Monday, July 07, 2008

Road Trip All-Stars Day 4-5: Louisville & Cincinnati

DAY 4

Louisville Slugger Factory

The next morning, riddled with a hangover that was either beer-related, White Castle-related, or some combination of the two, we packed up and headed to Louisville’s infamous baseball bat factory.

Outside the building lies the world’s biggest baseball bat, unofficially a smokestack, that is even larger in person than you’d imagine. Inside is a little gift shop and a few museum-ish displays, including a collection of baseballs signed by presidents that threw out varied first pitches at season openers. On one entire wall, small pieces of wood bearing players’ names spread across the entire surface, some of which dated back to the early 1900s and all of which used the Louisville Slugger as their bat of choice. Kinda gnarly.

There was a tour, too, but it went the way tours usually go. Nothing life-shattering—this guys does this, another guy does that, no photography allowed—the usual. Perhaps the coolest aspect of our experience there was the machine that threw the ball ninety miles per hour like the pros do. You could literally blink and miss that thing coming at you. When I first walked up to it, not knowing what the display was or what it did, the first pitch made me pee in my underwear, just a little bit. Ridiculous.

And I bought a bat with Amy’s and my name burned into it, which made me feel pretty much as cool as a Barry White-flavored ice cube.

Colonel Sanders’ Grave

In general, I consider GPS to be a pretty handy tool, but it only works when the person operating it actually listens to what the damn machine is telling you to do. For example, when you’re looking for a cemetery, and you see the entrance to a cemetery, even though the GPS tells you it’s not for another 0.3 miles, you shouldn’t pull into that cemetery because it’s probably the wrong one.

The one I decided to direct us into first looked like a setting from that old Snick show “Are You Afraid of the Dark.” Most of the tombstones were bowled over or spray-painted, or even just crooked from soil creep. The mausoleum was more a canvas for urban teens wielding cans of spray paint and possessing the amazing creative ability to draw really awesome 3D bubble letters on buildings and trains and semi trucks.

Needless to say, no creator of Kentucky Fried Chicken would be buried in such a dive. So we exited what may have been the worst graveyard of all time and drove 0.3 miles down the street to what seemed to be a country club for corpses. Huge brick walls all around the grounds, tombstones two or three stories high made from pure marble or diamonds, and even a security guard. How many cemeteries have you been to where a security guard keeps watch at the gate?

In any event, he told us exactly how to find the Colonel’s grave, and it was okay. He died a while ago after inventing chicken. Check that attraction off the log. Next stop, please.

Churchill Downs

If we had the time we would’ve gotten the full tour of the country’s most famous race track, but cheap booze and tiny hamburgers forced us into an extra ninety minutes of sleep, and therefore kept us from getting the full Churchill Downs experience. We did, however, wander around the outside a little bit and snap a few pictures of the famous twin spires, but that was about it. It would’ve been cool to get a little more intimate with the facility, but road trips don’t allow time for doing everything. Clearly, visiting the Kentucky Fried Gravesite was more important.

Kaelin’s Restaurant, the Birthplace of the Cheeseburger

Craig threw a fit because he thought this place actually invented the entire cheeseburger, but I had to school him on the truth. Kaelin’s in Louisville didn’t invent the entire cheeseburger; they invented the cheese.

Actually, they didn’t really invent cheese, either. That’s been around since at least the 1860’s—the days of George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte. No, the thing that put Kaelin’s on the map was their decision to add cheese to the already-popular hamburger. The golden, American slice would melt onto charred and smoked beef patty, dripping into the meat nooks on the top of the burger. Clearly it was a big hit, otherwise that catchy little Big Mac jingle would be totally different:

Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.

See how lame that is? American fat people just wouldn’t be the same without Kaelin’s clearly essential contribution to burger history. Do you think Craig would’ve complained if we went to the place that decided to add barbecue sauce to the ribs? Absolutely not. This is why I’m like 90% sure Craig is racist against cheeseburgers.

Wild Turkey Distillery

When we first pulled up to the distillery we thought it was a condemned prison. I’m not saying this for the sake of comedy; it’s true. We genuinely thought the buildings where we later found out whiskey was stored to age were old prison buildings.

As for the rest of the neighborhood? Cue “Dueling Banjos.” Sullen trees, crumbling buildings, and hordes of whistling cicadas. At the last the people there were nice—they spoke in a lovely Kentucky drawl and laughed about as loud as anyone I’ve ever met—and the tour was about as hands-on as any alcohol-related exploration we’ve undergone over the years. Despite being way too long and way too hot, we at least got to get up close to the mash tanks and see every nook of the premises. Despite being really, really old it was at least photogenic.

Honestly, the most fun we had while we were there was filming the intro for our road trip video, which was a spoof of those Jack Daniels commercials where the guys work really hard and sweat in sepia tones while saying things like, “We’re real Americans, working hard for a common goal like whiskey or whatever.”

It was awesome. I felt like a bald eagle.

The Great American Ballpark

Officially, this was ballpark number eight for Kyle and I (only 22 to go!), and I’ve got to say I rather enjoyed the experience. The food was pretty good compared to some of the parks I’ve been to, but that’s mostly due to the fact that Skyline Chili was served there. The facilities were great, and we were lucky enough to show up on a night when the park was pretty much packed so we could get a sense of what life at the park is like on a happenin’ evening.

One thing I did notice was that the patronage in Cincinnati was probably the whitest I’ve ever seen. St. Louis is usually pretty packed with white folks, but Cinci may have held a slight edge. Maybe I’m just used to games on the Southside of Chicago, where the fans are a veritable racial rainbow, but I’m not kidding you when I say other than the people on the field, I didn’t see a single person of color in the entire place. We’ve come a long way from Memphis, Tennessee, ladies and gentlemen.

As for the game itself, the away team was the Cardinals, which I have some gear for thanks to my loving Cardinal fan fiancĂ© (soon to be wife, actually), so Craig and I went bonkers rooting for the away team. It was more fun than I even imagined, having people yell “Shut up!” and “Sit down!” from all directions. I absolutely recommend it to any real baseball fan—go see an away game and root like you were at home.

DAY 5

Kings Island Amusement Park

After the great success we had with Cedar Point in the ’05 Trip, we thought we’d hit up another classic Ohio theme park staple by visiting Kings Island. It was, as they say, a huge mistake.

I wouldn’t call this place an “Amusement Park;” I’d call it a “Painful Park of Death of Minor Concussions and Giant Cicadas Everywhere,” because that’s essentially what it was. The big attractions here were the wooden coasters, Beast and Son of Beast, both of which damn near popped my cranium right off of my spine like a dandelion head off the stem. I hate wooden roller coasters the way Gargamel hates the Smurfs.

The park got a few gold stars for effort, especially in regard to a coaster in which you lie down on your back, but for the most part it was us paying $30 a piece for massive headaches and some slight vertigo. Where Cedar Point was like the best coaster experience of my life, Kings Island couldn’t have been much better than childbirth.

Conclusion

Many people have asked me if this will be my final road trip since I’m getting married this summer. My question in return is, what kind of person do you think Amy is? She and I have some vacations of our own planned out, specifically Jamaica this summer for our honeymoon, and then Boston and Italy in the years to come. As long as she and I are doing traveling of our own, she has no problem with Kyle and I escorting a friend or three on a weeklong journey of occasional male idiocy on the back roads of the grand ol’ U-S-of-A.

There’s so much more to see, and these road trips really are becoming a big part of me. It’s one of the best parts of my summers in my opinion. Plus, in my gigantic arrogant head I assume that all of you out there actually enjoy reading these things. So if I do more trips, everybody wins.

Plus, ya know, 22 ball parks to go.

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