Best Road Trip of the Year

gator dunn

Picked this guy up at the first gas stop. He became the trip mascot and after Beth’s suggestion was named Gator (because he is a fat alligator) Dunn (after Adam Dunn the White Sox player who used to be a Red).

The Road Trip has ended, time to get to work.  The Rambler rambled over 3000 miles with one mascot (Gator Dunn), in two weeks, at three ballparks, saw four games, with five people in six states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky). It was an epic vacation and a fantastic initial road trip for my car.  Turns out you can put five people in a car, with all their stuff, in reasonable comfort, and still manage to get 21 mpg.

The journey started mapin Duluth, on a cruddy rainy morning.  I loaded the car, went to work till three, and then picked up Rio in a hail storm.  The skies continued to look ominous all the way through the upper part of Wisconsin.  During this initial phase of the trip, my Kona Blue Flex was spotted by Sara’s parents (who were traveling north to their spot on Upper Eau Claire Lake).  I didn’t see them pass, but evidently they honked at me in passing and wished me well through a Sara facilitated text relay.  I also realized that as I was about half way through Wisconsin that I had left the Brewers tickets on my desk at home (the only tickets that were actually physically mailed to me).  But again, luck was on my side, and Sara was still in Duluth with a key to my place, so she was able to get the tickets and bring them with her on her sojourn to DC for her conference.  Eventually, with ticket panic averted and having skirted the storms; I made it to Bloomington, IL by about 1AM.  While I thought about sleeping in, Rio’s predilection for barking at people moving outside our hotel door, suggested to me that I get up and get moving, and before 8 we were on the road.  We made it to my Mom and Dad’s house by early afternoon, just in time to relax on the porch with my Dad for a minute, before heading to LaRosa’s for some steak hoagies.  At a late dinner Skyline found its way into my stomach and Sunday morning found me cooking some goetta for breakfast, completing the Cincinnati Foods Trifecta Skyline(I did also have a scoop of Graeter’s ice cream, but I chose not to count it for the quadfecta because it was in a pint, and not from the actual store).  In the afternoon I headed to Purdue University to attend the International Association of Great Lakes Research Annual Conference.

The conference lasted from Sunday till Thursday.  It was pretty interesting.  I learned a lot about invasive species in the Great Lakes.  There was some toxicology but it was primarily focused on legacy contaminant chemistry (metal, PCBs, dioxins, organophosphate pesticides and many other persistent organic compound).  My research focuses on chemicals of emerging concern, CECs (chemicals without established regulatory limits or ecotoxicological background information).  This include things like current use pesticides, pharmaceuticals (and other personal care products), many ingredients from soaps and detergents and a number of other chemicals.  What was interesting is there were a number of talks about CECs ended up not talking about them at all.  My session was great because the talks really focused on unique approach to the research, using a multi-tiered approach to understand the biological effects of CECs.  I can say that because I was the session chair.  Well the other good thing about Purdue was there was a lot of interesting places to walk, and I got to walk almost 15 miles during my 4+ days there.  The one weird thing there was that the “hotel” were I stayed was actually a single dorm.  An empty room with a single plastic covered mattress and a desk.  It would have been a great dorm room, but as hotels go it was subpar (but as I picked it and it was cheap I wasn’t going to complain).  So after the conference was over I headed back to my folks house in Cincy on Thursday afternoon.

Thursday was uneventful, other than a walk in Veterans Park (AKA West Side Rally Point A).  The real events were starting on Friday morning.  True to Berninger family tradition, the preparing and packing lasted well into the night, but unlike most trips we were out the door at 830AM like we planned.  I had it all planned out.  We drove to Chicago and O’Hare airport to pick up the lovely Sara Lee and our party became five in the Rambler with luggage.  We picked her up after only circling the airport one time and then we were off to Milwaukee.  We arrived at Miller Park about an hour early and parked in an enormous lot full of people tailgating.  We didn’t even think to tailgate, which would have been fun.  It was the one piece of planning I didn’t account for.  But it was OK.  I we got into the park and I got a Brewers hat and all was cool.  Our seats were up high, but right behind home plate.  The trick was that during the initial planning I didn’t know Sara was coming to this day, so I had to buy an extra tickets that wasn’t with our block of seats.  As it turned out there was no problem, it wasn’t super crowded, so we could just all sit together without displacing anyone.  There didn’t seem like there was a bad seat in the place.  The beer selection was great, but I was a little disappointed with the brats.  I guess with all the grilling and awesome food outside they didn’t make park food a priority.  The game was great.  The Brewers tied the game up in the 7th and had a walk-off single in the ninth to win the game.  It is a great night in the ballpark when a team that is having a bad year has a great game.  Cliff Lee, the Phillies ace was pitching, and they still beat him.  This is what makes baseball amazing.  Chicago 2013 522On most days the team that is supposed to win, wins, but on some days it is that team that really wants a win, needs a win that come out on top.  After an uneventful night in Racine, Wisconsin we headed into Chicago in the morning.

The next morning brought Chicago.  We traveled down the road, and found our hotel, checked in and headed through traffic to Wrigley Field.  Traffic was pretty hairy and it seemed like it was never going to open up, and given that, we would never find a place to park.  But all of the sudden, here we were right in front of Wrigley Field.  I didn’t have any type of parking pass, and as Dad’s knees are not up to huge hikes, I bit the bullet and paid $40 bucks to park.  It worked out great.  We were right in front of the Field, and right outside of a Cubs/Chicago Apparel shop.  I picked up a Cubs hat and no one was the wiser (that I was really an incognito Reds fan).  Both Sara and my Dad picked out green Wrigley Field Sweatshirts (although Dad failed undercover school as he kept his Reds hat on).  Then off we went to one of the last old Stadiums to watch the Cubbies play the red hot Pirates. Chicago 2013 755 The game it turns out was almost inconsequential compared to experience.  Bleachers and ivy, Old Style and a Chicago dog, a hand changed center field scoreboard and warm-up mounds in foul territory, and Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.

Ernie Banks singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame".

Ernie Banks singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.

It was pretty fantastic.  The only down side was that our actual seats were 12 rows up in the upper deck, and the cement steps were very high without any railings.  We sat in the second row, and because the Cubs aren’t very good nobody came and made us move.  The Pirates best pitcher was throwing BBs and while the game didn’t go quickly, it didn’t end well for the Cubbies, but as I said, it wasn’t the game. it was the experience. First Chicago Game The weirdest thing to happen to me was in the men’s room, which was just a series of troughs on either side of a short wall.  Standard dude restroom protocol suggest that you leave a space between urinals and looks straight forward.  This is where the awkward moment came, as the place was crowded so everyone was shoulder to shoulder and looking straight forward made you stare straight at the other dude across the wall.  With eye contact usually strictly forbidden by guy code, this place all but insured that you looked another dude straight in the face, which then requires a comment and an awkward conversation.  The way back to the hotel it was time for Chicago Pizza from Giordano’s.  A deep dish veggie and a pepperoni and sausage, and of course it was way too much pizza (plus two Chicago dogs plus beers at the Field).  The pizza was about as good as it can get, hot and chewy, cheesy, meaty, and delicious.  On the way back home we picked up a little wine.  Then we got to watch the end of the Reds game (a win for the old Redlegs against the hated Cardinals of St. Louis).  A little wine and some more baseball (college baseball was on as well) and finally we called it a night.

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This is the at bat where he strikes out.

Since we were up late, the noon White Sox game came upon us quickly.  My/our plans to leave about 9 went quickly by the wayside, and we headed to the park about 1030, much to my grumbling chagrin.  But again I had a parking pass, so we should have been in good shape.  Except it is Chicago, and there is lots of traffic.  Lots of traffic.  And I’ve, of course, have insisted upon driving.  I was anxious and agitated and after one two lane change about half way through an exit, so was everyone else.  Then we stopped with the rest of traffic.  ARRGGG.  I had a choice, be agitated and ruin the day, or I could relax, not worry, and have a good time.  So I just became Zen about it.  It was the White Sox vs. Oakland, it would be alright if we missed the first pitch.  So traffic broke and we made it to our parking space and all was well (except I had to pee badly, thanks White Sox for the conveniently placed port-o-lets).

Harold Baines, Carton Fisk, and some other guy race to see who wins

Harold Baines, Carton Fisk, and some other guy race to see who wins

We got to the park about half an inning into the game.  Actually we would have made the first pitch, but we stopped to takes some pictures of the Chicago Skyline.  Chicago 2013 885Our seat were the cheapest of all the games but they were none-the-less excellent.  As we headed up to our seats I gave Beth some money and told her to get us some food.  What she returned with was the best ballpark food of the trip.  I had a great cheese burger, Beth and Sara had nachos, my Dad had pulled pork and my Mom had a Chicago Dog.  All of them were excellent.  The game was good.  Adam Dunn struck out as expected, but then he hit a double (which was totally out of character for a guy who either strikes out or homers).  Adam Dunn is still a favorite of Beth’s after his stint with the Reds.  As Sara pointed out, it was also the best crowd, very diverse, lots of kids, and everyone seemed very friendly, it is no wonder that the President is a White Sox fan.  After the game, which the Sox won, there was some debate as to what we should do.  Since there were three ladies in the car, the vote was to go to the magnificent mile, Chicago’s downtown shopping experience.  There were tens of thousands of people out on the streets on this lovely Sunday afternoon and few, if any places to park.  Dad and I decided to drop off Mom, Beth, and Sara so that they could shop till they dropped.  Dad and I drove around while the “girls” went to many shops where they tried on thousand dollar hats and ogled purse whose price would make a lottery winner blush.  Eventually we all met up at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Ice cream store.  While it wasn’t as good as Graeter’s it was pretty tasty.  After the ice cream we worked our way back toward our hotel, thinking about dinner.  The choices were Ditka’s or Harry Carey’s and since this was a baseball focused trip we chose to Harry’s place.  Outside was a Holy Cow, inside was a tribute to the man and all the famous people who got their pictures taken with him.  Having grown up watching the Cubs on WGN with Harry announcing, it was a fitting end of the evening.  The food was good, and the Reds-Cardinals game was on.  We then returned to the hotel to catch the last of the Reds game, which was disappointing since the Cards scored a bunch of runs in extra innings to win the game.  So much later, I went bed with visions of fish and dinosaurs dancing in my head, as the next day was Aquarium and Museum day.

The next morning brought lots of fog from the lake and every Illinois resident to the aquarium.  It turns out that this particular Monday was an Illinois day, where residents of that fair state (OK, mediocre state) were given free admission to the awesome things that city had to offer (particularly the museum and aquarium).  This left us options of standing in line for about two hours or purchasing a $90 multi-pass for everyone.  With the crowds as big as they were, it didn’t seem likely that we would be able to see both the Museum and Aquarium in the time allotted before the next baseball game.  Beth, Sara, and I resigned ourselves to the line, consoling our bruised plans with Gatorade and hotdogs.  My Mom had other plans.  She went ahead of all the people in line to investigate alternative options.  While she was there discussing the options (like buying a family pass) somebody asked her if she just wanted to purchase tickets, to which my Mother very astutely said “yes, yes I do”.  So out she came with tickets for all of us, skipping the entire line.  As this is not the first time she has made alternate arrangements that resulted in a much better outcome, we didn’t ask questions, just jumped up the stairs and into the aquarium.  The Shedd Aquarium is great.  It has a number of amazing exhibits, including beluga whales.  It also has a lot of Amazon fish (my personal favorite) and an exhibit of jellyfish (Sara’s favorite).  Chicago 2013 1036 Chicago 2013 2115Some great pictures were taken (and many blurry ones). There was even a stingray touch tank, where Sara was able to touch a fish (which I am told is a major thing).  By the time we were done going through the aquarium, there was just enough time to stop for dinner before we had to get to the Reds-Cubs game at Wrigley.  On the way to the game we stopped at RT Grunts for dinner and a milkshake, and while the name is awful, the food and the salad bar were quite good.

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This is what Wrigley Field looks like in the fog. Couldn’t see the outfielders at times.


Chicago 2013 2256

Mom and Dad are ready to cheer on the Reds against the Cubs in Wrigley

Then off to the Cubs-Reds game.  This time we came through town and the traffic, while thick, was moving the whole time.  The problem was the fog that had been hanging around all day was now very low to the ground, so it was like driving past 1000 bars in the clouds on Clark Street.  We parked at the same place, only this time bedecked in our finest Redlegs garb, old style only to find we were not alone.  What two games previous had been a sea of cubby blue was today interspersed with flecks and patches of red.  Turns out when the Cubs are bad and the Reds are good, people will travel from the Queen City to the Windy City to see a game on Monday night.  Once we took our seats I became a bit concerned that the game would be called on account of fog.  The fog rolled into the stadium so thick I couldn’t see the scoreboard in centerfield.  At some points it was so thick I couldn’t see the right fielder (our seats for this game were much better – field level, just under the cover of the upper deck, slightly to the third base side).  Our group of Reds’ rooters was joined by several others, including a very chatty little boy, who talked to Mom and Sara all night without stop (except for to cheer the Reds).  While the last game had been about the experience this game was about being a fan.  We whistled and clapped, called and cheered, urging our team to bring home a winner.  And a winner they brought.  Dad was wearing his Brandon Phillips authentic Reds jersey and when BP came up to bat with the bases loaded, Dad called his shot.  He said to the Reds fan next to us, watch this, he’s going to send one deep.  A deep that ball was sent for a grand salami.  A couple more runs for insurance and “this one belongs to the Reds” was heard across radio waves throughout the greater Cincinnati area (and all of Reds Country).  With the win our baseball time was up.  We gathered our belonging and our pride and walked out of Wrigley heads held high, Reds caps like crowns. We walked to our car (which was still there, unbroken into – I guess $40 parking does buy you something) and headed for the Indiana border, where we would stop for the night in some small Indiana-burg North of Indianapolis.

The next day brought us back to Cincinnati (and Mom and Beth at least back to the reality of jobs and work).  We went to my Grandpa’s house for dinner and eventually back home to relax.  It was a home that Sara learned that my Mom is perhaps bionic and that nobody in my family likes to sleep (1-2AM is a “normal” night).  The rest of the trip passed like a blur, Cincinnati landmarks, restaurants, food, views, and various trips down memory lane (look, here is where I worked, here is where I made pizzas for two summers etc.).  And also shopping, since it turns out Sara likes to shop almost as much as Mom and Beth (their stops included Tiffany and Co., Vera Bradley, and JJill among others (my Mom’s only regret was that there was not enough time to get out to the outlet mall).  On Friday Brian and Julie (my brother and sister-in-law) and we had a cook out featuring some of our spoils from Jungle Jim’s the previous day.  The next morning/noon we packed up the Rambler and Rio and headed out of town, but not before getting in a nice walk, which set Rio up for like 6 hours of backseat snoozing.

This is her position all ride long, unless she needs to adjust for the sun

This is her position all ride long, unless she needs to adjust for the sun

The trip home was uneventful, but it did give us (Sara and I) much time to discuss the amazing past two weeks. For Sara it was the warm easy welcome of my family, the jellyfish, and the olive bar at Jungle Jim’s (I’ve never seen anyone have more sample olives).  For me the whole trip was a high.  The games were great, the company fantastic, the Reds won, we saw a walk off winner, we had lots of good Chicago food, and there was fish and some science.  I don’t think I’ve had a better time.  Next time maybe Spring training in Florida followed by a couple of days on the beach.

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One Response to Best Road Trip of the Year

  1. Barbara Berninger says:

    Awesome comments on a fantastic trip.I was there for it all and enjoyed every minute and
    loved reading this. Let’s make a book on Shutterfly. .We need to include all your pictures and commentaries. Two comments…lane change words are terrified and nauseous.
    I did enter the building using the member’s door fully intending to become members if it meant not waiting in the “1 hour 45 minutes from here” line.

    It was an incredible couple of weeks with my family. Even got to see Mark and Taylor over Memorial Weekend.


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