Monday, April 29, 2019

MIDWEST BASEBALL TOUR - LEG 2: Kansas City, Part 1

If you haven’t read Tim’s reports on preparing for this trip (this is his first time planning a trip), be sure to check out what it took to plan and prepare for this trip in a wheelchair.

Finally, we're driving to the final destination of this tour.  It seems like we've been on the road for a month, but it's just been a week since we landed in Cincinnati.

It’s not nearly as long a drive as we took from Cincinnati to St. Louis. 247 miles as opposed to 384, so this day will be much shorter with only a planned bathroom, gas, and lunch break half way in Columbia, home of Ole Mizzou.

Watch the Video!

On the way in, we pass Kauffman Stadium, our goal for this leg of the trip, and then into downtown to find our hotel. It’s not hard to find as we climb up the hill by the Liberty Monument with it’s not-so-eternal Eternal Flame. Our home here will be the Residence Inn by Marriott on Union Hill.

We check in and find the hotel’s only wheelchair accessible room, a downstairs unit in a cave-like outdoor hallway. The room is spacious and roomy, with a king-size bed against the wall, a roll-in shower in the bathroom, a full kitchen next to a work desk, and a living room with a sofabed. The sofa is too close to the TV to unfold it for a bed so I scoot it back a bit, revealing many tears in the rug repaired with duct tape.

I look for and find the thermostat for the air conditioning, try to set it, and find out that it does not work. That will not be a problem on this chilly day but if the weather takes a turn to hot and muggy…as it did in St. Louis…it will be. We leave the room to walk to dinner and let the front desk know that the A/C needs fixing, which they promise to do.

A two block walk up Main Street leads us to Gates Barbecue, whose motto is “hi, can I help you?” I would think you’d get that motto at a lot of places, but if it helps, why not? We order at the cafeteria-style counter. I can see the smoker a few feet back, open, with many pieces of perfectly smoked meat. Our eyes grow big. I want to try a burnt ends sandwich. My wife wants a full rack of ribs. Tim will share with us along with beans, bread, and salad.

The meat is perfect, delectable, and juicy-tasty. There are three sauces to try, mild, regular, and hot. We get all three and stuff ourselves silly. We still have over half of our food left, which the waitress in the dining room helps us pack to take back to the hotel. That fridge in the full kitchen will come in handy.

In the morning, after the hotel’s perfectly adequate breakfast (I think I’ve been spoiled by the
Drury Plaza Hotel St. Louis at the Arch
), we had a day to explore before tonight’s game. It’s a short drive over to Independence, home of one Harry S. Truman.

At the visitor’s center, we are informed that both the Truman home and farm are closed to visitors at this time because of ongoing refurbishment. We’re welcome to look from the outside and take pictures, but that’s it. The Truman Presidential Library is open, so we’ll stop by there in a little while.

At the end of the block is Clinton’s Soda Fountain. We go here to get some ice cream. We also go because this is where young Harry Truman got his first job, working after school. It’s not in the original location; a ranger tells us the original building burned down and it was moved here afterward.

The ice cream is good and the service Missouri friendly.

A few blocks away is the Truman home, which we walk around and snap a few pictures before moving on. A couple of blocks from here is a huge building with a spiraling steeple. We drive over to see what it is.

In 1831, Mormon pioneer Joseph Smith declared that the plot of land near the courthouse square was to be the new temple for New Jerusalem, the spot where Christ would come back to earth. The Mormons were eventually driven from the area but many returned and built the temple. The giant we now see is a newer version serving the Community of Christ branch of the Latter Day Saints.

Continuing on, we head over to the Truman Library. It’s eight dollars to get in. A short movie about Truman’s life is shown, then you head out into the museum where you walk through different stages of his presidential career…taking over for the deceased FDR, the decision to drop the bomb on Japan, recognition of Israel, the Korean War, the firing of Douglas MacArthur, “Dewey Defeats Truman,” and the economic and civil rights laws he pushed for.

There is a peaceful courtyard, overseen by a life-sized statue of the man where an eternal flame burns near the graves of Harry Truman, his wife, daughter, and her husband. Behind that, you can see the office where Truman spent days after the presidency working here at the library which is next to the research room. It’s a very worthwhile stop when you’re in the area.

Back at the hotel, we turn in for the night. Soon, I here shouting outside and I take a look. There is a couple getting to know each other VERY well in the porch across the way and several of their friends are running in and out of the room along with others laughing and causing a general noisy mess in the parking lot. We have a full-blown hotel party going on next door.

I ask them several times to be quiet and am summarily ignored. It does quiet down. Next, around midnight, a group checks into the room above ours, being noisy. Then, just stomping across the floor all night. This is never stopped. We have a very bad night.

Frustrated with the noise, we skip breakfast, not wanting to see anybody else from the hotel. Instead, we head downtown to the City Market where each weekend they have a fresh farmer’s market along with the shops and stalls that are there every day.

Most of the farmers today just have vegetables. Very little fruit except for strawberries. I taste some, but they are very bland. There’s a table that has a lady with baked goods and we try her cinnamon rolls. Very delicious, so we take some to share and head to a trailer at the end that’s making coffee and breakfast. We get some joe and a breakfast sandwich to share and head to some nearby picnic tables to eat. It’s all very good but while we’re there it starts to rain. Not heavy, but steady.

After eating, we head over to the walkway around the perimeter of the market that is covered and browse the shops and stalls. Delicious looking meat is being grilled at an Italian deli. A friendly gentleman is giving away many samples at the Bloom Bakery. After trying some of his mouth-watering morsels, we head in for more and get some cupcakes, danishes, and some bread for later.

Tim and I share a sausage from the grill and it’s delicious.

We get some cheese for later (the Amazing Race finale will be on Sunday night so we plan some snacks and wine in our room) in the deli. Many everyday produce stands are here with fruit, so we get some to help with our deficient vacation nutritional needs. The market is busy, friendly, happening, and a fun place to spend a day.

Back at the Residence Inn, we note that the A/C is now working and we rest up for tonight’s game.

Stick around, part 2 and the game is coming very soon!

Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Cocktail Hour - Cincinnati Pub Crawl

Kicking off our Midwest Baseball Tour last year, we started with an impromtu pub crawl along the Ohio River.  The "Cincinnati" part of the title is a bit misleading, it's actually in Newport, Kentucky at the Levee District, just across the river from The Great American Ballpark, home of the Reds.

Watch the Video!

We started before the baseball game going on that night so we got a lot of the pre-game party flavor.  We didn't go to the game that night (our tickets were for the next day), so we stayed behind at a bar called Bulldogs, watching the game on TV.  That was a bit surreal, the actual game was a thousand feet away.  We could hear it both from the stadium and on TV.

So here is the crawl.  We start off at a place called the Beer Sellar, which sits on a floating barge in the river that it shares with Hooters.  There's a large patio crowded with baseball fans getting ready for the game with their two-dollar Huddy Light specials.  They will soon depart for the game on a ferry that leaves right from the barge.

Next, it's over to a branch of Munich's famous Hofbrauhaus, just up the street, where we sample their delicious beers in about as authentic of a German beer garden you'll find in the states.  It's not quite up to Munich quality but darn good for over here.  We sample the hefeweizen, dunkel, and meibier.

Ending up the crawl, we're at Bulldog's where we try the Shafly wheat and rasberry ale from St. Louis and the house brand light beer, pretty good and a deal during the game at $2.50 for a 24 oz. mug.

We enjoyed them all, probably the Hofbrau brands the best.  Enjoy the video.

Rated #1 Consumer Reports

Copyright 2010

Friday, April 26, 2019


If you haven’t read Tim’s reports on preparing for this trip (this is his first time planning a trip), be sure to check out what it took to plan and prepare for this trip in a wheelchair.

UpTake Travel Gem

Now that the planning and booking is done, it’s time to go. We start off at Ontario Airport, about 30 miles east of Los Angeles. It’s a 6:55am departure meaning we wake up at 4am and rush to get going. We arrive at the airport at 5:30am.

Watch the Video!

After check in (at the curb) and security, we head to the gate. I ask the gate agent if there are any better seats available on the plane, we’re in row 19 of the Continental 737, and none are available. Waiting at the gate to pre-board, the crew that would have to take Tim to his seat balk at having to transport him to row 19 and says they will load the plane first, then us.

Really? Row 19 is that bad? I’ve had airlines sit us in the back of the plane with no complaints, but…

This gets us bulkhead seats when they kick the people assigned there out (not my idea, theirs) but in this day and age of paying for every piece of luggage, being last means the overheads are full and everyone seethes as it takes time for us to get seated. A friendly flight attendant puts our bag up in first class…it’s important to have on the plane because it has medication and bathrooming gear we’ll need on the flight…and off we go.

We change planes in Houston and have no problems pre-boarding on the second flight to Cincinnati. The flights themselves are fine, comfortable, and on time but I did not care for the minor boarding fiasco at Ontario. Note to self: do not use Continental (soon to be part of United) out of Ontario anymore.

We arrive at the Cincinnati airport, which is actually in Kentucky, at 5pm local time, pick up our rental car (Ford Escape), and head to our hotel, the Comfort Suites in Newport, Kentucky…just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.

The room at the hotel is a “studio” suite, which means a larger room but not really a suite. There’s a king-size bed, sofa bed, and accessible restroom with bathtub and portable shower chair provided by the hotel. A hot breakfast (waffles, biscuits and gravy) is provided but it’s just adequate. In fact that word describes the hotel…adequate. Not great but not bad. It’s a bit expensive for that at around $150 per night.

After settling in, we walk to the nearby area of shops and restaurants known as the Levee at Newport. It’s a very lively area and we find a real gem, a branch of Munich’s Hofbrauhaus with a real German beer garden out back.

It’s small by Munich standards and the sausages are good but not quite on par with Germany, but here we go…an honest-to-goodness German beer garden three blocks from our hotel with its own brewery producing real Hofbrau beer, served in the liter sized glasses just like in Munich.

This is the perfect way to end a long day of travelling so we walk over to the riverfront and head back to the hotel.

It’s a Saturday and our tickets to the ball game are for Sunday so we take a drive to Louisville to see the Louisville Slugger Museum and take the factory tour. A 90 minute drive, we pass the Kentucky Speedway and a mysterious sign that states “site of fatal bus crash. May 14, 1988.”

It turns out that on that date, the worst bus accident in the country’s history took place when a drunk driver hit a church school bus. 27 people were killed, 24 injured, and several of the victims banded together and eventually formed Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

Once in Louisville, we pass a minor league stadium for the Louisville Bats, an affiliate of the Reds. You’d think they’d be called the Sluggers, but no. The stadium is named Louisville Slugger Stadium, however.

Not hard to find, just head to the riverfront, turn left, and look for a giant bat sticking up over the skyline. Park in the structure in the back and head into the Hillerich and Bradsby Company, better known as the makers of that necessary piece of sporting wood, the Louisville Slugger.

Inside is paradise for baseball fans. A long, narrow lobby from the front to the back of the building includes a room for special exhibits, the bat vault (where every major leaguer has a template bat locked up…the “Fort Knox” of baseball), sample bats made to major league player specifications that you can test swing, a batting cage (10 pitches for a dollar) where you can try out a major league players bat, a current league standings board, a gift shop, and that giant bat out front.

All very interesting but the main attraction is what you actually have to pay for, the museum and factory tour. It’s ten dollars for adults and you get to enter the museum and take an informative and entertaining tour of the factory (no cameras allowed on the factory floor).

Entering the museum, the first thing to see is one of the very first bats made by Bud Hillerich for Pete Browning, one of baseball’s first professional players, in 1884. Browing quickly got three hits with it in the next game and christened it the “Louisville Slugger.” Next is an area where you can hold a game-used bat. Gloves are mandatory. Tim held David Ortiz’s bat. Me? I went with Mickey Mantle.

Several other artifacts are on display. Honus Wagner’s jersey and bat; Joe Dimaggio’s bat; Babe Ruth’s bat; and on and on. The factory tour shows each step of the process, from lathing the wood, burning in the insignia to lacquering the bat. We are informed that players are very particular about their bats. For example, Ted Williams had one person make his bats and they had to have eight lines of grain per inch. With the highest batting average on record, Williams must have known what he was talking about.

At the end of the tour, everybody gets a small wooden bat to take home as a souvenir. One of the best 10 bucks I’ve ever spent.

On our way out of Louisville, we go by Churchill Downs…a week to the day after the Kentucky Derby…but couldn’t find any parking so we left town and went back home.

For dinner, we head down the river to the Beer Sellar. We thought it was a restaurant, but it’s just a bar so we have a two dollar, pre-game beer special and chat with some of the fans getting ready to go to tonight’s game. We’re not going until tomorrow, but we have some fun talking and then watching them depart by boat from the adjacent dock to go to the stadium across the river.

Actual food is found at Bulldogs, just around the corner, where we have some delicious fish and chips while watching the game going on across the river on TV. It’s interesting when someone hits a home run, you can hear the fireworks coming in through the windows and on the television. You can also hear the cheers coming from all the numerous bars in the area and from the stadium across the water.

Sunday…Game Day. This trip is all about baseball and the main attraction is the game. It’s Mother’s Day and we’re going to see the Reds host the Chicago Cubs. It’s about a mile walk to the game. Over the bridge to Ohio, then along the riverfront to the stadium.

Behind the stadium is an art installation of a giant paddle wheel, along with a couple dozen posts that vent steam on a random basis. There are also speakers in the posts where you can hear people on river boats.

We are behind the stadium in center field and there is no accessible entrance here. We have to walk around, 2 blocks, to home plate to go to the Will Call booth, pick up our tickets, and enter.

Great American Ball Park is a smallish feeling stadium (42,000 capacity) overlooking the Ohio River towards Covington, Kentucky. As you would expect, Red is the dominant color scheme. There is a faux river boat in the outfield and fireworks shoot out of its smoke stacks at the beginning of the game, when a Reds player hits a home run, and upon a Reds victory. Steam comes out when the home team pitcher strikes out an opponent.

The food choices here are basic and mediocre. Hot dogs, pizza, and burgers are mostly it, with ice cream and candy for dessert. There is pre-made sushi at a little convenience store by home plate, but we don’t want any sushi that’s not made in front of us. The tap beer selection is vast and reasonably priced. Since we’re walking home, we take full advantage of it.

Our seats are at the top of the field level deck, about 2/3 the way from home plate to first base. There is a slight overhang from the club deck above but it does not block our view in any meaningful way. The price for this seat is $47 for this premium game against the Cubs. If you go to see a less meaningful opponent, say the Marlins, it would be five dollars less. There is accessible seating throughout the stadium, from the bleachers to the nosebleeds, along with the more premium seating on the field and club levels. The lowest price is $5 going up to $235 for the first five rows behind home plate. We had no problems getting more than one companion seat.

Ryan Dempster steps on the mound for the Cubs to start the game. There’s no score until the second inning when Dempster gives up an RBI double to Johnny Gomes. The Reds, led by pitcher Mike Leake, have the game in hand until Leake goes wild in the 7th inning, giving up a run on an errant pitch. The Cubs will go on to take the lead by one but the Reds take it back in the bottom of the inning on a Joey Votto 3-run homer. The Reds win the game 5 to 3.

We decide to walk around the area of the stadium to see what festive activities we can find. The answer? None. It’s dead quiet in downtown Cincinnati so we head back across the bridge to Newport to find a lively atmosphere and settle in at an Irish Pub for dinner.

And that’s a wrap for Cincy. The highlights were the baseball game, of course; the fascinating and fun Louisville Slugger museum and tour; and the Kentucky side of the river across from Cincinnati is a lively and fun entertainment district. This leg of the tour left me with a strong desire to visit Kentucky again and explore it a little more fully.

Stay tuned as we head out to leg two of this Midwest Baseball Tour…St. Louis, Missouri.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick

Thursday, April 25, 2019

MOVING CHRONICLES: Easing the Property Tax Burden in a High Tax State

So why did we choose to move where we did? Why did we stay in California instead of moving to a lower tax state? How did we still do it affordably?

First off, we did consider moving out. California is a very high tax state and it's getting higher every year. Now they want to tax our soda, water, and even ding us for every mile we addition to the other myriad taxes we already pay.

We looked...Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and even a few states farther away, like Tennessee and North Carolina...but, in the end there's no place like home. California is still the best we've seen and we don't want to be too far away from family.

How did we make it affordable? Well, contrary to common belief, not everywhere in California is suffering from sky-high home prices. Yes, you can pay well into the seven figures for a hovel in places like Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco, but there vast swaths of the state that are away from those high-priced locales where you can get some bargains.

We found it was almost impossible to live near the coast on our budget...however you can find reasonable near ocean house prices in the far north in places like we explore in the other direction.  Home prices in the Central Valley, Redding, Red Bluff, Chico, the deserts, and Sierras are very reasonable, it just became a search of where it would be reasonable and desirable.

The Motherlode region ended up being the most appealing. This is the historic area where gold was mined from the Motherlode in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains during the Gold Rush. It extends...roughly...along highway 49 from the area around Auburn in the north down to Mariposa and Oakhurst in the south.

Great homes could be found here for our $400,000 maximum price. Heck, I can still go out and find decent homes in the area (and in the other areas mentioned above) for less than $200,000.

Why was that our maximum price? One taxes. We would not have a mortgage payment, since we could pay cash, but we'd need to keep those taxes down to a manageable level to be able to afford it on our fixed and small retirement income.

One tax that is under control in our Golden State is property taxes. Thanks to Proposition 13, passed four decades ago, property taxes are strictly controlled and not allowed to jump dramatically. It's something the politicians in Sacramento hate but it makes the state liveable for the rest of us.

The gist of it is this:

  • Basic property tax is 1% of the assessed value at the time of the sale, usually the sale price.
  • Only if 2/3 of the property owners in a defined area vote for an increase can that basic amount go higher than that...for instance, the local school district can put a 1/4% increase on the ballot to get more funds. If 2/3 of the property owners agree, then the local property tax would go to 1.25% of the assessed value at the time the sale.
  • The property tax can only be raised by a maximum of 2% a year so, if you paid $1,000 this year in property tax, next year expect to pay $1,020 - even if the assessed value of your house doubles or triples or more.
  • When the property is sold, the new buyer pays on the newly assessed amount.

It's this last point that makes it hard to relocate within the state sometimes. If you paid $100,000 for your house 30 years ago and, over time, your tax is now around $2, could be on the hook for a lot more if the houses you're looking at cost half a million or more (an extremely common and low price in this state). That's at least $5,000 per year.

We figured we could afford up to $4,000 per year which defined our top end house price.

It took a year of very casually looking at houses up here and, believe it or not, one day of intense house hunting to find the home we ended up with in Amador County in the heart of the state's gold country.

There are also two other propositions out there, Prop 60 and Prop 90, aimed at tax relief for seniors 55 or older. Both are able to be used one time.

Prop 60 states that if you move to another part of the same county you live in, you can take your tax rate with you so, if you paying tax on the $50,000 house you bought in the 70's and buy a million dollar McMansion a few towns away, your property tax will not rise.

Prop 90 works the same way if you move to another county that reciprocates. Currently, there are 10 counties that do:

Los Angeles
San Bernardino
San Diego
San Mateo
Santa Clara

These counties include some pricey and desirable real estate such as La Jolla, Newport Beach, Palm Springs, Claremont, Pasadena, Palo Alto, Ojai, and Thousand Oaks.

In short, you might have to give up your dream of living beachfront in Malibu or Monterey, but there are plenty of areas in this 3rd largest state in the nation where you can find a new dream.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 22, 2019

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: Micke Grove Park - Lodi, California

After almost 4 weeks of daily rain, it's nice to see a spectacularly sunny day. Looking for a cheap adventure close to our new home, we head down the hill to the central valley city of Lodi, located south of the capital and just north of the inland port city of Stockton.

Micke Grove Park is a large swath of green, shady recreational land just off highway 99. After paying our five dollars for park entrance, we slowly wind our way around picnic shelters that are designed for groups or large families to rent out for their parties.

We find the parking lot next to the zoo and pull in. It's another five dollars each to enter the zoo. I think we hit it just at the peak, on a Tuesday morning with a few other people, no hordes of school children on field trips, and all the flowers blooming in full glory.

It's a small zoo here in Lodi. The main path that makes an oval loop around the facility is probably about the same size as a high school track around a football field.

We start off seeing a pond full of turtles, then a sleepy fossa...a cat-like mammal from Madagascar that preys on lemurs...and a few birds of prey.

There's a very healthy looking bobcat next to some red lion tamarins.

A large exhibit well away from the fossa holds several lemurs.

An indoor annex also holds some reptiles and hissing cockroaches from Madagascar.

At the far end of our loop, we see a very sleepy snow leopard in his large enclosure, walk by a closed aviary (closed because of California's Newcastle Disease outbreak), and a marmoset enclosure.

Before you know it, we're back at the entrance.  It's an interesting and very pretty zoo. Very small, though, but definitely worth the small entrance fee.

Next door is Funtown.

This is a small amusement park that is open almost every day, year round. We could find no accessible rides or even any that would be feasible to transfer Tim onto. Mostly their just your basic carnival rides like a Tilt-a-Whirl and a small roller coaster.

We wait for the train to cross before we exit.

Back near the parking lot, we visit a very pretty Japanese garden.

Those blooming trees and flowers are making my allergies go haywire.

We see this Japanese bridge over the pond when Tim tells us the charge on his chair is running low on battery power.

Back in the van, we head to the nearby downtown and find Yume, a sushi bar and Japanese restaurant.

Letty has this brilliant plate of sushi...

...while I have the best bowl of pork ramen I've had since moving.

Tim digs in to this plate of katsu pork.

The day and meal behind us, we pack back into the van and head back up to the Motherlode to await our next adventure.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved