Captain’s Log – Boston, MA

We entered Boston, officially ushering in the beginning of our tour of the original 13 colonies. This is the land of our great American tales. Tales about the harbor where rabble rousers of old rebelliously dumped tea and where Paul Revere made his famous ride – suddenly that enthusiasm of your old civic teacher starts to make a little more sense.

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson

But before we got there, we had to make a stop in Cooperstown, NY – home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This year’s inductees included Bay Area legend, Tony La Russa – Manager of the 1989 World Series Champion Oakland Athletics and founder of Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (“ARF”). But I digress. The history of the Hall of Fame is a bit interesting. After much debate about he origin of baseball, a commission was formed in 1905 to put an end to the matter. While there is some controversy about the dubiousness of the results, Abner Doubleday was credited with the invention of American baseball in 1939 in his home of Cooperstown. While the museum is very cool for the baseball fans out there, I would not recommend going during the summer months when the swarms of Little Leaguers gives the Hall an atmosphere reminiscent of Chuckie Cheese’s. We were off to Boston shortly.

Charles River Basin

Charles River Basin

We crashed with Kyle and his pooch Mali out in Medford, Massachusetts – home of Tufts University – and we spent our first evening enjoying our signature gruel and relaxing – Kyle even had some too! In the morning, we made our way to the city center and explored Boston Common, seeking out interviews. Will and I spoke with a young Vietnamese immigrant who was currently a self-employed salesman and his vibrant interview made Will and I’s day. From there we walked to the neighborhood that Fenway Park calls home, traveling by way of Beacon Street along the Charles River Basin which hosts MIT along its Northern banks. We explored what’s known as Fens Park to the south of Fenway and then made our way towards the ballpark for game time. The Red Sox were hosting the Houston Astros and Yawkey Way was jumping. We opted out of the game that evening but did enjoy a pint and a couple rounds of billiards at Cornwall’s where we fraternized with some locals before heading back to Medford.

Boston Commmon

Boston Common

That evening, we explored a bit of North Boston. Through the awesome connecting power of social media, we met up with a with one of the millennials we interviewed in Seattle for a drink at Tia’s. We explored a little more of that part of the city, stumbling on a street fair featuring an amazing a cappella group and a variety of street food. While Malc and I were a little annoyed that a pasta vendor charged Matt $5 and us $10 per plate, we still had a pleasant evening and retired with full stomachs.

The next morning, Malcolm and I went to get haircuts at a well-reviewed Medford barbershop. We both sat down with our tried and true Boston barbers, John and Mike. John was the most charismatic and enthusiastic barber that I have had the pleasure to sculpt my scalp. While he has, in his words, “never claimed to be God’s gift to barbership”, the sense of comradery that he has created in his shop is special. Feeling good and looking great, we had breakfast at another Medford gem, the Lighthouse Cafe – a diner the way it’s supposed to be, straight forward and affordable.

DSC_0357We set-off for a brewery tour at Harpoon – the first brewery licensed in the state of Massachusetts in 1986. After sharing some tasting flights, we began our tour at the sight of the original brewery. Breaks in the warehouse architectural showed where expansions had been made – perhaps left there to show the gains of persistent and patient small business owners. After our tour we grabbed some classic Northeast delicacies – lobastah rolls and clam chowdah! before heading back to Medford to regroup.

At this point, the team split. Malc, Matt, and Will headed off to socialize and I was left alone to complete my baseball fan pilgrimage to Fenway Park. The sky was a bit ominous, so I bundled under a waterproof windbreaker and tucked my A’s cap low. As I left my Uber, I headed to will call to pick up a ticket in bleachers. I was early so I acquainted myself with the stadium and shared some high-fives with the locals. Then I took my seat – number 12 against a guard rail at the end of the row in right field. The first few innings passed without much excitement. The 12 year-olds sitting a couple seats to my right were not much company and I quietly kept to myself and enjoyed scoring the game. The second time around the batting order, former Oakland Athletic Yoenis Cespedes cracked a two run shot over the green monster. There was much rejoicing.

Right field bleachers

Right field bleachers

I left for the bathroom and when I returned, the season ticket holders to my immediate right were now in their seats. They went on to tell me about some of the characters they had met in the loner seat against the railing that I was now occupying. We hit it off when talking baseball, Boston, and travel over some ballpark brews. The game was actually quite exciting and went to extra innings, but I had to places to be. Still, experiences like this, where for a brief moment you can totally connect with complete strangers are something to cherish.

I headed out – making my way to Courtside karaoke bar in Cambridge to meet up with the legendary Toni Bellante. I had posted my presence at Fenway Park on Instagram and, through the magic of social media, Toni, in Boston for work, saw and reached out. It was great to catch up with a great friend from college but I also learned something new.. When Toni belts “Black Velvet”, people listen. I met back up with the other boys back in Medford and called it an evening.

DSC_0396The next morning was a little bit late starting and, after dragging ourselves to one last meal at the Lighthouse Cafe, we went to Harvard Yard to conduct some interviews. Harvard lies in Cambridge, Massachusetts – a pretty little town with a nice downtown near the campus. Will and I had a great interview with a female MIT engineering graduate who talked about working in a male dominated industry and had a call to action for those of you with big brains – put that intellectual prowess towards worthwhile causes! And with that, we bid farewell to Boston. A good looking city that knows it, but a pleasure none the less.

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Captain’s Log – Rochester, NY

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Why Rochester again? This was the question we asked ourselves as we pulled out of Cleveland on a Monday morning. Chief Officer Will — always quick-lipped — informed us: “Because we have a place to crash.” Ahhhh, of course! On the way we made a quick trip over the border to check out Niagara Falls — and say hello to the City that elects Rob Ford as their Mayor (Toronto).

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Niagara Falls

Our experience at the border this time was much smoother than crossing into Vancouver and back. We parked the car on the American side and walked over, passing hordes of traffic. It was a quick photo shoot at the magnificent Niagara Falls and then back on the road. By the way, it costs 50 cents to cross back into the US — so apparently freedom ain’t free.

We arrived in Rochester for dinner around 7:30 PM. Our host, Xavier, and his roommates, had a BBQ waiting for us. We grilled out burgers and ate our fill. The house was home to three University of Rochester Medical students and one crazy, rambunctious dog, named Rocky. After dinner we transformed the family room into our command center and began uploading pictures, working on content, and general indulgence in WiFi.

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Rocky – We have a love-hate relationship

Early in the morning we awoke to Rocky bombarding us with kisses (and bites). After lounging with the dog a bit and making some oatmeal, we headed to the University of Rochester in search of interviews. We explored the entire campus and were able to snag several interviews. After being trapped inside for a brief downpour, the two interview teams (Phil + Will and Malcolm + Matt) rendezvoused. Our next destination was downtown Rochester.

When routing our GPS to a downtown, we normally choose a coffee shop. Three of us need our daily fix in the morning, and in this case a nice afternoon pick-me-up. We hopped in to Homer and headed to Java’s Cafe and loaded up on some (more) caffeine. Afterwards, we again split up in search of more interviews.

In our first round of interviews we had heard some startling things about Rochester being the “Murder Capital” of New York. The grim moniker and dreariness of the downtown didn’t give us the best feeling about the state of the city or its people. Matt and I chose to explore the Eastman School of Music in the downtown area. Eastman is a professional school within the University of Rochester and among the top graduate music programs in the country. Industrialist and philanthropist George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, established the school in 1921.

We later learned that Kodak used to be a force in the local economy, employing thousands of people. Currently, the company is in bad shape, having declared bankruptcy in 2012 due to the company’s general failure to adapt and compete in the digital age of film. We can assume this had a significantly negative effect on the local economy in Rochester. Other floundering companies also call – or did call – Rochester home, such as Xerox. But in general, it did not seem like a vibrant downtown. As one interviewee put it when asked about Rochester, “Everyone’s trying to leave here.”

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The Garbage Plate

However, we did receive a great recommendation from someone we met in Cleveland for a dinner spot in Rochester. Apparently, getting a “garbage plate” is a thing, and several establishments in the area sell them. A Garbage Plate is a combination of two selections of cheeseburger, hamburger; and two sides of home fries, French fries, baked beans, or macaroni salad. On top of that it’s drenched in chili or a sauce of some sort, depending on where you get it from. After much deliberation with Xavier’s roommates about the where to get the “best” garbage plate, we chose to eat at Dogtown. The garbage plate is actually quite delicious and totally manageable for young men like us; it’s also been dubbed New York’s “fattiest food”.

After dinner we stopped at Beers of the World and selected a delicious California-Style IPA made by Rohrback Brewing Company located in Rochester. Us California IPA-lovers were pretty impressed. Since we left dinner a huge thunderstorm had rolled in and was dumping rain on Rochester. Undeterred, we left to meet some of Xavier’s med student friends at a local watering hole.

We arose early the next morning and hit the road. We had a stop at Cooperstown scheduled for a look at the baseball hall of fame. Perfect for getting us in the mood for our next stop, Boston, home of the Red Sox.

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Captain’s Log – Cleveland, OH

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

We headed out to Cleveland and, after slight housing missteps in both Louisville and Detroit, decided to play it safe and get a Marriott in Independence on the outskirts of town. It was Saturday night and after unloading our things and making another batch of gruel, we made our way towards Ohio City – an area known for its bar scene. We were not disappointed – and not solely by the convenient, fee-free parking (Coming in at the number three best reason to live in Cleveland – behind Lebron and housing costs of course).

We were certain that we had seen the best craft brew scenes already – I mean, we live in California, and already stopped in Portland. But to our surprise, here in one of the seats of the Tri-Lake area was a bona fide kick-butt craft brew scene, right there on West 25th Street.  We started at Townhall where all pints are $5 and the selection includes all-stars like Green Flash’s West Coast IPA.  It was the Cleveland Brown’s first preseason game and we witnessed Johnny Manziel’s first snaps as a Brown. For awhile the crowd was intrigued but the hype was inevitably too great for the kid to live up to.  Our next stop was Bier Market and their pool table as we continued our running road trip billiards tournament while enjoying some more reasonably priced craft beers.  After two trendy-ish bars, we headed over to ABC Tavern – which looks like the kind of place where you’re going to be served a can of American lager and a shot of well whiskey and like it.  Malc and I made friends with our bartender, Jess, who made us some delicious Whiskey Mules and made some recommendations for our next day’s activities.

About ready to call it a night, the florescent lights of a food truck illuminated the walkway and like moths to bug zapper, our taco fate was sealed.  This turned out to be a very fortuitous as we made friends with Courtney and Kim while in line.  The two convinced us to “not be pussies” and grab one more beer.  With our manhood in question, we agreed.  After some chit-chat, we made plans to get brunch and interview the girls the next morning.

Maurice - he's a looker

Maurice – he’s a looker

Brunch was set for 11:00am and so we set out in search of interviews a little after 9:00am.  Ohio City was pretty dead at that hour on a Sunday morning so we took in some of the impressive architecture for the local middle school.  About ready to throw in the towel, we stumbled upon Sara and her Great Dane, Maurice.  Sara is a hustler and an advocate for healthy eating.  If she had her druthers, she’d want millennials to start the movement away from processed foods.  It was a great interview and it all started thanks to Maurice.

Feeling good about salvaging the morning with a solid interview, we head to Nano Brew for our brunch.  Courtney and Kim arrived and while Nano was out doughnut holes (almost a deal breaker) the rest of the food was great and we enjoyed having some people to share our tales with while listening to some of their own.  After brunch, the interview was conducted and we parted ways – them, back to their lives, us, into the heart of Cleveland.

Johnny Cash Tour Bus

Johnny Cash Tour Bus

First stop, the Rock and Freaking Roll Hall of Fame!  If you’re in Cleveland, you’ve got to do it.  They open with a slightly bizarre but also highly enjoyable history of rock and roll video and then you are released to explore the bottom floor which chronicles the history of rock in roll in different regions, and has interactive exhibits that show how various artists influenced their successors.  You can get lost in the place and after several hours, we headed left and broke off into our interviewing pairs.

It just so happened that the Gay Games 2014 was being hosted in Cleveland.  The persistent bass pounding prevented interviews but it was nice to see yet another example on our trip of support for the same sex community.  We moved on, away from the hustle and bustle of the Games and had a real nice interview with a brother and sister who were visiting from small town upstate New York.  It was nice to hear their perspective since we wouldn’t be making any stops in their area.  Fairly exhausted at this point, we headed back to the Marriott for gruel – and that’s where we would stay, effectively ending our stay in Cleveland.  Next up, Rochester, NY.

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Captain’s Log – Detroit, MI

Detroit – such an iconic American city and a unique case study of the effects of our changing economy. We were told to be safe, we knew about the crime, we had heard that the street lights were out and the police force was spread thin. Yet there were also rumblings about a revival, about blossoming neighborhoods of once abandoned homes, about the downtown business center and about Dan Gilbert’s vision for the city. And so we made our way into the belly of the beast.

Abandoned building and GM Headquarters

Abandoned building and GM Headquarters

We contemplated staying with a host (a local non-profit worker) in a part of town which he had described as, “depressed, but full of hard working people”. We went to check it out then asked a local police officer about the neighborhood – the officer did not recommend we stay there. So we canceled and took safe harbor in a Marriott. While this was the right decision, we all felt a sense of loss about what the experience could have entailed had we been a little more courageous.

The hotel was outside Detroit in the city of Dearborn – which is home to the largest per capita population of Arab Americans in the United States and specifically the largest Lebanese population. We enjoyed a great Lebanese dinner before retiring to our safe, starched, Marriott bed sheets.

Detroit Waterfront

Detroit Waterfront

We awoke well rested and ready to take on the city. We began our exploration at the Detroit river walk which runs along the Detroit River with the city of Windsor, Ontario lying on the other side. Will and I banked right while Matt and Malc took the high road up the hill. Our very first interview was with a couple in their late 20’s who, upon our explanation of our trip asked, “Why would you come to Detroit?”. We explained ourselves and they continued to tell us about the problems facing the city. They clearly hailed from a rougher part of town as they talked about 14 year old kids wielding guns and lacking any sort of moral virtue. While they were excited about the new mayor (Mike Duggan), they were only cautiously optimistic about a turn around and expected “30 years of blood sweat and tears” before the city was back on its feet. While most other people acknowledged the persistent problems – the lack of functioning street lights, the city cutting off water in poor neighborhoods – they didn’t seem to be as in touch with life in the peripheral neighborhoods. I’m glad we got to talk with them and hear their perspective.

The Riverfront area is undergoing some major investments and the area was teeming with an eclectic mix of people – which really epitomizes our entire Detroit experience; the American melting pot on full display. While certain neighborhoods bordering the downtown may have been more segregated by ethnic and socio-economic boundaries, everyone congregates in the downtown and the diversity is refreshing.

General Motors Headquarters

General Motors Headquarters

We walked through GM headquarters which lies on the water front, through their showroom, and out towards the downtown area by way of Woodward Avenue. Where Woodward hits the waterfront is the home of the city’s most iconic monuments – The Spirit of Detroit and the Monument to Joe Louis. As you continue north along Woodward, past One Detroit Center and the Guardian Building, you come upon Campus Martius Park where people gather to enjoy their lunch. One this particular day, there was a soul band laying it down for the hungry, over-worked masses. Just on the other side of the square we came across a more amateur musical busking operation and asked to interview them. They agreed, but only after the lunch rush. Phill and Milo were awesome and members of a band named, “The Vonneguts”.

Reconstruction being done

Reconstruction being done

We continued up Woodward towards Comerica Park and past slews of abandoned buildings. We were surprised to find out that there is actually a housing shortage in Detroit’s downtown area. The renovations are clearly underway and Dan Gilmore’s Opportunity Detroit propaganda is everywhere. I imagine if we ever return to the city, the Woodward Avenue that we saw will be full of posh apartments and office spaces. Comerica park sits at ground level next to a large, semi-circle open space. The area is also home to the Detroit’s Fox theater and is one of the hubs for the city’s burgeoning tech scene – it’s hard not to sense the potential of the area. After an interview with some start-up employees, we met back up with Malc and Matt for lunch at Lafayette Coney Island where we enjoyed a plates that entailed varying combinations of hot dogs, “loose” ground beef, fries, buns, and melted cheeses. The restaurant is famous for it’s proximity to another American Coney Island. The original business was opened by two brothers but following a business dispute, they split the shop and it’s been that way ever since.

Great Lakes Coffee

Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company

After lunch, we headed up to the Midtown area – home of Wayne State University. We stopped for coffee at Great Lakes Coffee – a hip, WI-FI hotspot coffee shop, bar, and liquor store surrounded by dilapidated brick buildings. I enjoyed an arabica bean infused spin off of Mexican hot chocolate – dubbed the “Sexy Mexican” which was probably the best hot beverage I’ve had in recent memory. We strolled around a bit, taking in some of the impressive medical school architecture and old cathedrals before heading back towards the water front. Matt and Malc had been promised an interview by Katie after she got off work.

We rendezvoused at Atwater Brewing Company for some happy hour libations. Malc and Matt conducted the interview outside as planned and we all sat down to enjoy some of the local craft brew – my personal favorite, the Vanilla Java Bean Porter. Katie was a great local to befriend as she told us about some of the different neighborhoods and local politics. She also told us about Detroit’s Purple Gang – the Jewish mafia of the prohibition era that would smuggle Canadian whiskey over the border. You may recognize the line, “The whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang! Let’s rock, everybody let’s rock.”

Art

Art

We returned to the hotel, made gruel, and cleaned up for a night on the town. We started the night at an art exposition – which was probably the most Detroit thing we could have done. Art adorned every wall of the empty brick warehouse while DJ’s entertained dance floors and local artists pressed t-shirts. Downstairs was another open art display with a live band and a brick cellar. Several bars scattered around the premises were stocked by Red Bull (albiet not sufficiently for the crowd) and we enjoyed another extremely diverse crowd – pre-post-hip hipsters mingled alongside dads in “Life is Good” tees and the rest of the spectrum filled out in between. The event was over by 10:30 and the Red Bull hyped masses poured into the street.

Our next destination landed us at an awesome bar named D’Mongos. There was a three piece band stuffed into the corner of the hectic little room playing everything from Marvyn Gaye to John Denver. We grabbed a small table in the back and enjoyed the band who shared duty with a juke box loaded up with only the finest Motown. Several Detroit Browns – whisky, ginger ale, and bitters – were enjoyed before we decided to get to bed.

Dilapidated building and car

Dilapidated building and car

The next day we went to the Eastern Market – one of the oldest open air markets in the the country. You walk past a live glass blowing exhibit followed by BBQ and a OMB (One man band). The market consists of three large solid-frame tents that are filled mostly to capacity with produce, flowers, and your other farmer’s market standbys (you’ve got your home made candles, honey, small batch sweets, etc.). We sat down for lunch at Gus’s BBQ and enjoyed a pleasant conversation with our server before heading out of town.

Before leaving the city for Cleveland, we made a quick stop at the Belle Island Aquarium. In this tiny museum, you get what you pay for, and admission is free. The museum focuses on the proletariat of the marine kingdom – the brown swamp dwellers, catfish, etc. While slightly anti-climactic, our stay in Detroit was eye-opening and if anything like the boundless energy and optimism of the people we met persists, there is no doubt the city will make a recovery.

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Captain’s Log – Louisville, KY

Gross' Burger!

Gross’ Burger!

The car ride to Louisville consisted of a lot of napping (a common theme). It didn’t take long for hunger to set in and we stopped for lunch in Danville, IL (very different than Danville, CA), two hours outside Peoria. Yelp led us to Gross’ Burger, which received Frugal Will’s stamp of approval. The walls there were adorned with tributes to the United States Marine Corp, which, coupled with cheap prices and delicious burgers, emanated freedom. We left feeling patriotic and full.

Since we decided to visit Louisville the day before, we did not have a place to stay. But after our experience with Pat in Peoria, we decided to wing it in Louisville. Confident in our abilities to befriend strangers, we arrived around 6:00 p.m. and hit the town.

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Giant David Statue Outside Proof on Main

Our first destination was 4th Street Live!, a very touristy and overpriced area. We grabbed a single beer at a dueling piano’s bar called Howl at the Moon (per our Peorian server’s recommendation). The only saving grace of the $10 beer there was the bartender, Alison, who was able to give us the scoop on Louisville. After chatting extensively, we walked back to our car and stopped in at a very hip place that has a giant golden statue of David out front called Proof on Main. It’s a cocktail bar lounge and restaurant that also has a multi-floor art gallery. After grabbing some bourbon we wandered the gallery, continuing another theme of the trip: cultural enrichment.

Next stop was the Magnolia Bar, or “Mag Bar,” and Dosini’s Pizza, which are adjacent to each other. We stopped in and ordered the special pizza (per Alison), which was later delivered to us in the Mag Bar. While waiting, we settled in to a game of pool (we have a running competition: Phil + Malc vs. Will + Matt). There was a guy and a girl playing at the table next to us, who did not get along. After an extended game, we moved into the main bar area where trivia night was happening. The next game was starting shortly, so we decided to make a team: The Turtle Senators (a la Mitch McConnell the Senior Senator from KY).

As Phil was ordering the next round, he invited the girl who had been playing pool to join our team. Her name was Cory, and she happily agreed. As her rude companion returned, we halfheartedly invited him to join us. We played for a couple of hours and thought that Cory would be the perfect person to try and stay with for the night. But before we had a chance to ask Cory, her tactless suitor swooped her away and they were gone. It was now 1:30 a.m. and we had no place to stay.

Alas, our trusted steed Homer would be our nocturnal refuge once again, but the humidity in Louisville was unforgiving. The next several hours were restless, uncomfortable, and something we hope not to repeat. We arose early and peeled our sweaty backs from the leather upholstery; tired, hungry, and cranky, we began the drive to Bourbon County to make the first tour of the day at Woodford Reserve Distillery.

The tour of the distillery was fascinating. They took us through every step of the process, and the different ways the flavor of bourbon is altered. Woodford Reserve Bourbon is distilled three times through giant copper pots (stills), and it is the only bourbon to do so in the country. After the whiskey is distilled, it’s placed in barrels that are charred on the inside. It is at this moment (once the whiskey enters the barrel) that it can now be called bourbon. There are also a host of other requirements from the government for Bourbon to achieve its legal definition.

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Aging Bourbon

Woodford Reserve has only been around since 1997 and is actually owned by Jack Daniels. The distillery they operate, however, has existed for over two centuries. Distilling on the site began in 1780 and the distillery building itself was erected in 1838, making it the oldest of the nine bourbon distilleries in current operation in Kentucky — although the site has not been continuously operational as a distillery during that history (the prohibition and all). In 1995 the distillery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 2000 it was designated a National Historic Landmark. Part of what makes the site unique is the water. It’s pumped from a well on site, contains no Iron, and is naturally enriched with Calcium from the area’s large limestone deposits.

The tour ended with a tasting of their two bourbons — Distiller’s Select and Double Oaked — and a bourbon ball. The Double Oaked was more of a dessert bourbon, while the Distiller’s Select was more a traditional bourbon. After the revitalizing injection of bourbon into our bloodstreams, we booked it for a Marriott. Long, comfortable showers followed. Once everyone had bathed, we got tacos from another Frugal Will approved eating location: El Taco Luchador. Next stop was the Louisville Slugger Museum.

The tour was pretty good, though our guide was not particularly enthusiastic. We saw how they can crank out a bat in 15 seconds, or have one created mostly by hand in about 30 minutes. The funny part of the tour was at the end, when Phil, Matt, and I all had the humbling experience of using the batting cages. After only fouling off a few of the pitches we left, convinced the machine was set to pitch for small children (the pitches were at our knees!).

Finally, it was time to get some interviews. Though exhausted at this point, we trudged around their waterfront park and the surrounding area. After a couple hours, and only a couple of interviews, it was time to return to the Marriott. We picked up some meat, cooked our patented Millennial Gruel (Quinoa, corn, beans, meat), booked our stay in Detroit through Airbnb, and passed out. Though we planned to explore one last neighborhood that was recommended to us, it didn’t happen. Instead, we caught up on some much needed sleep.

The next morning we demolished the continental breakfast and headed to Motor City.

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Captain’s Log – Peoria, IL

Peoria is a midwestern gem. We chose to head there because of the old adage, “Will It Play in Peoria?” and to get the feel for a classic midwestern town. Peoria, however, was bigger than we expected. With a population of 118,000 it is the seventh largest city in Illinois, the largest city on the Illinois River, and home to the world headquarters of Caterpillar, Inc.

Matt and Will interview two transplants from Dayton.

Matt and Will interview two transplants from Dayton.

We arrived around 4:30 PM. At that point, our long weekend in Chicago finally caught up with us, so lounging and naps commenced. Around 6:30 PM we hit the waterfront for some interviews. We were determined to get some perspectives different than those of college campuses and the West Coast. After walking around a barren waterfront we started to find some young folk. Matt and Will interviewed two 19-year-old transplants from Dayton who left gang life to better themselves at Bradley College. Phil and I spoke to JD, a 21 years-old father, who seemed mature beyond his age. After landing another interview with some break-dancing Millennial’s, we were energized and ready for dinner.

Fresh off some local recommendations, we headed to Sugar Wood Fired Bistro, three quarters of a mile away. The clouds were dark and ominous, and lighting flashed as we made our march to dinner; another midwestern thunderstorm brewed.

Over delicious Sugar Wood pizza we debated: head to Indianapolis or Louisville next? Our server quickly quashed that debate with a ringing Louisville endorsement complete with recommendations. As we downed our last slice of pizza and finished off our pints, the heavy clouds overhead began to let loose. First a slow rain, as we walked out, then 30 seconds later sheets of water drenched us, and our walk turned to a run. As we approached the waterfront, a dry oasis appeared, shrouded from the rain and lit by the heavens in all it’s glory: Hooters. We entered looking like we were there for a wet t-shirt contest. After drying off ever so slightly, Matt and Phil proceeded to order the worst beer of the trip, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy.

Our waitress, Nicole, the consummate hooter’s girl, pointed us towards our next destination for the night. A place called Martini’s On Water Street for their Monday special, half off Martini’s. After laboring through the pitcher of Shandy, we followed her advice.

When we left, the rain had abated to a soft drizzle. As we walked the short distance to Martini, we heard a loud meowing. With fresh images of our South Dakotan cat-friend Clarence on our mind, we investigated the source. Standing over a storm drain it was clear a cat was trapped somewhere down there, but we couldn’t see it. After trying to coax it out by voice we gave up – a half-assed attempt – and proceeded to Martini’s. As we sat down, we all agreed that we hadn’t done enough. So we left, determined to save this cat.

The number for the fire department was no good and we didn’t want to call 911. After exhausting the prospects of reinforcements we turned to the Internet. Of course, Youtube had a DIY-save-a-cat-from-a-storm drain video. Armed with a blanket and jerky tied to a string as bait, we returned to meowing storm drain. For 15 or 20 minutes we tried to coax this kitty into view, but it never showed it’s face. The meows, once strong and consistent, dwindled and weakened. After a loud vacuum sucking sound, there was silence. The rain started up again.

We returned to Martini’s, defeated. By sheer luck we sat next to a table with a Peorian native who was born in Walnut Creek but moved to Peoria in the fourth grade. After chatting a bit, he invited us over. The Peorian’s name is Pat, a talented artist who left a serious impression on us.

That night we imbibed with Pat at his parent’s home with other young locals, swapping stories and learning what it was like to grow up in Peoria, where most people never leave. Although we likely could have stayed with our gracious host that night, we returned safely to our Marriott via our stead, Homer, and its teetotaler conductor, Will.

Caterpillar 797

Caterpillar 797

The next morning we returned to Pat’s house for a one-of-a-kind interview, and then headed to the Caterpillar Visitor Center Museum. The tour begins by sitting in the bed of a Caterpillar 797 mining haul truck, the largest they make. It stands two-stories tall, weighs 1.4 million pounds, and costs $5 million. One of its tires stands 13 feet tall, contains enough rubber to produce 600 regular car tires, and costs $42,000; the 797 uses six of them.

By 1 PM we had our fill of tractors and decided to hit the road. Louisville – or as we later learned Luuu’vill – beckoned.

 

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Captain’s Log – Chicago, IL

Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field

We left Madison with 1060 West Addison Street Chicago, IL plugged into Google maps. Traffic, construction, and the lingering effects of Madison night-life slowed our arrival to the matinee game with the Rockies and we didn’t stroll into Wrigley field until the 4th inning. We sat deep down the third base line under the overhang. The old walkways hidden behind the grandstands resemble scaffolding and it’s fun to imagine how the styles of the fans that traverse them have changed since 1914 – when the stadium was first built. Bleachers sit atop the nearby buildings and expand the number of potential viewers beyond the approximately 41,000 capacity of the stadium. The stadium itself sits in the middle of a suburban neighborhood on the north side of the city and the streets bustle on game day. Even on a Thursday afternoon, the stadium was nearly full. Although spent, we enjoyed the game and were revitalized by the Cubs fans – a group known for its delusional, unwavering devotion to the team they love.

We left the stadium and headed towards Wicker Park where we would make our home for the weekend. The emphatic David Goldman was kind enough to let us crash at his apartment just above what’s known as the six corners intersection. We grabbed some tacos and beers at BigStar – the hippest taco joint in Chicago – before nap time.  That evening was spent relaxing as David played host to Ilan Benjamin and his crew of Lollapalooza goers and laughter and mirth was shared by all.

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock

The next day we headed for the Art Institute of Chicago. This has got to be one of the best museums on the planet. We started with late 18th century French oil on canvas paintings – they have quite the Monet collection.  I went to explore the armor room where I was impressed by the full busts of ornate metal plates that used to be worn by warriors of old. We then left the old world for some more modernist artwork which I clearly don’t have the cultural complexity to comprehend. There were some Jackson Pollock’s – which actually feel like they have some depth to them despite just being mostly paint splatter. Then there were some Pollock wannabes who’s relevance can really only be attributed what Will described as “a racket” – expletives may or may not have been edited.

We headed downstairs to Josef Koudelka’s very interesting photo journalist collection that captures the Soviet invasion of the Czech Republic in 1968. Also downstairs was the video artist Bruce Nauman who’s Clown Torture exhibit was on display – look it up.  The special exhibit was by Belgian surrealist Rene Magriette who is famous for his painting “The Son of Man“.  Once again, out there, but pretty neat. We spent the better part of the day there and still didn’t explore everything they had to offer.

The Bean - Millennium Park

The Bean – Millennium Park

Freshly cultured, it was time to indulge in Chicago’s true societal contribution – the deep dish pizza.  After an obligatory stop at Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) in Millennium Park, we sat down at Lou Malnati’s and ordered more than enough food. The pizza was good but the bruschetta was enlightening. The other boys finished their pizza but I didn’t have the stomach to down my last slice – a decision that would pay dividends around 3:00am the following morning. We left and carried our full bellies back onto the L (Chicago’s public transit train).

That evening we were ready to take on Chicago on a Friday night. We hopped on the L and made our way back to “the Loop” district. The Loop is the colloquial name for the main downtown business district, home to Sear’s Tower, and where all the L lines congregate – for the BART riders out there, it’d be like if MacArthur was in downtown San Francisco. We were on our way to a hip bar known as Three Dots and A Dash but Matt saw some friends from school in line for Bub City and proceeded into the country music bastion of downtown Chicago. We continued our trek on to Stanley’s where Matt’s awesome friends made up for the bar’s marginal atmosphere. After a nice jog to the L to try and catch a train that wasn’t coming, we resorted to walking some 2 miles back to the apartment – upon our arrival, my last slice of deep dish came in handy.

Wrigley, Chicago Tribune, and a modernist building

Wrigley, Chicago Tribune, and a modernist building

The next day we headed back downtown to partake in the Chicago architecture boat tour. This is well worth the $40 price of admission. Our tour guide J.J. lead us down the Chicago river and introduced us to the wide variety of styles that make up the Chicago skyline. The great Chicago fire of 1871 flattened most of the city and architects flocked to the area to rebuild. The city became the destination for architects and engineers which has endured to the present day with Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill calling it home – the architecture firm behind the Sears Tower, Burj Khalifa, and One World Trade Center.  The mix of old and new styles chronicle the changes in dominant forms throughout the years. We all thoroughly enjoyed the tour and our guide J.J. was quite the story teller. Matt had entered us into a 24 hour radio production challenge and we received the theme just before getting on the boat. In a stroke of genius, Matt recorded our tour and then reached out to the tour company in hopes of getting in touch with J.J. and making him, and the city’s history, the focus of the piece.  Matt left his number and we continued with our day.

We explored Navy Pier which juts out into Lake Michigan – which is like a calmer, less smelly ocean. We took a couple interviews while sailboats cruised by before returning to the apartment. As soon as we got back, tour guide J.J. called Matt back and enthusiastically scheduled an interview for 9:00am the next morning. The 24 hour radio contest would end at noon the next day but Matt was determined and we figured he would still be a fascinating person to talk to.

The rest of us left Matt in peace to do some preparation and headed the the hip bar we missed the night before. After showing the very well dressed bouncer our IDs, we descended under a landing of skulls and into the darkness. As our eyes adjusted to the dim green and blue lighting emanating from the stained glass fishing floats, we were directed to a table and handed menus featuring a selection of mostly rum cocktails and appetizers. We enjoyed the Tiki bar’s deference to its Bay Area forefathers as their menu cited two cocktails that originated at Trader Vic’s in Emeryville and one from Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco. Malcolm and I made our orders and enjoyed as the conversation flowed with great ease.  We befriended our waitress and got some recommendations that served as trade winds for the rest of our evening.

Blue Line on the L Train

Blue Line on the L Train

Back on the L again, we headed towards Logan Square for two dollar tacos at L’ Patron. While slightly out of the way, it was nice to explore another part of the city. Logan Square has a Mission District of San Francisco vibe with Latino influences and a sort of prideful grittiness. The wait was long, but the tacos were great and we brought one back to our hard working comrade back at the apartment.

The next morning we awoke as planned and headed to the apartment of one of Chicago’s finest writer-poet-historians. The four of us clamored onto J.J. Tindall’s couch and let the man tell us his story and the story of his city.  Check out Matt’s great piece that tells a little about the history of the city and the origins of the name “Chicago”.

The rest of the morning was spent tracking quotes and then Matt went to work while Malc and I went in search of a couple more interviews before another storm rolled in.  The speed and strength of these Midwestern rain storms has caught us off guard – we’ve probably experienced more rain on our trip then the state of California has had all year.  We tried to wait it out but the hour was getting late and we decided to head back downtown with our sights set on the Signature Lounge in the Hancock Tower.  This is the locally recommended way to take in the skyline.  As opposed to the $20 fee for the Skydeck in the Sear’s Tower, the Signature Lounge is a one drink minimum bar that charges about $8 for a 12 ounce beer and a view only partially obstructed by a giant support beam – still worth it.  We then returned back to the apartment for some gruel and relaxation for our last night in town.

The next morning we headed north on another public transit adventure out to the Heartland Cafe in the Rogers Park neighborhood for a farewell breakfast with our host.  Chicago treated us well but it was time to get back on the road and we packed up and headed out to see with our own to eyes whether or not it plays in Peoria.  Onward and upward.

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