Circus Mexicus: Day 2

So I’m doing these out of order, sue me. I’m a busy man. *sucks straw*.

Phoenix stop on Diners, Drive-Ins and DivesSo the long awaited day 2. This would be our baseball day, one of the two real reasons behind the trip in the first place. Most of you likely know I seek a new MLB park to see a game in every year as part of my goal to see all of them before I head to the great beyond. This day would start with a trip into the downtown Phoenix area to fulfill another of my many travel-related hobbies: food at a stop from “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” This one would be Matt’s Big Breakfast, home of the breakfast pork chop and the “paid retail” thick-cut bacon. I need to tell you a couple things about this place, if your search for it brings you here. First, it’s very small. Because of this the lineup is very long. In fact, we’d wait over an hour outside for our chance to stride to the counter and try a breakfast. That said, once we finally arrived it didn’t disappoint. The wait staff were awesome and the food was delivered quickly and tasted great. And given the lineups the prices aren’t unreasonable, not sure I’d have the same constraint if I were in that position.

Former Toronto Blue Jay knuckleballerFrom there we did a slow tour through downtown, snapping pics of whatever we could find, until we finally found ourselves outside Chase Field. We signed on for a tour of the facilities, something I’ve actually never done at a ballpark before. Thinking about a tour of Chase Field? Comes highly recommended by yours truly. It was tons of fun to see the passion of the staff and the attention to detail by those who manage it. There’s a legitimate love not only of the Dbacks and the game, but of entertaining the fans that attend the games. Nothing but the field level itself seems off limits, up to and including press boxes and the dugout (where, yes, I satisfied the oft-discussed “basic ball shift” life list item). Here’s where things get fun.

So I hope I’m not blowing the secret if I note that a friend of OA, KP Wee, is currently involved in a book project surrounding former Toronto Blue Jays knuckleballer, Tom Candiotti. Tom is currently employed as a broadcaster for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and I had offered up mine and Paul’s services to KP earlier in the year should he require photos for the project. KP indicated that, indeed, photos could come in handy, and he put me in touch with Tom. I had been texting him throughout the day to ensure things were still on schedule, and indeed at 5pm Paul and I hit the lobby of Chase Field to meet and greet Tom and be escorted into the back halls of Chase to the press boxes. Paul, with his good photographic eye and solid equipment, proceeded to snap a large number of shots ranging from the press box to field level. The whole process took less than an hour, we shook hands with Tom and he was off to the night job whilst we took our seats to take in the Dbacks vs. Cardinals game.

Chase Field tamale.Sidenote on baseball stadiums: Rogers Centre sucks. Hard. Having now been to Fenway Park (2007), Progressive Field (2008), US Cellular Field (2009), Wrigley Field (2009) and Chase Field (2010) I have come to see exactly what makes a good park. Things like sightlines, seats, atmosphere, amenities, food and drink. Chase was happy to fill us in that each seat was redirected towards home plate, discussed their luxury “pool” box, HD screen, and even focused on foodservice things like fresh tamales, tequila on tap and craft beer pavilions. Enjoying a tamale with a bomber of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in my seat facing home plate only reinforces that Toronto, truly, doesn’t yet have a baseball stadium. It’d be nice to see it happen some day.


Circus Mexicus: Day 5

I know I’m late and I know I owe a day 2. I’m saving day 2 for last, it was the sweetest day. But skipping ahead to the end I’m clearly home and back at work so all things ended well. But for the sake of those contemplating Arizona/Mexico trips in the future I soldier on.

Day 5 was our road day, when we’d escape Rocky Point (sadly) and make our way to Tucson before closing off in Phoenix. Day 6 would be a full day of flying due to time changes and drives so this was effectively it. One item missing from my goals was an authentic huevos rancheros, a Mexican breakfast roughly consisting of fried corn tortillas under hard fried eggs and topped with plenty of a tomato and chile sauce on top. On the side, some beans and fresh tortillas. We decided to take a chance and stop at a breakfast place we’d seen the night before called Rosy’s, and inside were met with a largely Spanish speaking audience who seemed to be skeptical of the two gringos. I’m not sure their suspicion was alleviated at all by Paul’s efforts to have a side of margarita with his breakfast. That said, it was incredibly delicious and just what I’d hoped for before hitting the road.

The route home saw a few stops as I’m a big proponent of “make the journey as good as the destination”, but perhaps none more key than a roadside miniature chapel I’d found online before our trip. We stopped to snap some pictures of the chapel and the nearby surroundings, then headed inside to light a candle in memory of our catcus-loving/growing grandfather who passed away last year. It was a good moment and we were back off again. The trip over the border was relatively uneventful with, again, two dudes with guitars having spent a few days in Mexico apparently no cause for concern to any border officials, be they Mexican, Canadian or American. Once across it was off to Why, Arizona where the trip shifted to an eastward haul along the border to Tucson.

So here’s the thing – Arizona has an illegal immigration problem. And by immigration I mean they just run in and hide amongst the cacti. Without getting political (because Lord knows I don’t like to do that) I’m going to say those of you whining about Arizona’s new laws likely have no idea what you’re talking about, and all I’ll do is encourage you to actually do some research. Suffice it to say we crossed paths with no fewer than 25 border guards during the couple hour drive, they were everywhere. Now, arriving in Tucson our first stop was 1702 Pizza + Beer, a place known for oversized slices of pizza and 52 awesome draught taps. They did not disappoint. I had a simple cheese slice with chorizo and, as driver, three samples of some awesome stouts: Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, Avery The Czar and Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence. Paul, bless his soul, did his best to conquer a well-packed calzone with a Titan IPA followed by samples of Dogfish Head Burton Baton, Coronado Idiot IPA and Green Flash Imperial IPA. While he was unable to finish the beast of a calzone he was congratulated by the owner of the establishment for having come about as far as anyone ever has, quite the accomplishment.

From there it was to the PIMA Air & Space Museum, who had assured me on their Facebook page they toured until 4pm. However, we arrived at 3:30 to be told there were no more tours. Bit of a tick-off. We drove around the boneyard and got a chance to see some of the planes, but we’d really hoped to see it. It was back to Phoenix from there to stop at the Heart Attack Grill for a milkshake.

We sat down, the “nurse” threw hospital gowns on us and asked us for our order. We ordered shakes and were told they don’t serve shakes. Yet another lying website! So we went for the gusto and ordered Bypass Burgers; the single version, despite the profane taunting of our “nurse”. For those unaware the only things they serve here are 1/2-lb burgers in increments up to four patties, bottomless fries fried in trans fat, colas, beers and unfiltered cigarettes. Now, to be clear, these burgers are disgusting. They’re fatty and nasty and the bun was smeared with something oily and upsetting. We ate, we got a pic, and we got out with only one additional stop to meet a new friend for a drink on the way.

Which, thusly, ended day 5 and, effectively the trip. Stay tuned, however, for the story of day 2…


Circus Mexicus: Day One

So I type this from the free Internet in my Pricelined hotel here at the Sheraton Phoenix Airport Hotel Tempe. Yesterday wasn’t too eventful – a late start but we made it to the airport in Buffalo on time, having had no stop for food at that point. Near the gate we found a restaurant called Which Wich that I hadn’t heard of before. Interesting concept where you grab a bag, use a Sharpie to select what you want, hand it to them and they make it for you there, then slide it into your bag. Tasted pretty good, loved the idea of the place.

I have to note that Southwest is all you’ve heard they are and more. They’re the airline Westjet patterned themselves after, which is noticeable, but they really take it beyond. From walking people’s children around the plane to singing through the PA, even to just plain old jokes and fun. We were even allowed to store our guitars in the overhead containers because the steward noted he also played and he’d never let someone touch his instruments. Lucky us.

We were barely here when we headed down to the Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe to meet up with Nick Jasken. Nick and I have a storied history dating back about 16 years by our best estimate, but this would be our first real meeting. Back around 1994 we connected over a mutual love of the band Extreme, and from mailing lists to message boards to newsgroups just built up a rapport for some time. Our contact broke apart until I found his MySpace Music one day and realized that we were both bald guitarists who’d moved on to become big Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers fans. So long story short we met up, had a great evening that lasted about five hours of just conversation. Four Peaks has awesome food and even better beer, I managed to try the Bleu Light Special Burger and the Kilt Lifter, Hefeweizen, Hop Knot IPA, The Raj IPA and Oatmeal Stout, all quite nice. Ended the night with a night swim and hit the sack at what was almost 2am Toronto time for the end of a long day.

So today? Today will be the Diamondbacks game, and a pretty cool story to tell courtesy of our old friend KP – check back tomorrow!