A Bucket List Trip, and Other Fun Stuff

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October 7th, 2021

People talk about “bucket lists” all the time, and I personally believe that has a lot to do with the 2007 hit movie starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. I had never heard of a bucket list until I saw the movie “The Bucket List.” A great flick, too.

I have a few items in my bucket, but I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have lived a very rich life, full of travel, adventure, and incredible experiences. I mean, who among us has been to Cuba? Thanks to one of the many fantastic jobs I’ve had, I’ve been there. The red beans and rice were phenomenal and the 1956 Chevys were everywhere.

Let’s see…  There really aren’t many places I want to go. When you spend anywhere from a couple weeks to a month on Kauai almost every year, what beats that? I’ve been all over the US, Canada, and Mexico thanks to baseball and the shoe biz. Maine and Alaska are the only two states I’ve never set foot in, so maybe that’s something I have to correct. I’ve been to many European countries, so those boxes have been checked. I’d like to go to Germany and Austria, but I wouldn’t consider those bucket worthy. Those are just places I’d like to go. Maybe see Bayern Munich play a Bundesliga game. South America doesn’t interest me and Asia is too far and too complicated. But maybe a trip to Fiji or Tahiti would qualify. One of those thatch-roof huts out over the crystal clear ocean water. Yeah, that would work. Put that in the bucket. Australia and New Zealand? Yes, there’s two more destinations in the bucket.

I have been to France multiple times but I’ve never been to Omaha Beach or any of the D-Day sites. That would be an important trip, but I just don’t even know if I could get through it emotionally. So many died there. Such sacrifice. Such tragedy. So much blood on that sand. I’ve been to Pearl Harbor and that was tough enough.

In terms of sports, since they are central to my life, it would entail time travel to visit most of the stadiums or arenas I’ve never been to but would want to see. They are all long gone. I feel lucky to have been to the original Yankee Stadium, old Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, Tiger Stadium (what a cool place that was) and even the old “Mistake By The Lake” Cleveland Municipal Stadium. I got to see the Celtics at Boston Garden and the Lakers at The Forum (which is still there but is now a concert venue.) I grew up roaming the halls and tunnels of the old historic St. Louis Arena. I even worked there, as an usher and as a franchise executive in indoor soccer. I’ve also been to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Box checked. Three times.

But I would like to go to Green Bay and see a Packers game at Lambeau Field. That would be an A+ bucket item…  Oh wait. I JUST DID THAT!!! Box checked with an emphatic mark.

Lambeau Field. Box checked, bucket list fulfilled. Amazing.

Yep, last weekend Barbara and I joined our friends Joe and Mary Beth on a two-night trip to Green Bay. Yes, Lambeau and the Packers were central to the escapade but not the only stops on the agenda.

Joe was born and raised in Green Bay, so he was a superlative tour guide. Before the game, he drove us through the part of town he grew up in and I love that sort of stuff. I very much enjoy being a tour guide in St. Louis and hope I might get the chance to return the favor to Joe and Mary Beth someday. There’s a lot to see (and eat) there.

Joe is also a proud owner of two sets of Packers tickets. The first set, where Barbara and I sat, have been in his family for generations. That’s how it works in Green Bay. The Packers are everything to the town and people hold onto season tickets as if they were made of gold. They get handed down. A few years back, when they added suites and more amenities to the stadium, Joe put his name on the list to get two seats in the Club Level. The biggest benefit with those is that they are indoors. That would be a good thing in December or January. It can get “a little brisk” at those games. It took years for his name to finally rise to the top, but he gobbled those tickets up as soon as they were offered.

The Foxglove Inn. A terrific experience made better by the two beautiful brides sitting on the porch.

Joe also arranged a Bed & Breakfast for us. The Foxglove Inn is in a house built more than 100 years ago, and it’s fantastic. It’s in Sturgeon Bay, about 40 minutes from Lambeau, and it’s a phenomenal place. We loved our room and the incredible breakfast that was delivered to it each morning. The bed was great too. Hence the term “Bed & Breakfast.”

On Sunday, the Packers were playing the Steelers, so that was another big benefit and the reason Joe picked that game for us to accompany them. Barbara, of course, is from Pittsburgh. She wore her black and gold. Joe wore his green and gold. I went in nondescript casual clothes, as did Mary Beth.

Mary Beth is a Vikings fan (like me) but she and Joe have a wonderful detente when it comes to their favorite teams. There are many “mixed marriages” in this part of Minnesota. We have a number of friends who are on different sides of the rooting fence but who put their love and marriage ahead of football. They find a way to make it work. Ground rules are essential.

Joe also has an enormous extended family, so there were plenty of relatives to meet and a fun tailgating set-up to enjoy.

Packers fans know how to tailgate. I’ve been to Arrowhead in Kansas City, and they party hard there, but it’s all on gigantically spread out asphalt parking lots. Green Bay is different. Lambeau is different.

The stadium is right in the middle of a residential part of the city. People actually live right across the street from Lambeau. With that sort of location, there are no city-owned parking lots where thousands of cars can park. As we approached Lambeau, we were still a good five miles away when we started passing guys with flags urging people to park in whatever space they had. And yes, a lot of people sell parking in their yards, near the stadium.

We parked right in the middle of the tailgating and that was not only fun but also really convenient. Maybe the equivalent of a four-block walk to the stadium.

Barb had expressed a little concern about how Green Bay fans would treat someone wearing Steelers garb, but everyone said “Oh, it’s not like that. You won’t get much grief.”

Making the short walk to a place that will make the hair on your arms stand up

They were right. Generally, the 89,000 fans at Lambeau were well behaved and polite. There are always some loud mouths, and that’s to be expected, but I’ve been around fans of other sports teams that are horrendously rude and mean. It ruins the experience. There are baseball, football, and hockey teams whose fans travel and can be so overbearing and awful we won’t even go to our own home games because of them. I’ll be polite and not name any names. Oh, I’d love to, but I won’t stoop to their level.

There are some downsides to Lambeau, but that’s all part of the character of such a historic place. When it was built and opened, in 1957, people were apparently much smaller than they are now. Seriously.

As far as I could tell, all the seats in the main seating bowl are aluminum bleachers. And they’re just benches, with no backs. The “seat” numbers are painted on the aluminum. Get one hefty guy in the row, and the whole system is off. Yes, you’re crammed in there. But, there’s one cool remedy we could not have done without.

Right after you scan your phone and walk through the gate, you can fork over a few bucks for clip-on seats. They hook to the bleachers and not only give you a pad to sit on, but also a back to save you from traction. We wouldn’t have made it to halftime without those rental chairs. And at the end of the game, you just leave them in place. They come and get them and do it all over again at the next home game.

The big benefit, though, is that those rental chairs delineate the boundaries of your seats. There’s no pushing you down the row if your rental seats are there. This was probably the best piece of advice Joe and Mary Beth gave us prior to the game. Life saver. And butt saver. And back saver. All good!

The Packers won, much to Barbara’s disappointment, but the thrill of being at Lambeau and seeing Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Roethlisberger square off at the quarterback position was a chance to see future history. Two guys who are automatic sure-thing inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Was it worth it to check off this bucket list item? It was worth it many times over. I’m still thinking about it. And wow, it was LOUD in there. After 22 years in drag racing, my ears are bad enough. I made sure to use my fingers as ear plugs when the screaming got really cacophonous. I just used the word cacophonous. Score 8 bonus points for the blogger.

The night before the game was another special deal and it was something Barbara and I had not just never done, but had never heard of before. Joe and Mary Beth took us to a fish boil. Yes, a fish boil.

Door County covers much of the long peninsula that extends from Green Bay out into Lake Michigan. It’s charming and full of great things to see and do. Very much worth a visit.

In Door County, it’s practically a law that you have to attend at least one fish boil. Sounds weird, doesn’t it.

Well, Lake Michigan is full of whitefish, and when they are caught by the local fishermen they are instantly sold to many restaurants. They are also the staple of any fish boil.

I present to you a Door County fish boil. An experience we never knew we’d missed until this trip

They are cleaned and cut, but the skin is still on and the bones are still in. People sit in a large circle as if Old Faithful is about to erupt, and your “host” puts on the show. In a large cast-iron kettle, he brings the water to a boil with nothing more than logs and patience. Potatoes and onions are the first items to go in, and they are done so in their own baskets. Then, when they are done, the real show begins. The fish is added in its basket, and the fire is brought to a roaring tower of flames. Seven minutes later, it’s time for dinner.

We went to our reserved table in the restaurant and the server brought everyone the same meal. No need for any stinkin’ menus at this soiree. Fish, potatoes, and onions, all cooked to perfection. Our server also uttered the best possible words when he said, “Would you like me to remove the bones?” We couldn’t say yes fast enough.

So how was it? Barbara and I had made the decision to accompany Mary Beth and Joe because we wanted to do something we’d never done before. We had no idea if we’d like it or not. It was great!

Lake Michigan. Can’t have a fish boil without the Lake Michigan fish!

The fish is white and flaky. The potatoes and onions are great sides, and you’re quite full by the time you’ve cleaned your plate. The fact our server removed the bones was a huge bonus.

After dinner, cherry pie for everyone. It was quite a deal and we’re both really glad we did it. Boiling fish doesn’t sound all that appetizing, but it was perfectly cooked and tasty, with very little seasoning. Big thanks to Lake Michigan, the fishermen, and our fish boil host. It truly was “dinner and a show” when he stoked the fire. Expensive? Sure, if you think $25 per person is expensive, show included. Not kidding. I thought the bill was a mistake when it came.

So there you have it. A great trip to Green Bay, a wonderful B&B, a fish boil, and a pilgrimage to Lambeau Field. Done, done, and done. Do it if you ever get the chance.

Here at the Wilber/Doyle manse, a few interesting items have arrived and will be cherished. Richard Noffke is my former roomie Oscar Noffke’s brother. I’ve been to Richard’s house and have witnessed first-hand the absolute sports memorabilia museum in his basement. I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s not an inch to spare down there, and everywhere you look you are stunned by the collection.

A key piece of Wilber history is now “at home” with me

Today, I saw a Priority Mail envelope in our mail box, and the name on the return address was “Richard Noffke.” I knew something special had to be in there. It was what you see here:

When World War II ended, the St. Louis Cardinals promoted my dad from their minor league system up to the Cardinals in 1946. This is the first Major League contract he ever signed. Somehow, Richard had this in his collection.

He sent along a note that said:

“Hi Bob. Hope all is well! Every time I walk by this I can’t help but think it needs to be in your family. So, I decided I would take action on that thought and send it to where it belongs. It goes nicely with that 1946 Cardinals jersey you have. Enjoy!”

Well how about that! What a kind and thoughtful gesture by a good man. I sent him a quick “thank you” note on Facebook and told him what he good man he is. I also said “That clearly runs in your family.” Oscar is one of the best and most thoughtful guys I’ve ever known.

Oh, and what’s the number typed onto the line for my dad’s annual salary with the Cardinals? $4,000. That’s four thousand dollars. He must have thought he was rich.

A week or so earlier, I got a box from my nephew Ewan and in it were three Rawlings baseball gloves that all belonged to me. I’d given them to him over the years and he still had them. There are a lot of innings in these two fielders gloves and one first-baseman’s mitt. And it’s pretty obvious I had a contract with Rawlings sporting goods.

A bit of Bob Wilber baseball history, thanks to Ewan

The first-baseman’s mitt originally had a 33 written on it in green marker. That means I had that glove when I was with the Medford A’s in 1979. I then played a lot of first base for the Sauget Wizards, so I scratched out the 33 and wrote Wilber 7 on the thumb. The only time I wore 33 was in Medford, so it’s pretty easy to figure that part out. I wore number 7 for almost all my years with the Wizards. The glove served me well. I don’t recall ever dropping or botching a throw at first during my years with Sauget.

One of the outfielder’s gloves has a 5 written on the thumb, and WILBER written down the length of one of the fingers. That means I wore that glove either in college at SIUE or in Paintsville after I turned pro. That’s where I was number 5. I’m guessing college.

The other glove just has “Wilb” written on the thumb. Why did we all write our names and/or numbers on our gloves in permanent marker? So that a teammate could grab your glove and hat and take it to you out in the field if you were stranded on base after three outs.

I recently saw a photo of me from Paintsville, taken with one of the girls who worked in the concession stand or ticket office, and the glove I’m wearing says “HAWK” in marker on the thumb. I and saddened to realize I don’t have that particular piece of memorabilia. I wish I had it.

So I guess that’s about it. Now that I’ve been writing about fish, I have a desire to take my bride to our favorite Woodbury bistro, Angelina’s Kitchen, for their incredible salmon. It is baked, for the record, and very tasty.

As always, the author of this blog really digs it when people read it and like it, and he (me) likes it even more when they click on the “Like” button below.

See you again soon. Get to Green Bay if you haven’t been, and go to Door County for a fish boil. You’ll thank me.