Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Bag'O Fish Fry Bloggers Bash

Great weekend!  Big wedding fun, lots to eat and drink with family, and hmmm, what else? 

Oh yeah, the Darwinfish Fry II – The Bag’O Fish BBQ (a Darwinfish2 and Carpetbaggery Production.)

I’ll get into my trip overall and the wedding stuff with the next post, so I’m going to jump ahead to Monday’s affair.

All I can say is I thank my lucky stars (and my Dad) for that damned GPS.  I had to find my way from Moon Twp. to the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh.  On Google Maps it looks all nice and easy.  And it might have been, if once again, the goddamned bridge I wanted to cross wasn’t closed!  If not for the GPS, I probably would have just pulled over and cried until someone told me where to go.  But my little GPS calmly took me further up the road to the next bridge where I crossed and came back down into Lawrenceville and successfully found the Chateau de Carpetbaggere

Naturally, once inside, Cassie started ragging me about being late.  So sue me for not being a native, AND for not knowing that that bridge was actually open, despite all the signs saying it was closed.

Freakin’ Pittsburgh…

Anyway, Carpet and Mrs. Bagger were there with Casse, then Rich and Cher showed up almost immediately after me.  Cassie had her little tiny baby Maelie, who did a great job of keeping everyone occupied.
Cher with little tiny baby Maelie.  Sorry, it was hard to get a wiggly baby in focus.

The Baggers’ residence was amazing!  You could totally tell that it used to be a bar, mostly because of the big freakin’ bar built in to the front of the room!
The front of the Bagger Bar.

Their place used to be the Polish Falcon Social Club, Nest #176.  And that’s not all!  They took us down in the cellar and what do you know, it used to be a speakeasy!
This mural is in the style of the early 1900s and the other touches around the room indicate that it had been finished and decorated.  And the only cellars that got decorated back then were speakeasies.

So the mural wall was one thing… the rest?  OMG…
Total dungeon!  Dirt floors, block walls, low ceilings… Amazingly creepy!

That’s a coal chute on the right.  The coal-burning furnace was behind the camera.

You know, if the Carpetbaggers ever decide to move, I’m giving their number to Sitcom Kelly.  That is THE perfect room for her Pit.  She’d be right there in the city too which would be all the better for Penguin stalking.  And if she caught one before her Pit was ready, she could chain him up in the coal chute.
I can practically see "Letang" carved into the wall, right now.

Back upstairs, we had more arrivals.  Hot Mama, Hot Papa and their boys, and CC & Chilla (of Bitchburgh) rolled in, as did Red Pen Mama.  This was my first time meeting RPM so I was way excited.  It was she and I that dreamed up the original Darwinfish Fry but sadly, she had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t come.  So this was way overdue.

Cassie, Hot Mama and Red Pen Mama dish on smartphones.

Meanwhile, CC minds the baby.

Out back, Mr. Carpetbagger was tending the grill.  I suggested we try to make a Turtleburger.  Remember those?
I talked about these in a post from last September.

What better time than now?  So he gave it a shot…
Hmmm.  Maybe it will be better once it’s cooked.

OK, maybe not.  Proof of concept test: FAIL! 

Perhaps it would be better without pre-formed patties.  Maybe next time...

By the way... Most Amazing Sandals, Evah!

Some other nice touches around the Baggers’ place:

Blue bottles behind the bar, in front of the glass-block wall.

Only the finest in paper hand towels at the Carpetbagger Estate!  (the sign really cracked me up.)

Later on, who should show up but Bluz Mama and Bluz Papa!  Yes, the very two that spawned so many of my stories, plus, you know, me.
Lil Mother explains to Cassie and Maelie that Bluz wasn’t reeeeeally deprived just because he couldn’t have Pop Tarts, sugared cereal, grapes, head lettuce, a seat belt or toys.

Shortly after my folks arrived, so did Angie of Ranting in Pittsburgh.  I’m totally kicking myself for not getting her in a picture.  This was my first time meeting her after a couple years of reading her blog, so it was way overdue.

As people started to filter out, we adjourned to the back yard to yak under the gazebo.  But before long, I had to make a break for it.  I wanted to try to get out of town and into familiar territory before the sun went down.

Again, I was thankful for the GPS, because even though I was able to go back over the closed bridge that was really open, the Google Map that showed a nice smooth journey curving through town is actually a route loaded with ramps and overpasses crisscrossing every which way so that any time you’re caught in a wrong lane it will send you careening in some direction you don’t want to go and quite possibly never to return again.

Nevertheless, I made it home none the worse for wear, just in time for a nightcap.

So that’s another Pittsburgh bloggers get-together in the books.  I have to say a huge thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Carpetbagger, for opening their doors to us and putting out a great spread of high-quality food and drink.  (Turtleburgers aside.)

It makes me so happy to be able to sit face to face and talk with such amazing people, who labor day after day to put their thoughts down and throw them out to the world.  Whether it’s sports or politics or family stuff or fitness, you’re all such great blogging role models.  And it’s so satisfying to know that behind each brilliant blog is a brilliant writer, character or raconteur.  (And often, all three.)  To all of you, I bow and thank you for letting me into your world.  Yinz are the greatest!

And next time… we storm Cassie’s house!

Late Update!
Annoyed at the poor quality of the "people" shots I posted, respected blogger Red Pen Mama volunteered some of her actual "good" pictures from last Monday:

Red Pen Mama with Bluz

Red Pen Mama with Cassie.  Now there's the glamor shot.

Bluz with Cassie and Maelie.  The Circle of Pictures is now complete.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Toon Time

I'm on my way to Pittsburgh (again) today but I didn't want you to feel abandoned, so for your entertainment and enjoyment, may I present a couple of cartoons and stuff I've been sitting on (or just found).  Some are a little old, so I better get them out before they're totally pointless...

OK, maybe that should have read 4 weeks ago/3 weeks ago.

So after the wedding I'm going to the Carpetbagger's place for our Bag'O Fish BBQ.  Looks like it's going to be a hot one.

My blog sister Cassie is going to be there too.  There are 2 things I have to remind myself not to joke with her about... how much she talks, and her ethnic background:

Lastly, I have a signage suggestion for Carpetbagger, as so to make sure his guests make it home safely:

I'll have a full weekend's recap when I return.  Until then, Happy Memorial Day!

Cartoons and photo material gleaned  from First Blog on the Left and Failblog.org

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Guys' Weekend Part 2

After the game Saturday night, we didn’t really want to go out anywhere, but weren’t quite ready for bed, so we sought out the hotel bar for a nightcap and appetizer.  Nothing like a late Jack on the rocks and an appetizer sampler to rock you to sleep.

Sunday’s game was at 1:30 so we had the morning to kill.  After we jumped on the complimentary breakfast, (no bacon?  WTF?), we took another walk around town.  After having already gone to the Market Square area, I figured we walk across town and cross the Smithfield St. Bridge to Station Square. 
 The Smithfield St. Bridge.

When we left the hotel, it was overcast but dry, so I opted to leave my rain poncho in my suitcase, which I loaded into the car.  Naturally, by the time we got to the bridge, it had started to drizzle.  We ducked into Station Square, which was mostly closed, but dry.  Hometowne Sports was open though, so I spent a while in there, surrounded by more Steelers, Penguins and Pirates stuff than you could count.  Just walking in there made my nether regions start to swell.
The Clinton Furnace, outside Station Square.  This was Pittsburgh’s first steel furnace.  I think it looks like R2D2 if he was a Transformer.

We killed about 45 minutes in there… there’s only so much to do in an empty mall… but when we walked outside we found it was still raining.  Again, we opted to push on so again, it started raining harder.  Once back across the bridge, we found shelter under a large awning in front of a building.

The rain let up about 15 minutes later so we set out again.  I stopped by the car to get my poncho.  By this time, it was getting close to 1:00 so we decided to head back to the park.  They were having a March of Dimes Walk-a-thon in Pittsburgh that ended in front of PNC Park, so we walked across the Clemente Bridge surrounded by a bunch of happy, baby-loving do-gooders. 

I refrained from taking any of the post-walk goodies they were giving away.  Just trying to do my part…

Once we got to the entry gate, we sent Jake over to the car to get their rain stuff.  Don’t worry, it wasn’t far.
This was our hotel.  I took the shot from the front of the gate.

We had been told that they started letting people in 2 hours before game time, but in fact, that was only for season ticket holders.  The rest of us riffraff had to cool our heels for another half hour.  We were not pleased, not only because our dogs were barking, but the sun had come out and we were beginning to simmer in our own juices.

I now have a new axiom to add to the Book of Bluz.

Bluz 3:22 – The only way to guarantee that it doesn’t rain is to go to great trouble to carry your rain gear.  The more pieces; ponchos, umbrellas, rain pants, the less likely it is to rain.  Word.

Once they let us in, it instantly became a beautiful day at the ballpark.

Our seats were in Section 5, 4th row.  This was about halfway between 1st base and the outfield wall.  Sweet!  Rik had purposefully picked the side that his Tigers were going to be on for us to sit, as to facilitate perhaps snagging a ball or getting an autograph for Jake.
Jake (#7) waiting for some players to show up.

There was one problem though… No one that wanted an autograph remembered to bring a freakin’ pen!  That kind of kills the autograph opportunities.

To make matters more difficult, the boy was too shy to wade into the crowd of other autograph seekers to ask to borrow a pen, or call attention to himself in any way.  It was too bad… there were a couple of Tigers signing right near us.

Tigers outfielder Don Kelly.

While Jake stood near the wall and silently hoped some player would come over and bring him a ball, Rik and I set out for some grub.  I wanted to go to Manny Sanguillen’s BBQ Stand.  Manny was the Pirates’ catcher through the 1970s and was a close friend of Roberto Clemente.  Sometimes Manny sits out by his place and signs autographs, like Boog Powell does for Orioles fans at Boog’s BBQ in Camden Yards.

Back in 2002 during my first trip to PNC, I got to talk to Manny and told him that as kids, he was my favorite player, right after Roberto. 

Manny smiled and said, “You make good choice.”

Unfortunately he wasn’t there this time around, but his sandwiches were, and by God, that was one good pulled pork sandwich.  It’s just too bad I made it disappear long before it dawned on me that I should take a picture of it.  As for Rik, he raved about his sausage and onions.

Rather than go right back to our seats in the sun, we ate higher up in the stands, in the shade.
Chowing down and checking out the weird “stadium seating-like” stands in right field.

Once we finished our eats we went back to our seats, where the Tigers were out on the field warming up.  It was an excellent picture-taking opportunity.  Someday I’m going to have to sit that close to a team I actually like.
Tigers’ Miguel Cabrerra warming up.

The Tigers’ Peralta, Sizemore and Wells, getting loose.

Some kids get all the luck!

Once the game started, I had another opportunity for some action shots using my newly acquired camera with the 10X Zoom.  I also use the burst feature that takes 3 shots in a row.  At worst, one of them is half decent.  At best, I get a 3-piece action set.

Pirates’ Lyle Overbay takes a hack.

Pirates’ Andrew McCutcheon steals 2nd.

After winning 6-2 Saturday night, the Buccos didn’t do very well on Sunday.  They lost 2-0, with the Tigers holding them to 2 hits.  They got roasted almost as badly as I did.

Like I said earlier, I was more concerned about rain than direct sun.  But the sun was just behind me and to the right all game long, so I ended up with a sunburn on the back of my neck, my forearms and my thighs.  My legs look ridiculous… upper thigh is white, lower thigh is red, shins are white.  I look like a goddamned candy cane.

In addition to that, between the driving for 4 hours and the clapping and cheering Saturday night, I had a wicked case of hives on my hands.  Luckily there wasn’t much for me to clap about on Sunday.

After the game, we said our goodbyes and split up.  I was concerned about getting out of the city amidst all the game traffic, but it really wasn’t too bad, what with already being parked on the other side of the river.  I made it home by about 9:20 and fairly sprinted into a cool shower.

All in all, it was an awful lot of fun.  For next year, Rik’s already cooking up a plan for the three of us to take a train to Chicago and catch a game out there.  I haven’t been to Wrigley since I was in 4th grade, so I’m all over that.

Meanwhile, this coming Saturday I’m jumping back in the car and driving back to The Burgh once again.  I have a cousin getting married, whose wedding I wouldn’t miss for the world.  And if that wasn’t enough, on Memorial Day there’s the Bag’O Fish Fry at the Carpetbagger’s house.  Last chance to get in on the action!  If you’re going to be in Pittsburgh this Monday and you’re reading this, you’re invited!  Click here for details.

So I can see I’m going to have a lot of material to write about… the wedding, the BBQ, and I have another post swimming around in my head about my experience at PNC Park.  Granted the Pirates have done a lot of bonehead things over the last 20 or so year, but I want to talk about some of the things that I saw them doing right! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Guys' Weekend

I was so glad that it wasn’t actually Judgment Day because it totally would have ruined my Guys' Weekend in Pittsburgh.  OK, actually, it was more like Two and a Half Men.

My old buddy Rik is a huge Detroit Tigers fan, so when the Tigers were scheduled to play the Pirates this year in Pittsburgh, we made plans to meet out there for the game.  He came in from Toledo and brought his 11-year-old son Jake with him.  We were staying at a Marriott Springhill Suites, directly across the street from PNC Park.  Jake was most happy to have some “dude-time,” far away from motherly and sisterly yapping.

As always, I’m a bit nervous whenever I have to drive in Pittsburgh.  It is not an easy town in which to navigate when you’re not intimately familiar with the local terrain.  I was loaded for bear this time though.  Not only did I have my Google Maps and directions, I finally had a GPS to use.  Unfortunately it did not have the voice of Myron Cope, which I still think would have been a huge seller, if you ask me.

OK, huge in Pittsburgh.

I set out early, hoping to hit our hotel by noon.  It was clear sailing; there were not many other cars on the road at all.  I got to use the cruise control most of the way, and contentedly jammed to all the 70s and 80s rock I could stuff into one thumb drive.  There’s nothing like tooling through the mountains on a clear morning, singing along with Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page.”  That was always a “Barn” staple.

Everything went off without a hitch until I hit Pittsburgh.  Despite all my preparations, I missed seeing a key direction point and was tooling along the highway along the river, looking for a road that didn’t actually intersect the road I was on.  Naturally, I ended up sailing across a bridge I didn’t want to cross and had to go back the way I came.  My Google directions were no longer of any use.  I’d have to trust my GPS, which I’d only brought as “backup.”  I wanted to see how it did before actually trusting it.

In theory, it was fine.  It brought me right to the spot I wanted to be; the only problem was that the bridge I needed to cross by the stadium was closed for gameday traffic.  No panic though… I proceeded to the next bridge down… which was also closed. 


During my earlier circuit through the city, I noticed a parking garage near the bridge that said $5.00 Flat Rate.  I decided to forget about going straight to the hotel… I couldn’t park there anyway because Rik was already there and they only allow one car per room.  So I parked at the garage and hoofed it over the Roberto Clemente Bridge with my rolly suitcase in tow and a soft-pack cooler of beer over my shoulder.

A couple of minutes later, I was there at the hotel.  Unfortunately, my buddy wasn’t.  He and the boy were over at the PNC Park gift shop.  I probably walked right by them.  They got back to the hotel before I could even sit down to wait.

After cracking a beer or two, we went to go take a walkabout.  I was eager to show them the city I enjoyed so much last September during Podcamp.  We circled the ballpark and went down along the Allegheny River before walking back across the Clemente Bridge.
The Roberto Clemente Bridge with the Renaissance Hotel at the other end.  I've stayed there before, but not this time.

 Your host pays tribute to his boyhood idol, The Great One, Roberto Clemente.

A different look at the Clemente Bridge.

Jake and Rik on the Clemente Bridge, in front of PNC Park.

We continued on to Market Square, where we had lunch at Primanti’s.  I mentioned going to the Oyster House for some huge fish sandwiches, but Rik had seen Primanti’s featured on the Food Network and wanted to try one of their meat/fries/slaw sandwiches.
My sandwich, sans coleslaw. 

They wouldn’t make me a sandwich without the slaw, because there were too busy for special orders.  Can’t fault them… There were all kinds of Tigers fans running around Pittsburgh last weekend.  Most of them were at Primanti’s.  I was able to pick off the slaw, but it made my fingers smell like cabbage.  Bleah…  My kingdom for a wetnap!

After lunch, we had to cruise through PPG Plaza.  I just love that place.  The design of those buildings amazes me.  I said this in my Podcamp post, but it bears repeating.  If they had built the Emerald City in “The Wizard of Oz” out of black onyx glass, it would have looked like this.

I wanted to go down to the very tip of Point State Park, where the Three Rivers come together, but alas, there was some kind of construction going on.  Looked like they were working on the fountain.  So this was as close as we got.
Off the end of the land there is the Point, where the Allegheny (R) and Monongahela (L) Rivers form the Ohio.

For the rest of his life, when the Steelers are on national TV and they show the blimp shots, I wanted Jake to be able to say to whomever he was with, “I was right there!
Heinz Field was directly across the river from where we were standing.

We were getting pretty warm by that time, so we cruised back to the room, walking back by PNC Park again.
Willie “Pops” Stargell stands eternally ready to pounce on a fastball.

This was how close we were to the ballpark.  The shot is from our hotel room window.

Rik and Jake decided to take a dip in the hotel pool and spa.  No, I wasn’t the dip.

There was one thing that cracked me up.  They had this sign on the wall with instructions on how to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. 

My question was, “What if the person that needs reviving isn’t over by the sign?”  Does one then have to drag the person over to the sign?  Or post someone by the sign to call out instructions?  Weird.

We showered up and watched the Preakness in the room, then headed over to the ballpark.  (Kudos to Bluz Brother for bagging $1100 on the Exacta!)  For this game, we had seats in section 115, in the lower bowl just to the right of home plate.  I wanted to make sure that for one of the games, we got to enjoy that spectacular view of the city.
I know the crowd looks sparse here but it filled up.  This game was actually a sellout, a rarity for the Buccos.

Here, you can see actual people filling up the seats.

I also took a number of “action” shots, most of which I will spare you.  But I liked this one:
Tigers' Miguel Cabrerra takes a ball, inside.

Day Two of our adventures will continue with the next post.