Ryan Welton

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Category Archives: travel

360 View Cloudy Atop CN Tower, But Food Was Delish

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Now that the Toronto Raptors have secured the NBA title, I can take a deep breath and document more of our honeymoon to Canada. To say that the Great White North surpassed my expectations would be an understatement.

However, I think it’s fair to say we were more enamored by Montreal than we were Toronto. I’ll write about Quebec soon. Nevertheless, the 6ix, as they call Toronto, reminded me of a hipper, cooler version of Chicago, another city I like quite a bit. I’m even writing this blog in a Blue Jays t-shirt. Here are a couple highlights from Day 1 of our time in Toronto.

We were blown away by Canada’s friendliness and cleanliness, and we were not deterred by overcast conditions the night we decided to dine atop the CN Tower.

If you’re not familiar with the CN Tower, it’s the giant structure you see in the Toronto skyline.

CN Tower History

It was at one time the tallest free-standing structure in the world, but now it’s the ninth, I think. It was built by Canadian National, a railway, in 1976, but was divested to an arm of the Canadian government. So, I don’t know who exactly owns 360 The Restaurant, a fine-dining establishment atop the tower.

We had just come from a Blue Jays game, so I wasn’t dressed as nicely as I probably should have been, but nobody shooed me away.

360 Restaurant Food & Drink

Here’s a peek at the menus.

I’ll do my best to recall what each of us had, but my memory is mostly a slave to the photos I take with my phone. I do remember having a Gotham, a cocktail concocted of Lot 40 Rye Whisky, Amaro Norino, Dillon’s Absinthe, Bitters and Maple. If I didn’t have that, I had my standard – an Old Fashioned. Kristi had a blackberry lemonade, as she recalls.

Even though the CN Tower is very touristy, the restaurant was legit. Drinks, food, service everything was spot-on. To me, it was a no-brainer stop if you’re already going to tour the tower anyway.

After our bread and salad service, we made our dinner selections.

For Kristi: Herb & Brewis Crusted Fogo Island Cod on a bed of sweet potato rosti, French beans and caper beurre blanc.

For me: Seared Manitoulin Island Lake Trout with celeriac puree, bay scallops and celery saute, citrus oil and red wine butter jus.

And then for dessert, we ordered ice cream and cookies but got a dark chocolate tower on the house because it was our honeymoon. That’s tip No. 1 for honeymoon travelers: tell everybody it’s your honeymoon.

As for the view atop the tower, it wasn’t perfect. They give you fair warning on days like ours, but it cleared up somewhat during the evening, and I have to think it’s super gorgeous during the summer. The entire restaurant rotates very slowly throughout your dinner, so you get to see it all regardless of where you sit.

Here were some of our views. Beautiful, even if overcast!

Photos from trip to Denver, Coors Field, visit to National Ballpark Museum

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This is a blog I wrote months ago about a trip I took last year. Mom died during the summer, so this one got shelved, but not just because of that. This post got shelved because I thought it was important to properly caption every one of the photos I was going to post from my trip to the National Ballpark Museum

This post was going to wait until I was able to deal with all five dozen or so photos I’m sharing in this post.

The two things I love most about sports are the uniforms (what we root for) and the stadiums and parks where sports are played. Much churches, sports venues are the architectural centerpieces of America.

Hope you enjoy this one, and if you can, check out the National Ballpark Museum on Facebook (if you can’t visit Bruce in person!). I can’t imagine a museum I would enjoy more except for perhaps the one in Cooperstown.

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The baseball pennant race is red hot, and no divisions are hotter right now than the NL Central and West. Colorado is leading the West by 1.5 games over the Los Angeles Dodgers, parent club to our Oklahoma City Dodgers. The Dodgers are one of the teams I root for hard, and that goes back to the days of Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey.

But the Rockies are a team I root for, too. Just not right now. There is a pecking order to my bandwagon.

For the record, I am a Texas Rangers fan to the core. Always will be.

But I love sports, and I especially love baseball.

And I was fortunate enough to visit Denver last year and see the Rockies at Coors Field. I was impressed by the city, the stadium, LoDo (lower downtown) and a little museum Kristi and I discovered along the way. She actually discovered the National Ballpark Museum before our trip because she’s good like that, and she knows of my love for baseball architecture.

Denver was adorned this fine weekend by deep blue skies and clean air, cool nights and warm days. I went for a run along some trails near Welton Street, not named for me best that I know, and my only complaint was the periodic smell of marijuana smoke in the air.

Alas, even with dispensaries everywhere, I loved, loved, loved Denver.

Beautiful. Cosmopolitan. Green. Good food, good beer, good people.

Our trip to Coors Field was pretty close to my favorite all-around city+ballpark trip ever.

After pre-gaming at a local sports bar, we visited this ballpark museum, about two or three blocks from the stadium. The National Ballpark Museum is a shrine to ballparks dating to the 1800s, the major leagues and the Negro League. It’s a baseball nerd’s paradise.

And we were lucky enough to get a personal tour from curator Bruce “B” Hellerstein. By personal, I mean it was Kristi and me with Bruce for an hour. The visit might have cost us $10 apiece, maybe $15? Worth every penny and plenty more. (Side note: They are a 501 (c)(3) organization and can accept donations.)

What we were told by the museum host is that Bruce is rarely there, but that when he is, you need to take advantage of his presence and pay attention. Bruce Hellerstein is a walking encyclopedia of baseball history and especially an expert in ballparks. My expertise in ballpark history is pretty novice among experts but expert among novices, if you will.

Bruce is a stud among baseball studs.

My interest in ballpark architecture goes back to childhood, visiting Royals Stadium in 1982 and watching the fountains. Before that, I regularly rooted for the Dodgers in the World Series, and I especially loved the games in Los Angeles as opposed to New York, going back to their battles versus the Yankess in 1977 and 1978. What I’m saying there is that, even as a 7-year-old, I picked my World Series team based on venue. (And uniforms. I’ll save that for another post.)

Fast-forward a few years to when we got Camden Yards and Jacobs Field, and my interest in stadiums increased greatly because I grew up mostly with the cookie-cutter, turf-riddled, multi-purpose stadiums such as Veterans Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Fulton County Stadium, Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, Riverfront Stadium, etc.

I was aesthetically deprived until I wasn’t, and then my interest in baseball architecture was greatly heightened. The truth is that this new, early-90s era of stadium architecture was a throwback to early 1900s greatness, not some new innovation.

What’s old became new again.

That’s why it’s especially appropriate that the National Ballpark Museum is in Denver — because Coors Field was architected in the style of older stadiums, especially Ebbets Field and I believe Shibe Park (Connie Mack Stadium).

It has a prominent, rounded front and the entire stadium sits right close to the street.

Coors Field wasn’t ushering in a new era of stadiums. It was a hearty hat-tip to the best stadiums of years gone by.

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That’s all I really have to say about the museum. After rooting on the Dodgers to a 4-0 win over Colorado that night, Kristi went back to the sports bar we first visited that afternoon and split a plate of nachos and a beer and watched some UFC on the big screen with hundreds of other Denver folk. The one thing I remember about the fight we saw was that the loser of the match proposed to her girlfriend on live TV.

UFC fight Jessica Andrade versus Joanna Jedrzejczyk

This is the UFC fight we watched at the bar in LoDo.

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Neither Kristi nor I know much about UFC, so it was the post-match happening that was most memorable.

The things we remember! Anyway, I’m glad I take lots of photos when I visit places. The National Baseball Museum is quite memorable, but there was so much baseball goodness in one spot, these photos will keep the venue and our visit with Bruce in our memories for the rest of our lives.

Or until the next time we visit. And we will!

Now for your perusal, the photos I took from the National Ballpark Museum. Enjoy!

1960 World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates

A piece of baseball history from the 1960 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates

Fenway Park ticket taker

A piece of history from Fenway Park, home of the Boston RedSox.

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Connie Mack Stadium - Philadelphia

This was Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia.

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14 Classic Baseball Parks

Bricks from the 14 classic ballparks built from 1909 to 1923.

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Crosley Field in Cincinnati, memorabilia

Lots of memorabilia from Crosley Field in Cincinnati at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Crosley Field, Cincinnati

Crosley Field, The Illustrated History of a Classic Ballpark

Pennants for the Pirates, Phillies, Braves and Dodgers

Pennants for the Pirates, Phillies, Braves and Dodgers

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Cincinnati Redlegs

Memorabilia from the Cincinnati Redlegs at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

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Final Game at Crosley Field: June 24, 1970

Autographed photo from Crosley Field in Cincinnati, the final pitch at the Reds’ stadium before Riverfront Stadium debuted.

Artifacts from Wrigley Field. White Sox, Giants and Cubs

Various artifacts from Wrigley Field, among other ballparks.

Tiger Stadium brochure

Memorabilia about Tiger Stadium in Detroit

Oakland A's Reggie Jackson in Sports Illustrated

Look at those unis! Oakland Athletics on the cover of Sports Illustrated, featuring slugger Reggie Jackson.

Tiger Stadium All Star Game 1971

Memorabilia from Tiger Stadium All Star Game 1971

Michigan and Trumbull

One of the most famous corners in all of baseball, Michigan and Trumbull — home of the Detroit Tigers.

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Stan Musial memorabilia in St, Louis

St. Louis Cardinals memorabilia at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver. This is Stan Musial.

RedSox Magazine

RedSox Magazine – A Monster Of A View – at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver

Boston - 2013 World Series

A photo from Fenway Park where the Boston RedSox defeated St. Louis to win the 2013 World Series

Legends of the Black Diamond

Heroes of the Negro League were memorialized at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Jimmy Fund Night - Fenway Park

Jimmy Fund Night – Fenway Park – an artifact from Fenway Park in Boston, shown at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Yankee Stadium - the House That Ruth Built

Yankee Stadium memorabilia (“The House That Ruth Built”) featured at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

We Are The Ship - Kadir Nelson

Book at the National Ballpark Museum called “We Are The Ship,” by Kadir Nelson

Comiskey Park in Chicago - Old & New

Photo of Comiskey Park in Chicago during the final game at “old” Comiskey.

Mickey Mantle New York Yankees

Photo of Mickey Mantle batting for the New York Yankees.

Mickey Mantle quote + photo

Mickey Mantle quote at Yankee Stadium

Tony Kubek & Joe Garagiola

Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola, the guys who introduced me to baseball in the 1970s.

Bruce Hellerstein talks about Dodgers

National Ballpark Museum curator Bruce Hellerstein talks about this Dodgers memorabilia when we visited in Denver in May 2016.

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Bruce Hellerstein

The curator of the National Ballpark Museum in Denver, Bruce Hellerstein.

Los Angeles Dodgers gear at National Ballpark Museum

This was a big Los Angeles (and Brooklyn) Dodgers section at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers

The most important figure in the history of baseball is Jackie Robinson. If you haven’t seen the movie, “42,” watch it!

Tony Kubek, Yankees shortstop

A signed photo of Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek, and a newspaper clipping of Tony winning a rookie award.

Yankee Stadium sign, Department of Transportation

This is a sign pointing people toward Yankee Stadium. The sign is from the Department of Transportation and is found at the National Ballpark Museum.

Willie Mays, New York Giants (the catch)

A couple of mini-statues of Willie Mays, depicting “the catch” from Game 1 of the 1954 World Series against the Cleveland Indians from the Polo Grounds in New York.

Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field

The National Ballpark Museum had a little shrine to Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs.

California Angels, the inaugural year

A look at some really old-school California Angels paraphernalia from the National Ballpark Museum. The Angels debuted as an MLB team in 1961.

Texas Rangers, Arlington Stadium

A banner and a program from old Arlington Stadium in Texas, there is also a signed seat, I believe, from Nolan Ryan.

Seattle Pilots

Look at these collectibles from the Seattle Pilots’ one and only season before becoming the Milwaukee Brewers.

Babe Ruth's called shot

A photo/painting and a statue of Babe Ruth’s called shot at Wrigley Field in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.

Los Angeles Angels, the early days

The California Angels are now the Los Angeles Angels. However, from 1961-65 they were also the L.A. Angels. This is lots of paraphernalia from the really early days of the franchise.

Kansas City Athletics

Before the A’s were in Oakland, they were in Kansas City. Check out this 1960s memorabilia at the National Ballpark Museum.

Kansas City Royals

A pennant from the early days of the Kansas City Royals and Royals Stadium, found at the National Ballpark Museum.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Memorabilia from the early days of both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, found at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Millers

Memorabilia and paraphernalia from the early days of the Minnesota Twins and the minor league Millers of Minneapolis.

Cubs!

If I remember right, this Cubs logo was painted onto the floor at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Denver Bears uniforms (striped)

Love the striped look of the old Denver Bears, which played from 1885-1954 in its first incarnation and then until 1985 before turning into the Zephyrs.

Denver Bears (1970s-80s look?)

Interesting scripting on these Denver Bears uniforms. I’m betting these are late 70s versions.

Denver Bears memorabilia

More signs and clippings from the rich history of Denver’s Minor League Bears – located at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Baseball Tonite at Bears Stadium

Vintage sign from the Denver Bears, which played in two incarnations in Denver — 1885 to 1954 and then until 1985 before they were renamed the Zephyrs.

Babe Ruth clock

This was a neat artifact from baseball past at the National Ballpark Museum – a Babe Ruth clock. It might be a clock radio?

Reggie Jackson, Mr. October

Reggie Jackson went from great to legend in the 1977 World Series vs, the Dodgers. This presentation at the Ballpark Museum in Denver pays homage to Mr. October.

California Thinkin’: my takeaways from a trip to the Golden State

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A vacation to end the summer symbolizes the start of autumn, on the calendar if not the thermometer. It won’t start to feel autumnal in Oklahoma until November. To escape the last bit of heat in the Sooner State, we went to San Diego and Los Angeles for some sun, sand, surf, baseball, football and general adventures.

Last year, Kristi and I went to Albuquerque for our Labor Day trip.

This year, we went all the way West.

Some quick observations about southern California:

1 — They don’t have the big, sprawling convenience stores we have in Oklahoma and Texas. There’s no Buccee’s not to mention a big OnCue, QuikTrip or Love’s — not in the heart of Los Angeles or San Diego at least. The cost per square foot is too high, Kristi tells me.

Kristi was born in Los Angeles. She knows these parts.

2 — The difficulty of traffic in Los Angeles is probably overstated, based on my small sample size. There was a lot of it, but Dallas drivers go a lot faster. I remember when I first moved to DFW in 1996 and folks raced up Preston and Hillcrest — side streets — at 60 mph.

That was culture shock.

Los Angeles provided more of what I’d call a constant state of heavy traffic. Constant.

Kristi has since corrected me on this.

“Oh, honey, this was a holiday weekend. We didn’t see nothin'” in terms of real L.A. traffic.

As I said, she knows these parts.

3 — Folks are friendly in California, drivers and otherwise. Not sure that they’ll ever be as friendly as they are in our part of the world but I’ll posit this:

— the service at Petco Park in San Diego was best I’ve ever had at an MLB game

— the staff at Hotel Z in San Diego (the Pineapple) was as friendly if not friendlier than any staff we’ve had at any hotel

— I had my usual “random people talk to me in public” experience, which usually only happens down South but to which I’ve often attributed to my winning personality and approachability.

I have this “please come start a conversation” look on my face.

4 — Cell service is poor in California. I don’t know if “poor” is the best word for it, or rather if it should be “not as strong as you’d expect considering it’s California.” I just imagined Cali to be a haven of technical wonder and connectivity. I was left with ‘No Service’ and 4G in a lot of places.

5 — Much of Los Angeles is stuck in another era architecturally, and this isn’t a bad thing if you’re into all-things mid-mod. If the late 50s and early 60s are your stylistic jam, L.A. is your place.

What’s old becomes new again.

As I settle back into routine, I reflect on every new place I’ve visited this year. We spent a weekend at Beavers Bend in southeastern Oklahoma, a few days in north-central Virginia for a wedding, a trek across the South from Atlanta to Myrtle Beach to Asheville to Nashville and then our trip to Los Angeles and San Diego.

The place I could see myself retiring to? Asheville for sure, but with enough money for a decent beach house, Myrtle Beach or Santa Monica — either one — seem pretty appealing.

The entire state of Tennessee is gorgeous. North Carolina, too, I’d imagine. We only traveled through part of it. As for Tennessee, we covered it all along Interstate 40.

I’m refreshed and rejuvenated, as you should be after time away from home. Ready to get to work – the day job, my side interests and personal projects, all of it. I’ll post a few more stories from the road over the next few weeks, too.

And I’ll ponder future vacations.

Kristi and I are talking about London. I’d have to attend a couple football matches, Tottenham Hotspur and maybe some club in a lower flight. QPR? Sheffield Wednesday? Nottingham Forest?

We’re considering a football trip to West Point to watch Army play. They play the Sooners next year, but I think I’d rather be free to root for the Black Knights.

I’d still love to go to Montana and Idaho, catch a Montana Grizzlies football game.

I’d also love to trek through Canada — from Vancouver to Halifax — and maybe catch some hockey or a CFL game.

Dreams for 2019 and beyond.

For now, it’s time to reconvene the hustle.


Paco’s Tacos might have the best tortillas in America

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It’s Labor Day weekend 2018, and for the second straight year, Kristi and I are taking a little vacation.

Last year, it was Albuquerque.

This year, it’s Southern California.

And it’s my first time in Los Angeles. My first impression is that it’s a city deeply rooted in the 1950s and 60s. A lot of the architecture hasn’t been updated at all since then – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!

This was also my first time to land at LAX. Kristi and I rented a car through Budget, which is an awful company (all rent-a-car companies are poor, and I can’t wait until there’s an Uber-of-that-world).

But we survived.

And then we asked the Budget attendant about places nearby to eat.

She had a list. On that list was a Mexican joint I had never heard of: Paco’s Tacos. It could turn out that this place is a total chain, but on their website, I’m only seeing two locations, both in California.

Including one location right near the airport.

The first thing I noticed when we walked into the place was that it didn’t smell very good. The door is situated near the bathrooms, and they had some kind of plumbing issue.

Don’t let your nose fool you though. Have patience.

The host led us to a back room that was virtually empty. We got there well before lunch rush.

And then a waiter brought us homemade chips and a salsa that would rip paint off of metal. It was glorious and hot. For a mainstream type of restaurant, this was the hottest salsa I’d ever eaten.

They also had a station where two women were making homemade flour tortillas from scratch. Kristi and I devoured a stack of them with the help of some sweet cream butter.

And now I’ll stop.

The rest of the experience was good but ordinary. Tamales were good. Enchiladas were a-ok.

But for the chips and salsa and tortillas alone, I’d rate Paco’s Tacos as pretty much the best Mexican place I’ve been to in a long while.

You just have to get past the bathroom smell.

Pittsburgh baseball pilgrimage capped with visits to PNC Park

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Of all the places I’ve traveled to in the past decade, no place has surprised me as much as Pittsburgh.

I picked the Steel City three years ago as a baseball destination, a vacation to end the summer. I had never been to Pennsylvania, and I think I was fascinated by the city having watched Steelers games over the years and a few WTAE newscasts as part of my employment with Hearst Television. Plus, a friend of mine is from Pittsburgh, and I had heard a lot about the city from her over the years.

Didn’t make much of an itinerary aside from two baseball games, a Friday night and Saturday day game against the world champion San Francisco Giants. The Friday night game was a chance to watch the great Madison Bumgarner pitch, and Saturday a chance to watch Gerrit Cole.

I’ll blog about my other Pittsburgh experiences soon, including a visit to Primanti Bros., the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, the Andy Warhol Museum and a trip up Duquesne Incline.

However, for now, I present to you PNC Park.

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First of all, I knew it was going to be a good day when I was able to negotiate a deal for an all-day parking spot. There was this shaded parking area under a bridge, and it was supposed to be $15 through 6 p.m. and extra for Pirates parking, but I got there by lunch time and told the attendant my situation: I’m a tourist coming to see Pittsburgh, and it’s my intention to be downtown all day, eat at local establishments, root on the Pirates and take a crap ton of photos.

He told me to enjoy my stay in Pittsburgh and gave me the stub that would cover me through the Pirates game.

My first stop was Mullen’s Bar & Grill. I picked it because it was pretty big and had lots of TVs tuned to sports. It was noon, and I was on vacation, so of course I had a beer with lunch.

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But I didn’t have just any beer.

I had a Yuengling, my first. Yuengling is a Pennsylvania institution.

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My taste buds sensed the strong carbonation and robust flavor and were sent to beer heaven. I hate to describe it this way, in 2018, but it tasted like a manly beer. Drinking it made me want to chop wood and work on my car.

Mullen’s is within a couple blocks of the ballpark, and I noticed that the district was already busy with people, early in the afternoon. Mostly it was business people going to lunch, but the party atmosphere at PNC Park ramped up quite early, rocking and rolling by 3 or 4 p.m.

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon at the Andy Warhol museum, which didn’t allow cameras. Of all the artists whose legacy would support allowing randos to take photos and video of their work, it would have been Andy. He would have turned that video into art. I think it’s crazy that museums don’t encourage photos and videos. Crazy.

Alas, I didn’t know that much about Warhol going in and came out of it feeling like I had learned a lot and also understanding why he was such a vital modern artist. Highly recommend a visit, even though I have zero evidence as to why it was awesome. I’ll just say this: he was a beautifully weird, interesting cat. And he loved Pittsburgh.

Enough “culture.” Lol. Pittsburgh surprises many visitors in how significant its art scene is. This article from the Washington Post details the city’s public art scene.

In terms of cool factor, the only city that has compared with Pittsburgh, for me, was San Francisco. This is a strong segue back into sports because AT&T Park (Giants) is my favorite baseball park in America, and PNC is a very close second.

PNC Park is connected to downtown Pittsburgh by bridges sitting over the Three Rivers of Pittsburgh — the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio. There’s one bridge that everybody walks on to get from downtown to the park, a pedestrian pilgrimage unlike any other in sports. It’s named for one of the greatest humanitarians in sports history: Roberto Clemente.

Clemente died on Dec. 31, 1972, in a plane crash that should have never happened. The plane was overloaded and run by a super shady company. Clemente was headed to Nicaragua to help ensure that food donations were making it to the people who needed it there after a deadly earthquake.

You can’t go to Pittsburgh and go to a Pirates game and not honor Clemente.

So, by this time it’s 4 p.m., and happy hour is already cranked up to ‘We Are Family’ levels across the blocks that surround the Pirates’ baseball cathedral. Hours after I tried my first Yuengling, I was sipping my first Leinenkugel (“Berry Weiss”), people watching and looking for deals from Pittsburgh vendors.

And then I heard a cover band playing some INXS.

OK, that didn’t catch my attention as much as did this guy, who I presume is probably a banker or an accountant letting loose for the weekend. He was nice and toasty and dancing his ass off.

Fast forward to 7 p.m. and the march into PNC Park. My seats for the Friday night contest were behind home plate and high up, my favorite vantage point for watching a baseball game.

I sat next to a 60-some-odd-year-old woman and her crew and had my first pierogi.

Overrated. Don’t get it.

It’s a dumpling, a Polish ravioli.

Don’t @ me. When I visited Camden Yards the next year, my food treat was kettle chips with some kind of creamy crab cake concoction on top. There is no comparison between the two.

But I needed to try a pierogi, and I did and it was underwhelming.

The park and familial atmosphere of PNC Park was not underwhelming, however. It was fantastic. I felt like I was rooting on a local high school team. The fans were nice. Everybody describes St. Louis Cardinals fans as being the ultimate in nice, but I would submit to you that they haven’t visited Pittsburgh. Pirates fans, at least the mid-2010s variety, were friendly without the cockiness.

And this Pirates club was 72-47 to begin the weekend homestand. They were a contender.

Bumgarner and the Giants won the first game, 6-4. For my second game, a Saturday afternoon tilt for national TV, I sat right behind home plate down low. I could see the dust and chalk pop from the catcher’s mitt each time Gerrit Cole rocketed a fastball down the middle.

And instead of sitting by a friendly older lady, I was sitting next to the guy I’ll call the “old sea captain.”

He looked a little like Howard Schnellenberger. He smelled of cigars and sin.

And he told baseball stories from days gone by, so many and with such detail that I wouldn’t doubt it if he turned out to have been a former Major Leaguer. The Saturday game blazed by pretty quickly, a pitcher’s duel highlighted by seven really strong innings from Cole.

A wild pitch in the top of the eighth helped San Francisco even the score at 2-2, and then all was quiet until the bottom of the ninth when with two outs, Starling Marte decided to start the ‘Marte Party’ (pronounced mart-AY part-AY) a little bit early.

Bam. Gone. Celebration at home plate.

And then the Pirates raised the Jolly Roger to indicate a win.

I haven’t been to all the baseball cathedrals in this great land, but there has been none better in terms of atmosphere, location, beauty, architecture and fun than PNC Park.

If only the team could be better more consistently.

Lulu’s is more than enough proof that the (Jimmy & Lucy) Buffett family is genius

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I found out tonight that Jimmy Buffett has a sister, and she’s in the money business just like that Son of a Son of a Sailor.

We had dinner at Lulu’s in North Myrtle Beach. However, that sentence is not the most precise. The more correct sentence would be: We happened to eat food while spending a Thursday evening at Lulu’s.

Kristi and Olivia had eaten at Lulu’s earlier in their road trip, in Alabama, and Olivia loved the massive fish filet. Kristi noticed that Lulu’s was also in North Myrtle Beach, and well, it’s a challenge to find something a 9-year-old loves that’s also palatable enough to the adults.

So, consider us both sold.

What Kristi had prefaced our visit was: it’s not about the food at Lulu’s. It’s the atmosphere.

Ok, well, I figured whatever it is, it’s probably not horrible because it can be an hour or two wait to get a table – even on a Thursday night.

Thankfully, Lulu’s accounts for this with a giant sand pit for the kids to play. And a hoppin’ bar for the adults to play.

And then I hear the dude playing guitar strumming beach songs and classics like “Brown-Eyed Girl.” It made me think this was a place where Parrotheads might hang out.

Our scheduled wait was an hour and 50 minutes. No kidding. So, I had time to investigate – and it took me no time at all to discover the name Lucy Buffett.

It was on everything, including the impressive inventory of products in Lulu’s gift shop. They’re definitely collectors items considering there are only three Lulu’s locations: North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Gulf Shores, Alabama and Destin, Florida.

A quick query on Wikipedia produced the obvious: she’s related to Jimmy. His sister.

I started to view the experience in a different light. The sand pit was filled with kids, which freed up 30- and 40-something parents to knock back a couple drinks and exhale while we all waited for tables.

Those Buffetts are geniuses, truly they are.

I played in a Buffett cover band once upon a time, well before I was familiar with the man’s catalog. I learned them all from “Son of a Son of a Sailor” to “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” “Fins” to “Pencil-Thin Mustache” and of course “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Margaritaville” and “Come Monday.”

Played in Dallas and Galveston at some decent-sized Parrothead parties and gatherings. Always a great time.

The musician on stage at Lulu’s this night had an uncanny ability to make any song sound like trop-rock. He played Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Shawn Mendes’ “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back,” and made them both sound like Jimmy Buffett had popularized them.

The bartender, Rob, told me that each musician is required to play at least one Jimmy Buffett song per hour. He also told me how he and his dad perform Jimmy Buffett songs together, on the side.

In a beach town, that seems like a good business to be in – as is this type of establishment, which is more about a good time than it is food.

For the record, we had fish, oysters, some gumbo and fries. It was ok. Nothing to write home about.

I take that back: the crab toast appetizer was amazing.

But what we mostly had was a great time. It’s hard for me to think that Lucy Buffett couldn’t build one of these any damned where she wanted.

Including OKC. Could totally see this place on Lake Hefner.

That Buffett crew is a money-making machine, and worth every dollar.

Toes in the sand: Life is good in Myrtle Beach

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We got to Myrtle Beach super late Wednesday night, post-midnight Thursday morning. We might have arrived sooner if I hadn’t suggested we take a not-so-quick detour to Athens, Georgia.

There had been a bad accident along Interstate 20, so we might as well have. The jaunt from Atlanta to Athens adds an hour.

It was worth it.

My aim was to see Sanford Stadium and the University of Georgia campus. Just a drive-by. I came away super under-impressed, especially with Sanford Stadium. Mind you, I only got to see the outside. By every account, the field itself is gorgeous from what I’ve seen on TV.

Anyway, we drove straight through to the eastern side of South Carolina. We checked in to the Coral Beach Resort & Suites. The best way I can describe this place is “perfect for the beach,” much the same way hotels in Vegas are perfect for Vegas.

It’s utilitarian. Not fancy. Lots of security given that we’re in a vacation town with a fairly decent crime rate. The beds aren’t awful, and the rooms get ice cold. The floors in the halls get slippery as heck because we’re all basically staying in a giant beach dorm.

Speaking of which, there’s a hotel bar with grub on the beach, an establishment that is just for us hotel guests. Both Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, which we visited tonight, remind me some of Vegas. Lots of food, a billion tourists and lights everywhere.

By one account, Myrtle Beach is the 12th most dangerous city in America, and by another it attracts more new residents per capita than anywhere else in our union.

The median age is 45.8. Lots of retirees.

By the end of the second night, it reminded me mostly of Galveston, but smaller. And, also, by the end of night No. 2, we were spent.

After a three-mile run from 12th to 21st, down to King’s Highway all the way to 6th and back, I hit the beach with Kristi and Olivia. We rented an umbrella and some chairs, and I got a Yuengling and, later, a rum drink.

Kristi and I inhaled deeply as Olivia frantically started playing in the ocean and plotting her sand castle. She collected shells.

We soaked in moments.

You could smell the salt in the air, and the sand worked like a magical agent of exfoliation, washed away in 85-degree sunshine by cool waves from the Atlantic Ocean on our toes.

The sound of the wind and the waves erased temporarily the constant ringing in my head. It was delightful!

Kristi and I soon joined the young castle builder to help. Olivia and I later emptied our pockets and rode as many waves as we could, too.

The castle was complete but with little help from me.

And then we cleaned up and headed to the hotel pool, doing laps in their “lazy river” section.

I took the first trip back to the room for a shower, and I was zapped. In the best possible way.

I’m certain I could never be a ski bum — but a beach bum? In an instant.

Breakfast with full-on Southern charm: Buttermilk Kitchen everything I expected Atlanta to be

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Flew in to the ATL Tuesday night with a trip through the Deep South ahead of me. But my first mission was breakfast.

A quick Google search landed me on an Eater.com article detailing the “24 essential breakfast spots” in Atlanta. First listing was a place on Roswell Road called Buttermilk Kitchen.

It’s great to step away from the newsroom and experience a little bit of Americana. I’ve never traveled beyond Mexico (yet) but I’ve loved every trip I’ve taken across the United States.

Well, maybe except for Wilmington, Delaware. Did not like that little crime-infested city. Took a jog through town only to learn later that I was fortunate to not have been a murder victim.

But I digress.

The Buttermilk Kitchen lived up to the expectations Kristi and I had for Southern dining. Big time.

The first thing I always ask is, “What’s the one thing you tell folks that they absolutely have to try?”

The waiter’s answer? Chicken biscuit.

Sold. It was a big piece of fried chicken on a from-scratch sweet biscuit with a hint of red pepper jelly, a side of cheese pimento grits and some pickles. I’m a sucker for good grits, and these were magnificent. Best I’ve had since a Virginia trip I took a few years back.

Kristi ordered a pimento cheese omelet with thick maple bacon and red pepper jelly. With a side of more bacon, of course.

Bacon.

When we do our adventures, we order two plates and share. And there wasn’t a bite of either dish that didn’t make me think Buttermilk Kitchen wasn’t one of the ten best restaurants I’ve ever patronized.

Even their coffee was on-point. I had hot and Kristi got iced with cream. Strong, flavorful with a side of cream and vanilla syrup.

My first impression of Atlanta was as a cosmopolitan metro are with lots and lots of green, as if NYC’s Central Park was as big as the city itself.

But the impression of Buttermilk Kitchen was positive enough that I gotta encourage anybody stopping in the ATL to eat there.

Top 10 meal, all-time.

Running trail between Alexandria and Mount Vernon is fantastic

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Before I visited Lake Anna and the swamps of north-central Virginia over the Memorial Day weekend in 2018, I visited Old Dominion in March 2017 when it was considerably colder.

As long as wind isn’t involved, I’ll take colder over hotter any time.

The reason I’m posting this blog is because in my previous blog about Lake Anna, I referred to an awesome running trail in the Alexandria area. It brings to mind something that was announced in my home metro of Oklahoma City. Leaders recently announced that they would connect the entire city via bicycle and pedestrian trail, which I think is highly commendable.

Oklahoma City is improving, step by step and day by day. Underrated li’l city we have.

But Alexandria is an incredible area. It’s where affluent D.C. pros live. There are lots of government careerists, military lifers, politicians and communicators alike and the people who love and support them. To me, it feels like a city of high achievers.

Slackers not wanted.

And near the house where we planned to stay but eventually didn’t because a kiddo had the flu, there was a trail. It was a paved trail that went for miles and miles between Alexandria and Mount Vernon. I don’t know how many miles it went, but I ran four miles worth — and as usual, I took photos.

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And recorded a couple videos.

It was 39-40 degrees that day, which at that point was the coldest weather in which I had ever run. I really, really enjoyed this run, and it makes me look forward to what OKC is doing relative to pedestrian trails. It’s a big deal, and it should be a priority. It encourages exercise and wellness, and it could lessen our dependence on cars and ultimately reduce health care costs as we get older.

Total win-win, even if it costs us a few dollars in taxes.

Would love it if you gave me a follow on Twitter (@ryanwelton) or a subscription on YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/ryanweltonmusic.

Lake Anna getaway my latest Virginia adventure

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It’s like Virginia is becoming my second home.

This is at least my third trip to Old Dominion in the past three years although there might have been a fourth adjacent to a Washington D.C. visit. Two years ago, for work, we flew in to Virginia Highlands Airport near the southwest Virginia town of Abingdon, before eating a wonderful Southern lunch in town and visiting a couple work sites, in Max Meadows and Toms Brook.

Abingdon is a little more than 8,000 people, and I distinctly remember the restaurant where we ate. I couldn’t remember what it was called, but they served the best grits dish I’ve ever had. Fantastic restaurant. I’m searching my phone for photos right now. Hold on. Surely, I took photos. That’s why one does so: to preserve memories of magnificent meals. How does one ever remember what they ate otherwise?

And here’s what I found: We ate at the Bone Fire Smokehouse, and the dish to which I referred was the White’s Mill Grit Cake: “fried jalapeno cheese grits from locally ground grits from the Historic White’s Mill. Served three on a plate with our famous Grit Sauce and topped with goat cheese and scallions.”

One of the best eats ever.

I’m highly disappointed in myself that I didn’t take a photo of the dish. But here’s one of the empty restaurant at noontime. What was I thinking?

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I remember thinking: what a neat little joint and quaint small town.

On to Toms Brook and Max Meadows. Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores have locations there, and that was the business reason for the venture. The traveler in me couldn’t help but notice the beauty of our scenery, however.

Tall trees, greenery everywhere and mountains were the backdrop. The mountains were so tall that they rose beyond some low-sitting clouds. I believe the area is geographically known as the Tennessee River Watershed, and the greenery of what I am seeing appears to be the far-southwestern edge of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.

I remember thinking: the people who live here get to look at this every day. So lucky.

Other Virginia trips before this most recent:
I’ve been to suburban D.C. several times. When I visit our nation’s capital, I often spend time in Alexandria. Super nice. Super affluent. Colonial yuppie might be the best way to describe it. Smart people, military careerists, political operatives and high-achievers.

I went for a trail run in 2017, probably the coldest run I’ve ever done. It might have been 38 degrees. However, I remember that the city had designated quite a long stretch of blacktop to those who enjoyed running. Was hyper-impressed.

And now I’m on my second trip to Lake Anna in north-central Virginia, just southwest of Fredericksburg and northwest of Richmond. It’s a beautiful getaway for folks who want a leisurely weekend or who like water activities. I’m not a swimmer, boater or any of the sort. I enjoy looking at the water, but that’s about it. Here are some photos from the beautiful lake house and lake front.


But I am a runner. So, my first quest was to find somewhere I could run, and there is not much available best I can tell. You sure can’t run along the winding roads near Lake Anna and Spotsylvania, not unless you want to get hit by a car. During my first visit to Lake Anna in 2016, I was able to run near the lake house where we stayed, mostly because it wasn’t traveled and there was a shoulder, albeit slight.

Our lake house for this visit is on top of a tall hill (the Stubbs Cove overlook), and the road up to the house is quite treacherous.

Kristi suggested I try Lake Anna State Park, so that’s what I did. She always has good ideas. Being that it was Memorial Day weekend, I was expecting a big crowd at the park. That was not the case. It cost $7 to utilize trail parking, and the ranger informed that the only trails were on dirt.

I needed to run. Dirt it was.

The first path was called ‘Sawtooth Trail,’ and I quickly figured out that if I didn’t want to break an ankle, I needed to plant my feet carefully. There was nobody out here aside from a father and two kiddos bicycling and a solitary deer trying to escape my view. I needed to pay attention to where I was going lest I be the subject of a future news story.

The man’s vehicle was found outside the trail. His body was found only 50 feet from its exit.

“Oh, he almost made it, Marge,” Joe said.

“Too bad. If only he had taken lots of photos along the path,” Marge replied.

I was paying attention, not only to my surroundings but to my feet. Ended up running and hiking close to five miles on the afternoon. And I took a handful of photos to boot. The humidity was set to “swamp,” so I had sweated a pound off my fightin’ weight.

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Like a dingbat, I didn’t wear any insect repellent either, so I wasted no time getting into a shower and washing the bugs and dirt away. The more that I run, and the more that I run when I travel, the more I realize the need for a running list of things to take with me when I go.

Speaking of lists, I then had a grocery list of items to get for the night’s festivities, which included a rehearsal dinner for a wedding. Kristi’s sister was getting married, and that’s why we were here. We had visited here for her birthday a couple years ago, and we had a great time.

I also needed to get some copies made on a Memorial Day weekend in a part of the world unfamiliar to me — so I did what I always do when I need to find my way. I looked for a Walmart or a Target. There are usually all sorts of businesses near either, and in this case I found a FedEx Office nearby the local big box.

Mission accomplished, although I was a bit disappointed by this particular Walmart’s selection of sports apparel. That’s how I make any trip to the big box stores interesting; I look for sports gear. I figured I might be able to find a Washington Capitals t-shirt on the cheap (since they’re in the Stanley Cup Finals) or a Virginia Cavaliers or Virginia Tech Hokies shirt. Nope, the only thing they had was for the Washington Nationals. Blech.

On this getaway, I’ve even found some time to read and write, which I count as a big win. I’m currently reading “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon.

And this doesn’t at all feel like this is the last time I’ll be at Lake Anna either. In fact, the whole Virginia-Washington D.C.-Baltimore area is feeling awfully familiar to me these days.

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