Monday, June 8, 2009

Best of the Rest

On this trip, a lot of stuff happened that I either forgot to write about or just didn't write about at the time. There's no real theme here, just a lot of random moments and observations that I thought were notable, funny, or Jesus-y enough to mention. Enjoy.

*The official speeding ticket count for the trip: 1. Driving from Cincinnati to St. Louis, not even 2 hours into our first big drive, we were driving near Indianapolis. The speed limit changed from 70 to 55 mph and Andy didn't see it. 76 in a 70 isn't bad. 76 in a 55 is. Whoops. Also, this gigantic distraction happened on the morning of our Pointersaurus attempt. But I'm not making excuses here.

*At every ballpark I went to, I bought a minibat. The cheapest was $5 (Washington). The most expensive was $9 (Cubs). The nicest paint job, surprisingly, was on the White Sox bat. The worst was on the Cardinals bat.

*I told Sam Klein that I'd write it up here if he ate 2 pizzas at dinner on Saturday night in Washington. He did, so here you go, Sam. Just for the record, if those are 10-inch pizzas (which I think they are), he would have had to eat 4 of them, each of them with almost a pound of toppings, to equal one half (one person's share) of the Pointersaurus. If they're 8-inch pizzas, then he would have had to eat 6.25 of them to equal half of a Pointersaurus.

*What's the highest point in central Illinois? I dunno, probably this giant cross. Unless there's an even bigger cross somewhere else that we don't know about. (Upon further review: nope -- it's the biggest. And not just in Illinois. In the world.) This wasn't part of a church or anything either, just a gigantic cross placed approximately 50 feet from the highway in Effingham, IL. Another speeding ticket be damned, we collectively slammed our semitic foot down and got out of there as quickly as we could.

*On our way from St. Louis to Chicago, while driving near Funks Grove, IL, we saw a series of 5 signs, each one part of a poem/message that began on the first sign. The signs read:

"When danger lurks / remember, Sonny / a rabbit's foot / didn't save no bunny /"

After some research, I can tell you that the website is part of the Champaign County Rifle Association, and contains such bits as: Of course, "Six Seconds from Safety" is no substitute for concealed carry of a gun in a holster – which we call "One Second from Safety"! 

*The number of Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn jerseys we saw on the trip: 4. One at US Cellular in Chicago and three in Cleveland. Here are the two that I was able to inconspicuously take pictures of.

*If you're on a road trip like this and looking for a gas station, stopping at a Pilot Travel Center is always your best bet. Is it because Pilot has clean bathrooms? No, not at all. Some were clean; others had 25-cent cologne dispensers (just turn the knob to your desired scent, put in a quarter, and stick your hand under the nozzle) and feces on the toilet seats. Is Pilot's gas cheaper than other places? Maybe a little bit, but that's not why it's so good.

No, Pilot is the best gas station because of its soda dispensers. Not only do you get a choice between crushed and cubed ice. Not only do you get to choose between 16 sodas, energy drinks, and fruit-flavored beverages, including a full range of both Coke and Pepsi products. Not only do 44 oz. sodas cost only $1.29. But the big draw is that you get unlimited flavor shots. 

Want a lemon-cherry-vanilla root beer? You're in luck. Hell, I'm sure if you wanted a 44 oz. glass of vanilla syrup on the rocks, you could bring it up to the register, pay $1.29, and be on your way. There's no better way to eliminate the diet from a diet soda than by adding 2 shots of cherry and 4 shots of vanilla syrup. There's also no better way to make it absolutely delicious. 

So congrats, Pilot Travel Center, you win the award for best gas station. Wear it proudly.

Other trip bests:

*Best Roadside Sign: In Wisconsin, for Bong Recreation AreaFurther investigation reveals that this site was named for World War II fighter pilot Richard Bong. The website answers a lot of questions about the area; unfortunately, what Dick Bong's parents were thinking when they named him is not one of them.

*Best Tourist Trap: Also in Wisconsin, the Mars Cheese Castle. Rising off the highway near Kenosha, this dairy fortress sells all things Wisconsin. Cheese, sausage, Wisconsin microbrews, pastries, more cheese, fruit spreads -- the Cheese Castle has it all. Added points for all the free food they give out, especially the samples of several varieties of cheese, best of which was the pepper jack. Andy and I made a lap around the store, feasted on some samples, ate corned beef sandwiches, bought some Wisconsin food to go, and then jumped right back on the highway to Chicago.

*Best "Welcome to" State Sign: Wow, Wisconsin is just racking up the awards. If I was an Arts & Crafts teacher doing my quarterly evaluation, I would definitely have to say that Wisconsin "went above and beyond." 

*Best Job Making the Best of a Bad Situation: Imagine you're a relief pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bad situation, right? Now imagine the whole stadium starts doing the wave. What do you do? Do you let your anger get the best of you and refuse to join in the fun? No! You cast off whatever disillusionment you may have over your current career path and when the wave hits the bullpen, you ride that baby for all it's worth. Then, as a group, you bask in the ovation you receive from the stadium, because let's face it, you guys probably aren't giving them many reasons to cheer for you when you're actually on the mound.

*Best Burger: Blimpie Burger, Ann Arbor, MI. Blimpie Burger is one of those local institutions where if you don't know how to order the right way, they yell at you. But by looking at the menu, you can see that the prices are pretty reasonable. 

The food itself is great too. The burger patties are small, but Andy and I both ordered quints (5 patties), which the menu says is equivalent to a half-pound burger. Any of the standard toppings are free, and adding fries (they serve the thick-cut steak fries) or onion rings is always a solid choice. Using my tried-and-trusted food rating system, Blimpie Burger scores a solid 3.....check it out if you're in Ann Arbor and are looking for the tastiest burger in town.

*Best Dessert: Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, St. Louis, MO. A St. This frozen custard stand, which has only 2 locations, both in St. Louis, has been around for decades and is a popular post-Cardinals game hangout. Head there about half an hour after a Cardinals game ends, and you'll be stuck in line behind 50 people wearing Albert Pujols and Rick Ankiel jerseys. The line moves quickly though, so you'll never have to wait for too long. 

The thing to order at Ted Drewes is a concrete, which is basically a McFlurry, but one that's actually made with quality ingredients and not rendered pork fat. It all starts with vanilla custard, delicious by itself, and then you can add as many ingredients that you want to it from a list of 30 or so. If you order fruit, they actually add real fruit to it, not fruit syrup. We ended up going twice, the first time as our dinner several hours after the Pointersaurus attempt, and the second time after the Cardinals game that we went to. 

The first time, I got a chocolate cookie dough concrete, the next night a strawberry banana one. Two completely different flavors; both were refreshing and delicious. Ted Drewes officially scores a 3-.....check it out if you're in St. Louis and are looking for a great dessert, or if you've been sitting outside in the heat for 3 hours at a Cardinals game and want the perfect way to cool off.

And now, a bunch of numbers:

For statistics' sake, I'm counting both Phillies-Reds games as 1 big game. Therefore, on this trip, I saw 8 baseball games, featuring 12 different teams: Pittsburgh (3 times), Philadelphia (2 times), St. Louis (2 times), Milwaukee, Washington, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Houston, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Cleveland, and the New York Yankees. 

On this trip, we saw every single team from the NL Central and went to every NL Central stadium except for Houston. Of the 8 stadiums we went to, only 2 of them were AL ballparks (White Sox and Indians).

From my starting point in New York until I got back to New York 16 days later, I traveled through 14 states. Andy and I drove roughly 1600 miles in a car, and I also spent 21 hours on a train and 4 hours on a bus.

I have now been to 16 of 30 MLB Ballparks and 40 of 50 US States.

And that's all I have to say about that. Stay tuned for some parting shots.

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