Monday, August 29, 2016

6 facts about a heart-shaped state

1. "Hang on Sloopy" is Ohio's state rock song.

2. According to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, more than a quarter of Ohio's population identified as evangelical Protestants. In 2010, 36% of Ohioans indicated they attended religious services at least once a week.

Toledo Mud Hens stadium
3. The Toledo Mud Hens, one of the nation's oldest minor league baseball teams, was mentioned frequently on the television show M*A*S*H.

4. Lake Erie, which forms most of the state's northern border, provides Ohio with 312 miles of coastline.

5. Almost 35,000 Ohioans died in the Civil War, and 30,000 were wounded. By the end of the war, the Union's three top generals (Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan) were all from Ohio.

6. Three of the nation's top public libraries by library visits are in Ohio. We didn't get to see any of them, but Maumee, Ohio, has quite a nice public library, too.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

We walk into two bars in Ohio (and consider a third)

Slapsy Maxies and Level-One, Worthington, Ohio

We try to keep these posts positive. We figure in our one short visit, we get only a snapshot. It could be we happen to be in a particular bar on the night a bartender’s dog died or favorite television show was canceled, so this could be the one night of the week (month? year?) that the bartender is not in a good mood.

While in Columbus we found a strip mall near where we were staying with not one, not two, but three bars that caught our attention. There was Wurst und Bier, a German beer garden right here in the Midwest. Then there was Level-One, a video arcade bar. (But we’ve been to other arcade bars). And finally, there was Slapsy Maxies. We decided that Slapsy Maxie's was such a great name, we had to go there.

The bar was colorfully decorated inside, and there were plenty of TVs playing the sports, so we went to the bar and ordered our drinks (Henry’s Hard Orange Soda and Southern Tier Pumking). For whatever reason, maybe Fido died or Real Bartenders of Toledo wasn’t renewed, the bartender just didn’t seem that friendly. And looking around the bar, there was no one I felt comfortable approaching for conversation.
When I looked outside to the patio (the smoking area), there were some friendly looking folks sitting at one of the tables. We went outside, and Jess and Leland welcomed us to sit at their table. Not long after, they were joined by their friend, Makayla. (Makayla thought she was just coming to give Jess a ride, but she was persuaded to join us.)

Jess and Leland had just gotten off work at another nearby bar, Pastimes. It’s a fairly common thing for people who work in hospitality to go to another place of hospitality when work is done. Jess insisted she didn’t go out that often (“I go less than once a week!”), Leland countered that she had gone out three times last week. Jess explained that she had family visiting, so the situation was different. We don’t claim to have gotten to the bottom of the debate.

When Makayla arrived, Jess asked what she wanted to drink. Makayla asked for a pinot grigio, so I went to the bar to get it for her. The bartender poured the glass from what looked like an airplane-portion bottle, and she was as cheerful as before.  Maybe she’d been pulled over for speeding earlier because she was late for an ophthalmologist appointment. I really don’t know.

We asked Makayla, Leland, and Jess our standard questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?”

Leland said, “I”m looking for somewhere I can relax and have a good time, either close to work or close to home.” He considers atmosphere and location to be the most important things, and added, “When you work in the industry, you often go to another bar when you get off work.” He also said he likes “traditional bar food: appetizers, wings.”

Jess said that for her the crowd in the bar could make the difference. “Nondramatic, a fun environment, just good people to spend time with.” She said dancing can make the night. She also said when going out to a bar, it was nice to have a bodyguard with you (Leland was taking that role for the evening). She said the bartenders made a big difference as well.

Makayla said there are a couple of places she likes to go because she knows the bartenders. “For me, the bartender has a lot to do with it. Obviously, good drinks that don’t cost a lot, and a good patio with a roof.” She mentioned that if you know the bartenders, they might give you a extra good pour. As for music, she likes oldies and reggae, but not country. “But this place has a jukebox so it doesn’t matter.”

Everyone agreed that a nice patio on a night with good weather was a real attraction (and this was a nice evening for sitting out on the patio). They also agreed that they didn’t like teenybopers with fake IDs.

In answer to what makes for a good church, Jess said it was the same thing that made for a good bar, the “people, the crowd. I want people my age.”

“Good luck with that,” Leland chipped in.

Jess went on, “A good youth group. And a pastor I can listen to. I want stories from their life incorporated in, not just Bible verses for 45 minutes.”  She said the messages should speak to contemporary daily life.

Makayla said she likes an animated speaker and music besides “Amazing Grace.” She wants a  good band. She said she doesn’t like churches that preach hate and are judgmental. I asked her to explain more, and she said that a church she used to go to forbade a young man from attending because he was gay and attending with his partner. His family was also asked to not to attend, because they were supportive of him and therefore, according to that church, supportive of sin. Jess and Makayla both said they’d rather not go to a church like that.

Leland grew up attending a Baptist church, singing in the choir. He said he still loves an upbeat service with good Baptist preaching and singing. He told us about a recent training event the church had held to help people stay safe in case of a shooting incident.

So we were done with our questions, but still wanted to spend awhile with these folks because they’re fun. We particularly enjoyed Jess’ stories Red Bull helping her work the late nights (bars are open until 2:30 in the state) while also being a parent to small children -- and the time she shared that Red Bull addiction with Makayla.

They all encouraged us to go to Pastimes to hear some great stories from the staff there, but we were just a few doors away from a bar with free vintage 70’s and 80’s video games with the purchase of one drink, so that was calling me.

Level-one, Columbus, Ohio
But before leaving Slapsy Maxie's, I talked to another customer, Donnie, and asked our two questions. Like others, he said he appreciates bar with a good atmosphere defined by good people. He said that this particular bar doesn’t play the kind of music he likes, which would be hard rock and metal. He said he was happy if a bar has Heineken and a shot of Crown.

As for what makes for a good church, he said, “That’s a hard question. I’m a pagan. I can’t answer, I have different beliefs, so that’s where I stand on that one.”

So on we went to Level-One.* We had checked in there earlier to ask about the place, and the doorman recognized us and welcomed us back.

Because we wanted our video gaming skills working at their peak, we were happy that the bar had a good sized selection of mocktails in addition to cocktails. This meant we skipped such “real drinks” as Donkey Kong or Frogger or Tron. I went with the lightweight 99 Red Balloons (and they played the song as I drank it ), and Mindy chose Pinky (yes, in honor of Pac Man). Both were essentially fruit punch -- either with or without carbonation, and we enjoyed them.

Level-One had many of my favorites from back in the day, so I played Tempest, Centipede, Rampage, and so many more. I didn’t play Mario Kart on the big screen, but it was nice to know I could. Though a couple of TVs showed preseason NFL (also the case at Slapsy Maxie’s), they also had TVs tuned to networks with Stepbrothers, The Mechanic and John Carter of Mars.

This place is fun, but it really isn’t ideal for chatting with strangers. People are either involved with games or with talking with the people they came with. So we just talked with the staff.

Kim the bartender said that a bar’s atmosphere is established from people behind the bar. “I’ve been to dive bars with good bartender that make you want to come back.” She pointed out that bars these days need something to make them stand out, “Arcade bars, wine bars, chocolate-martini bars.”  She started at Level-One when it opened in September, but she said she’s a geek and already went to many arcade bars.

As for what makes for a good church, she said that it’s good to have a place that “lines up with your ideals and morals.”  She said used to go to church with her mom, and had actually gotten her mom to attend church after she’d attended VBS at a Spanish-language church. They went for years, but eventually the teaching didn’t sit well with her. She felt there was a lot of teaching about women submitting to men, which might be fine for an older generation but not for her. It was important to have a good community, without gossiping and backbiting.

On the way out, we talked with Brian,  who was working at the door. He said it important to have a good atmosphere with people who were well behaved, not drunk or spilling drinks. He said he has issues with his hearing, so he really doesn’t like a loud bar where he can’t talk with his friends.

Brian said, “I grew up Catholic, and those were by my beliefs until I was eighteen, with teaching that was anti-gay and anti abortion. But then I went to college and met people that are gay and have had abortions.” He wanted to avoid the “bad Catholic label.” “Churches should be open to change. The Bible was written 2000 years ago and doesn’t align with humanitarian beliefs of today.”

So we hit two of the three bars on that little strip. Sorry, Wurst und Bier.

*But that's not our final Ohio bar! Look another post soon, because we found ourselves at another bar on Friday night in Toledo. And sorry Jess, Leland, and Makayla -- that third bar is not Pastimes.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Do you know these 6 Vermont facts?

1. As of January 2016, Vermont is ranked as the safest US state.

2. New England's largest producer of apple cider (and it produces both hard and sweet cider) is Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury Center (on the way to Stowe). There's a gift shop and a Vermont-centric tasting room.

3. Vermont is the second least populous state (Wyoming has about 40,000 fewer people), and Montpelier is the least populous capital city in the United States. In 2010, 7,855 people lived in Montpelier.

4. Before it became the 14th US state in 1791, Vermont had established itself as an independent republic and had abolished adult slavery (men were automatically freed at the age of 21; women were freed at 18).

5. Family-owned dairy farms have been declining in numbers, so there are now more people than cows in Vermont. According to a recent article, Vermont's cow to human ratio is about .41, the same as Texas.

6. We passed a famous art museum. We also drove past a hay bale dog sculpture.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

We walk into a bar in Vermont

Charlie-O’s World Famous Bar and Fine Dining*, Montpelier, VT
The sign above Charlie-O’s boasts “Good Drinks and Bad Company, since the War between the States.” Last weekend, Charlie-O’s hosted a celebration of their 40th anniversary. You don’t have to be a math whiz or a history buff to notice a discrepancy there.  

We asked Beckie, the bartender and an assistant manager, to help us wrestle with that concept. She said that the building has held a bar since the Civil War, but it has only been under the name of “Charlie-O’s” for the last two score years. (Sorry about that. The Civil War got me thinking all Lincolnesque.)

The bar is located on Main Street in Vermont’s capital, Montpelier, with a few other bars, a movie theater, stores, churches, and city hall. Outside and in, the bar is decorated with the covers of old pulp novels and clever/corny sayings and song lyrics. There are two pool tables, a pinball machine, and a jukebox. The ceiling is low and the lighting is dim. The women’s room has a lock, but the men’s room does not. The space is long and narrow, and someone commented that when it’s raining, being inside was like being in a tent.”

There was a discussion going on at the bar about what made for a good bar name. I’ve heard of names like “The Office” (so you can call home and say, “I’m at The Office”), and on this trip (in Atlanta) we came across “Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium.” Favorites mentioned in the conversation included nearby bars called “Ladies Invited” and “The Perfect Wife.”

We felt we should order something Vermont-made, so we ordered two different kinds of Citizen’s Cider (Dirty Mayor and Unified Press). We arrived in the middle of the afternoon, so while there were some folks there, the bar was fairly empty. So when a couple at the bar was gathering up belongings to head out into the rain, I asked if they could spare a moment to chat.

We asked Anna and Rhyse our two standard bar questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?”

As for a bar, Anna said, “It depends on the mood you’re in. Sometimes you’re in the mood for dancing. Sometimes you want conversation. Sometimes you want good drinks and good food. Sometimes you want good music not for dancing.” She added,  Drink specials heavily play into it.”

Rhyse said, “Music.” (Anna told us Rhyse is a man of few words.)

I asked why they choose Charlie-O’s on that day. Anna said, “Charlie-O’s is a fun place to get out of the rain.”

Rhyse said, “Atmosphere.”

As for a church, Anna said, “I don’t go to church, but if I did I might go to the [Unitarian] church down the street. The Unitarian Church is the most liberal and accepting of all backgrounds. Being accepting is the main thing.”

Rhyse didn’t comment.

After Anna and Rhyse left, we moved closer to the center of the bar, near Alanna. She said, “I don’t know if you’ll want to talk to me, I’m on staff here.”

We assured her we loved to talk to bar staff. Alanna has been working at Charlie O’s for about a year. We asked her what made for a good bar.

“Well, it’s like it says on the sign out front, ‘Good drinks, bad company’.”  I asked her to elaborate. “I prefer my bars to be honest, not sugarcoated but worn. I like dirty, dark, dive bars.” She quoted Frida Kahlo, “You deserve the best, the very best, because you are one of the few people in this lousy world who are honest to themselves, and that is the only thing that really counts.”

Although she said she doesn't go to church, she said, “I’ve seen some of the best musical performances in churches, at church venues for festivals and such.” She said she appreciates a building that offers as much noise and resonance as possible.

Beckie the bartender had been most gracious, answering our questions about the bar’s history and about the city’s parking enforcement, and she answered our two standard questions as well. As for what makes a good bar: “I think it starts with the bartender, of course, then the welcoming atmosphere where you can come in and be yourself. The bartender is there to make a safe, good place.” A good bar should be “unpretentious” where “anybody can come in and feel accepted.”

As for church, Beckie mentioned that she was forced to go when she was young and doesn’t go now. “I think I was spoiled by the churches in Europe. They have such beautiful aesthetics and the churches here are so plain. American churches feel sterile It might go back to the Puritans. In the church you want to feel awe of the church building and who you’re worshiping.”  

As we were leaving, I noticed a couple of other people to talk to. I approached Mike, who said, “So, I heard you’re going to a bar and church in every state.”  Mindy said we were and offered him one of our cards, and I asked him what he thought makes for a good bar.

entrance to Charlie-O's World Famous in Montpelier, Vermont
Mike said, “Comfortability. And a good pool table. Actually, I should have put that first. That’s what keeps me coming here. The third part is a good bar staff. I work at a restaurant right down the street, and when I get off work it’s my five o’clock.” He described Charlie-O’s as being “like a living room” of sorts. (Mike works at La Puerta Negra, a Mexican restaurant. We went there next because Mike mentioned it was Taco Tuesday. Thank you, Mike!)

As for what makes for a good church, Mike said, “That’s a tough one.” He was raised in the Catholic Church but said, “I haven’t practiced for a long time.” He remembers being asked at church to go to a protest against civil unions and that didn’t sit right with him. He said that a church should have “no bigotry.” He also said it should be a place that’s all-encompassing and that welcomes everybody.

There was one last person, a young woman at one end of the bar. I asked her if I could ask a couple of questions. She said she would usually love to help, but she’d had a long day at work and just wasn’t up to it. Earlier, Beckie the bartender had mentioned that a place like Charlie-O’s can provide a “little bar vacation.” I hope this woman was able to enjoy hers.

(I noticed on their Facebook page that Charlie-O’s will be having Louisiana Flood Benefit Ragtime Masquerade on September 10. We’re wishing them well in that worthy cause.)

*The "fine dining" includes some chips for sale behind the bar and a hanging basket full of microwaveable food. It's possible they once offered finer food than that, but the menu hanging by the front door seems to indicate otherwise.

Monday, August 15, 2016

6 rather historical facts about Maine

Hancock Point, Maine
1. Maine voted to secede from Massachusetts in 1820 in order to become a state.

2. There's evidence (including an ancient coin) that Norwegians traded and harvested timber in what's now Hancock County, Maine, as early as the twelfth century.

Civil War monument, Camden, Maine
3. The 20th Maine, under Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, defended Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg. They prevented the Confederate Army from flanking the Union Army position.

4. There's no definite source for the name of the state, but it's been used since the 1600s.

Trail sign in New Hampshire
5. Maine is the least densely populated state east of the Mississippi River. The Appalachian Trail ends in the state, at Mt. Katahdin.

6. Academy award winning director John Ford was a native of Maine.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

We walk into a bar in Maine

Drouthy Bear Pub, Camden, Maine
The Drouthy Bear Pub, Camden, Maine

It was certainly a close thing, but the final measurement was 301 feet. Andrew Stewart converted a bed and breakfast into The Drouthy Bear Pub, and part of the permit process was to ensure the new pub would not be within 300 feet of a church or school. And there was a Congregational Church and a Montessori school very nearby.

An official (I believe from the city of Camden) came with a measuring wheel. The measurements were taken from the front door of one building to another. There was some distance to spare to the church, but there was only an extra foot of legal space from the school. To Andrew’s relief, it was enough.

Andrew grew up in Scotland, so it was natural for him to design Drouthy Bear to pay homage to his native land (even the word “drouthy” is a Scottish term for “thirsty”). The mission statement is to serve comfortable food and drink in a community atmosphere.

We came to this charming place upon the recommendation of an online friend, Kate Braestrup, a writer and chaplain to the Maine Warden Service. We met through a political website, and she agreed to get together near her Maine home. We all ordered dinner from a menu featuring tasty Scottish food (that is not a typo or oxymoron) like pasties and haggis and rarebit.  We talked about many things, but eventually we got around to asking the two questions we ask in every bar.

“Kate, what makes for a good bar?”

“Someplace within walking distance of my house.” This is not just a pipe dream. Kate hopes to have a place near her home where she can walk to get coffee in the morning and beer at night, and she hopes Andrew will be the mastermind behind it. Asked to name something else she likes in a bar, she said she looked for a place that is “not too loud. Sometimes it’s just too loud and you can’t hear people talk.”

Which leads right to her answer to “What makes for a good church?” “At the moment,” she said, “Political diversity; ideological diversity.” She argues that our inability to listen to people with different opinions is going to “make us stupid.” She also appreciates good music and an enthusiastic choir. “I like small. I like knowing people, knowing and being known,” although she said she doesn’t often have the opportunity to go to a big church. She laughingly added, “I appreciate a thought provoking, brilliant sermon” (more often than not, when she’s at church, she’s preaching).

Halfback Farm Cider and Crabbies Ginger Beer, Drouthy Bear Pub
Dinner being done, we left the dining table to waiting customers and went to the bar where Mindy ordered a Crabbie Ginger Beer, and I ordered a Whaleback Farm Cider. I would love to visit a whale farm.

A man standing next to Mindy was waiting for his drinks. When Mindy asked, he said his name was Giancarlo (which we forgot to ask how to spell. Please correct us!). He not only had ready answers for our questions, he put his reasons in numerical order. “1) A bartender who is pleasant and willing to serve. 2) Lighting. As a performing musician I’ve come to see its importance. 3) It should be like a living room.” He had numerical answers for the church question as well. “1) An environment where families can unite. 2) It should not just carry on traditions, but carry on the meanings of the traditions. 3) The clergy in the church should act as friends and tutors.”

We had a good time talking with Liz and Michael, on the other side of us at the bar. Both of them are employed in food services. Liz particularly expressed a desire to see the country. When asked our questions, Michael said he appreciates a bartender who’s happy and greets people. “It’s great when they remember your name. Andrew here makes you feel welcome.”

As for what makes for a good church, Liz spoke of “a sense of community and inclusiveness. I would like a little diversity in mine, too.”

Michael admitted he hadn’t been to church for a long time. Both he and Liz were raised in the Catholic Church, and he felt that if he goes to church, it should be a Catholic Church. LIz goes to all kinds of churches. Michael also said, “When things suck, I pray to God. When things are great, I don’t.”

I spoke to one other couple who were seated at a table near the bar. Andrew and Ellen. Andrew is from Great Britain, and he met Ellen (an American) online. In response our questions, Andrew said the atmosphere of a bar is important, and that’s defined by the owner, the bar person, and the clientele. The availability of good drinks is important, but he also appreciates good food. Andrew grew up going with to pubs in Great Britain with his parents, when all the drinks were beer and occasionally whiskey, but people expect more these days.

Ellen enjoys energy in a bar, when “you don’t hear anyone’s conversation, but you hear everyone’s conversation.” She doesn’t describe herself as much of a drinker, but thinks a good wine can accent a good meal.

As for what makes for a good church, we adapted the question to what makes for a good synagogue. Andrew was raised in the Church of England, but was willing go with Ellen to a Reformed Synagogue. And he found he was graciously accepted. Ellen considers that openness and acceptance are very important quality in a place of worship. “They’ll bless a child of two males or two females.”

As we were leaving, Giancarlo stopped us. He and his father, Craig, were sitting at an outside table. He said they were also from California and were visiting that part of the country, traveling on their motorcycles. He they were looking for a new place to live, perhaps a place that had both good churches and good bars. We didn’t have any solid answers about where the best place to go would be, but we were delighted to come across other people who were looking.

Monday, August 8, 2016

6 Reasons we're glad we went to New Hampshire

1. The state's motto is "Live Free or Die," which lends itself to yelling at random moments.

2. New Hampshire has no general sales tax and no personal income tax (except on interest and dividend income), but the State Liquor Commission, which controls the distribution and sale of alcohol, brings in $100 million annually.

3. The Lakes Region, especially around Lake Winnipesaukee, has many summer camps.

4. Daniel Webster and Mary Baker Eddy were both born in the state.
5. The Peterborough Public Library, founded in 1833, was the first publicly funded library in the world.

6. New Hampshire has the first presidential primary in each election cycle.