When you last heard from me, your Cubs-capped Crusader, I was flying into Colorado from a successful comedy music gig, visit with my crazy L.A. friends, and winning weekend series in Los Angeles where the Cubs took two of three from the N.L. West-leading Dodgers. You should read (or re-read) "The Sordid Travels Of A Cubs Fan: Los Angeles" to understand why baseball was the last on my mind as I touched down in Denver's airport on Tuesday, August 5 to see the Cubs and Rockies for three games at Coors Field. This is the sequel.
To recap that sprawling 4300-word article... While in L.A., I had received news of a terminal illness diagnosis from my girlfriend Nicole's father Michael, and had broken the bad news to her as she rehearsed a play in the remote Polish mountains. Michael is a hermited philosopher and lives four hours south of Denver in Crestone, Colorado, population 132. It had been decided that Nicole would quit her show and spend a whole lot of money to fly into Denver from Poland to meet me and help her dad. It was pure Cubs fan karma that I just happened to be following the Cubs to the city that Nicole needed a soft place to land in.
I touched down an hour late at Denver International and promptly missed the hourly bus into downtown.
I had forgotten from a previous visit that a taxi from the remote airport costs as much as $80, far too rich for my vagabond blood. Unfortunately, waiting for the next $11 bus was almost certain to make me late for Tuesday's Cubs/Rockies contest. The bus finally arrived and then crawled through rush-hour traffic at a snail's pace and plopped me at Union Station about half an hour before game time. I snagged an Uber Cab with my last stitch of phone battery life and loaded my guitar and bags filled with dirty clothes and recording equipment into the back of some guy's Mercedes. For those who don't know, Uber is a company that allows anyone with a newer car to be a taxi. Their rates are often as much as 25 precent cheaper than a regular cab. It's a social networking car service and they don't usually pick you up in a Mercedes.
I got to my Airbnb one-bedroom apartment which I rented for the absurdly low price of $350 for a week from a guy named Carlos who I never met, and dropped off my bags right around the time the first pitch was being thrown at Coors Field. The place was incredible! I had scored! Not only was the apartment giant, but there was a pool downstairs and a huge balcony, with an amazing view from the eighth floor. And cheap!
No time for ogling the beauty of a rainbow! I had a game to catch. I called another Uber cab to transport me the two and a half miles to Coors Field. The bus would have been cheaper and only taken a half hour, but the game was already in the second inning. The fake cabbie got lost picking me up downstairs and while surveying my surroundings I spied one of the newly-legal clinics on the corner a block away from my rented apartment.
I actually smelled the place before I saw it.
The Uber finally picked me up in a Toyota and delivered my travel-weary body to the grand entrance of Coors Field for only eight bucks.
I was late for the game, of course, but I still stopped to watch this guy.
I'm sure I would have enjoyed his performance more had I stopped off at my neighborhood clinic. Judging by his harmonica solo, I would venture a guess that he had stopped at that very clinic before showtime.
I entered Coors Field in the fourth inning. I had missed Javier Baez's first major league strikeout, but got there in time to see his first major league groundout. Lucky me.
It was also rally hat giveaway night and this guy didn't plan ahead.
I had an $8 Rockpile ticket, but I had planned through Facebook to meet Michael Cotton and Arty Bouchez up on the Rockies' new Rooftop terrace for a fifth-inning beer meetup. We had met online through the Ivy Envy Cubs Podcast which we all listen to regularly. What a view!
The three of us made fast friends and ended up drinking more than the originally planned one beer together. In fact, I never even made it to my seat that night. Michael and Arty didn't return to their seats either, and we spent the seesaw battle of a game talking Cubs with other fans we met. Group Selfie Alert!
We were joined by Michael's wife Emily and their two sons later on as the game dragged on into extras. We only stopped our conversation to watch Javy bat or when the Cubs got someone on base. The Rooftop is the place to socialize at a Rockies game. Tickets to the Rooftop are only $15 and come with a $6 concessions credit. Denver is full of some of the nicest people you'll ever meet due to their 300-plus days of sunshine, so it's worth the price of admission just to hang out up there instead of sitting in the stands. It's a grand bird's-eye view of the game and the incredible Colorado sky.
This guy seems to like it!
Leave it to the city that just legalized pot to hand out inside out hats.
Inspecting the Rally Cap.
Sleeping through extras with Mom!
The rooftop is such a fun, sexy and social environment that I almost forgot I was meeting my girlfriend Nicole at midnight at the Airbnb rental. With the game getting long in the tooth, I was worried I might have to leave early to go meet her. But with expert timing, Baez hit his first major league home run in the 12th inning, the game-winner! Nicole texted me that she was getting in a cab at the airport just as Carlos Villanueva wrapped up the save. I took the bus back with a Grimace impersonator.
I walked up to the front entrance of my building just as Nicole's taxi pulled in. She looked exhausted after the planes trains and automobiles it takes to get from the mountains of Poland to the mountains of Colorado. The worry about her father was written all over her. I don't remember what we did before falling asleep, but we didn't do much of it.
Woke up and selfied for some reason to document the moment. We spent the day eating giant free Pretzels from a neighborhood deli and receiving even more bad news about Nicole's father Michael. A nagging hernia he'd had for over a decade was about to go septic and he had to have emergency surgery. The hospital in Salida, an hour away from Michael's remote mountain home, didn't have the facilities to operate on him, so they were going to ambulance him up to Denver. He was to arrive at midnight to a city that none of us lived in. This, after digesting the news four days earlier that he had also been diagnosed with esophageal and liver cancer. We sat on the terrace ruminating over it all as the afternoon rain gave way to a double rainbow.
I couldn't persuade Nicole to go to the game with me that Wednesday evening, as she was terribly jet-lagged from her day-long travel from Poland, but as BCB's faithful readers know, Nicole is the coolest. She let me ditch her grandma's wake to go see the Cubs in Cincinnati, and she didn't mind me heading off to Coors Field that evening.
I bought a $20 third row ticket from a scalper.
I had scored a seat so close to the dugout, I could tell which Rockies players suffered from dandruff.
Castro beats the throw!
Tooth! Bracing for victory!!
Tooth takes the crown!
Barney the Dinosaur's distant cousin Dinger waves the victory flag.
So as it turned out, I sat in the closest seat I've had all year to watch the normally solid Jake Arrieta get rocked for nine runs through five innings with the Cubs eventually losing 13-4. For those of you who think I should have stayed home to support my girlfriend in her time of need, instead of running off to a ball game -- you're right. This is one game that was not worth watching.
I snapped a shot of Jody Davis stealing a base and rode the bus home with Santa Claus.
Epic Selfie Alert! The never ending selfie...
I got back to the apartment just as Nicole was leaving to meet her dad's ambulance at the hospital. I had way too much beer, eaten a questionable chocolate bar and this brisket sandwich at the game which basically amounted to rubber on a bun.
None of it was agreeing with me and I wasn't feeling up to the hospital trip at that moment, but promised I'd come in the early morning. Michael is the kind of guy that wouldn't have necessarily wanted me there anyway. He is a proud man and wouldn't want me to see him in a vulnerable state. Nicole left to meet him, and I caught a few hours of sleep while Michael went into overnight hernia surgery.
I awoke before the sun rose, showered and called an Uber cab to take me the 10 miles to St. Anthony's hospital.
As you can see from the clock, it was a quarter to six in the morning. Nicole came out and said that the surgery had been a success but that her dad was pretty out of it. We went up to Michael's room in the cancer ward where we had a beautiful view of the sun rising over Denver.
Michael was in rough shape, and the mood in the room was tensely morose. The pain medication and anesthesia slowly wore off leaving Michael either hurting or confused. We sat there helpless, hoping that the hernia surgery would at least alleviate enough pain to make him comfortable. Doctor after doctor with specialty after specialty consulted us as to our options in recovering from hernia surgery and treating his cancer. The information was as confusing as it was exhausting. Things looked bleak. But when fetching a popsicle for Michael, which was about all he could stomach, I met Bonnie and Molly.
I was wearing my Cubs hat, per usual, and Bonnie asked me if I was in town for the games. I said I was, among other unexpected reasons. Turns out she's a rabid Cubs fan and was going to the game to root on her Cubbies that very afternoon. I told her I'd be there too and invited her and Molly to come visit Michael.
Bonnie and Molly brightened the room immediately, changing our dour mood with the healing power Cubs fandom and unconditional dog love. Bonnie is a living saint. What more would you expect of a Cubs fan?
To add a further wrinkle to this already complicated baseball travel story, my high school buddy Loren was flying in to meet me for the game that afternoon. We had planned months earlier to meet in Denver to watch baseball and party. We take divorced guy vacations together. Last year we went to New Orleans and got mistaken for a gay couple everywhere we went while we complained about our failed marriages. I also tattooed a Picasso bull on my chest and bought a ukelele.
Loren's flight touched down around 10:30 and I had to meet him back at the pad to let him in. The one draw back to an Airbnb apartment rental is that there is often only one set of keys you have to juggle.
I Uber'd back from the hospital for 18 bucks, met Loren and we headed off to Coors Field. The game was in a rain delay.
Unlike Wrigley's confined concourses, Coors Field has plenty of shelter from the elements. Loren and I walked around deciding which of the many concessions offerings to sample. I'm always on the lookout for something different and local. And definitely something besides the Rocky Mountain Oysters, which I had tried before on a visit to see Nicole's dad in 2013. You can read about my bull ball eating experience here.
I settled on the Elk Brat.
Let me start by saying that this Elk Brat was my favorite sausage or hot dog I've eaten all year. The elk meat is hearty but not gamey tasting. That rancid flavor you sometimes get in wild meat is masked by the spices and salts they cure the meat with. The bun was fresh and perfectly sized to fit the sauteed peppers and onions that unlike in most ballpark's concession stands, weren't soggy and overcooked. I loved this Elk brat a whole lot more than last years Rocky Mountain Oysters which still haunt my mouth. I highly recommend it!
As the skies cleared and made way for baseball, we bought an unlimited popcorn for $8 and sat in the August Denver sun chomping away. The Rockies may want to reconsider their "unlimited munchies" offerings given the new city regulations.
We ate three tubs of the popped corn and the Cubs won 6-2, with Baez going 3-for-4 with two homers. What started out as a morning in the cancer ward followed by rain showers, ended in a Cubs series victory! I never saw Bonnie, the therapy dog Cubs fan woman, at the game. But I did chat for a while with this spirited fan!
Loren and I wandered around downtown at a street fair where we watched a Cardinal fan in a heated argument.
We bought a beautiful piece of blown glass from a street vendor and returned to the apartment to find yet another rainbow cascaded over Denver.
I made some guacamole which we ate with cheese and dried meat and we fell asleep in chairs watching back to back episodes of "Too Close For Comfort" while I texted with Nicole about her dad.
The next day, Friday, I had a gig at Bushwackers Saloon in Denver. Between rehearsing for the show, talking to Nicole about the situation at the hospital, and my regular comedy-writing gig for syndicated morning radio, the sun disappeared quickly and with very little rehearsal, I found myself here.
They spelled my band's name wrong. I prefer the "Old Tyme" spelling "moustache". When I named the band with the "ou," spell check didn't auto-correct it. Now some geek decided I'm wrong.
The gig was sparsely attended, but Michael and Emily Cotton from Tuesday's game showed up and we had a blast post show making friends and watching a fun chick punk band called La Cucarachas.
Emily and Michael generously drove us home and Loren then explained to me how he had gotten suckered into joining Greenpeace.
I had explained to Loren the moment he landed that this vacation was not going to go as planned. We had four more days in the Mile High City to pal around and get mistaken for a gay couple, but I was needed at the hospital. With the games and gig over, Loren was on his own. He spent his days drinking delicious beer at Denver's many craft breweries and taking in the local smells and sounds of one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. There are cranes lifting condos from the earth everywhere you look as the word is out that Denver is a great place to live. Despite the unfortunate circumstances that had befallen the trip, there seemed to be no more perfect place to be stuck in than a city bathed in sunshine and rainbows. I'll definitely be back.
Michael's condition had taken a turn for the worse. There were complications from the hernia surgery and when I arrived back at St. Anthony's with clean laundry, Crystal Light and vodka shooters, he was a very sick man. Nicole hadn't slept in days. From then on, we gazed at the moon.
After Beautiful Sunrise...
We ate the cafeteria's delicious Frito-covered chili.
If you're ever injured or sick in Denver, St. Anthony's has the best hospital food I've ever tasted. I even eschewed the local restaurants in favor of the hospital cafeteria cuisine. The dining room is a great place to people watch too. I wrote my morning radio comedy parodies while hearing nurses gossip, concerned families of the sick, and eavesdropping on doctors meeting with drug reps. It was there in St. Anthony's that we got word of Robin Williams' suicide. I got a call from my job to write and record the obituary. From that very cafeteria, I eulogized my first childhood comedy hero in 30- and 60-second scripts for 200 bucks. I then ran back to the apartment to record the voiceover. Humorously fitting, even the way hospital employees paid for their food was hilarious.
Not a bad price for trauma!
Critical care on the cheap during Hawaiian Night at the Chez Hospital!
All I know is, if the Wrigley Field concessions were as good as this hospital food, I'd be a happily fatter man. Cubs fans and relatives of sick people need comfort food, and this hospital serves it. Not a shriveled hotdog in sight!
The week was a tough one. Streams of friends, chaplains, hospice nurses, family, and doctors paid their visits as Michael's condition worsened. We listened to Leonard Cohen and Joanie Mitchell. We read to him. We sang. We watched the Reds game on my iPad with Michael's brothers over a 12-pack. We slept here.
And after countless tears that are still spilling onto the computer I'm typing on, Michael Wiesner died on Friday, August 15.
My Airbnb reservation had expired two days earlier and we had moved our luggage into the hospital much to the chagrin of the staff, as they watched us set up hospice camp. Nicole had been there nine days, me six, so while picking a hotel for us, we didn't skimp and took the first place we could check into at 10 a.m. We needed a bed and a pool. We got a room at the Ramada and Uber'd ourselves back downtown from St. Anthony's with our suitcases, recording gear and guitar in tow. We were quite the sight, unkempt and unshowered, sleeping in our clothes. We resembled backpackers moving out of an Amsterdam youth hostel.
We cleaned up and when checking the box score of the Cubs' 6-2 loss to Milwaukee the previous evening, I saw that the Reds were in town playing the Rockies. How do you like that? Michael's two favorite baseball teams are squaring off against each other. He's a native Cincinnatian who had relocated himself to Colorado. I insisted we go so as to do something meaningful on the day of Nicole's dad's passing. This trip had already been blessed with so much coincidence, it seemed wrong to not embrace it now. We headed off to Coors Field -- to find another rainbow.
From our perch above the mile-high seats we watched the sun set over Michael Wiesner's last day on earth.
We left exhausted in the seventh inning even though the game was tied. We didn't care who won, anyway.
The next day was spent hiring a crematory who could do a rush job. Michael, unfortunately, died on a Friday which made it impossible to file the necessary certificates until Monday. We had abandoned his wishes to be cremated in an open-air cremation ceremony in Crestone by the Crestone End of Life Project, as the process entailed Nicole and I driving Michael's body down there ourselves in a rental car while refrigerating him with cooler packs and then keeping him in his house while we packed up his trailer full of tools and books. The spirit of his wishes were to have a cheap and easy ending. None of it is cheap or easy, but Alternative Cremation Services let Nicole pay an extra $300 to have him ready to be picked up by Wednesday. We were both relieved to have freed ourselves from a cremation process that was a bit out of our field of experience, although we did make a ton of "Weekend and Bernie's" jokes.
We rented a Penske truck and headed down to Crestone on Sunday and arrived at his trailer just in time to witness another rainbow.
Inside the trailer were stacked thousands of books from Michael's cerebral travels through the minds of countless philosophers and more illegally copied movies than could be watched in a lifetime. However, he had read and watched them all. Amidst the scholarly clutter and artwork was a Cubs cap.
We spent our next few days packing with drop-ins from the locals which included a half-Native American woman named Mary, flanked by two half wolves.
Plus! A Buddhist Nun who I drunkenly persuaded to take her first "selfie".
The only liquor store in town memorialized Michael on their dry-erase board.
We dropped boxes of items at the hippie-laden freebox.
We packed up the Penske and left.
We joked on the way to Colorado Springs that we would probably pick up Michael's ashes in a strip mall. We were right.
Right next to Schlotzky's Deli and Cinnabon...
Nicole couldn't stop laughing.
Nicole drove toward Chicago until midnight through the worst storm I'd ever experienced. Unfortunately, we were on a two lane road in Nebraska in a giant truck and had nowhere to pull over. We listened to Pat Hughes call the Cubs win over Milwaukee on my iPhone fearing for our lives as the lightning lit up the sky.
After a few hours' sleep and a crappy Perkins breakfast, we then rolled through the most boring states one can ever drive through, Nebraska and Iowa, where I photographed a bit of the local culture.
We finally landed at my sister's place in Highland Park where we could park the Penske overnight and go through Michael's tools with my handy brother-in-law Rob (who I made eat the "TV Dinner Dog") to see what they were and what they were worth. The tools are listed here if you have any interest. I sold the mitre saw and router.
We watched the Cubs finish losing 6-2 to Milwaukee, had end-of-the-road beers, and hit the sack. On the floor of the guest room was this stuffed animal.
What had started as a Cubs baseball trip to Los Angeles and Denver had turned into something much different by the time we landed at my sister's house. About halfway through the trip I had dubbed it "Deathcation." But with six ballgames, two gigs, old and newly-made friends, and countless powerful experiences which I still have yet to digest, I would say we managed to squeeze some life out of it after all.
Michael lived in a world of ideas, and surrounded himself with the thoughts of great men. A Nietzsche enthusiast, he was likely familiar with this quote, which I think most Cubs fans can relate to: "To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering."
But there's no way I'm going to end this article on a downer like that. I heard this Epicurus quote on a podcast the other day which I think sums up my experience a whole lot better.
"The art of living well and the art of dying well are one."