Saturday, May 31, 2008

Greener Touring

Saturday, May 31st

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117986406.html?categoryid=2076&cs=1&query=green+touring

The Variety article linked above is about the efforts of our trucking company, Clark Transfer, to make the industry a little greener. Spamalot is one of the shows participating in the project. We pay extra to offset the carbon emitted by our 8 trucks as they bring the show to the people.

JV

Monday, May 26, 2008

Arrivals

Monday, May 26th

Perhaps arriving by plane isn't the magical and glamorous arrival that it once was. (I'm thinking of those black and white newsreels of stars emerging from planes in the early days of transcontinental flight with Sinatra's Come Fly With Me playing in the background.) However, soaring above New York harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, along the east side of Manhattan, past both Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium before finally circling Laguardia is a pretty great way to arrive back home. Likewise flying in over Lake Michigan, past the spires of downtown Chicago and dipping down into O'Hare is pretty great.

Last night's arrival in Minneapolis was unexpectedly spectacular. When we left Grand Rapids, there was some pretty heavy weather over Minneapolis: tornadoes, thunderstorms and large hail. We flew around most of the storm with only a few bumps. As we got near MSP the sun was dropping low and the light started to take on a bright orange hue. The thunderheads were magnificent just to the east of the airport. The setting sun turned the Mississippi River and all the surrounding lakes into brilliant orange mirrors. The buildings of downtown Minneapolis also glinted in the distance. It was a beautiful welcome to a great city.

Taxiing to our gate (photo from Gurr's cell)

JV

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Virtual Shot Night

Saturday, May 24th

OK, so I know that I'm all out of order. I owe you all a post on my week in Madison before I even start writing about Grand Rapids. However, I hosted shot night this evening and it turned out pretty well. In an effort to write about it before the details slip away, I want to share it with you.

I signed up for shot night intending to make a bacon bourbon cocktail. When that experiment didn't go as well as I had hoped, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do about my impending shot night. I decided to go local and feature a Michigan specialty. It wasn't immediately apparent how to make Archway cookies into a shot, so I was left with Vernors and cherries. I did some research on ginger ale drinks and cherry drinks. I went to the liquor store with recipes for both in my pocket, but ended up going a bit off script.

I wandered to a great gourmet shop called Martha's Vineyard after I read their online reviews. The reviewers commented a couple of times about how helpful the staff was, so I put myself in their hands. I explained that I was in town with Spamalot and that we had a weekly drink night. I further explained that I wanted to do something with a local theme and that I was thinking Michigan cherries might be a good one. The staff helped me pick out some cherry products for shot night!

Below are the goodies I picked out along with the "Michigan Cherry Fun Facts" I posted to accompany the drinking. (Shot night as "infotainment".)

Cherry Ginseng Wine (Served Warm - a'la Mulled Wine) from Traverse Bay Winery, Traverse City, Michigan

This one was a surprise hit! I got it as sort of an extra throw in to be different. The bottle suggested serving it warm in the cooler months and I warmed it to make it different than anything else I had on offer. It didn't smell very good, but tasted quite lovely. David Havasi suggested that this would be the perfect apre-ski drink and I think he hit the nail on the head. It really warmed your insides.

Bell's Cherry Stout from Bell's Brewery, Galesburg, Michigan

I knew we had several stout fans in the Spamily, so this one was a natural. I enjoy all the craft beers that Bell's produces (especially the summer brew: Oberon) so I was confident this would be a winner. Bell's produces this brew during the winter months, so I was a little bit lucky to find this one still on the shelf. It had strong coffee and chocolate overtones with a smooth cherry finish. Gurr, Cuz and Tony especially dug this one. At the end of the night there were a couple of bottles of Cherry Stout left over and I happily stuck them in my trunk to be finished off later.



Jason enjoys some Cherry Stout


Cherry Wine from Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan


The fellow at Martha's Vineyard specially pointed this one out as a tasty cherry wine. The Michigan tart cherries really stood out in this wine and made it quite enjoyable. I was worried that cherry wine would be overly sweet, but this was enjoyable. I can imagine drinking this wine in the summer time with food from the grill. The crowd enjoyed this one, there was nothing left at the end of the night.

Paula especially liked the cherry wine

Kreik (Cherry) Lambic from Lindemans, Vlezenbeek, Belgium



The only non-native product on offer. I knew, however, how popular the Belgian Lambics are. Sheila Marie adores the raspberry version and lots of folks pick a lambic when we go out to the Flying Saucer or another of the million beer bars. This one didn't disappoint: they were the first bottles empty.

I posted the following fun facts around:

- Michigan Produces 75% of the tart cherries grown in the US and 20% of the
sweet cherries.

- Most of Michigan’s cherries are grown in the Grand Traverse Bay Region (the pinkie finger of the mitten).


- Cherries are high in potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C and beta-carotene.

- Cherries have been shown to reduce arthritis pain and inflammation thanks to their anthocyanins (which are also responsible for the cherry’s red color).

- A cherry pie contains about 250 cherries. That’s roughly 28 pies per tree!

- Cherries were brought to America by Europeans in the 17th century.


- The National Cherry Festival is held each July in Traverse City, MI (the “cherry capital of the world”).



- Most of the cherries grown in Michigan are of the Montemorency variety. Sweet Royal Ann cherries are grown to be made into maraschino cherries.

- Cherries are harvested in late July by shaking the tree and letting the fruit fall onto a canvas laid around the tree’s base.

Everyone seemed to dig my Michigan cherry themed shot night. The last of us were still sitting around on the trunks that line the hallway laughing and talking past 11 o'clock.


Berg, Darryl and Rick enjoying shot night

Special thanks go to my charming wife who, as always, was the source of my good idea. She suggested the cherry theme and was my sounding board. Well done entertaining the folks of Spamalot even from afar.

JV

Friday, May 23, 2008

When Worlds Collide

Friday, May 23rd

Our publicity people sent along this bit of proposed advertising the other day:


My theatrical worlds have collided! I hope that this mash-up of shows never comes to pass in the real world. Santa AND King Arthur; Rockettes AND "Crazy Showgirls"; Camels AND Flying Cows: it's all too much.
JV

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Happy Birthday to My Beautiful Wife

Saturday, May 17th

Happy Birthday, Sheila Marie!






This is, of course, the second year in a row we've spent her birthday apart, and for that I am truly sorry. However, I'm sending love and best wishes from Madison.


Thank you, Star, for keeping the home fires burning and for taking such good care of the three strange little men who live with us. June is too far away.

JV

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Baseball With the Roof On

Wednesday, May 14th

Miller Park looks like a giant spaceship that has set down next to I-94 on the west side of Milwaukee. It's a graceful and striking spaceship for sure, but if you didn't know it's a baseball park, that probably wouldn't be your first guess. The arched trusses that support its much ballyhooed retractable roof and the enormous glass windows that sustain the natural grass lend the building a sort of retro field house look, but the building is as modern as can be.

Miller Park

Miller Park replaced Milwaukee County Stadium with its opening in 2001. In fact, County Stadium was demolished and most of the former stadium sight was converted to parking for Miller Park, but the infield was saved and is now home to Helfaer Field a little league park. Miller Park is surrounded by an ocean of parking lots. Though Milwaukee is the smallest market in major league baseball, they have some very loyal and enthusiastic fans. When Matt and I arrived at the ballpark an hour and a half before the first pitch, there were lots tailgating fans. I've never seen baseball tailgating like this: people had tents, grills, lots of beer and folks were tossing beanbags all over the parking lot - it had the feel of a college football Saturday.


Tailgating before the game


Matt and I headed into the park and caught much of the Cardinal's batting practice. Matt is a born and raised Cardinals fan and we joined a sizable group of red-wearing Cardinals faithful gathered around the left field dugout. I rarely make it to batting practice, but always enjoy it when I do. The everydayness of the game is driven home when I watch BP. They guys are out there running drills and honing their skills. It makes them seem more human. We were also surrounded by folks who knew about the team and had more than a passing interest. Some of the players (including the Cards biggest star, Albert Pujolis) even stopped to sign autographs for the kids gathered near the field.

The Cards take BP


Matt watches his Cards take BP


Pujolis signs autographs


Come game time, we didn't have to move far to our seats - we held tickets that were 3 rows behind the Cardinals dugout. Knowing what a big fan Matt was, I couldn't resist these awesome seats when they popped up in my on-line search. The two of us settled in to watch the final game of the four game series with a proper Milwaukee ballpark dinner: bratwurst with mustard and kraut, fried cheese curds and genuine Miller products. Of course, the Miller products confused Matt - the ballpark in St. Louis is Busch Stadium and they serve only Budweiser, but he quickly adapted.

Fried cheese curds, a bratwurst with kraut & a beer - that's what's for dinner!


video

The view from our seats


The Red Birds struck first with a first inning homerun by Ankeil, but fell apart in the third inning when their starter Wainwright gave up five runs on four hits. The Brewers batted around and benefited from a spectacular fielding error: the Cards' second baseman bobbled an easy pop-up foul ball into the stands, turning it from an out into a ground rule double. By the fifth inning, the wheels were really coming off for the Cardinals. Their All-Star catcher, Yadier Molina, had been arguing about the homeplate umpire's balls and strikes calls all night and got tossed out of the game abruptly. This brought manager Tony LaRussa out of the dugout and he, too, was pitched after jawing at the umpire for what must have been 3 or 4 minutes. By the end of the night, the Brewers had sent their mascot, Bernie the Brewer, careening down his slide 3 times en route to a 8-3 victory. (Bernie has a "dugout" above left-center field and slides down a yellow plastic slide accompanied by a light up sign of Bob Uecker's signature home run call: "Get up, get up, get outta here, gone!" There are also fireworks after every Brewers home run - which, with the roof closed, leave a haze over the field for the next couple of innings. At County Stadium, Bernie slid into an over-sized mug of beer, but the mug didn't make the move to Miller Park.)

Bernie's Dugout and slide

Third inning fireworks

Molina tossing his gear on the plate while LaRussa argues


Though his team failed to split the series, Matt and I had a great time at the park. At the conclusion of the sixth inning, Miller Park hosts the Great Sausage Race. Five characters costumed as various kinds of tubular meat enter from left field and race around the warning track from third to first base. The contestants are: #1 Bratt Wurst (a bratwurst in green lederhosen), #2 Stosh (a Polish sausage in a blue and red rugby shirt), #3 Guido (an Italian sausage in a chef's outfit), #4 Frankie Furter (a hot dog in a baseball uniform) and #5 Cinco (a chorizo in a sombrero). All the sausages stand better than 7' tall and make quite a spectacle as they run. (Some readers may recall the "Don't Whack Our Wiener" incident of 2003. Randall Simon of the Pirates hit Guido with a bat as he ran by. Though the human inside the costume was not seriously injured, she did fall down, taking the hot dog out with her. Simon was arrested, charged with assault and suspended for three games. The Pirates also have costumed racers who participate in the Great Pierogi Race and twice a year, once in Pittsburgh and once in Milwaukee, the two sets of racing foodstuffs compete.) From our seats right near the starting line, Matt and I were able to size up the field and lay our bets. I chose the brat and Matt went with the hot dog. It really wasn't a fair fight when you take into consideration all my years of watching the Great Subway Race at Yankee Stadium. The brat easily won.

The sausages prepare to race


video

The Great Sausage Race


Miller Park's "Brew Crew" lead the singing of Take Me Out to the Ballgame at the seventh inning stretch while they throw bags of peanuts into the crowd. Right after the traditional seventh inning stretch, they then lead the crowd in The Beer Barrel Polka. The Brew Crew then polka atop the dugouts. I love the ballparks that have these sorts of regionalisms! In Cincinnati they played Take Me to the River; in both ballparks in Texas they played Deep In the Heart of Texas; at Yankee Stadium we're meant to dance to Cotton Eyed Joe?!?!

The Brew Crew polkas on top of the third base dugout


The Spamalot tour has been very kind to me in terms of baseball. Monday's game was my 19th on the road. I've been to 6 new major league parks (Miller Park, Great American Ballpark, Coors Field, the Metrodome, Minute Maid Field and the Ballpark at Arlington), 5 Spring Training facilities and the minor league parks in 7 cities. It was especially fun, though, to go along with Matt and see his team play. I had hoped to see the 26 time world champion New York Yankees play while we're in Minneapolis, but it doesn't look like that's going to work out... The baseball tour will resume in June when I hope to see the San Antonio Missions unless I can fit a trip to Comerica Park in around Casey's wedding.

JV & Matt at Miller Park


Until then, it's root, root, root for the Yankees!


JV

Fun Fact #1: Take Me Out to the Ballgame recently celebrated its 100th birthday. The lyrics were written in 1908 by jack Norworth while riding a New York City subway train. He was inspired by a sign advertising a ballgame at the Polo Grounds. Albert Von Tizler set the words to music and the tune became one of the biggest hits of 1908.


Fun Fact #2: Bob Uecker is celebrating his 52nd year in professional baseball. He signed to a minor league contract with his hometown Milwaukee Braves in 1956. He played in the majors for 6 seasons (1961-1967) with four different teams (Milwaukee Braves, Cardinals, Phillies and then Braves again - but this time they were the Atlanta Braves). Since 1971 he has broadcast Brewers games on the radio. The Brewers have mounted a plaque alongside their retired numbers (#4 Molitor, #19 Yount, #34 Fingers & #44 Aaron) in his honor.



Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Appleton, WI - Tour Week #66

Tuesday, May 13th

By all indications, I love Wisconsin. Appleton was another great stop!

While Appleton is a small town (72,085 according to the "Welcome to Appleton" sign), it is the biggest city in and the center of the Fox Cities: 14 towns arranged around the Fox River. As such, it has a vibrant downtown. The Fox Cities are one of the top 50 manufacturing areas in the country due, in large part, to the paper-making industry. It is also home to Wisconsin's second largest mall and has recently become a shopping destination advertised across the state.


Smaller towns often afford us the warmest welcomes

TVFMHRW - Appleton


The Fox Cities PAC is a recent addition to the community - it opened in 2002. The auditorium seats 2,100 and has an intimate feeling as no seat is more than 108 feet from the stage. The stage spaces are modern and were more than adequate for our needs. The crew was great. They were friendly and on top of their game. Turns out I know lots of stagehands who have come out of the IA Local #470 of Northeast Wisconsin: Ryan DeQuaine (one of our deck carpenters), Eric Swanson (our former - and now sub - front light man), Erica Aldeson (our wardrobe sub) and Paul Sonnleitner (moving light programmer, husband to Kari Thompson and father to Master William and Dame Sydney).

The Fox Cities PAC


The loading dock was big enough to play basketball!
Terry launches a fade-away jumper

One of the local stagehands brought in homemade jerkey and fresh (still squeaky) cheese curds

I slept in on Monday, having arrived late the night before on the sleeper bus. After I ran errands and paid bills, I met up with Karl and Suzanne for a Cinco de Mayo dinner. We went to Solea Mexican Grill in Menasha just upstream from Appleton. The place was packed and there was a bit of a wait. We had a few margaritas while we waited. Once we were seated and served, the food was terrific and the atmosphere was quite festive.


Load-in and our first show dominated, as they always do, Tuesday. We did get to walk around downtown Appleton on our lunch break. There were plenty of restaurants with many ethnicity's represented. Several different coffee options and lots of drinking establishments also lined College Avenue. Named for Lawrence University, College Avenue is Appleton's main drag. The University sits to the east of downtown. Lawrence is a liberal arts school founded in 1847 as one of the first coed colleges in the country. Today, the University enrolls about 1,400 students and their presence can be felt all over Appleton.

Lawrence University's Main Hall

On Wednesday, I took advantage of the kitchen in my studio at the Candlewood to try out a culinary experiment. Sheila Marie tears out articles of interest from New York magazine and sends them along to me. One of the recipes she sent recently was for a cocktail that involved bacon infused bourbon. I'll repeat: BACON INFUSED BOURBON. I had to try this heavenly sounding elixir. I had a good time making a stab at cocktail perfection, but - alas - after infusing with bacon fat for 8 hours, my Maker's Mark came out tasting like Maker's Mark. Still and all, it was a good excuse to have Ben Davis over after the show for a couple of Manhattans...


Bacon bourbon in process - the bacon fat is meant to infuse the bourbon with a smoky flavour...


I walked along the Fox River after rehearsal on Thursday. The Fox was once known as the hardest working river in America both for the concentration of industry along its banks as well as the number of dams, turbines and mills it passed over, through and around. The river was home to the first central hydroelectric station in the world. In 1882 the Vulcan Street Plant went into operation. Thanks, in large part, to the development of hydroelectric power generation, Appleton was also home to the first successful electric street car company and among the first cities to install electric street lights. In the short stretch of the river that I walked along, there were several retired paper mills (now home to loft apartments) and one working mill. Some 20 paper mills still operate along the river, as evidenced by the train car loads of lumber that rumbled past the stage door all the time.

The Fox River Paper Company - still making paper in Appleton


The Vulcan Street Plant, since decommissioned and relocated




One of the trains that went by the stage door all the time.
Cars from the Wisconsin Central and the old Milwaukee Road were hitched up to CN engines along with load after load of lumber.


The Spamalot Cigar Enthusiasts convened on Thursday night after the show. Right across the avenue from the theatre was the Appleton Souvenir and Cigar Shop. I don't know what souvenirs they sold, but they had an impressive assortment of cigars on offer as well as a comfortable smoking lounge and bar. The man working Thursday evening was friendly and very knowledgeable; he made us feel right at home.


Cuz relaxing with a cigar

Berg fires up


On Friday, I visited the Outagamie Museum. Housed in a castle-looking building that used to be the city's Masonic Temple, the museum houses a collection on the history of industry in the area, an exhibit about Appleton's most famous son: Harry Houdini and an exhibit exploring the Appleton of the 1960's. I went to the museum specifically to see the Houdini exhibit, but wound up enjoying both of the other exhibits a lot. I learned quite a bit about paper-making and the other related industries (for example, the Appleton Wire Company grew with the paper industry as every grade of paper is made on a varying gauge of screen). I also enjoyed the inherent conflict in a community that is both host to a liberal arts college full of students pushing for social change and the hometown of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Both of the these groups were brought together by the Packers team's victory in the legendary "Ice Bowl" of 1967.

Senator McCarthy's grave above the Fox River

Houdini was born in Hungary, but moved to Appleton at a young age when his father was hired as the Cantor of the temple in Appleton. Harry's given name was Erich Weiss . He only lived in Appleton for five years (his father was fired) before the family moved to New York, but he adopted Appleton as his hometown. He even went so far as to list it as his birthplace in later life. He chose Houdini as his stage name in honor of the French illusionist Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin and anglicized Erich to Harry. He began his stage career as a trapeze artist at age ten, but quickly moved into magic with little success until Martin Beck (later the president of the Orpheum organization and owner of the Palace and Martin Beck theatres in New York)encouraged him to focus on his escape act and booked him on the Orpheum circuit. The exhibit at the Outagamie Museum detailed not only his life, but how he accomplished many of his magical effects. As when any magic trick is revealed, it is such a disappointment to see how simply the illusion is created. For many of his escapes, Houdini simply used an accomplish to get him a key he could copy and hide on his person. Of course, the simplest solution is almost always the one employed, but it's still a let down...

Between shows on Saturday, the theatre hosted a cook-out for us. This being Wisconsin, of course there were bratwurst on the grill! They also cooked up some boca-burgers and hamburgers for us and served it all up with a big plate of cheese curds. A free meal between shows is always welcome and I enjoy it that much more when someone goes to the trouble of cooking up a local specialty.

The Spamily lines up for brats off the grill


Francesca and Ryan hosted Shot Night on Saturday evening. They created a shot known as the "Jamaican Bobsled". The shot itself was a fruity concoction, but it was how we drank the shot that made it especially cool. They created a frozen luge out of block of ice and poured the shot down the icy track into our waiting mouths. Hilarious.

Ryan pours a shot for Gary (King Arthur)


I left Appleton on the sleeper bus late Sunday night bound for Madison (the tour of state capitols continues!) arriving early on Monday morning. I enjoyed everything about my visit to Appleton. The Candlewood made me fee immediately at home and cooked several meals for myself. Appleton maintained a small town feeling while still offering plenty to see, do and eat. I think, though, the single thing that made me enjoy Appleton (and Milwaukee, too) so much is the people. I'm so very comfortable with these folks. While others might laugh at their Wisconsin accents, they make me feel at home. I get these people. They're hospitality seems to come from a very genuine place. They're a lot like the folks I grew up with. I guess you can take the boy out the Midwest, but you can't take the Midwest out of the boy.

The customary album of photos is here.

JV

Friday, May 9, 2008

Yet Another Funny Stage Hand Name

Friday, May 9th

In my quest to bring you, dear reader, the best of the wide array of funny stage hand names we encounter out here on the road - I give you Appleton, Wisconsin's entry:

On the fly rail works a man named: Cheeseburger.

Enjoy -

JV

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Milwaukee, WI

Thursday, May 8th

I really dug Milwaukee. I will go so far as to say that Milwaukee easily makes it into the top ten tour stops thus far. It had lots of things going for it: 1) A downtown with plenty of life in it 2) Lots of places to eat & drink 3) No really, LOTS of places to drink 4) A visit from Wife!!! 5) More things to see than I could cram in 6) A nice theatre 7) The Hyatt Grand Bed 8) Wisconsin accents.

After my wet travel day, I was happy to check-in to the Hyatt and lay down on the Hyatt Grand Bed. I don't know what the folks at Hyatt have got figured out with their bedding, but it's working. The feather duvet, the firm mattress -- I really like it. Now, if they'd just embrace the concept of the fitted bottom sheet, we'd be in heaven.

TVFRMHRW - Milwaukee
The Marcus Center was just across the Milwaukee River from the hotel.

Ken, Karl, David and I met up for dinner at Karl Ratzch's, a Milwaukee institution since 1904. Chef Otto Hermann opened his cafe in downtown Milwaukee and later passed it on to his stepdaughter and son in law (Karl Ratzch). The menu has an extensive German side as well as a tasty sounding "American" side - I say "tasty sounding" because I never made it past the German portion of the menu. All four of us ordered various schnitzels, bratens and wursts and left very happy (and very full). Before we left, I made a reservation for Sheila Marie and I to return on Saturday!

David outside Karl Ratzch's

The Marcus Center is just one of several downtown performing arts venues: The Pabst Theatre, The Riverside Theatre, and the Milwaukee Rep are all within a few blocks of one another. The Marcus Center contains a concert hall (Uihlein Hall - where we were performing) as well as two smaller theatres, a "pavilion" (where we overlapped with a High School Prom) and an outdoor stage. Since the room was conceived as a concert hall, there were a few challenges to performing a Broadway musical. We use three spotlights, but Uihlein Hall only has permanent positions for two and those are in the far corners. The third spot lived amongst the audience in the uppermost balcony and Jeff, our front light man, had to get creative with the cuing as the lights were off center and couldn't reach the corners of the stage. The audiences in Milwaukee, however, were great and really showed their appreciation.

The Marcus Center




The Marcus Center at Night
The building was lit with a bunch of LEDs that could change the color of the building. It was a really dramatic and pretty effect.


We chased spring even farther north with the trip from Dayton to Milwaukee. It's been like going backwards in a time machine! In Milwaukee, the tulips were just about ready to bloom and the daffodils were in their glory. While many of the trees had blooms and young leaves, as many were just starting to bud. I was worried we would miss spring entirely, but Milwaukee has given me a welcome dose. The weather was also the most spring-like we've seen. It ranged from cold and wet to brilliant sunny days, though a sweatshirt was never a bad idea.

Flowers along the Milwaukee River
The strip of downtown that flanked the river really reminded me of Chicago. All the downtown bridges were drawbridges & the UW Milwaukee Crew Team was constantly rowing about.


Wayne and I went for a drink at the Pfister Hotel on Wednesday night. The Pfister is the grand old hotel of Milwaukee and Wayne is collector of such hotels. On the 23rd floor of the hotel, the Blu Martini Lounge shakes up some mean drinks with a view across downtown and out over the lake. We had a great evening.

I got to enjoy one of those brilliant spring days on Thursday. Gurr, Suzanne, Ben and I took a cab out to the Original Pancake House on Downer Avenue. The breakfast (and the company) were wonderful, but it was the 3 mile walk back to the hotel that made the morning. We all stopped at the bookstore next door: Harry W. Schwartz. Bookstores are dangerous places, they invite me to spend all my money. I have enough trouble working through the stack of books in my trunk and keeping up with my New Yorker subscription without any new goodies from the local independent bookstore. From there, I walked back to the Hyatt roughly following the shoreline of Lake Michigan from the bluffs above. I passed the campus of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee as well as several pretty parks. Along the way, I stopped to gawk at the Milwaukee Art Museum's flashy new building. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the museum's new addition features a 90 foot tall glass atrium that is enclosed by giant movable wings. The wings are part of a kinetic art installation entitled Burke Brise Solei. Every day the wings open and close twice. The wings extend more than 200 feet and are absolutely breathtaking. The whole building looks like a big white bird poised to take off and fly across Lake Michigan.

JV w/ the Original Pancake House's signature apple pancake.


The Milwaukee Art Museum with it's wings extended


The Old North Water Tower - one of the beautiful bits of architecture I passed on my walk. The tower served to dampen the chugging of the steam pumps that pumped the cities water from Lake Michigan around the turn of the century.


Sheila Marie arrived late Thursday night after another in her long series of eventful trips to visit me. Her flight from New York to Chicago was so delayed that we feared that she would miss the puddle-jumper from Chicago to Milwaukee. Fortunately, the puddle-jumper was even more delayed and she wasn't stuck in the Windy City.



Friday, the two of us toured the Miller Brewing Company's flagship brewery in Miller Valley. The brewery has stood, in more or less the same place, since Frederick Miller bought the Plank Road Brewery in 1855. The tour was fun; they took us through the bottling and packaging plants, to the distribution floor and into the Brew House. Before we were ushered into the Miller Inn for some free samples, we peeked into the caves Miller dug into the surrounding hillsides to keep the beer cool through the summer months. Before mechanical refrigeration, Miller's employees would go out to the lake, cut ice, haul it back to the caves and cover it with straw and sawdust to keep the kegs cool all summer long. Of course, the free samples were pretty great too.

JV & SM outside the Miller Brewhouse



Inside the bottling plant
The temptation to sing "Schlemiel Schlimazel, Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!" and send a work glove whizzing down the production line on a bottle of beer was almost too much! Wisely, the good people at Miller seperated me from the machines with glass.

JV & SM with some of the free samples in the Miller Inn

After the show on Friday night, we set out in search of the Safehouse. The Safehouse is a "hidden" bar with a spy theme. Behind a facade that read "International Imports" was a small room with an "operative" who took cover money and asked for the password. If you gave the correct password, the bookcase swung open to admit you to the bar. If you gave the wrong password, you had to do some silly dance that those inside the bar could watch on closed circuit TV. Not everyone in our party knew the password, so the rest of us hurried downstairs to see the results! The bar itself was super fun. It was full of nooks and crannies and ranged from dancing (in the main room) to a bartender performing magic tricks (in the back bar) and a blackjack game (in one of the side rooms). There were are sorts of special drinks, including a martini that traveled through a vacuum tube all around the bar to be "shaken". A good cross section of the Spamily turned out and we had a great time.

Ken gave me the evening show off on Saturday night to hang out with Sheila Marie. We kept our reservation at Karl Ratzch and ate our weight in German food. Then we retired back to the Hyatt to lounge about and watch a movie. Gurr and Suzanne lured us out of the room after the show, though. We met the two of them and Ben Davis at the Old German Beer Hall for a Mai Beir (the specially produced spring variation from Hofbrau in Germany).

The weekend went by much too quickly and too soon Sheila was in a taxi on the way to the airport. I also had to pack up and checkout of the hotel on Sunday morning as I took the sleeper bus from Milwaukee to Appleton. The bus ride was a quick one (only about an hour and forty-five minutes), we waited around for everyone to finish their load-out longer than the trip itself. I was checking in to the Candlewood by 2 AM.


Jason outside our sleeper bus


We did have some unexpected fun at the show on Sunday - through a freak combination of sickness, personal days and some contractual days off, we were left one boy short. Patrick was out sick, so Nigel covered for him. Darryl was away at a wedding, so Graham covered for him. Rick was away at a bar mitzvah, but we didn't have any more swings left. Graham and Tera-Lee cooked up a plan to cover most of the important bits in the show by having Tera-Lee step in to a boy's track. Darryl's costumes were a pretty good fit for her and she stepped in to 3 numbers: Finland, Camelot and Bright Side. She was, of course, amazing and the whole company rallied around and had a good time performing with our cross-dressing knight.


With the closing in Milwaukee, we bid farewell to Piper Arpan. In addition to being one of our swings, Piper served as the Spamily Cruise Director. She arranged birthday parties and going away parties. She was always there with a hug and a smile. She was part of the glue that held the Spamily together. Most importantly, Piper was my primary Roadfood buddy. I will miss her. As her final act as Cruise Director, she arranged a party bus (complete with an on-board kegerator) to take folks on a pub crawl to celebrate 3 birthdays (Jen Mathie, Tim and Bree) in addition to her own farewell. There was a scavenger hunt of sorts with points for activities in each bar. Though I wasn't able to make it, I understand that it was a super fun time.

As I said, I really enjoyed Milwaukee. A week wasn't enough time.

An album of my photos for the week can be found here.


JV

Bonus section: Fun With Photoshop!

Across the river from the Marcus Center is the Usinger's Sausage factory and retail outlet:



The actor who plays Sir Lancelot is Patrick Heusinger. The temptation was too much, and I broke down and created this: