Did you ever take a trip that despite all the well laid planning took you to a destination completely unexpected? Well, that's what happened to me a few weeks ago on the Cubs' last road trip out west. The working vacation I had planned was to watch five baseball games and play a few entertainingly offensive songs at local music venues. But sometimes even the collectively positive powers of traveling, music and baseball aren't enough to distract you away from pressing matters of life and death. Thus, this article is as much about the experiences one can have while traveling to watch baseball, as it is about watching baseball itself. I would have liked to have written about it all a while ago, but I was stuck in Denver for a few extra weeks with St. Anthony Hospital's poor excuse for internet. How's that for a teaser?
My trip started innocently enough. With my girlfriend Nicole overseas for a month rehearsing a play for Chicago's Trap Door Theatre with a famous director in the remote Polish mountains, and a steady stream of Airbnb guests interested in renting my Uptown one bedroom apartment a mile north of Wrigley for an average of $100 a night, I took the opportunity to fly solo on a baseball trip using most of my credit card frequent flyer miles and the cash from my new status as a hotelier, to embark on an epic journey to see my beloved Chicago Cubs in Los Angeles and Denver. After making my apartment "peer review ready," I headed off to the South Side's Midway Airport for a late night flight to L.A. I arrived at the airport just after 7 p.m to watch the Wednesday, July 30 Wrigley night game against the Rockies.
I'm doing my best Cabbage Patch Kid Preemie impression here, but tragically, the airport bars were only showing the White Sox game. Even Harry Caray's was complicit in the Cubs South Side blackout.
TVs, TVs everywhere, and not a Cub to watch!
There wasn't a seat at the bar anyway and Pat and Ron's WGN call came through loud and clear on my MLB IPhone app. I clocked the game through a slight flight delay, and we took off for the left coast just as the Rockies scored two to go ahead in the 10th. I lost cellular contact high over Chicago. Remembering the previous evening's 16 inning "longest game in Cubs history" marathon game, I nestled into my window seat assuming the Cubs were gassed and would likely not win tonight. Upon landing, I checked the score and was proved right.
After an hour long wait for bags (because L.A. is sloooowwwww in almost every way), and a slightly cheaper Craigslist ride share "taxi" I had secured before take off, I showed up at my old NYC friend Jason Paige's apartment in West Hollywood at 2am.
I lived in New York City for 18 years, and many of my best friends, including Jason Paige, have given up their postage stamp apartments in quickly-gentrifying neighborhoods with unaffordable rents for the sun, fun, unaffordable rents and chance at stardom that every actor, musician, and fame junkie in America hopes for. You've heard Jason's voice a million times, and it's likely you've seen him perform. He sang the Pokemon theme song and hundreds of commercials, performed lead vocals for Blood, Sweat and Tears, and shared the stage with Aerosmith, and Michael Jackson, just to name a few impressive gigs he's had.
However, Jason Paige is not his credits, and his eccentric views on everything from Bitcoin to the unnatural state of romantic human relationships make him stand out among the vapid fame-hungry types L.A. is famous for attracting. While most of Hollywood is populated by the most attractive boy or girl from every town in the United States, armed with corporate friendly head shots and dreaming of a star on the Walk of Fame, Jason has always curated a life full of boundary destruction and a constant search for the metaphysical creative place some call "The Zone".
So, when I stepped foot into his apartment located above the Love Connection, it was no surprise to me that Jason and his roommates had created a "zone" that shared more in common with Andy Warhol's factory than your typical Hollywood bungalow.
Yes. That is an actual dismembered bat toilet seat, cast by Jason's roommate Derek. A Kansas City Chiefs fan, actor, singer, writer and toilet-seat maker who I didn't meet until the last day because of his gig in Palm Springs with the 80s jukebox musical, "We Will Rock You." When you're surrounded by a man's art, you feel like you know him before you meet him.
The environment I walked into was charged with creative energy. And with 4 a.m. looming, I turned in for a night of sofa surfing and some crazy dreaming, like something out of William Burroughs' "Naked Lunch." When I woke up a few hours later, my jet lag and general discombobulation was not ready for a forced rejuvenating walk through the streets of Hollywood. But I did it anyway.
Does it come in XL?
They even have a map to the maps!
I'd try the Alamo….
As I walked past, I heard the photographer tell the actor: "Give me that I'm tripping on LSD confused look!"
A selfie of a selfie!
Yeah… The Guitar Center on Halsted doesn't have these...
This parking garage has so many signs...you'd think it was next years Cubs outfield!
I would love to moooove into a house like this!
Kermit dressed as Winston Churchill.
Hey…If your car is gonna get hit by a tree…might as well be a palm tree...
The Jack in the Box accepts food stamps! Almost heaven….
I think most Cubs fans can relate to this storefront art piece...
For a Cubs fan and these neighbors….The grass is always greener….
L.A. has eye candy wherever you look. Everyone and everything is attempting beauty. Although, most of what L.A. has to offer as far as street life is missed because people spend all their time in their cars. Not me though. The cheapest rental car was $250 plus gas at LAX. That's a whole weekend Airbnb rental of my apartment! Which, in case you missed it earlier, is how I pay for these baseball trips. I walked everywhere within three miles, and used L.A.'s surprisingly punctual bus system to get everywhere else. Including Dodger Stadium. Warning!! L.A. drivers are not accustomed to pedestrians. Walk at your own risk!!
While dodging cars on my jet-lagged walk around Hollywood, a "What's App" message came in from my girlfriend Nicole in Poland. It was our only method of communication due to the spotty internet in the Polish mountains. She was worried about her father Michael, who lives about four hours south of Denver in a little Buddhist, New Age, Hippie town called Crestone, population 132. He hadn't been in the best of health recently, and had been losing weight. His distrust of doctors, and the nearest hospital being located an hour away had dissuaded him from seeking medical attention for his inability to eat. Nicole asked me if I'd call her dad and find out what was up, as he had left her emails typically unanswered due to his lack of reliable internet. I said I would.
Nicole's dad Michael is an intellectual philosopher, Rockies and Reds fan, who's read everyone from Epicurus to Nietzsche and long ago gave up stifling academia to work with his hands as an independent contractor. I had a bad feeling about what I was going to hear when I called him. He was always somewhat of a nihilist.
As a Cubs fan, it's easy to identify with the philosophy of the futility of existence, but then Javier Baez comes up and hits a game winner, or Jorge Soler pounds one out of the park in his first at bat and hope is restored. My point is...Maybe Nietzsche wouldn't have been so miserable if he could have caught a few games at Wrigley Field and tossed back a few cold ones. What do I know? I couldn't get past the first chapter of one of his books. I tried….
My philosophy? Cubs games. Travel. Music. Beer. In this crazy world, it's important to eek out what happiness you can. I've traveled from coast to coast with my Cubbies, drank beer, and now it was time to do a little comedic musical philosophizing at a Chinese Restaurant/ Music venue called Genghis Cohen.
You know you've made it when you're gigging next to a Radio Shack in a strip mall….
After practicing that night's setlist on the roof of the Love Connection (aka Jason's patio), I took a break and rang Nicole's dad. He answered after a couple rings, most likely because he didn't recognize my phone number. Knowing his disdain for most technology, I got right to the point and asked him about his health, being very clear about his daughter's worry for him. He paused and said, "Well, it looks like I have cancer. Esophogeal and Liver." Damn… cancer. That's bad. Real bad. Especially for a hermited mountain-man philosopher who lives an hour away from any possible treatment. He said he'd know more on Monday and asked me to break it to Nicole gently. How you break the news gently of your father having cancer is beyond me.
I invited Michael to Denver to watch the Cubs and Rockies the next week saying I'd pay for his bus ticket from Crestone and put him up, but he declined. I didn't know what else to say, so I told him I loved him, hung up, and went back to playing guitar.
Michael's words resonated in my brain, bringing to mind my own father who took me to Wrigley Field before I could even reach over the trough. He lost his own battle with liver cancer 16 years ago without ever seeing a Cubs championship. But before he died, he instilled in me a passion for baseball, music, and writing that I've carry with me to the far corners of earth. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't even be in L.A. right now on a music/baseball trip talking to my girlfriend's father who just told me the same news my dad told me a decade and a half earlier.
My working vacation had just been thrown a curve ball. I never could hit a curve ball….
However, being a comedy musician on a baseball trip after hearing bad news does have its advantages. First of all, my job is to sing and make people laugh, and then watch baseball. I could think of no better way to pay homage to my own writer/Cubs fan father than by doing exactly what I came here to do. Off to the strip mall to play comedy songs at Genghis Cohen! Let's rock this puppy out!
To make my gig as much like a ballgame as possible, I had Jason Paige open up the show with his unique version of the National Anthem entitled the "Spy Spangled Banner". The audience was more participatory than usual, as the night became a family reunion of artists and friends familiar with my twisted ditties after years of me begging them to shows. After the horrible news from earlier, it was exactly who I needed to be around in that moment. But even with a decent draw, my cut of the $160 my friends spent at the door amounted to half off one gin and soda. See, The more expensive the city, the less money a struggling artist gets. That's just how it works when the landlord takes all the cash to pay his pool boy.
I kept track of the Cubs' 8-2 win that night through MLB GameDay, because Genghis Cohen not only doesn't pay, but was playing the Angels game. However, missing the Cubs win was worth every second of the after-party which included another friend's gig, an L.A. nightclub featuring expensive drinks and naked women in glass boxes, and deliciously heavy Mexican food. We finally made it back to Jason Paige's "factory" at 4 a.m. to sleep it all off before heading out the next day to the third-oldest stadium in the majors, Dodger Stadium.
I hadn't seen a game for four days and was going into withdrawal. It was time for baseball.
Dodger Stadium was always one of my favorites to see on the NBC Game of the Week. The palm tree lined art deco style always appealed to me as a kid growing up in suburban Chicago, where our one and a half months of summer seemed a dark contrast to the always sunny and warm Los Angeles. The 60s retro kitsch of the park has aged well unlike the coliseum like concrete structures built a decade later in the 70s with Astroturf and non-retractable domes. Dodger Stadium is a charming place.
It's a hilly 15-minute walk from the Elysian Fields bus stop on Sunset Boulevard to the stadium, but I needed the exercise. If LA has taught me anything…. I am neither thin or handsome enough to live here.
I believe I saw these bobbling headed monstrosities in my William Burroughs "Naked Lunch" dream a few nights earlier. Just kidding… they're actually cool… and everywhere!!!
A flagrant disregard for the Dodgers Fan Code of Conduct.
Beautiful scenery. I mean the plants and stadium!! Not the girl!!! (well…the girl too…)
Maybe just a little more practice…..
A ring like this will hopefully be part of the Wrigley renovations within the next five years.
In case you might have forgotten where you were….
FYI. It's a good idea to park near the entrance to your seats. They won't let you in just any gate. If you don't park close, be prepared to climb a couple of these monsters.
You've got to respect the Dodgers history as a franchise even though Valenzuela signs his first name as "Fdo".
Who goes to a ball game dressed as an umpire? And that hair!
After climbing around the ballpark's exterior, I was forced to go halfway around once again. If you buy cheap seats, which I inevitably always do, you have to enter through the cheap seat entrance. Different entry points ensure the riff raff and the VIP's don't have to interact. But the Dodger Stadium classism doesn't stop there. In order to reach any of Dodger Stadium's specialty restaurants, only eight cheap seated fans at a time are allowed access to the full amenities of the ball park. You need a Field Level Access Pass.
They even take down your phone number in case you don't return with the pass. Not that you'd have to answer the phone.
If you ever wondered how the other half lives at Dodger Stadium….
This man's outfit cost more than my entire vacation so far!
The rich and famous can get Al Downing's autograph!
You can drink beer with a Tommy Lasorda Bobblehead.
You can reminisce about the days when relief pitchers were too lazy to walk in from the bullpen.
You can see old luggage!
See spike marks in batting circles.
Eat delicious hot dogs!
Made by a real live chef!
This Chili, Cheese and Frito covered dog set the new bar for what a gourmet hot dog should taste like. At $8, it's not cheap, but worth every penny, and twice as good as any of the Cubs' ill-conceived decade dogs.
Oh well, back to the cheap seats...
I couldn't wait to watch Cubs baseball. I hadn't slept well or much in days, due to late night flights, couch surfing, and bad news. But watching the Cubs carries an emotionally healing element that has gotten me through some of the hardest times in my life. Everything can be terrible, but if I'm at a Cubs game, my spirit is transported to happier times filled with friends and fans. A few beers never hurt my mood either….
I was meeting my friend Christian Anderson, an actor, singer and puppeteer from Avenue Q fame, who I did the First National Tour of Rent with back in 1996. He brought girlfriend, actress Camille Chen and his two little girls Ruby and Avery, who were just thrilled to be attending their first baseball game!
They lasted from the third to the fifth inning, which I hear is typical for Dodgers fans.
The kids weren't interested in the game, so we thought we'd distract them with the beautiful sun setting over the Pacific ocean. Yeah, that bought us about another 10 minutes of hangout time…they left shortly after...
The Cubs tied the game in the seventh, and the contest went into extras just as a rare misty rain began to fall on the normally dry desert ballpark. The Dodger's fans scurried for shelter in the perceived monsoon as the Cubs fans in the crowd stayed put in what we midwesterners call "mist".
I eventually took cover myself in the left field corner where I could escape the annoyingly misty rain and more easily feed my nicotine addiction. The game dragged on and on. I sat there colder and wetter by the minute. Finally, in the 13th inning, Hanley Ramirez ended it with a three-run walkoff homer to defeat the Cubs 5-2. As soon as the ball hit the bat, I turned around to see an open elevator. I found myself riding down to the previously forbidden Field level before the ball even hit the ground. I selfied in disgust. I looked old.
I bussed it home in an hour and woke up early that next morning with an invitation from a Dodger insider friend to tour the press box an hour before the game. I also received a few incredibly concerned emails from Nicole who had finally read the message that her father was sick with cancer. She wrote that she had procured some internet, and could FaceTime me to get more details. Needless to say, our emotionally charged conversation resulted in me missing my press-box tour, but some things are more important than seeing where Vin Scully sits. It was decided that she would quit her show in Poland and come to Denver to help her Dad. Coincidentally, I just happened to be heading there in two days along with the Cubs.
It's strange how the universe works some times. I doubt that MLB scheduled this Cubs road trip to provide a soft place to land for Nicole in Denver, but that's how it was working out. It was an hour before Sunday's game time, so we hung up with quickly made plans and the promise of emailing flight numbers and times as they were booked. I took the bus back to Dodger Stadium.
In complete contrast to Christian's kids who are scarred for life for having to attend anything as boring as a baseball game, I caught Sunday's game with my friend Stephanie Ruby and her nephew Jarrett Korson, who plans on playing professional baseball until he makes his way into the broadcast booth as an announcer. With the way this kid watched the game, his knowledge of players and teams, and his strong resemblance to Charlie Sheen in "Major League," I have no doubt his plan will happen.
Also in attendance were my best friend, favorite drummer, and trouble maker friend Johnny, from my Cubs Vegas Trip fame, and his girlfriend Gina who enjoys nachos served in hats. Plus...a photo bomber!
Two lucky things counteracted that crappy morning. The Cubs won the game and the series! And my connection in the Dodgers press booth said I could bring Jarrett in for a post game tour. Needless to say, he was thrilled for the opportunity. Here are some shots Jarrett snapped off in the press box.
While leaving the stadium we happened upon the Cubs players exit too!
The day started horribly, but Edwin Jackson got the win, and baseball made it all better. Especially when seen through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy who fanatically dreams of the day he will be playing at Dodger Stadium himself or broadcasting from the booth. Without kids like Jarrett Korson, baseball has no future. And after meeting Jarrett, I'd say the future looks bright!
I had a couple more beers with Johnny back at Jason Paige's "Factory", where I finally met roommate Derek, (the artist behind the dismembered bat toilet seat) who excitedly told us of his vision for an interactive club/theatre experience. After telling him I was on a baseball trip, he also showed me an hilarious video I hadn't seen of George Brett talking about pooping himself in Las Vegas. (warning: explicit)
George Brett's talk of food made me hungry and Derek drove me to his favorite pizza spot in L.A. And I use the word "pizza" loosely...
Yes, to a Chicagoan, this "pizza" is laughable, but needing a little more laughter after a day that started so depressingly, I headed over to the Vaucluse lounge across from the famed celeb hangout Chateau Marmont where my sister's ex, I mean current, I mean ex, I mean current girlfriend Scout Durwood was performing some standup comedy.
If you've ever seen a show full of comedians you've never heard of, you already know that the entertainment can be hit and miss. Comedians are always trying out new bits at these smaller venues, connecting on some jokes, bombing on others. it's like watching Javier Baez learning to hit major league pitching. Home runs and strikeouts. Scout was one of the funny ones though…as you can see in this video.
Man...Good thing for me that L.A. closes down early. It was just after 9 and I was wiped. A gig, two ballgames in 24 hours, bad news delivered, naked girls in boxes, Jason Paige's Quentin Tarantino musical review (which I didn't even write about, but was awesome), a comedy show, and lots of walking in the treacherous California heat. It all had me ready for a passout back at "The Factory." Lucky for me, Jason gave me his bed as he was able to find someone willing to share a bed with him that night elsewhere. Lucky for him too!
This is the part of visiting L.A. that always happens after a few days... I can't wait to get the hell out of there! Los Angeles is beautiful, exciting, sexy, and for me, full of amazing talented friends. But I also find it chock full of desperate pretense. In L.A., you are your credits. I was introduced one night as Danny Rockett, who did RENT and Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway, appeared in Law and Order, he composes music for the stage, radio, film and TV, and was the voice of Arby's for five years. I added to my introduction...b"I also went to the Dodgers game today." Yes. I was lucky and talented enough to get those plum gigs, but it's not who I am. In L.A., you are what you do. In Chicago, I find people are more likely to judge you based on whether or not you're a good human being, as opposed to how you make your money. It's why I chose Chicago over L.A. after leaving New York City. Even though I love the weather, the ballpark and the beautiful scenery, L.A.'s a nice place to visit... but I wouldn't want to live there.
My last day in L.A. was spent doing a little touristy site seeing and some souvenir shopping. I wanted to buy Jason Paige a Crunk Cup as a gift for letting me crash at his pad. For those not in the know, a Crunk Cup is one of those bedazzled chalices rappers use to drink liquor.
Jason is a Burning Man fanatic and is attending the far out festival this year. I loved the idea of him rocking this cup around the desert with all the other freaks.
I looked everywhere for one, but unfortunately Crunk Cups are either DIY or only for sale online. So, I walked up to Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame a few miles away, and ended up buying Jason a canteen from an army navy store. It's no crunk cup, but highly functional in the arid Nevada desert.
I did what I came to do: Play a gig and watch baseball. The Cubs did what they came to do. Win a series. So there was nothing left to but eat dinner at Hamburger Mary's with a horror film writer, a film maker, a rock star, a hairdresser, a tv producer, etc etc, etc… They're all just my friends….
After dinner, I went to hang with Christian again, whose Saturday night at the ball game was cut short by his daughter's disinterest in baseball. We reminisced over his handmade puppets and beer.
He even let me play with his Mr. Fu puppet which he built for an R-Rated comedy puppet series:
We drank too much, and I woke up on Christian's couch 3 hours after passing out, and walked the 45 minutes back to "The Factory" at 7 a.m. to catch my flight to Denver. Much to my dismay, I was locked out, but lucky for me Jason hadn't gotten lucky the night before and let me in after a few raps on his bedroom window.
I bid the sleepily silent "factory" goodbye and took a free but illegal Lyft taxi to the airport thanks to a coupon I'd been saving.
What had started as a fun trip to watch baseball games, write about it for BCB, and play music, had become something quite different. My head was swirling with images of puppets, palm trees, and Frito dogs. I felt inspired by all my creative friends and their various projects, but sidetracked by bad news, thoughts of my own father, and what might possibly lie ahead when my girlfriend landed in Denver to help her sick father on Tuesday along with me and the Cubs.
At any baseball game you go to, you can expect the unexpected. Every game is a possible no-hitter, a blowout laugher, or a 16-inning marathon where the back up catcher gets the win. It's why I keep showing up. Such is it with life. As Forrest Gump once said, "Life is a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get."
I had just simultaneously eaten so many chocolates in Los Angeles, I couldn't tell if I was eating a praline or a truffle. I left the entertainment capital
So Denver? Whatchoo got for me? A sick father? A future star Baez debut? Altitude sickness?
The eternal Cubs fan in me sat looking out the airplane window, hoping for the best.
*To Be Continued…...