Boulevard Brewing Co.

After a quick lunch at Subway, we made our way across town to the Boulevard Brewing Co., arriving at 2 pm just as the next tour was supposed to start. (This seems to be a pattern for us.) Although the tour was very full, the guy let us join it, once Dave told him we were from Illinois.

Boulevard is the largest craft brewery in the Midwest, the second-largest brewery in Missouri (after Budweiser), and – as the tour guide was pleased to say – the largest American-owned brewery in the state. We were introduced to Boulevard not long after we moved to Champaign – their distributor was at our local liquor store doing tastings and PR.

We have done a lot of brewery tours, and this one was among the best we’ve seen. The tour guide had personality and the right voice for talking over 40+ people. There were short videos at about four different spots along the tour – a great way to explain things (like the brewing process) in a more visual way than the tour guide can do, and also to show things that you wouldn’t otherwise get to see. Brewery tours typically are less interesting on a weekend, because they’re not running the machines. (In ten years of doing brewery tours, Dave and I have never seen a bottling line actually running.) The videos helped a lot, and they were really high-quality.

The first part of the tour takes the group through the brewery’s original system, from when Boulevard started in 1989. Then it transitions into the new facility in the adjacent building, which opened in 2007 and features top-of-the line brewing technology as well as industry-leading efficient equipment and architecture. It was pretty impressive.

Like all respectable brewery tours, it ended in a tasting room. They had given us four tokens each (actually bottle caps) to be redeemed for 4-oz tastings. Since I don’t drink beer, Dave got to taste 7 different brews – he kept the last token as a souvenir.


Truman Library and Museum

While in Kansas City, we made a point to do more than just go to a baseball game. One of the more significant things to visit in the area is the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum in Independence, MO, which is just east of the city.

We got to the museum around 10 am and spent about three hours there. It was pretty empty when we got there, but it was starting to get busy by early afternoon.

It’s a nice little museum. The exhibits are done in a fairly contemporary style. A lot of older museums have a dated style, while some newer museums are overwhelmingly interactive. This one strikes a good balance. It was a good reflection of the personality of this understated, “regular midwestern guy” who happened to have been president.

It was a lot of information. There were so many significant things that happened while Truman was president: the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the beginning of the Cold War, the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, the rise of the American middle class and consumer lifestyle. It was fascinating to spend a few hours focusing on the beginnings of what we typically think of when we picture 20th century American society.

The first floor of the museum is a series of rooms that feature Truman’s presidency. There is also a peaceful courtyard which contains an eternal flame, the graves of Truman and his family (wife, daughter, and son-in-law). Off the courtyard is a little room with a view into Truman’s office, where he worked from the time the library was built until he died.

The second floor has a newer (seemingly), more kid-friendly and more interactive exhibit, that focuses more on Truman’s life. There was also a temporary exhibit called “Memories of Korea”, which wasn’t as well-done. It had some interesting information about the Korean War, but it felt very disjointed, without much of a narrative.

Recommended if you’re ever in the Kansas City area!

Baseball, Midwest

Trip to Kansas City

Continuing our baseball-driven Midwest tour, we drove today from Champaign to Kansas City, across Illinois and Missouri via Springfield IL and Hannibal MO.

The first half of the trip was smooth, with nice weather, light traffic, and not too much road work. About an hour west of Hannibal, though, the sky started to get really dark; then the water started coming out of the sky. The rain got so bad that I could barely see to drive, so I slowed way down just to keep myself on the road. I wasn’t really driving that slowly – maybe 55 mph – but got passed by a pickup and then a semi, on a bridge of all places. That was ridiculous and didn’t feel very safe, so we pulled off at the next little road and waited for about five minutes. Both the rain and the traffic let up a little, so it felt much safer to be on the highway.

The rain continued off and on for another hour or so, but never quite as bad as it was for those few minutes. Fortunately it seemed we skirted to the north of the worst of the thunderstorms – there were a lot of intense lightning strikes just to the south of US-36 as we drove. I wondered what would happen if our vehicle were to be struck by a lightning bolt. Fortunately we didn’t have to find out.

After we got onto I-35, heading south into Kansas City, it took us quite a bit longer to get into the city than it otherwise would have, because of lane closings due to construction. We were ready to be out of the car by the time we got to our hotel.

We hung out in the hotel for bit to decompress. Then we headed out to have authentic Kansas City barbecue at Gates and Sons BBQ, as recommended by a friend who is a KC native. It was quite the cultural experience, and the ribs were tasty.

After dinner we drove to downtown Kansas City, and found ourselves in the Power & Light District, which features a whole bunch of cool restaurants and bars in a tiny few-block area. We walked around a bit first, just to see what else was around, which is when I became infatuated with the Kansas City Power & Light Building.

The major goal of the evening was to find a sports bar where we could watch the Royals vs. Orioles game, to prepare ourselves for tomorrow evening’s live experience. We ended up in Johnny’s Tavern, which was the perfect choice, because all of the walls were lined with TVs showing various baseball games and other sporting events. Dave even got to watch the Yankees for a while. Unfortunately our teams were not victorious. The Orioles were poised to win, but then the Royals had a walk-off 3-run homer in the bottom of the 9th. At least the rest of the folks in the bar were psyched about it. *smile*

Baseball, Midwest

Great American Ball Park

Great American Ball ParkA major goal of our only full summer living in the Midwest is to catch games at a bunch of the Midwestern ballparks. Today we went to Cincinnati to see the Colorado Rockies play the Reds in the Great American Ball Park. We had great seats – four rows up in left field. It’s a well-designed ballpark – seemingly not a bad seat in the house – though a bit generic (other than the fascinating riverboat feature in the outfield).

River Boat Deck in Great American Ball ParkIt was brutally hot – every fan in the stadium was just wilting. The kid in front of us kept complaining to his dad about how hot it was, and the dad’s creative response was, “Hey – shut up.”

The game wasn’t particularly exciting – which was actually a good thing, because a lack of runs makes a game go faster.

About halfway through the game, we got up to escape the sun, and took a walk in the shade of the concourse. Unfortunately that was when the Rockies decided to score – we missed the only run of the game. We strolled over to the area behind center field to the misters, only to find that they weren’t misty enough to really cool things off. We found ourselves standing in a spot only slightly more humid than the rest of the air, and decided it wasn’t worth it.

We had a good time anyway. After the game, we cooled off at Rock Bottom in downtown Cincinnati (is it inappropriate to call it “Cincy”? Do people from there hate the nickname like San Franciscans hate “Frisco”?), then went looking for a Skyline Chili in which to have dinner, as we had been instructed.

Kentucky borderAmusingly, as none of the Skylines in downtown Cincy (see, there, I did it) were open on a Sunday evening, we ended up driving across the river to Kentucky to have dinner at a suburban Skyline Chili. At least we had our authentic Cincinnati chili experience.

On the way home, we decided to play chicken with our gas tank. We figured we had just enough gas to get us to Indianapolis, where we knew there was a truck stop selling gas for $2.59. The gas tank counted down to 0 miles left in the tank, when we were just 10 miles outside of Indy. So we had to stop and put in 1.61 gallons (at $2.84/gal) to get us to the cheap gas. But we didn’t get stranded on the side of the road, outta gas. So we’ll call that game of chicken a draw.

Family Adventures, Midwest

Chicago with Minimal Walking

Dave’s parents came to visit us in Champaign, and we quickly ran out of things to show them here, especially since Dave’s mom can’t do a lot of walking (knee problems). So we spent today in Chicago, where we fortunately had a nice, sunny, not-too-hot-and-humid day.

We have just about perfected our parking strategy in Chicago. Since parking can be something like $4 for the first 20 minutes, and $26 for two to 12 hours, it seems to make the most sense to just park the car in the most convenient garage and leave it there for the day. Normally we would then just walk or take the El everywhere, but today we taxi’d everwhere.

We had lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern, made famous by Saturday Night Live, and also by the Cubs’ curse of the billy goat. It’s actually a good place to grab a quick bite to eat, despite being in the netherworld underneath the Magnificent Mile.

Then we went to the Willis Tower – more famously and formerly known as the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the third tallest structure in the world. The wait to get up to the Skydeck on the 103rd floor was about an hour, but the way they have it designed, the wait is actually quite tolerable. Visitors stand in lines in various different waiting areas, which are all packed with factoids and exhibits. They even showed a 10 minute movie in the last area before we got on the elevator to go up to the main event. The view of course is spectacular, though today it was rather hazy and we couldn’t see four states as one can on a clear day. The most novel thing is an addition called “the ledge”, which are four windows that protrude out of the building so you can actually stare straight down to the street nearly 1700 feet below. I thought it was pretty cool, but the guy right in front of us sure looked like he was going to lose his lunch.

After that, we took a 90 minute architecture river cruise / tour, sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The cruise starts just off Michigan Avenue and goes up the Chicago River, veering off to the North Branch, then the South Branch, then back down by the Navy Pier, then back again. The woman narrating the tour was a volunteer docent, and she really knew her stuff. Chicago is, of course, well-known for its excellent and varied architecture, so the tour was really a treat. Plus it was a beautiful day (though perhaps a bit sunny to be on the deck of a boat for that long without sunscreen), so it was a nice way to be out-and-about without walking.

We had dinner at a place called Bijan’s Bistro, where the food, the atmosphere, and the service were all top-notch, while still being casual enough that we didn’t feel out of place wearing shorts and T-shirts. If you’re in Chicago looking for something other than deep dish pizza, this is a good choice.

After dinner we retrieved our car and drove around the city a bit (no trip to Chicago is complete without at least a few minutes on Lakeshore Drive), then headed out to Oak Park for a spin around Frank Lloyd Wright’s old neighborhood (though Dave’s mom is mad at him, after having read a book about his mistress) and to pick up some Starbucks before heading home.

So, if you’re ever wondering if there’s a way to spend an entire day in Chicago with someone who can’t really walk around much, I can testify that it can be done enjoyably.