Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mission: Impossible*

*where the mission is: "visit Niagra Falls without spending any money."

I made the trip to Niagra yesterday, to see what all the fuss was about. Before I got to the falls, I realized something important: this place was going to be expensive. Pay-to-park lots dominated the landscape. That, and boarded-up buildings. The city of Niagra Falls, apparently, is horribly, cripplingly economically depressed. I could tell, because the Canadian side of the falls looked great. They had ferris wheels, and waterslides, and big hotels, and even a little CN-Tower-looking thing. Based on my experiences of Toronto and now Canadian Niagra Falls, I have determined that every city in Canada has a big space-needle sort of tower.

Back to the story at hand. Tourism appears to be the sole source of income for people working in Niagra Falls, and they don't mess around. This was going to be a tough one. I found a more-or-less free lot after a bit, several miles downriver. Luckily, when it comes to tourist places, I like two things:
1. I like to hike.
2. I like to not pay money.*

*this is the reason why I did not actually see Mount Rushmore, despite driving right up to the damn thing. After rolling up the hill and catching glimpses of the monument, I was notified that it would cost $10 to park. Ten dollars. To spend a couple minutes looking at some big stone heads. I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

So I got walking, up to the falls. And now that I've seen it --

It's nice. The falls are really big, and there's lots of water whooshing down making a cool sort of DOOOOOOOOOOOOM sound as it throws up massive clouds of mist. There were big crowds of friendly-looking Canadians on the other side of the gorge, and there was a boat down at the bottom of the falls, its engines running at full power just to hold in place in the current. There were also massive crowds of people everywhere, including a particularly foolish-looking group wearing bright yellow plastic parkas and sandals waiting in line to take an elevator to the base of the falls. I walked around, I saw the sights, and i stayed away from places that cost money. I left with the same amount of cash in my pocket as when I showed up, and that's a victory in my book.

Take that, Niagra Falls tourism industry!

I've been in Rochester, NY, the last few days, after driving over from Indiana on Sunday. What did I discover on Sunday? That Indiana is boring. I also found a real, live national park, just south of Cleveland. Cuyahoga is a pleasant park of tallgrass prairies interspersed among hardwood forests in the rolling hills of the Cuyahoga valley. It was a perfect place to get out of the car and hike around for a few hours to break up the monotony of driving from South Bend to Rochester. So that's good. The weather was also kind to me, waiting until I was done hiking to open the skies and dump massive rainstorms upon me.

Today was a "Dave discovers Rochester" day. I drove by the Kodak campus, an absolutely massive affair covering what has to be thousands of acres in Rochester. I discovered Rochester's contribution to world cuisine: the garbage plate (a collection fries, macaroni, cheese, and no fewer than two kinds of meat (hot dogs, cheeseburgers) thrown in for good measure. Said ingredients are then tossed unceremoniously into a massive pile on a plate. Or, as was the case last night, on a pizza. Delicious). And I visited the Rochester Museum.

Well, sort of. I got off to a good start, doing all sort of museum things like looking at exhibits and reading signs. Then I saw K*nex zone. It had massive bins filled with little snappy plastic pieces and wheels and gears and all sorts of fun things. Then I looked at the sign, and realized that the age limit was 3, so I couldn't go in. Then I looked at the sign more closely, and realized that 3 was the minimum age.


I spent the next two hours building a massive sort of semi-truck-looking-sort-of-thing. It was clearly more impressive than anything the 8-year olds near me could construct.

Score again.

Then I realized that I had spent the better part of the afternoon not seeing the museum, and decided the remedy this within the remaining 60 minutes I had before the museum closed. This plan worked for a few minutes, before I discovered the climbing wall. Presumably, it was an exhibit of the Taconic orogeny, showcasing the rock formations of the Rochester area. Realistically, it was a rock climbing wall. Once again, I was far superior on the climbing wall to any of the 8-year olds in the museum.

Score once more.

So, it was good fun, and I clearly established my dominance over the children of Rochester. Good times.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Time (Zone) On My Mind

Eastern Time Zone, bitches!

...The Road Trip is almost over. I passed the line sometime last night in the featureless nothing of Western Indiana. I'll be making this one short, because I've got five hours of driving until the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Let's Do This!

1. Olympics on the Tee Vee. Soccer. The Netherlands took an early 1-0 lead, but Team USA struck back in the 2nd half, scoring two big goals. They're got the lead with 5 minutes to play, and if the US can hold on this will be something of an upset. U! S! A! U! S! A!

2. Yesterday was a good day. I started off with a tasty breakfast at the Blackstone Family Diner in Green Bay, and had an extended conversation with my breakfast buddy, Jim. I hadn't meant for it to be an extended conversation, but Jim is the sort of person who will not stop talking long enough for you to make a polite exit out of the conversation. He's also apparently not too fond of black people (which unfortunately, I've found is a fairly common failing among most of the otherwise-admirable, honest folks of Small Town, America). Jim's claim to fame is that at 4'-11", he was the shortest locomotive engineer (he worked for the Green Bay Railroad) in America. So, a celebrity, I guess. I'll take what I can get.

3. Speaking of celebrities, after finally getting some internet access, I found out who signed my football! My two new favorite football players (non-New England Patriot division) are #26, Safety/Speacial Teamer Charlie Peprah, and #44, rookie Tight End Evan Moore. Both are fine, upstanding young men (largely by merit of signing my football), and-

Netherlands just tied the game in stoppage time. the final result will be a tie. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I hate the fucking Dutch. Bunch of clog-wearing, tulip-snorting windmill huggers.

-Evan, a graduate of Stamford University, was even nice enough to have a conversation with me. It's a long one, but I'll include the transcript in its entirety below:

Evan (to some little kid who kept whoring out for an autograph by yelling, among other things, that he had came all the way from Maryland to get an autograph): "You know, I'm from California"
Me (holding out football and sharpie): "Hey, I'm from California"
Evan (signing my football): "Really?"
Me: "Yeah, San Francisco"
Evan (handing back now-signed ball): "Cool."

Ladies and gentleman, my new best friend, Evan Moore.

So Charlie is a third-year backup player, and Evan is a rookie free agent, so as you football fans know it's practically GUARANTEED that both will go on to become massive superstars. Probably. Or they were just nice enough to sign my crap because everyone else was busy screaming at Donald Driver and Ryan Grant for autographs. Either way, I'm happy.

4. In Manitowoc, Wisconsin, I visited the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. Turns out the city has been a historic center of shipbuilding on the Great Lakes, among other things turning out a number of submarines that fought in the Pacific during WWII. The museum features a perfectly-maintained sub, the USS Cobia, which was built in the Electric Boat Yards in Groton, Connecticut (REPRESENT!), but otherwise is pretty much exactly the same type of sub that was built in Manitowoc. The museum features a full tour of the sub, so you can see first-hand just how cramped, claustrophobic, hot, and stinky these subs were. Those of us on the tour were in for a treat as one of the surviving veterans of the sub told us about his experience on the ship (he was a torpedo loader in the aft torpedo room), including a harrowing recounting of sitting in the completely quiet, darkened sub on the muddy floor of the sea as a Japanese destroyer rained down depth charges around the Cobia.

There's more to come here, but I want to get to the Hall of Fame before it closes tonight. So here's a quick outline of what you'll have to wait to read about:

*EDIT* I've finally gotten around to writing about the fun stuff from a few days ago. Here we go:

1. Indiana has some rather oddly-named roads. First up is an instant classic, "FANGBONER RD." But no matter how much fang or boner that can provide, it can't beat the elegant simplcity of "FAIL RD." Both are located somewhere west of South Bend along Route 20. I have decided that I need to own the "FAIL RD" sign. The next step: find a way to acquire it without doing anything illegal, Or without getting caught. Whichever is easier.

2. Indiana is a cripplingly boring state. I seriously think that the state was deliberately trying to get me out be being so horribly uninteresting. The only thing in the entire state that could even conceivably be considered an attraction would be its many fireworks stores, in particular "Krazy Kaplan's." Mr. Kaplan is so "krazy," apparently, that he offers an unprecedented "6-for-1" deal on select fireworks at his stores. And that's just special.

I found myself in Indiana because I was running from some particularly scary-looking thunderstorms, and didn't find a motel worth stopping at until I'd made it to South Bend. By this point, I had passed into the Eastern Time Zone (without knowing it; every other time I had passed to a new time zone on this trip a friendly sign was there to notify me. Not in Indiana. Yet one more way the state tried to make my trip as boring as possible), which is good. I'd been getting tired of having to do "time zone math" whenever I decided to call someone on the east coast. In any case, I had been running from the thunderstorms since I was in the state of Illinois, where I got to see the beautiful skyline of...

3. Chicago. I timed my drive perfectly, catching the Sears Tower, the Hancock Tower, and countless other skyscrapers against a backdrop of towering thunderheads, all illuminated by the setting sun. I found myself driving by (Whatever The Hell They Call It Now That It's Not Comiskey Park Anymore) Park, wondering who could be playing the White Sox that night. Turns out it was the Red Sox, as I learned when I got to a TV. Damn. At the very least, I drove past Chicago while playing Sufjan Steven's "Come on Feel the Illinoise" album, so I got to feel clever about something.

4. What time is it? MILLER TIME. While in Milwaukee, I made a point to visit the Miller brewery. I would like to stress before I continue that the brewery tour Miller offers is *FREE*, and includes free fair-sized tastings of their fine selection of beers. Emphasis here in "FREE." As opposed to "fine." But still -- "FREE." I got to see part of the Miller bottling facility, a magnificent state-of-the art conglomeration of equipment that spits out some half a million cases of beer every day. I also learned that Miller ships out forty rail cars full of beer each day, with a single rail car containing enough beer that if I were to drink one six pack of beer a day, would last me for 43 years. Clearly, I need to figure out how to get a rail car full of beer. The tour starts out with a wonderfully cheesy introductory movie, which takes every opportunity to remind you that the current time is Miller Time. My favorite scene:

(a happening-looking bar. Some dude is sitting there, enjoying a frosty bottle of Miller Lite)
Announcer: "There's a time that we like to call 'Miller Time.'"
(the guy looks over, and the camera pans to a beautiful woman, also enjoying a Miller Lite)
Announcer: "A time when the day goes from good..."
(the woman smiles at the dude)
Announcer: "...to great"
(the camera pans down to her cleavage)



Lambeau Leap

(A quick one from a couple days ago (8/8/08). Another one coming later this morning, once I get some coffee in me.

So I’m sitting here plugged into an RV electric box, and I figured it was time to get a little journal writin’ in. I’ll figure out how to get this bad boy onto the internet later. “Later” may come sooner than expected, as I’m not entirely sure if I’m allowed to be camping here in the Brown country fairgrounds just south of that hallowed football ground, Lambeau Field.

I’ve missed out on a few tourism opportunities while driving through Wisconsin; three of them passed me by in quick succession yesterday:

1. “The House On The Rock.” Apparently, it’s just what it sounds like. In any case, it featured prominently in Neil Gaiman’s excellent novel, “American Gods,” so it would have been nice to see what the real thing looked like. So it goes.
2. The Mustard Museum. This had the potential to be incredibly awesome, or hopelessly lame. Probably the latter. Still, I have to tip my hat to the man (or woman) who made their way to Wisconsin, built their museum, and said: “Fuck it. Let’s make the whole thing about mustard.”
3. I don’t know what it was, but what I did manage to read on the billboard proclaimed “60 KINDS OF CHEESE.” It doesn’t take much more than that to get me interested.

Today was a Lambeau Field day, in every possible sense. I showed up a little after 1pm and hopped on the stadium tour, which featured among other things a chance to walk down the tunnel from the locker room to the field. The very same tunnel that the players walk down before every game. The tour guide even arranged to pipe in a recording of a crowd cheering as an announcer introduced “…the GREEN BAY PACKERS!” Even in an empty stadium, it was an amazing experience. I can only imagine how it feels for a rookie to walk down that hallway as he prepares to play his first home game.

After the tour, I hit up the Packers Hall of Fame and learned all about the history of the storied franchise. What did I learn? Vince Lombardi was a badass. I also had a beer at “Curly’s Pub,” a sports bar in the stadium, and had a sandwich called the “Lambeau Leap.” It was a reuben.

And finally, because I hadn’t had enough Lambeau already, I walked over to the practice field to watch the team’s afternoon practice. Apparently, when the players make the way down to the field from the locker room, they each ride a bike provided by a local child. The kid gets to carry their helmet and run alongside the player down to the field. It’s a beautiful sight to watch these massive athletes slowly roll down the path on bikes barely capable of keeping unbroken under the weight, as very young (obvious) Packer fan runs behind them, helmet in hand, every tiny aspect of their body language screaming, “this is the greatest honor of my life!”
Not to miss out on the opportunity, I joined the kids by the field, and sharpie and hand, tried to get my football autographed. Two gentlemen were kind enough to oblige, and they may even have been players on the team! I would like to thank Mr. #26 and Mr. #44, and I’ll thank them by actual name once I actually figure out who they are. But seriously. Thanks for the autographs.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve gotten to see NFL players up so close (if ever), and one thing struck me: I’m old. At 26, I felt like damn Methuselah looking at these kids. The Packers have one of the younger teams in the league, and considering that most of the players riding my were either rookies or in their first few years, I’d bet that the average age of the bike riders was 22. Young. But *jacked. They may have had baby faces, but these guys had guns like an NRA convention. It was an abrupt departure from the downright skinny-looking players from the 1920’s and 30’s featured in the Hall of Fame.

Well, time for some sleep. It’s an early morning tomorrow, my first taste of Lake Michigan, and quite possible a tour of the Milwaukee breweries, followed by a Milwaukee Brewers game. I hear Ben Sheets is pitching!


Friday, August 08, 2008

"Is this heaven?" "No, it's Iowa"

Another more-or-less quick one. As has become the norm on this trip, I'm harried by motel check-out deadlines whenever journal-writing time comes around.

I'm in Madison, Wisconsin, getting ready to make my way north up to Green Bay for my pilgrimage to visit Lambeau Field. From what I gather, I might even get to watch some training camp practice (minus Brett Favre, of course, but so it goes. I'm just glad that this charade is finally over and I'll have some small chance of seeing actual football news instead of the "What will Brett Favre do" circle-jerk that's taken over sports news for the past month). So that's good.

I made my way to Lucky’s Tavern in Madison last night, in wishful anticipation of watching the Patriots-Ravens preseason game. Football season, beautiful, wonderful football season, has finally returned. Unfortunately, the NFL and its television affiliates have no love for traveling preseason football devotees such as myself – although Lucky’s has one of the more advanced sports bar TV setups known to man, they weren't able to get the Pats game. As such, I had to make do with Cardinals-Saints to satisfy my football cravings, and let Mr. Internet keep me up-to-date on the Patriots.

Or not. Mr. Internet decided that it wasn't worth his time to show up at Lucky's, so I cut my losses and turned to Mr. $1 PBR draft beers for my mental, emotional, and spiritual fulfillment. I attempted a little live blogging though, which lasted about ten minutes before my pizza arrived (tasty). A sampling:

Brett Favre looks freaking *weird* in a NY Jets cap. He’s not playing, but he’s on the sidelines. I’m not sure what to make of all this, but so long as the Jets lose a high draft pick for him, I’ll be happy.

…And the Browns have already hit the endzone against the Jets. A nice little out from Derek Anderson. Too bad Favre can’t play defense.

Update from my dad: Jerod Mayo is a BEAST. A man against boys out on the football field. I can't wait to see him play when I'm back in New England.

...And that's enough of that. No one wants to hear your dumb story about what happened while you were at the sports bar. This includes the other people at the sports bar. Let's move on...

...to the title of this post. After a few days visiting my friend Becca in Iowa City (city motto: "It's surprisingly pleasant!"), I got on the road heading for Madison. With little else in the landscape besides cornfields and the occasional combine harvester chugging down the road (they are awesome), I found myself reading every sign I saw on the side of the road in a desperate attempt to break up the monotony. One such sign: "Field of Dreams Movie Site."

Well, I'd already gambled at Kevin Costner's casino back in South Dakota, so I figured I had to check this out. A few miles outside of Dyersville, Iowa, I found it. The red clay of the infield, the perfect green of the outfield, and an endless field of corn stretching out behind it. A father had brought his young children and was throwing them batting practice on the field. I watched the scene for a moment, and was struck by the greatest urge to play baseball I have ever felt. Finally, after crossing more than half the country, I had found a reason for lugging my baseball glove around in my car the entire trip. I waved to the dad, asked if he'd mind if I shagged fly balls in the outfield, and went out to play some baseball.

Other people arrived and left over the next few hours -- young children with gloves at bats, mothers and fathers with baseball caps for teams all over the country, even full-grown men with no gloves, no hats, and no shoes, running around in the soft outfield grass chasing down the hits. I spent the better part of the afternoon on that field, flashing the leather, running down flies, taking some swings, even pitching to a suite of children barely big enough to swing a bat. There were no teams, no score kept, no winners or losers. It was just a collection of strangers brought together by a common love of the simple pleasure of playing baseball.

I've played in championship games (ok, little league, but give me a break here), I've seen incredible professional games, and I've even gotten to see a superbowl live. And yet, I think the hours I spent on that field in Iowa will be the best sports memory I will have. There was none of the importance, none of the drama, none of the life-or-death excitement, and certainly none of the talent that I have seen in professional sports. But it had a pure, innocent joy in simply playing that I've never felt before.

And it was beautiful.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Good Ol'-Fashioned Americana

It's been all about AMERICA these last few days. Let's recap:

I hit up what may be my last national parks for this trip, Wind Cave and Badlands. After making my way through a number of cave-parks earlier in my road trips, wind cave was unlike anything else I had seen. This is mostly due to geology. I'll spare you my clumsy attempt at an explanation.

Badlands also featured large amounts of geology, with a special bonus ranger presentation on Friday night. The presentation was little more than a simple presentation showing the constellations of the night sky, but in a place like Badlands the stars take on an entirely different form. In the dark sky of rural South Dakota, the milky way makes an impossibly bright white band across the a field of millions of visible stars in the sky.

It was beautiful, etc, etc. Let's move on to something that might actually be entertaining.

Other things to see in South Dakota:

1. Minuteman National Historic landmark. During the Cold War, the US had as many as a thousand Minuteman ICBM's in launch tubes spread out across the country. A single missile could be launched within a matter of minutes, fly to just about any possible target in Russia, and vaporize a large city. South Dakota had several hundred missiles at the ready, sitting in unmarked launch stations surrounded by grazing sheep. While various ungulates were chewing their cud above, teams of air force missile technicians were sitting in underground bunkers performing the most stressful job possible and dreading receiving the coded message that could mean full-blown nuclear war. You can take a tour of the now-empty (the missiles were decommissioned in '91) silos if you so desire -- it's humbling to walk around a place that once housed the most destructive weapons ever known to man.

2. Wall Drug. It may not have thermonuclear warheads, but it does have a hell of a lot of billboards. Anyone approaching along the highway will have seen several hundred signs advertising the store, and will be forced to pull in to visit just to satisfy their curiousity, or more likely, because South Dakota is *very* flat and they're dying to do *anything* to break up the monotony of the drive. Wall Drug is the size of a Walmart, but it has grown organically -- it's clear that it was a single store downtown that bought up the adjacent buildings as it expanded and just cut doorways through the walls, creating a strange amalgamation of dozens of smaller stores that combine, Voltron-like, into the wonder and majesty that is WALL DRUG. Coffee is 5 cents, too, so that's good. Although I fear I may have overpaid, given the quality. Still... 5 cents!

3. The Corn Palace of Mitchell, SD. The city of Mitchell built the corn palace way back in 1892, the thinking being, it will be a tourist trap and put our little burg on the map, and besides, what else are we going to do with all this corn. The outer walls of the brick building (inside is a large auditorium that can serve as a theater or basketball arena) are decorated with massive, 40-foot high murals composed entirely from different-colored dried corn plants. Inside, the corn palace features photographs of the corn murals from previous years -- every year, the town commissions a local artist to design the mural and volunteers create the corn-art. The pictures provide a great picture of American history as viewed through the eyes of a small town in
the center of America.

4. The Song of Hiawatha Pageant. This isn't actually in South Dakota, but instead in Pipestone, Minnesota (which is about 5 miles from the Dakota border, so close enough). I had stopped by to see the Pipestone National Monument (having no idea of what it was, other than hey, it's along my route), and upon arriving was corraled into a field where volunteers were directing cars to park. Turns out I had showed up, less than an hour before it was set to begin, the final performance of the summer of the Song of Hiawatha Pageant. Every summer since 1948, this small town had put on the pageant, in which a narrator read of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" as a cast of hundreds of actors pantomimed the actions of the story. The "stage" encompassed a small lake and the surrounding ground, featuring fights ending with the loser being thrown into the lake, lots of bonfires, and assorted pyrotechnics including a fire-breathing snake. The cadence of the poem is beautiful, and the colors of the performance are fantastic, but the ending pissed me off. The poem tells the legend of Hiawatha, a great hero of Native American folklore and mythology, and after he performs countless quests and brings wisdom to his people, the poem ends with a couple Christian Missionaries showing up and Hiawatha telling his people to follow their teachings. The idea that this is the final and greatest act of Hiawatha struck me as, well, insultingly racist, and after the entire poem focusing entirely on purely native legends, the ending seemed tacked-on and out-of-place. Apparently it is from the original poem, however, so it looks like Longfellow was the racist dick who couldn't help telling indian legends without cramming on some schlock about how european religion and culture was better and "saved" the natives. Nice job there, Henry.

I've also now gotten the full tour of Minneapolis and St Paul, the Twin Cities of Minnesota. My tour included all the sights: the new I-35 bridge being built over the Mississippi River to replace the one that collapsed last year (reinforced concrete box girder design -- it's a real beaut!), the Mall of America (it's really, really, really big. Also, they have a rollercoaster inside. And considering that weather in Minnesota is either *balls cold in the winter* or *crazy humid in the summer,* I can see how the climate-controlled mall is such a draw), the Hubert H. Humprey Metrodome (I got to see a Twins game, and after watching him make a couple of beautiful stops up the middle and banging out a triple up the right-field line, I have decided that Nick Punto is my new Favorite Second Baseman Who Is Not Dustin Pedroia), and the SCIENCE MUSEUM (because I do love my science. Among other things, it features the "Museum of Questionable Medical Devices," a sort of tribute to quackery, and a mummy (unidentified) from ancient Egypt that, according to the museum, was purchased by a St Paul couple in 1925 during a vacation in Egypt. Ah, those were better days -- back when you could take a cruise over to Egypt, see the pyramids, ride a camel, and then go to the bazaar and buy yourself a mummy). I also got my first taste of Ethiopian cuisine, which is delicious and is eaten entirely with your hands. I don't even think they have a single fork in the entire building. Also, Ethiopian beer is tasty.

Time now to head back out on the road, get my oil changed, and visit Iowa and Wisconsin. There's some Milwaukee brewery tours in my future, you can bet on that.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Dances With Aces

A quick one this morning, before I head south ti Wind Caves NP and a little hiking in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I'm in Deadwood, SD this morning -- I crashed here yesterday for some well-needed hotel time, and now I'm rested and ready to go. Deadwood is a classic wild west mining boomtown from the last century, and the city council has made sure to keep it that way (or more accurately, to keep it looking that way while making it as tourist- and family- friendly as possible). I'm pretty sure I drove through a gunfight yesterday afternoon by accident. whoops.

So as a "wild west" town, Deadwood has GAMBLING. Obviously. I made my way downtown last night to grab some dinner and see the sights, and wandered into a door marked "sports bar* - upstairs."

*"Sports Bar" in Deadwood here means "a bar that's still covered in slot machines like every other bar here, but we're got more than one TV. We have two TV's, although the screen on one of them is pretty funny. Also, we only have basic cable, so don't expect to get to see your favorite team play. You're going to watch whatever the hell we can pick up, and you're going to like it." Deadwood could use a little work on the concept.

Turns out, the place - "Midnight Star" - was owned by Kevin Costner. I figured this out after a couple beers, noting that the walls were coated in pictures of Kevin and various costumes from his movies, and the fact that the menu said in huge letters "KEVIN COSTNER'S." I pick up on things quick like that.

After a couple beers and a steak (note to Kevin: improve your presentation. It's steak. Don't just plop a little chunk on a big empty white plate. Spill some juices around there. And who the hell are you to not have mashed potatoes as an option on the side?), I decided, hey, Kevin has made a big investment here -- I should hep him out. So I bought some chips and tried my hand at the blackjack table. Because Kevin needs the money.

I managed to crawl my way back to break even, left a couple chips to tip the dealer, and headed back to the hotel to get some sleep. Enjoy your money, Kevin -- you earned it.

(I really, really, wanted to fill this post with bad puns involving Kevin Costner's movies. But I'm in a hurry here, and I'm not feeling the magic this morning. Waterworld.)