Ales & Astros: The last day

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We’re home. There’s really little else to say.

It’s been a great trip. It’s going to take a bit of time to process. It was a week ago today that the conference in Williamsburg, VA wrapped up and we spent a rainy afternoon and evening driving the Colonial Parkway from Jamestown to Yorktown. Didn’t know about the serial killer at the time. Probably for the best. My first overnight train trip was still a day away. It’s amazing how much we packed into just four days in Florida.

Some things that are going to stick with me:

  • Mountains.  I miss them. The drive across West Virginia and western Virginia made that pretty clear. Even today we got off I-75 for a bit to cut down on the amount of traffic we had to sit through to get past the rock slide in Tennessee. We used an old state highway that winds up the mountain paralleling a railroad track and crisis-crossing a stream on a series of one-lane bridges that look like they date back to the WPA or CCC. It all seemed so right somehow.
  • Williamsburg. I’ll admit it, I was seduced by the place. I’d love to go back and spend more time there. One place I’d definitely want to spend time? The Virginia Beer Company. And Alewerks. And definitely the DoG Street Pub.
  • I’ve never been a big fan of vinegar-based barbecue sauces, but there is a Virginia version that I actually want to try out for myself. I had it on a pulled chicken sandwich for lunch last Saturday and I haven’t been able to quit thinking about how good it would be on pulled pork. The weather is supposed to be nice tomorrow….
  • Words cannot describe how miserable I was about 2AM on Tuesday as I tried to sleep in that tiny roomette on the Auto Train. More than once I muttered to myself that I was in hell.  So understand when I say I’d take another train trip in a heartbeat that I’m saying this with my eyes wide open. In a roomette? Not on your life. I’d rather just try to sleep in a coach seat. I think if we’d been in one of the larger sleeping compartments you would have had a hard time getting us off that train. Nothing that was unpleasant about our experience was anything Amtrak could control. I’m a fan.
  • The staff of Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL. It wasn’t supposed to be the case, but we saw the last two Astros Spring Training games that will ever be played in Kissimmee.  There was supposed to be a game yesterday that we couldn’t go to that was supposed to be the last one, but it got rained out. It was already a bittersweet ending to a 32-year run there, and I so wish they could have ended it with tha bang they deserved.  I love minor league ballparks because they’re usually so friendly. That’s what it was like at Osceloa. The only way you would have known the Astros were getting ready to leave is because there was a PA announcement asking folks to share pictures of their experiences at the park. Every single employee was a complete pro. You’d have thought nothing out of the ordinary was going on. It’s a great place to watch a game. I truly hope they find another tenant to go in there. They know how to do it right.
  • I’m ready for the season to get started. I’m excited about the Astros. I’m bracing myself for the wailing and gnashing of teeth from Reds fans this year. We lost 111 games in 2013.  107 the year before that. Reds fans have trouble being positive when they’re winning. This isn’t going to be pretty.  I hope the weather is good Opening Day. It may be the highlight of the year.

But mainly we’re home now. Porter, Dunkel, and Mia have each given us our scolding for leaving them and let both of us know we’re tentatively forgiven. Carla has a long day at work tomorrow. I can’t avoid leaving the house for a couple of reasons, but I don’t plan to be gone long.

I’m home.  I want to enjoy that for a while.

Ales & Astros: Day 7

It’s not that today wasn’t a full day. It was. It’s just that a major portion of it was spent with family and they didn’t sign up to be a volunteer in the storytelling exercise I do  here. I do feel obligated to post two pictures of the kid, though, because they are among the cutest ever. I’d say “the cutest ever” but then I’d have to hear about it from the parent of every other cute kid I know.  And I seem to know an inordinate number of cute kids.  How cool is that?

This is Rosie. She's named after Rosie the Riveter. She's awesome. Her grandmother Peggy -- Carla's cousin -- is holding her.
This is Rosie. She’s named after Rosie the Riveter. She’s awesome. Her grandmother Peggy — Carla’s cousin — is holding her.
This is Rosie's younger brother RJ.  He's either contemplating the ethical dilemmas presented by competing belief systems in a multicultural society or figuring out how far he can shove those sunglasses up his nose before his mom objects. Because they're her sunglasses.
This is Rosie’s younger brother RJ. He’s either contemplating the ethical dilemmas presented by competing belief systems in a multicultural society or figuring out how far he can shove those sunglasses up his nose before his mom objects. Because they’re her sunglasses.

So anyway we had lunch at a pretentious burger place with Carla’s cousin Peggy and her husband Mike, Peggy’s daughter Katie and her husband Rob and Rosie and RJ. It was a lot of fun. Amazing onion rings. I don’t see how GMOs in the buns or letting the cows eat corn would have hurt anything. But that’s me.

The second half of the day was spent over at a place near Lakeland, FL called Brew Hub. It’s kind of a big deal in craft brewing circles nowadays because they’re helping brewers who are ready to jump to the next level a way to do it without investing heavily in new capital equipment. This is going to be an article on Hoperatives at some point, so I don’t want to say too much now. Sufficed to say the tap room was awesome.

The taproom at Brew Hub
The taproom at Brew Hub. Panoramas are always risky when people move around. All employees are three-dimensional and corporeal.

Good day. Short post.  The Astros were on the road and we didn’t want to drive that far when we have a long drive coming this weekend. We’re supposed to see them against the Braves over at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, but the weather is looking iffy.  I’d love to see them again, so I hope it works out.

Ales & Astros: Day 6

Today is more of a day of relaxing than anything else. Monday and Tuesday are kind of a blur. A pleasant blur, to be sure, but a blur nonetheless. I’m still annoyed at WordPress for eating most of my post from last night so I’m going to fill in some of the blanks from yesterday. Going to the game yesterday was a lot of fun. Then again, so was having this view for breakfast this morning.

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Does. Not. Suck.

I got in the pool, which is the first time I’ve been in a pool in I don’t know how long. It was glorious. I was able to stretch leg muscles that haven’t been stretched in quite some time. I’ve been getting a lot of walking (for me) in, and I can tell it’ll get easier the more I stretch. I talked about “the streak” I’ve got going last week and I’ve not had any trouble hitting the mark so far. I even upped it a bit on Monday. Today? I’ll make sure I hit it, but the closer to a mere one calorie over the mark I can get the better. I’m not exactly a go-go-go guy. Today I’ll be content to do the minimum required.

Yesterday was a lot of fun. I feel kind of weird saying that given how awful the news was from Belgium. I saw the news on my phone pretty early on since I wasn’t able to sleep much on the train. It was jarring to see the news footage in the Sanford Amtrak station on one set of monitors while other monitors were showing videos about Amtrak Security and their use of bomb-sniffing dogs. It was just coincidence. The day before at the Lorton, VA station they’d been playing the same video. And at one point we saw an officer come through that station with a gorgeous black Lab. It wasn’t a search or anything. They were just passing through. So this is the way I see it. Chances are my day yesterday was better than yours. And no matter how bad yours sucked, it wasn’t as bad as your average Belgian. Count your blessings.

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Local regulations require selfies be taken at all Spring Training games.

It’s just 11 days until the Astros open the season, so the starters are getting in a lot of work. It’s impossible not to be excited about this team. Altuve was on fire yesterday. Correa hit a monster line-drive home run that hit about 20 feet above the wall above the 410 sign in right-center in the batter’s eye. It have easily been a 450-foot shot had it not hit the netting. Both guys competing for the first base job played well. Mike Fiers got banged around in the fifth inning. I don’t know if he was trying something different that didn’t work, or whether he just didn’t have his stuff today. But hey! It’s March!  Go ahead and get it out of your system now!  In the end there was a five-run comeback and Good triumphed over Evil 8-7.

Jose Altuve takes a strike
Jose Altuve takes a strike in yesterday’s game.

One reason we were able to relax today is because the Astros played the Phillies today in an evening game. Before the game started I got to see super-fan Greis Pérez, known widely for her observation that following the 2013 Astros was better than buying heroin.

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The highlight of the night was Carla’s, though. She got to get her picture taken with Orbit.

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I feel very much the same about Carla. Ok. Orbit, too.

Oh yeah. We won. 2-1.  Good game.

Ales & Astros: Day 5

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Baseball has been very, very good to me. I worked for the Astros from 1979 to 1983. That experience made me who I am in ways I still don’t fully understand. I had experiences no teenager should ever be lucky enough to experience. I had experiences I never should have had that early. They are the only team I’ve ever followed regularly. I’ve always wanted to see Spring Training. I got to do that today.  And it was wonderful.

We didn’t get much sleep last night. I’m too big and not flexible enough for an Amtrak Roomette. As my Twitter tag line says, “too much being and not enough nothingness.” It’s not their fault. We’d read that the Auto Train is considered one of the plum Amtrak assignments, so the staff is supposed to be good. That was certainly our experience. Everyone I encountered was accommodating and cheerful. I don’t think a Roomette will ever work for us.  I can’t see it working for anyone over 6-feet tall.  Carla and I are both taller. A regular Superliner Bedroom would probably work. While I had a pretty miserable night last night, I’ve got nothing bad to say about Amtrak.  I’d recommend doing it. I’d do it again with a larger sleeping area. Lesson learned. There was far more good than bad.

We rolled into Sanford about a half-hour early and was in the car seeking out caffeine within the hour. We’re staying at a Residence Inn that’s pretty new. We chose it because it allows us to get to Osceola County Stadium without getting on the evil Route 192. we were able to get checked in super early and had time to take a shower and a nap before heading over to the Stadium.

It was great to get out and watch a ballgame. Carla is as big a fan as I am. She grew up rooting for the Cubs, so needless to say we’re both looking forward to this season in ways we haven’t for the past five or six.

 

[I had this really great post written.  Then WordPress ate it. An hour and half gone. Revision Control?  We’ll let you see what you wrote.  But we won’t let you have it back!

I can’t write it again.  I’m exhausted.

Fuck you WordPress. I hate you. I really, really hate you.]

 

Ales & Astros: Day 4


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Today has been about Amtrak. We left Williamsburg around 10AM. The weather cleared, of course, so we got to see how nice it is when the sun’s out only when we arrived and when we left. So it goes.

The AutoTrain is cool  the station is right off I-95 on Lorton VA.  It takes just over two hours to make the trip.  We lucked out on traffic.  I could see it being awful.

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You pull up and they give your car a number. You grab your stuff and head inside

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They inspect it on video so there are no questions or disputes later. Smart.


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Then while you’re heading in your car gets sorted for loading  I’m pretty sure our car wound up in Hufflepuff.

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Then you hang out in the station. It’s pretty new. It filled up, but never felt crazy or frantic. It got loud, but there were a lot of people. I get the feeling the train is pretty full.  They added the third meal seating they don’t always do.
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They started letting us board at 2:30 PM. We have a Roomette  this is me when it’s in daytime setup. It will be … cozy. Not anticipating any problems

 

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Our car is 3 from the tail end of train  which means I appreciate just how long this damned thing is.  We left roughly a half-hour before our scheduled  4PM departure.

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Dinner was fabulous.  Carla had lasagna and I had a Spanish-style chicken and andouille sausage stew over  polenta. As we were finishing up we crossed the James River.  It’s a little before 7 PM as I write this and the scenery outside the Club Car is great.

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We’re west of I-95 about even with Norfolk, VA. During the night we’ll have one stop at Florence, SC for a crew change. Then it’s on through the night to Sanford, FL.

I’m going to stop now because I have some relaxing to do.

This is awesome. Do it if you ever have the chance.

Ales & Astros: Day 3

I’m really impressed with Williamsburg. I’m a history nut, but I’ve never been here before. I really didn’t know what t0 expect. It could really be cheesy, but it’s not. Anything but, really.

We’ve been in the conference area in the Art Museum so I figure the staff is pretty carefully chosen, but they are really good. Exceptionally good. I don’t think I’ve encountered a single staff member who hasn’t said “hello” or “welcome” and many have struck up conversations. Given that we spent most of our time in sessions means we didn’t get to do much exploring. It’s been rainy and chilly since yesterday and that didn’t lend itself todo in a lot of walking around. My knees didn’t either, truth but had the weather been nicer I think I would have been up to push myself a bit more.

So this is where the conference was held.


You’d think with the weather it’d be awfully uncomfortable to hold a conference here, but luckily we were actually underground. That building on the left is the back side of the Public Hospital building and the wall on the right is the top floor of the Art Museums. Here’s a cutaway showing how the two are connected.


There’s a large auditorium where all our sessions were held on the same level with the tunnel.

I’ve spent a lot of years doing A/V support for conferences and meetings, and I have to say this was one of the cleanest, best produced meetings I’ve seen. The tech came off without a hitch. I was glad to hear both the organizers and speakers give shout outs to the crew.
This had the feeling of one of those conferences where years from now somebody is going to write a book or make a beer or do something really interesting and when they get interviewed about it we’ll find out that the seeds for that project started at this conference. An occupational hazard of being an introvert is that I tend to observe more than interact. There were several folks I’d love to have talked to, but I have no idea what I would have talked to them about. It just would have been weird fanboy awkwardness. It’s motivation for me to actually do something so I’ll have something to talk to them about the next time.

I think I’m going to be able to brush off some of my old grad school interests. Hearing about the development of industrial scale brewing and the systemization of brewing technique reminded me of things I encountered in a couple philosophy of science courses. Why, for example, did distilling adopt the use of the hydrometer to monitor the efficiency of fermentation more than 50 years before brewing? And why did cheap brown malt not fall out of favor until the hydrometer shows up. Brewers certainly had to have noticed through experience that it took more brown malt to get a given strength of beer than the newer pale malt. Why did the hydrometer settle the question? How was it that Isinglass started being used as a clarifying agent? You have to wonder what world someone is living in when saying “Hey!  I know!  Let’s use dried sturgeon bladders!” is sensible.

It remains to be seen whether I’ll ever make any headway on any of that. I’m not sure there’s anyone who’d want to read it. It probably won’t stop me from seeing if I can find anything out, though.

We shift gears tomorrow. After breakfast we pack up and head up to Lorton, VA to get on the AutoTrain. We have a roomette for the night and we’re supposed to get into Sanford, FL on Tuesday around 9 AM. Then it’s time for Astros Spring Training.

We’ve had an enormous amount of fun so far. Can’t wait for what’s next.

No reason other than I found this to be funny.

 

Ales & Astros: Day 2

7AM came pretty early this morning. I’d love to make a joke about it being historically accurate, but I’ve got nothing. A town crier or something would have been nice. As it was we didn’t have breakfast because we ate so late last night and we got over here just in time for the first session. Coffee and interesting presentations have made all the difference. 

  
This is a great conference. So far today we’ve heard that there was more beer being made in Ancient Greece than is usually acknowledged. I hadn’t heard about Oklahoma “Choc” (short for Choctaw) beer.  Now I must try some. We heard a fascinating talk on the genetic history of brewer’s yeast. We heard about how hops came to be used in beer in the Low Countries and another on the long history of brewing in Ireland.  And there was this.

Maltster-piece Theatre
Maltster-piece Theatre
The woman on the left is Andrea Stanley who owns a malt house in Massachusetts.  The gentleman on theright is  John Mallet who’s the Director of Operations at Bell’s. He’s portraying one of his ancestors who was a maltster and brewster in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Andrea is portraying a brewster from Great  Britain who lived a century later. The “conversation” between the two are drawn from their letters and othe writings. 

There are other conferences here. For a minute we thought this one was really specific. Alas it’s really The Classical Society of the Middle West AND South 
There’s also a person here who I’ve decided is the most annoying person in the world. I will say no more about him. I made the mistake of talking to him once and now I move across entire rooms to avoid him. I suspect that by the time this ends tomorrow people will be running from him like Tokyo residents fleeing Godzilla dropping by for a visit. I doubt he’ll notice. 

Ales & Astros: Day 1

It’s been a long day. It started at 5 AM this morning at home and is winding down almost 17 hours later in Williamsburg, VA. And this is just the first of nine days on this trip. A little background: Several months ago Carla heard about a conference here in Williamsburg called Ales Through the Ages from Tanya Brock at Carillon Brewing in Dayton. She’ll be speaking Sunday about being a Brewster at a brewery that brews the way it was done in the 1850s. Once we saw the schedule of speakers we were hooked. We had to come. Then Carla poked around and realized that we can go from here to Lorton, VA to catch Amtrack’s AutoTrain to Sanford, FL. And the Astros are having their last Spring Training in Kissimmee this year. Oh, and did I mention this is Cincinnati State’s Spring Break? Plans made.

So we got up this morning at the butt-crack of dawn, loaded up and got coffee at what we lovingly refer to as the World’s Fastest McDonald’s. We were headed east by 6:15 AM. I can’t say that the drive was all that exciting, but the sky was blue and the sun was out. The fact that it’s Spring became more and more apparent the further east we went.

  
We stopped at a rest area somewhere in West Virginia a bit east of Charleston and I was amused by a sign on the bathroom door.

  
I really kind of wanted to stop since I’m not sure what advances have been made in pouring water over your head in the last few years.  Alas, we had to make time.

When in West (by God) Virginia there is only one place where one gets lunch (or breakfast, or really any meal): Tudor’s Biscuit World. We did our civic duty.

  
Everything went swimmingly until we got on the leg of I-64 that goes through Richmond and then to Williamsburg. I think I understand how McClellan was never able to make any progress against the Army of Northern Virginia:  he was stuck on I-64. I shall say no more about it, except to say it attracts one of the worst collection of drivers I’ve ever seen anywhere at any time.  Atlanta included.

We arrived in Williamsburg in good enough time, however. We were able to get checked into the hotel and then go over to the Art Museums for the opening session of the conference. It was great. More will be written another day on Hoperatives.  Conference participants got a very kind invite to go to a preview of a new brewery in town, The Virginia Beer Company. They don’t actually open until next week, but they’re ready. Good stuff.  They had a Pecan Smoked Porter that was out of this world. The weather is supposed to get colder and rainy tomorrow, but for tonight it was gorgeous.

  
We were too tired to do anything adventurous for dinner, but I’d discovered that they have the Holy of Holies of convenience stores here:  Wawa. So we went to get sandwiches.

  
And while we were there we found out why Williamsburg isn’t quite like anywhere else. Colonial-era reenactors everywhere agree that nothing beats a Wawa sandwich after a long day of pretending you lived in a time where there were no Wawa sandwiches.

  
This is going to be a fun trip.  Hope you enjoy coming along for the ride.