Minor League Baseball, Major Community Insight

You know “family packages” are usually for a family of four? At a Salt Lake City Bee’s game you can win a family pack of baseball tickets – for a family of eight.

In the Bee’s program, along with the lineup and scorecard, are advertisements for local Mormon churches. The parking lot (where you should NOT park, to avoid the $6 fee) is filled with large and expensive looking SUV’s – useful for both traversing mountain passes and shuttling large families to and fro.

This is one reason why I always buy tickets to minor league baseball games when on a spring or summer road trip. (The other reason being that I love baseball more than traveling itself. And that’s saying a lot!) Minor league ballparks provide major community insight. The outfield walls will be covered with advertisements to local restaurants. Community events will be referenced over the loudspeakers in between innings. Friendly people surrounding you (because baseball lovers are the best kind of people) will fill you in on anything you might want to know about their hometown. From the ceremonial first pitch to the 7th inning stretch, minor league stadiums are “1-2-3” times better then local tourism offices.   

A couple minor league tips:

  • Peruse the concession area and enter any contests. Almost all stadiums have free giveaways. Since this is not a major-league crowd, you actually have a good chance of winning!
  • Ballparks are often in questionable areas of town (where land and property is cheaper), so be aware. Surrounding hotels are often not the best…but usually they are less expensive.
  • Minor league players are amenable to signing balls and programs. Come early or stick around after the game to score an autograph.
  • Check www.milb.com for a list of ballparks throughout the US. Call ahead to reserve tickets because some stadiums do sell out. 
  • Bring blankets and warm clothes. Even Southern California gets cold in the 8th inning.
  • Learn how to keep score. It’s fun, a great conversation starter, and a good record of the game. If one of the players makes it to the majors it’ll be fun to look back and remember the game where you saw him as a 19-year-old rookie, chasing big dreams.  

What Vegas Does Best

I don’t care how broke, scared of planes, or “not into craziness” you claim to be. When it’s time for a bachelorette party, it’s time for Las Vegas. Period. Here are a few tips on how to maximize the debauchery:

  • You and your crew of gals need an outfit. There are times in life to blend in with the crowd, and this is not one of them. The best outfits are a little sexy, a little flirty, and a little outrageous. These are not the trendy, skimpy outfits that will get you VIP passes into nightclubs. Bachelorette outfits should be a litle crazy.

  • Make a list. To keep things interesting, compile a scavenger hunt of sorts. The best tasks involved a challenge and require strangers to help you out. This is why Vegas is so great – most people walking the Strip will be more then happy to help you out on your quest. As tasks are completed, check ‘em off and snap a picture. Some examples…
    • Find someone who can sing a song from your college days (R. Kelly’s “Remix to the Ignition” is a good one)
    • Challenge someone to a foot race (if you are a runner. If volleyball is your thing, find someone to bump, set and serve a cocktail napkin with you)
    • Take a picture with a police officer, a showgirl, and an Elvis
    • Find a casino worker who’s name is the same as the groom
    • Learn how to say “bachelorette” in three different languages – find native speakers for this one
    • Interview an old couple regarding their first fight as a married couple
  • Provide alcohol. Stash a cooler of alcohol in your room and another one in someone’s rental car at the other end of the strip, for re-stocking purposes. Travel Las Vegas Blvd with your own booze and shot glasses. Offer up a swig to anyone who was useful in completing your scavenger hunt. It’s surprising how many people will take a shot from strangers…
  • Take notes on the nightly happenings right on that scavenger list. It will make for good reading over greasy food and coffee the morning after.

Brewing Beer in Edmonds, Washington

Seattle is a city known for dripping coffee and falling rain, but just north of the Emerald City, things are pouring on a whole new level. At Gallaghers’ Where-U-Brew, beer fanatics are brewing, bottling, and pouring alcoholic pints of their own creations. 

During my Wednesday night visit, an eclectic crowd had gathered. A young couple was bottling their specialty beer. Groups of friends were huddled around the huge vats, stirring their brew as they sampled someone else’s. A neighbor stopped by with her 90 lb Irish wolf hound to visit Sparky, the resident Dalmatian at Gallaghers’. Towards the end of the night, a church group requested that the Weezer CD be momentarily turned down so they could perform an opera piece. It was a jovial crowd, to say the least.  

Somewhere between a bar and a DIY microbrewery, Gallaghers’ is set up to assist wannabe brew masters. Recipes for different drafts, lagers, and ales are available on laminated sheets. Ingredients and scales are strewed around the counters. Longhaired/bearded guys wander around to help you (or possibly steal a swig of your beer), so you can’t go wrong.

The process is relatively simple. First, grains are steeped in water. The steam-fired copper kettles (top of the line brewing equipment, naturally) heat everything up, just as if you’re brewing a huge vat of tea. Then the grains are taken out, and malt is added. Hops are also added during the cooking process, usually at three different intervals. After much stirring and wafting of beer smell, wort is pumped out of the kettles and everything gets processed through a cooling system. Yeast is added at this point. Then the soon-to-be-beer hangs out in a cool fermentation room. This is where the magic happens, as yeast breaks down the ingredients, leaving a deliciously alcoholic beverage. Brew masters come back two weeks later to bottle up and take home their beer.

Gallaghers’ is located at 180 W Dayton St Suite #105 in Edmonds, Washington, next to the ferry docks. After bottling, patrons walk away with 132 12-oz bottles of beer for just over $150. Root beer, cider, and wine can also be created at Gallaghers’.

Half a Muffaletta and Half a Marathon

1/4 of a muffaletta - I ate two of themThe main reason I run is so I can eat more. Nowhere was this more apparent then in New Orleans. The moment my friends and I descended upon the French Quarter we began our 13.1 course meal of beignets at Cafe du Monde, Po’ Boys and bread pudding at Mother’s, and hurricanes wherever we could get them (after noon, of course). We told ourselves that we could eat all this because we’d be burning it off on race day. However, I think we’d have to run seven 1/2 marathons to cancel out all the gastro-delights that were readily available in NOLA.  

Our favorite dish was the muffaletta.  This Sicilian delight may not be what first comes to mind when you think of the cajun obsessed French Quarter, but it’s the sandwich I’ve dreamed about every lunchtime since. Invented in 1906 at Central Grocery Co. (923 Decatur St.), this handheld meal consists of thick Italian bread, salami, ham, provolone, and olive salad. It is too die for. And you actually will die of thirst unless you have at least two cold sodas available. Muffaletta’s are a tad on the salty-savory side.  

When I returned home to Las Vegas I went out on a quest to find an approximation of the muffaletta. The Jason’s deli franchise claims to have a decent muffaletta, backed up by a food network nod, but I was not impressed. I didn’t even finish mine. The cheese was melted, it had to many olives, it just wasn’t right. I longed to go back to Louisiana – just for lunch time.

However, a few days later at Nora’s, my favorite Las Vegas restaurant, I was sharing an antipasto salad with some friends and my taste buds immediatly went back to Central Grocery. Nora’s italian olive-provolone-salami salad is surely not a muffaletta, but reminiscent of  it. I guess the best dishes can’t be duplicated, but great food will always be around. And therefore, so will my running shoes.

I thought I would never travel

…and there was no way I’d ever leave the country. I was a teenager by the time my first plane trip presented itself. I was the world’s pickiest eater. I could only stomach four dishes, all of them decidedly American.

So when I got an email about teaching in China I deleted it with the same gusto one would delete emails proclaiming ability to enhance certain body parts. Then I made the serendipitous mistake of telling a friend about the email.

“You get to a computer, un-delete that email, and go to China. Do you know how many people would kill for free travel to Asia?”

He must have been persuasive because within a month I acquired my first passport, gave my credit card number to some Chinese educational travel agency (Hey, at least it wasn’t a Nigerian bank account) and I was on plane to Shanghai. Did I mention that I hated Chinese food? Including rice?

Thank God I went to China. I learned how to explore, how to suck it up, how to communicate, how to be lonely, and how to so thoroughly immerse yourself in a new place that you forget to be lonely. And man, did I get skinny! 

I was hooked. I’ve since visited three other continents, and I’m always yearning for that next trip. Maybe I’ll even go back to China this summer…

The Lure of Mountains

In preparation of my upcoming move to Seattle I was bringing a carload of stuff to the cheapest storage place I know: Mom and Dad’s house. My plan was a quick and cheap road trip: Leave Las Vegas Friday afternoon, be in Seattle by Sunday. Maybe even Saturday night.

The stupidity of such a plan was apparent as soon as it got dark. The problem wasn’t road visibility, it was mountain visibility. Peering out my car window I could barely make out snow capped peaks in the moonlight. I saw just enough to realize that I was missing great scenery. It was killing me.

I stopped for the night outside of Salt Lake City, and awoke to blue skies and those mountains. Completely blanketed in snow. Not exactly an avid skier, I hadn’t even pondered the possibility of lifts being open this late in April. But there was no way I could keep driving on.

I pulled into a Starbucks to look up Utah ski information on their free WiFi. Taking my obligatory latte order was a cute but scruffy looking guy with a sunburned face, save for the white goggle shapes around his eyes. Ah-ha. No Internet would be necessary.

Cute skier-Starbucks guy assured me that roads were clear, lifts were open, and pointed me up highway 209. Less than an hour later I was at Alta ski resort unloading kitchenware out of my trunk to get to the ski pants I had packed in the back. My goggles and gloves were still in Vegas though. I explained my predicament to the gals at the ski shop who let me borrow some goggles for the day. They suggested I search the “lost and not found” bin for gloves. Jackpot. Obviously I had to rent skies, boots, and poles, but for a reasonable $22.

 Alta was gorgeous, and surprisingly un-crowded for a Saturday, although things did pick up in the afternoon when the “ski-for-free-after-3” deal began. Alta runs this deal EVERY DAY! It’s enough to make me want to move to Salt Lake instead of Seattle. Or at least delay the rest of my road trip for one more day…

Tips for Running in China

Don’t stop: This is not an encouraging statement about perseverance. Literally. Don’t stop. If you do, fifteen Chinese people will run into you. Once you’re entered the flow of a congested sidewalk, maintain your pace. If you need to take a picture, check out a store window or consult a map, “pull over” and take care of business while flattened against a side of a building.

Find a track: I know, I know – running in circles (well, ovals) is boring. But Chinese towns have population density figures similar to a girls’ bathroom on prom night. It can be tough to keep up your eight-minute-mile pace while bobbing and weaving between crowds. Even running through rural areas can be tough because of all the strange looks and questions you’ll get. The Chinese like things to be in their proper place. Runners belong on tracks, not gallivanting between fields of rice.

Nanjing Road, 4am: This was my favorite time and place to go running in Shanghai. If you just have to go running through city streets, 4am is a good time to do it. It won’t be too crowded, yet you will still be in good company. All the 300-year-old people will be stationed in front of high-end department stores doing Tai-Chi. 

Don’t mind the taxicabs: Especially if you are female, taxicabs will pull over offering a good price on a ride back home. They may follow you for a ways, just in case you change your mind. Stay in Zen-running mode and ignore.