Friday, December 30, 2005

The Pursuit of Victory

When you’re a kid, your parents whoop your ass in things like Monopoly and Scrabble, or any other leisure activity that requires strategy and experience. There’s no secret as to why this happens—young children are simply too uneducated and ignorant to beat accomplished adults in Risk tournaments. I, too, received my fair share of romp-stompings as a tyke, and the game of choice was that trivia-based bastard of a game, Trivial Pursuit.

We played it every New Year’s Eve all the way through the end of high school. The Children versus The Adults, an age-old battle (so to speak) between intelligent people and their offspring. My family, along with two close friend families, would lay out the board around 9:00pm, pour some Welch’s Sparkling Grape Juice, and get the dice rolling shortly thereafter…

Usually, it was six adults going up against seven children, which sounds like we would have had a slight advantage. However, numbers and statistics are misleading. The Adults had my friend Marty’s mother Joan on their team. Joan taught (and teaches) French at a semi-prestigious Catholic high school, and watches Jeopardy like it’s her religion. I’m not kidding—she’s got more skill than Rosie Perez’s character on “White Men Can’t Jump.” The woman knows her foods that start with the Letter Q. As a child, Marty and I would play Ninja Turtles in the living room while Joan watched Jeopardy, and as sure as I stand before you today, handsome and upright, she would answer 85-90% of those questions correctly, IN question form. She’s something of a genius, but never auditioned for the show because she was afraid she’d freeze up in front of all the millions of people.

But on New Year’s Eve, there are far less than millions of people, and Joan usually hustled our young asses like Bill Gates at a computer inventing contest. Shortly after the end of the game (which was almost always a New Year’s frustration for the losing children), we’d despondently count down from ten, watching The Ball in Times Square drop and light up. Every January first, at 12:01am, we made a resolution: Next year, we beat our parents at Trivial Pursuit.

Overly dramatic? Yes. And we never actually made verbal resolutions to earn retribution. Actually, after I graduated high school in 2000, I sort of forgot about Trivial Pursuit. All seven children, similarly college-aged, had gone off to school and had begun attending their own New Year’s Eve gatherings, away from the Usual Routine. The whole vendetta to beat the parents just… disappeared…

That is, until a few short nights ago, when amazingly, five of the seven children reassembled, along with all six parents (and a few add-ons: two other Adult players and my lovely girlfriend, Amy, who proved crucial in the outcome of the match—you’ll see). We laid out the game board, selected the orange pie pan, and handed the pink pan to our parents (David, one of The Children, did this symbolically to send a message. For the first ten years of his life, David’s father, a Michigan graduate, told David that the Notre Dame football team wore pink jerseys. David believed this, but didn’t let it affect his decision on what college to attend. He is now the student body president of Notre Dame University). Then, we were ready to rumble.

Joan answered her usual plethora of questions, but The Children jumped out to a huge 4 pie piece to 2 pie piece lead. Adam spoke in tongues, answering the majority of the People & Places questions. None of the sports questions, usually a strength for us, had ANYTHING to do with sports (ex—What former NBA star was given a baton scholarship in college? I’m serious. That was a real question). The game was full of nonsense, but The Children had a strong lead and looked absolutely dominating.

Desperate, the parents actually CALLED the husband of one of the two new Adult women to answer a sports question for a pie, and as a result they got a controversial pie piece, which we complained about for the rest of the night. Later, the parents woke up a sleeping “team member” to answer a question about boy scout badges. This earned them a second contentious pie. I felt like the Anaheim Angels in the 2005 ALCS when AJ Pierzynski “stole” first. Everything was going The Adults’ way, until eventually, we each had our pie pans full and were aiming from the center space. It was neck-and-neck, and both teams botched very difficult questions for the win. Finally, we got our pie into the middle and awaited the final question. It read:

“What does TTFN mean when signing off an internet chat?”

All of us had read this expression before, and most of us had an inkling that the FN stood for “for now,” but none of us could answer the question. Suddenly, my girlfriend, who had been sitting on the floor in front of me, turns rigid and bolts out an answer. She said, “Ta-Ta for now!” And by God, she was right! Amy, who had sat there almost silently (though quietly answering the correct answers to obscure questions in my ear), came up with a clutch answer! I’ll tell you what, people: It. Felt. Good.

So that was that. The Children finally took home the proverbial Trivial Pursuit trophy. It wasn’t on New Year’s, and a few or the original 13 were replaced with some newcomers, but it was good. It was nice to see all of those people, because we haven’t been together like that in a few years. All joking aside, it was a much-appreciated belated Christmas gift. I’ve had a wonderful break, and I hope yours have all been great too.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My Robot

I was an overly-imaginative kid, and as a result, I ended up being a very disappointed child for several consecutive Christmases. My imagination has helped me a LOT in my life, getting me the jobs I wanted, helping me to express myself via music, poems, and blog entries, but at age seven, my active mind caused nothing but sorrow.

“Why?” you ask? Because my imagination concocted a small robot that would be able to clean my room and do my chores for me, so I could play outside with my friends.

I sent letters to Santa Claus for three consecutive years asking for this robot (it was to come with a remote control), assuming that Santa was the owner of the most extreme toy workshop on the planet. I gave no seconds thoughts to the fact that Santa would not be able to concoct such an item. I made plans for this robotized mechanical slave; I imagined myself romping through fields of flowers, inadvertently kicking the heads off of the colorful blossoms as I skipped through. There were harps and acoustic guitars playing as my body danced against the ocean blue sky. My God, it was going to be wonderful. I would be free to watch Ninja Turtles, drink the coldest Kool-Ade, play baseball until my hands were calloused, and ride my bike around the neighborhood exploritorily like I was Francisco freakin’ Pizarro.

I even asked him nicely. I said, “Santa, could you please bring me that remote controlled robot I keep inquiring about? I’ve been especially well-behaved, and I would appreciate the extra free time.”

But, alas, my robot never did come. That fat, red-suited waste of Christmas cheer ate all our cookies, choked down all our dairy beverages, and flew off into the night, laughing maniacally all the way back to the North Pole.

I’m not saying I never got cool stuff, because I did. At least, it was cool to me back then. The popularity of origami has waned since 1989 (Actually, I’m not sure it was cool when the Ancient Chinese INVENTED it), and I remember absolutely LOVING my Design-a-Saur model set. With it, I could create hybrid dinosaurs that never actually existed by unhooking and mismatching the bones of Triceratops, Pterodactyls, Brontosauruses, and T-Rexes. My favorite creation ever was the Triceradonitopsis Rexosaurus. I was quite the inventor.

And at that point, on the day after my 7th Christmas, I remember my imagination kicking in again. It said to me, “Joel, if you are able to concoct such creative and amazing dinosaurs, SURELY that lazy old sack of eggnog Santa Claus should be able to construct a remote-controlled robot!”

I saw the logic in this, and as a result I wrote a letter to Santa Claus on December 27, 1989, asking once again for the gift of my dreams.

Unfortunately, in my imagination is where that robot stayed.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Call Me Now for a Free Reading

Either I'm a psychic, or I'm just getting REALLY good at reading children's faces.

Between twenty and 1,753 times a day, a child walks up to me, leaning forward with an inquisitive look on his or her face. Their eyebrows raise, and they fidget with their hands. They approach my desk in fast-forward, almost like that creepy crawling girl from "The Ring," but more comedically than frightening. They have something urgest to ask me, something for which the world must stop until it is resolved:

"Can I go to the bathroom?"

OR

"Can I get a drink of water?"

It's like Chinese Water Fountain torture for my psyche, where constant inquisitive drips tap my forehead, uninterrupted, for 9 months a year. Thing is, these students don't REALLY have to use the commode; they're bored, and they want to get up and roam the hallowed halls of Olympia High School. They want to peer into classroom windows and make silly faces at their classmates. All they want is to simply go for a stroll.

You know, I'd almost prefer their honesty over "Can I go to the bathroom." For example, if it were "Can I go take a short walk around the school, I'm getting antsy sitting here," I just might be inclined to say yes...

Anyway, the point is that I realized today that I am able to predict which of my two least favorite questions is going to come out of the student's mouth before he or she reaches my desk. I can't put my finger on how I do it, but I can do it. I'm 8 for 8 today.

Gotta go; I'm REALLY thirsty, and I have to piss like a racehorse.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Let's Do Lunch

When in doubt, trade it to Isaiah Thomas.

No mantra in the history of Confucius has ever been more full-proof. A couple of years ago, Thomas saved The Chicago Bulls from signing Jamal Crawford to a much-unearned lucrative contract (7 years, $55 million), and even more recently, he happily snatched away Eddy Curry, Chicago’s favorite oozing tub of lethargy, for six years and a whopping total of $60 million. Chicago invested in these players with the most optimistic of intentions, but when they didn’t pan out, it was nice to know that Zeke was willing to foot the bill. It’s like deciding to splurge for the Baby Back Ribs at Chili’s instead of ordering the same old burger, but then having a buddy offer to pick up the check. This is the kind of rare gift that one truly cherishes, and the Bulls have received it twice in two years.

Any Jane or Jerry (well, almost) could see that Curry and Crawford were cash mongers only capable of playing well in the final year of a rookie contract. In 2000, Chicago fell in love with Crawford’s gifted shot selection, leadership abilities, and penchant for making The Smart Pass, and only a year later, Curry immediately quieted the pre-draft buzz that accused him of having no heart, battling for rebounds and playing defense with a tornado of ferocity unparalleled by even the strongest of tropical storms. There was, of course, only one problem: The previous sentence was entirely hyperbole and misdirection. Neither of these players could have ever warranted multi-year $55 million + contracts. They were catalysts, determined to drive The Chicago Bulls franchise into mediocrity well through the second Jeb Bush presidency. But, Isaiah Thomas saved us. He is Chicago’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield. He is our knight in shining armor. We are Princess Fiona in the tower, and he is Shrek.

And Thomas didn’t just relieve us of our broken pieces; he actually improved the outlook of this team. So far this season, Michael Sweetney (12.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1 bpg) has at least matched the performance of Eddy Curry (12.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg), the man for whom he was traded. As an added bonus, he’s done it for a fraction of the price (a little over $2 million versus Curry’s $10 this year). But wait, there’s more: New York gave us their 2006 first-round draft pick, which looks to be very good considering the poor showing by the Knickerbockers so far. Granted, this pick would not go to the Bulls if it ended up being pick 26-30, but that would require the Knicks to finish with one of the top five records in the league, and the Vatican will sooner let Ron Howard film The DaVinci Code in St. Peter’s Basilica before that happens. Potentially, the Bulls could be looking at two lottery selections in the upcoming draft and one of only two or three teams with the cash to pursue a major free agent like, oh… say, Ben Wallace?

The Bulls chances don’t look too good this year as the weakest good team in the league’s most impossibly difficult division, but confidence is high. Repeat: confidence is high. Instead of having to worry about Jamal Crawford missing 17 horribly-selected shots a game and dealing with the constant concern that Curry will either die on the court or (even worse) under-perform, Bulls fans are given the opportunity to watch the inspired play of an excellent young team with good chemistry and a promising future. Even if the Bulls miss the playoffs this year, they’ve got two first-round draft picks in the wings to help them get back on track. And if either of those two picks don’t pan out, all John Paxson has to do is invite Isaiah Thomas out to a delicious lunch at Chili’s…

Friday, October 21, 2005

Go-Go White Sox!

"It has reached the point in which the people who were scared to put both feet on the bandwagon, even when the team had a 15-game lead in the division and the best record in baseball, these same people are now putting rims on the wagon and filling up the tank with BP Ultimate."
-Scoop Jackson

I realized something the other day when I was doing my weekly shopping at Wal-Mart (Why is there ALWAYS something I need to buy there?): People are wearing Chicago White Sox memorabilia in the Bloomington-Normal area. I suppose this isn’t exactly a life-altering revelation, but in talking to my old college roommate recently, we agreed that we NEVER saw anyone wearing Sox caps and shirts in Central Illinois previous to the success of this year’s team. Literally everyone in these parts is either a fan of the Cubs or the Cardinals. Suddenly this year, the year when the Sox appear in their first World Series since 1919, everyone’s a believer.

I complain because I rooted for this team when they were GARBAGE (which is essentially my entire life—even in 2000, when they had the second-best record in baseball, they got swept in the first round by Seattle. They suck, always have). It was the same thing with the Bulls a few months ago. They get into the playoffs and “fans” start believing it’s Jordan all over again. I revel in this year’s White Sox team’s success (as well as that of the Bulls) because I watched them absolutely embarrass themselves, and it’s nice for the change of pace.

Lyle Mutoun? Craig Grebeck? Ron frickin’ Karkovice???

All of this aside, it’s absolutely wonderful to see your favorite team in the World Series. I watch it every year no matter who’s playing, just because it’s always fun baseball to watch. However, it’s a different story altogether when your own squad is in the mix. You get to sit on the couch and whoop and yell every time someone does something good (or bad). This is magic, people! I feel the way I do after someone close to me passes away—it’s like I know it’s happened, but I can hardly believe it! I mean, even ESPN is finally giving us some national coverage and analyzing, when previously every spare baseball minute was devoted to A-Rod, Derek Jeter, and the Yanks vs. Red Sox rivalry (They say that Derek Jeter looks like what would happen if The Rock had sex with a Muppet). This is it, and it’s about time!

What a magical team. My brother and I knew from the minute we traded for Scott Podsednik that this was going to be a fun baseball team to watch! Dale bitched and moaned about having to give up Carlos Lee for him (actually, he still does this regularly—any day where I don’t have to hear him talk about El Caballo is considered a “good day”), but I think now he’s probably okay with it. It’s just a fun group of guys who have had an excellent season and a LOT of lucky breaks.

You know, I gripe about everyone being on the White Sox wagon, but why shouldn’t everyone be? I’d love for the entire city of Chicago to switch from the Wrigleyville Singles-Bar homo-fest in Lincoln Park to the hard-nosed, blue-collar team on 35th. Let’s bring REAL baseball back to The Chi. No more of this playing for profit stuff the Cubs mess around with. Dammit, we’re ready to win something.

So Go-Go White Sox!!!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Go Columbus, Go

In my American Literature class, we read some stuff about the truth behind Christopher Columbus's treachory towards Native Americans, and I decided to hold a debate in which the students rooted for or against having a holiday for our old buddy Columbus. This student (who was in favor of keeping the holiday) got a little too into the spirit of competition! It made me laugh, and I thought you all might get a kick out of it, too.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Capital "L" Love

If one does the math, one can conclude that a 23 year-old person who has been in the same relationship for 8 ½ years was about 14 years old when the whole endeavor started. This is true for my good friend Catherine, who finally married her near-decade sweetheart this Labor Day weekend in Kankakee. I, of course, was in attendance, and you can bet a fair amount of duckets that I’ve got plenty to say about it!

The first thought I had came to me when I received the invitation for this event a few months ago. I started to delve into my age-old philosophies about whether or not one can truly be in mature love at any age that ends in “teen.” See, I’ve always been of the school contending that capital “L” Love requires a lifetime of experience, heartbreak, and practice dealing with the truly insane minds of women. That any freshman in high school should believe he or she will soon be married is not only utterly incorrect, but also entirely retarded. As recently as today, I’ve seen droves of adolescent hormones frolic between lockers (and under desks, and in bathroom stalls, and on top of the principal’s desk, etc…) with absolute disregard for intelligence or foresight. It’s these same hormones that have teen pregnancy statistics through the roof! I truly believe that a 14 year-old child is incapable of true love, mostly because a majority of them only recently found out what their special areas were capable of in freshman Health class. We’ve all seen the slide shows, people…

Truth be told, that could’ve easily been the way that Catherine and Todd started out their courtship, dry humping around every corner (I can’t speak of these things for certain—I can only guess. No offense towards anyone in particular. You understand). But the interesting thing is that after dating for 102 months, Love (with a capital “L”) can actually grow from the pre-pubescent infatuations that flourish in high schools across the country. Catherine and Todd not only look like they should be on an Abercrombie bag somewhere, but they also really, really love each other. Because I realized this at the wedding this weekend, I was forced to change my philosophy just a tish. I am still rather cynical towards adolescent-libido-satiation, but I feel much more confident in the fact that once in every great while, something exponentially more substantial can come from it. Congratulations to the Newlyweds!

Something else that came to the front of my mind this weekend was that I suck at getting myself ready for wedding situations. I had planned on taking Amy with me to this thing, but hadn’t talked over any of the details with her until the night prior to the Big Show. This resulted in a spiraling downfall of confusion and Damn-I’m-Screwedness the likes of which have been unparalleled in the annals of history. It is possible that I’m exaggerating a teensy little bit, but regardless, it appeared at the time that I would be unable to get a gift (I’m like the King Chain Smoker of procrastination sometimes), get Amy home where all her dress clothes were, then into Kankakee in time for the wedding. However somehow, my girlfriend and I summoned all of our brain strength (most of which emanated from HER noggin) and came up with a plan that worked, and everything was sorted out. Still, the stress made me never want to procrastinate again. We'll see how far THAT resolution gets, eh?

Early Saturday morning, I went to Target and rummaged through what little gift selection was left in the gift registry, and I not only made my purchase, but also bought some dashing wrapping paper and a bow to boot, which all sounded a lot straighter at the time. Amy showed me some ancient gift-wrapping tradition passed down millions of generations, dating back to the very first women, which were plankton with aprons (not really, but the visual makes me giggle). I don’t know where women learn these things, but before it was all said and done, I had this beautifully wrapped gift that looked more delicious than even the wedding cake. I would’ve eaten either, honestly. When it came time to drop my gift off at the table, it just so happened that my gift was the most extravagantly wrapped of them all! Of course, I was in competition with the likes of one Mr. Blake Randles, an old junior high buddy who wrapped his gift in Christmas paper. This kind of thing is too good to make up.

So, I guess all-in-all, the Wedding Weekend was something of a success. The whole gift fiasco turned out okay, I was able to spend some time with old friends (big shout-outs to B. Randles, Mego-Meter, Bree Pah-cooch, Cousin Jo, and AkkaNate), I got a wonderful slow dance in with The Girl, and (the proverbial cherry on the sundae) there was free steak! I had a great weekend, but more importantly, I learned a very valuable lesson about procrastination.

Now, I really should stop writing because I have about thirty American Literature tests to grade, and I’ve been putting them off all night.

Monday, August 29, 2005

I Tease Because I Care

Optimism had it where the start of my second year would be exponentially smoother and more successful than my first time around the horn. Reality, however, had the two pitted more closely together, and I suppose that’s probably just about right. We all grow and learn at slow paces. Truth be told, two of my three classes this semester have gotten themselves off to a wonderful start. The remaining one would even test the patience of Mother Theresa, so I can’t get too down on myself there. I feel pretty good, and I’ve been able to use some quizzes and worksheets I created last year, but somehow I’m still busier than a single mother. It’s all rather curious, don’t you agree?

My day starts with a preparatory period, where I’m given an hour and twenty minutes to grade papers, make photocopies, and indulge in heaping mounds of cheesecake provided by the student council in the teacher’s lounge (This, by the way, is the reason why no matter how often I eat properly at home and exercise, I am unable to lose even an ounce of body girth. I’m not saying I’m Kirstie-Alley-fat, but I can’t seem to get myself to 170 pounds. It’s as if the Gods of Delicatessen Desserts will it so). I had this preparatory block at the END of the day last year, which was wonderful because I was able to grade and plan everything after all of the classes were over. It was as if the day ended an hour and twenty minutes sooner. But this new way makes me feel sad like raindrops and lost kitties. It’s like I’m just needlessly at school way too early. Granted, I’d get a lot done no matter what part of the day my prep was, but it’s a psychological thing. It’s like doing all the hard problems on a test first so you can get them out of the way. From there you cruise… Take a moment to digest my analogy. I’ll be down here.

Down HERE! See, I complain about my prep being at the start of the day, but that’s NOTHING compared to what I endure second block. Before I get going on this one, understand that I’m bitching about the first half of my day because it is not particularly pleasurable. Actually, this part is distinctly unenjoyable, but I’d like to adamantly reassure you all that I do still love teaching very much, as you are sure to read about when I beam about my last two classes of the day. That disclaimer out of the way, allow me to explain to you all about English for Life.

This class exists as a required senior English course for students with pretty specific records of poor behavior and lousy attendance. I inherited this class when I took the Olympia job last summer because no one else wanted it. Colleagues talk about it now like it’s some mutant form of a black plague that slowly deteriorates both male and female genitalia and eventually results in fire. Last year’s experience with this class was a complete nightmare. The kids never shut up, and half of them are absent more often than Clay Aiken at a heterosexual convention. I knew this year’s class was going to be bad as well when a teacher in department told me she had most of this year’s class in English 3 the year previous, and they made her question whether or not she was enrolled in the proper profession. I’m telling you, these kids are enough to make you go sterile. They don’t listen, the loathe authority, and some of them could care less whether or not they graduate. The amazing this is that one of the special ed teachers who worked with a number of last year’s English for Life students said that they all loved the class and thought I was a great teacher. Figures, right? It’s a perfect example of how sometimes there are just way more long-term rewards to educating than short-term ones. I’m four days into this new class, and I’ve already torn out enough hair to be mistaken for Patrick Stewart, but if these kids really are going to get something out of the class (as last year’s students did), I guess it’s worth putting up with all of the severely painful headaches. The Good Lord knows I’m going to have at least a baker’s dozen. Daily. Some things are bigger than noggin pain.

My English 2 sophomores are a conglomerate of great new kids and some of my old favorites from last year. I had previously taught at least half the class before this year, and many of those had requested me as a teacher, so it ended up being a pretty good chemistry of kids. It’s an American Literature class with a non-existent curriculum (that’s right, I’m expected to make it up as I go along! Ha!), but so far so good! I’m trying to cover some things that will really interest them, and they seem to be responsive so far. Sophomores and freshmen are infinitesimally better than upperclassmen, as they are more open to listening and obeying. As young’ns, they still maintain a small (very, very small) amount of respect for adults (of which I now consider myself one), and that definitely works to my advantage. The other nice thing is that younger students are still trying to act more like kids than pseudo-adults. They don’t mind acting a little silly here and there, where seniors are much Too Cool for such things. Blah… the younger goombas are just more fun. Personal opinion. You’re welcome to disagree, but if you do I’ll hate you forever and potentially cause you physical harm.

Last block of the day are my freshmen, and I’ve got a feeling that this could be the brightest class of 14 year-olds I’ve had so far. We discussed a short story today for 45 minutes without getting off topic even once! I know for a fact that’s a record for me personally, and it may be a Mclean County record as well. I don’t know for sure. I’ll have check county records. I’ll be in touch. In all seriousness, these students are impressing the pants off of me (which is highly inappropriate—administration frowns upon pantslessness) with their wit and ability to debate and discuss. If God is as good as everyone keeps telling me, he’ll allow these students to resume this impressive pace so I can end my days a whole helluva lot better than I start them. I need a class like that as a beautiful gold bookend, ya know? The bookend on the other side is rotting wood.

Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little, and perhaps I’m overly cynical and joking about how my days go, but the certainty in all of this is that I’m still doing well with the teaching thing. I enjoy what I do, and sometimes I’m surprised that I get paid for doing what I do. I’m a lucky guy to be able to hop out of bed gleefully in the morning because I’m excited about heading to work. It’s definitely better than working at a sweat shop or random factory (The Graham Cracker Factory? Perhaps the Plastic Scissor Handle Factory? I’m just brainstorming here). As much as I tease my profession, I thoroughly enjoy it. As I tell my students: “I tease because I care.”

That pretty much sums it up.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Midwest Road Fest, Days 4 & 5 (The Conclusion)

Day 4:
Despite the house being a non-air-conditioned structure, we all slept pretty soundly at the home of Ed’s friends due to a perfect drop in temperature overnight and lots and lots of fans. Actually, this drop in temperature set us up for the most beautiful day of the entire trip. It ended up being around 82 degrees with none of the disgusting humidity that had been haunting the Midwest for the previous two weeks. We were fixed some eggs and waffles, which we ate happily, and got the car loaded up to head for Mansfield, Ohio, home of our next two attractions. Mansfield was a little bit of a back-track for us (especially since we were so close to Cleveland already), but the extra driving was cheaper than getting a hotel in Cleveland. Besides, an extra 3 hours in the car was nothing in the whole scheme of things. So we didn’t complain too much. On with Day 4!

Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield, Ohio

Our first destination for the day was going to be the Ohio State Reformatory, which is the humungous prison where The Shawshank Redemption and parts of Air Force One were filmed. The building usually offers tours, but they’re at the most random times, and they aren’t offered on Saturdays. So, we thought were going to be out of luck in regards to actually seeing the inside of the place, but as it turns out, we got very, very lucky…

There was a Volkswagen and Porsche car show being held out on the front lawn of the Reformatory, and because of the event, the building was open for tours! We had some time to burn until the next one though, and there was another attraction in Mansfield that we wanted to catch, so we hustled over to the next thing so we could fully experience it before our tour of the prison, which was so unbelievably, extremely cool-looking from the outside.

The Living Bible Museum, Mansfield, Ohio

I think I can safely say that this was the most unentertaining, lackluster stop on our entire trip. We walked into what seemed like a modern-style church and were helped by a woman who was old enough to be in Jesus’s yearbook. She put us into the room that offered the self-guided tour, “The Reformation of Christianity.” Already this sounds lame. See, the Living Bible Museum offers a variety of tours that employs life-sized wax sculptures to tell the stories of the Bible. Since we were in a hurry, we took the first available one, which just so happened to be the most tedious, and the antics that ensued were enough to drive a senior citizen comatose.

The highlights of this attraction were the pimping out of John Wesley (founder of the Wesleyan church, something of mild significance to us as Illinois Wesleyan students and alumni), and scaring the urine out of Ed in the darkened tour room. They only highlighted one scene at a time, and at one point, Ed was growing bored with the currently lightened scene, so he looked ahead to a rather frightening was sculpture that awaited in the shadows. Ed said, “Man, this one looks creepy,” and feigned a startled expression, at which point I grabbed his sides and growled heavily. Ed went in to panicky convulsions and probably peed a little. We all had a good laugh, agreed that this was the dumbest thing ever, and went to use the bathroom before heading back to the Reformatory, only to be greeted by a younger, male worker of the facility, who seemed to be occupying the bathroom permanently, even if only to tend to the psychological needs of the customers. We had a rousing chat with the fellow, but were still in a hurry, so we charged back to the prison for our tour, which MORE than made up for the crappy nature of The Living Bible Museum.

The Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield, Ohio (again)

Walking into this building was one of the creepiest experiences of my life. I’m not sure I can even describe the ambience of the place, but it was definitely eerie. Old paint was flaking off of every inch of the entire building, including doors, ceilings, cell bars… EVERYTHING! It was one of the most massively huge structures I’ve ever been, and everything is just so open. We spent a short while in the front part of the prison and the opening foyer that led into the east and west cell blocks. Our tour guide was awesome, as he had not only information about the building, but also prisoner stories and tales about deaths and murders that happened right where we had been standing.

Obviously, the building isn’t in use anymore, but you could only imagine what things would’ve been like if you’d have served time there. We got glimpses into the cells, solitary confinement, and the warden’s quarters, part of which was used in The Shawshank Redemption (I had to get a little piece of this cinematic action). It would take me an hour to say everything I wanted to about this place, so I won’t go into too much detail. However, I will say this: seeing that place close up makes you REALLY not want to do anything that cause you to spend even a single day in prison. Screw that. This place was probably my favorite stop on the entire five-day trip. It was cool, had novelty value as a filming location, and it was scary and historic as well. There’s so much to factor in to this place’s extremity, for it truly was So Extreme.

Jacob’s Field, Cleveland, Ohio

We drove back to Cleveland for an afternoon Indian’s game versus the Seattle Mariners. Parking for the game cost us three dollars. THREE DOLLARS!!! What Chicago sporting event has EVER allowed you to park your mode of transit for less than two months’ rent? I was amazed by that (however, this particular house of automobiles would cause us some trouble later on… more on this to come). We walked about two blocks to Jacob’s Field, which took about 5 minutes, then once inside we headed for our seats, which took about a month of Sundays. Our seats were six dollars, so you get what you pay for I guess, but damn that was a journey!

Jacob’s Field has absolutely zero personality. You can see Gund Arena (where the Cavs play) right across the street, and the scoreboard was pretty high tech, but there are no other defining characteristics in the whole place. I’d say the stadium was about 2/3 full, and the fans who were actually there definitely showed enthusiasm (even I went bedecked in a Cleveland jersey), but we just couldn’t really get into the game too much, despite the fact that it was probably the most beautiful day of the summer. The eateries were alright, but I think the food service provider there mass hires troubled teens from local Section 8 housing projects. I felt like I had walked into a bad episode of Cita’s World, where the already racist BET character got even MORE ignorant just in time to serve my food. I was embarrassed FOR those people. We left in the 7th inning. At least I can mark that particular park off of my checklist, right? I think I’ll just stay a White Sox fan.

World’s Largest Rubber Stamp, Cleveland, Ohio

Not much to say about this other than it’s the world’s largest rubber stamp. I remember seeing it when planning the trip, but we hadn’t made arrangements to stop by and see it. It was on the way to our next destination, so we thought, “what the hell?” and took a picture with it anyway. It is a big sucker though, ain’t it?

Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio

Kyle and I always wanted to come here and check the place out. It was designed by IM Pei (same guy who designed the pyramids for the Louvre. The guy likes his triangles, what can I say?), and with all those windows you’d think it’d be hot in there. But it wasn’t, really. They boast six levels of musicky goodness, but the majority of what’s there to see is on the first floor, which was absolutely spectacular.

We saw everything from Jimi Hendrix’s original lyric notebook to one of Robert Johnson’s guitars. There was a separate room for Ray Charles, full of tons of memorabilia, including a few pairs of his sunglasses. One of the coolest parts was the section with all the mannequins bearing famous musician’s most famous articles of clothing. There was so much to take in while we were there that it was almost a sensory overload, but it was definitely a little piece of music history, and anybody whose ever liked Elvis, the Beatles, or the Rolling Stones just definitely go and check it out.

Sadly, they didn’t allow cameras inside the exhibit areas, so there is a lack of photographs for this particular attraction. We did get a couple of snapshots in the entrance though. I wish we could’ve gotten more!

The Holiday Inn, Elyria, Ohio

We made the trek back to our parking garage, only to find that damn thing had CLOSED about fifteen minutes prior to our return. There were a few other Indians fans with the same problem who were trying to find a solution. We got into our cars and drove down to the entrance and pretty just pushed the stupid blocker bar thingies up to get out. What was humorous is that there were two strapping lads trying their damndest to get the bar to lift, when along comes Ed, who basically pushes the whole structure up with about two of the muscles in his smallest finger (and no, I’m not referring to his “area,” you sick bastards). He walked away feeling like the Incredible Hulk, and made fun of the two guys who couldn’t lift if. Kyle whooped his trademark jeer as we pulled away: “Don’t’ forget your purses!”…

Our $50 Priceline weekend Holiday Inn awaited us 30 minutes away, and we got there with no problems, happy to see the deal we earned by hours of online hotel searching the night previous. We grabbed some Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner (about our fifth consecutive bad idea in regards to cuisine), and hit the hay, hoping and praying to God that the 60% chance of thunderstorms being forecasted for the next day at Cedar Point were false. I’ll admit, there was a moment in which we weren’t sure if we’d get our opportunity to ride the world’s fastest and tallest roller coaster. We implored, and we slumbered, waiting…

Day 5:
We woke up to a sky full of clouds, and a sky full of even darker clouds in the direction of Sandusky, where the sacred Point of Cedar lie. We drove around to like three grocery stores in Elyria before heading up north to try and find the discounted Cedar Point tickets before finally finding the right one. We agreed that the seven dollar discount was probably worth the twenty minutes spent. Of course, it would be moot if the rain came crashing down (as it was still forecasted to do) in Sandusky. However, this was a risk we were willing to take.

Cedar Point Theme Park, Sandusky, Ohio

When we got to Sandusky, it was sprinkling a little bit, but it wasn’t too bad. It seemed like the potential for rain scared away a lot of likely roller coaster riders. So at least that was a good thing. We lulled into the park right as it opened (more or less), and headed straight for the coaster that Ed said was the best one he had ever ridden in his entire life: Millennium Force. It wasn’t the fastest and tallest; that one’s called the Top Thrill Dragster, but as this particular ride can not function if there is even a drop of precipitation, it was not in use at that particular time. Millennium Force, however, looked more than impending.

The wait wasn’t too bad (only 30 minutes), but by the time we got to the front of the line, the rain had picked up considerably. Now, Cedar Point isn’t like Six Flags, where the rides get shut down if there’s any kind of rain. No, they run ‘em until there’s lightening and/or high winds. THAT’S what I’m talking about! At least, that was my state of mind BEFORE riding the Force in downpour. The only way to put it is through my younger brother’s words: “The rain feels like… NAILS!” And my GOD did it ever. However, piercing precipitation aside, Ed was right in it’s being the coolest coaster of all time.

As we waited in wet lines for the other rides, I did notice that the general visitor of Cedar Point was approximately 75-85% less trashy than inhabitants of Great America in Gurnee. You know the type: morbidly obese women wearing tea cozies for shirts, men with mullets and hairy chests, slutty children wearing tattered second-hand name brand clothes suitable only for wiping ones mouth or nuclear warhead testing. Big thumbs up to the residents of Sandusky and those out-of-towners visiting the park that day. You all were high class in my book. My book, however, is not of a high standard, so take that for it’s worth.

As it turns out, there was a window of about an hour where there was no rain, so the Top Thrill Dragster opened up for the first time all day. We were in the right place at the right time, and hopped into line with virtually no wait once the ride officially opened. The ride itself is not long at all, as it lasts about 20 seconds at the most, but the feeling you get when you go from zero to 120mph in like a SECOND is incomparable. If it were longer, it would’ve beaten Force as the coolest coaster of all time, but as it stands it finished in a very close second. After that, there was little reason to stay, so we took ourselves and our damped Midwest Road Fest t-shirts back to our car and began our 8-hour drive back home.

To Ed and Kyle: Congratulations on a trip well-traveled. We shall have to conquer three new states next summer! I have no reservations in labeling the Midwest Road Fest an extremely successful Road Trip. And for the record, the whole five-day excursion cost about 300 bucks. Not bad, eh?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Midwest Road Fest, Day 3

Day 3:
Our evening on the southern outskirts of Indianapolis was fun, even though Kyle was awaken at 2:00 in the morning by stomach cramps so violent that a movie about them would be rated R, and after packing up our clothing and foodstuffs, we hopped onto I-74 en route to Cincinnati to visit Kyle’s and my cousin, Nikki. The interesting thing is that Kyle and I hadn’t seen this particular cousin since we were about 5 and 7 years old, so we were both pretty interested in “meeting” her, her husband Charles, and her brand new baby girl Kaitlyn. We had about a 2-hour drive and a time change once we got into Ohio, so we hit the road pretty early. On we go!

Tree in Clock Tower, Greensburg, Indiana

Our first stop of the day was actually an impromptu visit off of I-74 east early on Friday morning. We passed a sign for “Beautiful Downtown Greensburg” that pictured a clock tower with a tree growing of it. I remembered seeing this when planning out the road trip, but for one reason or another, I forgot to include it. There’s not much to say about it other than it’s a tree growing out of a clock tower, but the real story was the “Get’r Done” sticker we saw on the gas station window. It brought us to the realization that we really were in the heart of Whitetrashville, and that if we stayed in Greensburg much longer, we’d end up on the Board of Trustees, which was obviously not something any of us had much aspiration to achieve.

Nikki & Charles, Cincinnati, Ohio

It’s amazing how much more interesting the drive is in Ohio than Indiana and Illinois. In the latter states, the ground is completely flat and adorned exclusively with corn. Ohio is much hillier with more trees and fields. I’ve got to say that I’d much rather drive through there than the Illiana area, but I’m digressing. In Cincinnati, we pulled into the wonderfully quaint home of Nikki and Charles. It was the perfect home for a young couple with a baby. As they grow older and Nikki starts producing babies by the baker’s dozens, they’ll want something bigger, but as the kid count stays in single digits, their current place of residence is perfect.

We sat around and chatted for a little while, touring the house, meeting the dogs, and playing with the baby, but as it was growing close to lunch time, we asked Charles to direct us to a restaurant with some local color. He immediately suggested Skyline Chili, a Cincinnati exclusive, and since it sounded so delicious we compliantly followed the Elder family to this local eatery. Kyle got spaghetti noodles covered in Chili and about four pounds of cheese, while Ed and I indulged in chili cheese dogs. Our meals were delicious, but on the cusp of an evening at the 8Lucky Buffet, any meal causing further intestinal discomfort was probably a bad idea. We, of course, realized this in retrospect, but as the chili wasn’t actually poisonous (as was the Chinese food of the previous evening), we emitted what was necessary from our bodies, as only three males in a tiny car are able to do, and prepared ourselves for our next destination.

Author’s Note: I understand that there has been a lot of detail as to the amount of pooting that took place over the course of this trip, but as I am trying to give you all the most accurate trip recap as possible, I find it necessary to omit no details, no matter how unpleasant. We’re all grown people, right? Okay fine, I’ll keep the fart stories to a minimum from here on out…

Jungle Jim’s Grocery Store, Fairfield, Ohio

Since Charles had taken the day off for our visit, and we were pretty much done with lunch by 12:30, he and Nikki (and the baby) decided to join us on our venture to Jungle Jim’s themed grocery store, which is a few miles northwest of Cincy and a very short distance from Nikki and Charles’s old place. They knew their way around the store and served as more than affable tour guides, and in a place as huge as this, tour guides were almost necessary!

The store itself is jungle themed on the exterior, but the inside is full of crazy novelty exhibits and strange departmental oddities. For example, the liquor department was one of the most extensive I’ve ever seen. We found some of the most oddly-named alcohols we had ever seen (example: Old Leghumper Beer and Fat Bastard wine). We snapped a shot of the three of us with Charles in front of The Cold Beer Cave, which was awesome. We also located all sorts of disgusting meet products, such as boar’s head and chicken’s feet. There were all kinds of novelty sections, including a seafood area with live fish and shark meat, and an isle devoted entirely to hot sauces (affectionately nick-named “The Inferno”). Overall, the place was incredible, and we probably could’ve spent an entire day just in this one store, but it was time for us to bid adieu to the Elder family and continue our quest through Ohio.

Chateau de la Roche (The Rock Castle), Loveland, Ohio

And so begins the story of an old World War I veteran who was pronounced dead in a wartime hospital, only to be brought back to life by an early experiment with adrenaline. He moved back to the states, fell in love with a woman who spurned him at the altar, and settled in the Ohio backwoods to build a stone castle with his bare hands.

Actually, the original reason for building the castle was to have a giant clubhouse for his “Knights of the Golden Trail,” a boys group he started to help young men do woodsy things with an old guy (I guess… Believe me, we have many theories as to his adoration for the youthful male). The story is kind of weird, but the castle itself was one of the coolest stops on the entire trip. It took the old man his entire life to finish building the thing, and the final results are amazing. There was a dungeon, castle towers, and a beautiful garden out back. We spent some time joking around in the dungeon, wondering what Michael Jacksonesque activities had been undertaken down there (Kyle’s Off-Color Comment of the Day: “Now, if you want to be a REAL Knight of the Golden Trail…”), and we got a more than complete view of the rest of the building before leaving. Off all the things we visited on this trip, I’d definitely file this one under the “Definitely Recommend” section.

The Santa Maria, Columbus, Ohio

We were in a hurry to make it to Columbus because the last boat tour ended at 5:00. Kyle put the peddle to the floor, and we pulled into our parking spot at about 4:58 and ran down to the river where the boat was docked. All of our hustle was for naught, as the one remaining female employee was lifting the bridge to Chris Columbus’s replicated vessel. We spent a short period of time mourning our missed opportunity, but soon realized that there wasn’t much to see inside anyway, and the worker chick took a picture of us in front of the boat as Kyle mumbled under his breath that this was an inadequate replacement for a boat tour. The boat was pretty cool, and we got a few shots of it just so we could try and convince somebody that it actually WAS the real Santa Maria. Seriously, it is. Columbus was even there, and he told us so.

The First Wendy’s, Columbus, Ohio

Kyle and Ed treat food at Wendy’s like it’s going to turn their bowels into solid gold. I enjoy the place, but the other guys would have made love to Wendy herself had she been there to present herself. We ordered our food and popped squats in a booth so we could take in all of the Wendy’s memorabilia around us. There was the dress that young Wendy posed in to create the logo, a costume for the Wendy mascot (which we affectionately called “Hot Wendy”), and a giant portrait of the young girl who inspired the design for Hot Wendy (who we affectionately called “Mungo”). There was even a small part of the restaurant that saved the decor and furnishings of the original store. It was quite 1970 (translation: "brownish"), but still pretty cool. The food, of course, was rather tasty, and after taking a few posed camera shots inside the restaurant, we hopped back in the car for the third of our triumvirate of Columbus attractions.

The Book Loft, Columbus, Ohio

Hands down, this was the most remarkable book store in which I have ever stepped foot. It’s located in Columbus’s beautiful historic German Village, and it really reminded me of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Inside, the store is partitioned into 32 separate rooms, each of which represents a different genre of book, and all of which is packed completely full of books. Again, this was an attraction where we could’ve spent an entire day (at least I could have, but as a nerdy 23-year old English teacher, what does one expect?). We stayed for a good hour, but eventually had to leave. Kyle and I finally found where Ed had been hiding the entire time, and we hit the road for the day’s final attraction.

Giant Ears of Corn, Dublin, Ohio

Overall, Columbus was the most beautiful area of the entire trip. The city itself was pretty large, but was essentially immaculate, and the suburban areas were some of the most beautiful I’d ever seen. Dublin is actually a north ‘burb of Columbus, and the three of us were all in shock as to how beautiful the area was. The grass was so green that it made Green jealous, the trees were full and lush, and the roads and buildings all looked like they had been built or renovated in the last five years. It was all in just beautiful condition. If I was forced to stay in any one town for our road trip for the rest of my life, I think I’d choose Dublin. I’m not kidding; it was BEAUTIFUL!

The giant ears of corn were definitely… different. They just sit out in a field on the edge of town. There’s 109 of them, and each one is a six-foot tall concrete statue. There’s not much more to say about them then that. I think they were built as a memorial to one of the area’s prominent farmers, but don’t quote me on that. Ed spent some time romping through the field, and we all happily seized the chance for some terrific pictures. At this point in the day (which was a long and entertaining one), the sun was starting to hang low in the sky, and we had plans to stay with a friend of Ed’s that night in Cleveland Heights, which was two hours away. So, we wasted little time and hurried back onto the road to end our wonderful first day in Ohio.

Ed’s Friend’s Place, Cleveland Heights, Ohio

We ended up at the house of one of Ed’s medical school friends pretty late in the evening, but that didn’t stop us from having more fun. We were actually supposed to stay there for that night and the night following, but the couple inhabiting the house had plans to visit Pittsburg the following evening, leaving us to scramble for a hotel near Sandusky Ohio for the following night. After a helluva lot of internet searching and phone calling, we found a hotel through Priceline for only $50 (the previous winner was $120—it was a weekend, and we were looking for lodging near one of the country’s largest theme parks). We were set for a Holiday Inn about 30 miles south of Cedar Point, so we put away the stressfulness and enjoyed the rest of our evening with our new pals. Exhausted, we all slept like babies that night.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Midwest Road Fest, Day 2

Day 2:
Sleeping on steaming leather in an apartment whose temperature rivals that of even the hottest of God’s solar bodies was one of the more unpleasant experiences of my life, but amidst such a fine and vast road trip, I look at the discomfort as a minor setback. It’s a small disappointment in a journey that has promised to bring nothing but novelty pleasure. The only other speed bump we hit on Day 1 was our nixing of the Funeral Home Mini Golf in Palatine. Turns out they had three wakes that day and couldn’t host us for a quick nine holes after all. Stupid dead people.

But, Day 2 brought us to Indiana, land of… corn… This state would have a lot to live up to if it hoped to hold a candle to the amazing places we visited in Illinois. And honestly, once it was all said and done, the state faired pretty well.

The RV Hall of Fame and Museum, Elkhart, Indiana

I can honestly say that I think most of us expected this particular attraction to epitomize lame, but it ended up providing us with some of the heartiest chuckles of the entire trip. It proved itself a hotbed for humorous photo opportunities, and we got tremendous kicks out of the 32 vintage recreational vehicles on display in the showroom. We were a little put off by the fact that there was only one car in the parking lot besides our own, but it turned out that it was better to have the place all to ourselves anyway.

We were asked to sign a guestbook when we got there, and Ed of course signed his name under the alias of infamous porn star Peter North. The exhibits themselves were actually pretty cool. There were some models in the museum area that dated back to the early 1930s. The wood inside of these RV’s must have weighed a TON. After experiencing such a complete homage to these huge vehicles, I will compliantly admit that Elkhart is indeed the RV capital of the world.

Notre Dame University, South Bend, Indiana

There was a mad scramble from the parking lot to the visitor’s center to try and make the 11:00 tour of Notre Dame Stadium. We ran to the stone building and snuck into a tour group at the absolute last minute, only to find out that we were on a tour of the entire campus, and not just a tour of the stadium. Since we had plans to meet up with our distant cousin and lifelong family friend (and most importantly, student body president) David Baron at 11:30, we understood that this particular tour could cause problem. However, our trusty sophomore-ministry-major-to-be tour guide, Tony (we think that was his name, though it’s quite possible we just made up the moniker to match the nerd) took us directly the football stadium, and we were able to dodge the rest of the tour group shortly thereafter. Or so we thought…

We arranged to meet Dave at Touchdown Jesus and then head over to his office in the Union, but alas, we bumped into Tony and the Tour Family! I will be the first to say that it… was…AWKWARD! But Dave’s much-abbreviated tour lifted our spirits (What a beautiful campus! I often wonder what my life would’ve been like had I attended a different college. Illinois Wesleyan was extreme, but who knows, right?), and we spent some time chatting and hanging out in his president’s office, where he explained some of the ND electoral traditions and so on and such forth. We all rather quite enjoyed it, and afterwards we went to the Grotto to get some more pics, and you’ll never believe who we bumped into. It was Bono from U2 and a conglomerate of African children, all of whom were joining in lifted spiritual commune. Nah, I’m just kidding; it was the tour group again. It was again rather awkward, but after a brief gander at the rather large Notre Dame book store (where Ed lifted a Harry Potter 6 promotional poster), we hit the road, ready for more of what America had to offer us.

World’s Biggest Steer and World’s Biggest Sycamore Stump, Kokomo, Indiana

On the back of Ed’s Harry Potter poster, he wrote “Ala Kazaam, Are you a Harry Potter Fan?” and then beckoned passing cars to honk if they were in agreement with said sign. Surprisingly enough, he didn’t get anyone to respond, but at least it passed some of the time spend in the car to Highland Park in Kokomo, which plays home to the world’s biggest steer and sycamore stump, both of which were absolutely HUGE.

It was a tish disappointing to see that both were in building enclosures, and the stump was pretty much just that (although it was pretty ginormous), but the steer, a.k.a. “Big Ben” was seriously the fattest damn cow I’ve ever seen in my life. It was 16 feet long and about 7 feet tall in places. It’s like the thing’s mother birthed him in a placenta made of radioactive growth sludge. Were it alive, I would’ve wanted to ride it, but alas… It was probably the most boring stop of the day, but its value in roadside attractiveness was too great to pass up. It’s like, we don’t REGRET going, but we definitely would not visit again. Kind of a nice analogy for the state of Indiana as a whole!

The Giant Ball of Paint, Alexandria, Indiana

Definitely the day’s highlight. We weren’t sure what to expect when we pulled up to a tiny, unfinished house with loose wood siding and an unfinished roof, but the somewhat skiddish outside appearance was nothing close to a testament of the wonderful treasure that lie within…

The giant ball of paint started off as a baseball that was accidentally dropped into a bucket of paint, and the owner of this ball has been painting layer after layer of latex paint on the thing ever since. It’s been over 28 years, and now the ball is on its 19,000th coat and weighs over 1700 pounds! I was thinking that it takes a special kind of moron to have such passion for the world’s dumbest hobby. They guy was probably just as excited to tell us the story about the paint as he did the first person who came to visit. In a way it’s admirable, but then I remembered that his excitement stemmed from a giant ball of PAINT, and I remembered that he was probably legally retarded.

But, the nice man DID let us put a coat of paint on the sucker, and we were more than happy to oblige. We painted it green and received certificates of completion (Seriously. That’s not a joke. We have pictures to prove it). It was rousing good fun, and Ed left especially excited about the whole ordeal. Saddened, we left the last attraction of the day and headed for Indianapolis, which is where we’d be slumbering that evening.

Holiday Inn Express/ 8Lucky Buffet, Indianapolis, Indiana

We were supposed to stay with Ed’s cousin that night in a lofty Indianapolis suburban home, but cuz had to leave town and business, but was nice enough to pay for our hotel that night. We happily chose a Holiday Inn Express (the next day, Kyle walked out with the knowledge of how to perform plastic surgery, I could juggle flaming swords, and Ed was suddenly blessed with the ability to peel carrots one after the other in rapid succession. If you’ve seen the Holiday Inn Express commercials, you’ll get the joke). We mistakenly ate dinner at the Chinese buffest across the street, which was called the 8Lucky Buffet. That cruddy of a name should have been an automatic giveaway that the food was cause severe intestinal damage (Ed would later complain of “black, tarry stools”), but we ate there anyway. Huge mistake.

The rest of the night included subtle beer drinking, card playing, and an abnormal release of flatulence. We even checked out the menu for available hotel porn movies, but the farthest we got was the listing for the titles (which humorously included “Sluts Unlimited” and “Finally Legal”). A torrential storm and a full night of sleep later, we’d be off to Ohio for Day 3 of the soon-to-be-famous Midwest Road Fest!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Midwest Road Fest, Day 1

(click on links to view accompanying images).

In the last couple of years, I’ve come to the realization that I haven’t seen much of the world. I just haven’t. Family vacations tend to stick the same comfortable environs every-other-year after every-other-year, and I’ve never really been blessed with the funds to travel far and wide for spring and summer breaks like the normal college students. However, I’ve got to admit that until about a year ago, I was pretty content despite all of this. I mean, I’ve had an inherent longing to discover all the nooks and niches of this wonderful planet, but I never had much of an outward desire to visit these locations until, once again, the internet exposed me to another new wonderful obsession (the predecessors being mp3s, fantasy football, and Apple movie trailers).

In the spring of my senior year of college, I bumped into roadsideamerica.com, and it opened my eyes to all of the United States’ offbeat roadside tourist attractions. It listed all the attractions by state, making planning a road trip ridiculously simple. I figured I’d start close to home and begin with the Midwest for my first road trip, and that’s exactly what I did. I planned a driving tour of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio that included some of the most ridiculous stops, attractions, and museums I’d ever heard of. This summer, in the latter portions of July, the year of our Lord two-thousand and five, I (along with my brother and good mutual college friend Ed Harter) traversed these three states and fully breathed in their terrific essences (expect Berwyn, Illinois, which smelled like an anus). This is the record of these travels…

Day 1:

Kyle and I drove to Springfield late last night and crashed at Ed’s place so we could get an early start in the morning (it would’ve taken us an extra hour to drive from Bloomington to Springfield). We arose pretty early, which wasn’t very difficult since I chose the floor to Ed’s housemate’s bedding. My girlfriend has instilled in me this new, unnecessary fear of other people’s dead skin and dust mites. Anyway, we grabbed some bagels, threw on our “Midwest Road Fest” t-shirts (which I homemade and had to mend after an unfortunate run-in with the spin-cycle), and hit the road, driving only a few miles to our very first destination:

The Abraham Lincoln Museum and Library, Springfield, Illinois

This is a brand new attraction for the summer of ’05, so there were a number of people already in line waiting for the museum to open when we pulled into a parking spot across the street. As Kyle said, “we didn’t beat the campers,” which included a large conglomerate of Lincoln nerds and senior citizens. I say this well aware of the fact that we were three college-age males wearing matching t-shirts, but I somehow feel that this is not the point I am trying to make. I, using my long-outdated student identification card, earned a two dollar discount, and we headed into the wonderful world of Lincoln.

The place was set up with an atrium that branched out into several attractions on the sides. Immediately when we walked in, there were life-sized wax statues of the Lincoln family right in front of us, which we took care to take advantage of for a wonderful photo opportunity. One of the exhibits had to do with Lincoln’s earlier life, so we walked through this cabin in a line of old people at the approximate pace of soil creep and admired such fascinating authentic historic articles as, um… well, mostly everything in this particular exhibit was a “replica,” which epitomizes “lame,” so we skipped the old line, pushing down several elderly women along the way, and headed to the next thing: a 3D movie entitled “The Ghosts of the Library.” This part was kick-ass, and Ed admitted (rightfully so), that he would love a similar theater system in his own basement. I most certainly concurred.

The rest of the highlights of the Lincoln museum included the real-life Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address, and the gift shop, which somehow inspired Ed to use some of the stores props to turn himself into a spot-on Lincoln impersonator, that is of course, assuming Lincoln was retarded. On the whole, I’d say it was a worthwhile adventure, but I didn’t find myself wanting to go back for more. In all honest, I think we all had had enough Lincoln to last us a Cold War, which is what made the next attraction on the itinerary slightly less enjoyable than it would have been had it stood on its own.

The Lincoln Home, Springfield, Illinois

I remember going to Springfield for an 8th grade field trip and wanting to venture inside the Lincoln home, but alas, my class never was allowed to bask in the wiles of such an adventurous place. I was a little romantic and optimistic back then, eh? The house was cool, especially since I studied so much Lincoln in a college class that I took, but there weren’t many surprises. The main thing I liked about the place was the eerie feeling that such an important historical figure had done his lounging, working, and baby-making in the very rooms that I occupied at that moment. However, this sensation only crossed over me in brief flashes. The tour itself was pretty unspectacular, but it’s something I can say I did, right?

On the tour, one idiot asked, “Did Lincoln have any slaves?” Everyone else in the tour looked around at each other incredulously, as if he had just asked “Would it be possible for me to take a dump on the original Lincoln stove?” The tour guide actually laughed for an instant before realizing the idiot was serious. Of course, I suppose it’s not so ridiculous when we consider the fact that the man who wrote the words “All men are created equal” was doinking his own hired help. Ah yes, the wonderful history this young country has woven for itself!

Cozy Dog Drive-In, Springfield, Illinois

All that Lincolning definitely roused our appetites, so we made our next stop: the Cozy Dog Drive-In. This restaurant is an old Route 66 stop that claims itself as the birthplace of the corn-dog. The inventor apparently thought that meet sans a stick is simply unsatisfactory. Whether or not it actually was the first restaurant to sell the breaded wiener, I will say that it was the most delicious damn corn dog I hath ever tasted. I coupled my meal with another Cozy Dog original: Route 66 Route Beer! What a terrific play on words! The beverage itself was what one would expect from a root beer, but the moniker made it ultimately more delicious.

The décor of the place was great, and I got a picture taken next the giant cut-outs of the twin Cozy Dog mascots, who also looked delicious. The building itself was newer, but they kept all of the original signage from the first store, which I have to admit looked pretty cool in a rustic sort of way. Good eats, good atmosphere, and (surprisingly) good donuts, which they also make from scratch every morning!

Cars on a Spike, Cermak Plaza, Berwyn, Illinois


If this hadn’t have been featured in Wayne’s World, I probably wouldn’t have had much desire to visit the place, but as it turns out, Cermak Plaza had much more to offer than I originally realized…

Before we got to the car statue, we passed a giant rust-colored statue a few blocks south of our final destination. It looked big and cool, so we pulled off and grabbed some pictures of it. It had something to do with Louis and Clark (who I humorously yet inadvertently have been calling “Lois and Clark” for the last week), but the statue only depicted a large Native American paddling a pilgrimesque white man in a rusty-looking canoe. Also, this was the portion of our journey that smelled like the armpit of a fat and sweating man. Needless to say, we took our snapshots and moved on as quickly as possible, hoping against all hopes that the rest of the town didn’t smell as putrid.

The cars on the spike were about as enjoyable as we expected. In doing some background research, we found out that the statue was put up in 1989 and cost about $75,000 to construct. Personally, I don’t see any way that this could be possible, as the “art” itself is just eight gutted cars on a giant spike, but I guess there are aspects of funding giant car sculptures that we simply do not understand. We took it in, walked around the plaza for a look at some other sculptures, then headed off for the next attraction, if it’s polite to call the next stop an “attraction.”

Showmen’s Rest, Forest Park, Illinois

In 1918, a train carrying one of the more popular circuses of the time collided with another train, killing many of the performers in the passenger cars. Back then, people who worked in circuses were nomads and freaks with little discernable past, so obviously there were a lot of unanswered questions lingering when it came time to bury all of these people. The eventually put them all in a lot at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois in graves whose tombstones have no names. The lot is marked by a giant elephant tombstone, and this tombstone and story made visiting this lot more than interesting enough for a stop on our road trip.

It took us a minute to find the lot since this particular cemetery was so freakin’ huge, but eventually we did bump into it (it was like the last damn place we looked, of course). There were SO MANY “Unknown Male” graves there that you almost felt bad for all of these people. A few of the performers were apparently identified and so given “proper” tombstones, one of which held the label of “Baldy.” For some reason, thinking of this tremendous tragedy while visiting the graves of those killed left a pretty somber impression. It was neat to visit, but didn’t really leave us with much to joke about for the time being.

Then, of course, the looming black clouds started to roll in from the west…

The Leaning Tower of Niles, Niles, Illinois

This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. The tower itself is a half-size replica of the real leaning tower in Pisa, Italy, only this one sits in front of a YMCA in a Chicago suburb. Other than the fact that this particular attraction was very interesting to look at, what made this stop so special was our encounter with the polite Asian tourists with whom we struck up some lovely conversation. After a short period of time, the head of the Mongolian crew asked if Kyle, Ed, and myself would join them in their picture to help prove to all of their friends that they actually WERE in America. The guy said something about our blue eyes. I felt so used. It was neat.

We finished the lovely picture shoot with the more-than-cordial Mongolians, who threw up peace signs in every single one of the pictures, and the head of the Asian crew shook our hands and bid us adieu. He said to us (and I kid you not): “Drive safety!”

We all agreed that he needs to be more carefully next time he speaks his Engrish. Good times.

The First Franchised McDonald’s, Des Plaines, Illinois

For boasting itself as a tourist attraction, this place sure did suck. This definitely was the location of Ray Kroc’s first McDonald’s, but they tore it down and built a new one over the old lot. Realizing people’s need for history, they built a replica of the original building across the street, which now serves as one of the crappiest “museums” in the world. It wasn’t even open, so we just had to wander around the outside of the structure and make due with what was available for gendering there. Inside the store window, where patrons would order their 15-cent cheeseburgers, stand two generic store mannequins wearing old McD’s garb and rusty spatulas. Even the 50s-style cars in front of the place were covered up. We were done with that place relatively quickly. It made a pretty decent photo opportunity, but the good FOOD was found a couple blocks south, where we finally ate dinner.

Choo-Choo’s, Des Plains, Illinois

Our last stop of the night, we had to hope that Choo-Choo’s would be a good one, and it definitely ended up being just that, even though the average age of the customer in said restaurant was about three. It’d be a miracle if 5 people in the whole building were potty-trained. This fact aside, the food was absolutely great (I had a burger and a shake—both were excellent), and the DELIVERY was spectacular. You see, the food comes out on a train! It travels right to your spot at the table and stops. It was excellent, despite the two maddeningly-annoying birthday songs that were blared over the speakers. I’d go back, and I recommend the place to anyone planning on stopping by the area. It totally justified us driving the extra time to visit the McSucko’s museum.

Kyle’s Apartment, Chicago, Illinois

After dinner, we definitely had to endure some rush hour traffic, but we persevered and finally made it back to Kyle’s temporarily air conditioned apartment on the north side of the Chi. We discussed the first day of our trip, drank a few beers, and enjoyed the premier of “So You Think You Can Dance,” which of course proved entertaining. Everything was going well until we entertained a visit from Kyle’s landlord…

Apparently, the busted-ass air conditioner in his place was leaking water onto the floor and thereby causing ceiling collapse in the apartment directly below. Because of this little problem, the landlord totally cut off the AC in the whole apartment to prevent this from further damaging his building. It sent us all into desert-heat hallucinations, and my comfort was further squalored by the LEATHER couch I was left to sleep upon. It was an uneasy slumber for me that night, if one can even call it that, but we survived and got enough sleep for the next day’s worth of activities. With all the crazy places on tomorrow’s menu, we were going to need the rest.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Today

Today was my birthday, and that being the case (along with some other outside stimuli), I wrote a song about enjoying my life. It's actually about everyone enjoying their own lives. It's getting late and I'm getting tired, so I don't want to write much, I just want to post and let you guys hopefully enjoy the song!

"Today"

I woke up this morning, smilin... had a great day.
Realized that the world is too caught up in negativity.
I'm 23 years old, and I refuse to be upset.
There's too much good that's happenin to me to be depressed...

So I find the silver line
In every black cloud.
Thank every lucky star
And scream out loud...

Today--is a birthday for somebody
we should have a party
Today--somebody drank their first Hennesey
and lost their virginity
Today--somebody's havin a baby
and maybe gettin married
So don't complain,
cuz life's okay... Today.

I'm optimistic, I tell too many jokes.
I'm a glass-half-full asshole kind of bloke.
My only other option's to embrace
A wrinkled forehead and angry face.

So I find the silver line
In every black cloud.
Thank every lucky star
And scream out loud...

Today--is a birthday for somebody
we should have a party
Today--somebody drank their first Hennesey
and lost their virginity
Today--somebody's havin a baby
and maybe gettin married
So don't complain,
cuz life's okay... Today.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Best of Forgotten Television, Series Finale

In the days since the 9th of March, in the year of our Lord, 2005, much has occurred that has kept me from posting the third and final entry to my “Best of Forgotten Television” series. I have done the following: written final examinations, administered final examinations, graded final examinations, worked with two different failing seniors who needed my class in order to graduate, re-negotiated my yearbook publishing contract (in a drawn-out and somewhat ugly process), completely overhauled my apartment whilst cleaning it along the way, bought a new car, got all the insurance issues in line, and been to Chicago to Bloomington to Chebanse JUST to get a new couch for free (those of you that know of my OLD couch, it was kind of the sofa equivalent of an old, wet dog; it gave me a lot of good times, and it was hard to put her down, but in the end it was just time). So, blog updatation has unfortunately been quite a long way down on the list of priorities for me. All of that said, let’s get on to what many of you have been harassing me about for well over a month now…

1. Roseanne

This is FAR from the greatest sitcom of my youth, but as far as finales are concerned, it showed the most creativity while avoiding cliche and still providing a sense of closure. Actually, as a kid, I didn’t really understand this show. My family structure more closely imitated that of Full House (keep reading for more on that show), so the anarchy and white-trashedness of Roseanne didn’t appeal to me in the same way as some of the more bubble gum sitcoms did. However, now that I’m older I can fully appreciate the crass, crude humor of the Connor family.

The show had a few defining moments (Dan’s heart attack, the family winning the lottery) that showed up again in the finale, and were explained a little more fully, putting some interesting retroactive recollections into play. In the last episode, we find Roseanne alone in her house (same structure as in all the previous episodes, but furnished differently), and it is revealed that the entire series has been Roseanne’s autobiographical/semi-fictional take on her own life. Everything that happened in the show was a product of Roseanne Connor’s typewriter. This twist would’ve made the final episode interesting enough, except…

Roseanne’s character altered the story to make it either more utopian in her own mind or to make it more interesting fiction. For example, the Connor girls in the “story” each dated the others boyfriend. Becky dated curly-haired David and Darlene dated the leather-jacket clad Mark (the second Becky, by the way—the one who’s on “Scrubs” now—was incredibly hot. Worth noting). These couples were obviously a lot more suited for each other, and there was even an episode where David and Becky showed romantic interested for each other. Also, Jackie was actually a lesbian, which explains her constant man problems and failure to ever marry one. DJ also turned out to be gay, but everyone saw that one coming (“When I say gay, I don’t mean in the homosexual way; I mean, ya know… the kind that’s bad at sports” –Steve Carrell, “The Office”).

In the show, Dan recovered from his big heart attack, but in real life, he didn’t survive it. That’s actually why Roseanne has the family win the lottery. Her own life went downhill after Dan’s death, so she used the money to severely fictionalize her life from there on out. Personally, I always thought that the Connors winning the lottery was a huge stretch for the show, but understanding WHY it was written that way completely justifies the decision to include it. The show ends with Roseanne turning off the lights in her basement, where it’s inferred she wrote the entire show, and walks through an empty house. A bit depressing, but completely original and well worth the number one spot.

BONUS FEATURES

The most-watched shows in the Brigham household in the early ‘90s were Full House and Family Matters. Interestingly enough, neither one got a final episode, and both were cut short before the writers were able to provide all the viewers with closure. This saddens me, so I feel it necessary to talk a bit about these two wildly popular shows to wrap up this Best of Forgotten Television column. What better way to finish my OWN series with baby Michelle and Urkel?

Few people know that Family Matters is actually a spin-off of another great Chicago-based sitcom, Perfect Strangers (think Balki Bartokomous and Cousin Larry… “Don’t be ridiculous!” If you missed it, you missed some great ‘80s comedy. Those of you who know Dale Coerper, ask him about Perfect Strangers. The response you get will be comparable to one of the many orgasms he claims to have had via intercourse with hundreds of buxom Latina women). Harriet Winslow was an employee at the same office as Larry, and though Perfect Strangers was great, Family Matters was even better, thanks to one Steven Q. Urkel (the “Q” stands for Quincy, by the way. In case you were wondering).

Actually, Urkel wasn’t part of the permanent plan when they started the show. He was just supposed to make an occasional appearance as a goofball neighbor, but obviously response for the kid was just too high to not make him the star of the show (I bet that pissed off the rest of the cast, eh?). In any event, the show took off pretty quickly, even if the middle daughter’s character didn’t. Jaimee Foxworth aka “Judy” was so upset she was forced into the porn industry. This actually isn’t a joke. She’s goes nakey for money.

The last episode has something to do with Urkel going into outer space and coming back home safely after, of course, severe complications. The show started getting goofier and goofier towards the end, as writers found it wise to clone Urkel to create a permanent Stefan Urquelle for Laura to indulge upon and recasting Harriet (did the original actress seriously think better work was out there for her? Who else could she have played but that character? Hell, even Carl Winslow played a damn cop in “Die Hard.”) It would’ve been nice to see things end on a little more settling note. Urkel did end up marrying Laura, but the show just kept GOING. I guess it would’ve been better for the show to just quit while it was ahead instead of spiraling into fantastic gobbledygook. Still, I look back upon this show and smile fondly.

Fellow TGIF lineup member Full House is probably my favorite cheese-ball sitcom of all time. As kids, my siblings and I would huddle around the warm glow of the television and enjoy 30 great minutes a week of Baby Michelle and her crazy tri-patriarchal parentage. Oh the antics that would ensue!

This was another show that got the axe too quickly. The final episode was actually the one where Michelle fell off the horse and lost her memory. I must’ve seen this episode 3 or 4 times before realizing it was the series finale, and I’ve got to admit that when I found out this was the case, I weeped a silent tear of regret for such things. Interestingly, it wasn’t the plan for the show to end there. God knows popularity and viewership wasn’t the issue. So what was it? John freaking Stamos. The same idiot that cheated on one of the world’s most beautiful women is the same guy that ended one of the greatest family sitcoms of all time (it’s got to be one of the most highly-syndicated shows on TV right now). He just didn’t want to come back for another season. He felt he was getting type-cast into pussy roles, and since he wanted to be much more of a badass (which he OBVIOUSLY was. Quick Paul Barman lyric: “I hate men who are too beautiful and too dutiful with their cuticles”), he quit. If I ever create a “Top Ten Biggest Idiots of All Time” entry for this blog, Stamos is going to be on it somewhere. I’m not sure exactly where he’ll fit amongst such greats as Jerry Krause and Michael Jackson, but rest assured he’ll be there.

I think I would’ve liked to have seen the show end with Becky, Jesse, and the twins finally moving out. Danny needed to get laid, so that would’ve been nice. Joey would need to venture out into the world and really test his talents one last time before he got too old. With DJ in college and Stephanie just about there, Danny wouldn’t need the help anymore. I mean, as the show’s premise dilutes, so should the show itself, right? Another season or two of the Tanners, Mr. Gladstone, and Mr. Consopolis (note: Jesse’s last name was Cochran for the first season, but they made him Greek starting in season 2 to fit better with the storyline and I guess diversify the characters a bit) would have been nice, just to allow things to wrap themselves up.

I say God Bless all of these old shows, for without them, I would’ve been forced to play outside. Today’s television has had some recent bright spots in Everybody Loves Raymond and Friends, but even these aren’t of the same breed as those shows that entertained us all so completely in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Thank you, and have a great night.

**Cue final credits. I stand in front of live studio audience, waving one last time as theme song plays. A single tear rolls down my cheek**

~EL FIN~

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Best of Forgotten Television Pt. 2

***This is the second installment of my “The Best of Forgotten Television” series, which has, ironically enough, most likely been forgotten due to the extended period of time between the first and second parts. However, like many forgotten things worthy of revival, this entry has returned to the forefront of social consciousness and is here to inform and entertain. Enjoy!

3. Boy Meets World

I’m not sure why I fell in love with this show in the first place. I mean, it certainly isn’t my #3 favorite SHOW of all time, just my #3 favorite FINALE. I think it always kind of fascinated me that the show’s star, Ben Savage, is the younger brother of Fred Savage (aka Kevin Arnold of The Wonder Years), the central character of another of my favorite coming-of-age sitcoms. It was about an adolescent boy in love with one girl for his entire life who he ends up marrying even though there were millions of obstacles along the way. "Wait," you say, "Are you talking about Boy Meets World or The Wonder Years? Well, isn't it obvious that I'm doing one of those fun double-entendre things I'm always hearing so much about? The connections between the two shows are uncanny: Both were split pretty evenly between home and school, both had older siblings to make like difficult, and both had one best friend to help them get through all of their problems. The parallels are amazing, but why do I have the younger brother’s finale listed higher than Big Bro’s?

The answer is in the interpreted ending of the show. Like his elder sibling’s Wonder Years, which ends with the phrase, “I’ll always remember the wonder years,” Boy Meets World had a similarly title-specific ending. After years and years of chasing Topanga and dealing with his best friend Shaun’s crazy antics, the show came to a close with Cory, Topanga, and Shaun (and other recently added central characters) in college. Cory is forced to deal with Topanga’s New York graduate school offer. Let’s be serious here; he’s married to the broad and she wants to leave. Well all know that he’s leaving, too. There’s no question about it. He's more whipped than Kunta. But the fallout of this decision is that by moving, he has to abandon his buddies. It turns out that after graduation, they all have plans to go their separate ways as well. So, they make one last trip together to Mr. Feeney’s classroom and say goodbye to their longtime mentor. Then, they all say goodbye to each other.

So far this all sounds pretty magoo, right? We’re expected to shed a tear because Cory Matthews is being taken from his friends. Boo hoo. Romanticism aside, what I liked about this show is its Wonder Years-like interpretation. At the end of the show, Cory heads out into the real world with his wife and the rest of his life ahead of him. Up to this point, he’s had every one of his friends and family to lean on as he finished growing up and maturing. At this point in the show, Cory is living and acting like a man, making a man’s decisions. That’s when we realize the whole point of the show. At the end, Boy really does meet World, only in doing so, he’s no longer a boy. In this last episode, Cory realizes he’s a man, and what better way to end the show than that?

Besides, Man Meets World sounds more like a low-budget porn movie than something that would produce Disney-worthy reruns.

2. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

NBC struck gold with this show, taking a bubble-gum hip-hop artist in Will Smith and grooming him into an international superstar. We’re all aware of the show’s premise, made explicitly clear by one of the greatest theme songs in the History of Everything (I was the first white kid at my mostly-minority grade school to learn all the lyrics. This, for some reason, is a source of great pride for me), and the finale at the end of the sixth season created an extremely satisfying sense of closure for me and for millions of other viewers.

But before I get to the series finale, I think it’s important to note that this show could’ve ended at the conclusion of the 4th or 5th seasons, and I remember never really feeling quite sure whether or not the show would return. For example, at the end of season 4, Will journeys home to his Zion in Philadelphia, a more-than-logical place to end the series. And in season 5, the last episode deals with Will’s and Lisa’s wedding, which Will abandons, even after giving Lisa so much garbage for having cold feet. Again, weddings are typically a common way to end shows.

I recently found out that the reason for ending every season on a semi-final note was because the show's creators and producers feared sudden cancellation at the end of every season since the third one (think “Moesha” and “The Wayans Brothers,” other “successful” black sitcoms shows that were dropped unexpectedly). To avoid an end to the show that didn’t provide closure, the writers scripted finality into seasons 3-5 because they were unsure as to how much longer the show would actually last. It makes sense, right?

However, the closure scripted into the Series finale at the end of the shows sixth year really was conclusive, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the show would be done forever this time. With Will Smith’s movie career taking off, and with the success of his “Big Willy Style” record in 1998, The Fresh Prince simply didn’t have time for the show anymore, so they ended it (consequently: You know that orange “drink” they serve at church functions and elementary school chorus concerts that consists of about 13% orange Kool-Aid mix, 80% water, and 7% human urine? That’s kind of how Will Smith’s new album is; it’s got two or three good songs, and the rest is either watered-down or just complete “waste”).

So with Smith’s desire to leave, the show ended, and to do so they followed a staple in series finales: moving (see #3 and #5 in "The Best of Forgotten Television, by Joel Brigham). The Banks family sold their house to George and Wheezy Jeferson, who made a cameo on the last episode (Author’s note: Sherman Hemsley has the coolest walk EVER). Ashley plans on moving to New York to model, Carlton gets accepted to some Ivy League university, and Will feels like everyone in the house is moving on with their lives—except him. To avoid making them all feel bad, he lies and tells his family that he got a really nice apartment in the area. Of course, he didn’t, and he would prefer to stay put in the huge Bel Air mansion (I probably would’ve sided with him on this one). But, he lets them go anyway, and the show ends with Will hitting the lights in the empty house that millions of people had come to love, but none more than Smith himself.

This show’s finale avoided cliché by adding Will’s inner turmoil about leaving. As if we wouldn’t all be schmaltzy enough that the family was moving out of the house, we also had to deal with the emotional issue of Will NOT wanting to leave. Brilliant writers moved their viewers towards extreme sentimentality, and we all ate it right up. There was even a point in that last episode where Carlton did “The Dance,” which in and of itself brought tears to my eyes (not true)(or maybe it is)(okay, so I cried when Fresh Prince went of the "Air." Get it?)(seriously, I didn't cry). It was nice to include such a popular trademark of the show in that last episode. I hate that it’s gone, but t was an appropriate end to an excellent, excellent show.

***Next Entry: The number ONE finale, and a the dramatic conclusion to “The Best of Forgotten Television!”