Traveling America from the Stadium Parking Lot

It is 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday, three hours before kickoff between the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union soccer match at Gillette Stadium. As I pull into my parking spot in Lot 4, I’m greeted by my friends who have already begun setting up our tailgate behind their car. I start unloading the pristinely packed trunk of my 1997 Mercury Grand Marquis, setting up my small, $30 grill on the folding table.

I add ice in the cooler to keep the beer and food cold. From my trunk, I take out the supply bin and my folding chair before connecting the small, green propane tank to my grill. I’m ready to light up as the aroma of smoke and charred meat fills the air.

“You got the tongs and stuff,” my friend John asked as he lit his grill.

“Yup right here!” I said. “Toss me the gloves and that lighter.”

“By the way, what did you bring for food? I never checked the group chat,” said John.

“I’m making Philly cheesesteak sliders.”

John looked perplexed. “Wait, aren’t we playing Philly tonight.”

I responded: “Exactly. We’re gonna’ eat the opponent!”

The first thing I did after learning the New England Revolution schedule for this season was create a list of food items from the opponents’ cities or areas of the country to make at tailgates before games. Not only is this a chance to embrace the American culture, but it also metaphorically provides the opportunity to eat the opponent.

Now while it might sound a little odd, I do have to admit the idea for eating the opponent before games is not original. I got the idea from a Superfan at Boston College football tailgates who would grill up just about anything all depending on the opponent that day.

When the UNC Tarheels came to town, he cooked up ram. When the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets visited: honey and peaches. When the Florida State Seminoles, no we did not engage in cannibalism but rather a more practical option: alligator meat.

So for Revolution tailgates, I’ve employed a similar routine for tailgates. For example, this season, our match against the New York Red Bulls featured all the steak one could want. Just like when the Revs faced the Philadelphia Union in late July, heaping helpings of cheesesteak sliders filled everyone’s plate.

Some people see grilling as a chore. Others see grilling as an escape. For me, it is not only a passion, it is a way to express my own creativity and desire to travel this great country through cooking. I have always wanted to travel throughout the United States. So rather than spending $2,000 on an extensive vacation, I figured a wiser investment would be a paltry $20 on food.

Food has long been a passion of mine. Ever since I was two years old, I’ve developed a love for cooking. I always in the kitchen helping my mom or grandmother make dinner. My mom bought me a junior cookbook, a chef’s apron, and other cooking supplies when I turned 10 because that’s what I asked for.

When I got older, I would help my dad do the grilling during the summer and at football tailgates. The older I got, the more I helped. And the more I wanted to expand my horizons. I was always challenging myself to try new recipes or techniques, going as far as imitating the Food Network show Chopped in my own kitchen.

In continuing to improve my cooking ability and allowing my passion for grilling to grow, it has unlocked the world for me. I can now get Kansas City style ribs from my own back patio and Philly cheesesteaks from a stadium parking lot.

So when it came time to actually make the Philly cheesesteak, John and the rest of my friends were shocked to see me pulling out a deli bag of roast beef and Hawaiian rolls. That was nothing, however, compared to the shock they experienced when they took a bite out of the finished product. The compliments were endless, so much so that they insisted I make the delicacy every game.

While Philly cheesesteak might not be ‘outside the box’, in a game earlier this season against Houston, I tested myself by making Chili Burgers. And no, it wasn’t just canned chili poured on top of a burger.

Just like making chili, I seasoned the ground beef in a bowl, added onions, and made quarter pound portions. For buns, I pre-baked corn bread and threw the pan on the grill to warm it up. The finished product: a Texas-style chili burger on corn bread.

Given it was a cold day, the burgers didn’t do well sitting around in the blustery parking lot, but it was definitely a foray into and a twist on Houston cuisine. Like traveling to Texas from the chilly confines of the New England spring.

At the tailgate lot, I’m not the only one who likes to try new, different, or outrageous things at tailgates. A friend of mine, Peter, always does Cajun style cuisine. Although there are no opponents in Major League Soccer from that region, it’s still a way to bring New Orleans to New England.

His shrimp skewers and pork ribs are a specialty and I look forward to trying one every game. We’ve even traded a few pointers, including sharing recipes for a common dish we make: jalapeno poppers.

While Peter cuts his jalapenos lengthwise, I do it a little differently. For Christmas last year, I received a jalapeno popper grill rack. The kit came equipped with a recipe and a coring tool to get the seed out of the pepper. I simply cut off the top, core the pepper, then put the cream cheese, bacon, and cheddar filling in a squeeze bag to fill the jalapeno, and then top it with panko bread crumbs. After 5-10 minutes on the grill, they’re done perfectly.

Even Peter admits to me that my version tops his by a longshot.

So with a bunch of tailgates coming up for the remainder of the season, John and the rest of my friends are already looking forward to the next recipe I come up with. And with three games against Canadian opponents on the horizon, it’s an opportunity to extend my cooking arsenal internationally. And you can expect Canadian bacon, maple glazed sausage and poutine to be on the menu.

An Impromptu Weekend in Fargo

Walking out of the small five-terminal airport and into the desolate, cold night, the stench of fresh air hit harder than the brisk breeze of early spring. Waiting 15 minutes for the nearest Uber to come pick us up allowed for enough time to let our surroundings sink in adequately. The American flag flying high above the driveway affirmed we were somewhere that no longer felt like the United States.

“So, this is Fargo, North Dakota?” my partner Chris said reluctantly. 

“Never imagined I would come here,” I quipped back.

In fact, standing on that shoddy airport sidewalk was the last place I imagined myself on a Thursday night in March. The previous Sunday, when the Boston University hockey team learned its fate and was being shipped out to Fargo, I was met with frustration and disappointment. 

“It’s not fair!” I thought. After all I was a senior and I wouldn’t be able to see BU play live again. I had covered the team for three seasons and would not be present at the most important juncture. To make matters worse, BU was playing North Dakota just 80 miles from the latter’s campus, so the outlook was grim. 

On Monday, life returned to normal. Studying for an exam I had coming up on Thursday night, I was interrupted by a phone call from my broadcast partner, Chris.

“Hey, so I got this email, we need to meet up now! BU is sending us to Fargo.”

The brief exchange left me with more questions than answers. Upon talking with the dean of our college at BU and our professor Frank, we were being sent on an all-expenses paid trip to Fargo to broadcast the tournament.

With logistics taken care, we set out to Fargo, a city devoid of high-rises, traffic, and thankfully, wood-chippers.

As we got into our Uber to the hotel, our driver summed up our generalizations of this region with a strange introductory question.

“So, what brings you boys to Fargo? You like to drink ’cause there’s lots of that here? Not much here else really.”

Chris and I exchanged a shell-shocked glance before he hesitantly answered: “Well, yes, but we came from Boston for the hockey tournament out here.”

Safe to say, there was no more conversation during that ride. Thankfully checking into our hotel, preparing for a busy day Friday, and sleeping were all extremely smooth.

The next day began early for us as it was game-day. Still groggy from our nearly cross-country flight less than 12 hours ago, Chris and I awoke, showered, and grabbed continental breakfast before heading back to our room. It occurred to us that we had yet to look at our surroundings in the daylight so we opened the window.

Over the course of a minute, we witnessed a lynx sprint past our window, a jam-packed curling club across the street, and a barren wasteland of power lines and tall grass still yellow from winter.

With nothing else to do but head to the rink, we set off two miles away to Scheels Arena.

The game was one of the best things I could’ve ever witnessed. The cacophony of 6,000+ screaming fanatics clad in green, white, and black cheering on North Dakota was unlike anything one could ever imagine at a sporting event.

But the game. Oh, what an awesome game it was. Four-and-a-half hours of pure hockey action complete with a thunderous check that shattered one of the panes of glass, a double-overtime game-winner from BU, and an eight minute goal review that aged each of the arena patrons an extra eight years.

BU won 4-3. So we celebrated. After we got in the Uber back to the hotel, we informed the driver of our plan.

“Any way you can stop by the nearest packie?” we asked. Our driver obliged.

We drank, watched college basketball, and began prep for the next day’s game against Minnesota-Duluth. But when it came time to eat, we found a cozy bar called Golf City. It was a bar with golf simulators and people dressed in full golf outfits with fully-equipped golf bags were playing the night away.

The food was alright but the experience even better. And the boss, who ended up being on our flight home, gave us free drinks when we came back the next night.

The next morning, while eating breakfast we sat with one of the opposing player’s parents – to say it was a harbinger would be an understatement. That same player, Adam Johnson, scored the game-winner that night.

Leaving Fargo that Sunday morning as day broke over the Great Plains, I couldn’t help but think about the whirlwind week that was. An impromptu trip to Fargo might not be everyone’s idea of a weekend well-spent, but it certainly provided one of the best experiences of my life.

Plymouth: More Than Meets the Eye

The town of Plymouth in Southeastern Massachusetts is best known for being the first site pilgrims set up a colony in the new world. While many tourists flock to Plymouth Plantation and the Mayflower, several other historic details about Plymouth are left unknown to many.

‘Captain John’ boats at the Mayflower Pier features an hour-long Harbor Cruise aboard the Pilgrim Belle, a remodeled paddle-wheel boat. Step aboard the historic vessel and embark on a tour of Plymouth Harbor.

The narrated tour of the harbor is informative and fun while the return leg back to the pier features a variety of beach music allowing all passengers to enjoy the summer sun while on board.

One of the crew members, Alex Corcoran, is a student at Plymouth State who has always been fascinated by colonial history.

“A lot of what we learn in elementary school about the pilgrims is fabricated,” she said. “I love working on this tour because it disproves all those preconceived notions.”

One of the first points on the tour is Plymouth Rock. While the site is commonly identified as the first place the Pilgrims landed in America, the tour disputes that. Provincetown, as it was aptly named, was the original landing spot, though the Pilgrims found it uninhabitable with infertile to plant their crops.

So on they went. Eventually landing at Plymouth. But it was not all smooth sailing for the Pilgrims as 52 of the 104 passengers forced to stay on the boat during the winter, perished while another was born. Scurvy, tuberculosis, and pneumonia were among the diseases that threatened the Pilgrims.

“A lot of people who come on our boat think the Pilgrims arrived in America and were home free,” Corcoran said. “That’s one pleasure I get from this job, being able to teach people about real history in a cool environment.”

Many of the landmarks within Plymouth Harbor were named by the Pilgrims, a prime example being Bug Light. The light juts out of the water to mark a dangerous shoal for ships to avoid. Corcoran, now narrating the tour, explains how it’s called the Bug Light because pilgrims would often catch lobsters off this spot. Unfamiliar to English waters, lobsters were referred to as “bugs” by the settlers.

“It’s the kind of stuff they don’t teach you in history class,” Corcoran said. “You get an insight into the way things used to be in Plymouth. It’s interesting to hear about the origin of things.”

As the Pilgrim Belle turns around at the tip of Long Beach to head back to port, snacks and drinks are offered and music fills the loud speakers. The hits from Jimmy Buffett, The Beach Boys, and Bob Marley fill the deck on the boat with, as Corcoran puts it, “good vibes.”

“This element of the tour makes us unique,” she said. “Typically on a harbor tour you’re just sitting there listening and looking. We make ours interactive as well as enjoyable. There’s nothing better than being on the water in the summer listening to ‘feel good’ music.”

As the sun beat down and the cool ocean breeze blew, the old vessel came into port, releasing its passengers with an updated knowledge of the area. Unlike most harbor tours, this is one Corcoran believes is worth taking again.

“We get a lot of people who come back and take our tour each year,” said Corcoran. “They like the relaxed nature of it.”

As I got off the boat, I was even offered with a friendly suggestion for where to find the best lobster roll in the harbor area. Corcoran suggested Wood’s Seafood…and it was A+ fresh and excellent quality.

A Seat at Central Wharf

The city of Boston can be slightly overwhelming for visitors and residents alike. Towering buildings stretching high above envelop the serpentine streets below.

Boston’s Harborwalk provides an excellent escape from busy city life and a window into the past city and present splendor of an old American city. Numerous people choose to take this path less traveled by.

Looking back at the reflective glass on many of Boston’s high-rise buildings, the old city rises in front of the new. Looking down State Street from the Harborwalk along Long Wharf, viewers are provided with an unobstructed view of the Old Statehouse. One block down is Milk Street which connects Central Wharf to Downtown Boston. From the end of Milk Street, the spire of Old South Meeting House sticks out among other shiny, new buildings.

On Central wharf, behind the New England Aquarium, sits a portion of the Harborwalk that provides majestic views of Boston’s harbor. Sailboats float at anchor inside the harbor, ferries to Charlestown and the Harbor Islands drift by, and planes freshly in flight roar above like the sound of waves crashing against the rocky coast.

This serene, peaceful escape sits at the edge of a bustling, boisterous city and provides a place for the weary traveler to sit and collect their thoughts while taking in the true beauty of Boston.

Finding this slice of paradise is simple; leaving is whole lot more difficult. As you pass the sea lion tank in front of the aquarium, follow the ice-cream-stained brick pathway as it turns into a wooden dock, around the corner of the aquarium sits chairs and benches fastened to the pier.

Take a moment to sit and experience.

The sound of water flowing up against the dockside creates the illusion of sitting on a tropical island. Seagulls land in the water with a caw, a boat exits the harbor with a small toot of its horn.

The sun reflects colorfully off the water and beats down warmly on the faces of those seated along the wharf.

The salty, sea air fills the nostrils of any passerby and creates the feel of the beach.

It no longer feels like the middle of Boston.

Another plane soars overhead, full of adventurers embarking on a journey to an unknown destination. The jets pass so close you can clearly read the name of the airline on the side and get a perfect view of the logo on the tail. For aircraft enthusiasts alike, it’s a hidden gem in the city where planes can be viewed from an intimate angle.

On the opposite side of the airport, a line of lights across the sky become visibly, with each glowing, white dot growing larger by the second. The wings of a plane arriving in the city come into view just as another takes flight.

Looking to the left on Long Wharf, across the bay from the airport sits the Old Customs House. Before the days of flying contraptions and metal ships came old wooden ships crammed with immigrants from across the ocean optimistic for a fresh start.

Presumably, the first place they went was the Custom’s House. Before entering the big, gray building, a look out from the dock towards the ocean presented a different view than the one today albeit with the same effect.

Come, sit down behind the aquarium and take a gander into the great, blue beyond. Do you feel that sense of hopefulness? It’s similar to what immigrants felt centuries ago, and what those who stop for a moment feel now.


Boston Sports Relics

The city of Boston is the perfect destination for historians. Whether you’re trying to observe some of the many landmarks along the freedom trail, dine at one of America’s oldest restaurants, or attend a baseball game at Fenway Park; Boston has it all.

But for sports historians, the city’s roots lie deeper than just a pilgrimage to Yawkey Way. Throughout the city, there are three historic sites which hold a special place in Boston sports lore – Nickerson Field, Matthews Arena, and the Cy Young statue.

A trip to Boston for ultimate sports fans wouldn’t really be complete without a trip to these three locations. All four of Boston’s major sports franchises got their start at one of these places as did the Atlanta Braves organization.

The journey begins with a quick trip on the Green Line B-Branch to Pleasant Street. While a shiny, new Agganis Arena gleams at the street corner, down Harry Agganis Way appears an ivy-covered grandstand. Towering over the BU Police Station is the final remnant of Nickerson Field, once home of the Boston Braves baseball team and Boston Patriots football team.

The current police station building was formerly utilized as the team offices with a pathway to the field carved out under the stands. Behind the police headquarters sits Braves Plaza. During Nickerson’s heyday, trolley cars flooded this area dropping off fans ready to cheer on the hometown team.

In the early 1950s, the team moved away leaving the stadium abandoned. But in 1960 a new American Football League team, the Boston Patriots, moved in for its first three seasons in existence. Since then, the stadium has been home to soccer and lacrosse franchises as well as BU athletics.

While the trolleys have made way for the rat-race of Boston University students, the plaza contains a plaque dedicating the former site of the Braves and Patriots. The lone seating area remaining served as the right field grandstand during its baseball days and the concourse remains primarily untouched since the Braves left.

Hopping back on the Green Line, the next stop is along the E-Branch at the Symphony station. Nestled on St. Botolph Street just across from Symphony Hall, is Matthews Arena. Now the home to Northeastern ice hockey, the 107-year-old building once served as the original tenant for the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics.

The arena has been renovated since its days as a professional arena, but the vestibule and lobby remain primarily the same as they were when the building opened. Inside, the lower seating bowl has been updated with improved chairs and a state-of-the-art media center.

The building, albeit modernized, still shows signs of its age. The wooden roof and steel rafters cavernously overhang the rink below. The upper deck hangs low over the bottom bowl, providing obstructed views for several fans in the back rows. Up top, the ends remain free-standing areas for fans to congregate and hang over the edge of the ice.

Reminders of its past tenants still beckon as banners dedicating the Celtics and Bruins hang in the arena. But those two teams weren’t the only pro teams to occupy a spot on Northeastern’s campus. Just up the road sits the former site of Huntington Avenue Grounds, the first home of the Boston Red Sox.

Though the stadium itself is long gone, a statue of Red Sox legend Cy Young is placed appropriately on World Series Way behind Northeastern University’s Cabot Center. The Red Sox won the 1903 World Series at Huntington Grounds and played there through the 1911 season before moving to Fenway.

The Cy Young statue is situated right where the pitcher’s mound was at Huntington Grounds. 60.6 feet away in the courtyard is a bronze plaque of home plate jutting out of the grass with an encryption stating how the first ever World Series was played at the site.

The final commemoration on the site is 350 feet from the plate on the side of the Cabot Center where a sign marks the location of the left field foul pole.

Not just perfect for Boston sports fans, these three destinations, all within walking distance of each other and accessible by public transportations, present a slice of history. From the World Series to the Stanley Cup and even the NBA Finals, these three sports mausoleums are places where avid fanatics and history buffs should definitely visit.

Visiting Vicksburg, Mississippi

Standing on the grassy hillside, overlooking the furrows of a once great battlefield, witnesses stand captivated. The sheer expanse of the plain below them, the multitude of cannons and great monuments beside them, endlessly rolling skies above.

But the most awe-striking feature of a once chaotic and boisterous lea is the absolute silence. Save for a passing breeze or rumble of thunder, the hallowed grounds where Civil War generals once presided over armies of young men slaughtering compatriots, sites of vast death and Northern glory, the eerie silence is what immediately captures one’s attention.

This is Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The small port city on the banks of the Mississippi river was once the site of a territorial battle between Union and Confederate troops to control the shipping lanes for much of the region. One of the most crucial turning points of the war occurred in this former metropolis, now sparsely populated adjacent to Northeastern Louisiana farmland.

It’s difficult to be prepared upon entering a battlefield as large as Vicksburg. Will there be evidence of carnage? Is it haunted? Must we be quiet out of respect? The answer to all those is yes.

Following a breathtaking, almost-inspiring view of the whole battlefield, the truck rolled down the one-lane road toward the first site: a circular colonnade with an open roof. As dark clouds began to fill the blue horizon, ducking into the memorial building to escape the rain became required as torrential downpours swept through the fields.

The mysterious, neoclassical building is the Illinois State veteran’s memorial. Inside, the echo of a voice can carry for almost five seconds, ringing to the top of the dome before being spit out the top like a bullet. Very symbolic of the horrors that once happened on the battlefield below.

Even the smallest whisper carried like a scream from a slain soldier. While alone in the building, a tug on the back of one’s shirt leaves questions unanswered. Is this simply a breeze circulating or is it the ghost of a soldier reaching up as a final plea to be saved from death? Not sure.

The continuous cruise through the battlefield eventually led to a large, old battleship protected beneath a tent. It’s easy for something of this size to catch one’s eye, but across the road is something bigger and even more impressive: a cemetery.

Small gravestones and markers as far as the eye can see, devoid of names for the soldiers who lay eternally beneath. The stones were marked with a number. Nearing the exit, a small gazebo atop a hill inside the cemetery beckoned.

A windy pathway to the top of the hill leads visitors to one of the more incredible sights in the park. From inside, the entire gravesite can be seen, much larger than any old wooden ship. A truly hallowing site indeed.

As the trip around the grounds came to a close, one of the final sites came right where the two sides signed a peace treaty. A small cannon jutting upward from the dirt and grass with a simple description. Across from a house overlooking the field, one can pay their respect for the dearly departed who sacrificed so America could prevail.

Opposite from the hillside where the journey through the site began, several deer have now flocked to the ridge as the storm clouds cleared. Truly, the weather on this fateful June afternoon was a microcosm of the battle and the war itself.

From the outset, storm clouds billowed overhead. As the rain fell, the journey went deeper into the battlefield. Much like the war seemed to be swirling into a storm of uncertainty around the time of this battle, the weather continued to deteriorate.

But as we arrived at the site of the truce, a glimpse of sunshine brightened the valley. On that same sight in 1863, the light at the end of the long and arduous tunnel that was the Civil War began to come into view.

Before departing, a visit to the Vicksburg gift shop felt necessary. Inside, books, replica artifacts, and postcards could be found. One book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin stopped one group of tourists who remarked how it was offensive to place that particular title in the history section when it should be with other fiction novels.

This rather disparaging comment took the air out of the sails of a life-changing day. At a place where armies fought to eliminate such an attitude, racism and inequality somehow continued to exist.

Turning out of history and back into the present, the truck trundled through the gates and back onto the highway. Thoughts swirled around like the wind outside.

What did the battlefield look like in the midst of fighting? I wonder if the reaction from the soldiers was also to find cover from the storms that passed by each day?

I guess there’s some things we will never know.