Sunday, January 25, 2009

City of the Big Shoulders

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am thoroughly citified.  I love cities.  I also have enjoyed soaking in a hot spring in the Boise National Forest miles away from the nearest village and camping where I couldn't even get a cell phone signal.  I've had a great time in some of the smaller towns we've played along the way like Greenville and Madison.  That said, I was happy to see the skyline of Chicago appearing out of the falling snow on Sunday night as the bus rolled into town.

The Hotel Blake in Chicago's South Loop neighborhood was a nice home base for two weeks of exploring the Second City.  We were just a few blocks from Grant Park and the Lake Michigan waterfront, an easy walk to the El Train, State Street and Michigan Ave  were nearby and there were always cabs cruising the street.  From my window I looked across the main branch of the Chicago Public Library to the CNA Center.  It was so nice to step out onto Dearborn Street everyday and be in the middle of everything.

VFMRHW - Chicago: The Harold Washington Library Center and the the CNA Center.
The Library is a relatively new building, completed in 1991.  It's architects (Hammond, Beeby and Babka) echoed the historic architectural features of some landmarks in the neighborhood and is a striking building in its own right.  The CNA Center is a 1972 creation.  It's 44 stories are painted red making it stick out of Chicago's impressive skyline.

Monday morning, I went out for a long walk to get reacquainted with Chicago.  After college, lots of my friends moved west to the Windy City while I started eastward.  Many of them are still there, but it's been too long since I visited.  I headed through Grant Park toward the Aquarium and along the frozen lake shore to Navy Pier, along the Chicago River, past the Water Tower and the base of the Magnificent Mile before heading back to the hotel to defrost.  Chicago's riverfront is spectacular.  Its mixture of historic buildings (the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower and the Carbide and Carbon Building) and modern structures (the new Trump Tower will be the second tallest building in Chicago) alongside the river and it's distinctive drawbridges creates a awesome cityscape.

 Standing on one of the drawbridges looking west along the Chicago River with the Trump Tower rising over me.

I visited Millennium Park en route back to the hotel.  The park is home to the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture by Anish Kapoor also known as the "Chicago Bean".  I'd seen the sculpture in photos, but never in person - it is fascinating.  The piece was inspired by liquid mercury and is constructed from highly polished stainless steel.  It reflects everything around it in varying degrees of funhouse-mirror deformity; bending the skyline, distorting the image of passers by and generally entertaining me.  The park also contains the Pritzker Music Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry.  Like so much of his work, the bandshell announces quite clearly that "Gehry was here."  It's beautiful.

My reflection in Cloud Gate

Gehry's Pritzker Music Pavilion

While we loaded the show into the Auditorium Theatre on Tuesday, the country was inaugurating our 44th President.  Of course, I was sorry that I couldn't experience all the inaugural festivities first-hand, but the excitement in Chicago was palpable.  The work of load-in kept me from even being able to watch much of the ceremonies on TV.  Ken, however, insisted that history trumped Spamalot and we scurried back to the hotel to watch the swearing in of Barack live.  I, like so many others, have such high hopes for where President Obama can lead us but am trying to remember that he is just one man & will need the help of so many others (in word and in deed) to get us where we need to go.  I am so grateful that Ken insisted we watch the swearing in live - it was a truly great moment.

Chicago was crazy for the new President.  The mayor erected these banners all over town.

Chicago is full of friends of mine from all different parts of my life.  As I mentioned, many of my college friends left East Lansing for Chicago and I got a chance to catch up with some of them.  Saskia and her husband Mael came to see the big show and took me out for a drink afterwords.  Though they've been married for quite some time, this is the first time I've met Mael - it's amazing how time slides by!  I also caught up with fellow Spartans Nicole and Gene VanDyke for a meal - yet more of my friends I haven't seen since my wedding...  I spent an evening with Aaron Kelly (AK) and his partner Dan and got to see their apartment in Chicago's uptown neighborhood.  Dan and AK took me out for dinner and margaritas before we caught up with some of the Spamily for Musical Monday at Sidetrack in Boystown.  We had a blast drinking slushies and belting out showtunes.  The tour has given me so many wonderful opportunities to catch up with my friends all around the country - I'm incredibly thankful that so many people have made time to see me in my travels.

With AK and Dan at Sidetrack

I tried to take advantage of the big city dining scene during my stay in Chicago.  As soon as I dropped my bags, Jeff Brewer and I headed out for a late dinner at Italian Village: the food was good and the kitschy surroundings made me smile.  The next night, DVZ treated me to a belated Christmas dinner at Spiaggia Cafe: haute-cuisine Italian that was as good as its reputation.  Karl, Roy and I sampled some of the Windy City's famous deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's: heaven (though I still dispute that Chicago is "Pizza City").  I had a couple of really great breakfasts at the Bongo Room on Wabash: sweet potato pancakes, poached pear upside-down pancakes...  Karl and I celebrated the Maestro's birthday with a late breakfast at Heaven on Seven, a cajun restaurant tucked in on the seventh floor of an office building.  At the airport on the way out of town, Ken and I introduced Wayne to the miracle that is the chicago dog: a snappy dog dressed with mustard, relish, a pickle spear, tomatoes, sport peppers and celery salt.  Even with all these tasty meals, I left Chicago with a long list of restaurants to hit next time I'm in town.

Roy shows off a slice of our deep dish pizza

I also tried to take advantage of some of the cultural opportunities in Chicago.  Karl and I visited the Art Institute of Chicago, spending several hours with their amazingly diverse collection.  All the way to the museum I was singing "Finishing the Hat" from Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George in anticipation of seeing the art work that inspired the show.  While "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" was impressive, it was the breadth of the collection that took my breath away.  Just behind the Seurat masterpiece was a whole room full of Monet's - a whole wall was devoted to nothing but various paintings of haystacks!  Of course, the Art Institute is also home to "Nighthawks", "American Gothic", "At the Moulin Rouge" and several Van Goghs.  

Karl contemplates "American Gothic"

I also took one of the tours offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.  Entitled "Historic Skyscrapers", the walking tour detailed the development of the steel-framed skyscraper in Chicago from the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 through the Great Depression.  William Le Baron Jenney created the first steel framed skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building, in 1884-5 and though this building was demolished, Chicago is still home to many early skyscrapers.  Turns out that two more of La Baron Jenney's buildings were in the block next to my hotel, but until my guide pointed them out, I had hardly noticed them.  It would have been impossible, however, to walk by Burnham and Root's 1888 Rookery Building and not notice it.  The 12 story building is a masterpiece - one of the prettiest buildings I have ever seen.  Not only is the exterior beautiful, but the architects also created the "Light Court" in the center of the building.  The building is a hollow square, allowing air to circulate to all the offices on the upper floors and creating room for a glass ceilinged arcade on the lower floors.  The "Light Court" was remodeled in 1907 by Frank Lloyd Wright (his only commission in downtown Chicago) and while his touch is clearly evident, the genius of Burnham and Root is still obvious.  The tour was only two hours and left me wanting more.  I think everyone around me grew a little weary of my reciting facts for the next couple of days...

The Rookery Building

The Chicago Board of Trade Building is an Art Deco masterpiece

Of course, our two weeks in Chicago were a busy time at the show as well.  Richard Chamberlain made his debut as King Arthur.  He won wave reviews from both of the major papers in Chicago and is settling into the role.  Richard's Arthur is very different than any of the other people I've seen in the role - it's been a treat to see, up close, five very different men put their spin on the part.  We also welcomed our newest Lady of the Lake to the company; Merle Dandridge comes to us direct from the closing of the Broadway company.  Jeff Dumas also rejoined us to begin rehearsals for a reprise of his turn as Patsy.  All these arrivals also signaled some more departures: Chicago was the last stop for Brad Bradley and Esther Stilwell.  No sooner had we celebrated Richard's opening night, than it was time for a farewell to Esther Party.  Esther was one of the few remaining original company members and it was hard to say goodbye to such a sweet person, but, as they say, "that's showbiz."  We all come to this job from another and hope there will be many more after this one where we can meet new people and be reunited with others from our past.

I stole this snap during Jeff's rehearsals - the principals (minus Richard, but plus Ken) are gathered at center with Candy serving as the rehearsal "Peasant"

Esther's last shot night was also Richard's first - I have to say that doing shots with the star of Shogun was kinda cool...

Erik hosted shot night - he's showing off the vodka bottle encased in ice

A snap from Esther's going away party - Darryl and Esther

I had a wonderful time in Chicago.  Two weeks isn't enough time to see, do and eat everything I wanted to in the Second City, but it was a wonderful reminder of how much I like it there.  I'm so thankful I got to catch up, even briefly, with so many friends and I look forward to my next visit to the "City of the Big Shoulders."


Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Looking up Michigan Avenue from the Stage Door.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Freezing & Rehearsing in Peoria

Peoria, Illinois: population 113,000.  Home and headquarters of Caterpillar Corporation.  Largest city on the Illinois River.  Quintessential American city (Will it play in Peoria?).

The world headquarters of Caterpillar Corporation

Admittedly, I've been having a hard time writing this blog post.  Peoria was not the most exciting city on the tour thus far; nor was it the most boring.  I suspect we all would have enjoyed Peoria a lot more had the weather been nicer and I can hardly fault a city for Mother Nature's unkindness...  There were a few notable events during the week: we continued rehearsals with Richard Chamberlain, we bid farewell to Jonathan Hadary and we all nearly froze to death.  

Spamalot's home for the week was the Peoria Civic Center.  The Civic Center is a large complex that houses not only the theatre, but the convention center and Carver Arena (home to the Peoria Rivermen hockey team, Peoria Pirates arena football team and the Bradley University Braves).  The complex was designed by Philip Johnston (architect of the Seagram Building and winner of the first Pritzker Architecture Prize).  The Civic Center's exterior is quite lovely, a sweeping glass arcade connects the three components of the complex and is a wonderful contrast to the turn of the century German Renaissance city hall that it surrounds.  The interior of the theatre's auditorium, however, is not very welcoming.  It's very boxy and not very warm.  The balcony and boxes surround the orchestra in rectangular level with lattice fronts.  The whole effect is rather like an un-lovely beer garden.

The exterior of the Peoria Civic Center Theatre

The interior

Work-wise, the big event of the week was the transfer of Royal Power.  Richard Chamberlain continued rehearsals throughout the week in Peoria, culminating in his full company put-in rehearsal on Friday.  (Richard's presence in Peoria didn't go unnoticed, the local paper accompanied their review of Spamalot with a piece about patrons sighting Richard in the audience.)  Sadly, Richard's put-in meant the end was near for Jonathan Hadary's reign as King Arthur.  The company threw Jonathan a going away party on Friday evening and folks from every department attended to toast him.  Jonathan was not only a wonderful King on-stage, but was a wonderful company member and friend.  I truly enjoyed his wonderful backstage stories and his entire run.  I was sad to see him go on Sunday.

Francesca snapped this great photo of Jonathan at his going away party.

I snapped this picture during Saturday's performance - Jonathan as King Arthur with all of his knights assembled to face Tim the Enchanter

The occasion for my backstage photo taking was the first appearance of David Havasi in the Sir Galahad track.  Ben Davis took a night off and David got his first crack at the role.  This is one of my favorite snaps: David as Father as seen from upstage of the drop.

The midwest was in the deep freeze the whole week.  Thursday was the only day I wasn't called to the theatre for rehearsal, which would usually have meant that I would be out and about exploring.  When I awoke on Thursday morning, the mercury stood at -15 degrees; the forecast high was zero.  I opted to stay inside.  In fact, that was how much of the week went.  There were only brief forays outside to get food and head to the theatre.

It never warmed all the way up to zero on Thursday...  Saturday's high (around the freezing mark) felt positively balmy!

I did get out a bit on Sunday morning.  I ventured down to the riverfront to explore a bit.  Peoria is obviously trying to capitalize on its waterfront.  A large museum complex is under construction next door to the Caterpillar complex and several restaurants are situated in a park on the banks of the Illinois.  Sadly, in the bitter cold that dominated the week, the 15 minute walk to the waterfront was and awfully long march.

"The Spirit of Peoria" sits at her dock, locked into the ice and awaiting the warmer weather

TVFMHRW across icy Peoria Lake and the Illinois River.
The Army Corps of Engineers keeps a single channel in the river open to barge traffic all winter.  On alternating days the traffic moves North then South through the channel.

All of this is not to say there was no fun to be had in the cold.  On Tuesday after the show, Wayne and I cabbed it over to East Peoria and the Par-A-Dice Casino.  While Wayne wasn't as fortunate, I left $150 ahead for the evening!  On Thursday night, the company headed to Peoria's biggest attraction, Big Al's.  Big Al's bills itself as a world famous strip club, and while that might be an exaggeration, it is certainly a local institution - even earning a mention in the show's peasant scene.  We celebrated Christopher Sutton's birthday with "steak and boobies".  (The food at Big Al's was, actually, quite tasty; inspiring the cast and crew to come up with all manner of variations on the "steak and boobies" theme, many of which aren't fit to be repeated here...)  Of course, the women of the Spamily were not letting the men go unescorted, and a good time was had by everyone in attendance.

We closed with a Sunday matinee, meaning we could be off to our next engagement after the show.  While the crew loaded-out, the cast loaded onto a bus bound for Chicago & a bonus day off in the Windy City on Monday!

Some enterprising member of the Spamily stuck this bottle of wine in a snow drift outside the bus to chill until departure time!


P.S. - There's an article in this week's Times Magazine about a Philip Johnson house in CT.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

South Bend

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, it was strange to say goodbye to Donn, Rhoda & Sheila Marie in Pittsburgh and head to South Bend without them.  It was made even stranger when I pulled into the driveway at the Westfall manse and there was nobody home!  Donn & Rhoda were nice enough to not only let me stay in their home but they also loaned me their car to use.  Dale and Joyce schlepped me out to the airport on Monday evening to return my rental car and took me to dinner afterwards.  Michael was a gracious host and sat up talking with me most every night that I was in town.  The whole Westfall clan could not have been more hospitable.  On Thursday night, there were 9 Westfalls in the audience cheering for us!

TVFMHRW - Not exactly my hotel room, but the Westfall's kitchen window!

While I was comfortably ensconced in Edwardsburg, the show was playing the Morris Performing Arts Center in South Bend.  The Morris began life as the Palace Theater in 1921.  The Palace was a vaudeville house and a big stop on the circuit between Detroit and Chicago.  After the fall off in vaudeville, the Palace hosted movies until it was scheduled for demolition in the late 1950's.  A citizen's group saved the building and it became a performing arts center.  In the 1990's, the stage house was removed and rebuilt to better suit modern touring productions, while the auditorium and public areas got a very nice renovation.  That resulting building made a cozy home for Spamalot with just enough room for everything and everyone.

The Morris faces a small park and overlooks the Saint Joseph River

The restored interior of the Morris is quite lovely

It was a cold and snowy week in South Bend.  It snowed, literally, every day that we were in town.  Over the weekend, more than eight inches of snow fell.  I was glad for the four wheel drive feature on the Jimmy Donn & Rhoda leant me, especially for some of the late evening drives home!

The snow even piled up on the fish ladder in the St. Joseph river

It was fun to be in a town that had some familiarity with (I knew how to get to the shopping centers along Grape Road when I needed some appropriate winter footwear and where to go for a hearty breakfast with Gurr and Suzanne) but that still had lots to explore.  Though I've been visiting Sheila Marie and her family in the area for a long time, our visits are almost always about family and friends - we rarely do anything very touristy.  That left me plenty to explore while I was in town.

South Bend is perhaps most famous as home to the University of Notre Dame du Lac, though the University actually lies outside of South Bend in the creatively named Notre Dame, Indiana. In my many years of rooting against the Fighting Irish, I had never seen their campus.  I've mocked Touchdown Jesus, the Irish Guard and the Golden Dome, but I found the campus quite pleasant.  Of course, the place was blanketed in fresh snow and there were no students around...  I visited the Grotto and walked across the old part of campus (the so-called "God Quad") to snap a photo with "The Word of Life".

A view of the Main Building and the Golden Dome

I couldn't help it...

Beyond Notre Dame, South Bend is also famous for Studebakers.  The Studebaker family arrived in South Bend in 1852 and set up shop as blacksmiths.  They quickly began building and repairing wagons.  With an influx of cash from a brother who made a small fortune providing wheelbarrows to the miners of the California goldrush, the Studebakers were able to fulfill a large order from the US army for wagons and start their own line of buggies.   The first Studebaker cars were produced in 1897.  These first cars were electric powered models, it wasn't until 1904 that the first gasoline powered Studebakers were produced.  The company manufactured cars in South Bend until 1963 and eventually stopped manufacturing automobiles all together in 1966.

The Studebaker Museum stands as a testament to the company's proud history.  It features examples of their early wagons and carriages alongside other notable horse-drawn vehicles from the Studebakers' personal collections (include the carriage that carried President Lincoln to Ford's Theater).  The museum also has a large collection of Studebaker automobiles  and military vehicles.  They also had a display of British built sportscars while I was visiting.

My favorite car in the collection was this 1930's roadster.

The Studebaker logo - on earlier models it was a beautiful 3D set of silver wings.  In fact, the South Bend minor league baseball team (the Silver Hawks) take their name from the Studebaker logo.

The Studebaker Mansion.
Today, Tippecanoe Place is a very nice restaurant.  I visited with Dale and Joyce and then again with Graham and Cara.  The house maintains is Victorian splendor with 4 floors of rooms for every imaginable purpose - even a bowling alley in the basement.

Next door to the Studebaker Museum, I learned more about the history of the region.  The Northern Indiana Center for History featured exhibits on everything from the native peoples, the ecology of the St Joseph River Valley, the wide array of products manufactured in Michiana and even the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.  (The South Bend Blue Sox were members for the entire existence of the league and were champs in 1951 and 1952.)  The South Bend area was once a major manufacturing hub.  Next door to the Studebaker mansion stands Copshaholm, the equally grand former home of the scions of the Oliver family.  The Oliver Chilled Plow became a sensation after production began in 1857.  From the walk-behind plow, the company went on to become a huge manufacturer of farm implements. 

The revolutionary Oliver Chilled Plow - Oliver's tempering process made the iron less brittle

Change farming & you too can build a grand home like Copshaholm

There were two major events in Spamaland during our week in South Bend.  We welcomed Richard Chamberlain to the company.  Richard started rehearsals in New York a few weeks ago and joined us to start work with the touring company.  From the little I worked with him, I can report that he is charming and a very gracious man.  He'll rehearse with the company for another week in advance of his opening night as King Arthur in Chicago.

Sunday, the Broadway company of Spamalot wrapped up a run of 35 previews and 1,574 performances (good for the 44th longest run on Broadway) at the Shubert Theatre on Sunday.  More than 2 million people passed through the doors of the Shubert in the 3 years and 10 months of its run and the Broadway company alone grossed $175,000,00.  January has been rough on Broadway, it is always a tough month, but the nationwide economic debacle has hit the Great White Way hard.  I have an awful lot of friends hitting the unemployment rolls and looking for temp work all the sudden.  The shuttering of the Broadway company leaves only the Spamalot Tour (the London company also closed this month) carrying the banner.  In the words of Peter Lawrence: "We're like Ethopian Jews, cut off from the homeland, but keeping the faith."  I couldn't have said it better...

Sunday night, the crew loaded the trucks in the cold & snow, packing us up to head to Peoria.

Francesca snapped this great photo of the preparations for load-out


Bonus press clipping.  From the 1/7 South Bend Tribune review:
"The production's high-tech effects provide a visual stimulus in nearly every scene with its numerous and complex lighting cues, sturdy & multifaceted sets, and Pythonian use of cartoons." - Andrew S. Hughes

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Year's in Cincinnati

Sheila Marie and I loaded up a rental car (strangely, the same one Jason and I drove from Fayetteville to Des Moines the previous week) on Monday morning and headed for the Queen City of the West.  The nearly 600 mile drive took all day, but we had a nice trip.  We even managed to find time for a short detour to an outlet mall south of Indianapolis.

We awoke early on Tuesday morning and had breakfast together before I headed over to the Aronoff Center for load-in.  The Aronoff is a modern performing arts center; it opened in 1995 and is named for Cincinnati's long-time State Representative and Senator Stan Aronoff.  The Argentine architect Cesar Pelli designed the building as well as several other theatres I've played during this tour (The Overture Center: Madison, WI; Schuster PAC: Dayton, OH; Adrienne Arscht Center for the Performing Arts: Miami, FL), the World Financial Center in New York and, most notably, the Petronas Twin Tower in Malaysia.  The Aronoff was spacious and IATSE Local 5 is one of the best in the business - meaning we were loaded-in in record time.  Opening night went smoothly - as did the rest of the week at the theatre.

Sunrise over the Stage Door on Tuesday morning

The Aronoff Center

While I was at work on Tuesday, Sheila Marie welcomed Donn & Rhoda to Cincinnati.  As has become customary, the Westfalls came to visit us after spending Christmas with the family in Edwardsburg and were set to spend New Year's with us.  Conveniently, Cincinnati was right on their way back down to Florida!  

On Wednesday, we visited the Carew Tower, the tallest building in Cincinnati.  The building was designed by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon - the same architects who designed the Empire State Building.  In fact, the buildings have many structural similarities (the Carew Tower and the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem were designed at the same time, shortly before the Empire State).  The Carew Tower is a 49 story deco beauty.  It features a shopping concourse on its lower levels as well as a beautiful hotel all outfitted in the French Art Deco style.  The hotel's Palm Court (formerly the lobby and now the lobby bar and restaurant) is magnificent.  The four of us ascended to the observation deck on the building's rooftop and braved the cold for an amazing view of the Ohio River Valley and three states: Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.  (Joseph Thomas Carew, the building's namesake, was the owner of a clothing chain, director of several banks and a trustee of the Cincinnati Southern Railroad.)

The view looking West along the Ohio

With my beautiful Wife at the top of Cincinnati

Cincinnati's skyline - the Carew Tower will be eclipsed by the planned Great American Insurance Building at Queen City Plaza in 2011.

We also explored Fountain Square - Cincinnati's equivalent to Rockefeller Center.  Centered around a fountain entitled "The Genius of Water" dedicated to Tyler Davidson, Fountain Square is home to an ice rink, the city's Christmas Tree and many restaurants and shops.  (The fountain figures prominently into the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati.)  While we were there, we had to try one of Cincinnati's signature offerings: Graeter's Ice Cream.  The Graeter family began making ice cream in 1870 using the "French Pot Process".  This labor-intensive method yields only 2 gallons at a time and gives the ice cream very low air and high butter fat contents.  Whatever the method, Grater's ice cream is DELICIOUS.  I went back four more times that week...

Donn & Rhoda with the Davidson Fountain

My first taste of Grater's Black Raspberry Chip

We also celebrated Christmas with the Westfalls on Wednesday back at the hotel.  We were ensconced at the Garfield Suites - named for the 20th President of the United States and Representative from Ohio - a staple of touring shows.  Our rooms were more like one bedroom apartments than traditional hotel rooms, giving us plenty of room to spread out and making visiting with family more comfortable.  Christmas with Westfalls is always a lot of fun - made even more so when they bring all the gifts from the big Westfall Family Christmas Eve party!

Sheila models the oven mitts that Santa brought her

The fun continued after the show on Wednesday night.  Not only was it our first day on the town in Cincinnati and Christmas with the Westfalls, it was also New Year's Eve!  The company put on an after show celebration at the Below Zero Lounge and were kind enough to invite Donn and Rhoda along as well.  We had a great time ringing in 2009 with the cast and crew.  Between Sheila Marie, Rhoda and I we took tons of pictures.  A few of the highlights:

SME and Angelina work the dance floor

Ken & Rhoda

Donn, JV & Rhoda welcome 2009

New Year's Day was a more sedate affair.  After the late night, we all slept in quite late and emerged with just enough time to grab a bite before the MSU game kicked off.  At half-time we called the rest of the Westfall clan  to catch up on their New Year's celebrations and thank them for sending Christmas our way.  We even got a little bit of football gloating in when we called the McCools in Atlanta (and thank goodness we got it in at half-time...).  We drove over to the Kentucky side of the river for a German Meal to properly welcome 2009.  All four of us ate plenty of cabbage to ensure good luck for the year ahead.

By Friday, we were feeling up to some more sight-seeing.  We began at the Cincinnati Fire Museum.  The Cincinnati Fire Department is the oldest fully paid professional department in the US.  When it was organized in 1853, the Fire Department took the place of a system wherein volunteer fire companies were paid by property owners for putting out fires.  Only the first company to arrive was paid, so there were often brawls between companies and sabotage of rival companies equipment was common.  The museum is housed in a retired 1907 firehouse and features all kinds of artifacts from the city's fire-fighting past as well as modern life-saving equipment.

When this photo appeared on my facebook page, I got all sorts of comments about me on a stripper pole - in fact, I'm trying out the firemen's pole in the old firehouse.

From the Fire Museum, we went on to learn more about the history of Porkopolis (as Cincinnati was affectionately known when it was America's leading pork product producer) at Cincinnati Union Terminal.  When it opened in 1933, Union Terminal replaced five separate railroad stations that were scattered all over town.  The building is an Art Deco masterpiece and was once a very busy passenger station.  Today, the building's beauty has been restored, but Amtrak only runs a handful of trains through the terminal.  The building has been repurposed as the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, housing the Cincinnati History Museum, Museum of Natural History & Science, an Omnimax Theater and a Children's Museum.  The station's former control tower also houses the Cincinnati Railroad Club overlooking the, still bustling, freight yard.

Union Terminal - the 3 openings in the flanks of the building allowed taxis, buses and streetcars to pass through the building (each in their own, dedicated lane) so passengers could disembark and board inside the station.

Before all three Westfalls could leave town, we had more Cincinnati specialties to sample.  After our history lesson, we made a stop at the Montgomery Inn at the Boathouse for their "world famous" ribs.  They were tasty - not Rendezvous Ribs revelatory, but barbecue is always welcome on my dinner table - and the view of the Ohio River reflecting the colors of the setting sun was amazing.  On Saturday, we all sat down for Skyline Chili.  I had mine in the traditional "five way" fashion (with beans, onions and cheese over spaghetti) while others had their chili plain or over coney dogs.  I was probably the biggest fan at the table, but everyone enjoyed the experience.  Of course, both the ribs and chili were followed up with more Graeter's ice cream!

The whole clan modeling our fashionable Skyline bibs

On Sunday, I had to say goodbye to Donn, Rhoda and Sheila Marie.  It was weird to send Donn & Rhoda off to Florida and SME to New York as I was preparing to go to South Bend...  This is the first time in a while that Sheila and I don't have our next visit firmly scheduled and it was hard to see her head to the airport.

As Cincinnati is Ken's hometown, he treated the Spamily to pizza from LaRosa's between shows on Sunday.  It was a wonderful gesture and everyone dug in with gusto.  It also gave me one, last excuse to get some Graeter's...  We also got to visit with Ken's mom, Barb, and Geoff in Cincinnati - it was Kentastic!

LaRosa's pizzas spread out in the loading dock with the hungry masses gathered around

I quite enjoyed Cincinnati and was pleased to get to share it with part of my extended family.  Like Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, Cincinnati had a unique flavor and atmosphere.  I always enjoy being back in the Midwest and felt right at home.  I hope I have occasion for another visit!


An extra pic - lest you think life on the road is always glamorous, I offer Cincinnati's VFMHRW:

That's the hotel's parking garage.