The Patriots and Rams will meet at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to play in Super Bowl LIII on February 3. Fans attending the game will be treated to the stadium’s “Fan First Menu Pricing” which includes $2 hot dogs, $3 nachos, and $5 beer. In comparison: at Super Bowl LII between the Patriots and Eagles, U.S. Bank Stadium was charging $7 for bottles of soda, $13 for domestic beer cans, and $35 for specialty cocktails.
We went to the Kentucky Derby for the first time last year (2008). We spent Friday just getting familiar with downtown Louisville. During our breakfast downtown at the Marriott, the waitresses told us they were selling Derby hats upstairs. Off we went just for a look. A few dollars later, and Sheri had the neatest/fanciest Derby hat you can imagine, made from a man’s fedora!! Little did we know about this VERY important Derby tradition.
The lady running the boutique on the mezzanine of the Marriott was a big time business woman. She said she designs the hats, then has them made over in Europe. The prices ranged from about $200 on up to $850.00. Now I understand why the overhead storage bins on the plane were filled with hat boxes.
We also looked around the revived downtown area, highlighted by Fourth Street Live, an area with clubs and restaurants. We strolled Muhammed Ali Blvd, and had a bourbon at Maker’s Mark Lounge. A big storm was headed our way, so we went back to the hotel. It thundered and showered all afternoon, night, and into Derby Day morning.
But we arrived at Churchill Downs around 11am Derby Day to bright sun, dry track conditions, and a real experience. We saw so many women with fancy hats and outfits. The hats almost overshadowed the Derby itself. How do these women walk around for 10 hours in high heels on a cement floor? The parade of horses paled in comparison to the parade of stylishly dressed ladies. Needless to say, it is a real party atmosphere. Lots of beer, mint juleps, champagne, and wine, along with southern BBQ meats, and lobster sandwiches. Most of the lines for booze were longer than the ones for food.
Beside the parade of outrageous hats were several men who seemed to have stolen the show. One guy from Brazil was wearing an inflatable horse, and said he rode all the way from Rio for the race. Another man was on TV several times, since he actually had a few plastic horses running around the rim of his hat. He actually looked like that fat news guy(Willard?) who did not get along with Bryant Gumbel.
The heat actually started to bother Sheri a little. So we parked her in the infirmary for a little while. After she began to feel better, we went back to our seats. But when she went back a second time, the nurse would not let her in. She told Sheri to go home, as if to assume she had been drinking too much. So much for southern hospitality at the Derby Infirmary.
The really hearty partiers sit/stand/pass out in the infield, where admission is $40. We saw a bunch of guys bring an old couch into the infield, just so they would have a place to sit!! The local TV stations broadcast live the entire day, both Friday and Saturday. All local businesses run Derby promos of some sort all week long. We met a nice lady on the plane who was going to sit in a luxury box with her boyfriend and his business clients. Seats and boxes are handed down several generations.
As the big moment got closer, most people got to their assigned seats. When the horses walked by the first time, everybody stood on their seats to get a good look. With twenty horses, it was a very large parade. It seemed like it took an hour. I decided to bet the favorite, Big Brown, and two long shots, just in case. The handle just on the Derby was $26 million at the track, plus another $15 million for the exacta. No wonder the lines at the ATM’s were longer than the beer and food lines.
It turns out Big Brown won the Preakness, and was severely injured prior to his attempt at the Triple Crown. Too bad, as he is a great horse. It was fun cheering him to victory and cashing in my winning ticket.
We were sitting/standing about where Big Brown made his BIG move past the leaders, and on to the stretch run. We fortunately missed the tragic breakdown of the filly down the backstretch. It was a sad ending to a really exciting day. The bus ride back to the hotel was rather subdued.
We did not see any big sports or movie stars. But the VIP’s are led to their seats by a guy carrying a sign on a long pole. Everybody wants to know who they are, but nobody seems to know (or care). I just cannot see standing or sitting in the heat in a suit or sport coat. Who care how you look? Not me.
If you ever get the chance, we would recommend going, wear a fancy hat, and enjoy a very friendly and gracious part of the south. The food is not the greatest, but the bourbon is smooth and plentiful. People everywhere are helpful and friendly, even the rednecks. The only down side is that Kentucky seems to have the largest percentage of smokers I have ever seen, outside of North Carolina. Our friend James recommended going to a stud farm to observe the activities. We ran out of time.
It really is the most exciting two minutes in all of sports. I would compare it to the start of the Indy 500, Tiger making that ridiculous birdie chip on #16 at Augusta a few years ago, or the kickoff to a Super Bowl. Go Big Brown, of course, he is now retired to stud.
As wonderful and exciting as the City of Sydney, our trip to Australia was highlighted by our trek up to Queensland, and the Port Douglas area to visit the Great Barrier Reef. It is the largest reef system in the world, 2900 individual reefs, and 900 islands that stretch over 1600 miles, and 133,000 square miles. The reef is naturally located in the Coral Sea, and as we have been reminded numerous times, can be seen from outer space, and is the world’s largest single structure living organism.
More about the reef later. We hopped a plane from Sydney to Port Douglas early in the morning. We checked in to our hotel in Cairns (pronounced “cans”), and walked into town. We were starving, so we stopped at the first or second place into the downtown area. It was a Middle Eastern place, that had the best lamb and chicken kabob sandwiches we have ever had. We were traveling with my brother Bob, and his wife Laura. My friend Mike and his son had been here a few years earlier, and gave us the lowdown on what to do.
Our first night there was quite memorable. Mike had suggested going to the Red Ochre Grill for dinner. We made a res and walked down there after a drink along the way. Laura actually stopped and found a pair of shoes on the way as well. I had my photo taken with the Blues Brothers too. I ordered the emu and Sheri the kangaroo for dinner. Bob had the lamb, and Laura, who had just been to the koala and kangaroo farm the previous day, was sick to her stomach with our antics. She ordered some squash soup.
Emu and kangaroo are excellent tasting, full bodied meats. It tastes similar to beef, but seems much richer, and takes a sauce in a more complementary manner. A glass of cabernet, and we were in heaven. We decided to walk off our dinner, and made a nice stroll of Cairns. We found the best ice cream place exactly at the location we were headed, the Cairns Night Market. FYI, the ice cream here is just fantastic, probably as good as Wisconsin or British Columbia. The Night Market was fun, although in no way, anywhere close to the night markets of Bangkok, Penang, Laos, Chiang Mai, Hong Kong, or Hanoi.
Earlier that day, I met a nice young lady, named Mel at the famous Quicksilver Cruises. She arranged for our entire trip to the Reef the next day. The only downside was having to get up at 5am to catch the bus up to Port Douglas, where all the boats leave. We chose this particular cruise since they go to the outer reef area, called Agincourt Reef. It only made sense that it would be a better experience, fewer neighboring boats, and better and clearer viewing of the sea life. Quicksilver has won awards from environmentalists, since they try to leave the smallest footprint on the Reef. They have their own two story anchorage linked to the Reef, and nothing is left there each day. All waste, food, and sewage is taken back to Port each day.
I am not fond of ocean traveling, or rather, it is not fond of me. But armed with ginger candy, scopolamine patches, and sea-bands, I gallantly headed off to the Reef. I first made sure I had a seat on top of the catamaran, near the side, just in case. I also chose Quicksilver because of its catamarans, and its ability to pierce the waves. It turns out that I did not have any trouble, and I actually enjoyed it, even sleeping on the way back!!! Funny too, that when we got to our mooring, they served a huge lunch. What about that rule that keeps us out of the water for an hour after eating? Needless to say, I ate VERY lightly.
The staff gave us lessons in safety, equipment, boundaries, rules, and protection of the Reef life. We rented beautiful blue wet suits to protect against the mini micro sized jellyfish that are known to debilitate even James Bond or The Little Mermaid. Fully dressed, we headed out to the metal dock attached to our mooring. Somehow, Sheri had some problems, and I ended up alone. But I had a ball, going every which way, diving to the bottom of the ocean (only about 12 to 15 feet), admiring the fish and reefs from below.
It turns out Sheri hurt her leg while kicking with her fins. So, she ended up quitting early, and took the submersible down to see the reefs and marine life. It was a most enjoyable way to spend the day. We got to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World!! It was difficult to leave, even though we were tired. The ride back to Port was long and very quiet. We were able to sleep after having some more to eat. When we got back to our hotel, we could barely manage to get cleaned up, and head down to the Night Market food stalls.
It is here that I found the BEST salmon sushi I have ever had. I just happen to buy two pieces at a little stall, just as a small appetizer. Wow, wow, wow!!!! It melted in my mouth. Nobody else likes it, so I went back for more. I had some every night while we were there, and for lunch sometimes too. I cannot even remember what we had for dinner that night.
The rest of our stay was enjoyable, as we visited an Aborigine tribe, and the Kuranda Rainforest. But the highlight was the Reef, and its great expanse and natural beauty. It is a real shame that it is endangered. The Queensland National Trust that manages the Reef tries to limit fishing and tourism. But global warming is bleaching the coral, and causes cyclic outbreaks of crown of thorns starfish. Pollution and declining water quality are the big threats to the Reef, along with climate change. There are thirty species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises here. Stranger life includes giant sea turtles (which we saw), and salt water crocodiles, along with 1500 species of fish (we did not see them all), and 400 coral species.
I would not hesitate to do it again. But next time, I would hire a private operator. We must have had a hundred people on our catamaran. It was a good experience, meeting locals, and other tourists. The staff is the friendliest anywhere in the Reef area. But I think a smaller boat would allow us to visit more locations, and have a chance to view sea life that may not live near the anchorage. And I would love to have the emu and salmon sushi again.
One of the best times with my children was going to Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona. My son, Matt loved baseball from an early age. I loved baseball from my youth, to when I stopped playing in college. These trips gave us the chance to see our favorite teams, watch the upcoming stars of tomorrow, and to play golf at some of the best courses in the greater Scottsdale area.
For those of you who have never heard of it, here goes. Spring training typically lasts almost two months, starting in mid February and running until just before the season opening day, traditionally the first week of April. Spring training has always attracted fan attention, drawing crowds who travel to the warmer climates to enjoy the weather and watch their favorite teams play, and spring training usually coincides with college spring break. We would meet many people from cold weather climates, like Chicago, and Cleveland.
A typical day for us during Spring Training went like this. My son and I would wake up early, and head out to the golf course. The rest of the family would shop, swim, or relax at the hotel. We got to play of the great Scottsdale courses, like Troon North, TPC, and Karsten ASU. We then caught a cab to the ballpark for an afternoon of baseball.
After that, we headed back to the hotel for a swim. Our dinners out were often at places where the players go, like Don and Charlie’s, and the Pink Pony. We often would be seated next to a group of well known players from our local favorites, the Oakland A’s, and the San Francisco Giants. We would also see some of the older, retired players as well, like Reggie Jackson, Bob Feller, Stan Musial, and Joe DiMaggio.
But baseball was our main attraction. We would try to get strategically located seats so the kids could catch baseballs. We even bought a short fishing net that could be used to trap baseballs. The secrets of getting the balls were like this: We sat in the first row for several reasons. One is that any ball that landed in the bleachers, would ultimately roll down to the first row, where my son would be waiting as he climbed under the stands. Two, he used the fishing net to reach over the fence to capture the foul ground balls running up against the fence. He would often get so many that we had to give them to the other kids.
But the coup de grace was a moment with A’s slugger Mark McGwire. As Mac was finished with batting practice, he started handing out his batting gloves to kids in the stands. When he got to Matt, he handed him his baseball bat!!! That had to be the happiest kid in the stadium. He was the envy of the entire right field stands.
Another highlight was getting to see the up and coming young stars of the future. The one we remember most was Ken Griffey Jr. While he was not signing autographs, he did hold my daughter Sarah in his hands, and give her a hug. I thought that was pretty nice for a twenty year old kid. We would often see some of the players at breakfast as well. If they were staying at our hotel, they would have a late 9 or 10am breakfast when the coffee shop was empty. Matt was able to meet so many of the players this way.
We also enjoyed walking around Old Town Scottsdale, and taking the kids to the Rawhide western town. We enjoyed the food of the southwest as well. We also found a water park one year, as well as an amusement park, with batting cages, and inner tube boats that worked like bumper cars.
Times like this with the kids are special, and live forever inside my memory bank. I hope they will take their kids to Spring Training as well someday.