It was the 23rd of May, when I left Jason and Jen’s in Washington D.C. and pointed the nose of my Dodge Caravan north toward the state of New York.  I got a late start that day, leaving around 1pm Eastern Standard Time.  My journey up I-95 took me through Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey and all the toll booths in between.  $3.75 here, $6.00 there, by the time I reached the end of the New Jersey Turnpike, I had run out of cash and had to pay my $13.85 toll by mail.  Overall, the Jersey Turnpike is a tour de force of said state, from north to south.  Apparently, a car caught on fire somewhere ahead of me and I spent at least an hour in traffic that crawled northbound like molasses. However, I had a good time chatting it up with the drivers around me; now that the van’s back window was adorned with my website address and a description of my trip, other drivers hollered out to me across the lanes of traffic asking where I had been and where I was headed.

Yankee Stadium

Rolling into the Bronx for my first game in New York, I was at least an hour late and lost.  Crossing over the George Washington Bridge and travelling down Westborough, I found Yankee stadium by GPS but parking was nowhere to be found.  After 45 minutes of Seattle-rush-hour-on-steroids driving, I slipped into a nearby shopping center’s parking garage and walked about half a mile to the stadium.  By the time I got my ticket and went inside, it was the bottom of the 5th inning and the Yankees had a significant lead on the Kansas City Royals.  My “obstructed view bleacher seats” weren’t much to write home about but I enjoyed exploring the stadium for a couple innings.  This is the third incarnation of Yankee Stadium and opened its doors for the 2008 season.  Maybe I’ve been on the road too long, or maybe my Seattle rivalry with the Yankees tinged my objectivity but I found very little that was notable about this Yankee Stadium.  The concourse was more-or-less like the other ‘new ballparks’ I have seen. Concession prices were a tad cheaper than I expected but the fans seemed more like tourists than the Bronx bomber devotees I had expected.  It’s not just at Yankee Stadium where I have seen this, but I feel I should point out that getting a forced out on a sacrifice fly that advances a runner with no outs is not a cause for celebration… but I digress. The Yanks win this home game 8-3 over the KC Royals and the loud speakers blared “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra as we all exit the ballpark.

I spent the night at a ‘hipster’ youth hostel in Brooklyn which was big, full of people and busy, yet somehow had free street parking.  When the morning came, so did the rain. I struck out via the NY subway system to Manhattan where I had located the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Taking the purple line and then the No. 4 train, I arrived at 86th Ave and tried to navigate my way via Windows Phone GPS down Park Ave toward Central Park.  Of course, the weather wasn’t in the mood to cooperate and I found myself getting drenched along with the rest of New York.  After I found shelter in a local restaurant where I enjoyed a “large” glass of orange juice that contained less liquid than an elementary school juice box, along with a Turkey BLT so big that I couldn’t finish it, the rain subsided for a while.

The Met is nestled on the eastern side of Central Park and has a deceptively small façade that faces the street.  Admission is voluntary, but expect to be ‘guilted’ into paying the full $25 but it is well worth the price.  Inside you will find an entire wing devoted to Egyptian artifacts, many of which you’ve seen in your Jansen’s History of Art textbook.  The ‘Masters’ collection upstairs contains famous pieces such as ‘The Death of Socrates’ by David as well as portraits by Flemish masters such as Hans Holbein the Elder, Bruegel and room full of Rembrandts that I had assumed were under lock and key somewhere in Europe.  Thank you to my 11th grade Art History teacher, Mrs. Straton for an education on this stuff.

Once 5:00 o’clock had rolled around and we all got kicked out of the museum, I took the No. 7 train to the second-to-last stop in Queens, which is marked appropriately: Mets/Willets Point.    I disembarked, to a vastly different area than that which surrounds Yankee Stadium.  Citi Field, the replacement for Shea Stadium has LOTS of parking, and for a Thursday night game against the Padres it was lightly attended.  I found the folks in Queens to be warm, friendly types; the complete antithesis of the people who  I imagine inhabited New York City.  Walking around the outside of the stadium, I wandered past the notorious auto-wrecking yard but saw nothing of note.

Vernon

Vernon, season-ticket holder for the Mets

Once inside, I encountered a season ticket-holder/superfan who I believe was named Vernon.  Ensconced with Mets gear from head to toe, complete with a Mets fire helmet, I knew this gentleman had deep and carnal knowledge of this ballpark. He was nice enough to give me a brief history of the new stadium, including an quick explanation of the upcoming Mets’ Banner Day and the symbolism of the Shea Stadium Bridge.

The Mets started this one with a quick lead and fantastic pitching by Jeremy Hefner but the rain gods had other plans.  Unlike the short rain-delay in Washington D.C., a light sprinkle turned into a medium drizzle which quickly turned into a heavy downpour.  As the 2nd inning came to a close, the grounds crew rolled out a tarp over the infield and the fans retreated to the covered concourse.  For the next hour, I wandered throughout the upper decks, sampling the various culinary offerings available at the ballpark. I encountered a couple of young concessioners on the uncovered food court of the upper deck who were attempting furtively to wrap a tarp over their concession stand. Attempting to help them with this, I tried passing the windblown tarp up to them while they stood on the steel countertop of the stand.  Suddenly, the wind picked up and the young concessioner closest to me slipped off the wet steel he was standing on and landed on his back on the concrete of the concourse.  He couldn’t seem to pick himself up but there were EMTs nearby who took him away on a bodyboard.   Later, I found out that his name was Maurice and he had gone to the hospital with a few bruises on his back.  Best of luck to you Maurice, hope all is well and you’re back in action soon.

When the game resumed, almost an hour later, the Mets’ spark had fizzled and stellar pitching gave way to mediocre pitching.  The friars took the lead and a little bit more scoring a couple runs at a time.  Only a small rally in the 7th gave the Mets any hope during the game.  Final score: 5-11 Padres.

I returned to the hostel for one more night, clothing damp in all places, indirectly by subway.  The next day, I attempted to escape from New York.  I had a few touristy errands to do before I made my way north to Boston.  I took the I-278 south and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge (just for fun) then made my way to the Holland Tunnel.  Mistakenly, I thought that the Liberty State Park in New Jersey was where everyone went to take their obligatory Statue of Liberty photo.   Of course, the Statue of Liberty can be easily viewed from the shores of Jersey City (as can Ellis Island), but its back is turned to the view because the statue faces New York City.  Once I finally got my photo with the Statue of Liberty in the background, it was 3:00 pm and I needed to be in Boston for a 7:00 o’clock game.

The GPS gave me the usual round-about directions that involved taking the New Jersey Turnpike south several miles (through heavy traffic) before heading back over the George Washington Bridge ($12 toll and 45 minute wait) before passing through Yonkers, NY and heading up the I-695 through Connecticut during Memorial Day weekend traffic and finally to the Massachusettes Turnpike where I drove like a bat out of hell just to make it to Boston by roughly 8:00pm.  Again, the GPS confused the hell out of me, sending me in circles when I was near enough to the ballpark to walk had I only known.  I really am starting to hate that thing!

Fenway Park

Fenway Park

Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox is the most hallowed ballpark on my roadtrip.  Equivalent to a pilgrimage to Mecca in some circles, it has stood the test of time, living to be 100 years old this year.  I arrived in the 6th inning, tickets waiting for me at Will Call.  The reputation of Fenway for being a beautiful park is rightly deserved.  Its’ brick walls, trimmed with wood and reinforced with steel mark it as a relic of an age gone past already.  The view from the concourse is blocked by more walls of brick, the only openings are the small ports that allow access to each of the grandstand sections.  If you take the stairs up the second level, there is a bar above right field where I spent my time watching the game.  It’s  got a great bird’s eye view of the bullpen in centerfield and the Green Monster scoreboard along the left field wall is a treat.  They still update the score manually there.

As for the game, I only got to see a few innings but Big Papi was nice enough to crush a home run sometime in the 7th or 8th inning.  However, it was the altercation between Luke Scott of the Tampa Bay Rays (formerly a Baltimore Oriole who dashed Boston’s post-season hopes last year) and pitcher Jose Morales.  Apparently, Morales beaned Scott in the leg.  Luke Scott turned like he was going to charge the mound and both benches cleared like a wildfire burning through an expensive Californian housing development.  Even the bat-boys took the field, but in the end only a little shoving and some shouting were visible from my vantage point.   At any rate, the Tampa Bay Rays won this one 7-4 over the BoSox.

Fenway Park's "Jimmy Fund" for cancer research

Fenway Park’s “Jimmy Fund” for cancer research

After the game, I wandered around the vicinity of the ballpark for a bit before finding a burger joint that served alcohol called Tasty Burger.  The day before, some guy in New York had raved about Tasty Burger for most of the trip back to Brooklyn from Mets game.  I decided to give it a shot, ordered a bacon cheeseburger and asked for a local beer.  I got a fantastic burger and brew called Harpoon UFO, which the locals were excited to see comes in cans now.  A couple guys ordering take out gave me a crash course in Boston beers, including a large portion of the Sam Adams line, which I was surprised to learn includes more than just “regular” (to my knowledge we only get one type of Sam Adams ale on the west coast).  Either way, these guys were excited to talk about my Major League Road Trip and I enjoyed hearing more about the Boston area from them.

When the night ended, I went back to my van with my stomach satisfied and impressed with the friendliness of Boston.  In the morning, I would head out to Western Mass where I have “long-lost” relatives.  I would spend the rest of Memorial Day Weekend reconnecting with them and being made to feel very at home in the state of Massachusetts.