The Best Non-Required Christmas Letter 2009 (Narcissistic Edition)

Let’s be clear, this letter is all about me, me, me. There’s no need to deny it or pretend otherwise. This is my chance to brag about what I’ve done, what I know, and how awesome I truly am. It’s where I yell “LOOK MA!” as I hit that bulging hornet’s nest with a big stick. In other words, I speak before I think. And I never expect to get stung.

But since this is after all, the season of giving, I’m willing to cut you in on my conceit. At least once a year, I’m willing to take the focus slightly off me, and give you some attention as well. I’m sure you deserve it. So if you send me your ‘me, me, me’ letters, I will read them (as far as you know). I’m also willing to go a step further and thank you for your attention now, even if, deservedly, it lasts but briefly. So, I am humbled by those that read every word of this letter, grateful to those that skim through it (looking for juicy parts), and wholly forgiving of those that press delete before opening it (even though they won’t know it). Let’s get started.

2009 was a year. Profound. But what type of year was it?

Was it an up year? Or a down year?

Was it a smack you in the face year? Was it a lay quietly in your snuggie in front of the TV year? Was it a throw down your top and drive off into the sunset year?

Did it make you laugh? Did you make you cry? Did it make you sing karaoke against your will? Did it throw caution to the wind? Did it excel in every way?

Who cares. 2009 was what it was. Don’t over think it. Let’s pause here to look at a few of the non-required highlights.

Breweries – Let’s all shout an ode to beer, the joyous liquid. In my questionable wisdom, I made a point to check out a barrel-full of beer making places. In Maryland, the District of Columbia, Ohio, Michigan and Washington. The real question is, why am I writing this drivel instead of sitting at the local brewpub? Hmmm, this letter may end up shorter than usual…see ya!

London, England – Okay, I’m still here. You lucked out. I’ve been to London a number of times over the past few years, but this was the first time I’ve stayed on the East side, in the Shoreditch district. Nearby is Brick Lane, with its overabundance of tasty Bengali Indian cuisine and curry restaurants. Conveniently, the 2nd Annual Stag & Dagger music festival thumped on the first night we arrived. 100 bands in 20 venues, all within spitting distance of the hotel. Of course, we also had to lay waste to messy shwarmas and salt beef bagels (liberally slathered in sinus clearing mustard) sold in the late night walk-up stands. And we drank caipirinha from fishbowls for good measure. Somehow we also managed to visit the Westminster Abbey and Winston Churchill’s Cabinet War Room (the underground command bunkers during World War II).

Baseball – In my quest to see a baseball game in every Major League stadium, I added three new stadiums in 2009, in Cincinnati, Detroit and Cleveland. Each stadium had its own charm (like gigantic tiger statues in Comerica Park). In two of the games my team, the Seattle Mariners, lost badly. Crap. The M’s lone highlight was Ken Griffey, Jr jacking a solo homerun. Also on the agenda was watching the ground crew making the field playable after a rain delay, feasting on hot dogs, and other impressive things. Next year…maybe a visit to Chicago?

Leavenworth (Washington state, USA) – It’s a small Bavarian village on the other side of the Cascades. A good place to enjoy Oktoberfest, a bit of bratwurst, the fall foliage, and visit a few vineyards and wine tasting rooms.

Books – Instead of this letter, please read “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson and “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Paphos, Cyprus – First, rent a car in Larnaca. Second, learn to drive on the wrong (left) side of the road. Third, enjoy. We took a leisurely drive from Larnaca to Paphos, through a few quaint villages along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. We sat on the waterfront and enjoyed a lunch infused with seafood and beer. Then we drove around with no particular destination and no goal. Scenic and refreshing.

Icicle Ridge Winery – Not to be outdone by its sudsier cousin (our good friend beer), I also managed to raise my pinky finger during tastings at 13 different wineries in Northern Virginia and Washington state. Yes, that’s right. I may now qualify as something of an expert wino, even though I retained none of the possible knowledge that I could have attained. Icicle Ridge Winery (WA) was the best of the lot, with a free tasting (11 wines!) and a great setting. Also good were Village Winery and Vineyards (VA) and Chrysalis Vineyards (VA).

Music – I rocked out to a load of concerts (18), listened to a few dozen new albums and used my airline miles to buy a new iPod Touch to keep them all at my fingertips. Of the concerts, I enjoyed Green Day and Chris Cornell. The Barack Obama inauguration concert with a ‘yes we can’ variety of artists on the National Mall was also worth noting. Garth Brooks played three songs and proved why he is still a great entertainer. Of the albums, I enjoyed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘It’s Blitz! and Pearl Jam ‘Backspacer’.

Road Trip (Ohio and Michigan, USA) – Traveling a hefty 2,197 miles through the states of Ohio and Michigan, with your wiener dog as a co-pilot, while blaring CDs over and over, is a fine way to spend a week or so. I managed to attend some ball games, nosh good food, sip some beer, take in a few sights and generally make a nuisance of myself. Especially interesting were slipping about the University of Michigan campus, gaining potential music knowledge at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (none retained), and sifting sand between my toes along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Hiking – I’ve been missing out on hiking over the past few years, mostly because I’d be off traveling or because I’m just flat lazy. So one of my 2009 New Year’s resolutions was to do more day hikes. And lo! I succeeded! I joined the local Capital Hiking Club and managed to trek about Virginia and Pennsylvania. I also did a hike in Washington making about 12 day hikes in all. A majority of the hikes were along portions of the Appalachian Trail that runs from Maine to Georgia. One day I might have to tackle that whole beast.

US Open Cup Championship (soccer) game (Washington, D.C., USA) – The expansion Major League Soccer team, Seattle Sounders FC, enjoyed a fine first year of existence. They played well, made the playoffs, and broke multiple attendance records. Additionally, all US soccer teams at all levels of play participate in an annual domestic tournament called the US Open Cup. The Sounders advanced to the championship game against DC United and pulled out an incredible victory on DC’s home pitch. We came adorned in blue and green to witness an energetic game and proved that US soccer fans can have a bit of passion for the game. Case in point, over 100 Sounders fans traveled all the way from Seattle to attend the game, while singing songs and shouting like only hooligans can. Oy! Now bring on the World Cup!

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia, USA) – Whether is was camping in the rain or hiking among trillium flowers or standing still to escape notice of that bear or swimming underneath freezing waterfalls or pausing dramatically to allow that rattlesnake to get the heck out of my way or scrambling over rock formations to see the incredible view, I spent a good amount of time in Shenandoah National Park. Thought you should know.

Television – Surprisingly there are quite a number of decent new shows to look out for, including Community and FlashForward. Others to either keep watching or start watching at all cost are:  Fringe, Dexter and Lost.

Truck Bed Sledding – If you think that using a black inner tube or a regular sled are the correct ways to careen crazily downhill, then you are wrong. The actual correct way is to find a cast-off truck bed liner in the woods, pull it to the top of a precipitous drop and then on the count of three, have six or so screaming diehards jump in and hold on for dear life. Sanity and medical insurance not included.

Tower of London (London, England) – The Tower is a sprawling fortress bursting with historical intrigue, death and Beefeaters. It consists of 20 total towers, with the largest, the White Tower as the most famous. Our Beefeater gave us a rousing tour of the grounds and told of horrific beheadings, disappearing young princes whose bodies turned up hundreds of years later in the tower wall, wars, and crazy kings. Basically the history of England could almost be summed up within these walls.

Kruger Park (South Africa) – If you like near death lions, lithely trotting leopards, angrily charging elephants, curious rhinos, trapped in your room bats, baby giraffes extending their necks for food, muddy snorting hippopotamus’, racing zebras, suspicious buffaloes, bashful bushbucks and more impalas then you can shake a stick at, then you’d do well to book a three-day safari through Kruger Park. If you like breathtaking sunrises, curious rock formations, sparse forests, post-wildfire plains, high bluffs with views forever, gigantic baobab trees, dusty scrub brush, flowing rivers, darkness illuminated with spotlights, and an occasional camp or lodge in the distance, then drive around in your white 4-wheel drive for hours on end. If none of this appeals you? All the more for me.

peace and merriment to you and yours

View the Wordle version:

Reds, Tigers and Indians

Part 3 of 3

This, luckily for you, is the final entry in my road trip trilogy of terror. Finally, we get to the root cause of why I roadtripped to begin with…baseball! Hold on for a short treatise on the highs and lows of each Major League stadium I sauntered through like a deluded dignitary. I suggest you pause now to get a hotdog and a beer. If you pause long enough, you may even escape reading this.

Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati, Ohio) – Home of the Reds


  • A great view of the bridges spanning the Ohio River that link Cincy to Kentucky and the quaint town of Newport.
  • The Washington Nationals were in town and they won 5-4. Which doesn’t happen very often…
  • I inhaled a tiny Coney hotdog. It was satisfying for 4.5 seconds.


  • At the 4.6 second mark, I was still hungry.
  • The confusing number of mascots. One is almost too many, but four? Gapper (looks like a retarded, red Phillies Phanatic), Mr. Red (looks like a spastic baseball headed Mr. Met), Mr. Redlegs (a mustached baseball head, which tells you all you need to know) and Rosie Red (because otherwise there’d be too many dudes).


Comerica Park (Detroit, Michigan) – Home of the Tigers


  • Tigers! Everywhere there are tigers! To say that Detroit doesn’t like its team name is to fly in the face of numerous tiger statues and leering tiger heads looking down from every direction. Very impressive.
  • A ferris wheel and other rides for the kiddies.
  • The home team scored two runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to win in dramatic fashion.
  • First a torrential downpour, then a rain delay, and then the clearing of the infield tarp and then the crew drying and making the infield playable again. How often do you get to see that? Kinda cool.


  • A 45 minute rain delay, there is such a thing as waiting too long.
  • David Aardsma gave up two runs in the bottom of the 9th inning and the Seattle Mariners lost in traumatic fashion. (errrgg!!!!!!)
  • The Detroit skyline had the least interesting view of all the stadiums but it was smack dab in the middle of the city, in a relatively nice area.


Progressive Field (Cleveland, Ohio) – Home of the Indians


  • Ken Griffey Jr. (Seattle Mariners) hits a homerun!
  • The view of the city skyline is picturesque.
  • Heritage Park is the home of the Indian’s Hall of Fame, split into two sections; those players that are actually in the official Major League Baseball Hall of Fame (in Cooperstown, NY),and those that are only good enough to make the team’s Hall of Fame. It was historical.
  • A perfectly positioned food court and bar, behind center field, that allows one to enjoy the game, a brew and an italian sausage all at once. Brilliant.


  • Felix Hernandez pitches terribly and the Mariners lose again, 6-1.
  • There is a race during the game with the mascots Ketchup, Mustard and Onion. Original. Their kid-friendly mascot is Slider (which looks like Barney the Dinosaur on crack).
  • There was a cool looking cemetary across the street, so after the game I went out and strolled through like the locals. Then I became terribly lost, and could not remember the street I was parked on, nor the name of the parking garage. 30 minutes of random city exploring later, I roared out of the parking garage just as it started to rain. Booyah!


Verdict: Originally, I was going to give Comerica Park the edge as the best of the three (those tiger statues!), but Progressive Field (originally called Jacob’s Field until 2008) was among the first of the new wave of retro stadiums built, and it just grows on you the more you think about it.

Also see:

The Lake Erie Monster and an Old Leghumper

Part 2 of 3

Here we explore some of the beer offerings I encountered on my road trip. Buckle up and put on a raincoat, this is about to get sudsy.

Tremont Taphouse (Cleveland, OH) – with 24 beers on tap and around 80 bottle selections, this small taphouse/restaurant would be my favorite place to hang out if I lived in Cleveland. Slightly out of the way in the Tremont district, it had cute bartenders and a neighborhoody, local vibe. They don’t brew their own, but at the time they were showcasing the Flying Dog Brewery now located in Maryland. Best Beer I had: The Old Leghumper – a porter from the Thirsty Dog Brewing Company in Ohio, with the motto ‘so many legs, so little time’. I agree.

Atwater Block Brewery (Detroit, MI) – this is a good little brewpub not far from Comerica Park on the Detroit River, in an area that doesn’t seem to get much traffic. Which is unfortunate, because it had a very congenial atmosphere with friendly staff. They win extra points for the bold sign out front “Beer is Good”. Indeed. Best Beer I had: Michigan Amber

Great Lakes Brewery (Cleveland, OH) – a lively brewpub where the tasters and the pint I ordered, were…well who can remember? Seems hazy…  Best Beer I had: Lake Erie Monster– at 9.0% ABV this double IPA beast really smacks you upside the head. So potent they only give you half a taster.

McNulty’s Bier Markt (Cleveland, OH) – with around 100 beer options, this Ohio City district bar fancies itself as a Belgian Beer Bar. And rightly so, that’s about the only kind of beer available. Dark, cozy, with easy on the eyes bartenders, if you’re looking to sip a Belgian pint, this is your destination. Best Beer I had: Dilirium Tremens

Hofbräuhaus (Newport, KY) – a boisterous place that everyone in Cincinnati and Kentucky must go to, with a huge patio and live music inside, you are left to find your own seat in the multitude of picnic style tables. Once seated, you order a mammoth, gut-busting liter of beer. Then you order a sampling of Wursts, including mettwurst, bierwurst and bratwurst. Best Beer I had: In fact, the only beer I had was the Hofbräu Dunkel, Munich’s favorite beer. Another would have ended this trip early.

Grizzly Peak Brewing Company (Ann Arbor, MI) – a good place for the University of Michigan students to hang out, debate their love of Ohio State, talk politics, and hoist some serious pints. Best Beer I had: Bear Paw Porter

Arbor Brewing Company (Ann Arbor, MI) – another U of M brewpub across the street from Grizzly Peak, that can claim decent beers and good fish tacos. Best Beer I had: Red Snapper Special Bitter

Saugatuck Brewing Company (Saugatuck, MI) – located just outside a small seaside (lakeside?) town of the same name on Lake Michigan, it reminds one of an old community center turned into a brewpub with the eating part called The Lucky Stone Pub. We arrived on quiz night, but found the questions far too easy so didn’t participate. Best Beer I had: Vanilla Nutmeg Oatmeal Stout – it just sounds tasty, and it was.


2197 Miles for Rock and Roll and a Hot Three Way

Part 1 of 3

When in the course of random events, it becomes necessary for someone to embark on a road trip, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind require that said someone should declare the highlights of said road trip in writing.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men need vacation, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are attending baseball games, drinking beer and the pursuit of hot chicks. That to secure these rights, Road Trips are instituted among Men, driving their full power from the consent of the driven, and blah, blah, blah.

As is my every right, I instituted a road trip through the states of Ohio and Michigan. What did I hope to achieve? A fine question.

First and foremost, to see Major League baseball games in three cities. Second and segundo, to imbibe as much of the local beer offerings as could be reasonably stomached. More on those in later posts.

With only three games to attend over 10 days and an inability to drink beer ALL the time, I needed something else to keep me busy. So here is a sampling of the more interesting sights and tastes during this ‘epic’ 2,197 mile road trip.

Cincinnati, Ohio

Three-Way Chile
Three-Way Chile

Cincinnati chili – two fluorescent yellow dishes were placed before me at Skyline Chili. As I contemplated the larger dish, a strange assortment of mile high grated cheddar cheese, spaghetti noodles and the famous Cincinnati chili (a thin meaty sauce with cinnamon) known as a Three-Way, I mildly wondered how such a thing could come to pass. The smaller dish, a tiny hot dog slathered in the same chili and grated cheese known as a Coney, seemed almost reasonable in comparison. Enterprising immigrants brought this chili recipe to Cincy and it took off with a vengeance. You can add additional ingredients, like beans and/or jalapenos, to get a Four-Way or a Five-Way. Warranty not valid if you try too many more Ways. Worth eating? Sure, but don’t stare at it too long!

Northside – a small, trendy little neighborhood with a few restaurants and pubs. I peeked into a funky little coffee shop called Sidewinder for a read and a mocha then devoured an excellent sandwich at Melt, which has been voted the best sandwiches and best vegetarian food in Cincy for two years running.

Spring Grove
Spring Grove


Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum – a sprawling mix of huge grave stones, winding roadways, ponds, vaults, mausoleums, and statues that turned out to be a pleasant setting to drive around (and get lost in).



Newport, Kentucky – just across the Ohio River sits Newport, almost as an extension of Cincinnati. With numerous restaurants and bars with live music, its a fine place to spend an evening. A huge shopping centre across the street and some sort of annual seafood festival along the river made for an interesting afternoon as well.

Ann Arbor and Michigan

Ottawa Beach
Ottawa Beach

Lake Michiganit’s big, let’s put it that way. Like an ocean. Get out a map of the US if you don’t believe me. A 3-1/2 hour drive from Ann Arbor to walk along Ottawa Beach (surprisingly big in its own way) and to stroll through the small, quaint town of Saugatuck is a perfectly good way to get some sun.


Carrot cake a small restaurant en route to Lake Michigan claimed to have The’ Carrot Cake. The cake was certainly good, maybe even The’ worthy, but the frosting I could eat all day.

U of M Arboretum
U of M Arboretum

University of Michigan Campus sadly class was not in session, but Ann Arbor has a small town feel with the U of M campus as the centerpiece. Beautiful landscape, unique architecture, a fine business district with good food and drink and an idylic Arboretum with a river running through it, almost made me not reminisce about the time that the University of Washington football team crushed Michigan in the 1992 Rose Bowl. Almost.

Zingerman’s Delicatessen – it took a couple mile bike ride, zipping through Ann Arbor traffic, to arrive at a ‘packed’ sandwich and cheese shop. This popular destination with the locals, though pricey, is a worthwhile lunch spot. The setting includes the main building and a large coffee house, with a huge courtyard in between. You order (after waiting in a long line), get in another line to pay, go find a seat, then the servers come outside with a tray piled high yelling your name as you wait eagerly in the courtyard. Of course, my friend had to put our name in as “Beyoncé”…

Cleveland, Ohio

Stuffed Cabbage and Pierogies
Stuffed Cabbage and Pierogies

Sokolowski’s University Inn– this gets a shout out in all the guide books and even Anthony Bourdain went there for No Reservations, so why not find out what all the fuss is about? It’s a small, family-owned and run restaurant in the Tremont neighborhood that serves Eastern European food cafeteria-style. Stand in line, grab your dessert, pick up a bottle of beer (or pour a fountain drink, but why?), then order your food from the myriad of steaming options. Stuffed cabbage and pierogies! Tasty!

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum – yes, this is in Cleveland. Yes, it’s filled with memorabilia and facts and music and history and everything you could want to know about Rock and Roll. Especially interesting were the Jimi Hendrix collection and the displays showing the music scenes in different cities for different decades. Seattle in the 90’s display right next to London and New York display in the 70’s and 80’s!

Case Western Reserve U.
Case Western Reserve University

Case Western Reserve University – a small research university just outside downtown Cleveland (about 10,000 students), this has a surprisingly picturesque campus and boasts the Cleveland Botanical Gardens nearby if you’re inclined to check it out. I wasn’t. The campus was enough for me.



Warehouse District – where all the Clevelanders seem to hang out on a Saturday night. Aside from being crowded with people, restaurants, bars and clubs, I liked that there was a restaurant called the Nauti Mermaid…I’m easy to please.

to be continued…