Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Things are Different in Wisconsin

This past weekend I spent the weekend in the Milwaukee area, first at Irish Fest and then at the Wisconsin State Fair.

Irish Fest, I have been to several times. It's held at this HUGE waterfront park that has something like eleven stages from one end to the other, a large number of permanent souvenir and tchotke stands, and beer.

LOTS of beer.

Beer sponsors three of the largest stages, with big signs and bigger bars. I suppose it's no more than one would expect at a festival grounds, where there is one Fest after the other... oh, and the fourth huge stage? Sponsored by Harley Davidson. Motorcycles suspended from the ceiling, that sort of thing. Harleys and beer.

And music, of course. Lots and lots of music. I saw several good bands - Whiskey of the Damned, Reilly, Red Hot Chili Pipers and even Tommy Sands. All in all, a great day.

Stayed overnight in a HECK of a deal via Hotwire. Man, what a nice room and a nice hotel and free breakfast and - OK, so it was seven miles away. You can't have everything. :)

Next day I went to the Wisconsin State Fair.

This... was different.

I've been to the California (not so good) and New York (great!) State Fairs several times. I have been to the Erie County fair a few times, too, and several others. I htought I had pretty much seen anything in fairs.

Not. Close.

The Wisconsin Fair has a TON of restaurant/pubs, pretty much all at one end of the fair, serving virtually anything you can think of for fair food and plenty of stuff you probably never considered. Some of these operations are huge - Cousins Subs has an entire section, as do Budweiser and Miller Lite and Leinenkugel (great, more beer).

I mean, HUGE sections. Seating perhaps a thousand or more? At pretty nice wooden bars and tables?

Oh, yeah, besides the beer - which was being offered EVERYWHERE (hey, look at this stand - Popcorn, Corn Dogs, beer!) ...

An aside, here - I LIKE beer. Really. And they had some of my favorites - Red Hook, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale - that you really don't find too often in the Chicago area. nothing like a cold frosty beer on a really hot day at the ballpark.

But good grief - there were bars that were blocks long - several of them! Beer signs everywhere. It was just a bit much.

OK, so we've established that Wisconsinites really like their beer. What's the second thing?


Each of these bars/restaurants seemed to have its own band playing songs ranging from a smaller joint's 70s disco songs to the huge Budweiser place's rock-ola. I mean, you couldn't sit down or walk around without hearing a band. I counted thirteen bands before I just gave up and said the hell with it.

Music and beer. There are a lot of worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, let me tell you.

Oh, they had the usual stuff as well... pig races and sham-wow demos and roast corn (yumm, I had three ears during the course of the day!). They had animals galore (okay, I admit it, I am one of those guys who goes and looks at the ducks and chickens and bunnies and cows and horses and goats and... enjoys it). They had mini-donuts and camel rides and these barrel-shaped rootbeer stands.

And they had rides, of course. I didn't go on anything, but I wandered around to see what was new. They had things there that I had never seen and would never go up in if I was paid to. Besides the usual Kamikaze and Tornado and all, they had a ride which you started standing up, then rotate around. Pretty standard. But then the arm to which this wheel is attached starts to move around in a circle! Wild! THEN the ARM ITSELF rotates and turns the whole contraption UPSIDE DOWN. Picture it - you're standing with your feet pointing toward the sky, rotating around sideways, while the whole contraption moves around in a circle and the arm moves in its own rotation! In-freaking-credible.

Anyway, the state fair has been in the same grounds since something like 1870 or so, but a few of the buildings have been rebuilt since then. It's nice, a big comfortable fair with milk for 25c a glass, and I'm glad I went.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Doctor is In

Last night, I didn't get to sleep on time because I was up watching "Doctor Who".

For those uninitiated and those who are currently looking down their nose and sniffing, allow me to elucidate. Doctor Who is the longest running (starting the weekend Kennedy got shot), perhaps the most successful, science-fiction television program.

It has accomplished this by readily changing with the times. When it began, it was seen as a children's TV program, sort of "You are there" with some fantasy elements (it could hardly be called science fiction). Then when the actor either died or left, I'm not sure which, some genius decided to continue with a different actor - a WAY different actor.

With the explanation that a Time Lord regenerates, this unleashed a terrific wave of Doctors. From Jon Pertwee's elegant Earth-bound Doctor to Tom Baker - yes, "the guy with scarf", to the cricket-jacketed Peter Davison, all the Doctors brought their own very different takes and attitudes to the series.

For awhile, the Doctor went away. He had been cancelled, because, even though the special effects on the show were pretty laughable, it was too expensive to produce.

The show returned a few years ago, and has really taken off, with David Tennant the umpteenth Doctor providing the right blend of heroics, flappability and humor.

Last night's episode was the beginning of his third season (he did four), and I thought I'd tune in just to hear the theme music again - oh, the memories that brought back! Memories of myself, alone in my room with a tiny black and white tv, watching Dave Allen At Large and then Doctor Who for who knew how long. See, the Doctor back then starred in as many half-hour episodes as needed to tell a particular story - some were l-o-n-g. Of course, then they strted showing the edited episodes, to make them movie-lenghth - but again, they could run just an hour, or three or four, you never knew.

Oh. Edited.

More than once did I watch Doctor Who, saw the end credits, and went to bed. When I came back the next week, however, they had on an entirely different show! It seemed they ran the programs one after the other, end-credit-PBS blurb-startng credit. All night.

This trick was pointed out to me by one of my friends down at the station. You see, during pledge breaks a BIG contingent of Dr. Who fans would make our way out on the levee to the PBS station, and do pledge breaks. We had a full-sized TARDIS replica that we would all walk out from (the gag being it's bigger inside than outside) to take our seats, a real working robotic K-9 (Tom Baker's Doctor's robotic dog), great costumes for virtually everyone, and most importantly a whole helluva lot of fun.

We'd have Doctor Who quizzes on the air, see upcoming episodes, raise reading awareness, and just have a wonderful time! Ahh, good times.

Anyway, last night.

The Doctor is surprised when a bride teleports aboard the TARDIS in midflight - and she doesn't know how. Add to that robotic Santa Clauses (a vaguely Christmas-themed episodes) with weapons disguised as trumpets and trombones, a wicked spider-lady (body of a huge frickin' spider with a devilish woman's torso stuck on) villain, her husband to be in cahoots with said villain, the resurrection of spider-lady's brood, the destruction of spider-lady's brood by the Doctor, the destruction of spider-lady by the British Army (who evidently is a good deal mroe reliable than the Japanese army fighting Rodan), the Doctor chasing down the kidnapped bride's cab by FLYING the TARDIS down the highway, finding Torchwood's HQ, using the Sonic Screwdriver in several interesting ways, the Doctor ducking out on Christmas dinner...

And everything gets resolved, in an hour!

What a GREAT ride! MAG-nificent.

And boy, did that bring back great memories!

Er, of the show, not of giant spider-ladies in British secret agency HQ armed with Robots disquised as Santa.

I don't think.