Monday, September 26, 2016

6 Wonderful Wisconsin Facts

1. The state's slogan, "America's Dairyland," is demonstrated in the fact that Wisconsin leads the country in cheese production (25% of the nation's cheese comes from Wisconsin).

Cadott, Wisconsin, is home to Country Fest and Rock Fest
2. Cadott, Wisconsin, is the geographical halfway point between the equator and the North Pole. The community also hosts two concert and camping events each year (Country Fest and Rock Fest) that draw thousands to the small town.

3. Wisconsin is first in US production of corn for silage, cranberries, ginseng, and snap beans for processing. Over half the nation's cranberries are grown in the state. Milk production is second only to California.

4. Alcohol consumption in the state is considered to be "frequent and moderate" -- the amount consumed each time is not high, though alcohol consumption happens more often than is typical.

5. Early state politics were shaped by the slavery issue. Wisconsin has always been a free state, and the first governor (Democrat Nelson Dewey) was an abolitionist. In an escaped slave case, the state Supreme Court declared the Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional. Opposition to slavery was also part of the reason the Republican party was founded in Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1854.

6. About 29% of the state's population identify themselves as Roman Catholic, and 50% consider themselves Protestants. The majority of Protestants are one of several variations of Lutheran.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

We Walk into a Bar in Wisconsin

Tom's Old Bogies bar, Holcombe, Wisconsin
Tom's Old Bogies, Holcombe

“Eva, good day or bad day?”

“Good day!”

“All right, just wanted to know how to make your drink!”

Penny the bartender greeted almost everyone cheerfully as they entered Tom’s Old Bogies bar on the Chippewa River.

We came on the recommendation of my niece, Sarah. Her dad (my brother) has a cabin in the area, and Sarah stayed there recently while she finished a writing project. She went to Bogie’s for a change of scenery. She told us about Tom the owner and his wife the school teacher and some of the staff and customers at the bar. She said the people were friendly and kind. (She also told us about another place where the people weren’t friendly and kind.) She assured us that Bogie’s should be our bar for Wisconsin.

The place looks like a log cabin in the woods, because it is a log cabin in the woods. We were pleased to see the parking lot was fairly full when we pulled in late on a Wednesday afternoon. I went to the street to take pictures, and Mindy went to the door. A woman who’d just come out asked Mindy where we were staying in the area, and Mindy was embarrassed to admit she wasn’t sure of the exact name of the neighborhood. I told the woman, Margie, that we were “near Holcombe Lake”. “Lake Holcombe”, she corrected me. (As back in California at my hotel job I endlessly gave the correct pronunciation of “Healdsburg.”)

The inside of the bar looks like the interior of a hunting cabin. There’s even a large knife hanging from the ceiling. A sign on the wall read, “Caution: Fishing and hunting stories in progress. Protective boots may be required,” and we did talk to some folks about fishing. A shoebox with several squash (perhaps for the taking?) was on a bench by the door, and, of course, there was a cow skull on one of the walls. There were maps available for ATV trails in the area. The news was playing on television screens mounted on either end of the bar.

When the NBC nightly news ran a story about allegations of fraud in the Trump campaign, someone said. “That’s a crock of [deleted for the kids]. This is just the Democrat News Network.”

Someone else said, “Half the movie stars in California say they’ll move to Canada if Trump is elected.”

“Do we need them?” someone else asked.

“Nope,” several people responded.  

Someone else mentioned she'd seen a homemade sign hanging over road kill deer which read, “He was going to vote for Hilary, but we took care of it.”

Before Margie left, I asked her our two questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?”I asked our two questions to Margie, the woman who asked where we were from, our two questions.  She said that for a bar, “It’s the people. In a small community like this one, everyone has to work together. Even if you’re a stranger. Last year there was a couple from Illinois, and he had an accident cutting a tree. He had a broken pelvis and was in the hospital for four weeks. People got together and cut them enough firewood to get them through the winter.” When I asked about what made for a good church, she gave me detailed directions to St. Francis Catholic church.

This led Penny the bartender to ask what we were up to, “The owner was in a minute ago. He wanted to know.” We told her about our project to visit a bar and a church in every state and that we were there upon the recommendation of our niece. “Oh, I remember her. She worked quietly on a table in the back there.”

I talked to the man next to me at the bar, Derk. He’s worked for the railroad for the last twenty one years and has been coming to Bogie’s for the last twenty. He said there’s only been two owners during that time, Tom for the last twelve and Dave Thatcher before that. I asked if the place changed at all when Tom took over. Derk said, “It’s cleaner now.”

I asked him what makes for a good bar, and he said, “Service. Somebody who’s not playing on their phone or talking to just one person but keeps everyone happy.” I asked if that was true of the staff at Bogie’s and he said, “That’s why I keep coming back.”

I asked what would make for a good church, “I have no idea. It’s not my thing.” I pressed him a bit on what might make it a good church for others, and he said, “It does a lot for a lot of people but not for me.”

Meanwhile, Mindy was asking the three men at her end of the bar about what makes for a good bar and church. Ken said the answer was the same for both places. “Good people. Like we’re doing here, talking. People can communicate.”

Another man added, “It’s something to do on a rainy day.”

And it was a rainy day. While we were there, someone called Penny the bartender to let her know that a tree was hanging perilously over the highway nearby, and she let the customers know. (We were glad the damage wasn’t on the road we’d be taking. The next day we heard that the storm had dropped record amounts of rain in several nearby areas.)

Finally, we were able to ask Penny the bartender about what makes for a good bar. “There should be a welcome feeling when you come in, camaraderie. And for us, we’re all close family. Coming here is like coming home. Bogie’s doesn’t feel like a typical bar, it’s cozy. I keep telling Tom we need easy chairs in here.”

Penny isn’t a church goer, so she didn’t give an answer for what would make for a good church. But when she heard what Ken had to say, she added, “Man made both buildings. I’ll pray in a bar.”

We’ finished our drinks* so we headed back into the rain and the beauty of the Wisconsin woods. (Thanks, Sarah, for sending us to Tom’s Old Bogies.)

*We stopped in Dixon, Illinois, last week, where we met two women with Wisconsin roots. One of them told us we had to have the Wisconsin version of a Bloody Mary, so that’s what Mindy ordered. Sure enough, instead of celery, her drink had an olive and a whole dill pickle on one toothpick with a strip of jerky and a straw. Dean had a rum and coke.

Monday, September 19, 2016

6 Unexpected Facts about Illinois

1. Three Presidents were elected while officially residing in Illinois: Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, and Ulysses S Grant. Ronald Reagan is the only President born and raised in the state.

2. Illinois is the only state whose capital is Springfield.

Wind turbines on the prairie in northwestern Illinois
3. Popcorn and Gold Rush apples are the official state foods.

4. The first European settlers were French Canadians who arrived via the Mississippi River. They mispronounced a term  they heard from the people already resident there (who called themselves Inoka) which English speakers misspelled Illinois. The original term meant "he speaks the regular way."

5. One of the state nicknames is "The Prairie State." (Another is listed on our other Blog)

6. John Deere's invention of the self-scouring steel plow turned the prairie into farmland by the mid-1800s.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

We walk into a bar in Illinois

Cherry Street Restaurant and Bar, Galesburg, Illinois
Cherry Street Restaurant and Bar, Galesburg
For the first time time on this trip, we went to a bar we had visited before, but the last time we were here we didn't drink. More accurately, we didn't drink alcohol. We had sparkling cider and probably water. Frankly, the beverages weren’t the chief thing on our minds because it was, after all, our daughter's wedding day.

Paige and Grant chose to have their wedding reception at Cherry Street because it had been a regular hang-out in their dating years. They were students at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and Cherry Street is an easy walk from the campus. They visited the restaurant together during their junior year. Grant ordered the Prime Rib sandwich, and they were happy to discover it was a huge steak on Texas toast for a quite reasonable price. Paige said that as a college students access to good, cheap steaks made them feel like  “they had hacked the universe”.  

photo courtesy of Grant and Paige Lowe
Grant’s 21st birthday was one of a number of special events celebrated at Cherry Street, but the big one for both of them was their wedding reception. (Paige’s bachelorette party was there as well.) Paige and Grant had decided to get married the day after their college graduation while friends and family were still in town. Cherry Street is closed on Sundays, but it’s possible to rent the place and have catering for special occasions.

At the reception the food was good, but this blog is about bars, you need to know that for the toast Grant and Paige chose sparkling cider, because Jil, Paige’s maid of honor, wasn’t yet 21. Still, when I asked Paige what she most appreciated about Cherry Street, she said, “It’s mostly about the steaks.”

wing night at Cherry Street Restaurant and Bar, Galesburg, Illinois
This time, we went to Cherry Street on a Wednesday night, very excited to know in advance that it was chicken wing night: fifty cents a wing. When we arrived, most of the tables were taken, and the wait staff was busy. We found a couple of seats together at the bar.  Nancy, the bartender, greeted us and told us about the dollar drinks specials (which included a variety of shots, draft beers, and mixed drinks including the Whiskey Sour I ordered). As other people came to the bar, they said, “Hi Nancy,” and she greeted them by name.

The Red Sox and the Orioles were playing mutely on some TVs and Penn and Teller were playing silently on others. Classic rock was playing (Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girls” and the Beatles “I Want to Hold Your Hand” were two songs I noticed.)

Mindy ordered a hard orange soda, and we ordered a dozen chicken wings, salad, and onion rings; after a minute or two, we realized that our waitress was Cherry Street’s owner, Lou. She bought the bar and restaurant six years ago. She’d been a bartender before, but this is the first place she’s owned.

We talked with her about some of the unique features of owning a bar in a college town. She said that during her first year at Cherry Street she felt very close to a number of the students. They asked her to come to the graduation. She said, “I went to the graduation and sat in the first row and cried.” And then they were gone. After that she decided not to get too involved  in students’ lives. After all, students can’t usually become bar customers until their junior year and then they only have one year remaining.

But she said the local young people have “discovered the restaurant side,” and she said she’s been focusing more on that side of the business for the past couple years.

We asked Lou our standard bar questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?”

She said that what she looks for in a bar is “atmosphere, for one.” She wants a place “that makes you feel comfortable.” For her, that includes dressing casually and not dealing with an uppity, formal environment. In addition, “the clientele for sure” helps make a bar a place she’d like to be. She also spoke of how helpful it, is as an owner, to have been a bartender. “It’s great. You’ve been in their shoes and understand where they’re coming from.”  She said their customers appreciate the food and drink specials at Cherry Street, and they “love taco Monday.”

Lou doesn’t go to church. She mentioned living in Utah for several years. (“Good luck getting into a church there,” she added.) She told us, “I would say if I had to be a religious person I’d be a Buddhist” because of the way the tradition had been explained to her by a Buddhist friend.

Mindy talked to Blaine, who was sitting next to her at the bar.  He’s recently returned to work after being away due to his health. He told Mindy, “I work in a bar -- I’m a bartender at Duffy’s across the street. People want to be comfortable where they go in. Duffy’s is a laid-back, quiet place. Places like this (Cherry Street) have good food. Meeting new people is always a nice thing for me.”

Mindy asked him about church. “I don’t go anymore, which is a shame.” One reason he doesn’t go, he thinks, is because “churches are different nowadays.” He doesn’t like mega-churches,  but spoke fondly of growning up in the Methodist church. “I like a church to be family-oriented, where they do things in the community.” He reminisced about watching all the people in his childhood church walking down the aisle to take communion., contrasting it with a large church he’d visited more recently. “It looked like a shopping mall inside. It was huge. It didn’t seem personal enough for me.”

I talked to a young guy at the bar named Josh. He said he’s drawn to a cheap bar with the appropriate attractions. Important to him is finding a healthy ratio of women to men. A good atmosphere in a bar is primarly supplied by the staff, he said; in a fancy place or a dive, it all depends on the attitude of those who serve you. The staff may just pretend to be friendly to get a good tip, but it is much better to be in a place where the staff seems to want to talk to you. If the bartender wants to have a conversation, “that’s a beautiful thing.”

When I asked Josh what makes for a good church, he said he doesn’t believe in anything but supports people going to church if it makes them feel more complete. “My Mom’s a die hard Christian. I’ve read the Bible, and it’s a good story, but it’s complete B.S.”

He said that he did appreciate a church he went to with his ex-girlfriend. “Some Christians say God will never give you more than you can handle, but this pastor said, ‘Sometimes you get more than you can handle in life.’ They tried to bring Christianity close to reality.”

He has no patience for Satanism or those who try to make Star Wars a religion. “I like the Golden Rule and when religions try to teach people to be good.” We spent some time talking, and I told him about churches we’d encountered on the trip and why I think the Bible is true.

Until we get back to California, I doubt we’ll have another chance to return to a bar. But I’m glad we had a chance to go back to Cherry Street.

Monday, September 12, 2016

6 startling Indiana facts

1. The state food is sugar cream pie, but Mindy prefers ice cream (Marion, Indiana, is the birthplace of Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield.)

2. The name means "Indian Land." Various tribes settled in the area beginning with the Paleo Indians around 8,000 BC, and Indiana tribes continued to defend the area against English incursion even after the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. In 1810, Tecumseh and his brother (called "the Prophet") encouraged other tribes to join them in resisting European settlement.

3. The motto of the state is "The Crossroads of America"

4. Indianapolis is the largest city in the state. It's also the capital.

5. Indiana is a leading corn and soybean producer in the United States.

6. There's less than a thousand feet difference between the state's highest point (Hoosier Hill, 1257 feet above sea level) and the lowest (the confluence of the Wabash and Ohio Rivers, 320 feet).

Saturday, September 10, 2016

We walk into a bar in Indiana

If you work at Chuck E. Cheese, you’re going to see many birthday parties for five year olds. If you work at a laser tag course, you’re going to see many birthday parties for ten year olds. And if you work at a college bar, you’re going to see the birthdays of many twenty one year old students.

The night we went to Harry’s Chocolate Shop near Purdue University, a young woman at the bar wore a sash announcing that this was her twenty first birthday. There are traditions for this celebration at Harry’s. I talked to a table of guys who said they all experienced the Birthday Shot at Harry’s. This drink’s ingredients are a bar secret, but are rumored to include tabasco sauce, hot pepper infused liquor and something or other that turns the drink green. This drink has the express purpose of clearing room in the stomach so twenty one shots can go down (and some up) the throat of the birthday boy or girl over the course of the birthday celebration.

But Harry’s isn’t just a college bar. I had an opportunity to sit down with Herschel Cook II, the owner of Harry’s. He pointed out that Harry’s has always been a neighborhood bar, too. In 1919, Harry Marack opened Harry’s Chocolate Shop in West Lafayette. At that time there was chocolate because the place was a soda fountain. The clientele was not primarily from the college because until just after World War II, Purdue University was small (Cook guessed there were only 300 students); there certainly weren’t enough students to keep the place open.

After Prohibition ended, Harry’s got a liquor license. The place was to be owned by the Marack family until 1977, and Harry Jr. ran it. But the Shop wasn’t flourishing, and when Cook offered to take it over, the two men agreed on a price. It was still a soda shop as well as a bar then, but sadly, Cook said, he could no longer find anyone to repair or maintain the soda equipment, which used a gas refrigeration system.

Cook said that Harry’s was a neighborhood bar, and it still is. He said on Sunday afternoons, he always sees many locals, and even on the Thursday night when we visited, I saw a number of people who were no longer college age greet Cook. But on nights like the one when we visited, a substantial majority in the bar appeared to be college students.

Cook said he appreciates the students that come to the bar. The staff treats them with respect, and the students respond in kind. Cook spoke very highly of his staff, saying he’s appreciated the people who have worked with him through the years. Many of them still keep in touch, and he said that his clientele also stays in touch. Cook noted that Harry’s is known throughout the world because Purdue alumni have gone throughout the world, and they do at times return. One of Cook’s first customers when he took over the bar was a priest from St. John’s who stays in touch nearly forty years later.

I asked Cook what advice he would have for someone who was starting a new bar. He said he would have no idea what to tell such a person, because he would have no idea what to do if he was doing it all again. As a senior in high school he knew he wanted to go into the bar business, and it’s easy to see he still loves the place.

And I could see why. The night we were there the crowd was lively, speaking loudly to be heard over the hits of the seventies and eighties. The walls are covered with memorabilia of Purdue past. There is are photos of football greats and names signed on the walls. Names are carved into the tables downstairs. The decades of history still seem to be alive, and yet they blend with fresh young faces arriving every school year.

So we decided to ask a couple of fresh questions. If you’ve read this blog before, you know we usually ask what makes for a good bar and what makes a good church. But this time we asked two different things, “What advice would you give someone going to a bar for the first time?” and “If you were going to a church for the first time, what would you want to know about it?”

Of course we had to talk to the birthday girl, thinking perhaps she might have bar advice fresh in her mind. Her name was Jackie, and she said she was told to eat well before going to the bar and to drink water. She also said she was told not to worry about buying drinks on her birthday because people would buy them for her.

We received other advice for first time bar patrons. Mindy talked to Eric, who was checking I.D.s at the door. He also advised, “Eat first or eat here.” He added, “Wear comfy shoes. Pace thy self.”

I talked to Tim, who was obviously not of college age (sorry, Tim). He said he would advise a first time bar visitor to “know the reputation of the place. This place, most of the college bars are safe. But there are places in some parts of town you wouldn’t want to go into.”

Lisa, who also at the window seats near the door, said she would tell someone going to a bar for the first time, “Live in the moment, have fun.”

I talked to a group of guys sitting around a table in the back. They spoke highly of Harry’s, telling me about the coveted window seats that people wait for and pounce on when they become free. They told me about famous Purdue alumni who return to Harry’s such as Drew Brees and Neil Armstrong (though they admitted Neil’s return was unlikely). I asked them for advice for first timers.

Carson said, “Watch out for the birthday shot, it will bite you.”

Tyler said, “Avoid franchise bars.” He spoke for the superiority of neighborhood bars.

Blake said, “Don’t go to a bar alone.”

Brayden said, “Don’t leave a bar alone.”

Braden said, “Keep a glass of water handy.”

Sarah joined us at the table, and she said that she would tell a first time bar attendee, “Be openminded. Try to talk to everyone because there are so many cool people. Have fun. Wear appropriate attire. Be yourself.”

It seemed people struggled some with our new church question, “If you were going to a church for the first time, what would you want to know about it?” (Possibly because we didn’t formulate a very good question). People had some interesting answers none the less.

Several said they would want to know what religion the church was -- a reasonable response.

Juan, who was also working near the door, told Mindy he would want to know if there was “more of a community aspect, how close people are, (if it was) more of a family thing”.

Jackie, the birthday girl, said she’d ask, “Are you a cult? I’m a Catholic, I already know all about it.” One of her friends said he’d want to be sure there was no human sacrifice involved. Another friend of Jackie’s, Stacy, would want to know if the church was “accepting, no matter what you believe.”

Lisa said she’d like to know about the preaching style.

Blake would want to know if it was a big or small church.

Tyler said he preferred a small church, “because if a pastor is speaking at my funeral, I’d like for him to have known me.”

Sarah said, “I’d like to know what they stand for, what they teach. I’d like to be sure they weren’t judgemental and hypocritical.”       

It can be intimidating going to a new place, whether it’s a bar or a church. But the people at Harry’s Chocolate Shop made us feel welcome. (Even though they didn’t have chocolate. Which was, frankly, a little disappointing.)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

We walk into a bar in Michigan

Glengary Inn, Wolverine Lake

“I don’t drink, so I don’t know what they taste like.”

It was an unusual admission from a bartender. Someone had asked for a Stroh’s beer; Stacy had offered the choice of the new or the old bottle. The man at the bar asked what the difference was. And that’s how Stacy the bartender answered his question.

We asked about her about it later, and she said that she didn’t like beer or most liquor but she there were a few cocktails she enjoyed. (I was glad to hear it wasn’t a Sam Malone situation for a problem drinker who worked as a bartender.)

We could sympathize with Stacy, since we’ve made a commitment to visit a bar in every state and we don’t like beer -- which is why we went with ciders this week, which we do enjoy. (Angry Orchard again for Mindy and McKenzie’s Black Cherry for the first time for me) But the fact that Stacy couldn’t really help with personal recommendations about drinks didn’t seem to bother anyone we talked to, as everyone had kind words about her and the rest of the staff and ownership at Glengary Inn.

We choose to go to the Glengary Inn partly because it was near where we were staying (my nephew’s place). We could have gone into Detroit, perhaps a scary bar in the future home of Robocop, but instead we went to a nice little neighborhood bar with good Yelp reviews and local press awards (Best Sports Bar, Best Fish and Chips, and Best Burgers).

The first customer we talked to, Gary, said he’d experienced the bar with a couple of different owners. The former owners “weren’t progressive”. By that he meant the staff wasn’t particularly friendly or accommodating to guests. He described the new owners as “magnanimous Pied Pipers” who have cultivated a following. He described the owners, JR and Linda, as “salt of the earth;” he said they know everyone and treat everyone well. He said they weren’t in the business just to make money, “their objective is grander than the daily deposits. I mean, this place is Cheers.” He added that they make the bar a fun place to be and that they host festive events like Euchre* nights. “You really landed in a great sweet spot,” he added. “It’s that bar everybody thought Archie Bunker went to at the end of his street.”

Gary talked a bit about bars that were the opposite of the Glengary Inn. There was a place in Illinois called Poor Pats that downright scary. “You had to drink 100 proof liquors to kill the germs on the glasses. The only possible reason you would go in there was that you were desperate for a drink.”

Most of the good things Gary said about Glengary Inn were in response to our standard bar question, “What makes for a good bar?” For him, Glengary Inn was an appropriate answer to that question. We also asked him our other standard question, “Whether you go or not, what makes for a good church?”

Gary said, “I’ve spent an exceedingly large percentage of my life in Catholic churches.” By his observation, it is important to have “a cohesive parish council is in synch with the parish priest.”  Sometimes, he said, a priest will come in thinking he has “a direct line to God” and make changes on his own initiative, such as firing a youth worker or worship leader who’s been doing good work just to bring in his own people.

He spoke favorably about a former priest, Father Bill, who was “approachable and embraced people. When it was time to sprinkle the holy water, he made sure everybody got sprinkled...You got touched.” A good church, he said, has “room in the tent for everybody.”

We also asked Stacy the bartender our two questions. As for what made for a good bar, she said, “The clients, the people, and my staff.” She spoke fondly of the people who came to this bar, “We don’t get the riff-raff, we don’t get the drama.” She also said the quality of the food was important, noting the awards the kitchen had earned. (We had a couple of the sliders, which cost two dollars apiece and are quite good.) She said that she wouldn’t know what made for a good church, since she didn’t go. When we pressed a bit for an answer, she said, “The pastor or preacher or whatever, and probably the community of people, too.”

I heard a couple of the guys at the bar talking baseball. (The Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Soxs were playing on the TVs, and the Sox were winning.) I was wearing an Oakland A’s shirt (one of my standard fashion choices), so we talked about the Tigers/A’s playoff serieses over the last few years. They (kindly) didn’t rub in the Oakland losses. I mentioned that we would be going to Illinois in a couple of weeks and Tim and T. asked me to remind people there that Lake Michigan is “our lake.”

This was Tim’s first time at Glengary. T. is a local and was introducing him to the place. (T. also said the new ownership had done much to improve the Inn.) I asked them what made for a good bar. Tim said, “A good bartender that you don’t mind talking to and had a heavy hand making good drinks.”

T. seemed happy if there were “sliders and Stroh’s”.

As for what made for a good church, they both spoke of good music from a good band. A local Hispanic congregation has a great bass player, good music. Tim said, “Good music is much more fun than a preachy sermon.”  They also added that air conditioning was a must.

I talked to one more guy as the bar (Mindy pointed out after we left that she had been the only woman in the place besides two women on the staff). William said that the atmosphere was important in a bar, “laid back, fun, and good food; good prices on drinks.”  As for church, he said, “I stopped going years ago.” I asked him why, and he said, “Personal reasons. The war was going on and there were a lot of conflict of interests.” (I thought about saying that when the war was going on, there were a variety of stands churches took on the issue, but it really was time for us to be going.)

When Mindy first suggested going to the Glengary Inn, I couldn’t help thinking of the David Mamet play and film, Glengarry Glen Ross about shady real estate salesmen. Fortunately, the folks at Glengary Inn seem to be the real deal.

*The game of euchre has origins among the German settlers of the Midwest. According to Wikipedia, it introduced the Joker to the modern playing card deck.