Weeks 7 & 8 - Minneapolis, Minnesota
to Montclair, New Jersey
Day 43 - Thursday, July 23rd
I made a few more superfluous crossings of the Mississippi River on the way into Minneapolis
and then made a quick stop at the ultimate tribute to American consumerism - the
Mall of America. This monstrosity, right off the
twin cities' beltway, is officially the largest shopping mall in the world.
The first 19 games of the trip included only 1 day game, but starting today I've got 4
straight. The Metrodome,
with its unique inflatable roof, sits on the river, right in the heart of downtown Minneapolis.
The Twins had graciously responded to my request for a free ticket by leaving four of them for
me at the will-call window. I was thinking of trying to get a few bucks for the extras outside
the stadium until I saw the huge "Complimentary - Not for resale" stamped all over them.
After the game, I headed east on I-94, bidding farewell for the last time to America's river
after crossing it for the 30th and last time of the trip (one for each of the 30 stadiums - how
coincidentally appropriate). I made it to Green Bay (Packertown USA) and decided to treat myself
to my first movie in 6 weeks. Two hearty thumbs up for "There's
Something About Mary", lowbrow humor at the highest level. Getting through the theatre
required a drive through downtown Green Bay, which was so torn up for road construction that it
resembled a war zone.
Day 44 - Friday, July 24th
No visit to Green Bay would be complete without seeing
Lambeau Field, which sits along Lombardi Way. The
famous home of the Packers sits unpretentiously along a boulevard, right next to strip malls and
restaurants. It was eerily quiet on this early offseason morning.
From one legendary sports landmark, I made my way 200 miles south to another - the "friendly
confines" of Wrigley Field. As I found out just
yesterday, I am being treated to another Chicago doubleheader, moving the start time up to noon.
Parking is notoriously difficult around Wrigley Field, which sits right in the middle of a
residential part of Chicago's north side. I arrived early enough to locate a free spot on a
nearby street, but only after sorting out the endless parking restrictions that seem to be
different on every block. Avoiding the paid lots around the stadium saved me at least $13.
Game 21 (and 21A)
Getting out of Chicago was quite a bit less painful than after the White Sox game, and
despite the fact that the doubleheader didn't end until after 7 pm, I covered over 300 miles
(virtually all on toll roads) through Indiana and into Ohio. Another turnpike rest stop beckoned
and I called it a night 30 minutes outside Cleveland.
Day 45 - Saturday, July 25th
I got to downtown Cleveland early with the notion of seeing if there were any "day-of-game"
or "standing room only" tickets on sale and got snickered at by stadium attendants. Even these
tickets have been sold out for many months by the Indians, the only team in baseball that sells
out consistently. So consistently in fact that they now have an all-time record, Ripken-esque
sellout streak of 264 games.
Resigning myself to resorting to the scalpers for the first (and probably only) time of my
trip, I walked down to the lakeshore to visit the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame. Admission is pricey ($15), but there is no shortage of mementos and
nostalgia (4 floors worth), plus at least 4 different mini-movies on the history of Rock. The
place was packed.
Walking back to "The Jake", as Jacobs Field is known, the scalpers were all over. I ended up
paying $30 for a $20 ticket that turned out to be right where I would have sat if I had been
able to buy it at the gate.
My accommodations for the evening were in Youngstown with my other Uncle Rich and his family,
about an hour and a half from Cleveland and halfway to tomorrow's game in Pittsburgh. We all
went out for dinner and then to see "Saving
Private Ryan", co-starring my very own second cousin Jeremy Davies (see Day 28) as Cpl.
Upham, the translator and moral anchor of the film. Very powerful movie.
Day 46 - Sunday, July 26th
It was just over an hour from Youngstown to downtown Pittsburgh, site of the well located but
otherwise featureless Three
I spent the evening and night at my Aunt Louise's place in Beaver Falls Pennsylvania, 30
miles northwest of Pittsburgh, mostly catching up on this narrative.
Day 47 - Monday, July 27th
Leaving Beaver Falls, I ran into a very poorly-marked backroad detour that made getting to
I-79 very painful. Once I did, I made good time north to Erie and then northeast along the
lakeshore to the Buffalo area. Leafing through my handy-dandy New York attractions guide, I came
upon the Bicycle Museum
in Orchard Park, a southeastern suburb of Buffalo. This place has an incredible collection of
artifacts tracing the evolution of the self-propelled vehicle from the mid-1800s.
Next, I got a history lesson on the Erie
Canal in the town of Lockport, site of the last major set of locks on the canal's route to
Lake Erie. There is a small canal museum in town, plus the locks themselves, which are still in
daily operation to allow recreational boaters to navigate the canal. I got to watch the whole
process up close as a half-dozen boats were raised or lowered nearly 50 feet in about 15
A half-hour west of Lockport lies the tourist mecca known as
Niagara Falls, teeming with the crowds that
I've grown to dread. I did a walking tour of Goat Island and then went down the tower to the
bottom of the American Falls. It's amazing how wet you can get from the heavy mist at the top of
the falls, not to mention the drenching you get if you venture out down below. Crossing the
Niagara River bridge, I entered Ontario Canada and obtained a supply of "loonies", as the
Canadian Dollar is known. The exchange rate (approx. $1.45 Canadian per $1 U.S.) is at an
all-time best in terms of getting the most bang for the American buck, but they manage to jack
up prices enough so most things don't feel like much of a deal. I had dinner at the top of
Skylon Tower, overlooking the falls from close to 800 feet
up. It was a very nice buffet, but astronomically priced at close to $30 U.S.
Heading up the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way - the area's major expressway) toward Toronto, I
stopped for the night at a motel right on Lake Ontario in Burlington.
Day 48 - Tuesday, July 28th
I slept in a bit to avoid the rush-hour traffic into Toronto, which (the Ontario tourist
guides proudly proclaim) is now larger than every U.S. city except N.Y and L.A. Besides having
to do conversions in your head on just about everything (kilometers, liters, dollars, etc.), it
seems very much like America. Downtown Toronto does indeed match the hustle and bustle of any
city I've ever seen.
I decided to locate a motel east of town (toward Montreal) and experience the wonders of
Toronto's public transportation system. Catching a bus to the subway (clean and well marked), I
checked out the major downtown shopping mall, then proceeded to the
Skydome complex. It costs a flat $2 (~$1.40 U.S.) to go
anywhere on the transit system (including bus transfers), which I found out when I got back on
the subway to go just two more stops.
Looming over Skydome, which is pretty massive itself, is the
CN Tower, Canada's entrant in the tallest building contest (it all seems to depend on how
you phrase it or whether antennas count). The lines were horrendous, made worse by the fact that
you get to wait in line a second time to ascend beyond the main observation deck (116 stories)
to the "Sky Pod" (at 147 stories and 1465 feet, the "highest observation deck in the world").
The coolest part is the "glass floor" on the main deck that lets you walk out over nothingness.
The Blue Jay's pitching rotation had fallen just right and I was extremely psyched to see
"the Rocket", Roger Clemens, in person for the first time in several years. During batting
practice, they cranked open the retractable roof.
Pumped up by Clemens' 8th straight victory, I retraced my steps on the subway and bus and
called it a night.
When a highway lane ends, you don't "merge
left", you "squeeze left". They don't bother with left turn arrows in most cases, instead the
green light flashes while you have the right-of-way. One of the main downtown arteries is the
oddly names Avenue Road (is that redundant, or just extremely nondescript?)
Day 49 - Wednesday, July 29th
I made semi-major alteration to the itinerary, deciding to high-tail it to
Montreal for tonight's Expos game instead of
tomorrows. That will give me an extra day to explore the New England states and hit some
attractions that I had slated for later in the trip.
I hopped on Rt. 401, the expressway that runs all the way through Ontario and Quebec, and
cranked it up to 140 or so. That's km/h, but it still seems like you're making better time
thanks to the numbers on the road signs dropping nearly twice as fast. I made a quick stop at
the "Big Apple" (who knew that it was really in Canada?), a odd collection of an orchard,
restaurant, bakery, mini-golf course and petting zoo to go with the "hook", the 35-foot high
styrofoam apple that includes an observation deck up by the stem.
Crossing into Quebec from Ontario is much more like entering a foreign country than going
from the U.S. to Ontario. English suddenly disappears from the road signs and the name of every
road (rue) or place seems to have a Saint in it. Montreal has a very European feel to it (at
least to someone whose only exposure to Europe is from movies, TV and photos), especially the
waterfront area (Old Montreal), with its very narrow cobblestone streets and ancient
A bit east of downtown is the expansive
Olympic Park and Stadium, both of
which have aged poorly since the bicentennial Olympics. The stadium has a very "minor league"
feel to it, with the attendance to match (they don't even open the upper deck). Tonight's crowd
was just over 8,200, less than half the next lowest attendance of my trip and less than twice
that of the minor league game I attended. As far as I'm concerned, there is absolutely no way
this city should have a team - who ever heard of French at a baseball game!? Let's go ahead and
move the Expos to Northern Virginia and be done with it (getting rid of that ridiculous team
name in the process).
After a drive thru downtown, still packed at 11 pm, I hit the hay at my cheesy motel.
They take their golf seriously in Ontario -
nearly every highway exit features an official road sign listing which courses are available.
Day 50 - Thursday, July 30th
My newly plotted course for today includes a trip through
before heading down through New Brunswick and into
Maine. I got to the Quebec capital at about 11 am, crossing the vast St. Lawrence River and
following the boulevard that winds along the narrow strip of land between the riverbank and the
high bluff that the city sits atop. Quebec City is the only "fortified" city in North America,
with high walls protecting castle-like structures giving it a look right out of the Middle Ages.
I spent a couple hours walking through the History
of Civilization Museum and its eclectic mix of displays on hockey, cats, women's dresses,
birds, city history, whales, and Mexico.
Moving on, I got back on the main expressway, now labeled Rt. 20 and paralleling the river.
By the time I left it to turn southeast into New Brunswick, the St. Lawrence River was over 10
miles wide and rapidly widening. And I thought the Mississippi was a big river!
Based on an oddly placed symbol on my atlas and a vague feeling that I'd read about the place
before, I headed down the back road that runs right along the upper border of Maine into New
Brunswick. There is literally nothing on the map in the upper tip of Maine, but sure enough I
managed to find someone who spoke enough English to point me to the turnoff that crosses the
border into a little enclave on American soil. It contains about ten houses (one of which sits
right on the line and has the international border marked right on the side of the house!), a
surveyor's marker that officially represents the "northern-most point in the continental U.S.",
and Canadian and U.S. customs offices. The only access to the rest of Maine is via a 40-mile
dirt logging road. For some reason, I get a much bigger thrill out of tracking down
out-of-the-way places like this than any of the well-known attractions.
When you get to New Brunswick, English returns to the road signs and becomes more prevalent
as you move south. I followed Rt. 2 south along the border with Maine, made a small detour to
drive through the quarter-mile "longest covered bridge in the world", and crossed the border at
the northern terminus of I-95. I stayed in the Rodeo at a rest stop just 2 miles into the U.S.
Day 51 - Friday, July 31st
Refreshed by a hot shower that I had noticed last night at the local Citgo gas station, I set
out down Rt. 1 to explore coastal Maine. For a while it runs inland along the border with New
Brunswick, then meanders along Maine's extremely jagged coastline. I saw countless lakes,
inlets, bays and the like, but it wasn't until a town called Rockland, well down the coast, that
I got my first glimpse of the Atlantic - for the first time since Miami Beach, nearly seven
wondrous weeks ago.
I stopped in Bangor and was
welcomed to town by their 31-foot tall Paul Bunyon statue. My half-hearted attempt to do some
more stalking and drive by the house of Bangor's #1 citizen (Stephen King - one of my all-time
favorite authors) ended when the lady at the visitor center shook her head knowingly and said
"we're not allowed". On the way out of town, I visited the "Land
Transportation Museum", which contains a large collection of cars, trucks, snowplows, fire
engines, trains, wagons, etc. going back to the 1800s. My dad would have considered this place
heaven on earth.
I got to Portland just before 7 pm and headed to the city's minor league ballpark, home of
the Marlins' AA affiliate, the Sea Dogs (I'm still
disappointed that Sea Dogs lost out to Wizards in the fan voting for the new name of the
Washington Bullets NBA team). I was amazed to discover that the game was sold out, but luckily
there were people selling extra tickets outside the ballpark. I got one for the face value of $5
and settled in to watch the second leg of my mini minor league tour (I've decided to see a AAA,
AA and A game). I met some friendly local fans that filled me in on some Sea Dog details: the
6500-seat ballpark sells out occasionally but not every game; some big name ballplayers have
come through town, including World Series MVP Livan Hernandez and NL All-Star Edgar Renteria
just last year. The game didn't go well for the locals, with the New Haven Ravens rolling to a
League Box Score (AA)
Two hundred miles later I called it a night in Springfield Massachusetts, all set for my
visit to the Basketball Hall of Fame tomorrow.
Day 52 - Saturday, August 1st
In the Hall of Fame shootout, Basketball's entry beats Football's hands-down (we'll see where
Baseball's ranks next week). It's a much more fan-friendly, interactive place, with sections
especially for kids and a huge room full of hoops that patrons get to shoot at. Plus, the
Basketball Hall of Fame covers all levels of the
game, including pro, college, high school, Olympic, international, and the women's game.
Real sports fans will understand why I decided to leave the interstate to visit the
relatively obscure town of Bristol Connecticut, home of the headquarters and broadcast studios
of ESPN. Alas, I came away
disappointed after being told, rather brusquely, that it requires a reservation nearly six
months in advance just to get a peek at the inside of the studios. I had to settle for marveling
at the acres and acres of massive satellite dishes that cover the world to bring millions of
addicts their daily dose of SportsCenter highlights.
With plenty of time to spare, or so I thought, I arrived in New York City for tonight's 7 pm
Mets game. I had planned on visiting a family friend and former neighbor, now living in the
Bronx, but I gave up after an hour or so of flailing around in New York traffic hell and headed
towards Shea Stadium in Queens. Even though it was Saturday, there were backups all over thanks
to the endless bridges, tolls and construction. By the end of the day, having paid dearly every
time I crossed a body of water ($7 for one stinking bridge!!!), I'd come to the conclusion that
this city is the true definition of "highway robbery".
The Mets had graciously responded to my ticket request by leaving two excellent tickets at
the will-call window, so I felt obligated to release the extra one into the secondary ticket
market (read: scalpers). I only got $5 for it, but later found out that my middleman got about
I was to be reunited with my lovely wife Theresa tonight, so I high-tailed it to Philadelphia
and located her at her Aunt's house. We had a month's worth of catching up to do, if you know
what I mean.
Day 53 - Sunday August 2nd
Theresa and I "slept" late, then I headed to downtown Philly, only 15 minutes from where we
were staying. With only about an hour to kill, I visited
Independence Hall, the original
seat of the federal government, and the legendary
Right down Broad St. is Veterans Stadium, with plentiful parking and $5 general admission
Theresa had spent the afternoon at a family gathering, about halfway between Philly and
Atlantic City. I managed to find the place and the party, which turned out to be quite large (at
least 100 friends and family, 95% of whom I had never met). But there was plenty of food and
beer on tap.
We spent the night with Theresa's parents in their large motor home, which they had driven up
from Virginia Beach to attend the family gathering.
Day 54 - Monday, August 3rd
The Rodeo got its second and final complete day off today as I rode with Theresa to visit
family friends in Atlantic City. Afterwards,
we took a long stroll on the famous boardwalk and went to the Tropicana for some more heavy-duty
gambling (see Las Vegas). With our $5 stake for the quarter slots split evenly, I quickly lost
my half, but Theresa's lasted quite a while. Optimistically, we made a deal that if she every
got to 40 quarters (quadrupling her stake), we would cash out. Sure enough, after getting down
to her last quarter at one point, she had a string of winners culminating in a decent sized one
that put us over the top - we quickly cashed out with a whopping net profit of over $13! Being
the big winner, she got to choose where to go for dinner, and I was forced to have buffalo wings
at the Hooters downstairs (the sacrifices I make!). All
kidding aside, those were perhaps the most tasteless, greasy and overall lousiest wings I have
ever had - I guess cleavage counts much more than food quality for a lot of guys.
Day 55 - Tuesday, August 4th
Heading south to Baltimore, I made it through Delaware's 15-mile triple toll zone (bridge
toll, turnpike toll, heavily enforced 55-mph speed limit) without paying the big one. Thanks to
one of those nice little brown road signs that point out local attractions, I pulled off I-95 at
the Aberdeen exit to visit the
With lots of nostalgia on the Ripken family's long association with baseball, Cal's career and,
of course, the Streak, it was a perfect pre-game warm-up for tonight's Orioles game.
I got to downtown Baltimore well before game time,
parked at the stadium, and took a hike over to the Inner
Harbor for some dinner and sightseeing. The new ESPN Sportzone restaurant/themepark was
quite packed, the Aquarium was bustling as usual, and the harbor was dotted with lots of little
Camden Yards is the second toughest ticket in baseball (see Cleveland, Day 45) and all the
scalpers seemed to be doing was buying. I waited in a long line at the one ticket window that
was open and got myself a "standing room only" ticket for $7.
Wouldn't you know that it would be my nominal "home stadium" that I would have the most
trouble getting out of? I wanted to get back on I-95 north, but after following all the cars out
of the parking lot and through the bleak Baltimore slums, I ended up only being able to get on
I-95 south. I finally got headed in the right direction after looping around on short stretches
of the Baltimore Beltway and the BW Parkway. Sheesh! The evening's accommodations were back up
Day 56 - Wednesday, August 5th
With three days to kill before the next game in New York, I set out on the back roads to
explore central Pennsylvania. Passing through lots of rolling farm country, I made my way to the
venerable town of Hershey, home of
Hersheypark and Chocolate World. I
didn't have time for the amusement park, but I took the free multimedia tour that explained the
process of making milk chocolate and the Hershey legacy. Of course, I had to buy some candy at
the gift store.
Following the oddly shallow-looking Susquehanna River northward, I ran across a place called
Reptiland, which houses quite a collection of snakes,
lizards, turtles, alligators and the like. Everybody gets to pet the baby alligator and a
friendly little boa.
The next stop was Williamsport, site of the annual
Little League World Series (televised by ABC)
and the Little League Museum. Little League baseball originated here over 50 years ago and
spread rapidly to every state in the country and dozens of countries around the globe. In just a
few short weeks, this quaint little town will be teeming with spectators, media, and 8 teams
vying for the coveted Little League world championship.
Leaving Williamsport, I passed right through the even littler town of Montoursville
Pennsylvania, which just happens to be the hometown of last night's hero Mike Mussina. I noticed
a little hole-in-the-wall baseball card shop along the main drag and, just for the heck of it,
stopped and bought a Mussina rookie card (the guy talked me into some Clemens cards as well,
which wasn't a very tough sell).
After pushing eastward though the scenic
Delaware Water Gap
National Recreation Area and into New Jersey, I bedded down in the Rodeo at a rest stop on
the Garden State Parkway.