Sunday, June 30, 2019

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Denver Pub Crawl, Part 1



Colorado bills itself as the "Napa Valley of Beer." With over 100 microbreweries and a couple of major ones...including the massive Coors complex in Golden...the nickname is apt.

Kind of like Munich, you're never going to hit all the spots you want but we'll make an effort all the same.  We did hit enough bars and breweries that we'll have to split this into two parts with the finale coming next week.



Watch the Video!


Our first stop was actually not a planned stop.We couldn't find the first one (we rectify that with next week's episode) and the second, Pint's Pub, has no wheelchair access.


Walking along 16th Street Mall, we step into the first bar we see that doesn't look like a chain. That's how we ended up at the Paramount Cafe, the bar and restaurant attached to the Paramount Theater.


It's dark with a lot of red lighting inside.  It's also Happy Hour so we're able to get a little break on the price.  Letty has the house beer, a Big Nose Brewery Wheat ale that is brewed next door.  Tim and I have the New Belgium Trippel.  You might be more familiar with this Boulder, Colorado's other beer brand, Fat Tire Ale.




Both are very good and as a bonus, we get to meet Denver Robo Mike, a fixture on the 16th Street roster of street performers.  He's taking a break and we get to have a beer with him and chat about the NBA.


Next, we walk over to the Brown Palace Hotel, an absolutely beautiful, century old hotel that features a stained glass roof, its own artesian well, wrought iron railing, and the clubby Ship Tavern tucked into a corner off of the lobby.

In this dark little wood-paneled room, we try a Warsteiner from Germany that tasted a little skunky, the Avalanche Ale from local Breckenridge Brewery, and a glass of 10 year old port from Graham's.  See the video above for some more from the hotel, which is an amazing place.

Our last stop this day is another Happy Hour at the Apaloosa Grill back on 16th Street.  Here, all Colorado brews are only $3 a pint during Happy Hour, so I try a New Belgium Blue Paddle Ale, Letty gets the house merlot, and we share a shot of Casa Noble Crystal tequila.  All very good.

That's it for today, be sure to watch the video above for much more detail about the pubs we visited and come back next week as we dig a little deeper into the local beer scene here in Denver.

-Darryl

Friday, June 28, 2019

Denver, Colorado - Part 1


In our quest to see every Major League Baseball stadium, we can usually do 2 or 3 in a trip because they tend to be in clusters…San Francisco and Oakland; Yankees and Mets; Cubs and White Sox…one destination has eluded us for a while because it stands alone.


Denver, where the plains meet the Rockies in central Colorado, has no other MLB stadium for hundreds of miles. 


We finally bit the bullet, got some cheap tickets on Southwest, and decided to make a long weekend of it.



Watch the Video!

It’s just a bit over two hours to fly from LAX to DEN.  With the low fare, $199 round trip each – tax inclusive, it was cheaper than driving which would be 1,000 miles over two days each way with our current $4+ per gallon gasoline.


Our hotel would again be the Drury Inn and Suites, our pick for last year’s hotel chain of the year, in Englewood.  That’s 8 miles south of downtown.  We picked the Drury because of the great experiences we’ve had with them in the past. The room was a large two-room suite with an accessible bathroom, king size bed, queen size sofa bed, two large screen LCD TV’s.  Drury also throws in a full, hot breakfast buffet, a lite dinner, cocktail hour, Wi-Fi or wired Internet access, long distance phone calls, and all the soda and popcorn you can eat for free.


The bathroom had a tub and I had called to reserve a bath chair.  Roll-in showers are also available, but for our use, a tub and chair are just as easy so I usually skip the roll-in to let someone who really needs it have one available.

Except this time they didn’t have a chair. After some back and forth negotiation, I had them put in one of the pool chairs and they knocked $180 off of my entire room rate for the inconvenience.


Even though they offered to find me another room at another hotel, I didn’t want to move because we had no car and this hotel is adjacent to the Dry Creek light rail station.




The next morning, after breakfast and showering, we head over to the rail station which actually turned out to be quite a walk. Each light rail station has a ramp at the driver’s end for wheelchairs. When the train pulled in, the driver deployed a ramp and Tim rolled in.




There are dedicated spots with pull-up benches for two wheelchairs and a third can get in the space behind the cab.  This is also the place for strollers so you can see there can be a maximum of three strollers or wheelchairs on each train, even though each train is designed to carry 12 to 18 (depending on if it is a two or three car train).


Although the light rail is accessible, and we never had a problem with it, they really missed the boat by not making the entire platform at train height to increase capacity. We did see a couple of people left behind because there was no more room.




We took the train all the way to Union Station in Downtown Denver. It’s time to play ball!


Coors Field is three blocks away but construction around Union Station forced us to add a couple of blocks to that. Even so, it wasn’t a brutal march and we arrived in plenty of time for the game.




It was cold and gray but Tim got us great seats behind home plate that had just enough overhang from the deck above to protect us from the rain that would come later without blocking too much of our view. It was a chilly 43 degrees that would drop to a cold 38 by the time the afternoon game would finish.




The stadium is nice and retro-modern in the way so many baseball stadiums are these days. The food was decent but nothing to write home about. The draft beer selection was dominated by the namesake Coors brewery and most really craft brews were in bottles but there was still a decent selection on tap. Wine, cocktails, and hard liquor are readily available if you don’t like beer.  Both food and beer prices were pretty reasonable for a major league stadium.


Denver is known as a home run park, due to being a mile high. In fact, if you look at the top deck, you’ll see a row of seats painted purple. This marks the exact mile high elevation spot.




Even with a center field a deep 415 feet away, we saw several balls leave the yard.  The Rockies pushed ahead 7-1 but a devastating error by starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin in the 7th inning led to a big comeback by the visiting San Diego Padres, who went on to win 9-7 on that cold, rainy field.  

MLB stadium number 21 was now in the books as our second coldest game, behind an April game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field where the temp was 26 degrees with a wind chill factor of 16.  Still, it was a lot of fun and Denver is a nice stadium.


We didn’t eat too much at the game and we were hungry afterward. A two block walk took us to the Wynkoop Brewery on the corner of 18th and Wynkoop.  Although the place looked full, there were actually quite a few tables open at this huge dining room so we were seated immediately.


Denver likes to call itself the “Napa Valley of Beer” which is a pretty apt description. With over 100 microbreweries and a couple of majors, I think it should be called the Belgium of the USA, but that might be a little beyond some people’s understanding. 




Wynkoop is one of the oldest of the microbreweries. You can taste their different varieties for $1 for each 5 ounce taster. We tasted a few with our dinner of gumbo, bratwurst sausage mac ‘n cheese, and a delicious buttermilk fried chicken. 


Our first major meal in Denver was quite a success.




Meal over, it was back on the light rail to the hotel and time to rest up for the next part of our trip.

-Darryl


Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

FIELDS OF DREAMS: Angel Stadium - Anaheim, California


Los Angeles had the Dodgers but Major League Baseball thought the region could support another team. Enter the singing cowboy, Gene Autry. In addition to being a singer and and actor, Mr. Autry was a pretty astute businessman. He had bought a radio station - KMPC - and a TV station - KTLA - and was looking for some exclusive content that would generate big ratings. The timing worked right for an expansion team in the region.

While the Angels...taking its name from the city of angels, Los Angeles...at first shared the stadium with the Dodgers (who made them call the stadium "Chavez Ravine" when they played there), it was soon determined that they would need their own place to call home.

A bit south of L.A. in Orange County, the city of Anaheim was poised to bloom after Walt Disney opened his theme park there.  The city paid for, and still owns, the stadium with the Angels as their major tennant since opening day in 1966.



The team has always been looked on as an underdog, playing second fiddle to the boys in blue up the freeway. After a few looks at the playoffs, the team...under former Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia...finally made it all the way to win the World Series in 2002 against a Barry Bonds-infused San Francisco Giants.

Many superstars and hall of famers have passed through the clubhouse including Nolan Ryan, Bobby Grich, Francisco Rodriguez, and Reggie Jackson but none claimed the Angels after they left. That changed this year when former outfielder Vladimir Guerrero entered the hall of fame as an Angel, the first player ever to do so.

Currently one of the best players in baseball, Mike Trout, prowls center field for the team and Japanese pitching and hitting phenom Shohei Ohtani provides spark on both sides of the equation.

The team never never won for Autry. The chant was always "win one for the cowboy," who was a beloved owner. He died in 1998 and his widow, Jackie, sold her shares of the team to the Disney Corporation, who renovated the stadium into today's version after being damaged in the Northridge earthquake of 1994. 

The Disney era ended in in 2003 when Arizona billboard magnate, Artie Moreno bought the team. He is still the owner today.

Here are the stats: 


Opened: 1966
Surface: Tifway 419 Bermuda Grass
Construction cost: $24 million
Capacity: 45,477
Field dimensions: Left field - 347 ft; Left center - 390 ft; center field - 396 ft; right center - 370 ft; right field - 350 ft.
Home teams: Los Angeles Angels (AKA California Angels, Anaheim Angels, and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) 1966 to present. Los Angeles Rams 1980 - 1994
Games Attended: 100+


Although it was completely renovated around the beginning of the ADA era, Angel Stadium has not been a wheelchair friendly stadium under the watch of the current ownership. Most accessible seats are at the top of the Field Terrace section, which sit under a large overhang that blocks the view of the scoreboard. There are accessible seats at the top of the right field grandstand, which sit in the hot full sun during daylight hours, and at the top of the shorter left field bleachers. The left field seats behind the bullpen are the best, moderately priced seats for wheelchairs in the park.

There are a number of accessible seats in the very expensive Diamond Club, behind home plate, and two spots on the club level where there is one wheelchair seat and one companion seat. 

Due to litigation, the team has set up a program for discounted seating for wheelchair users in the Diamond Club to make up for lack of seating in the club level. The discounted Diamond Club Tickets can be purchased on-line through the Angels Ticket Office by emailing a request to diamondclubaccess@angels.com and providing verification of the need for the use of a wheelchair.

Ushers here do a good job of keeping standing fans out of the way of wheelchair users.

(Full disclosure: we, and others, opened litigation against the team for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act with their wheelchair seating policies. That process has been completed and the team is now in full compliance with the law.)

Ticketing is much easier than it used to be, now go to angelsbaseball.com, click on 'Tickets,' 'Single Game Tickets,' choose the date you want, then click 'real time ADA seating.'

Public transit to the game consists of Orange County transit buses, Metrolink Commuter and AMTRAK trains which disgourge passengers at the ARTIC station on the other side of the 57 freeway from the stadium. It's a bit of a walk from there.

If you're driving, traffic can be daunting but we've found it's easier to deal with on the third base side of the stadium, entering and exiting from State College Boulevard.


The food is not, nor has it ever been spectacular. It's serviceable and while owner Moreno made a name for himself by slightly lowering beer prices after he took control, they have now creeped back up to normal ballgame prices.


We usually buy our own food on the way to the game and bring it in. 


Our favorite is Portillo's in nearby Buena Park.


The concourse is open with TV monitors to follow the action. Lines are manageable and move quick. Fellow fans are friendly even if you're rooting for the opposition.

Overall, the stadium is showing it's age and the current management team has not really shown much of an interest in catering to those in need of accessibility over the years. They could also show more effort in fielding a winning team rather on resting on some tired laurels they've accumulated over time.

As it's our home team and we're destined to be their fans, we'd really like to see this one improve and climb our list.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 24, 2019

Can You Go Home Again? A Trip Back to Southern California


We're firmly Northern Californians now, but we still have family back in L.A. that we need to visit periodically. Mother's Day is one of those occasions so we've planned four nights back in our old neighborhood in the San Gabriel Valley to visit with family, take our moms out to lunch, and try to have a little time to have fun ourselves.

Los Angeles traffic is way more dense and hectic than the rural traffic that we've become accustomed to but it's not as bad as it can get when we arrive. I'm more unsettled by the amount of stop lights along the way than how many cars are on the road.

We arrive at our hotel, the Embassy Suites in Arcadia. I'd booked a room with a roll-in shower...a necessity with Tim having a knee injury...and they gave us a room with a tub on the fourth floor. A talk with the front desk got us moved to a room with a roll in shower just a few steps from Registration, right on the lobby, and next to an exit door to the parking lot.

The layout of the room was OK...a king size bed in a separate bedroom, a queen size sofabed in the living room, and the accessible bathroom with roll-in shower separating the two

What was not OK was the location...constant and unending guest noise from the atrium lobby right outside our window and the slamming of that door to the parking lot whenever anyone used it which was approximately once per minute at all hours of the day.

Rather frazzled from no sleep the night before, I went to the front desk to complain about the room and why wheelchair rooms were always the worst ones in the hotel in general. It didn't get me any traction except apologies and "we have no more roll-in shower rooms available."

Back in the room, I started to call other hotels in the area when the manager called on the room phone. My wife answered and said "he's on the phone with another hotel, I'll have him call you right back."

I went to the desk to see what they wanted and, lo and behold, another roll-in room became available up on the second floor. We moved that afternoon. It was a marginally better room but still too noisy for what is the city's most expensive hotel. I'll just leave it there so this story doesn't become all about our crappy hotel room.



We took our moms out to a wonderful lunch at the historic Derby restaurant, right next door to the hotel. Later, we met our friend Scott over a couple of beers at the Mt. Lowe Brewery, just a block from the hotel. The next day, we had a family get-together at Letty's mom's house.


On the last day, we took that for ourselves. The Arcadia station of the Gold Line light railway is two blocks from our hotel. Tim loves the Gold Line and didn't want to leave L.A. without taking a ride.


From Arcadia, we rode all the way to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. We wandered around Olvera Street for a little bit before walking over to Chinatown.


We let Tim pick the lunch spot and he picked Philippe's on Alameda, between Chinatown and the old post office, Terminal Annex.


Not much changes in this 111 year old restaurant and that includes the delicious French dip sandwiches (they invented them here) accompanied by cheesecake and banana cream pie for dessert.

After lunch, it's back on the train to the more walkable confines of Pasadena.


Here, we find happy hour in full swing at the Blind Donkey bar on Union Street. Some beer and whiskey sours...at cheap happy hour prices...wet our whistle.

Just a few blocks away, the AMGEN Tour of California bike race has just come to a conclusion at the Rose Bowl. Soon, a group of black-Spandex clad men walk in and the bar erupts into applause.

Team Data Dimension...the South African team...has come in to celebrate the end of the race, give speeches, and drink themselves silly.


We join the party for a little bit before heading back to our hotel.

It's been fun but the lousy hotel room, traffic, and just knuckleheads in general weigh down on us and, with great delight, we head back home to our little town in the hills in Northern California.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 23, 2019

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Hotel Room Cadillac Margaritas


Hi everybody, we're back!

We recently moved from Southern California to Northern California and are finally getting to the point where we have a little extra time to pay attention to our blogs at The Musick Channel again.

Let's get things started off with a new cocktail hour.

If you follow this blog, you know that we love a good margarita. I hate going to a bar or restaurant, ordering one, and then finding out they just used basic margarita mix and a shot of tequila. We appreciate those bartenders that take the time to mix each ingredient from scratch...like the bartenders we featured in our "Southern California's Top Three Margaritas" video.

Well, we left our comfy confines in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles, and bought a house up here in the Gold Country of California's Motherlode region. We can't wait to settle in but, in the meantime, we have to spend a few nights at an Indian casino...the Jackson Rancheria in Jackson, California...until our sellers have moved out and we're cleared to move in.

Jackson Rancheria is a nice resort and casino but it's almost dry. Only one bar here that opens up at night...what're we to do?

Luckily, we're not packed for travel. We're packed for moving.  I find the bag with the tequila, sweet and sour mix, some limes, brandy, and Grand Marnier. That's right...I have a Cadillac margarita bag packed for our adventure.

What I don't have is a cocktail shaker, salt, or glasses.  Hmmm....how will we swing this?

The solution is a couple of salt packets my wife has in her purse, an empty water bottle, and the plastic glasses put in our room by the hotel's housekeeping staff.

I cut the limes, run them around the rim of the glasses, dump the salt out on a flat surface (an empty snack bowl we had), and make the drink.


In the empty water bottle, it's two shots of tequila, 1.5 shots of Grand Marnier, a splash of brandy, and the juice of one whole lime. Squeezing in that lime juice was the hardest part. Fill the bottle with sweet and sour until 2/3 full. Cap and shake.

Fill the two glasses with ice (procured from our floor's ice machine) and pour the mixture in.


Voila! Works very well.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 21, 2019

Game Day in Oakland, California


There are two facilities I need to bitch and moan about while we were in the Bay Area. First, was our hotel in Pleasanton. While I usually show you in great detail the features of the rooms we stay in, this one was just unnacceptable for wheelchairs.


Watch the Video!



While I got a confirmed ADA compliant room, the first room they put us in had no accessible features at all.

"You needed an accessible room?" I was asked, while I stood there with confirmed reservation in hand and son in wheelchair beside me when I went to complain.

We were re-assigned to an accessible room with a roll-in shower. Here's the shower:



Notice the 6 inch lip to get over and the glass door that's too narrow to fit through.  This is a newer hotel in a very liberal area.  That's their idea of an accessible room with a roll-in shower.  The pool did have a lift, however.

On Memorial Day weekend, it proved impossible to rebook so we just had to live with it. We're currently negotiating with the company to get our points back for this reward stay. (Note: Hyatt did restore our points plus gave us 1,000 point bonus for our trouble.)

...and now a word from our sponsor.  We're very happy and long-time customers of Paul Kalemkiarian's Wine of the Month Club. We'd be pleased to see you become members, too. For their 45th year anniversary, the Club has all kinds of great deals for the month of May...a $5.99 Sonoma Zinfandel from Slater Winery is an example. Click the following link for some amazing wine deals: The Wine of the Month Club 45th Anniversary Sale.

Second, but not nearly as bad, is O.co Coliseum in Oakland. Widely regarded, with reason, as Major League Baseball's worst, ugliest, and outdated stadium.

They share the park with football's Raiders, who forced an ugly, large seating section in the outfield common derided as "Mt. Davis" as a fitting tribute to the football team's owner.


The concourse is cramped, lines go on forever, and accessible seat sight lines are impaired by an overhead and concrete columns.

In short, a miserable piece of sports architecture.

The good news is you don't really notice it. As much as it pains an Angels fan like me to say it, the A's are a darn good team in 2014 and extremely well managed, the beer selection is fantastic, and the pre-game tailgating isn't bad either (check out Tim and I doing a little of that at the top of this post).
(Note 2: The A's were doing good, fantastic as a matter of fact, until Billy Beane traded Yoenis Cespedes away a couple of weeks later and the team went downhill fast and faded out of the playoff picture.)




The game play is great and the slugging grand, as in a grand slam that put the game away for good over the Detroit Tigers ending with a score of ten nothing for the A's.

With that, our time in the Bay ends. We'll be back with new travels soon, stick around!

Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

FIELDS OF DREAMS: Rickey Henderson Field, Oakland, California


A couple of updates to the report below. Yes, Oakland is still the worst stadium in baseball but the concessionair was changed this year (2019) and food & drink service has dramatically improved.


We got club seats that were like sitting in a pillbox overlooking a Normandy beach on D-Day. A complaint to ticket services got us move to field box level but in the bright sun and we also had to hike to the opposite side of the stadium to use the lift and then all the way back to our seats.


Luckily, the A's are scheduled to get a new stadium in 2 years near Jack London Square.

Now, on to the main report... -Ed

It's almost a given that when you ask baseball fans what the worst stadium in Major League Baseball is, the answer is this park.  Built in the mid 60's to accommodate the Raiders of the American Football League, baseball was shoehorned in here. After a few years of contentious residence, the Raiders (now in the NFL) are back and baseball still takes a backseat to football.



Here are the stats:

Opened: 1966
Surface: Bluegrass
Construction cost: $25.5 million
Capacity: 35, 067 - expandable to 55,945
Field dimensions: Left field – 330 ft.; left center – 367 ft.; Center field – 400 ft.; right center – 376 ft.; Right field – 330 ft.
Home teams: Oakland Raiders (1966 – 1981 and 1995 - present), Oakland Athletics (1968 – present)
Events attended: Three.


Because of the dual purpose of the stadium, it isn't perfect for either sport. For baseball, the foul territory is the largest in the MLB. That also means the seats are the farthest away.



Site lines are poor. If you're sitting in accessible seats, you will have to figure out a way to look around the large, concrete supports...not the mention the overhang...to see the game.

Concourses are extremely crowded. Lines are long and move slowly. Power outages and sewage spills have also occured here.

The Raiders have installed a very unsightly balcony over right-center field. Fans mockingly call it "Mt. Davis" in honor of the Raiders owner.

Ticket prices used to be known as cheap but our obstructed view seats at the top of the lower deck, between first base and the right field foul pole were dynamically priced at $43 for our recent game against Detroit. All ticket prices are dynamic, meaning they can change depending on the demand for the game.



Parking is $30, tailgating is vast, and at least ignored by the authorities.



Wheelchair seating is poorly located but fairly easy to buy. Mostly around the top of the field section but there are some in the sunny field box section and a couple of really dreadful accessible platforms on the club level.

BART opens up a bridge to the stadium from the nearest station, providing easy accessible transit access to games.

Food is adequate, nothing too special. Not nearly as good a variety or taste as their triple A team in nearby Sacramento. (Food service and quality has vastly improved since our last visit - Ed)

But...and this is a big "but"...the team is spectacular. It is well managed and, in 2014 at least, on fire. At this moment, there is not a better playing team in baseball.



They are very exciting to watch and more than make up for the failures of Major League Baseball's most obsolete, uncomfortable, crowded, and worst stadium.


Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, June 17, 2019

CLASSIC TRIP - San Francisco, California 1998, Part 2


THE ROCK

See Part 1 of this trip here.

Finally, we were ready to go over to Alcatraz. The Red and White Fleet provides transportation over to the island. The full price of $11 for adults includes a voucher for an audio tour when you get there (there are also discounted tickets available if you don't want the audio tour).  (The prices now start at $32.75 and service is provided by Alcatraz Cruises - Ed)

The ride over was uneventful. The boat does make a complete circuit of the island before docking giving you great views of the entire island.

Once on the island, rangers greet you and give a brief history of the island before leading you up to the cell house. You can also skip this if you want and head up by yourself.

We had our lunch at the dock (the only spot on the island where you are allowed to eat or smoke) and then headed up.

The buildings down at the dock date back to 1857 when the island was a fort erected to protect California's gold fields. There are some interesting tunnels behind the bookstore that meander through the old basements here. Most are roped off except a series of tunnels that lead to a small museum display.

The tunnels also lead to an alternate path up to the cell house that, to us, was more interesting than the more heavily used path. Here you can see much more of the old military barracks ant the guardhouse/sally port.

Up at the top of the hill you can see California's oldest lighthouse location (still in operation, current lighthouse dates to 1909) and the ruins of the warden's house which burned down in 1971. Then you enter the cell house.

Entering the cell house, you pick up a walkman style tape player with headphones. Then you proceed into the cell block to a point where you are told to turn it on. The tour itself is fascinating, conducted (on the tape) by a former guard and former inmates.

You see the cells... Al Capone's former cell, Robert Stroud's (the birdman) cell, the cells where convicts tunneled their way out, isolation cells, and others where rioting inmates herded in hostages and shot them. You can enter some regular and isolation cells to get a feeling of what it was like.

You also visit the dining area and the library, where the worst Alcatraz riot originated from.

Apart from the tour, you can visit the prison hospital, the military morgue, the recreation yard, and paths around the island where many, many flowers bloom (see picture).

After the tour you can meet former inmates who have wrote books about Alcatraz in the bookstore. Today's guest was Jim Quillen who was sent here for kidnaping about half a century ago. He is also one of the voices you here on the audio tour.

We rode the boat back with Mr. Quillen which led to an interesting point where Tim was allowed (for the only time in his life, we hope) to take candy from a convicted kidnapper! We talked with Mr. Quillen on the way back, who seems like he's made peace with his past and insists on being called FORMER prisoner of Alcatraz (when Tim asked if he was a prisoner here), and got some more stories in between book signings for other passengers.

COIT TOWER

After Alcatraz, although still too early for dinner, Letty didn't feel like going back to the motel and going right back out for dinner. To pass the time, we took Muni's #39 bus up to the Coit Tower on top of Telegraph Hill.

This famous SF landmark was given to the city as a tribute to it's firefighters after the big quake and fire of 1906 by a wealthy woman of the time. The tower is shaped like a fire hose nozzle and the views from here are exceptional but the tower itself has no access for wheelchairs so we were stuck at the bottom of the hill. Thumbs down to the city for not installing a ramp here (it would be very easy to put one on the west side of the tower).

The view from the bottom is still on top of the hill and is spectacular. This landmark has a very small parking lot and waits of over an hour are commonplace on weekends for a spot to park. Taking Muni's #39 avoid much of this wait and the hassle of finding a spot. Thumbs down to all the impatient drivers who almost run you down trying to cut in front of everybody else who waits patiently but thumbs up to the view.

Heading back down the hill, the #39 bus takes you to North Beach, one of SF's best neighborhoods for fun. Here you will find many nightclubs, bars, shows, and great Italian restaurants.

This is one of the best spots for dinner in SF so we decided to see what we can find here. We have gone to Capp's Corner (on Green and Powell, next door to Club Fugazi-Beach Blanket Babylon) many times in the past (thumbs up) but wanted to try something different on this trip.

Figaro Ristorante Italiano owner Luigi Dominici was standing at his front door giving us mouth-watering descriptions of the food within, so we decided to put him to the test. We were not disappointed.

Letty had the angel hair pasta with prosciuto, I had the spinach ravioli with tomato cream sauce, and Tim had the penne with marinara. An order of polenta with mushrooms for antipasti started us off along with the freshly baked sourdough bread with olive oil. Delicious, plus great service. Figaro, at 441 Columbus Street (at Vallejo) gets a big thumbs up from us.

After dinner we headed up Columbus a couple of doors for desert at Stella's Italian Pastries. Washed down with some delicious coffee, we had some napoleons, cheesecake, and Italian donuts. We died and went to heaven that night (see picture) so another big thumbs up here.

We caught Muni's #15 bus back to the Wharf where we transferred to the #42 back to our motel. On the way in we bought a bottle of wine to settle down with before turning in.

SUNDAY

After a good night's sleep, we headed up Lombard in search of breakfast. Today we went to Mel's Drive In, famous as the drive-in from American Graffiti (not filmed at this location though). Although Mel's has cashed in on the diner craze, it is an authentic one (over 30 years) as opposed to the recreations you see at most diners.

Breakfast was good and basic and Mel's was crowded but fun. Thumbs up.

Lunch would be about the time we flew home so instead of expensive airport food we bought some Balance bars at the GNC store on Chestnut before heading out.

Back at the motel we packed, and feeling confident from the trip so far, decided to forgo the shuttle and take public transit back to the airport.

BACK TO THE AIRPORT - THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES...

We waited...and waited...for Muni's #42 bus to take us to the BART station. We were noticed that about every other #30 bus (which also goes to a BART station) was accessible despite being listed as not and was also coming by every couple of minute. So we switched and walked up one block to the #30 stop and caught it to BART.

At the BART station, we almost missed the train because we didn't know that the Fremont bound (and OAK airport) train didn't run this way on Sundays. Luckily someone told us at the last minute and we climbed aboard. This made a transfer to another train in Oakland necessary after an interesting trip under the bay (which makes your ears pop).

At the Coliseum/Oakland Airport BART station, we had a choice of taking AC Transit's number 58 bus or the AirBART shuttle to the airport. We chose AirBART. We chose wrong...

The first AirBART bus shows up...and does not have a wheelchair ramp. The bus driver assures me that SOME of the AirBART buses do have lifts, and to just wait. At this time, Letty is starting to be concerned that we are running out of time and may miss our flight. The tickets for AirBART (which must be purchased in advance via a machine in the station) has soaked up the last of our spare change so it's either walk or wait. A recheck of our flight tickets lets us find out that our flight leaves at 2:55 (we thought it was 2:00), so with 55 minutes gained, we decide to wait.

15 minutes later (AirBART is supposed to run every 7-10 minutes) an unmarked, white shuttle van pulls up which does have a lift. A handwritten note in the side window says "Airbart". I ask the driver if this is indeed the AirBART shuttle and she says yes so before any passengers board I tell here that my son needs to board in a wheelchair. She says ok...just wait a minute.

After loading my wife and about 10 other passengers, the driver comes to me and tells me I should wait for another bus because this one is full. At this point my cork, holding back much pressure already, pops. I, in no way gently, inform her that is why I #@%! told you before you started loading passengers on board about my son and to either get us on board or look for a new job.

That bit of persuasion seemed to do the trick and we were finally on board (after we had to show the driver how the lift worked) and made it to the airport 30 minutes before departure. AirBART gets a very big thumbs down...next time either AC Transit (who seemed to have their act together much better) or a shuttle van.

The flight home was as good as the first with just a minor delay (7 minutes) out of Oakland because the plane's radio wouldn't come on. It was fixed immediately (the pilot said otherwise we would have to get another plane) and we were on our way home after a very nice weekend...AirBART notwithstanding!

-Darryl
Copyright 1998 - Darryl Musick

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Cocktail Hour - Bi-coastal Riesling Taste Off


We're throwin' down today on the Cocktail Hour.

My friend, Lee Drake, from New York sent me a bottle of some Finger Lakes region Riesling. Of course, since I'm biased towards California wines, that means I've got to challenge it.

I invited my friend Scott over, who is a big Temecula wine fan, got the closest California Riesling in style and price, drug Tim out to the back yard and said..."we've got a challenge, boys."

So here we go...


Watch The Video!


In one corner, Dr. Konstantin Frank semi-dry Riesling from New York. In the other, Fetzer's Riesling from Mendocino County in Northern California.

Since we admit our bias, we are doing a blind tasting. My wife, Letty, is pouring the glasses out of our sight and only she knows what we're drinking.

Wine number one, with a fruity bouquet, has a slightly sweet syrupy mouth and throat feel while wine number two has a dry, fall weather nose to it and a much drier feeling on the tongue.

We like both wines but decide that on a real hot summer day, it's the dryer wine that would be more satisfying. 

So which wine is this and which one did we pick?  You'll need to see the video to find out.

Both are very good, though.  You can't go wrong with either one.

Cheers!

Darryl

Friday, June 14, 2019

CLASSIC TRIP - San Francisco, California 1998, Part 1


We're going to travel through time here, starting in 1998 and bringing you right up to 2010 with a series of reports from the San Francisco area.  Today, we go into the Wayback Machine for our first trip on a plane with Tim's power chair.  Remember the time frame when you see prices and business names...both might have disappeared since then.  The World Wide Web was in its infancy, digital cameras had yet to be invented (so the pictures below were scanned), and Tim was 10 years old.  We're off to the City by The Bay...


Give me a cheap fare to San Francisco...and I'm there!

Surfing on the 'net one day before Christmas, I noticed some cheap fares advertised on the Southwest Airlines I page. Your webmasters, being the intrepid travelers that we are, couldn't pass this opportunity by.

Burbank airport, old and small, was as good as remembered with no crowding and close in gates. They did move the long term parking out of the airport though...the old lot was given to the valet service. Now you must park a few blocks away. Thumbs up to the airport with another thumbs down to the parking.

Southwest gave us a superb flight that was right on time with great service. The seats were comfortable, the staff was friendly and helpful. We were even treated to a song before takeoff by one of the flight attendants (good singer too!). Southwest gets a big thumbs up!

Oakland Airport bills itself as the shortcut to San Francisco and many travel writers have said that you will arrive quicker in San Francisco if you fly to Oakland instead of SFO. I have to agree, it is faster during busy times (beginning and end of the week) but on regular weekdays it'd probably be just as fast at SFO. The fares to Oakland to tend to be lower though.

Oakland airport is very easy to navigate around and is much smaller than SFO. Access to public transportation is very easy. Oakland airport gets a thumbs up.

Transportation to our motel was via Bayporter Express shuttle. This is your typical airport shuttle service, a la Supershuttle, and they have one wheelchair accessible van in their fleet. There is also public transportation available via AirBART bus to the local BART station, BART to downtown SF, and then MUNI bus transportation to our motel.

Not wanting to deal with a lot of transfers and also with the unknown (this was our first time flying here via the Oakland airport and with the electric wheelchair), we opted for Bayporter, even though it was a $18 premium over public transit, because we wanted to minimize the amount of surprises that would await us.

Although the wheelchair ramp was not working at first, the driver fixed it promptly and we were on our way. The ride was smooth, uneventful, and fast with only about a 15 minute wait for the van when we arrived. We give Bayporter a thumbs up.

After stowing our bags at our motel, lunch was the first order of the day. We hopped on MUNI's #19 line (Polk Street) and headed south.

One of our main objectives on vacation is to find good food.  Letty is a big fan of the cookbooks put out by the California Culinary Academy which just so happens to be located in Baghdad by the Bay! What's even better for us budget-conscious travelers is that the academy runs a gourmet restaurant (staffed by students and instructors) where a truly first class meal can be had at coffee shop prices...except on Fridays (like the day we were there).

On Fridays the CCA features the Grand Buffet. Now there are buffets and then there is the Grand Buffet. Here, the CCA puts out a spread of some of its more famous signature dishes. Roasted leg of lamb, grilled halibut, polenta with bleu cheese, chicken with cranberry bean sauce, and eggplant Parmesan are just some of the hot entrees to choose from.

To start off, you have a freshly tossed salad, fresh sushi, a large selection of hard meats and cheese and more. To end your meal there is a desert bar with such pastries as chocolate decadence, pound cake, napoleons, and cheesecake.

All this takes place in an old refurbished theater with 80 foot ceilings surrounded by the kitchens of the CCA (all have big viewing windows so you can see America's future culinary superstars at work). All in all a marvelous meal.

Now the downside to the CCA. While every other day you can get a good meal here for less than $10, on Friday's the buffet will set you back $20 per person plus drinks. While worth it for the meal you get, $70 for lunch (for three people) is a budget buster on a trip. Even with the price, though, CCA gets a thumbs up for some really great food in a unique atmosphere.

After lunch we hopped back on the 19 bus, this time going north, to Ghiradelli Square. From there it's a short walk to Fisherman's Wharf and pier 41. We'd been to Fisherman's Wharf and it's too touristy for us but you must come here to get on the boat to Alcatraz Island.

Tim has never been to Alcatraz and had his curiosity piqued after watching the movie "The Rock" so it seemed like a good time to take him. Our plan was to head up here after lunch and, if tickets were available, catch to boat over and spend the afternoon there. Unfortunately, the last boat was sold out so we bought tickets for the next day and continued on. As a side note here, we just missed the last boat on February 28 and prices were increased on March 1 so we got to pay extra too!

THE MARITIME MUSEUM

While we were in the area with nothing to do, we went to the Maritime museum which is just on the other side of Fisherman's Wharf from pier 41 (about a 3 block walk). This worthwhile stop has several historic ships on display including a couple of old schooners, tug boats and the Eureka, an old wooden railroad and car ferry.

The Eureka was the highlight of the day for Tim. We are all were fans of the Don Johnson show, Nash Bridges, which in large part is was filmed on this ferry. The set of Nash Bridges was intact on the ferry when we visited. The security guard was in his last day of employment in the production company and was in a particularly generous mood.

The guard allowed Tim to go onto the set and look around. He also provided us with many pages of script changes that were faxed to Don Johnson on the set and also gave us some official Nash Bridges yellow police tape. Check out this picture (above) of Tim taken on the set.

The ship itself is pretty remarkable with its 4 story boiler and side paddle wheels. It's amazing to think that this is how people crossed the bay before there were any bridges here.

Another very interesting vessel here is the San Francisco Ark, an old Sausalito houseboat restored for the museum. People used these houseboats (and still do) as floating weekend getaways from the city. The Maritime museum gets a thumbs up as well.

After the museum we walked back to Aquatic Park to watch the cable car turntable in action. We tried to go to the Buena Vista for an Irish coffee, but it was just too crowded to get in. After a stroll through the shops at Ghiradelli Square, we wandered back to the motel where we had still yet to see our room (we had just dropped off the bags earlier).

Lodging was at the Travelodge by the Bay and our room with 2 queen sized beds was nicely adequate and just roomy enough. We had gotten the room through Central Reservations (800-677-1500) for an unbelievable price of $59 plus tax. That's dirt cheap in SF! I was glad we did because the front desk was quoting arriving guests a price of $95 for singles.

The motel was centrally located on Lombard Street, just off the corner of Van Ness, in the Marina District. It can be noisy, thankfully we had quiet neighbors. You can hear everybody else's TV around you. There was also a very bright light just outside our door that streamed into our room. We did get a good night sleep and rate this motel well. We've had much worse here before. TL by the Bay gets a thumbs up this time, but we would like to have had a switch for the %#!$ light!

For dinner we headed down Chestnut Street (one block north of Lombard). The business district is about a 1/2 mile walk from our motel.

Tim let us know in no uncertain terms that he wouldn't eat any Chinese food on this trip except for rice (as he’s grown up, so has his tastes. Tim is no longer adverse to Chinese or just about any other ethnic food – Ed). To keep the peace, while we had hoped to get some of the city's great Chinese food this trip, we went looking for something else. We ended up at one of Village Pizzeria's branches on Steiner at Chestnut. Village Pizza is our favorite pizza in San Francisco so we knew we'd like that.

Village Pizza didn't disappoint. Letty had a very good baked rigatoni dish while Tim and I had a delicious pepperoni pizza. One thing they do here that is neat is they give the kids some raw pizza dough to play with to pass time until the food arrives like play-dough. Tim had a lot of fun trying to mold his into as many shapes as he could.

We were able to make small talk with some other diners and the staff here who were all very friendly. About halfway through dinner, the street outside became full of bicycles. Not just a few, but thousands!

For a good 20 minutes, masses of bike riders filled the street, shouting and laughing as they rode by, followed by a SFPD escort. We found out that this is Critical Mass, a demonstration conducted by bay area riders on the last Friday of each month to promote bike riding as an alternative means of commuting.

They start at the ferry building at the end of Market Street and ride to the Golden Gate Bridge filling the streets as they go. Later on the news we learned that many drivers hate this (although the bikes have as much right to use the road as the cars - but they should also obey the laws and not get in the way unecessarily) and that's why the SFPD provides escort for safety. We didn't see any hateful drivers in our area though.

With a liter of Cabernet to wash down our dinner, we had a great time here and decided to call it a night. Village Pizza gets a big thumbs up.

SATURDAY

Day Two of our trip started with breakfast. Cafe Caravan, one block north of our motel at Chestnut and Van Ness, provided the start for our day. Breakfast was good in this very small hole in the wall. I had sausage and eggs, Letty had an omelet, and Tim had some pancakes. The coffee was delicious, and everything on our plates was delicious. Cafe Caravan gets a thumbs up.

CABLE CAR BARN

We had a morning to kill before our boat to Alcatraz left (at 12:45pm) so we decided to spend it by going over to the Cable Car Barn on Washington Street. This is one area of the city that is not real well served by accessible transportation...everyone else can get there via cable car...so we ended up walking here, about 1 1/2 miles. It didn't look bad on the map but that doesn't show all the hills there.

After getting a good dose of exercise, we made it to the barn. This is where the machinery that runs the entire cable car system is located. You can watch the cables go through their various pulleys and wheels on the way to their journey underneath the streets. The cable cars operated by clamping onto these cables and being pulled along their routes.

The displays here are interesting as are some of the old historic cars located here. Any museum that can hold a kid's interest, as this one does, gets a thumbs up from us. A big thumbs down though to Muni for not providing adequate transportation to its own museum. A good gift shop sells some great souvenirs here.

After awhile here, it was time to start heading over to pier 41 to catch our boat to Alcatraz. We walked over to Columbus and Jackson (about 6 blocks from the Cable Car Barn) to catch Muni's #15 bus to Fisherman's Wharf. In between, we waded through the very crowded bustle of Chinatown where some sort of protest was going on. We never found out what it was about (all the signs and pamphlets were in Chinese).

We made it to Fisherman's Wharf at 11:30am, which gave us enough time to buy a lunch to take with us. Tim was having fast-food withdrawal pains so he had an early lunch of a cheeseburger and fries at the Burger King located in the mall at 350 Bay Street. In that mall there was also a Safeway with a deli where Letty and I picked up a couple of hoagies to go.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we end up on "The Rock"...

-Darryl
Copyright 1998 - Darryl Musick