Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Birthday Weekend in PDX

Tuesday, August 28th

First some photos from the latest roll on Snapfish.

These Art Deco-looking pylons support the roof of KC's Convention Center (Bartle Hall). Each pylon is topped with an aluminum sculpture (collectively known as "Skystation"). The pylons support the roof, meaning that the exhibit space inside has no columns and giving Bartle Hall the largest column-free convention space in the world. The entire building is situated atop the 6 lanes of I-670. Though the columns look deco, they were actually erected in 1994.

This is what $225 worth of fried chicken looks like. I wish you could smell it... The Styrofoam dishes in the foreground contain potatoes, green beans and gravy.

Vera, Steve, Ryan and Keith dig in.

Arthur Bryant's Barbecue

Cuz and our mountains of barbecued meat.

This sign is near the light rail tracks in Portland. I think it's supposed to communicate that the train tracks are dangerous for bicyclists, but all it said to me was: "take a picture."

Boomer the Portland Beaver's mascot.

Portland's Union Station. They run relatively frequent service up and down the West Coast.

The streets in the NW portion of Portland are arranged alphabetically, the "E" street is named for me!

My birthday dawned clear, bright and warm in Portland. I took the MAX light rail up to Washington Park. On the map, the Washington Park MAX stop and the Portland Rose Gardens aren't that far apart. The city runs a shuttle bus between the two, but it seemed like it might be a nice walk. What the map doesn't indicate very well are the many changes in elevation... I had quite a nice hike through the arboretum and the hills of western Portland. The walk was definitely worth it when I arrived at the Portland International Rose Test Garden. Situated on 4.5 acres, the garden features more than 7,000 rose plants on tiers in the hillside. The view is breathtaking; roses upon roses in the foreground, Portland's skyline in the middle distance and all of it backed with the Cascade Mountains and Mount Hood. New varieties of roses are sent from all around the world to the garden, where they are planted and tested for color, fragrance, disease resistance and other attributes. The variety in the roses is amazing. There are roses of every imaginable hue (except blue - roses currently have no gene for blue, though there are pale lavenders), size and habit. It was an amazing place.

Right next door to the Rose Garden, is the Portland Japanese Garden. Like the Chinese Garden I visited on Tuesday, the Japanese Garden is built to be an authentic recreation of a traditional garden. It is bigger than the Chinese Garden, giving people an opportunity to spread out more and making it feel more peaceful. Built into the side of the Portland West Hills is a towering waterfall. The sun was behind and filtered through the trees when I visited, which lent a beautiful quality to the light. The waterfall splashes down in several levels and into a big pond full of koi and irises. I sat at the base of the falls for a long time and just took the place in. The garden also has a natural section which should win an award for best use of lichen. It features many meandering streams and plants in a more natural, less formal, arrangement. There are also rock and sand gardens, flat gardens and a tea garden. Throughout the garden are examples of traditional Japanese architecture, decorative arts and even a haiku.

For dinner, I went to Dan & Louis Oyster Bar with Piper, Graham and Callie. In business since 1907, Dan and Louis specializes in oysters from the local Yaquina Bay and the Northwest. Though we didn't sample the famous Oyster Stew (we all have a list of things to try on a second visit), we did try all of the local oysters on offer. My favorites were the tiny Kumamotos. The oyster meat was barely bigger than my thumbnail, but very flavorful. We also shared an order of almost unbearably rich artichoke and dungeness crab dip. The dining room looks like the hold of a sailing ship and is decorated with all kinds of oyster and ocean related stuff: old oyster dishes, paintings of ships, even portholes. Roadfood steered us in the right direction once again!

At intermission, the Spamily had three kinds of ice cream cake for me. (We have an ingenious set up for birthdays here. The last person to celebrate their birthday, buys the next person's cake. We can turn in the receipts to Company Management and get reimbursed. This way, no one person gets stuck with birthday duty!) Darryl and Angelina picked out a traditional chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream as well as an "Oreo Pie" and a "Mud Pie". The whole Spamily was on a sugar high for the first half of the second act.

After the show, Elaine arranged a Spamily outing to Thatch Tiki Bar in my honor. Thatch's ad read: "No Lottery. No Karaoke. No Smoking. Just Good Tiki." These people took their tiki very seriously. From the outside, Thatch doesn't look like much: just a regular store front. The interior is a very different story. You pass through the front door and onto a bridge over a water feature of a staged ocean scene. The bridge ends at the front door of the tiki hut. The restaurant is completely enclosed by a tiki hut built inside the building complete with a thatched roof, wood plank floors and walls made of woven mats. It's amazing! The chairs and booths are authentic space age antiques in the "googie" style. The menu held drinks with names like Mai Tai, Chi-Chi (served in a ceramic coconut), Blue Hawaiian and (my personal undoing) the Volcano Bowl. The Volcano Bowl is described on the menu thusly: "Flaming drink of goodness, a Thatch original creation: vodka, white rum, coconut, pineapple, lemon, cranberry, banana. Minimum three people." It is served in a giant ceramic bowl with a half dozen straws. In the center of the bowl is a hollow volcano which the bartender fills with rum and sets ablaze. Awesome. There are some photos of me sipping from my second volcano bowl wearing a pith helmet and a lei - I will try and get a copy to post here. Thatch also served up a mean PuPu Platter (also, of course, in the old school tradition). The Spamily invaded and took over the place. Lots of folks turned out - many of us in Hawaiian attire. Thank you to Elaine and Steve for picking out the place and arranging the whole affair. I had a blast.

One of the puffer-fish lights that hung above the bar at Thatch.

Saturday I went to the Portland Farmers Market. I came back with fresh corn, beets and berries. They're still getting small, sweet, fresh strawberries here! I also picked up a bunch of gladiolas for my hotel room. They also had several prepared food merchants at the market so I ate breakfast and came back for lunch at the market. I sat eating my gazpacho and tamale, sipping on a mango lemonade and listening to a jam band in the middle of the park. As I walked to work, I passed the PSU Campus Christian Mission. They had a sign out front that read: "May your day be filled with peace and joy." I smiled all the way to work.

Sunday between shows, Karl, Ken, Geoff and I hit the Portland Italian Festival in Pioneer Square. Their food court was great! In addition to the expected sausage with peppers and onions, they had representatives from many of the local Italian restaurants serving up their specialties. I had an artichoke and prawn ceviche and a spinach lasagna with shredded beef. The desserts also proved irresistible: Karl had a pistachio gelato and I shared my tiramisu. All the while we were serenaded with live music sung in Italian.

Yesterday, Nate (our flyman) hosted us all at his home for a cook-out. He has a lovely corner of the world to call home. His backyard is surrounded by the pine and fir trees that are so prevalent here. He set up a badminton court and we threw boccie balls all around the yard. Everyone brought their dogs and his friends brought their kids - it was a perfect summer backyard barbecue. Nate spent days preparing the food! We enjoyed grilled carne asada tacos, local crabs, grilled polenta, grilled portobello mushrooms, corn and potatoes - the bounty seemed endless. He also made up two enormous coolers of margaritas: mango/cilantro and watermelon. Delicious. It was the perfect way to spend a late summer day off and to wrap up a wonderful birthday weekend!


Thursday, August 23, 2007

What a Difference a Week Makes

Thursday, August 23rd

What a difference a week makes, 168 little hours.

It is both one of the challenges (and the joys) of life on tour that no matter how things are going, just wait a minute and they will change. In the case of the move from Kansas City to Portland, it was a change for the better!

The weather improved dramatically. The high in Kansas City on Sunday was over 90 degrees. On Monday, Portland's high was 67. Lovely.

The theatre is Portland is a 1960's performing arts center. What it lacks in architectural charm, it makes up for in convenience. We have plenty of room and the crew is professional and great (I even have a hand nick-named "Crowbar").

The vibe of the city is the biggest change. Portland is the friendliest town we've played thus far. The city is walkable and has a public transportation system that seems easy to use. There's plenty to do and to see. Also helping matters, I have a kitchen in my hotel room and easy access to the Whole Foods!

We arrived on Monday after an event-free trip. I was checked in and settled by 5 PM. Sigh of relief! Monday evening, I went to PGE Park to watch the Portland Beavers (AAA San Diego) take on the Las Vegas 51s (AAA Dodgers).

This is Boomer the Portland Beaver

And the 51s' Alien (please note the baseball stiching on his forehead!)

PGE Park is sunk into the Oregon hills, creating a pretty ballpark. It's also an old park (it opened in 1926). The park has an ivy-covered wall in the outfield and a covered semi-circular grandstand that extends just beyond the bases. The only drawback to the park is the playing surface; they play on AstroTurf. The park can be converted to play football (for Portland State) or soccer (for the Portland Timbers). One of my favorite features was the manual scoreboard. I always imagine that working inside the scoreboard would be a great job... The home team won (6-4) and I enjoyed spending the evening with Eric (our short-timer - he leaves at the end of this engagement - front light man).

The exterior of PGE Park

The awesome manual scoreboard. The "at bat" numbers are as big as a person!

I also had Tuesday off (it was a 1800 mile trip from Kansas City, so the trucks couldn't make it in time for a Monday morning load-in) while the crew started at the theatre. I strolled all around Portland. I walked over to the Chinese Gardens and enjoyed their tranquility. I also enjoyed a Chinese tea ceremony beside their pond. It was a sampler of three different green teas: really lovely.

The Portland Chinese Garden

I also strolled along the Willamette River - I really enjoy the cities with a water feature. They have a greenway all along the river and parks throughout town. It is beautiful here. I made myself dinner on Tuesday night - an especially happy event. I roasted beets, made a couple of ears of corn, a green salad and a piece of flank steak that I rolled with rosemary and basil then topped with blue cheese. I was overjoyed.

Wednesday, Spamalot was firing on all cylinders. The load-in went very smoothly and the show was as good an opening night as we've had in a long time. Coming from the bunch of hands we had in KC, these guys are GENIUS. Since we opened on Wednesday, we had to make up a show with a double header this afternoon (a trade-off I'd make anytime!).

Tomorrow I plan to visit the famous Portland Rose Gardens and treat myself to some local oysters!


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Photos (and a song)

Wednesday, August 2nd

First, the photos:
I recently got two rolls of film back from Snapfish. The first is from St. Paul. The second is from Kansas City. The customary highlights:

From St. Paul:

The Twin Cities Model Railroad Club Layout - they even have a model of Mickey's Dining Car!

Karl outside the Model Railroad Club

Midway Stadium

The unidentified pig!!!

Waving our rally flags.

Irish step dance school

A pipe band marching past the porta-potties

And then from Kansas City:

The marquee of the Music Hall

Storm clouds over the stage door

Some of the dry goods from the Arabia Steamboat

And now a song, composed by Ken Davis - I think the melody will be obvious:

Everything's up to date in Kansas City
Except the Kansas City Music Hall
They got an air conditioner that makes the hallway freeze
But the heat on the stage will bring you to your knees.

The stagehands are really dumb in Kansas City
Every show is just like opn'ing night
They got a collective IQ somewhere around ten
I hope I never play this town again.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City

Tuesday, August 21st

While that may have been true in the fictional world of Oklahoma, it is certainly not true today. The Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City is a beautiful building. It opened in 1936 and contains a 9,300 seat arena, the 2,400 seat Music Hall (where we played) and a smaller theatre. The building is emblazoned with a great inscription: "A Monument to the Public Spirit and Civic Ideals of the People". It's got some cool Art Deco architecture and a couple of beautiful murals in the lobby. It's coolness ends there. The stage of the Music Hall is on the 3rd floor of the building. The loading door is in the basement. Everything show related has to be brought up 4 floors in a freight elevator. The stage house was just large enough to accommodate our show, but the backstage areas were extremely tight. Half the dressing rooms are located on the so called "3 1/2 Floor". The elevator doesn't go there - everything for those rooms had to be carried up by hand. The building is owned by the city, there are layers upon layers of bureaucracy involved in the simplest things (like getting the doors unlocked or the freight elevator repaired when it breaks down). Everything about the physical building was a trial (to close the door to the Stage Management office, we had to rearrange the furniture each night - there wasn't room for our three desks).

Municipal Auditorium

The crew was terrible. They don't get a lot of broadway shows in Kansas City, so most of the employment for the local stage hands is at the convention center. (Our traveling guys refer to convention center stage hands as "carpet kickers" - they spend a lot of time unrolling carpet in convention halls.) The guys hired as the spot light operators were relating their experience behind spots in terms of hours (and it showed). Every night was opening night for most of the crew. They didn't remember what they did yesterday and had to be reminded about every cue. They never did learn the show and kept making stupid mistakes.

Wayne, our wardrobe supervisor, never even made it to load-in in Kansas City. He arrived at the hotel (after our very eventful travel day - see my previous post) feeling ill and went to the emergency room. He had some sort of crazy infection on his backside that kept him away from the theatre for most of the week. In a strange coincidence, Matt (one of our ensemble boys) also had an infection on his backside. Matt had a staph infection that kept him out of the show all week. Patrick (Lancelot) had flight delays coming from New York on Tuesday and missed the show, meaning that his understudy (Jonathan - who had never performed the role) was put on at the last minute on Tuesday. With our regular King Arthur (Michael) still away on vacation, this gave us a line-up that included 6 different covers performing on opening night in Kansas City.

The company pulled together and gave a great performance in Kansas City. (You can read the review here.) While the show went reasonably well, we had our share of backstage dramas and by the time the curtain rang down, we had all just about had it with the whole situation. Company Management to the rescue! While the presenters in KC were not throwing us an opening night party, Karl tacked a notice to the call board that the company would be picking up the tab at the hotel's bar until midnight. The entire company descended on the very surprised waitstaff back at the hotel and rang up an enormous tab. Karl (and Touralot's) gesture was a much appreciated release on the tension that had been building since we left St. Paul!

While in Kansas City, I hit a personal record number of roadfood joints - 4 (and one more that should be). I enjoyed the justifiably legendary barbecue at Arthur Bryant's, a Kansas City Strip at the Hereford House, and a hamburger and a malted at Winstead's. The two culinary highlights of KC were the barbecue I had inside a gas station and the fried chicken Piper and I drove 10 miles to get to between shows.

First, the barbecue in a gas station. Oklahoma Joe's sells a T-shirt which reads: "My favorite restaurant is in a gas station" and I seriously considered buying one. Erik and Ryan discovered this place quite by accident. They were out playing disc golf when Ryan decided he needed a bottle of water. They went to the Shamrock gas station on the corner. As soon as they were out of the car, they knew something was up: the air was perfumed with barbecue. Inside the convenience store, there was a line of people and a wall full of BBQ awards. They ate and they both told me about it. The next day, I met Erik there for lunch. There was a huge line of people from all walks of life (Grandmothers, Construction Workers, guys in suits) waiting at the counter. I ordered the pulled pork sandwich (Carolina-style: with spicy slaw on the sandwich) and a side of the smoked chicken gumbo. The sandwich was barbecue heaven (it made me forget all about Texas' weird barbecued beef ideas) and the gumbo was outrageous (it was 105 degrees in KC but I was happily eating hot gumbo).

Roadfood.com described the fried chicken at Stroud's thusly: "Stroud's makes the most delicious fried chicken in America. " Now, if Michael Stern, who I trust eminently in matters of the greasy pallet, says something is the most delicious in America, I have to try it. Between shows on Saturday, Piper and I drove out to Stroud's a picked up more than $200 worth of fried chicken and sides (we had interested a total of 14 people in chicken from Stroud's - you didn't think it was all for us, did you?). Stroud's is a KC institution. Their current location is north of the city on a piece of property known as Oak Ridge Manor. The restaurant is housed in a building that dates back to 1829. It sits on a pond and has its own chapel. My great regret is that we didn't get to eat there. (When we arrived to pick up our booty, there was a wait of more than an hour for a table - we didn't have that kind of time!) Everyone's meal came with choice of potato (everyone chose their fluffy mashed), green beans (there was almost as much pork in each dish as there were beans), salad or soup (I got the homemade chicken noodle - delicious), gravy (yum!) and two cinnamon rolls. The cinnamon rolls were the surprising perfect accompaniment to the meal. Not a Cinnabon type of gooey mess, these were buttery dinner rolls with a thick crust of cinnamon on top. They were the hit of the meal. Oh yeah, the chicken was tasty too! We all ate happily together on the second floor of the theatre and shared stories of just how bad the local crew was!

I did fit in some sight-seeing between my gastronomic pursuits. On Thursday, I visited the Steamboat Arabia Museum. The Steamboat Arabia sank in the Missouri River about 10 miles from Kansas City in 1856. In 1988, the wreck was uncovered in a cornfield hundreds of yards from the current course of the river. When the wreck was uncovered, much of the more than 200 tons of cargo on the vessel was found to be perfectly preserved! The mud and water at the bottom of the river had kept air from spoiling the ship's contents. When it was all recovered, the find marked the single largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world! Much of it is displayed in the museum: buttons, tools, guns, shoes, hats and even jars of pickles and perfume. The guys who excavated the wreck ate some of the pickles they found and drank some of the champagne, it was still good! It was a really interesting window into the past.

Steamboat historical fun-fact: The paddles on a steamboat's paddle wheel were not all the same size. The paddles were smaller on either end of the piston's stroke (where there is less power) and larger in the middle of the stroke.

I also visited KC's Union Station. When it opened in 1914, KC's Union Station was the third largest railroad station in the country. Kansas City was a major transportation hub then and the train was the way to travel. Today, Union Station has only a handful of regularly scheduled Amtrak trains, but still leads the nation in terms of freight tonnage that passes through town. The station has been given a second life. It contains a children's science museum, restaurants, a post office, theaters and a planetarium. I visited the science museum as it had an exhibit on the railroads and Kansas City. The building was busy on the day that I visited and I was glad that this grand old piece of history had found a new life.

On Friday, a local Kansas City radio station held their annual Elvis Parade. Last week marked the 30th anniversary of the King's death, and the good people of Kansas City came out to pay tribute in this tacky tribute. I only caught the very end of the parade, but Fran took these photos:

These photos pose the (to me) eternal question: Why does everybody want to be the 1970's, jelly donut, sweaty, slightly rediculous, come-back Elvis? Why not the 1950's, slim, sexy, rebel Elvis? Thanks, Fran, for sharing the photos!

I was surprised by how big Kansas City is. The region is home to almost 2 million people. It is also home to some big companies: Hallmark, H&R Block, Sprint Nextel as well as the VFW (who were holding their annual convention while we were there - attended by the President, Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama and Fred Thompson). While I did enjoy parts of my week there, I was happy to get out of dodge. The 100 degree heat was a major bummer, and the working conditions sucked. It was with a great deal of excitement that I boarded the plane to Portland on Monday!


Thursday, August 16, 2007

I'm Goin' to Kansas City, Kansas City Here I Come

Thursday, August 16th

(Editor's Note: I thought I had already published this entry! I went in tonight to work on my Kansas City Wrap Up entry and discoverd this one still pending. Sorry for the delay!)

Monday morning dawned clear and bright in St. Paul. As good a day to travel as you can imagine. I boarded the bus to the airport at 7:30 AM with eleven of my coworkers and we headed to the airport. Our schedule was to fly from Minneapolis/St Paul to Chicago O'Hare (10-11:18 AM) and then on to Kansas City (12:10 - 1:39). Once we arrived at the airport, the travel day dramas began.

Before I go any farther, I should say that travel day is my least favorite part of life on tour. While I have become a much more adept packer (I unpack in every city - if there's enough drawer space, only my pants will stay in the suitcase.), I still don't like to do it. I have come to believe that air travel, while a wonderful and necessary part of modern life, is one of the most degrading things people in civil society can do to one another. Further aggravating my discomfort with travel day is that we travel in packs. While enjoy the Spamaliy as a whole, we are the people I hope will not sit next to me on the airplane. We shout to one another. We bring animals, yoga mats, shopping bags and all manner of other things on board the plane. We are the people holding up the line at the ticket counter. I try to approach travel days with a sense of calm and stoicism, but others will have to be the judge of how I fair.

Ok, so we arrive at the ticket counter. We're booked, obviously, as a group. When we approach the e-ticket machines, we are unable to be processed as the itinerary shows Tallulah (Francesca's cat) on each of our reservations. We all have to be individually, specially processed. There is not enough staff behind the counter and the line begins to build behind us. Nearly all of us have overweight baggage, more special help. The counter woman is really losing her cool.

The indignities of the security line happen as they always do.

We arrive at the gate. The gate agent announces that our plane will be late "due to mechanical difficulties". They begin trying to work out every one's connection issues. The gate agents suggest to Jeff (our Assistant Company Manager who is traveling with us) that they may be able to hold the plane for the Chicago to Kansas City portion of our journey until we arrive in Chicago. They also move all 12 of us to the front of the plane (so we can make a run for it in O'Hare) and book us to fly stand by on the next Chicago to Kansas City flight - just in case. While we're waiting, the cast begins to arrive at the airport and heads past us to their gate (their 10:45 flight on American is on-time). At 11:15 we board the plane. By 11:30 we're in the air. The pilot announces that construction at the Minneapolis airport added to our delay - they're working on the runway and can only land 28 planes an hour (at Northwest Airlines' major hub!).

At 12:30 we land at O'Hare. The flight to KC has left without us. 12 of us are added to the stand-by list for the 3:30 United flight to KC. The gate agent tells us that the plane is sold out. She suggests we could take the 6:00 AM flight tomorrow. We wait.

Karl and Jeff work the phones with our travel agent. They manage to book the wardrobe crew (who has to begin load-in in KC at 6:00 PM tonight) onto the second leg of the cast flight. They score some seats for a 7:00 PM flight for the musicians (who have to be at a 10 AM rehearsal on Tuesday). The rest of us (Jeff, Francesca, Ben - our Musical Director, Suzanne - hair, Lyn - our Lady of the Lake Understudy who was scheduled to sing the National Anthem at the Royals game that evening, Esther - Lady of the Lake, and myself sit and hope for the best. As the 3:30 flight is boarding, they find room on the plane for Francesca, Ben, Susanne and I. We're in the air!

We arrive in Kansas City around 5 PM. The cast flight landed just ahead of us, so we'll ride their bus to the hotel. We stand around the baggage carousel, hoping for the best. Eventually, one of my bags arrives. I was among the lucky ones - Francesca gets no luggage. The United baggage people have us fill out forms and tell us that there's a 9 PM flight, they're sure our luggage will arrive on that plane. They'll deliver our bags to the hotel tonight.

We're off to the hotel around 5:45. (The publicity people were meant to pick up Lynn and I for the ballgame at 5:45. Sad face.) We arrive and I check in to my room at the Hotel Phillips. It is lovely. Ahhh. I put the Yankees game on the radio and order room service.

At 10 PM, Francesca calls me. United has no record of her lost bags. The folks at the KC airport didn't file the paperwork. They think her bags are in Chicago. They will probably arrive tomorrow. I check on my bag. The website says that they don't know where my bags are, but they're performing a "priority trace". United is sorry for any inconvenience this may be causing me. The suitcase I did receive held my underwear, toiletries and shirts. I have the pants and shoes I've been wearing, no socks and no undershirts. I'll survive. I wash the khakis and hang them up to dry before bed.

I awake at 6:30 and find my pants are still very wet. The A/C in my room can't keep up with the 105 degree weather in Kansas City, meaning that my room is warm and a little humid. I iron my pants for half and hour in an effort to dry them. I'm sort of successful. I'm off to work.

Francesca and I both go straight to our trunks in an effort to find something else to wear (she's still in yesterday's outfit). All morning, the United website tells us that they don't know where our bags are, but they're performing a priority trace. Around noon, someone from United calls Suzanne and lets her know that her bag and eight others will be delivered to the hotel shortly. Happily, both of Francesca's and mine are with Suzanne's. The wardrobe crew's luggage is stuck at the airport. United won't deliver it because Fran, Roy and Wayner took an American flight to KC. American won't deliver it because their flight was on time. Jeff has to go out and pick it up. By one o'clock the last of our stuff arrives at the hotel.

While it was a trying day, I applaud most of the Spamily's grace in handling it. I also applaud Karl and Jeff for finding a way to get all of us to Kansas City on Monday. I really thought that someone would have to spend the night in Chicago. That we all got here was no small feat.

I will however, not grumble the next time there is a posting about travel by bus. (It's a six and a half hour drive from St. Paul to Kansas City. You do the math.)

I'll report on the events of Tuesday and beyond later...

Some photos I stole from Fran's blog from St. Paul:

I think this one speaks for itself...
Nate w/ some Spam swag.

Ken, Spammy and Roy

Mitchell makes a friend at the Twin Cities Irish Festival.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

St. Paul Wrap-Up

Wednesday, August 15th

After I dropped Sheila Marie off at the airport last Tuesday, I visited Fort Snelling. The 19th Century fort overlooks the confluence of the Mississippi and the Minnesota Rivers. It was a far-west outpost when it was constructed in 1819. The soldiers stationed there were supposed to keep white settlers out of the Indian lands and regulate commerce on the rivers. The army continued to operate the fort into the 1940's when it was decomissioned. Of course, the historic fort had little value to the army as it modernized, so it's buildings and wall were all destroyed except the "round tower". The Minnesota Historical Society rebuilt the historical fort to resemble its appearance in 1827. There are costumed re-enactors demonstrating all manner of fort activities and many of the buildings are outfitted as they would have been when the fort was in operation. While I find re-enactors sort of creepy (I'm not big on audience participation), it's always fun to see blacksmithing and seeing one of the fort's cannons fired was cool.

Musket Drill

Readying the Cannon

Wednesday morning, Karl and I visited the Twin Cities Model Railroading Club. Their club room is in a repurposed BNSF maintainence facility known as Bandana Square. The buildings are now filled with offices of all types, but they still maintain an obvious railroad industrial flavor. (The train-sized doors all along the building, a watertower and a retired steam locomotive out front all remind one of the building's history.) On the second floor, the club has constructed (and continues to add to) an enourmous "O" scale layout. The layout features scale replicas of many of the area's landmarks. Club members have recreated local bridges, depots and businesses. They even have a model streetcar that traverses their model of Minneapolis (powered by tiny overhead wires). One of the club members served as our guide, giving us the history of the railroads in the area and pointing out his favorite models. I hope I find something as fun to do with my retirement as these guys have!

Wednesday afternoon I went to the Ballpark. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and I was lucky enough to come up with a ticket to see the St. Paul Saints take on the El Paso Diablos. The Saints are an unafiliated team in the American Association Independant League. They're owned by Bill Murray and Mike Veeck (son of Bill Veeck: the man, allegedly, responsible for planting the ivy at Wrigley Field & having Harry Caray sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the stretch). While Bill was the owner of the Chicago White Sox, Mike engineered the infamous "Disco Demolition" promotion and was banned from professional baseball for many years. His luny legacy is in evidence with the Saints. The team's moto is "Fun is good" and it was one of the most fun times I've ever had at a ballpark.

The Saints play at Midway Stadium which is, undeniably, a dump. It's listed as having just over 6,000 seats, but the day I was there paid attendance was more than 7,700. They accomplished this by putting fencing around the warning track and setting up folding chairs for day campers on the warning track (anything that rolled under the fencing and into the kids was a ground rule double.) and with a whole series of wacky corporate sponsored suites. A local builder sponsors the "sunroom suite" in right field (it's a teeny building with a big sunporch). There's a hot tub in right-center field sponsored by a kitchen and bath supply place. A casino even straps a "lucky" fan to a billboard in right field - if they sit up their through the seventh inning, every one in attendance gets a five dollar cupon, if they make it through the game, the "lucky" fan gets $100 cash. The PA announcer is seated at a folding table on top of the home team's dugout. The "organ" is a casio keyboard set up under a tarp at the top of the bleechers. There are games and contests between every half inning (and sometimes while the ball game is going on). On Wednesday, there was a giant staring contest going on. There had been qualifying rounds during the tailgating before the game, and the final rounds were played during breaks in the play. The semi-finals took most of the second half of the 5th inning. The "winner" got to face the team's mascot (Mudonna - a giant, pink, curly-haired pig) for the title (complete with a boxing-style belt for the victor). As you might expect, it's difficult to beat a costumed mascot in a staring contest - but it was discovered at the last moment that Mudonna was using "stare-oids" so she was disqualified. (As the announcer put it: "Unlike Bud Selig, we don't condone using stare-oids.") There was even a real, live pig that came out on the field between innings IN DIFERENT COSTUMES. The strange part was, no one ever mentioned the pig or explained its presence. It just came out every half-inning and walked around (sometimes, the homeplate umpire fed it a bottle). CRAZY.


The game was close. The Saints took an early lead, but had to make a late inning comeback. At the top of the eighth ushers began distributing "rally flags". The flags consisted of an inflatable tube with a flag attached. We all blew up our flags and began waving them like crazy. The stands were a sea of these things. In the away half of the ninth, the local power company sponsored "The Energy Conservation Inning" and we were all invited to sit quietly, maybe even nap while the Diablos batted. In the bottom of the ninth, our rally flags were back out in force adn the team made a come-from-behind victory 4-3. There was some exciting baseball, and there was some terrible baseball (there's a reason these guys are playing in the independant league). For example: man on second, no one on first, the ball is hit in front of the runner betwen 2nd and 3rd, and the idiot runs right into a tag! That said, I had a really great time and I can't wait for the pictures to come back!

Friday afternoon, Vera (our Props Department Head) and I went to the Canterbury Card Club. The Card Club is the casino attached to a horse racing track. They only play card games (no slots, no other table games). I played 2/4 Hold 'Em and came out ahead around $90! We only played for about an hour and a half, so it was a pretty productive afternoon! Vera didn't fare as well as I did, so I bought us dinner on the way back to work.

Saturday morning, I wandered over to the Twin Cities Irish Festival. The festival was held in a park known as Harriet Island. The island sits in the middle of the Mississippi opposite downtown St. Paul, affording some beautiful views of town as well as a close-up look at the city's riverboats. The festival featured pipers, boxing, rugby, storytelling, Irish dancing and nuns giving massages. I swear, it's true. I took a picture of the nuns giving backrubs. There were tons of kids from local dance schools doing there Riverdance impressions. The all wore big masses of doll curls on their heads. Weird. There was also a big food tent. I enjoyed a Dublin Dog (there was cabbage inside the corndog) and some potato soup (perfect for a hot summer morning!). As I had two shows, I couldn't partake of the enourmous variety of beers on tap. When I arrived, the "Run with the Celts" 5K race was wrapping up. For completing the race, participants got a t-shirt and a free pint. The racers enjoying their pints in their running togs at 10:30 AM made me smile.

Sunday's matinee performance at the Ordway was bought out by the Hormel Corporation. As the makers of Spam, they underwrote our appearance in St. Paul and threw a party for the their employees and distributors before the show. The Spamobile was in attendance and giving away samples and some Spam-swag. The invited audience was not our usual crowd. I don't think they were familiar with Monty Python and many of our musical theatre jokes sailed by them, but they had a good time. We're used to a much more rowdy response, but I supposed that's a little more awkward when you're sitting next to your boss...

The return of the Spamobile

Monday we made the move to Kansas City (more about that in a later post). I quite liked St. Paul and was really glad to spend three weeks there. Next week begins the stretch of the tour that I've been most looking forward to: Portland, Salt Lake, Denver & Seattle. I've never been out west (save a visit to Pheonix) and am excited about all of those cities. But first, we have a week in "The Paris of the Plains". I took a break from barbecue, and am happy to be in one of the barbecue capitals of America.

Two rolls of film from Snapfish recently arrived:

Some highlights and other photos:

At the Twins game (thanks, Berg): Cuz, Maggie, JV, Erik, Matt, Suzanne, Roy, Callie, Tony, Amy, Piper & Julie

The Ordway

The auditorium at the Ordway

The Mill City Museum in the ruins of the Washburn "A" Mill

Singing "Happy Birthday" to Amy at intermission

Angelina and Darryl blow out their candles.

As is traditional, load-out day was blow-up spare pyro day. It makes me laugh every time! (Thanks, Francesca.)

Francesca also snapped this great photo of moving light focus.


Friday, August 10, 2007

5 Days With My Wife

Saturday, August 11th

I love my wife.
I love when she comes to visit.
It's not like being home at all, but it's pretty great.
We had a really wonderful 5 days - like a vacation without leaving the tour.

I had an understudy rehearsal on Friday afternoon and a show that evening, so wife-time was slotted around work-time. We began the day with a visit to Mickey's Dining Car. Even at 10:30 on a weekday, Mickey's was hopping. We snagged some seats way down at the end of the bar and tucked in. We were down in the land of the short order cook. The space behind the bar is so narrow, I'm not sure the waitress could have squeezed by the cook - even if she'd wanted to. It was a pleasure to watch this guy work. He was turning out all the food for the whole diner in what was, essentially, a hallway. (Sheila Marie leaned over the bar and closed the refrigerator door for him a couple of times. She could easily reach it from her seat.) The kitchen's layout was so ergonomic and smart, and his motions were so practiced, that it became a sort of dance. (Much like the work backstage during a busy transition does.) It was fun to watch. Oh, and the food was delicious, too.

Sheila Marie took this photo inside Mickey's. You can get a sense of just how close you are to the man making your food.

After rehearsal, we took advantage of the beautiful weather and ate dinner outside at El Patio. What a treat to find authentic Mexican food! Sheila went out on a limb and ordered pork and potatoes stewed in salsa verde (heaven) and I enjoyed a combo centered around a chile rellano. As wonderful as the dinner was, sitting outside was equally grand. The locals are all telling us how unseasonably hot it's been here, but this feels like summer used to feel when I was a kid. It's been around 90 degrees every day, it's been hot, but not awful. I've been glad to be back in the sort of Midwest that I grew up in. (I'm still not going to order a "pop", no matter what the waitress says...)

After the show on Friday night, Sheila joined a bunch of the guys and I for drinks. We went to McGovern's Pub with Tony, Mike, Cuz and Maggie. Maggie is Cuz's awesome wife. Since we've been in St. Paul for three weeks, lots of Spouses of the Spamily have been out for visits. It's really fun to meet everybody's special someones. Maggie is one of my favorites. She and Sheila Marie ended up entertaining each other quite a bit this weekend. We all spent a really fun evening chewing the fat at the pub: watching baseball highlights, cursing Barry Bonds (he hadn't yet broken the record and I was still angry at him) and laughing a lot.

Saturday morning, we headed out to the local farmers' market. Along the way, we passed through some sort of street fair that the local PBS station was holding. It was geared specifically toward the younger viewers, but I have to admit, I was pretty excited to catch a glimpse of Mr. McFeely. David Newell was signing autographs dressed in his "Speedy Delivery" outfit. If the line hadn't been so long, I'd have insisted on a picture with Mr. McFeely (he looks just like you'd imagine.) Of course, we'd also have had some fried cheese curds if the line hadn't been so long...

The farmers' market was charming. More traditional than the street fair atmosphere in Des Moines. We enjoyed some fresh roasted corn and Sheila Marie picked up some creamed honey. Mostly, though, we just enjoyed the atmosphere, the flowers and bustle of the place.

Another in our "camera at arm's length" series. This time enjoying some fresh sweet corn.

Glads, my favorite.

On the way back from the market, we explored the St. Paul skywalk system. Like Houston's tunnels, the skywalk lets locals escape the elements. (Here it's the slush and snow; there it's the awful heat and humidity.) Unlike Houston, the skywalks are open on weekends and evenings. Purportedly, they're open until 2 AM! They also give you a better sense of the architecture here as they pass through the buildings themselves. Sometimes you're walking through what would be an interior hallway, other times the outer edge of a building has been retrofitted so you're passing along just inside the windows. We especially enjoyed one of the buildings where, rather than knock a hole in the side of the building, they retrofitted the windows to be doors to the skybridge! The antique shutter hinges were still there. Like Houston, many of the buildings have retail space lining the skywalk, making it feel like a tiny shopping mall.

Ken gave me Saturday evening off, so Sheila Marie and I enjoyed another rare evening together. (It's sort of scandalous fun to be out and about at 8 PM on a show night!) We waited until after the show rush had subsided and went to dinner at the St. Paul Grill inside the St. Paul Hotel. We enjoyed a proper cocktail before dinner (a Negroni for her and a Manhattan for him) and took our time with our meals. The vibe in the Grill was wonderful - the exact opposite of Mickey's. The whole thing felt very grown-up and more like a dinner on vacation than on tour.

Dinner at the St. Paul Grill. That's some of the most delicious cauliflower I've ever eaten in the foreground.

Between the hotel and the theatre lies a magical place: the aptly named Candyland. You can't walk along the block of Wabasha street it inhabits and not be attracted to the smell. They roast their own nuts and make their own caramel corn, so no matter what time of day you pass by, there's a delicious aroma coming out of their storefront. They've been in business there since 1932 and they are candy experts. Sheila Marie and Maggie discovered one of their homemade treats: the Carmallow. A caramel covered marshmallow. Yum. They have all manner of sweets: salt water taffy, swedish fish, turtles, on and on. I love it there.

Between shows on Sunday, Sheila Marie joined the Spama-Management team for dinner at the Great Waters Brewing Company. They are Spam-mad around here. The show is sponsored locally by the Hormel Company, which is based nearby. So, the cross promotion is intense. At Great Waters, there was a can of Spam on every table, the waiters were in Spam t-shirts and there were special Spam offerings on the menu in honor of our little skit. We ordered the Spam Hush Puppies (aka Spam Fritters and Spam Balls). There were quite tasty. Cheesy hush puppies with just a "kiss of Spam" (thank you Jeff Dumas).

Monday was, of course, my day off - meaning a whole day with my lovely wife!

We began the day at Key's Cafe. An unassuming spot recommended by Karl, Key's is only open for breakfast and lunch. Like Mickey's, the folks here know how to do diner food right. There's a greater variety at Key's, though, and they seem less likely to have a big pitcher of lard stashed under the counter (turns out that's one of the secrets of Mickey's Potatoes O'Brien: a honest to goodness pitcher full of lard to be poured liberally over the browning potatoes). This is not to imply, however, that everything on the menu at Key's is uber-healthy. Sheila Marie and I split a caramel roll that was unbelievable - a giant, homemade cinnamon roll slathered in caramel sauce. Imagine the clouds parting, a ray of sunlight descending until it spotlights the roll and the chorus of angels singing: this is how my wife felt about this pastry. (Now imagine the sugar crash that comes a half-hour later. Thank goodness we both had some protein as well!) They also make a pretty mean plate of biscuits with sausage gravy.

We decided to rent a car and take a drive. Cuz and Maggie suggested we head a little bit north to White Bear Lake. When we arrived in White Bear Lake we were happily surprised to find a retired caboose next to a tiny railroad depot. The depot was repurposed as the local historical society, but was not open on Mondays. The caboose, however, was open for exploration!

We drove back to Minneapolis along the Mississippi river. We followed the river through some industrial areas then into former industrial areas repurposed as luxury lofts. Eventually, we ended up exploring the campus of the University of Minnesota. We enjoyed a relaxed lunch at cafe tables along the sidewalk in "Dinkytown" and shared a couple of malteds in a rooftop diner. We spent the balance of the afternoon taking in the Hairspray movie (I think I liked it better than she did. Not sure why it needed to be a movie - but it sure is fun to see kids singing and dancing on the big screen!)

On the banks of the Mississippi. (Even with the drought, the Red Cedar it ain't.)

Sheila Marie relaxing curbside at lunch.

Monday night, we hooked up with Kari and Paul for dinner. They're both in Minneapolis working on the Target annual meeting (held, where else, at the Target Center). Kari's been Stage Managing the gig for several years. In addition to presentations by various Target VIPs, the meeting features lots of bands and entertainers of all stripes. They'll both be here more than a week working on the gig. The kids are staying up north with her folks, so we could share some adult time. We went to Murray's for dinner. Murray's was a roadfood.com recommendation. (The review is here.) It is unlike anywhere else I've been on a roadfood recommendation, however. It's an old school steak house. While none of ordered the signature butter knife steak (it comes sized for two - Sheila Marie likes her steak more well done than I do...), we all enjoyed generous portions of beef. After dinner, we went to Rock Bottom Brewery for more conversation and some cheesecake. It was so great to see the two of them (and a treat to meet up with them on the road). They are both great people in their own right (Paul had some cool stories to share from the Pan-American Games in Brazil) and their one of our favorite "couple friends".

Murray's has a classic, sort of Rat Pack, feeling. (The burned out neon makes this picture appear more delapidated than the real thing.)

We drove back over to Minneapolis for breakfast on Tuesday morning. I had to share Hell's Kitchen with Sheila Marie. She was suitably impressed. My meal was just a wonderful as last time and she enjoyed the her lemon ricotta hot cakes.

Sheila's flight wasn't until the afternoon, so we explored one of Minneapolis' signature parks: Minnehaha Park. The park is home to the Minnehaha Falls (which the drought here in Minnesota had slowed to a trickle), Minnehaha Depot (a restored train station from the 19th Century), Longfellow House (a 2/3 scale recreation of Longfellow's Cambridge home - Longfellow wrote the Song of Hiawatha which immortalized the Minnehaha Falls) and the Steven's house (one of the oldest structures in Minneapolis and the site of the creation of the name: Minneapolis). It was a really beautiful park. We walked along the Minnehaha creek, read about the falls and the varying course of the Mississippi, and sat on the swings for a bit until we had to head off to the airport.

We had a lovely and relaxing visit. I miss her already. It's such a change of pace to have her out here on the adventure with me. I really enjoyed exploring Minnesota with her - I like it here a lot, and it was even more fun with her.

I'm glad that's she holding down the fort in NYC (it is, after all, my home), but her periodic visits make my tour life feel more like my real life.