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Entries about professional sports

Racing Around Indy

STATE 28 - INDIANA

overcast 45 °F

Indianapolis is a great city. I had planned on traveling up to Indy to take part in the Superbowl festivities, but an even bigger event popped up—Brian is getting married! Megan, Greg, and I drove up to Indianapolis to visit with 4 awesome cousins and watch Brian tie the knot!

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Last time I was in Indianapolis, my cousins took me all over the city. We went to a Pacers game (Indianapolis NBA Team), a Colts game (Indianapolis NFL Team), and even an Ice game (Indianapolis Minor League Hockey)! Despite all that, this trip to Indy would prove to be even more hectic.

One sports complex that I didn't get to see on my last trip was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400. On our first day back in Indianapolis, we headed over to see the track and the Hall of Fame Museum.

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We first went into the Hall of Fame Museum. The largest portion of the museum was a collection of cars that had won or participated in the Indy 500 or Brickyard 400. NASCAR cars, IndyCars (open wheeled race cars), funny cars, motorcycles, and land-speed record vehicles were just some of the vehicles located in the show room (some from the early 1900s). Memorabilia and timing equipment lined the walls. A trophy case showed medals and trophies from past races.

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The museum was interesting (especially how they used to keep track of race times using mechanical equipment), but the best part of visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was driving around the track! Unfortunately we couldn't take our own car, or even drive ourselves, but we did get to ride the full 2.5 miles around the track.

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As you can see we were in a bus traveling about 30 miles per hour. Indycars travel around the same loop at around 230 mph, which is a lap every 40 seconds (it took us over 5 minutes for a single lap)! Even at our much slower pace, driving down the straightaway towards the finish line was exciting. The stands towered over the racetrack and I pictured them being filled with screaming fans. This picture shows us getting read to cross the finish line (you can barely see the famous Pagoda on the left).

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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway race track used to be made entirely from bricks (hence the nickname Brickyard). Early races were different than they are today, as each car carried two participants, one driver and one mechanic. We learned at the Ford Museum in Dearborn that Henry Ford raced some of his first cars at the Indy 500. Over time, sections of the bumpy brick were paved over with smoother asphalt. In fact, only 3 feet of the original 2.5 miles of brick are still exposed which is located at the finish line.

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My cousins have crazy stories about attending the Indy 500 and about how the entire area around the race track is a giant party on race weekend (my uncle had to have his spleen removed after being hit by a motorcycle in college). The parking lots were empty on the cold, rainy, winter afternoon, but we decided to get the party started and head downtown to check out the Indianapolis night life.

We stopped to eat at Steak-n-Shake, a diner that serves the "original steakburger". People in Indianapolis are crazy for Steak-n-Shake (which is headquartered there). The burger was delicious, but my milkshake was even better.

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Indianapolis is relatively flat (just like Chicago), so it easy to see the sights while driving around, like Lucas Oil Stadium (where the Colts play and home of the 2012 Superbowl). Indianapolis was also a planned city, which means all the streets were laid out in a grid, and in a city as huge as Indy, you get stopped at plenty of stoplights that give you ample time to take in these sights.

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We had a blast in downtown (the bars don't close until 3 in Indianapolis!), but unfortunately I didn't bring my camera out with me. I also forgot my camera to Brian's wedding, which was a beautiful ceremony in the Indianapolis Historical Center. Since it was a military ceremony, Brian and Courtney walked through the Arch of Sabres (a cool thing to see). Unfortunately I will have to trust my memory with the images of these events instead of saving them here!

Our final day in Indianapolis was New Year's Eve. It was also the first game between the Ohio State (ranked #2 in the country) and Indiana
basketball teams. Despite a million things to do before the party that night, we all took a long break to watch Hoosier basketball. Just like back home in North Carolina, basketball is king in Indiana. The Hoosier fans were intense and passionate, and later they were ecstatic when the Hoosiers won!

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That night, fueled from the adrenaline of the big basketball win, we had a blast at the New Year's party. Power hour, beer pong, minute-to-win-it challenges, and flip cup kept the party lively. This Indy experience was unique to New Years 2012, it's unlikely you'd be able to repeat it (although I'm sure my cousins would love to try!).

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In craziness only rivaled by the Indy 500 party, a royal rumble broke out (I guess that's what happens when you have a wrestling coach, former wrestlers, and plenty of others fortified by alcohol in close proximity). Even Megan got in on the action. Thankfully everyone's spleen remained intact.

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Our trip to Indy was a lot of fun, the trip home was not. It was tough to resist the temptation drive the 11 hour trip back home at an IndyCar speed of 230mph!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 10:54 Archived in USA Tagged museum professional_sports Comments (0)

Seattle—Music, Starbucks, and Flying Fish

STATE 20 - WASHINGTON

sunny 75 °F

My road trip through the Pacific Northwest continues as I leave behind the beautiful city of Portland and head to Seattle where I was meeting Megan. The drive was fantastic, passing by Mount St. Helens and the other giant mountains in the Cascade Mountain range. My excitement rose as I drove along the sound, passing the Seahawks and Mariners stadiums, and seeing the Space Needle off in the distance.

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We found a place to park on the south end of town and immediately stumbled into an outdoor music festival. The square we were in had a music festival every Friday, during the middle of the day! It looked like a crowd people had come down on their lunch break to listen to some jams. A gym advertising a hula-hoop fitness class was there as well, so I shook my booty to the beat of the music to show everyone how a real man hula-hoops.

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There were also some crazy statues, so of course we couldn't resist mimicking them.

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The two top attractions we wanted to see in Seattle were Pike Place Market (where they throw fresh fish around) and the Space Needle. After consulting a map, we saw that both were a decent walk away. We detoured down to the sound to walk along the water instead of cutting through the highrises of downtown. Near the harbor, a group of Native Americans were carving a totem pole. One guy was wielding a chainsaw like a surgical weapon to make fine-tuned carvings. Several other Native Americas were standing around offering to talk about why they were making the totem and about the process of completing one.

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A delicious smell made its way to our nostrils, overpowering the salty-fishy smell of a wharf. Listening to the rumbling of our stomachs, we got a table overlooking the water. The pacific northwest is known for the dungeness crab and for smoked salmon, so we ordered one of each. Along with some local beers, it was a near perfect lunch.

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After lunch, we headed away from the water and up towards Pike Place Market (and I literally mean up). The city rises sharply from the shorefront, and I felt like we were mountain climbing to get up the steep incline. Pike Place Market is series of shops built into the side of the hill, with a farmers market on the top at the street level. Megan and I stopped in some of the photography and knick-knack stores, but we wanted to get to the top and see the real action in the farmers market. I wanted to see fish flying through the air!

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We walked out into the crowded street level and were presented with rows of fruit stands, stacks of fresh fish, and colorful arrangements of flowers. We watched people pick out their fish and the fishmonger heave it to the back to get wrapped up.

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The flower shops were amazing. Giant arrangements of colorful and aromatic flowers were listed for $5 and $10 (super-cheap compared to the flower shops back in Raleigh). People were buying them as quickly as the ladies could make them. Not wanting to carry around a full bouquet, I bought Megan a single pink daisy.

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We continued through the market, sampling fresh cherries and other fruit from the stands. Megan tried a variety of honeys. We looked at all types of arts and crafts. It was a pretty cool atmosphere, enhanced by the view of the sound in the background and the music being played in the street.

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Before leaving Pike Place Market, we stopped by the original Starbucks located in the middle of the plaza. The line reached out the door and down the street (which was ironic, because the Starbucks down the block sold the same coffee with no wait). Megan stopped for a picture at the front door, but we passed on waiting in line.

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Leaving Pike Place Market, we headed towards the Space Needle. Now that the tallest skyscrapers were behind us, the Space Needle was easily visible.

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The Space Needle is located on the old fairgrounds, so there was a big park around the structure. Several sculptures were on display. One looked like a kids playground slide viewed through a kaleidoscope.

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It was over $20 a person to get to the top of the tower, so Megan and I opted to pay to go into the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum adjacent to the Space Needle (it seemed like a weird combination to put Music and Science Fiction together in one museum). The first exhibit was all about Avatar, James Cameron's big-budget 3D movie. They had masks and props from the movie, as well as an in-depth look at the technology used to make the movie. People could recreate scenes using green-screens or use the virtual 360° filming technology to film their own scene.

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Exiting the Avatar exhibit, we walked into a student group giving a percussion concert of Caribbean style music. The students wore tie-dye clothing and Rastafarian headgear while playing steel drums and bongos. The music sounded cool, but seemed out of place in Seattle. Going further into the museum there was a giant guitar-cyclone sculpture. The craziest part, it actually played music!

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Some of the electric guitars were wired with servos that plucked the strings. The music came out of speakers hidden in the sculpture. In this part of the museum, one whole room was dedicated to Jimmy Hendrix, a Seattle native. The next room over was dedicated to grunge music. Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam were only a few of the featured artists. The display did a great job showing how the bands were all interconnected to create a "new sound" originating from Seattle. There were booths set up where you could listen to music from all the grunge-era artists (pretty much an exact copy of what was already on my iPod).

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We went upstairs to the sound studio, a series of rooms that allowed you to create your own music. They had a guitar, bass, and drum set up so that you could follow tutorials to learn how to play (and even join in with the others to actually play a song). Megan went through some of the tutorials on the guitar while I banged on the drums.

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A series of private recording rooms surrounded the instruments, so you could grab some friends and slip off to record a CD while in the museum. Megan and I sang a duet in one of the booths, it was pretty fun messing with all the audio sound effects.

Sitting right next to the sound studio was a giant exhibit dedicated to Battlestar Galactica. Megan tried to show her geekiness, but unfortunately she had the wrong show in mind (give her a break, she just started watching Star Trek).

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Unfortunately I had never watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica, but they did a good job explaining the premise of the show and how the 70s version is different from the 2000s version. Costumes and ship replicas used in the show were on display, along with with very lifelike character representations. They had some interactive displays too, like one where you acted as the captain in deciding how the crew reacted to a particular situation. It was supposed to show how the show handled contemporary moral issues in a futuristic setting (is it right to torture an enemy to save lives, do you break a treaty to save your ship, etc).

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It was getting a little late (Megan was still recuperating from the 3 hour time difference), so we started walking back to the car. We passed the Space Needle again and continued through downtown. Megan's flower was getting droopy from being out of water for so long, so we began to look for a place to grab some dinner for us and water for the flower.

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As we got closer to the car, I noticed a lot of foot traffic passing us. Everyone was wearing Sonics jerseys, which seems a little odd (the Seattle NBA team, the SuperSonics, moved to Oklahoma City a few years ago). I realized that everyone was walking towards the Mariners stadium for the beginning of the baseball game. We forgot about dinner and hustled to the stadium to make the opening pitch.

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Everyone was wearing Sonics jerseys because they were honoring the Sonics at the baseball game. Greats like Nate McMillan and Gary Payton were in attendance and generated about the only cheers of the game. The Mariners are doing horrible this year, and were down 9-0 by the end of the 3rd inning. I still loved every minute of the game, there is nothing like watching baseball on a summer evening.

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From our seats we could see the football stadium and the city skyline. It was a pretty cool view.

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After the game it was past 3am on the east coast, and Megan was struggling to stay awake. I had picked a hotel in Redmond, a suburb of Seattle, so we could visit the campus of Microsoft. They have a Microsoft Museum, but unfortunately it closes on the weekends. We still walked around the campus, and I posed for a picture on the company sign.

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We still had a lot of Washington to see, but it was going to be the part along the interstate. We were driving to Idaho for the next leg of the road trip. To keep me alert on the drive, I bought my first ever drink from Starbucks (where else to get my first except in Seattle!).

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:29 Archived in USA Tagged museum local_food professional_sports Comments (0)

Portland—Where Great Beer Encouraged Me to Join the Army!

OREGON - PART II

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I am in Portland for a week-long Open Source Conference called OSCON held at the Oregon Conference Center (pretty cool building shown in the picture below). Basically, take a couple thousand of the nerdiest people in the country, confine them in an enclosed area, and let them discuss topics that use more acronyms than the US military. It is great to be able to speak geek with others (most of my friends and coworkers shy away from technical conversations), but after 10 hours listening to presentations and participating in group sessions, I was ready to de-geek.

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Geeks know a lot of useless information (like the max warp capacity on the Enterprise), but thankfully they also know a lot about good beer. I was able to score some great recommendations on where to go when the conference sessions closed down for the day. The first recommendation was Henry's Taproom in the Pearl District (the hip section of town with loads of restaurants, bars, and shopping). The hotel I was in was located a couple miles from the center of downtown. Portland has an awesome, free light-rail system that serves the downtown area. However, after sitting down all day, I preferred to walk across the bridge to see the city by foot.

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This was the view I had every evening as I walked to grab dinner downtown. Just like the view from the riverwalk in Milwaukee and the incline in Pittsburgh, the river accented the downtown skyscrapers nicely.

Henry's looked pretty crowded, so I killed some time walking around the Pearl District. The largest independent used bookstore in the world, Powell's Bookstore, is located around the corner. The bookstore is so large, it takes up an entire city block by itself! I decided to go take a look around, but navigating a bookstore this large proved a little difficult. There was row after row after row of book shelves, each one reaching to the ceiling. The bookstore was separated into multiple floors, and each room was color coded (although it didn't really help me to know which was the Rose room and which was the Orange room). I wasn't looking for anything particular, so I just meandered through the store.

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I wandered up to the travel section to read up on Washington, Idaho, and Montana, the next few states I would be visiting, when my stomach flipped. I realized that I was carrying my used paperback book in my backpack, and there was no way to prove it that it was actually mine. I had scoffed at the giant signs at all the entrances indicating that "ALL BAGS MUST BE CHECKED IN", and the clerk gave me a weird look when I just walked past him. I was screwed. I was going to have to buy my own book for the second time. I walked through the store trying to find an exit that was loosely guarded. I'm sure that walking quickly from exit to exit, starting to sweat profusely, with a giant backpack on my back only drew more attention to me. After circling the store for 20 minutes, I decided that I would just have to make a break for it. I took a couple deep breaths, and then walked toward the rear exit while trying to wear an innocent look on my face. I looked down so that I wouldn't make eye contact with the clerk at the register, and prepared myself to be tackled from behind as the security guard ran me down. I burst out the door, and breathed in the sweet air of freedom. I was ready for a beer now.

Henry's Taproom is the type of place where they have 100 different beers on tap. As if that wasn't enough, they also had a ring of ice built into the bar to keep your beer cold! It was awesome. I took a seat at the bar, looked at the beer menu, and decided on the Rogue Double-Chocolate Stout. I ordered a bratwurst with bacon and bleu cheese, and opened the freshly-liberated paperback. I ended up going through another 4 local porters and stouts they had on draft before deciding it was finally time to walk back for the night. Good beer, a delicious bratwurst, and a book that only had to be bought once was a great way to spend the evening.

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I repeated this process for the next couple nights (minus the terrifying Powell's Book Store episode). During the day, I scouted recommendations on good bars to try out for dinner. I ended up walking to a different part of downtown every night. One night I ate outside at the Green Dragon, while another night I ate a local brewery called McMenamins. Portland definitely had good beer figured out.

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The highlight of the entire trip in Portland was the night I attended the MLS game. The Portland Timbers were taking on Club Atlético Independiente from Argentina. I had tickets to stand in the section reserved for the Timbers Army, the animated supporters of the Timbers. I arrived 30 minutes before the game, got a beer, and got as close to the field as I could. The Timbers Army takes up the entire endzone of the stadium, and it was getting pretty crowded. The members of the Timber Army were dedicated. By the time I found a seat, everyone was already standing and doing the organized cheers. Everyone had green on, and nearly everyone had one of the Timbers scarves to wave around. Their energy was infectious, and I as I picked up on the cheers, I joined in the cheering and dancing.

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Here is a video of everyone dancing while singing the Tetris Theme.

The cheers didn't ever stop. The drums, trumpets, and cheer leaders went from one chant to another. It was loud 100% of the time, but that didn't prepare me for when the timbers scored. The place went beserk. It was pandemonium, everyone acted like they had just won the $100 million lottery.

Just as the crowd settled back into the normal routine of chants and dances, they scored again. Pandemonium again. The noise was deafening. The Timbers were up 2-0, and apparently life couldn't get any better. After each goal, a giant lumberjack named Timber Joey saws a section of a log with the largest chainsaw ever built. He then parades around with it while everyone cheers.

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No one left the stands until 30 minutes after the game ended. The players came over, applauded the fans, hoisted the cut sections of timber, and trotted off the field. The Timbers match had been a blast, and although I attended by myself, I never felt like I was cheering alone.

Portland had been a great time, but it was time to leave the beer, the geeks, and the city. I was off to Seattle to meet up with Megan.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 06:57 Archived in USA Tagged beer local_food professional_sports Comments (0)

Conspiracy? Or Plenty of Bull? I found both in Texas.

STATE 10 - TEXAS

sunny 65 °F

Was there a conspiracy behind the assassination of JFK? Can Texas BBQ even compare to North Carolina BBQ? Who shot J.R.? Time to cowboy up and head to the second largest state in the US (in both population and size), I'm headed to Dallas, Texas.

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Being halfway across the country from me, most of what I know about Texas comes from movies, tv shows, and country songs. I know you can shoot someone for just stepping on your property. I know that there is oil in Texas. I know that if you are going to play in Texas, you better have a fiddle in your band. Thankfully I have friends and family that live in Texas and were able to show me a lot of what north central Texas had to offer.

I arrived in the early evening on Thursday where my good friend Jason picked me up from the airport. We drove towards downtown Dallas to check into our hotel. After dropping off the bags, we hopped in a cab, and headed to the closest bar district, McKinney Ave. We found a pub that looked about our style, went in, and had a couple Texas-brewed Shiner Bocks. After the second round, we noticed a peculiar looking pool game stuck in the corner of the bar. The bartender told us it was free to play if we could figure out how to get the balls to come out. Being engineers, and also encouraged by a couple beers, we took that as a challenge. If necessary, we would take the whole table apart. The table looked to be at least 50 years old and somewhat rickety. Thankfully, a simple lever hidden inside the machine released the balls. Figuring out how to play the game, was an entirely different matter.

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The rules for the game were posted next to the table, but there were printed in English english (as in from England), and were totally incomprehensible. Here's an example, "Each turn consists of a number of strikes and comes to an end when a player makes a non-scoring strike or a foul stroke, or knocks over a skittle, or hits a ball out of the trough". Now try understanding that after a few beers. We ended up playing a couple games of our interpretation of the rules, and then proceeded to teach the next guys how to play the game using terms like "skittle" and "strikes".

The next morning, Jason headed off to work and I pulled out my laptop to work as well. Things were going well until around noon, when I needed to get some lunch. Being in Texas, I was determined to get some BBQ. Let me explain something real quick, Texans mistakenly refer to BBQ as seasoned meat prepared slowly over low heat, which could be beef or pork, and sometimes even use barbeque as a verb (those of us in North Carolina know that true barbeque only refers to that delicious pulled pork drenched in vinegar and hot spices). So anyways, I decided I was going to get some Texas BBQ for lunch. I found a restaurant online that was only 2 miles away, and since I didn't have a car, I started hiking toward the heart of downtown. I walked past the American Airlines Center where the Mavs and the Stars play, walked past the skyscrapers, and all the way down to Main Street. I wasn't the only one enjoying the beautiful weather outside, all the restaurants were packed, so I decided to kill a little time and walk down Main Street until the lunch crowd thinned out.

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I walked along Main Street passing more skyscrapers until I came to a little park with an interesting looking monument in the center. Walking up to the sign, I found out that it was the JFK Memorial in Dallas. I knew that JFK had been assassinated in Dallas, I just wasn't sure where. The memorial had four walls raised off the ground, and a low raised table in the center. Kids were running around the park and eating lunch on the memorial. I had reached the end of Main Street, and I figured that the Texas School Book Depository (where Lee Harvey Oswald hid to shoot JFK) was somewhere close, but I didn't know which building it was. My stomach was also growling incessantly, so I made my way back up Main Street to find some place to eat. About three blocks up, I delicious aroma reached me. BBQ was close.

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The restaurant was appropriately decorated with cow heads mounted on the wall (since I like to stare my dinner in the eye as I eat it) and rolls of paper towels instead of napkins. I ordered beef brisket with a tangy sauce, red beans and rice, and a slice of texas toast. It was heavenly. After lunch, I walked back to the hotel and worked until Jason got back.

Before heading out to dinner, Jason and I decided to get an eagle's eye view of downtown by going to the top of Reunion Tower. You can see it in the background of one of the JFK Memorial pictures. It reminded me of the Sunsphere in Knoxville. Reunion Tower has a bar that slowly rotates to give you a 360 degree view of the city. They charge $6 a beer, and since it takes about an hour to make a whole circuit, you end up spending $20 for the best view of downtown. We also strained to see the X on the street 500 feet below marking exactly where JFK was when he got shot (we couldn't see it).

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The Dallas Skyline is unique. I don't know how it started, but the skyscrapers are in some weird competition to see who can outline the most of their building in neon strips. The picture doesn't do the skyline justice, the neon colors give off a definite 1980s vibe.

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Jason and I headed to the Greenville Blvd bar area based on the recommendation of my coworker, an ex-Dallas resident. We ate some delicious tex-mex at the Blue Gloose, and then headed down to the artsy Deep Ellum to go out on Friday night. We got a picture at dinner, but the rest of the bars we ventured to went undocumented.

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Once we arrived back at the hotel, fueled by a discussion started at the bar, we began researching the conspiracy surrounding JFK's assassination. I admit, some things didn't seem to line up surrounding the investigation. Here's an overview:

  • Oswald fired at least 3 shots in a very short period of time. The first missed, the second hit both JFK and the governor of Texas, and the third was a fatal head shot to JFK. Oswald was a notoriously bad shot, it seems improbable that he would become more accurate after quickly firing and reloading on three sequential shots.
  • The car was traveling and accelerating away from Oswald during all 3 shots. Why would Oswald wait to fire until the car was moving away from him, instead of firing when the car was directly beneath him at almost a standstill.
  • The route was changed just before the motorcade left, which could have been a security tactic. However, the secret service men that usually run next to the car and ride on the rear fenders were also called off, leaving the president entirely vulnerable for a rifle shot.
  • There was a photograph taken of the window on the sixth floor of the TSBD where the shots came from. The man in the picture supposedly is not Oswald, but the picture was damaged while in possession of the committee. The picture was torn exactly where the man appeared in the photo.
  • The rifle originally found in the TSBD was not the gun that matched the bullets recovered from the scene. The gun was later switched out after it had already been saved as evidence.
  • The president's head seems to snap backwards, instead of forwards as one would expect being shot from behind. JFK's brain was never available for autopsy as it went "missing". An agent running behind the president was struck with brain matter, also inconsistent from a shot hitting from behind.
  • Lee Harvey Oswald was only in custody for a very short period of time before he was also assassinated by a man, Jack Ruby, with known mob ties. Lee Harvey Oswald's interrogation wasn't recorded, and Jack Ruby died of a heart attack once in prison. The mob was hired by JFK to attempt to overthrow Castro in Cuba (they were obviously unsuccessful).
  • The FBI and CIA withheld information from the Warren Commission, the committee formed to investigate the assassination, and the Warren Commission concluded there was no conspiracy. However, a second commission, the House Select Commission, completed their own investigation, and concluded that there absolutely had been a conspiracy.

These are only a few of the weird things surrounding JFK's death. You could go on and on, people are obsessed with it. The government was supposed to release the records a few years ago, but instead postponed the release of the documents for another 20 years. Jason and I got sucked into watching countless YouTube videos about the assassination. The first thing tomorrow morning, we were going to research the details first hand at the scene of the crime.

We arrived at the TSBD after breakfast the next morning and began looking around. There were actually 2 X's on the ground marking where both bullets struck the president. The first photo is of the window where Oswald was stationed during the assassination (second from the top, all the way to the right). The second is a recreation of how Oswald had arranged the boxes to make a "sniper's nest". The third is a look down from the "sniper's nest" in the Texas School Book Depository on the 6th floor.

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Here is a picture showing both X's. The fatal head shot is the larger X to the right, the first shot to hit the president is up the hill past the lamppost and is a little hard to see. I'm standing on the grassy knoll.

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We decided to investigate the angles of the shots, which required us playing frogger across the 3 lane road. There first picture is of the view from the top of the grassy knoll down to the fatal shot, and the last one is me posing as an assassin on the grassy knoll.

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It was very intriguing, and I can definitely see what people get sucked into the conspiracy theories. The Sixth Floor Museum was excellent, and I think we could have spent a lot longer there, but we had to leave the conspiracies behind us and head north to Southlake to hang out my family. We did family stuff and hung out all afternoon, and although one of the best parts of the trip, family talk doesn't make the best blog material. My Aunt Peg and Uncle Bernie did take us to an awesome BBQ place that was located in an old feed store. BBQ twice in two days, sounds good to me!

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One thing I noticed as we left Southlake, Texas goes a little crazy with the highway interchanges. Dallas is flat, really flat. It looked like there were no natural hills to use for building overpasses, so concrete bridges go off in nearly every direction. Every three miles there was an intersection to a major highway or beltway seemingly leading to nowhere. I think there may have been a conspiracy between the concrete salesman and the government highway designer.

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Our next destination was the Stock Yards in Forth Worth, and a rodeo!

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Twice a day longhorn cattle are driven through the roads of the Stock Yards. We arrived too late in the evening to see them, but I would get to see plenty of bulls yet.

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The first event was the bull riding. 4 different corrals were being loaded with bull riders and their massive bulls. The goal was to ride the bull for a full 8 seconds while kicking the bull to jump higher and higher. However, not a single rider made the full 8 seconds on the first round. The second event was the lassoing/hog-tieing calf event. After lassoing a calf sprinting across the arena, the rider stopped his horse to viciously close-line the calf to the ground, and then tied his feet together. The riders were a lot more successful at this event.

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I especially liked how all the event participants strutted away from the calf after completing the hog-tie. The calf has to remain tied for a period of time for the score to count, but each participant coolly ignored the calf straining against the rope (but I know they were nervously waiting for the official to raise the flag signaling enough time had passed).

The craziest part of the night is where they invited all the kids into the arena to try and pick a ribbon off a calf. Some of the kids going out there hardly came up to the belly of the calf, and from my experience castrating calves, those little buggers can pack a wallop. Sure enough, as soon as the calf was released, it sprinted right through the kids to get to the other side of the arena and back to safety. No one was injured. We sat through the rest of the events, including the bronco riding, and loved every second. In the second round of bull riders, 1 single rider successfully stayed on for 8 seconds.

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We left the stock yards at the end of the rodeo and hit up the bars of downtown Forth Worth. The hotel we were staying in was the same one JFK stayed in the night before he was shot. Just like JFK, it was my last night in Texas.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 13:45 Archived in USA Tagged animals museum local_food professional_sports Comments (2)

Beer, Cheese, and the Green Bay Packers!

STATE 8 - WISCONSIN

sunny 20 °F

Eager to take a trip before the winter holidays, Megan and I decided to spend a weekend away. Where did we decide to go to escape the North Carolina cold? To a place WAY colder, Wisconsin!

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When I think of Wisconsin, I think of 3 things: beer, cheese, and the Green Bay Packers. Milwaukee was once the home to four of the world's largest breweries (Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst, and Miller), and was the number one beer producing city in the world for many years. Wisconsin produces more cheese than any other state. When it comes to football, Wisconsin has one of the most popular and successful teams, the Green Bay Packers. The chance to have a fresh brewed PBR or High Life, eat some tasty cheese, and talk about football was enough for me to brave the frigid temperatures.

We didn't waste much time to cross the first item off the list. As soon as the rental car had been acquired, we headed off to the Miller Brewing Company for our first beer tour!

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Arriving in Miller Valley, I drove straight into the heart of the brewing complex. My eyes were eagerly scanning the buildings we passed (which included the original Plank Road Brewery) when I almost got smashed between 2 tractor trailers leaving a distribution center. Megan suggested that we find the visitor center before our tiny rental car played chicken with a truck again. We checked in at the front desk of the visitor center to sign up for the next available tour. The tour was free, and the next one started immediately!

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After a short video (which was similar to the Coke entrance video, a 10 minute advertisement on why their product was the greatest on the planet) we left the visitor center and walked to one of the bottling and packaging warehouses. Unlike the tour of the coke factory, we got to see the actual equipment and workers preparing the beer. The tour guide was very informative on everything that was happening in front of us, including what each piece of equipment was doing. The line foreman even took the time to come over and answer any questions we had. All the sugar coating and advertising seemed to have remained in the visitor center, as our guide and the foreman gave us honest and straight forward answers about the beer process here at Miller (which was refreshing and said a lot about the culture at Miller).

Next we walked over to the brewing complex, where we had to walk up 5 flights of stairs to see the tops of the kettles where the beer process was started. Giant copper tanks stood in rows (we could only see the tops). Chatting with the tour guide when walking back down the steps, I found out that Miller employees are given free beer and have beer in their break room. What a great place to work!

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From there we walked into the distribution warehouse. It was enormous. In fact, it covered the area of 5 football fields, and it was completely filled with beer (over 500,000 cases). Every case in this building would be shipped out in the next 24 hours. I was surprised to find out that the majority of this beer would be going to Chicago alone. That's a thirsty city!

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The coolest part of the tour was next. We were led down into the caves beneath the Miller Brewery. It was here that the beer was originally stored. It had an old, authentic feel. Original tools from 100 years ago lined the wall and Fredrick Miller's personal beer collection was displayed in a case towards the back of the cave.

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We left the cave and walked into the tasting room, which was set up like an old pub. A waitress brought us 3 different beers (Miller Lite, Miller High Life, and Leinenkugel's Seasonal). Megan and I made friends with two Milwaukee natives currently living in California who were back in town visiting relatives. After explaining why we would choose to come to Wisconsin in late November, we got the low down on how to make the most of our Wisconsin trip. After finishing our beers, we headed back to the visitor center to pick up the car and leave Miller Valley.

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After checking into the hotel, Megan and I headed down to the Milwaukee River to walk along the river walk. Our next destination was Lakefront Brewery for another beer tour. Lakefront Brewery supposedly had the best brewery tour in Milwaukee, and it was conveniently located right off the Milwaukee River (not the lake like the name suggested).

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While we waited for the tour to start, we hung out in a heated outdoor seating area sampling some of Lakefront's beers. Our tour guide was certainly more animated than the Miller tour guide had been, and the tour was definitely geared more towards entertainment (the Miller tour guide also hadn't been drinking). We shuffled around the brewery as the tour guides joked with one another. We didn't learn as much about the beer making process or see any of the equipment in action, but our sample glasses were filled up at several points throughout the tour (a nice bonus). They also had some souvenirs from the old Brewers ballpark. It was obvious that the brewery had a passion for Milwaukee and for beer. The tour concluded with a French woman from our tour group singing along to the Laverne and Shirley theme song.

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We walked upstairs above the brewery to take part in another Milwaukee tradition, the Friday Fish Fry. Stemming from the city's strong Catholic heritage (an older Catholic tradition was to abstain from meat on Fridays, especially during Lent), most restaurants offer a fish special on Friday night. We chose a fish fry that had live polka music and encouraged dancing. We sat at a table with some locals, ate some delicious fish, drank some more Lakefront beer, and then began to walk back to the hotel. Our walk back to the hotel presented a good view of downtown lit up at night.

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We woke up early the next morning to get a good start on our road trip. We were headed north along Lake Michigan to visit Green Bay, home of the Green Bay Packers! Farms spread out on both sides of the road once we left Milwaukee. It started to feel like we were actually in "America's Dairyland" just like all the license plates advertised.

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After about two hours, we arrived in Green Bay. I exited the little highway and started to make my way through town, blindly following the directions I had printed off Google Maps. When the directions told me to turn into a neighborhood, I figured that I used the wrong address. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a gigantic stadium loomed over the houses. We had arrived at Lambeau Field.

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One side of Lambeau Field is enclosed in an area called The Atrium. The gift shop, Packers Hall of Fame, and various restaurants were located here. It was also the starting point for our tour.

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Our guide was a Green Bay native who had been a season ticket holder for forty years, and he had a strong passion for the Packers. He knew everything there was to know about the team, and he proceeded to pass all the knowledge to us. We walked around the Atrium, took in the view from the luxury box, and then headed down to the field level. We walked around the corner of the locker room to the tunnel that lead to the field. The guide lined us up, and then told us to run down the tunnel and out towards the field. As you made your way through the tunnel, speakers hidden in the wall simulated crowd noise and the PA announcer. "WELCOME TO THE FIELD....YOUR....GREEN BAY....PACKERS!!!" Just as you exited the tunnel, the stadium burst in thundering cheers. It felt like you were running out of the tunnel to a full stadium and everyone was cheering for you. It was awesome.

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After walking around the edge of the field, we made our way back into the warmth of The Atrium. From here Megan and I headed down the steps to check out the Packers Hall of Fame. There was a ton of Packers stuff down here, but it was definitely geared towards diehard Packer fans. We watched a film about the history of the Packers (much of it was a repeat from the tour), and then walked through room after room of Packer memorabilia.

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One part of the Hall of Fame was especially entertaining. They had a portion of the wall surrounding the field set up to simulate the famous Lambeau Leap. We each did several leaps pretending we had just scored the winning touchdown, and some attempts were better than others. Here is one of Megan's leaps:

After walking through the Hall of Fame, we started to make our way back to the car. We stopped for one last photo opp to mimic two of the greatest coaches in Green Bay History, Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi. I also added a picture of how close the stadium is to the neighborhoods. Just across the street are family homes, many with encouraging messages painted on their fences (such as "In McCarthy We Trust" and "Go Packers").

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After a quick lunch at Chili John's (supposedly the place where John Madden frequents when he is in Green Bay), we were on the road again to Sheboygan. My coworker with family in Wisconsin told me that Sheboygan was the place to get the best brat in Wisconsin. Having roots in Cincinnati, I can certainly appreciate a good brat. An hour's drive south brought us to the "Brat Capital of the World".

When I mentioned it was cold in Wisconsin, I wasn't kidding. It was a cool 30° F in Milwaukee the first day, and even chillier that night. However, when we arrived in Green Bay, the bank thermometers displayed 12° F, in the middle of the day! When we got out of the car in Sheboygan, the frigid temperature was emphasized by the strong wind coming off Lake Michigan. Megan covered up as much as possible before she agreed to take a walk along the water. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, we were the ONLY people walking around the city. I guess most people had the sense to stay indoors.

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We walked along the Sheboygan river, then cut through town to get to a park on Lake Michigan. Several signs were spread along the trail to tell the story of Sheboygan's shipping past. At one point, Sheboygan was expected to be the next Chicago or New York since so many immigrants arrived through its port. That never came to fruition as people started traveling by train. Eventually the ship building industry and fishing industries died down as well. A ship recovered from Sheboygan's heyday was displayed along the walk, and the empty marina reinforced the fact that no one in their right mind was out in this weather.

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After completing a circuit on the trail, we headed back towards the car. Conveniently located across the street from where we parked was a local bar. Deciding to rest our legs and get something to drink, we moseyed on in and took a seat at the bar. I realized why no one was outside, Wisconsin football was on TV. Megan and I had hoped to catch a glimpse of the NC State vs. UNC football game on back home, but there was no way I was going to ask the TV to be turned away from the Wisconsin game (despite Wisconsin being up by 4 touchdowns). We each tried a couple of the local beers, and then we decided it was time to head to dinner.

We had picked a German restaurant in Sheboygan, Al & Al's Stein Haus, to get some authentic food for dinner. The place got great reviews, but was not very crowded when we sat down. We ordered an appetizer of fried cheese curds (a recommendation from our friends at the Miller tour). When the chef brought them out, he recognized us as being from out-of-town (I have no clue how). He chit-chatted about his knowledge of Raleigh, and then recommended we get the Bavarian platter. I opted for a brat sandwich, but Megan couldn't resist the temptation of a sample of nearly everything the restaurant offered.

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It was delicious. After taking our time through dinner, we begrudgingly left the warmth of the restaurant and headed to the car to begin the drive back into Milwaukee. A dash light I had never seen before blared for the entire drive back. I think it was the indicator for "it is too cold outside to be doing anything."

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The next morning we had a couple of hours to kill before our flight left town. We drove through downtown to take in some of the sights (it was drizzling, and we had enough walking the day before). We saw where the Bucks play, and we saw the tall buildings at the heart of downtown. We still had time to kill, so we decided to drive out past Miller Field (where the Brewers play) to see The Domes.

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Arriving at The Domes, I definitely had a flashback of the Pauly Shore movie BioDome.

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The Domes are three large structures that support different biomes. One of the domes had a Christmas theme, and several people were inside taking Christmas card pictures. Another dome had a desert climate and was filled a variety of cacti and other desert plant life. Megan said that the Latin names made little sense (and she took Latin for 4 years) and decided to start giving more logical names, such as "Curly, Spiky Cactus" and "Long, Hairy Cactus". Thankfully that little game ended quickly when she ran out of adjectives to describe cacti. The last biome was the rain forest.

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The Domes were a good way to kill an hour, but I secretly wished that the Miller Tours operated on Sundays. We left The Domes and headed back to the airport to catch our flight home. Our trip through Wisconsin was over, but it had been a great time.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 08:53 Archived in USA Tagged beer tour brewery local_food professional_sports Comments (0)

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