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Friday, June 30, 2017

The Opening Salvo of the Silver Boot Series - Gameday in Houston, Texas


Otherwise known as the Silver Boot Series, the Lone Star Series is a intrastate rivalry between Texas' two Major League Baseball teams, the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros. Basically, the team that has the better record of the seasons games against each other gets a silver boot trophy. Makes the division rivalry a little more interesting to the fans.

Tonight is the first game of the season between these two teams and we've got tickets.



Our hotel, the Homewood Suites in downtown, is almost the closest hotel to the stadium. There is a Four Seasons (that is probably four times the price) between our hotel and Minute Maid Park. It's a wonderful hotel and a two minute walk down the block from the stadium.
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Formerly named Enron Park, the stadium picked up a new sponsor after that company sank in scandal, the stadium is expanded out from the beautifully restored train depot, Union Station. The former transportation hub makes for a grand entrance into the facility. It's also the closest entrance to our hotel, so we enter there.



This puts us in left field so we wind our way around center field, take a little elevator ride, and then end up at our club level seats near the right field foul pole. They are fine seats, very comfortable on a private-feeling deck above the rest of the seats here. The searing sun is upon them, however, so we go indoors to the club level food court directly behind us. It's the end of the day so it will only be 5 or 10 minutes before our seats are in the shade again.



We take this opportunity to see what kinds of foods we have available to us so when I go on a food run later, everyone will know what's available. When we do get food, the foot long hot dogs, carne asada tacos, and popcorn really hit the spot.



A selection of Texas craft brews also keep us hydrated.

Earlier in the day, we'd visited the team's gift shop in the lobby of the old station to prepare for tonight's game. If our team isn't playing, we usually root for the home team. Knowing that before they were the Astros the team was known as the Colt .45's, I was able to get a retro Colt 45's shirt for the game.  A lot of old-timers at the game got it and were appreciative. Suddenly, I'd had a cadre of friends that I could chat baseball with.



The game gets underway and as a Pyrrhic revenge, the Rangers just don't have it tonight. The bats are quiet, Houston's pitchers have their way with them, and the Rangers make a few errors before going down 6 - 2.

I say Pyrrhic because, although it's fun to see the team that defeated ours a week earlier go down in flames, Houston is still the team in first place that the Angels are chasing.



It still is a very fun game in a very good stadium, now our favorite covered stadium.  As the fireworks shoot above the locomotive traveling across the top of the left field wall, celebrating another Astros win, we take a pleasant stroll back to the hotel and call it a night.

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Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All  Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All  Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Fields of Dreams: Globe Life Park - Arlington, Texas


Globe Life Park is the home of the Texas Rangers and replaced the now demolished Arlington Stadium.  It sits west of Dallas in the suburb of Arlington near AT&T Stadium, where the NFL Dallas Cowboys play.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia
Mike Fitzpatrick under CC BY 2.0 license.

The Rangers started life the same year as me, 1961, in Washington, DC as The Senators. They replaced another team called "The Senators," who moved to Minneapolis and became The Twins. 10 years later, they moved to Texas and became the Rangers, playing in, what was then, a minor league stadium that was expanded along the way to a capacity of over 40,000.

Still, it was not a stadium fitting a major league team.



The city of Arlington passed a sales tax to fund the majority of the new stadium's cost and, on April Fool's Day in 1994, the Rangers played their first game at what was then known as The Ballpark in Arlington.  Naming rights deals led us to today where it is now known as Globe Life Park. One notable stop along the way was when it was known as Enron Field until that energy company collapsed into scandal.


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The Rangers have not been a big powerhouse in their history but that all changed in the last few years as they won the American League Pennant and appeared in in two back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011. They lost to the Giants and then the Cardinals.

Notable names on today's roster include third baseman Adrian Beltre, ace pitchers Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, and infielders Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor. 



Here are the stats…
Year opened: 1994
Surface: Latitude 36 Bermuda Grass
Construction cost: $191 million
Capacity:  48,114
Field dimensions: Left field – 332 ft.; left center – 404 ft.; Center field – 400 ft.; right center – 407 ft.;  Right field – 377 ft.
Home team: Texas Rangers, 1994 - Present
Events attended: one game

Globe Life Park does not seem like a large stadium when you’re inside, it feels about as big as the stadium in Cincinnati.   The staff and fans are very welcoming and become temporary friends for a few hours.  It’s know as a hitter-friendly park despite the long distance to center field.
The seating bowl features three larger decks and a small level of suites.  It can get very hot here in the summer and the design includes a lot of overhang for shade. This has the negative effect of a lot of view obstruction if you're sitting high in the first deck. There are also a lot of poles for support that adds to the obstructions.

Contrastingly, the stadium is also very drafty and, on those occasions when it does cool down, the chill can be hard to take if you're not prepared.



Wheelchair seating is adequately spread out through the stadium although the premium seats in the lower deck have the obstructions noted above. You'll get better views in the cheaper seats in the outfield or upper deck. The companion seats are also cramped, my knees were pushing into the seat in front of me.

Also, there was no way to get to the seats without waiting for an elevator. No ramps to get there and a bit of confusion on how to get there.

Wheelchair seating is very easy to get via the online ticketing system at Rangers.com or you can call (972) RANGERS.

Hot dogs here are good.  Very good. There is also 2-foot long dogs that go through various permutations (thunderdog, tamale dog, kimchi dog etc.) but at $27 (in 2017) we found it was a better deal to just get the regular jumbo dogs (foot long, thick, and a bun to match) at $9.

The beer selection is huge here, it's a bit expensive. Popular was one stand of craft brews where you could get your beer in a souvenir moonshine jar.

Public transportation to the park is very poor. Arlington has no public transportation to games but several hotels in the area provide wheelchair accessible shuttles to the game for their guest. Walking here from nearby hotels is also not an option due to the lack of sidewalks. The area seems more like a business park than an entertainment district and vast parking lots surround the stadium.

It's not a bad stadium but there are a lot of missed opportunities here whether or not you're in a wheelchair.  Notable is that a new stadium is scheduled to be built down the street in a couple of years at the end of an entertainment zone that is under construction. AT&T Stadium will be at one end and the new Rangers stadium will be at the other.


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Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 26, 2017

Crashing the Party - A Light Rail Tour of Houston


Our downtown hotel, Homewood Suites, is not only a great hotel. It's in a great location, too, with Houston's light rail running on either side of the building. This makes for a great, easy way to go out and see the city.

Ready? Let's go...

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Across from the hotel is a parking lot and on the other side of that is the train station.  It's a bit confusing paying the fare at first...day passes have to be validated but one trip tickets don't...and we start off with a little bickering about how it works on transfers but we take a deep breath and move on, determined to have a good time.

The trains run often here at about 6 to 7 minute intervals.  It's a quick ride to where we have to transfer. Looking back, we probably could have walked those three blocks just as quickly.

The Red Line runs down Main Street in downtown Houston before heading out to Rice University, the Ensemble District, and the massive hospital district before reaching our destination of Stadium Park.



Along the way, we take note of other stops we might want to make on the way back but, first, we go to see some sports history.



At Stadium Park sits the massive, new NRG Stadium, home to the NFL's Houston Texans. It's a rather sterile behemoth, as generic as the team's name but next door sits a landmark of an old stadium that harks back to the nostalgic days when the city had a much better name for it's team, the aptly named Houston Oilers. Along with baseball's Astros, they called this stadium...the Astrodome...home.





Completed in 1965, the Astrodome was the world's first multi-purpose, domed stadium. While now pretty common place in locales where weather would affect gameplay, this was revolutionary when it opened. One thing they didn't take into account, however, was that the natural grass playing surface would not survive indoors.  A synthetic grass was developed and installed and Astroturf became a household word.


There are a lot of people getting off at this station and the parking lot is full even though nothing is in season here. We walk towards the dome and find the area fenced off. A gate with two attendants and a table block our way. They are checking everybody's packages...I should mention everybody is very well dressed, too.

Obviously, some event is taking place and the entire area is cordoned off for it.

I explain to the people manning the table that we just wanted to take a look at the old dome and if they could show me a way to get over to it. They said to just let us check your purses and backpacks and you can go in.



Security check over, we end up wandering into the Offshore Technology Conference, a convention for oil people from all over the world to explore the wonders of offshore oil drilling.

As we make our way over to the old stadium, we pass by oil rigs, pumps, and even industrial air conditioners along the way. There's a food-truck court (where we get a five dollar bottle of water to quench our thirst) and candy samples along the way from all of the oil industry vendors.

There are Saudi men in smart suits and turbans. Nigerian oil execs in very sharp looking Nehru suits; South Americans in sharply pressed suits and very stylish dresses; and Oklahoma oilmen in their dress jeans, Pendletons, and custom cowboy boots all classed up the place. Then, there is a family of three bloggers dressed in shorts, t-shirts, sandals, and baseball caps.

Guess who stuck out like a sore thumb.

While it was obvious who did not belong at this gathering, the people there were still very nice and courteous to us.

We make our way through, a bit amazed at all the technology available in the industry and we're only on the outside. Who knows what amazing pieces of machinery and technology await in the main exhibit hall?

On the other end of the lot, we find ourselves on a small street with the old Astrodome on our left and it's replacement...NRG Stadium...on the right.  The new stadium dwarfs the old, which is not a small feat.

The old place looks a little worn, a dowdy old woman next to the sparkly new girlfriend. It's been declared unsafe so from the outside is all we can see. It could use a cleaning and a coat of paint.

I'm sure inside there's much to be done, too. It's now a landmark and no demolition is scheduled. One day, it can be reconditioned and served as another venue to this rather large event center...maybe a concert hall or even a sports arena for local college teams.



Now, it just sits in the Texas sun waiting for another turn in the spotlight while we make our way back out via the convention's food court. A lady offers us a sample of Brazilian steak from a food truck. It is very good.

After an hour or so of this Texas hospitality, we're on our way out when a security guard approaches us and asks what we're doing. We tell him and then say we're just trying to find our way out again. He scolds us for being there and says "no pictures" after we'd already been there an hour and other security guards said nothing...not even when we took their pictures.

I figure he's just not on the same page as the others, who were gracious and hospitable to us, and we leave.



On the way back, we stop at the Ensemble District, which looked like a nice, walkable area on our way to the stadium. It is but it's also more of a nighttime area and nothing much is happening. We do find an old looking southern restaurant called Natachee's open for lunch so we amble on in.



It's a rustic looking room with a wooden porch out front and a picnic area to the side. Looks like a southern grandma's house. Inside, we take a seat and order. I have on of their signature punches (very tasty adult versions here but they have non-alcoholic punches for kids, too) and some ice cream. Tim has the pulled pork and Letty has the day's special, chicken rosa. 



Letty is blown away by her dish. A very tasty battered chicken covered with a pink sauce and Tim is liking his sandwich, too. Unfortunately, I was still full from breakfast so it was just the punch and ice cream for me, which was still very good.



We walk around for a bit more then hop the train back to downtown. 



A little window shopping and more walking take us up to dinner time where we decide that the happy hour at Bombay Pizza, a combo Indian and pizza joint, where we had some great pizza and beer for dinner.



Letty has the shrimp and sausage pasta.


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Bellies sated, steps achieved, it's time to go back to the hotel and get ready for this city's baseball game. We'll get to that in the next report.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Pictures by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Saturday, June 24, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Catalina Colada


I'm looking up calories for a pina colada and see this..."a pina colada has more calories than a Big Mac."  At 644 calories per drink, yeah, that's pretty heavy.  Unfortunately, I've got two colada drinkers in family, my wife and Tim.  What to do?

Come up with my own.

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With a little experimenting, most of which you can see on the video above, I did it.  Here is my version of a pina colada.  It tastes exactly like a regular one but only has 125 calories.  If you like pina coladas...whether or not you like walking in the rain...you'll love this Catalina colada.

INGREDIENTS (one drink)
1 1/2 oz Malibu (or other coconut infused) rum
1/2 oz brandy
dash of bitters
1 oz pineapple juice
1/2 oz fresh lime juice

Pour rum and brandy into old fashioned glass.  Mix in lime juice and a dash of bitters.  Fill with ice.  Pour in pineapple juice.

Cheers!

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Darryl
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
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Friday, June 23, 2017

Houston, We Don't Have a Problem


If there was one thing on this trip I would have done differently, it would have been the way we got to Houston. Oh, Southwest Airlines did their job well...getting us there on time and on a short, one hour hop...but when I think about it, it would have been about the same time as driving. Cheaper and less hassle, too.

Think about it...since we're with a wheelchair, we need to get to the airport about two hours pre flight. That's after a half hour drive plus another half hour to return the rental car.  In Houston, we have to deplane last, then go find our luggage, then find the shuttle (which is about $50 each way), and...finally...another half hour to our hotel. That's about five hours, total, of which only one is flying.


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The drive from Dallas to Houston would take about four hours and cost about an extra hundred dollars over the regular rental price. Next time, a one-way rental from Dallas to Houston will be the ticket.

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But, that's not what we did this time. Luckily, everything went swimmingly and we had a great SuperShuttle driver and arrived at our hotel about one hour before the check in time. It took the front desk about twenty minutes to assure that our room was ready and they let us check in.



This time, the room we booked and guaranteed was indeed the room we got. A king-size, studio suite with sofabed that was actually bigger than the two-room suite we had in Dallas. It felt massive.

I've got to put in a note here that the Homewood Suites in downtown Houston (only a very short block from the stadium for this leg's baseball game) is just wonderful. Clean, modern, up-to-date, functional, friendly and competent staff, good food and drink...it was all we could ask for and more.



After check in and dropping off our bags, we head out to find some dinner. Today's game ended about an hour ago and there's a little bit of a lingering party atmosphere over by the stadium. We explore a few bars before deciding to sit on the deck of Lucky's on the other side of Interstate 69 from the stadium.

The sign about it being 'Crawfish Boil' day might have had something to do with it.



The weather is perfect, a man is boiling way in the corner, and we make a new friend named Roger (you can see him in the video). Roger takes us under his wing and guides us to the proper ordering technique, introduces us around, and keeps us company while we're there.



A pound of crawfish and a couple of Lone Stars later, we're feeling pretty good as we walk back toward the hotel.

Up the street, I notice a crowd of people, some smoke, and music. Let's go investigate.



We find a very busy park called Discovery Green just swarming with families out for a day at the park in the middle of downtown Houston. There's a lot to do here...

Maybe you caught us on Twitter or Facebook when we stopped at the park's kiosk for a gratis photo and posting. Restaurants from the fast food to fine dining variety line the park's perimeter. Radio controlled boats and kayaks patrol a pond. Playgrounds and ice cream vendors abound for hot and restless kids.

Tim and I find a cool splash pad.  It's even wheelchair accessible so I coax him in.



Since it's an electric chair, I have him follow me around a route to get him cool and damp without drenching the chair.

It's a Texas-sized serving of fun to cap our first day here.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

CEREBRAL PALSY STORIES: Rest And Relaxation On The Cloud


One of the things people may wonder about me living with a disability like Cerebral Palsy is if I ever get out of my wheelchair to rest, relax and unwind. Well the short answer to that question is yes I do!

As a matter of fact my parents and I make sure that I spend some time out of my wheelchair every night of the week in the Family Room of our house while we watch our favorite shows on TV. The most important part of my nightly rest and relaxation ritual are the very nice, soft and comfortable leather recliners that we bought from our nearest Living Spaces furniture store a few years ago. These recliners are so soft and comfortable in fact that my Dad and I have affectionately given each of them the individual nickname of "The Cloud."  

As far as our rest and relaxation routine on "The Cloud" goes, the fun all starts after we finish our dinner each night. After the completion of dinner, I usually drive my wheelchair straight to the family room and park it in front of the T.V.  and wait patiently for my parents to come over and join me after they finish cleaning up the dishes and pack any leftovers for the next day. I do this so that I can be transferred  to The Cloud with my Dad's help and assistance.

I should also mention that if I have to go to the bathroom after we finish dinner, I do so before being transferred to The Cloud.


Once I have been successfully transferred into The Cloud, my Dad will then help me get even more comfortable by taking off my shoes, pants (leaving me in my boxers), and leg braces. After all those articles of clothing have been removed my dad will then press the recliner button/lever on The Cloud recliner. After the reclining button has been pushed, our nightly rest and relaxation routine can officially begin!

As for what we actually do during our nightly rest and relaxation routine, the answer is pretty simple. We watch TV and relax of course! For myself, I especially look forward to those nights when of our regularly viewed programs such as Survivor, The Amazing Race or Better Call Saul is on.

Depending on what day of the week it is, the hours that we spend relaxing in the Family Room can vary. For example, on the nights that I have to go the gym for physical therapy, we usually don't get to spend as much time as we would like resting and relaxing. On those nights, by the time we come back home and have dinner, it is usually already between 6:30-7:00 P.M. That time frame usually only gives us between two and a half to three hours of relaxation time on those nights before we have to go to bed as compared to four and a half to five hours of relaxation time during the other nights of the week.


Stunning Diamond Studs - 1/4 CTW Only $99! Is is also pretty much a given that at some point during the night my legs and feet will get cold and I have to ask my parents to put a blanket, sheet or pillow over my legs to stay warm. This is due mostly to one of two things. 

One is that during the Spring and Summer months of the season, the air conditioner will come on inside our house making it too cold. The second reason is because during the Fall and Winter seasons of the month, it is often already too cold at night outside not to have one.


While having a blanket on does tend to keep me warm and comfortable throughout the night while I'm relaxing, there is one possible downside depending on how you look at it. That is the fact that once my parents put a blanket on over my legs, I tend to fall asleep pretty quickly each night while we are watching T.V. before heading to bed later on at night. When this happens, I usually end up feeling like I missed out on watching a key moment from some of our favorite T.V. programs. I guess getting any amount of sleep is probably more important than watching what is on T.V. at any given moment during the night.

After my parents and I get our nightly fix of rest and relaxation, my dad will begin the cycle of wheelchair transferring duties once again so we can all head off to bed for what is hopefully a good night's sleep for all of us with sweet dreams. If everything goes well and we wake up  rested and refreshed the next day, then we are ready to look forward to doing the same kind of rest and and relaxation ritual the next night and the night after that and so on!

(If you'd like to know what kind of recliner it it, click on this link: Fast Lane Gliding Recliner by Flexsteel)

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Tim Musick
Copyright 2017
All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Rangels and The Toadies...Game Day in Texas


Arlington is a funny little city. Just west of Dallas, this suburb has no practical public transit (there is very limited commuter service and a paratransit service) and the area we're staying in has basically nonexistent sidewalks.

This presents a problem as we came here to catch a baseball game. Our hotel is just a hair under a mile from the ballpark but there is no way to walk this walkable distance without having to go onto a very busy street. There is no public transit, either.

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There is a private trolley service that local hotels use, however. It's also wheelchair accessible but you must book (for free) with the hotel's front desk first. We're given three passes for the bus and head out to the street behind the hotel to wait for our appointed pickup time.

Here's where it starts getting a bit interesting.  The Rangers are playing the Angels tonight. We're die-hard Halo fans and this is only the second time we've gotten to see them play on one of our road trips. We're definitely going into enemy territory when we show up in our blood red Angels shirts and a busload of people in blue Texas shirts are waiting there.

We endure quite a bit of good-natured ribbing while we wait for the bus and on the ride to the stadium. The driver points out where we're supposed to catch the bus after the game and we head on in.

The entrance here is at left field and our seats are behind home plate, shading towards first base. We get to our section but I can only find stairs up the one level we need to go. An usher says we can use the press box elevator.

When opened, I see an Angels team executive already on and give him a high-five. We have a need to see our fellow fans and team members feel welcomed in this opposing stadium.



To get to the accessible seats, we have to go through the private, home plate club.  I wish we could stay but our spot is just outside the door. There's a big overhang, pillars obstruct the view, and my knees are pushed into the seat in front of me. These are premium seats, by the way, about $30 more each than the cheap seats in the outfield.



The game gets started and the wind starts blowing. What had been a hot and humid day...with us wearing shorts and t-shirts...turns into a windy 40 - 50 degrees at game time.  It's chilling us to the bone, especially is this very drafty section of the stadium.  Oh, how I wish we could get on the other side of that door, into the climate-controlled home plate club.



It's not to be, however, and neither will it be for the Angels.  They lose, the only loss of their series in Texas. Of course, it had to be the night we had tickets.



After the game, local rockers The Toadies put on a concert for the fans.  You might know them from their hit 'Possum Kingdom.'



Unfortunately, the stadium acoustics are just crap tonight so after waiting five or six songs for their hit, we cut our losses and head outside where the shuttle bus we were supposed to catch never shows up.

Wondering what to do, I decide to book a Lyft ride back to the hotel, get the car, and come back to get Letty and Tim. Luckily, we found a sidewalk vent blowing out warm air they could stand on until I got back.

The Lyft driver cancelled the ride, the second one called me and said security wouldn't let her approach the stadium so I had to leave Letty and Tim there while I walked two blocks to find her.

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She was very nice and when I explained what I was doing, she asked if Tim's wheelchair folds up.  In fact, his travel chair folds up quite nicely, so she had me call them and ask them to walk to the nearest corner where I could guide them to the car and she'd drive us all back to the hotel (she had a nice, big Honda Pilot).

While I was waiting, she asked what was going on inside and I told her about the concert. She'd never heard of the band, I explained they were kind of a one hit wonder when I heard the lyrics of that one hit wafting out of the stadium.

"That's what they're playing now!"

Still didn't ring a bell.

Letty and Tim roll up and it's time to put us and this trip to Dallas, Arlington, and Fort Worth to bed.


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Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved