

Sitting in the same row as us were a family who had a son going to UWV as well. They came more prepared than most, as they all had ponchos when the rain hit, with the exception of the son who retreated indoors. However, when the rainfall really got torrential, they bailed and left for home before the game was officially called, thus proving they are smarter than me.

I managed to deploy my clear poncho rather early in the rain festivities, so I was as dry as you reasonably be during even the worst of it, and I didn't leave my seat until the crew chief finally called the thing after an hour and a half.


The Game:

First pitch, Metropolitans vs. Pirates
First pitch, Metropolitans vs. Pirates

It was technically the Crawfords versus the Cuban Giants this night, but the rain was dedicated to putting a damper on the festivities. Winners of the first game of the series, this was of particular significance to the Metropolitans, as it was the opportunity for them to win a road series in the National League for the first time since last year. Even as they were keeping in the race early in the season, the Mets were pitiful on the road, and although they had handled the AL with ease in interleague play, they hadn't won a road series against an NL team all year.

Delayed by a downpour right before the beginning of the game, the contest didn't get started until 7:25. The Mets jumped out early with an odd run in the top of the first. Reyes doubled, and then made it to third on a sacrifice attempt by Pagan that the Pirates couldn't field in time, resulting in an infield hit. A shallow fly out didn't get the run home, and then Carter struck out -- but the catcher Synder dropped the third strike, forcing a play at first. Reyes broke for home, and technically scored on the fielder's choice. Pagan, seeing the throw home from first to get Reyes, promptly stole third on the throw. But he was stranded there as Wright struck out looking to end the inning.

Things were quiet with the bats until the bottom of the third, where the Pirates scratched out a run back on a double, sacrifice bunt, and single. That tied the game for a half inning, until Ike David doubled, made it to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a Tejada sacrifice fly, giving the Mets a 2-1 lead. As rain started to fall in earnest, the Mets shut down the Pirates in the bottom of the inning, and then put it out of reach with a David Wright three-run homer in the top of the fifth.

The only question that remained was whether the game would get called before it was made official. Although the Pirates managed a one-out double in the bottom of the frame, they otherwise went in order, making the game official. The teams began the sixth, with Reyes doubling off of a new Pirates pitcher, but the game was suspended during Pagan's at-bat, and called an hour or so later. The Met's Neise got a cheap complete-game win, and the Mets backed into their first NL road series victory since 2009, 5-1.


The Scorecard:

Metropolitans vs. Pirates, 08-21-10. Metropolitans win, 5-1.
Metropolitans vs. Pirates, 08/21/10. Metropolitans win, 5-1.

There is a scorecard now distributed in the free program given out when you enter the stadium, but I sprung for the $2 quad-fold cardstock one. Scoring-wise, there were a couple of doozies. The Reyes score in the first was something I had to look up, but apparently, if you make an out in the infield that is not a double-play, you get a ribeye it, so I guess a dropped strikeout counts. There was also the two-base E5 in the fifth, but that was a rough call because the field was so soaked at that point.

This marks the second time on my trips that I had to tally everything up for an official, but rain-shortened game. This was something of a blessing as the Pittsburgh scorecards have all the categories for a league-official scorecard, and it can take a bit to figure it all out and prove.


The Accommodations:
I once again stayed on the pull-out couch at my friend's apartment.



On Driving Someplace Eastish

Sunday, August 22, 2010
Hoboken, NJ

Outside of the Game:
As I had work the next day and was expecting a hell of a week at work, I took of right after breakfast. Also, I wanted to avoid hitting the shore traffic coming home that was sure to be clogging up the place late in the afternoon.

With the exception of some slowdowns during some occasional rain, the drive back was effortless. I stopped somewhere in central Pennsylvania to get gas, and I regretted it. It was definitely Red State territory, and I saw not one, but two, hand-made signs on the side of the road vehemently pro-Glenn Beck. Where are those people? Here, apparently.

Beside that disappointment and a little congestion once I got near the Holland Tunnel, the ride was painless, and I managed to drag myself into my apartment before 5 PM.


The Accommodations:
Hoboken, sweet, Home


2010 Stand-Alone Trip

Friday, August 13, 2010

Minneapolis

On Rockin' the Apolis

Target Field
Target Field, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010
Oakland Athletics vs. Minnesota Twins
Target Field
Major League Baseball, American League
Minneapolis, MN
7:10 PM

Outside the Game:
It was another early start for this side trip. After my last episode trying to get to Newark Liberty Freedom America-F-Yeah Airport, I decided to get an earlier start to my nine AM flight to the Minneapolis, especially given the dire weather reports coming out of that area of the land. I got picked up by my car service at 6:45 AM, and this turned out to be a prudent course of action, as the route to the airport was again beset with delays. What appeared to be a accident had the way backed up for several miles, making a trip of fifteen minutes into forty-five. At eventually arriving at and passing what turned out to be a horror show of a traffic accident, one could not help but be a little sheepish about any spleen vented as to the wait.

Flying Bus
Oooh, Flying Bus

Arriving at the airport with plenty of time left to spare, I discovered that this was a Continental Express flight, and not a regular Continental flight, so instead of leaving from the spacious and fully appointed Terminal C, we were leaving from one of the disused and misbegotten smaller terminals in A. Scrounging what resources I could from the paltry offerings, I found myself pleasantly surprised to find that I had a plane, a crew, and good weather to guide my flight on its way, if nothing but a rather sad-looking Hudson News from which to buy reading materials.

Except at boarding time, the concerned rep came on the intercom to announce that there were "mechanical problems," and we were going to be delayed at least a half hour. To fix said "mechanical problems" involved one rather uninterested tech sitting astride the plane engine opening and closing the same panel for a half hour. Now, I'm not a plane engineer by any stretch of imagination, but I was sitting right by the window looking out onto the plane, and that is exactly what this guy was doing: opening and closing the same panel, punctuated by getting off the engine for a few minutes, and then opening the panel again.

Whatever he did the last time he opened and closed the panel seems to have taken, because we were eventually allowed to board the plane about forty minutes after our original departure time. We were on a bus with wings, so boarding was quick, and we settled down for our just-shy-of-three-hours flight. Considering that my last flight was the one back from Japan, I could do the three hours plus delay standing on my head. I was actually amused by how short it was, and bordered on a punch-drunk demand to fly back to Newark and back to make this all worth my while. The grandiose plan died unspoken, which was probably for the best.

We made up some time in the air and touched down on time in the fair confines of Minneapolis. Upon getting my bag back on the jetway from underneath the plane (the flying buses make you check your roll-ons because they won't fit in the small overheads), I found that the drag bar on my bag no longer would extend. Now, I'm hard on my bags, and this one was already on life support after the beating I gave it in Japan, so it wasn't a great surprise that this one was giving up the ghost. Still, it meant that I had to physically carry it by the hand all through the terminal and the remainder of my trip.

After Japan, I found navigating around the Minneapolis airport (which I had even visited last year on my trip) as something short of a trifle. I mean, all the signs were in English, and I could go and ask just about anyone I ran into a question about where I needed to go, and they understood what I was asking and responded in English. I felt like I should start talking in Italian just to make this interesting. I mean, if they're just going to put everything on a platter, what's the challenge? This idea, too, stayed on the drafting table.

I called up my hotel and got a shuttle sent out to carry me back to the nearby hotel. I checked in early, dumped all my stuff off, and took a nap to sort out the early start.

After that, it was time to head out, and I took one of the hourly shuttles out to the Mall of America. The Mall was one of the endpoints on the transit system (the other being Target Field), so I had to get out there to get to the stadium anyway. I had an hour or two to kill before I had to leave for the 40-minute train ride to the game, so I decided to go inside to see what I could see.

Where to begin? Well, it is a mall, and it is in America, so no false advertising there. And unless some events have passed me by, it remains the biggest indoor mall in America, with plans to expand out into a parking lot to hook up with a huge outlying Ikea not yet park of assimilated whole. (This would regain it the title of the largest indoor mall in North America, currently held by some place up in Vancouver.) I'm not sure what I was expecting, but when you get right down to it, it was just a mall, and as someone from New Jersey, that wasn't so impressive. I mean, it is big and all, but the Orange Julius stands, and the Hot Topics, and the A&F, and the legions of bored teenagers are all the same. And it produced some of the most incongrous images ever, some that may never leave my head. That there were legions of overweight Americans on scooters was unsurprising, but watching one of those carts drive into a Victoria's Secret nearly broke my fragile brain.

While perhaps just a mall writ large, this mall does have an aquarium (as in a water zoo, not just a fish tank) and a Nickelodeon-themed amusement park in the center of it, all covered by a glass-ceiling. And it is a legitimate, full-on amusement park, not some carousel and bumper cars school-fair-cum-amusement park. There were roller coasters, and flying Dutchmen, and thrill ride, and even a log flume.

It was at said flume that I found out some disturbing information. It turns out the site of the Mall of America was the previous home for Municipal Park, the Twins open-air home before the birth of the Metrodome. There is an information sign by the log flume informing visitors that this is the site of Harmon Killebrews' famous home run that he hit so far and so hard that it splintered some wooden seats that were then painted red to commemorate the event. The red chair now sits woefully alone, looking down on the log flume above the plaque. Across the amusement park, by a Spongebob Squarepants ride, is a home plate showing where the Municipal Park home plate once sat. It made the occasion a little on the morbid side.

The Red Chair
The Red Chair

After some more mall rambling, I went down to the transit hub on one side of the Mall to get the train to Target Field. I got my ticket and sat down on the train, and I was soon joined by a middle-aged guy with a Target Field pass on his shirt. It turns out that he currently works as a VIP-relations person for the Twins as a part-time job. In his previous life, he was (or, at least, claimed to be) on the road staff for the Rolling Stones. He said that the stories of drug use were very much over-blown, but that everything you heard about Mick Jagger and David Bowie are 100% true. He also claims that the Stones won't play Minneapolis any more because of a city law that says any venue of above a certain capacity has to provide hearing-impaired access through sign interpreters or real-time video transcription. (This dead-accessibility thing is true [Target Field had a screen specifically for this], and the Stones haven't played Minneapolis since 1999, so make of it what you will.) He also clued me in to the flag pole they have at Target Field, which was rescued from the original Municipal Stadium and now flies out in right field.

The trip back was more eventful. There was a mad-dash scrum to get to the trains that is handled through a number of fences and whatnot. With post-game fireworks scheduled and seats right near the exit for the train, I managed to get to the trains at the very start of the flood. The trains were sardine-packed until we got to some of the more downtown stops where a lot of the college students from the game dropped off to go drink and whatnot, and by the time we had gotten back to the Mall of America, all that were left were just out-of-town tourists or locals who lived to the south and parked at the Mall.

The Mall. So here's the thing: as I mentioned, the Mall is a transit hub, so even though all the stores in the Mall close up around ten or so, the Mall itself stays open so people can travel through it to get to the North Entrance where all the hotel shuttles pick people up, even after hours. I got back to the Mall a smidgen before 11, needing to get to the North Entrance by 11:05 to catch the last scheduled shuttle to my hotel, or I'd have to call and wait for them to send a van again.

Mall After Dark
Zombies. Zombies, everywhere.

I don't think I had been legitimately terrified as an adult before this time. The Mall open but closed is... evocative. Walking past a back-lit Spongebob Squarepants statue in the subdued neon was enough to start to unnerve me. Already going at a clip to catch the shuttle, I started to walk even faster when faced with that abomination. And then, the hallways of the mall teaming with closed stores just tripped off every George Romero switch in my brain. My tasty, tasty brain. I proceeded to freak myself out, and once I was clear of all the people that got off the train with me, I sprinted to the North Entrance at full speed and burst through the doors, to find a long aisle of bored people on bus benches waiting for their shuttles. And so I got back to my hotel unconsumed.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Target Field
Home plate to center field, Target Field

Target Field opened up this year to replace the still-extant Metrodome that lies across town. I had gone there last year to see a game before it was closed to baseball forever, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the experience of watching a game under a Glad Bag. But progress moves on, and the new stadium (sans roof) was built across the street from the Target Center (Target as a corporate entity apparently owns a good 45% of all the real estate in Minneapolis proper), and both the rail and Skyway system was extended to meet the new resident.

The rail station drops you off a few feet away from one of the entrance gates to the stadium. I, of course, took the time to walk around the periphery of the place first. The outside was all well done, with statues, and tributes, and even a scoreboard telling you what was going on in the game itself. In Target Plaza, there was some baseball topiary, a large kinetic sculpture along the length of a wall, and statues of Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett, as well as a large bronze Twins mitt, the meaning of which I have yet to discern. There even was an official concessions stand (with the unfortunate name of "Taste of Twins Country") that was open to people outside the stadium.

Once inside, the park continued to impress. An ounce of thought was put into the place, which was welcome. The outfield entrance is actually above the playing field, but on the level of a rotunda that wrapped around the entire park, giving access to concessions while allowing patrons to continue watching the game. The seating was arrayed close to the action and from everywhere I tramped around, it didn't seem like there was a bad seat in the house. There was the de regur giant scoreboard in center, with  auxiliary screens for the pitchers and the out of town scores. The left field foul pole was inset in a sharp angle to give it a little bit of quirk, lying just to the left of a giant sign of the Twins team logo. The bleachers included a "home run porch" in left field that apparently is going to be extended up and onto the building behind it, in a nod to Wrigley's rooftop seating. The team store was a glass-lined temple to capitalism, and for some reason, the person watching the door insisted on high-fiving everyone that came in.

There were the regular concessions areas, as well as specialty and club-only areas such as the Twins Pub, and a big glass restaurant in the right field corner. There was also a "Budweiser Party Porch," much like Fenway, but I'll be damned if I'll ever go into one during a game. A "State Fair Favorites" booth sold a "porkchop on a stick," which was exactly as promised. The center field concessions lie behind a three-quarters brick wall that allows you to look onto the field while you eat your consumables.

Mascot
TC and Fans

Outside of the dumbasses (see below), the Twins fans were as I remembered them from last year. The place was packed even for a game against the largely forgotten A's, and the crowd was vocal and in the game. One or two A's fans even dotted the crowd.

The whole experience was very positive, and after one visit, this place easily jumps into my current top five in the majors (behind Wrigley, Fenway, PNC, and Camden Yards).


At the Game with Oogie:

Porkchop on a stick
Porkchop on a stick

Sitting the row with me was a confused-looking college girl. It turns out that the confused look was that she was waiting for her father to show up, who ended up sitting next to me. As is often the case at these games, we got to talking. I eventually explained why I was there and what I was doing, and that this was my first game in America after being in Japan. I'm used to the normal confused reaction, but then he asked what the heck my line of work was that I could afford such things. And the question sort of floored me. "I make people do the work to lie to people on behalf of other people" seemed a little too direct, so I told him interactive project management, which seemed to satisfy him.

Amongst the topics we discussed were the dumbass teenagers in front of us. In the row ahead, there was a group of two male and two female adolescents, and I have to say, they brought me quite down. As previously mentioned, this was my first game back in America after being in Japan, and I had gotten spoiled by the attentive and involved fanbase that was at nearly every game I attended there. These four were not of that ilk. They spent all their time trying to get on the video scoreboard, or going to get food, or taking the same goddamn posed pictures that I'm sure they take everywhere in their seats. ("It's nothing they won't grow out of in a decade or two," my row-mate quipped.)

I was content to suffer them in silence, until the eighth inning, where they kept continuously (and, to the credit of Minnesotans in attendance, unsuccessfully) trying to start the wave. After their fifth or sixth unsuccessful attempt, one of them looked back at the crowd and shouted, "You're all lousy fans!"

The point had, in fact, been reached. I replied, "What's the score?"

"What?" he countered.

"The score of the game," I answered. "What is it?"

"Huh?" he rejoindered.

The gentleman next to me and a few other people who heard the conversation started to laugh, and he finally turned around and did not attempt the wave again. Truly, a great victory for baseball was had.

The weather had been playing hide and seek with me for the entire day. While I was on the train out to the game, there had been another torrential downpour, but it stopped as soon as I arrived at the park. As I got dinner at a concession stand about a half hour before game-time, there was another downpour, but it only delayed the start of the game for about five minutes. The rain then held off until I was breathlessly waiting for my shuttle to the hotel at the end of the night.


The Game:

First pitch, Athletics vs. Twins
First pitch, Athletics vs. Twins

This was wasn't as close as it seemed. Though the A's threatened in the first, the Twins put two across in the bottom of the inning, one walked in and another brought home on a single. All stayed quiet until the A's lead off with a double, brought the runner home with a triple, had another runner get on base on a fielder's choice that erased the runner on third, and then had him in turn brought home with another double.

The Twins broke the deadlock in the bottom of the fourth with a single, a ground rule double to bring home the run, a sacrifice bunt to get the runner to third, and a sacrifice fly to get it home. The game went quietly at 4-2 until the ninth, when the Twins closer gave up a one-out double, got the next batter to fly out, and then saw his game-ending groundout to the shortstop go through the wickets to bring home the runner all the the way from second. He gave up anopther single, but managed to induce a flyout to center to end it 4-3 for the Twinkies.


The Scorecard:

Athletics vs. Twins, 08-13-10. Twins win, 4-3.
Athletics vs. Twins, 08/13/10. Twins win, 4-3.

The scorecard is a quad-fold cardstock reminiscent of the one from last year, just updated for Target Field. In addition to some earned runs calculations, there were a couple plays of note. The Twins right fielder made the third out of the first on a routine 8-6-5 put-out while trying to advance to third on a single, and in the top of the third, a leadoff triple by the A's was snuffed when the runner went on contact and got thrown out on a 5-2-5 rundown.

And on top of everything else, they had a vendor selling scorecards in the stands. I thought it turned into the 1940s again. He only made one pass through the stands and was heading off into the next section by the time I comprehended what was happening, but that's the only place in the majors I've seen that happen.


The Accommodations:

Holiday Inn Express & Suites
Holiday Inn Express & Suites

I was staying at the seemingly contradictorily named Holiday Inn Express & Suites at the airport. They let me check in early, and I found out the room I was in had two double beds, each with four pillows. This led to a very productive pillow fort in one bed that quickly became more pillow than bed.

However, the business center had only two computers, and both were burdened with "security" software that made it impossible to access any sites that needed Javascript and a router that seemed to only be notationally plugged in. The hotel wireless was up to the same standard, so suffice to say I had Internet problems, some of which would come to haunt me the next day.




On Learning Things


Skyway
Skyway

Saturday, August 14, 2010
Minneapolis, MN


Outside the Game:
This was another day completely unwritten. I had left myself the entire weekend in case what almost happened the night before had occurred. With a day to kill and no plans, I decided to just wander around the city proper and see what I could see. I was completely ignorant about Minneapolis, so I figured I might as well educate myself.

I briefly toyed with the idea of going to the Twins game that night, but the game was sold out (it was a Target Field miniature giveaway), and the non-Javascript using computers at my hotel wouldn't let me use the heavily Javascript StubHub site, so I just ditched the idea and left the hotel after breakfast.

This dumped me off at the Mall of America again. Before heading downtown, I spent some time at the LEGO store, because, LEGOs. There were a couple of build areas for the kids, and a few a'la cart collection areas. You could make your own minis (leading to a rather gruesome bin of minifig heads) as well as a select-your-own area that lets you buy bins of just the parts you want in the colors you want. I did not, for example, buy a bin of all-black pieces, because that wouldn't be awesome at all.

LEGO
Terrifying in any other context

After that, I took the train back downtown. Having no idea of what to do, I just started walking to the riverfront.  I eventually wandered into the Mill City Museum, which was actually very informative, as I had known a grand total of zero about the city, and the fact that it milled most of the flour in the world until the 60s. The museum itself is situated in a mill that burnt down in the 80s, and includes history on the Pillsbury and related properties. It also has a test kitchen where they are constantly making baked treats for the visitors. Other exhibits including interactive things for the kids on hydraulics and a "Carousel of Progress"-like experience in a maintenance elevator that went through the history of the mill and the work that went on there. It dumped you out on a roof observatory floor that overlooked the entire riverside. As a museum, it did its job, because I went out a lot more informed than I did when I went in.

Mill City Museum
Mill City Museum

After the museum, I stumbled onto a historic walk along the riverfront that took me across the river to the North bank. Along the way, I ran into a huge Polish festival and went into the college area of town. On the whole, the Mall of America, with its scootered Americans sometimes dressed in flag attire is what I expected of Minneapolis, but the city itself was a lot more crunchy, especially in the college area of town. The circle of the trail dumped me back on the downtown side of the river, and then I commenced to get into the famous Skyway.

For those who don't know, the Skyway is a series of above-ground gerbil tunnels that link up the city from the municipal buildings at the center of downtown all the way out to Target Field. This is imperative in the winter, as it apparently gets to several degrees above absolute zero in the worst of it. It is amazing how much time you can spend just walking around the habitrail on a Saturday afternoon. I eventually emerged again somewhere near the warehouse district. I stopped by legendary rock club First Avenue & 7th Street Entry (where among the various bands and performers ensconced in stars on its walls is G.G. Allin, perhaps the only such place he is commemorated anywhere), and stopped to look at the Foshay Tower.

The Replacements
'Mats

I wandered back across town and looked at the Metrodome, which is now "Mall of America Field," and all dolled up for the next Vikings season. One hopes there are no more indignities that can be lumped on the old place. I managed to walk all the way back to Target Field to see what it looked like from the other side of the walls during a game. I spent some time scanning some ghost signs in the warehouse district and then headed back to the hotel.

On the way back, I tried to get my flight the next day moved up to earlier in the afternoon. I had booked a later flight in case as a last resort I had to see the game on Sunday if Friday and Saturday were rained out. It took a little more doing than I had expected, but I eventually got my flight moved up while I was sitting on the train back to the Mall of America.


The Accommodations:

Pillow Fort
Pillow fort

I was at the Holiday Inn Express again. As part of my package deal, I got free access to the breakfast buffet, which is exactly what I expected it to be: various sausages, cheeses, and eggs in different combinations to achieve the greatest cholesterol affect. By adding in a wheat bagel and a bowl of oatmeal, I successfully convinced myself that the breakfast qualified as healthy, and I went on with my day.

When I got back to the hotel that evening to print out my boarding pass for the next day, I found that the Continental Website needed Javascript to do the printout, and that it needed a fairly robust Internet connection to do this. As nothing had been addressed since I point out the issues to them the day before, I asked them what exactly I could do. To their credit, they printed out the pass for me on one of their desk workstations, but if I was a betting man, I'd wager that the router still isn't plugged all the way in and that they haven't done anything more than reboot the machines since I left there several weeks ago.


On Goin' Home, Don't Cha Know


Flying Bus
Flying Bus Mark II

Sunday, August 15, 2010
Minneapolis, MN


Outside of the Game:
I woke up in my pillow fort on Sunday morning, and leisurely dragged ass down to the breakfast buffet for another cardiac explosion breakfast. I checked in at the front desk and found out that checkout was 11 and not 12, so I moved up my shuttle to the airport so I wouldn't be sitting around in the hotel lobby for an hour waiting for the next airport shuttle, went and showered up in the room, and threw the rest of my belongings in my bag.

A quick shuttle trip took me to the airport, and quickly got through Sunday-morning security. The TSA staff was either friendly or bored, and the woman checking my boarding pass chattily gave me advise on where to grab lunch in the terminal and where I could kill some time. Armed with this advise, once past security, I began murdering time. The drag handle of my bag was still not working, so I dead-lifted my carry-on through security and around the terminal. I even considered buying a replacement bag at one of the shops in the terminal, but even I realized what a sucker's bet that was and just toughed it out. I got a quick lunch at the food court, bought some pointless souvenirs, then went out to the gate and took a nap until the announcement to board woke me up.

Another bus with wings awaited to take me home. We left on time, and nothing much of note happened for most of the flight. We landed on time, and my father drove me back to my house, where I engaged in dinner and laundry before going to bed to get up for work the next day.


The Accommodations:
Home, sweet, Hoboken


2010 Stand-Alone Trip