Just Your Basic Whirlwind

Jul 11, 2019   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

I knew there were plenty of good reasons to take last week off, in terms of this blog. Not the least of which was that it was July 4th and there were more important things to care about. And, without really thinking about it a week ago, I believe I subconsciously understood that there would be a lot more material to mine if I skipped a week. Oh boy was there!

So, looking back to July 4th, it all kinda goes like this…

Barbara’s sister Kitty agreed to come up to Minnesota to enjoy the 4th and the weekend with us. And, to escape the summer heat and humidity in Orlando. Our 79-degrees and 30% humidity was pretty much heaven for her. We thought it was July 4th hot. Kitty wasn’t so sure she didn’t need a sweater. It’s all perspective.

After Barbara picked her up at the airport, we quickly made ourselves some pizzas for a pre-fireworks dinner. And I don’t mean we threw a frozen pizza in the oven. We enjoy buying ready-to-go thin pizza crusts and then adding our own sauce and toppings. On the pizza stone we have, and with the oven at 450, our little creations are piping hot, bubbly, and ready to go in 10-12 minutes. Yum. Oh, and a key is to slice your own pepperoni from a full stick of it. The pre-sliced stuff isn’t as good.

Sometime around 8:00 we drove over to the little park in Marsh Creek, our old neighborhood, where we hooked up with most of the gang for yet another unofficial off-site viewing party for the Woodbury fireworks show. Back when the fireworks were launched from Ojibway Park, we could sit in Neighbor Dave’s  driveway (or ours) in our lawn chairs and freeload the show from there. Once they moved it to Bielenberg Sports Complex, on the other side of town, we were actually closer to it and the little park near Marsh Creek made for a perfect viewing spot. Other residents have figured this out, and it’s a fun little crowd of a couple dozen or so now. The show was great, the gang was fun, and there was one other important thing that happened.

Terry Blake asked us to bring baseball gloves, and he also brought a football. I was still a little frustrated by the bit of “catch” we played a week or so before, because I was so timid about letting the ball go naturally. 20 years without throwing is a long time. But with a football, I have no such issue. It’s like I had “the yips” throwing the baseball, but no problem throwing spirals. With a football, I have this tendency to try to always throw it on a flat line, as hard as I can. Usually, it does just that. So we tossed the football around for a while, with Neighbor Dave, and then put the gloves on to play catch. The improvement was radical. Just throwing so free and easy with the football gave my arm some muscle memory. I wasn’t perfect, and I’m still looking forward to throwing the ball around some more with Terry, but it was way better. It felt natural. One of these days I wouldn’t mind finding a mound somewhere to see if I can get the old sidearm sinker over the plate. Too much too soon? Yeah, probably.

With Kitty, over the next few days, we jammed in as much as we could. Lots of good food, lots of touring around, a Twins game on Friday night, and then on Saturday we did a big tour of both sides of the Mississippi, heading south on the Wisconsin side for about 30 miles, and then coming back up the Minnesota side. It was awesome.

Beautiful Lake Pepin, part of the Mississippi and just gorgeous. (Click on any image to enlarge)

On the way down, we stopped more than a few times. This photo of is of Lake Pepin. It’s a wide clean lake not too far south of us. It’s a boater’s haven. Its banks are home to many Bald Eagles. And it’s not a real lake. You know, the kind surrounded by land on all sides. It’s not a man-made lake either, caused by a dam. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s a fully natural wide spot in the Mississippi, created by the confluence of the Mississippi and the Chippewa rivers. It’s impossible to equate this beautiful body of water to the same river that rolls by the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. But it is, indeed, that same body of water.

Wisconsin Route 35, the two-lane highway that runs down the Wisconsin side, is a fun drive with all sorts of vistas. And keep your eye out for Bald Eagles! They love Lake Pepin as much as the humans do.

With the great scenery and the gentle turns and slopes, this same “loop” trip we were on is a favorite for groups of motorcyclists as well. One needs to keep an eye on the mirrors to keep everybody safe.

Along the way, before we got to Nelson, Wisc. where the bridge crosses over the Mississippi to access Wabasha, Minn., we came upon the tiny little town of Stockholm. Yes, it was settled by Swedes. It’s truly tiny, with a population officially listed at 66 residents, but they’ve kept the charm of the place fully intact and have found their niche by being a fun stop on Route 35 for people just like us.

The whole place is no more than a couple of blocks long, with one little side street that’s full of fun things to see and wonderful things to eat. Chocolates and pies are often on the menu.

Stockholm, Wisconsin.

We hung out in Stockholm for about an hour, and ended up going home with a few things, including a handmade Amish rug for the garage entry into our house. We walked up and down the side street, stopping in shops and meeting the locals. I got a kick out of the fact the minutes of the latest “town meeting” were posted publicly outside the tiny Town Hall. When there are that few residents, and they’re all “in it together” to keep the town going, I suspect town meetings are pretty important.

We headed on down to Nelson, crossed the Mississippi bridge, and found a place to park in Wabasha. It’s a nice little river town, with a decent sized downtown area full of diners, restaurants, and shops. Definitely a fun place to stop in and walk around.

But, it’s got one attraction that’s more important and more interesting than the rest of it. It’s the National Eagle Center and Barbara and I had been there before. We wanted Kitty to see it, too.

The Eagle Center is located in the right place. There are hundreds of Bald Eagles who nest in the trees on both sides of the river, and spotting them is usually not a hard thing. Within the Eagle Center, they have some great exhibits and more than a few telescopes and binoculars for visitor’s to use. It’s worth a visit if you’re ever in Minnesota. US 61 is the route that runs up the Minnesota side. Find your way there, some day, and you’ll be glad you did.

A couple of the full-time residents at the National Eagle Center. Awesome creatures!

The Center also takes care of a number of injured Bald Eagles. Some are maliciously shot by jerks (who deserve whatever bad Karma comes there way, times ten) but others are unfortunately struck by cars. With broken wings, they are doomed to die. When the Center gets them, they help them mend enough to survive and then they give them a home with a view, along with great care for the rest of their time. These birds may miss the great outdoors, but they are very lucky to be alive.

After admiring the big birds, we headed north up 61, through Lake City, Red Wing, and up toward Hastings, Minn. But, by then we were all pretty hungry, and little Miesville, Minnesota was on the way. Yes, home of the Mudhens; the Town Ball team Dylan Blake plays for. And not far from their fantastic ballpark is that wonderful supper club we discovered when joining Lynn and Terry Blake for a ballgame.

So, Barb got on the phone and called Wierderholt’s Supper Club for reservations. It was fantastic, from the food to the staff, and the other customers, many of whom are locals or nearby farmers. The fact such a fantastic restaurant can be located in such a tiny town, and be so enormously successful (it was packed once again while we enjoyed dinner) is mind-boggling to me. And I can’t believe we just now have discovered this treasure.

On Sunday, we had an ambitious plan. In the interest of fair reporting, I’m going to have to admit that we ran out of energy and didn’t quite complete the mission. We did, indeed, head over to Stillwater, Minn. on the St. Croix River, as planned, for a 10:30 am “brunch cruise” on one of the river boats that are so fun. And it was fun! The brunch food was actually terrific, and the mimosas weren’t so bad either. It was a two-hour trip down the St. Croix for a number of miles, and then back up to Stillwater again. We had a great time. And, we saw some Bald Eagles soaring above us.

Once we got home, after a few other short stops to do some shopping in Hudson, Wisc., we all needed naps. Our original plan was to head all the way over to Minneapolis for dinner and a show, at the Dakota Club, but it didn’t take too long for each of us to float some trial balloons with lines like “It wouldn’t kill me if we didn’t go” or “I’m fine with just staying home.” We didn’t go. And I think we were all happy it turned out that way. We’d packed a lot into just a couple of days, and as I told Barbara after we made the decision, “I can’t believe it sounded like a good idea to go to Minneapolis and see a concert on Sunday night after all we had planned before then.” Oh well…

On Monday, the whirlwind kicked into a new gear. We all headed to the airport together, since Kitty had a flight to Orlando that left just about the same time as the flight Barbara and I had to a different location. We were heading to New York City!

Hey look, it’s the Bronx. And that’s Yankee Stadium!

Barbara had a full day of meetings in Manhattan booked, for Tuesday, so I tagged along on Monday afternoon. It was a beautiful day in NYC, and we were lucky enough to have Air Traffic Control give us the approach into LaGuardia that comes up from the south on the west side of Manhattan. I was lucky enough to have a window seat on the right side of the cabin. What a view!

We were about an hour late arriving, which is pretty good actually for LaGuardia. We got our bags and headed for the Uber pick-up zone, which they have laid out pretty smartly. Only took about 10 minutes for our guy to find us, but then we discovered the not so good way the airport has the Uber/Lyft area positioned. It’s congested enough, with about 100 drivers to find their passengers at any time, but then when that happens you have to actually leave the airport. Yeah, good luck with that! You immediately have to merge about seven lanes of Uber cars, huge buses, and other airport vehicles down to basically one lane. It took us one full hour just to get out of the airport. Not exaggerating. Lots of honking going on, as well. As if that’s going to help. It was nuts.

We finally got out of there and headed through the Midtown Tunnel to get to Manhattan. And then that bumper cars experience took over again. Much more honking, many more close calls, and near gridlock, but somehow our guy got us to the Marriott Courtyard and Residence Inn at 54th and Broadway. We had a beautiful corner room on the 24th floor.

Not a bad view, looking south on Broadway toward Times Square in the distance.

It was pretty spectacular, and a fine reward for the hassle of getting into town from the airport. We had wrap-around views of Broadway, and you could see Times Square a few blocks away, as well as other amazing NYC skyscraper views, and even a few sliver-sized views of the Hudson River, if you knew where to look.

We had a lot on our agenda, but first we needed dinner. Our plan was mostly to not have plans, although a few things did need to be prioritized. What we never planned were our meals. In New York, your dining options are basically limitless, ranging from 5-star cuisine to pizza. We spotted a cool Italian place just across Broadway and headed there. It was (you’re not going to believe this) amazing. My Rigatoni Bolognese was about as good as I’ve ever experienced.

After that, a quick walk up toward Central Park, just a few blocks away. We kept it short, just to work off a little of that rich Italian food and the wine we had, and by then it was just starting to turn to dusk, but New York was still at full throttle. It’s truly the city that never sleeps, and it’s on the go constantly. It’s pretty crazy that an area the size of Manhattan, which is about 150 blocks long and 12 blocks wide (depending on where you are on the island) can be so incredibly high-energy all the time. You really have to ramp up your metabolism to keep up with New Yorkers. The only thing that happens slowly is the traffic, but of course with that you have the honking, the weaving, and the object of just “getting a nose” on the next car to establish position. It’s not for the timid, even if you’re safely strapped into the back seat while a local expert does the driving.

On Tuesday, Barbara headed off early for her meetings, all around Manhattan. She had a full agenda that wouldn’t end until around 5:15. Just constantly on the go with her boss to meet with investors and analysts in the biggest of all the “big business” cities. There’s no shortage of meetings to have in New York.

I did a little writing, up in our fancy room, and then went for a midday walk. Up to Central Park, through it a little bit, then over to 7th and down to about 50th, than back up to our hotel. It was easy to work up a sweat. And as big as New York is, it’s stunning to see how much construction is going on. This city has been “full” forever, but they keep finding places to renovate, or tear down, or build new. The latest trend is to build the tallest and skinniest buildings they can. It’s really startling to see. Imagine an 80-story building that is square, but only has about 10 windows on each side. Some of them look impossible. And on my walk, at noon time, I realized all those construction workers were on their lunch breaks. Interesting to eavesdrop a little as I passed by small gaggles of them sitting on the sidewalk or on scaffolding eating their sandwiches. It’s pretty much like the movies, except it’s real life.

That night, we had huge plans and we had to logistically overcome the fact that both Barbara and I were going to have to meet up on 43rd Street in the Broadway theater district, because her meetings weren’t going to allow her to get back to the hotel. We needed to find a place to eat before seeing a 7:00 show at the Stephen Sondheim Theater. I used Uber and she walked a few blocks after her final meeting ended at 5:15. Somehow, it worked like a charm, and we met at the corner despite the fact about a million people were all going in a million directions. Imagine that. We both laughed a little, and she said “Can you imagine how hard that was but how easy we made it look?”

Hanging out after the show with Nathan Scherich.

We found a place across from the theater called The Brooklyn Diner, despite the fact it was in Manhattan, and we had a great dinner at the bar. The bartender did a terrific job of getting us our food in time so that we wouldn’t be late for the show. And that show? It was “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” which is good enough (it’s a huge hit on Broadway) but what made it better was the fact Nathan Scherich is in it. I met Nathan at the NHRA race in St. Louis (I’m thinking this was 2008) when both he and Buck Hujabre were in “Jersey Boys” on the national tour. Buck brought him along for his first taste of Nitro and he was hooked. Plus, he’s a great dude and we got along great from the moment we met.

We stayed in touch and Nathan, who had then gotten off the tour and was doing shows on Broadway, came out to Englishtown a few consecutive years when we were racing there. The Wilkersons rolled out the red carpet and he was eager to get back to the Nitro as often as possible. I followed his career from afar.

The show was amazing. It’s a great story, about Carole King’s career, and the singing and playing are both off the charts. Nathan is listed as being an “Ensemble” performer in the show, which means he’s in numerous scenes playing different background parts in a number of costumes, but he has two roles that are truly front and center.

Carole King and Gerry Goffin were songwriting partners, who later married, back when the “hit makers” hired talent like them to crank out hit songs for the big stars. They wrote so many hits back then it’s hard to count them all. They were friends and rivals with another songwriting duo, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and the two pairs went back and forth writing songs that went to the top of the charts. One of those Mann/Weil songs was “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” which was recorded by the Righteous Brothers. Nathan plays the Bill Medley role, and sings the lead in the show. He absolutely blew the crowd away. Roars of cheers and huge applause after the performance. It was really impressive.

Out on stage with Nathan, after the show.

He also plays the role of Nick, a sort of hippie dude who basically has a crush on Carol, and he’s wonderful and hilarious. The long wig he wears is also pretty hippie classic. All in all, the show is as spectacular as I’d always heard. We were so glad we went. What a phenomenal cast, and Nathan just nails it.

After the show, we met and he gave us a fantastic backstage tour. As you can see in this photo, the set on stage is amazing, and the way all the parts and pieces move around to create new looks and sets is technologically stunning. The set switches from home interiors, to offices, to the writing room, to live performances minute by minute. See the show, if you can.

We were pretty bushed by the end of the night, but we had a big morning planned for the next day. No rest for the weary!

We dragged ourselves out of bed by 7:45 or so, and the word “dragged” is accurate. Remember, this whirlwind had been going on nonstop since Kitty arrived the prior Thursday. It was a full week of cramming in as much action as we could. We were running on fumes, but we had firm plans set for that morning, all the way down at the tip of Manhattan near the World Trade Center. No Uber for that trip, which would’ve been about 40 blocks of Manhattan traffic. We took the subway, once we groggily got showered and dressed. We got down to Broadway right by the Trade Center at about 9:15, and our big event was just about to happen.

Looking south, where the parade began. A sea of people!

We’d followed along as the US women kept winning, game after game, in the World Cup. Once they capped it off by defeating The Netherlands for the trophy, New York sprang into action. Only a place like New York City could put a massive parade together in just a few days. We were determined to be there.

I’ll start off with this. The parade route is about a mile long. It’s on a part of Broadway that is officially known as the Canyon of Heroes for a reason. From astronauts to sports teams, this is the place New York rolls out the big parades. I haven’t heard the official attendance estimate yet, but the entire parade route was absolutely packed (not a fun place for any chronic claustrophobics, I’m sure) and we managed to wedge ourselves onto the jammed sidewalks. If 100,000 is the total number, I would not be surprised but I also wouldn’t be shocked if it was more like 200,000. It was the wildest thing ever, to be a part of.

Helicopters were circling and hovering, and that was how we finally got an idea of where the USA team was in terms of the route. All you had to do was see where all the helicopters were located in the sky. A mile away, at first.

There were bands, police motorcycle brigades, and tons of buses and open flatbeds featuring the USA staff and supporters. It was technically a “ticker tape” parade but there’s no such thing as ticker tape anymore. So the folks in the high rise buildings that create the look of an urban canyon dropped shredded paper and confetti. It was really cool.

Looking north, toward City Hall

Finally, the float that featured the team came by and the cheers of “USA, USA!” were deafening. It was a goosebumps moment, no doubt about it. It was a big effort to get there, and a bigger effort to get anywhere near the street, but we were so glad we’d done it. And so proud of those women. World Cup champs for the fourth time. They earned every bit of it.

We weren’t going to try to bust through that crowd to immediately get right back on the subway, so we headed over to the new World Trade Center and the memorial site for the original. It’s a very moving place, and such a juxtaposition of realities. The new Trade Center soars above, as a striking symbol of America and a modern piece of visual architecture. It’s massive, but it’s almost delicate. The new museum and transportation center are just as modern and elegantly built.

The two “footprint” fountains are also modern and beautiful, but they are grim and emotional as well. Anyone old enough to remember that day knows just how those two buildings looked, rising side by side. Now they are forever memorialized by the two sunken sculptures, placed exactly where they stood, with the names of all the victims carved into the railings around the sites.

The South Tower memorial.

To go from the joy of the parade, to the pride of seeing the new World Trade Center rising into the sky, to the somber place that marks the location of the former North and South towers, is an emotional roller coaster ride. And I was happy to see so many of the parade goers make the short walk over like we did. The whole place was packed.

We finally got back on the subway, both exhausted not only from the day but from the entire week. We had some plans tentatively in our heads, but all we could do was go back to the hotel (where Barbara’s elite Marriott status allowed us a late check-out) to finish packing, get cleaned up (I almost ran out of clean clothes but it worked out just right) and then we headed down to the street, pulling our bags, at 2:00. Our flight was at 4:40, but our arrival memories gave us both the incentive to make sure we weren’t sitting in New York traffic when our plane was pushed back.

As it turned out, we grabbed a taxi instead of ordering an Uber car, and the driver had some tricks up his sleeve. He drove up the west side of Central Park, then cut through the park around 81st to get to the east side, then over the bridge to Randall’s Island and then into Queens and straight to LaGuardia. It wasn’t a painless drive, but it got us there at 3:00 for our 4:40 departure. Good thing we’re both Delta Sky Club members. That came in handy. And when the Sky Club attendant got on the PA and said, “Delta Sky Club members, we’re happy to let you know we have a hot dog stand set up, and we’re pleased to provide free Nathan’s All-Beef hot dogs at this time.” The line formed immediately. We just had to. I mean, when they offer them for free, it wouldn’t be polite to say no. Right?

Once we were on the plane and in our seats, the energy finally drained out of us. I rarely sleep on planes, but I was long gone by the time the flight attendant came by to ask if we wanted anything to drink before take-off! That’s a record for me.

By the time we got home, around 7:00-ish I guess (hard to remember now) it was all we could do to get a bit unpacked and watch some TV.

A whirlwind? Yeah, I’d call it that. We jammed so much into a week it seems nuts now. Somehow, we ramped up the energy to get us all the way through it and home. And then the tank was empty.

But what fun we had! What memories we created! And I’ll never forget being right in the middle of that massive adoring crowd, joining in as we all shouted “USA, USA, USA, USA!!!”

I guess I’ll see you next week. I can’t imagine the material being anything like this but we’ve always managed to figure something out.

And please, if this was a blog you enjoyed, clicking on the “Like” button at the top would be like getting a free hot dog for me.

Bob Wilber, at your service and still running on fumes.

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