Luke Bryan

I’ve been noticeably absent from the blog for a while. And, as the author, I’m just assuming my absence is notable. At any rate, I want to share this cute story with you.

Last night, I was out with my brother Zack for his birthday. Now, it was way later than I usually stay out and I just wanted to go home, but it was his birthday, so I manned up and decided to go have another drink with him. He chose Demoris. Fine. Haven’t been there in YEARS, but fine by me.

Let’s pause to go back to this weekend. Saturday, I am catching up on email. I get a newsletter from K102 with country updates. I don’t always read it, but this time it said Luke Bryan in the subject line. I love Luke Bryan. Love him out loud. I’ve been saying for a couple years that I’d go see him the next time he came here. Of course, I somehow missed when the tickets went on sale, even though I had it marked on my calendar, and the concert sold out. So I don’t get to see him. Disappointed, but I’ll live.

Anyway, this newsletter was about the upcoming concert. Evidently they’ve partnered up with Miller to do a promotion called Luke-ing for Luke. They’ve put cardboard cutouts of Luke Bryan all over the Twin Cities. If you find one, you take a selfie with it and Tweet it to K102 and then you’re entered in a drawing to win tickets. Now, the newsletter made it sound mysterious, like you had to hunt for these cutouts. I immediately thought it was a cute idea and about 10 years ago, I’d have called up Kelly and we’d have spent a Saturday driving around town hunting down these cutouts. But I don’t do that now.

Back to last night. Zack and I head into Demoris, which is a nondescript sort of place in Oakdale of all cities. We sit at the bar, I just settle on my stool, when I see, across the room, a lifesize cutout of Luke Bryan!

I jumped (okay, not really, the boot doesn’t allow jumping, but I mentally jumped) off my barstool and grabbed Zack’s arm and said “come with me”. I dragged my brother across the bar and gave him my phone and made him take a pic of me with the cutout. “I don’t do that now” apparently doesn’t hold up when I’m faced with the reality of Luke Bryan’s handsome cardboard face.

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So I explained this to Zack and he said, “so of all the places in the Twin Cities they put one of these at Demoris?” See? We both thought it was weird. I said I guess so and then proceeded to tell the bartender who also had no idea why we were taking pics with a cutout.

Today, I looked up the rules, in order to Tweet it, which I did, and as of this posting, my Tweet is featured on the page (this link here) explaining the rules. I imagine that will be true until someone else Tweets with that hashtag. Turns out that on the website they give a list of all the places you can find a cutout, which was not in the newsletter. I thought it was way more of a contest. But still. If you see one, take your pic with it and Tweet it in. And please take me to the concert if you win.

And that right there is why it is worth it to sometimes say yes when you actually want to say no.

Green Bay and Door County

As previously mentioned…road trip to GB. In truth, I was not impressed with GB. The city was kind of lame. Not much nightlife, few tourist attractions, just kind of boring. After the Jake Owen concert, we wanted to grab some food and some beer. We were out at just before 11pm and, seriously, everything was closed. We did find this awesome sign….
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And eventually found a place open to midnight. We were the ONLY customers. We ate and got the hell out so the guy could close up and go home. It was fairly lame.

Friday morning, we got up and Elena and I headed out to Lambeau Field. It’s iconic. One of those things. Neither of us are huge football fans, but it seemed like something you should see. So off we went. Kind of a long story about bad signage, security who don’t know anything, and Lane and I ended up hopping fences and breaking in to Lambeau. Okay, we didn’t really break in, but it felt like it.
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Once we got inside and into the line, it was cool. We were going to do the tour then meet up with Nance and Ryan for lunch. Then when we got up there….turns out the tours were FULL. The next free tour was 3.5 hours away. No way. I mean, it would have been fine, but I am not waiting that long to tour a football stadium. Unless Tom Brady is giving the tour, but I doubted that was the case. So instead, we walked around and took pictures of ourselves AT the stadium. It was fine. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, that’s good enough, right? (Probably for everyone in the world except my Aunt Kate, right Sara?)

See? I was there.

We regrouped and decided that GB was lame enough we were going to drive up to Door County. We headed north and ended up in Sturgeon Bay. We had a nice lunch and then walked all over the cute little town, ducking into different shops and just hanging out. The town was so cute. Bought a few nice gifts…then we found a wine and olive oil shop. Um, awesome? Oh yes. They had free samples of everything. Olive oil. Cheese. Snacks. Wine. You could sample any of their wines, for free. Then they had a distillery sampler. I did this. For $5 you got to sample three distilled alcohols and you got a free shot glass. Seemed more than worth it to me. I tried cherry brandy, single malt whiskey, and cherry/orange bitters. Then I mixed the bitters with the whiskey for a down and dirty manhattan. It was good. Potent. After slugging those shots, I think I was a little tipsy. Good thing I wasn’t driving.

Sturgeon Bay is proud of its heritage and there were fish (presumably sturgeon) sculptures all over this town. Finally I decided we had to have a pic of at least one, so here is Nancy and the sturgeon.

No one really had a plan, so I said, we couldn’t come all the was to GB without, you know, actually seeing Green Bay, and since Door County is an isthmus that sits between the bay and Lake Michigan, I said we should see both.

First stop….Lake Michigan.
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Of course since it is the end of July, it should be cloudy and about 68 degrees….yeah, it was cold. We were all in jackets. Crazy weather. But it was still amazing. Beautiful.

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I wanted a nice picture of all of us. Luckily Ryan has crazy long arms, so he did a nice selfie with the camera.
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On the shores of Lake Michigan.

And then Nancy grabbed my camera and took this.
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Wow! I love this so much. My new favorite photo of us.

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My toes in Lake Michigan. That one’s for Kelly.

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Please note the choppy water and crashing waves. I was wearing knee length capris, but the waves were crashing so hard it was splashing up to my thighs. I was wet by the time we left the beach.

Next stop….Green Bay.
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It was just about sunset, so we got there just in time. Note how calm the water is. The bay is protected, so the water was super calm, even though we were only about 10 miles from the Lake on the other side. Weather was the same, but the water was very different.

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These photos were taken in Egg Harbor. At the Egg Harbor Marina. Do you see those big rocks? Well, they were perfect for climbing and seeing the bay, but they also housed giant nests of oversized SPIDERS. Freaked me the fuck out. No kidding. I almost had a meltdown. Surrounded by thousands of giant spiders. Not cool. I was not enjoying this at all.

Elena finally found me a spot that was spider free. So she said. I’m guessing it wasn’t, but she said it was and I chose to believe her. There was no beach so you had to climb down the rocks to get to the water and I wanted to dip my toes into the bay.
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Notice my hand resting on the rock? I’m barely bending. Those rocks were HUGE. It was an effort to climb up and down them to get to the water, but I’ve officially dipped my toes in Green Bay, so I’m happy. And no spiders came near me.

Then, as we’re walking back, Ryan kicks a spider web. On purpose, “just to see what would happen”. Freaking boys. Of course the spiders freak out and start running madly all over the place. AT ME. I was screaming and running. Not cool, Ryan. Elena finally had to tell him to knock it off, because I was not enjoying this trip to spiderville.

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Our group shot in front of the bay.

Before we left, a woman was fishing and caught a little fish. She said what kind but I can’t remember. She told us she was going to feed it to the gulls.
So she tosses this fish on the sidewalk. This giant seagull lands and the poor fish is flopping desperately, then:

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He picked him up…and swallowed him whole. It was crazy. Impressive, even. Circle of life, I guess.
Here’s the victor, digesting his meal.
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We left spiderville and drove the hour and a halfish back to GB. At some point, I forced everyone to stop at an historical marker. I love these things. I always stop on road trips to see things you never expect. We stopped at a cool cemetery and learned that Door County has a strong Belgian population, but that was not as cool as this.

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That’s right, we literally drove halfway to Santa’s house. Take that. Incredibly awesome if you ask me. I wished it weren’t cloudy so we might have seen the North Star at a 45º angle, but alas, that’s what happens when you’re just rolling with it.

When we got back, we rapid-changed and ended up cabbing all over town, in order to end up at a karaoke bar walking distance from the hotel. Whoops.

But karaoke was the point. Elena had it on her bucket list. Somewhere in the mess of my photos, there is a video of her singing but I am not uploading it for many reasons (I can’t find it, it’s long, I need to upload it on YouTube first, I don’t have her permission) take your pick. But if you want to see it, just ask, it is on my phone.

I also got Nancy to sing, she and I did a duet of Wrong Song by Rayna James and Juliette Barnes (from the TV series Nashville). I was Rayna (the amazing Connie Britton, who I might actually like to be) and it was fun. She almost chickened out, but she had to go up. I couldn’t sing both parts. I physically dragged her on the stage. There is also a video of that somewhere. Ask Lane. And I was wearing a dress. True story.

Mostly we just drank, hung out with the locals, and made fun of Jesus. Oh, did I forget to mention that Jesus was there? A young, dark haired man, was at the bar, wearing a caftan and birkenstocks. Couldn’t have looked more like Christ…well, unless he had a beard. Maybe it’s true and he’s come back. Not sure why he’d choose karaoke at Mikey’s bar in Green Bay, WI, but who am I to judge our Lord and Savior? Which is exactly why, at the end of the night, when we were about to walk back to the hotel, when he came outside and asked me to dance, I accepted. (No one thought to take a picture, but this happened). Somehow we drifted into the road. And that is the story of how I danced in the street with Jesus Christ. Because one day I want to get into Heaven and I figure St. Peter will appreciate this story.

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Elena grabbed this gem just before we were leaving, mere minutes before my dance with Christ. (That gets funnier every time I say it).

The next day it was up and at ’em as we headed for home. We had long since planned the long route home, in order to detour past the Mouse House Cheese House. My stories about this place are always at the end of super long blogs, but oh well. That link will take you to my last visit there. This visit was similar and no less awesome. That may well be my favorite place in all Wisconsin. The food, the cheese, the fudge, the cheese. It’s heaven in Windsor, WI.

That’s a lot of religious references in this decidedly secular trip. All in all, it was a fun couple of days and good to go away.

I first started writing this post about a month ago (Ha! Exactly one month ago, August 18 is when I started this draft), and hope I didn’t forget anything essential. My life has gone a bit sideways since then, but that makes it all the more important to get this published. When I look back on the summer of 2014, I will probably think of my mom and her illness. But I don’t want to forget Elena turning 35 and our fun getaway to Green Bay.

And dancing with the Son of God.

Chicago 2011: Take 2

Well, because I clearly didn’t have enough fun the first time around, I decided to take a second trip to Chicago, only three months later. This time, I went AGAIN for a concert, or three, and traveled with different friends, Tom and Mindy. Oh, and I mean different as in, not Kelly, not different as in, unusual or strange.

Also different, this time we road tripped. I think gas was fairly reasonable way back then (only six months ago, now!) and we borrowed my mom’s car. Yes, three adults who own 3-4 cars between them borrowed a car from my mommy. It’s odd, get over it.

There’s something bizarrely enticing about a road trip, even just a straight highway shot to Chicago. When I picked up my travel companions that first morning, Mindy said to me “would you mind if Tom drove?” I was so relieved. I thought that because it was “my” car, they’d expect me to drive. I couldn’t have wanted to drive any less. Tom was happy to drive and off we went.
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Not only was he happy to drive, he actually drove the whole way, there and back. It was awesome. For most of the ride, Mindy and I cuddled up in the backseat, laughing and talking, while Tom had sole control of the radio. It was perfection for us all. We actually got a later start than anticipated, and we stopped for lunch at Applebee’s in Wisconsin Dells. Mindy and I had a beer, while our chauffeur had coffee. Life’s unfair sometimes.

On our way out of the Dells, we did stop once to take this photo.
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It was just so over-the-top that we couldn’t help ourselves, plus, who doesn’t want to stop at a place called the “Goody Goody Gum Drop”?

We drove on, laughing and talking, when suddenly, in the middle of Nowheresville, WI, we were hit with a beautiful weather phenomenon.
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If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know how much I enjoy rainbows. I take pictures of them every time I see them, even if I’m driving a car. This one was especially vivid on that gray day, but then, we went around the curve and found:
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Yikes, right?!? You can actually see every single color. (note the green trees)

But, as we kept driving:
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BAM! We could suddenly see the whole thing. It was so beautiful. Boded well for our trip, I think.

Planning on our part wasn’t so stellar, because the concerts we were attending were both on Friday night and we were still driving. Then, of course, we rolled into the outer limits of Chicago just in time for rush hour.
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Yes, I know that pic is terrible, but we could finally see the skyline and it seemed so close. I think it was about an hour later we actually hit the city limit. Chicago’s big, y’all.

By the time we found the hotel, got checked in, it was time to go. I dropped my things, slapped on some deodorant, changed my shirt, plopped the cowboy hat (that I had bought three months earlier, the first time I was in Chicago)
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on my head and ran out the door. I was a bit behind schedule. Seems to be a Chicago thing. I was attending a Christian Kane show and Tom and Mindy were headed to the Avett Brothers. My concert started first and it was only an opening, but it was at a bar, so I was hanging there until they showed up, after their show. I took a cab ride to the venue, my first ever cab ride by myself. Crap! That’s not true. I took a cab in Prague from the airport to the hotel. Never mind. However, I was plenty nervous, and it didn’t help that my cab driver didn’t speak English and seemed confused by my requesting to go to this bar. We started to drive and the neighborhood got worse and worse and worse and I started to think I was going to become a headline on the Chicago morning news.

I distracted myself, thusly:
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and, again, I know that photo sucks, but there was no light in the cab or on the streets of the rundown, shoddy neighborhoods we were driving through.

At this point, I’m going to jump ahead in time, the concert itself will be a separate post that I will later link back to, here.

Once Tom and Mindy met up with me, HOURS later, I was pretty, um, happy? Many beers had gone into making me this way and the three of us chatted, talking about our respective shows. It was wonderful (and a long, long, long time since this has happened) that they didn’t have to get up to kids and the three of us could be out on the town.

We left Joe’s Bar and headed back into town, finally stumbling into this Irish pub. It was packed in there, but we squeezed into a spot by the bar. I asked if I could buy the round, to thank them for traveling with me and Tom for driving. No problem. They said I didn’t have to, but I wanted to. *Note to self: If you’re going to generously buy drinks, don’t offer in the heart of Chicago* We each got a beer and a shot. Three beers, three shots, total. Price? $55. When the girl said the price, I said, “what?” thinking I hadn’t heard right, because it was loud in there. Oh no, I heard right. Honestly, if each item were $8 a piece, which is very high, that would only be $48, so…wow. Just wow.

We had our drinks and took our shot (it’s tradition) and then we were all starving. The bartender gave us directions to the only place left in all of Chicago that was still serving food. (It was maybe 1:00am at this point). We walked and walked and thought we got lost, but suddenly, there it was. An all-night diner. There are few things in this world more delicious than drunk eggs and hash browns, I promise you. After breakfast/midnight snack, we were suddenly exhausted. Of course, it was almost 3 am! We headed back to the hotel to crash.

We stayed at a lovely hotel, the Allerton, right on Michigan Ave. In fact, this hotel:
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is directly across the street from this building:
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which I had learned, the first time I was in Chicago, is the only store along the Magnificent Mile that actually turns a profit. The rents are so high on that street that all the other businesses are just for show or just used as advertising, the companies lose money on them. But, Apple, makes money. Shocker. I shared my knowledge with my travel companions, who wanted to know how I knew so much about Chi-town, I explained the beauty that is the trolley to them. The morning after the concerts, they were up with the sun. Seriously, I got up at 10am and they were up, dressed and had been out for coffee already. They wanted to tour, but I didn’t want them to wait for me, so I sent them off to buy trolley tickets while I got ready. We agreed to meet up for lunch.

Lunch. You wouldn’t think this would be the highlight of the trip, but it’s damn close. I am going to call upon all of my expertise in prose to give this the credit it is due. We were talking about where to go for lunch. Before leaving for this trip, Tom’s cousin, Rocco, had made him a list of places to eat in Chicago. Apparently, Rocco visits regularly and was full of tips. Tom read us some options from the list and Mindy and I both agreed that a hot beef sandwich sounded good. Tom looked up the recommended place and said we could walk.

We should have taken a cab.

It was very, very far, but we still walked and walked. We were headed to a hole-in-the-wall called Al’s. Now, I happen to be the progeny of a lifelong hole-in-the-waller (thanks, Dad!), so this does not surprise me. In fact, I’m acquainted with the loosely held secret that dives often have the best food, and they are not expensive. We finally arrived at Al’s and it was tiny. Miniscule. So small I couldn’t believe it was actually the place. We went in and read the short menu. Our options were limited. I went first and ordered a traditional hot beef sandwich. Dude behind the counter said, “you want peppers?” I, of course, had no idea, so I asked what was usual. He nodded and said, “yep.” And that’s how I got a typical hot beef sandwich. Tom and Mindy ordered the same. I don’t remember if we got sides or not. Literally cannot remember. Granted, it was a while ago, but mostly it was because this sandwich eclipsed memories of all other food.

Here’s the skinny. They take a hoagie roll. They dip the roll itself in hot au jus. They pile on beef that has been soaking in au jus. They smother it in peppers and more peppers and then they give it to you. It comes out in a wrapper, hot and steaming, but a soggy, drippy, soaky mess. Sounds appealing, right? No, of course not. It sounds, and frankly, looks, disgusting. I distinctly remember saying, “I don’t know how to eat this.” The bread gets so soggy from the au jus that the meat is falling out and it’s so hot it is steaming and I picked mine up and it started to fall apart. Wonderful.

Then, before we could take a bite, Tom wanted proof we’d taken one of Rocco’s recommendations, which is how we got this:
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And that is one of maybe three tables in this giant restaurant. No bites had been had yet, we’re just holding our sandwiches and it was burning my fingers it was so hot. Finally, I just took a huge bite.

Never had I had a sandwich like this. It was…delicious is too tame. Magnificent? Superb? Incredible? Delectable? Mouthwatering? Scrumptious? Yes, that’s it. The sandwich was scrumptious. All the individual parts combined to make a sandwich bursting with flavor, the peppers made it hot, but not too hot to eat, they actually added flavor. It was so good, I wanted another, even though it is a TON of meat and I was full. It was so good that, all these months later, I’d drive back to Chicago just to get one. I rarely make sweeping statements like this, but it was truly one of the best things I have ever eaten.

You can ask Elena, later that day, I talked to her on the phone and treated her to a detailed description of how perfect this sandwich was. I think my parents also got the full version. If you ask me about this particular trip, that’s the first thing I’ll tell you about. In fact, I’ve elevated this sandwich to such proportions that it’s become synonymous with Chicago in my mind. I love Al’s hot beef! (That was ridiculous, right? Who waxes on about a sandwich? Trust me, it was that good. If you’ve eaten there and had one, I want to hear from you!)

After that, we decided to cruise the city, doing the tourist bit. Unfortunately, Tom and Mindy had bought passes for the trolley, so they were excited to use them. I planned on about 2 more hours in the city before leaving for my next concert, so I wasn’t wasting my money on that, but we wanted to hang together. So, after much discussion, we decided to sneak me on to a trolley. No kidding, we had an actual conversation about how it would work best. It ended up going like this. We step on in a line, Mindy in front, me in the middle, Tom in the rear. Mindy flashes her pass, I am studiously looking in my bag, like I’m searching for mine, and Tom stays close and then flashes his pass. The hope was that if we kept moving, the driver won’t notice us and just catch the passes flashed his way. We tried…and it worked! I got on for free.

We rode inside, because it was full, but eventually made it up top. Here’s a bit of a tip: weather in Chicago is vastly different between June and October (it was actually October 1st that day) and it was FREEZING up top. But you can’t really see anything from inside, you can only hear. We huddled up top, like it was the dead of winter, it was that cold. Walking around on the ground, it was jeans/sweatshirt weather, but atop a moving bus? Damn cold.

We visited the start of Route 66, and got our pictures taken. Somehow, we got a lovely photo of:

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That’s right, Tommy and me. I’m not sure how, but there is no picture of Tom and Mindy at this site. It’s strange and one of only three pictures (that I know of!) in existence that contain only the two of us. Maybe we’ll add to our collection at my party this weekend! BTW, I really love this picture, in case that wasn’t clear.

We stopped at the architechtural museum and I showed them the scale model of Chicago. Like the first time, I still thought this was pretty cool. Then, we walked over to the Bean. I kept telling them how cool it was. Of course, you can’t really understand it until you’ve seen it. No amount of describing or pictures make it as cool as it actually is.
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Directly underneath the Bean.
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Underneath with zoom.
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Underneath, but looking at the sides, not straight up.
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A shot of the three of us.
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My favorite Bean shot, because it *almost* looks like a real photo and not a reflection.
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Cool angle from the end, with the buildings in the background.

Okay, maybe this is my favorite Bean photo…
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With the exception of the statue glinting off Tom’s head, that’s pretty perfect!

When we were walking through the gardens, on our way back from the Bean, Mindy mentioned she wanted a nice picture of her and Tom, obviously. Now, Tom is fairly notorious (according to Mindy) for not smiling in pictures. I never seem to have that problem with him. (see: all the pictures of him in this post). So, I positioned them in a lovely garden and told Tommy, “smile”:

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Isn’t that fantastic? Mindy said it is one of her favorite pictures of the two of them. It even made their Christmas card this year. I am so honored.

After that, I mentioned I should be heading back. I said I was going to take a cab. Tom said “let’s just walk” and I said it was a long walk back to the hotel. They said they were ready to go back. Mindy suggested taking the trolley back, because there were things they hadn’t seen. I was hesitant, but it was an hour before I thought I needed to leave, so I hopped on that transporfuckingtation one more time. You’d really think I had learned something the first time as it took over two hours to get back to the hotel. WTF?

On the way, though, I did get a clear shot of Buckingham Fountain, which I missed the first time around. For those who don’t know, this is the exact fountain filmed at the start of the credits for “Married…With Children”. Remember it now?
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We were riding up top of the coldest bus on earth (why not go inside? because you can’t see, damn it, and we’re Minnesotans) and I was getting increasingly more agitated. Not only was I on a time schedule, but I had a 3.5 hour drive before getting to my concert and I didn’t know where I was going. If I got lost…I’d miss the show. Can you imagine going all that way and missing the show?

However, when we finally got to our stop, there was a bit of a surprise.
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A giant statue of Marilyn Monroe. Now, you can see from the people how big that thing is. It was not there the first time I passed through, three months earlier. Weird? Yes. The driver was actually telling us why it’s there, but I was so focused on getting back to my hotel I didn’t hear a word.

When I got in the door, I grabbed my stuff, threw it in bags and was running out the door. It was about 4:30pm. The concert started at 8pm, 3.5 hours away. You do the math.

Then, they had to bring my car from valet. It took almost 15 minutes. Then, the valet guy wants me to pay for it, right then. I refused. I tried explaining that I wasn’t leaving permanently, just for the night and my party was staying at the hotel. He wasn’t buying it. Then he called my room to verify and there was no one there! Turns out, after I left, Tom and Mindy switched rooms to a king sized bed, rather than two queens, so it looked like we checked out and were scamming them. Of course, I was about to lose it and I practically yelled at this poor guy and then got in my car and drove away. Why bother me? Our room was booked with a credit card, it isn’t like they can’t just charge that if I never come back?

I was on my way…it was 5:00. Then I missed my exit to get to the freeway. I had to double back and try again but through Chicago traffic. Then I was finally on the interstate and missed my exit to change freeways and be in the right direction – as it was, I was headed to Nashville, completely opposite of where I was going (Illiopolis, IL). I turned around again and got it straightened out. Once I was on the road, officially, it was 5:30pm.
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It was a beautiful night for a drive, I can’t really argue with that. This was 5:30 pm.

Three hours and 15 minutes, according to the GPS, provided I didn’t get lost or miss any more exits. And only 2.5 hours until the show. NOT GOOD. I started driving like a bat out of hell. No kidding, I was driving 95 mph for most of the drive. Not even being dramatic. I figured I’d rather get a $300 speeding ticket than miss this show (I know, nice logic). I was shaking and tried hard to calm myself down. I talked to Elena on the phone (yep, while speeding down an unfamiliar highway at tragically high speeds) and she calmed me a bit.
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6:30 pm.
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7:30 pm.

You’ll notice that at 30 minutes before the show, I was in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, the show was in the middle of nowhere, so it seemed like I was on track. I will be detailing the rest of the drive and concert in another post, here.

Let’s just say, that it was a good concert. I spent the night in a conference center in Decatur, IL. When I got back to my hotel it was 2am. I hadn’t eaten since the hot beef sandwich at 12:30, 13.5 hours earlier. There was certainly no time to stop on the hectic drive and the only “food” at the venue was dude out behind the barn, with grill, pulling meat out of coolers. Nope, you cannot make this up.

When I checked into the hotel I said to the girl, “is there ANY chance, that there is a place that serves food nearby? I will even settle for a 24-hour gas station, if they have snacks.” She said that it was a “college town” and that the local pizza joint delivered until 3am. Hallelujah! I found a movie on tv and ordered pizza. They delivered my pizza about 2:45 am. I had to walk through the whole conference center to the lobby to get it. This place was huge. No exaggerating, from the room, down the elevator, to the lobby, took me five solid minutes of walking. This place was HUGE.

The next morning, I was up at 7:45am to be on the road by 8:30. I didn’t want to drive so crazy on the way back and I needed to stop for gas and breakfast. It ended up that I got back to the Allerton just before noon to pick up Tom and Mindy. Tom agreed to drive (luckily, I was all “drive”-d out) and we started our six hour drive home. 2.5 days of travel and I spent about 20 of those hours in the car, driving. I’m such a trooper.

On the way home (and, dear GOD, if you’ve stuck it out this long, I’m impressed) we stopped for lunch at the MouseHouse Cheese House. Nope, didn’t make that up. It’s a real place in Wisconsin. Windsor, WI to be specific. It was one of the best parts of the journey. They had beer and wine for sale, souvenirs, both tacky and nice, and food. Lots of food. They had a full scale deli. They made their own cheese, dozens of flavors of cheese and they would let you sample anything you wanted. They made their own cheese curds, free samples. They made their own fudge, free samples. We spent a ton of time just sampling food. I was practically full just from the samples, and I still got a fresh deli sandwich, roast beef and onion with homemade horseradish mustard. It was wonderful. Not an Al’s hot beef, but still, the sandwiches on this trip really rocked my world. It was also good for souvenirs. I brought my folks different flavors of fudge and different flavored cheese curds as a thank you for letting me use their car.

Before we left, I had to get a shot of this place, because you’d never believe it otherwise.

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It was cheesy (pun intended) but one of the more entertaining parts of the trip. A classic example of why you should travel by car whenever possible. You’ll notice the things they are most proud of: Cheese Beer Gifts Fudge. Pretty much sums it up.

The rest of the drive home, the three of us just chatted in the car. We ended up talking about how Tom and Mindy’s relationship started. I met them just a couple months after they started dating, but they kept it a secret because they worked together. I knew the basics of the story, but this time around, I got to hear all the details. Mindy did most of the telling, but I kept interrupting to ask Tom questions. He was answering me monosyllabically and I finally said to him, “you don’t want to be having this conversation, do you?” And he replied, “do I have a choice?” Ah, it’s good to have smart friends. He did not, and after eleven and a half years of friendship (then – we’ll hit twelve in April!!!), I think it was high time I heard the nitty gritty details. It’s nice to learn new things.

Somehow, in the two days since we left, the trees had really turned (reference rainbow pictures above), which is how our drive home ended up looking more like this:
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and this:
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and it was scenically beautiful.

The friends, the conversation, the experience, and the fun were nonstop entertainment and I have so many terrific memories from this trip. I feel lucky to have friends like these two and that I am able to share these memories with them.

The Right Stuff

I swear, Kelly’s heart leaped a little just reading that title.

Here’s why. (Of course, being me, I have to tell the WHOLE detailed story).

As many of you know, Kelly and I are childhood friends. That friendship was long rooted in a equal love of New Kids on the Block. We loved them with a passion that only pre-pubescent girls can achieve. As we grew, they faded…mostly. Several of the Kids went on to pursue their own solo dreams. You may not know this about me, but I am NOT a fan of solo acts. I can’t think of one solo act that I like–having liked them in their band first. Generally speaking, if I loved your band, I’m not going to be happy about you leaving, and there is something so thin sounding about a solo act, like they are forever altered in a bad way.

I suppose a noticeable exception would be if they completely changed their musical style, but they don’t usually do that. One assumes that the music the band performed is the music they like so that is usually the style they stick with when going solo.

Kelly, being a far more dedicated fan than yours truly, has actually followed the solo careers of all band members. I have not. When she and I saw them in concert in 2008 they sang a couple of the solo songs during the show and she knew them all. I did not. We saw them at that concert, we saw a mini-show at MOA to get their new CD (you should read that link, it tells the story of how Donnie Wahlberg kissed me. Yep, you read that right, NKOTB member and actor, Donnie Wahlberg, once kissed me.) and we traveled to Chicago to see them tour with the Backstreet Boys, of whom I was never a fan. After the NKOTBSB concert, which was less than impressive, I said I was done. No more NKOTB for me. It’s not my kind of music, nor my style of show, if I’m going to blow $100 on a concert ticket, I want it to be someone that I LOVE. You know? So, when we got back from Chicago, Kelly got tickets to see them again, in Minneapolis. I didn’t go. She did and touched Donnie’s leg. (Read about that here and watch the video of her touching Donnie, here).

Flash forward to present day (well, technically last Thursday) and let’s talk about Jordan Knight.

All of that is to say this. About a month ago, Kelly called me and said that Jordan Knight is touring for his new solo album and he was coming to Minneapolis at the end of January. I declined to go. She replied. “I already bought the tickets!” Truly, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was go to a concert for someone I don’t like. (**sidenote** Jordan used to be my favorite New Kid, when I was a 12 and had zero taste in men, just admired a pretty face. He’s still pretty, but when I met him, he was an ass–and Donnie {who was always #2} became my new favorite. Then he kissed me–cementing the position, got all that?) So, being unimpressed with the man, and not knowing his music at all, I really did not want to go. I had only ever heard one of his solo songs, during the 2008 concert and didn’t recognize it and couldn’t pick it out of a lineup AND this was for a new album, so there was no guarantee he’d sing that song I couldn’t recognize.

But, even with all those good reasons, I still said I’d go. Why? Well, because Kelly wanted me to and I’m her friend. I know that for HER it is important to share these experiences and I also know that whether I like them or not, she associates NKOTB with me. This was her first time seeing Jordan perform solo (he still IS her favorite) and she was extremely excited to go. I weighed it in my mind and realized that it was MORE important to her that I be there then it was to me to not be there. (That was so clear in my head–)

Of course, being less-than-thrilled, I didn’t tell anyone I was going, I really hardly gave it a thought. I never listened to any of his songs to prep, I just didn’t really care. I would go and spend my time taking pictures (which I do enjoy) and just enjoy Kelly’s excitement while capturing some awesome photos for her.

The day of, I took vacation to leave work early and picked her up. We drove in rush hour to get to Minneapolis. We stopped for dinner at Whiskey Junction, and I realized I had been there before, I even have a photograph, somewhere, with me and my friends there. I’ll try and find it for later. At any rate. We ordered the sampler platter to share for dinner and a couple of beers. Kelly was getting agitated by this point. The website had said that the show starts at 7pm and the doors open at 6pm. (Oh, the show was at the Cabooze, forgot to mention that). It was getting close to 6pm when our food arrived and I know she wanted in the second the doors opened.

During dinner she said she’d wished she took a picture of the marquee during twilight, because it would look better than in full dark. Being the photographer, I ran outside to do that.
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Pretty good, hm? Well, when we got in line, it was full dark and I took another.
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I’m a lot closer for this one, but they both turned out well.

Okay, so back to the story. Kelly left the restaurant at a few minutes after six to get in line to get in for will-call. I paid the tab using Kelly’s card (she was kind enough to buy dinner) and boxed up the leftovers and brought them to the car. Then I joined her in line.

Now, it was about 25° outside, which is balmy for January. But it was windy. We didn’t wear coats because who wants to be in a heavy coat inside? Waiting, waiting, waiting. Until about 6:20 when they finally lined up the VIPs and brought them in. We were all together, so it helped us move up a bit. And we waited.

They didn’t open the doors to GA until 7pm. An hour after the website said. We stood in line, in the cold, in no coats for an hour. Obviously, this wasn’t going as planned. Of course, my role was to make sure Kelly had fun. I was yukking it up in line, while she seemed a little…cranky. She wasn’t, she was just nervous and excited (and cold!) and wanted in. I also made some girls in line take our picture in front of the marquee.
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Isnt’ that so cute? Aside from the fact that my hands are in my pockets, because they were cold.

When we finally got in, we grabbed standing room and we were close to the stage. Not up front, as the VIPs were already parked there, but still, very close.
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My excited friend. You can see the stage behind her. It’s misleading via camera, as the actual stage was roughly 10-15 feet in front of us. Super close.

It also wasn’t until arriving that we learned there was an opener. Tim Mahoney. I had never heard of him, he’s a local boy. It was an interesting choice for an opening act to a Jordan Knight show. Jordan is high energy, pop music, and choreographed dancing. Tim Mahoney is himself on an acoustic guitar–singer/songwriter style. Still, listening to Tim Mahoney I liked his style. It’s far more what I listen to.
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I actually remembered thinking “is it bad that I will like the opener I’ve never heard of more than the act?” But I said nothing to Kelly, because she did NOT like him–not because of him–but because she wanted him off the stage so she could see Jordan. But, I enjoyed him. During his part, he was handing out free CDs of his music. Due to a lawsuit, he no longer throws them into a crowd, but gives them to the front row and asks them to pass them out. I was so far back I figured there was no way I’d get one. But I wanted one, I liked him AND I love free stuff. Suddenly, a hand (a few people in front of me) reached up with an extra copy. Quick as a blink, I leaped forward and snatched it from her. And I had a new CD. I am listening to it as I type this, I like it a lot.

Finally, around 9pm, Jordan came on the stage.

Here’s a few shots:
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Obviously, we’re close. I’m getting amazing photos and Kelly is recording. I wanted him to take off the damn sunglasses, though, how annoying.
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Hm, can he hear my thoughts? (By the way, that is one of my favorites–it’s just so in the moment and really captures the feeling just then).

I’m think it is a better photo than this next one, but this one is pretty great. It’s the only one where I caught him looking directly into my camera AND smiling.
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Right? (He’s 41 years old and I can admit, this is still a good looking guy)

He did a couple songs and I realized, I really appreciate a man who can dance. It’s sexy. Dancing is not well prized by my local culture and society–which is too bad. This guy can move. I mean move. He dances while he sings and it’s incredible. I could have actually just stood there to watch him dance.

Of course, I don’t have photo of that, because it doesn’t translate. But I do have a video. Wait for it.

The worst part was in the middle when he felt the need to prove he’s a musician by sitting down at the keyboards and playing a song while singing. A ballad. Which would have been bad enough but then he followed it up with two more. Three non-stop ballads in the middle of the show. Not. Good.

Once he started singing and dancing again, things really picked up. My goal was to get a picture of Kelly with him in the back ground. That didn’t work. But then, a different girl offered to do us both. After a slight mishap, she got this:

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Isn’t that terrific? Plus, he’s somehow centered right between us both.

For the next one, I zoomed all the way out and got a shot of the room at large.
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So you can clearly see we are standing about sixth row (of bodies, not chairs, so it is closer).

Of course, one can only take so many shots of this
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before it becomes tedious. So I had to mix things up a bit. I decided to take more pics of Kelly enjoying the show.
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That’s her, the gold head, and her filming him singing and dancing this song (Up and Down–for the curious). I thought that was cute, so I did more.
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I really like that one, because “actual” Jordan is blurry and in the background, while Kelly watches “recorded” Jordan on her camera.

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Then I figured out that tilting the camera gave me a much better angle and cut out extraneous people. This one was my favorite. I liked it so much, I tried to figure out how to make it better.
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How’s that? Don’t you wish I was YOUR concert wingman?

I took many, many more of Jordan, (for Kelly, not to weigh down my blog) but a couple I really like?
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The silhouette. I wish I were a good enough photographer that I could say I tried to make that happen, but no, that’s just an accident of lighting. But I love it.
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I like the row of colored lights behind him, his closed eyes, and that I’m close enough you can see the sweat on his brow in that picture.
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And this one, because it’s an action shot, but also because of the stranger taking a photo with her iPhone, which is identical to MY iPhone, down to that rubber gel case in purple. It’s surreal, like watching myself photograph something. I know it isn’t me, but I still double take, every time I see it.

When he got down to the end, he finally, FINALLY sang a song I knew. I performed “The Right Stuff” all by himself. It was pretty damn good without the rest of them, and I was so happy to know one song.

I finally videoed at that point, but I used my iPhone. I recorded the whole song, but toward the end he used to do band intros, so I stopped recording. Also, it is longer than Flickr will upload. Luckily, then they did another round of the chorus and then a little musical riff where all he did was dance. That was what I wanted the whole show to be like, and I captured it. That’s what you’re seeing, below.

He just comes across as so darn happy when he’s dancing that it actually made me happy. 

When the concert ended, I was surprised to find that I had fun. Even not knowing the songs, Jordan was so fun and energetic on stage, he just draws you in. He was only on the stage for an hour-ish, but I would have been fine if it were twice that long. Kelly, too, had an amazing time. (***EDIT*** If you want to read Kelly’s version of the night, you can do that, here).I think she was most excited at how close we were to enjoy the show. We drove back to her house where we sat until the wee hours of the morning, uploading our pics and talking about the show and the media we got.

I guess it just goes to show that you should NOT close yourself off to new things. I would never have gone to that concert, but now that I did, I’m glad. It was fun and it made me like Jordan Knight a little bit more. At least on his own…

One Year

In an unusual twist, I’m blogging on a Saturday. Why?

Because, today, January 14th, is the one year anniversary of the day that I went here:
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with her:
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to meet him:
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and, most importantly, to get this:
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I can’t believe it has been a whole year. I still remember every moment of it, meeting my favorite singer (and actor!). It was surely a night to remember. If you somehow missed the original post, you can read it here.

Happy Anniversary to me!

Road Trip Weekend

Round trip gas cost = $240

Two nights hotel = $140

Beer = $75

Food = $60

Concert tickets = $43

Chance to see back-to-back Christian Kane shows?   Priceless.

Christian Kane, he’s everywhere you want to be. (Well, everywhere I want to be, at least!)

If you don’t know what I am talking about, I’m road tripping to Chicago to see CK on Friday night, then following the band to central Illinois to see them play again on Saturday night. My friends, Mindy and Tom, happen to also be going to a show in Chicago on Friday night (Avett Brothers) so we’re all driving together.

I’m very excited for my mini-vacation–can’t wait for back-to-back Kane shows! I’m also tremendously excited to travel with M&T, we’ve never done that before. Well, Tom and I haven’t. Mindy and I road tripped to Denver for my…22nd? 23rd? birthday and to visit Justin. Obviously, it’s been a while. It will be fun to hang with them and to see some awesome shows. I’ll be back next week with some more updates.

See you in October.

There’s a Cow in the Road

Happy 4th of July!

I hope that you all had a wonderful day, celebrating the birth of our nation.

My day was a bit out of the norm. On Thursday or Friday of last week, I saw an advertisement for upcoming concerts. Turns out, Diamond Rio was in town, performing at Mystic Lake casino. I was a big fan in the 90s and I know my sister was as well. They also happen to sing one of my mother’s all-time favorite songs. (One More Day).

The concert was last night, at the outdoor amphitheater at the casino. And did I mention it was free?

F-R-E-E

We talked it over and decided to go. They were giving out tickets starting at 2pm. We arrived about 2:30. We headed toward the box office for tickets to find a line that was outrageously long. Crazy, scary long. Then, my favorite part, we thought we reached the end, only to find that we had to go into a ballroom and wait in a switchback line. Wow. I mean, these guys aren’t THAT big of stars, right? According to the St. Paul newspaper, they’re only “semi-stars”.

As soon as we got in the line, I set the timer on my phone. 41:30. Forty one minutes. Seriously, I was stunned. If you had seen the length of the line, we thought we were in for HOURS of waiting. But, there were tons of registers open at the box office where they were giving out tickets as quickly as humanly possible.

While waiting, we learned that Mystic Lake doesn’t actually have an amphitheater, but they are considering building one. Before investing the money, they put up a temporary structure that holds just over 8,300 people. Then they’ve planned events there, all summer, to see how it works out. Diamond Rio was the first show in the temporary structure.

Also, while waiting, Emily spotted something interesting in the crowd. I managed to snap a shot, my apologies to the stranger.
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Do you see what he is wearing on his hip? A CASSETTE player. WTF? Like Em said, “how is that thing even still working?”

Once we finally got our tickets, we hit up the free beverage station. Mystic Lake is dry, but they have soda fountains everywhere, all the free pop and coffee you can drink. I was in heaven and guzzling Mountain Dew like it was going out of style (that’s a treat I don’t often allow myself, since kicking caffeine).

Then we sat down to gamble a bit and I quickly dropped $10 playing one of those ridiculous slots with a million lines going every which way and you can’t even tell when you win. That was enough of that. Then my mom and I decided to find something better; Em and Chad were off doing their thing.

We finally found 5¢ video poker, which was exactly what I was hunting for. Actually, big gambler that I am, I was hoping for 1¢ video poker, but I don’t think they make those. My mom and I ended up not sitting next to each other, but a seat apart. She crapped out first, and came to stand over my shoulder. I was playing it up and calling out the cards I needed. “Come on TEN of CLUBS” like I was really going to pull these long shots. My mom was entertained, and so was the lady sitting next to me. I lost $20 on that machine, but the menthol-smoking, platinum-haired babe at my side was laughing at my antics, so a success.

Less than an hour gambling and I was down $30.

We hunted down Chad and Emily and decided to track down some food. We ended up eating at the same restaurant we ate at for the Dierks Bentley show, not a lot of options at Mystic. Food was fine, nothing to report. After dinner, we still had time to kill before the gates opened, so we decided to gamble some more. I wasn’t really hoping to lose more money, but whatever. Emily and my mom found cheap (penny or nickel) slots, but the real kind, with reels and sevens and BARs. But there weren’t enough chairs for all four of us. Chad and I wandered around. I saw 2¢ “Deal or No Deal” which looked fun, but there was actually a line of people waiting to play it.

Eventually, I told Chad I wanted to find video poker, as it is the only thing I really like and at least I get some control, rather than just random spinning of wheels. He agreed. While we were looking around, he kept pointing out machines that had recently paid out big. I never notice things like that, I’m just not that big of a “gambler”. Finally, we found a bank of video poker machines, around one of those platforms that holds a car. This was a white Infinity. There were two open seats on one end.

We sat down and Chad said his just paid out $100. Mine had only paid out $2. I offered to switch machines with him, but he declined. (That’s about to become important…) These were 25¢ machines, which is almost too rich for my blood. In order to play max credits, you have to bet $1.25 each draw, which burns through a $20 pretty fast. Since I never expect to win, video gambling is all about longevity for me.

At any rate, I played single credit for a bit, then realized how foolish that is. Even if I hit a moderately decent hand, I won’t actually win anything. If I was going to bet, then I was going to bet. So, I started playing max credits. In no time, I was bleeding money.

I was down to $12.25 left when my screen dealt the following cards: K♥, A♥, 10♥, Q♥.  All I was missing from the Royal Flush (the very best hand you can get) was a Jack of Hearts. Obviously believing there is no way on earth that I’ll get it, I slugged my brother-in-law on the arm and said, “Think Jack, Chad, that’s all I need”. He looked over and said, “okay”. So simple. I punched the button that deals the next card.

Before I could blink, it was done.

Jack.of.Hearts

I won.

A royal flush.

My brain didn’t even process. My eyes were seeing the card, but it didn’t seem real. Or that big of a deal. It was only a quarter machine. I only bet $1.25 on that hand.

Chad said, “you just won a thousand dollars”.

I said, “no I didn’t.”

Because I really didn’t know. Everything is in credits, not cash, on the pay tables. 4,000 credits for a Royal Flush if you were betting max credits. Divided by 25 cents.

That is ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS.

No wonder my machine was flashing lights and blinking “Call Attendant”. Then the screen switched and it said “Jackpot! $1000.00” Right there on the screen. That was the first second I realized that I just won–BIG. Then I looked in the corner, where it told me my running total and it now said, $1012.25.

I grabbed Chad’s arm and said, “I just won a thousand dollars, what do I do?”

Of course, he knew that, since he’d already told me I won, and he didn’t know what to do either. Regardless of the flashing “call attendant” on the screen, we didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, a security guard came by. I should point out that from the pressing of the button to the security guard arriving; 60 seconds, max. It all happened very fast. Security called an attendant and congratulated. People were gathering, drawn in by the flashing lights. A guy said, “did she win the car?” and security said that I didn’t, just the jackpot. The guy said, “too bad” and walked away.

Don’t rain on my parade dude. I just won a cool G. I never win ANYTHING, ever. This is amazing. Who cares about some stupid car? Not me, I just won a thousand dollars.

Security had to move on, so that guy congratulated me, which was nice. Then he left. Chad and I were waiting. I said to Chad, “do you think they’ll care if I take a picture of the machine?” Chad got a weird look on his face. Then I realized that it probably isn’t a smart idea to take pictures of the machines in a casino, but I didn’t care. I looked at Chad and said, “I’m doing it and if they don’t like it, I’ll erase it.”
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Hee, hee! Isn’t that fantastic?!?  I wish there wasn’t a glare, but when shooting illegal photos, you don’t stand up and aim for a better angle. And I’m so happy that I have that!

The attendant arrived and filled out a form, which I had to initial. Then he said, “wait here and I’ll be back with your cash” then he reset the machine so it stopped flashing. He also pointed out I’d only be cashing out the thousand, so I could still play the $12.25. My instinct was to cash out, but it seemed petty at that point. Fine, take my $12.25. I began playing that out, then Emily and my mom walked over. Chad was standing at my side and I was half-in half-out of my chair, and shaking. They said, “what’s up?” and I said, “I just won a thousand dollars”. They both thought I was kidding. I said, “I’m serious” and they both looked to Chad for confirmation. I guess he’s more reliable than me. He confirmed it. As my only witness, I better keep him around. He saw it happen.

Then the attendant returned and gestured for me to open my palm. I held out my hand, palm up, while he counted out hundred dollar bills into my hand. That was possibly the coolest part for me. Even more than winning, because winning was a blur. This I remember. I don’t have a photo of the moment, but I do have this, from when I got home that night.
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And, yeah, it’s a bit grainy, but it was dim inside and whothehellcares because look at that cold hard cash! (Weird phrase, because cash is neither cold, nor hard).  Can you tell I’m grinning like a loon behind all that money?

At any rate, after we moved on, I suddenly saw a digital sign for my concert. I thought it would be a cool addition to the blog, but it switched to a different ad. I pulled out my cell phone and got the camera ready for when it came around. While waiting, a different security guard walked by and saw me. He moved on. When the picture came back around, I waited for a guy to move and I noticed the security guy a few feet away. I took the picture:
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I love that it has the date, as well!

Then, as soon as I took it, security stepped forward and said, “sorry, there is no photography allowed anywhere in the casino.” After he waited for me to take the picture! Isn’t that weird? But at least I know it was smart to just take the jackpot photo and be done with it. Obviously I wouldn’t have been allowed if I’d gotten caught.

Eventually, we made it to the amphitheater. We had decent seats, being for free, and we waited for the show to start. Unfortunately, we had to wait 45 minutes before the opening act started. Rocket Club. They were okay. They sang one song I really liked, which I have since downloaded. But they were on the stage for way too long, especially since the temporary seats were the most uncomfortable seats in history. Plus, they weren’t strong enough to handle the weight of the people in them and they were sinking forward into the grass, pressing my knees into the row in front of us. Not comfy at all.

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I also took a picture of the four of us, but I took it with my camera, so I can’t get it. But Chad was there, I promise.

Eventually, Diamond Rio came out and Em said, “they look old!” Which was funny, since they weren’t spring chickens in the 90s and, well, time has passed. They had even more hits than I remembered. They did two different medleys, so that they could get everything in, which was a bit much, because they didn’t have THAT many hits. And they put my second favorite song (You’re Gone) into the second medley, which was a bummer. My favorite is a sad song called, “I Believe“, and I figured there was no way they’d ever sing that in concert.

They did!
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That gives an idea of how far away we were. This is them singing “Meet in the Middle“, their biggest hit.

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My best close up of the stage, taken from the Iphone. I took good pictures with my camera, but, of course, I can’t upload them, so there they remain.

The band hasn’t done anything in some time, at least not that we’d heard. The reason? They’ve gone Christian. We had to endure a few Christian ballads and a weird set where they covered 70s rock songs in a bluegrass style. Strange. But, when you’re not being paid, I guess you can do whatever the heck you want, right?

However, despite that, they did sing every song we like. Meet in the Middle, How Your Love Makes Me Feel, I Believe, One More Day, Norma Jean Riley, Beautiful Mess and many others. What is surprising, or not, about Diamond Rio is that they can actually sing. I always liked them in the past because of their beautiful harmonies. In concert, they might be even more amazing. Like my sister said, “They sound exactly like they do on the radio” which was true. These guys can actually sing, which is a pleasure to listen to.

It was the best 4th of July that I’ve had, so far in my life. (Who knows what next year will bring?) It’s pretty hard to top a good concert, fun memories, and, oh yeah, winning a thousand dollars.

When my mom finally believed that I won, she hugged me and said, “Good for you! You really needed it.” And so I did. Sometimes you swerve to the left, fate skips a beat and it scares you to death. Or, maybe, it feels really good.