Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wet in Cleveland: A travelogue

Flew into Cleveland during a hailstorm. I was there to broadcast the weekend series between the Mariners and the Indians for Seattle radio – assuming I survived both the landing and cab ride into the city. Happy to say the power blackout that caused the skyline to go completely dark lasted only a minute or two. Play ball!

Cleveland is making a valiant comeback I’m happy to report. Not every major city can recover from the utter devastation of losing LeBron James. The downtown area has been given a facelift, you can feel a new vibrancy, but still you look at the faces of Clevelanders, proud and plucky as they may be, and their eyes are crying out “Please, let anybody eliminate Miami in the NBA Playoffs. I hate that son of a bitch.”

Cleveland of course is known for the Cuyahoga River that caught on fire, Drew Carey, the 38th sitcom starring Betty White, the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Patricia Heaton (whose dad was a sportswriter and is in the Football Hall of Fame), the house from CHRISTMAS STORY, Don King, the Randy Newman song (“Cleveland -- city of lights, city of magic”), Paul Newman, the great Kaye Ballard, its ranking as the 7th most dangerous city in the country, Halle Berry, Bob Hope, and great sports teams like the Indians, Browns, and Cavaliers… forget that collectively they haven’t won a world championship since their presidential namesake was in office.

Dined at Lola’s Bistro. Michael Symon, the founder and also an IRON CHEF. Everything was delicious and I can see why he's on that show. So many creative uses of iron! And Fat Fish Blue is why you think of Cleveland first when you think of Cajun food. Best Creole on Lake Erie.

Cyndi Lauper was staying at the team hotel. Either she was in town for the opening of the new “Women in Rock” exhibit at the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame or she’s a Mariners’ groupie. The team returns to Detroit next month. If she’s in that lobby then we’ll know.

Speaking of the Hall, I made my first trek there. Thanks to radio titan, Mike McVay, I got in and didn’t have to tag along on any of the elementary school tours! I’m sure the wee tykes really enjoyed the “roots of rock” display featuring all their favorites – Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters. Bruce Springsteen’s 1960 Chevy Corvette is on display and one of the kids asked, “Is that Batman’s car?”

There are guitars everywhere. Imagine a Hard Rock CafĂ© without food and bad service. Also saw a lot of costumes worn by the various rock stars, proving that talent is in reverse proportion to fashion sense. I wonder if that same little kid looked at Lady Gaga’s costume and said, “Is that Batman’s suit?”

As you enter the building, on the glass door there is a symbol stating “no guns”. Right away that told me they had a “Hip Hop” section, and indeed it is quite impressive. All that’s missing are the mug shots.

In a salute to rock radio there are listening stations where you can sample the great Top 40 d.j.’s of yesteryear (minus me). Too bad none of the headphones work and you can’t hear a thing. How are we going to expose the impressionable youth of today to Cousin Brucie?

All in all, the museum is extraordinary and worth a trip to Cleveland for that alone. Some features that I found particularly fascinating:

-- Jimi Hendrix was a terrific artist and they have sketches he made of PAC 10 football teams…
-- there is the letter from RSO records rejecting U2 (but hey, they’re no Andy Gibb)…
-- handwritten lyrics for such songs as Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”…
-- and an entire room devoted to Les Paul whose innovations in sound recording are to Rock n’ Roll what Edison is to electricity.

Also, while it’s showing, do check out the “Women in Rock” exhibit. Everything is there except Lesley Gore’s hair spray can. When that same little kid saw the recent photo of Cher I wonder if he asked, “Is that Batman after putting on his mask?”

Most touching for me was a display honoring my dear friend, the late Ellie Greenwich.

For those who remember when the Indians used to play in cavernous empty Municipal Stadium, their new ballpark, Progressive Field is a wonder. When I broadcast from Municipal Stadium I once said on the air, “If I was out on a date Saturday night and wanted to take my girl somewhere dark where we could be alone, I’d take her to an Indians game”.

The new (I say “new”, it’s almost 20 years old now) park has all the amenities and combines the tradition of old school luxury suites with the convenience of modern-day luxury suites.

The visiting clubhouse guy is one of the most amazing artists I’ve ever seen. His name is Wayne and he makes unbelievable portraits of ballplayers … in Legos. This is not a joke. This is a very unique talent. Michelangelo couldn’t build a little car for shit with those bricks.
Attendance this year is way down despite the fact that the surprising Indians have the best record in the American League. Well, Friday night, with the Mighty Mariners in town, they got the second biggest crowd since Opening Day and their second biggest walk-up attendance in the park’s history. You’re welcome. Okay, so it was also “Dollar Dog Night” with all hot dogs selling for a buck apiece. They sold 33,000 tickets and over 55,000 wieners. HOT (dogs) IN CLEVELAND.

My broadcast partner on the radio all weekend was Ron Fairly. As a kid growing up in LA, he was one of my favorite Dodgers so how cool to be working side-by-side with someone I idolized until he was traded to the Expos! We had great fun on the air and I got to call a very thrilling and dramatic ninth inning. If only it didn’t end with Travis Hafner of the Sons of the Wigwam hitting a two-run walk-off home run with two outs to beat my beloved M’s 5-4.

Saturday’s game began on time. But ten minutes later this was our call: “There are a few raindrops. A couple of umbrellas are sprouting and… Whoa! We got a flood! They just halted play.”

Picture God with a power washer.

Fans always wonder what we announcers do during rain delays. In this case, we wrung out towels for two hours. The windows in the press box leaked. I wondered if Barbra Streisand had any sandbags left from the big Malibu storm a few years ago. Can’t you just picture Babs with a burlap sack and a shovel? There’s another exhibit for the Hall: “Women of Rock During Relief Efforts”. The Doppler map had more colors than the suit Jimi Hendrix was buried in. After two hours the game was mercifully called.

And Sunday was no better. Woke up to fog and rain and a local news anchor who looked like Urkel grown up. Checked out of the hotel and was relieved not to see Cyndi Lauper in the lobby trolling for player autographs. Got to the park by avoiding the Cleveland Marathon. I think it was the Cleveland Marathon. Could have just been thousands of people fleeing to Akron.

Like the day before, the rain just didn’t stop. I really felt bad for the Indians’ mascot, Slider. After entertaining the sparse crowd for ten minutes in the downpour that big bulbous furry suit had to weigh 300 pounds. Kinda like what Sly Stone must’ve experienced performing at Woodstock.

Unlike the day before, Sunday was frigid cold with winds strong enough to blow the tarpaulin into Cincinnati. Once it was determined by Doppler radar that this rain was going to continue until June 11th, they cancelled this game, too. The Mariners come back in August and must now play five games in three days. So the weekend was pretty much a washout. Two postponements and a heartbreaking defeat. Oh, and we had to take off from a smaller airport because the winds were too high at Cleveland International.

Still, I had a great time. I love my traveling companions (thanks Kev, Rico, Ron, Blow, and Shan), love the guys on the team (especially now that Milton Bradley has been dumped), and where else can you see Cyndi Lauper in the lobby and Andy Pettite in Legos? Cleveland Rocks!

WHERE THE HELL AM I?  TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED -- a collection of my travelogues is still available at prices that would destroy most publishing companies.  Check it out here.  


Brad Milton said...

Ken, bought your book from Amazon and read it throughout the Cleveland typhoon season. Very enjoyable, lots of chuckles and some laugh out loud moments, too. Now that you're 'home' (in Seattle) can ya drop by and read it to me, and bring Cocoa, too? Or Bambi? (Really laughed about the 7 year old kid celebrating his birthday in NY at a Mets game...I'm in my 60s and I STILL won't say that word!)

YEKIMI said...

Thanks for coming to Cleveland and classing up the place, at least for a while.

Max Clarke said...

Thanks for talking up the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Always felt it got slighted for its hosting city, when in fact it's another sign they do some things very well in Cleveland.

My earliest recordings of Beethoven's symphonies were made by George Szell of the Cleveland Orchestra. The 9th symphony is still my favorite version.

Hmm said...

You seem kind of racist. Have you ever wrote a show that had a black character in the cast?

Mike Schryver said...

Ken, I'm in Portland, and am really enjoying your radio broadcasts. I was disappointed about the rainouts and missed the beginning of the Saturday game (so I heard nothing at all.)
It's fun to get a little of the "backstage" story of the weekend in Cleveland, rather than just seeing "PPD" on the scoreboard.

John said...

In a salute to rock radio there are listening stations where you can sample the great Top 40 d.j.’s of yesteryear (minus me). Too bad none of the headphones work and you can’t hear a thing. How are we going to expose the impressionable youth of today to Cousin Brucie?

Sirius/XM subscription for their iPhones and force the kids to listen to the 60s on 6 on Saturday nights.

Is dollar dog night at the new Indians stadium better than nickle beer night at the old one? You don't get to call major league baseball forfeits every day, you know.

iain said...

What Yekimi said, Ken. Hopefully, you'll be back here for the make-up games in August(?). That's when we like to bring out the midges (a.k.a. Joba Chamberlain's best friends).

Meanwhile, it's STILL raining.

Kirk said...

Enjoyed your take on Cleveland. Sorry about the rain. An old joke here in Cleveland goes like this:

"What follows two days of rain in Cleveland? Monday."

As of this writing, it looks like the joke may have to be amended to: "What follows seven days of rain in Cleveland?"

Matt Patton said...

Can you imagine Barbra Streisand actually filling sandbags to protect her house? She has People to do that.

Paul Duca said...

"TenQ, pumping out 50,000 watts of hair spray!"

Anonymous said...

Hmm...shouldn't that be "HAS you ever wrote...?"

Phillip B said...

You're traveling with Kev, Rico, Ron, Blow, and Shan? Are you working on a spin-off of Entourage?

And the best thing about flying to Cleveland, of course, is that you are better dressed as soon as you walk off the plane. (Buddy Hackett, 1962)

Anonymous said...

"Cleveland of course is known for..."

Harvey Pekar!

VP81955 said...

I had an unsuccessful tryout for a copy editor position in Cleveland about 20 years ago, pre-new ballpark. (I saw the Indians hammered by the Red Sox at Cleveland Stadium before a small crowd of more Bosox fans than Tribe fans -- and this was before the "pink hat" days. Boston's Ellis Burks hit two home runs in one inning.) But parts of the city did have its charm, and it appears to have made great strides since then. And give Cleveland credit for having rail service (the famed "rapid") that drops you off directly at the airport terminal, something Los Angeles may get around to in about, uh, 15 years.

Pauline Frommer said...

Hi Ken,
Didn't know how else to contact you. We'd be interested in having you as a guest on our nationally syndicated radio show (The Travel Show with Arthur and Pauline Frommer) to discuss your new book. Please email me at frommertravelshow@yahoo.com. The show is carried on 130 stations nationwide.
Many thanks! Pauline Frommer

Ah Hmm said...

Now I wonder how you 'seem to be kind of a racist'? You wonder that, too?

Mike McCann said...

The last time I made a baseball trip to Cleveland, it was for a Yankees/Indians weekend in June 1994. We saw two games over three days -- Friday night was rainy; Saturday's game was halted -- and completed on Sunday. Only a few cloudbursts. Mostly, we dealt with a steady mist. Still, the place was packed for "both" games: attendance was over 41,000.

YEKIMI said...

As of this writing, it looks like the joke may have to be amended to: "What follows seven days of rain in Cleveland?"

More rain! I thought I saw a robin yesterday but it just turned out to be a rusty pigeon.

Breadbaker said...

You know you're a Mariner fan when . . . . Ken refers to Kev, Rico, Ron, Blow and Shannon and you know he's referring to Kevin Cremin, Rick Rizzs, Ron Fairly, Mike Blowers and Shannon Drayer without even pausing to think about it.

Anonymous said...

As a Mariner fan I was almost thrown out of the stadium in Cleveland when I was the only one standing and cheering when Jr or Edgar had a hit. That was fun! It was also 1994.

neumann101 said...

Please Mr. Levine could you write more about Kev, Rico, Ron, Blow and Shannon and less about Lorretta Swit?