Custer State Park in South Dakota

Custer State Park in South Dakota
We saw a LOT of these guys at Custer State Park in South Dakota!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Steve & Barry's and old stores

3-4 years ago, Jenn and I were at a mall near Detroit. I really love going to malls and just seeing what is there. Anyway, we stumbled on to a cool store called Steve & Barry's.

We could not believe how great this store was. They had a fun selection of cool novelty shirts, college team shirts and jackets, and other great clothes items. Everything was about $7! The jackets may have been $13 or so, but everything was very affordable. Christmas was months away, but we did all of our Christmas shopping right there on the spot. We carried out huge bags of future Christmas presents and spent well under $100.

Holy Carp! Was this Detroit's well kept secret? A lot of regional areas have great shops. Maybe it had been around Detroit for a long time, but we just found out about it.

We both agreed that a trip to Steve and Barry's would be justification for future road trips to the Motor City.

We realized that would not be necessary. Steve and Barry's seemed to pop up on all of our road trips. We shopped at Steve and Barry's in Buffalo, Erie, Florence, and many other familiar towns. A mall a few miles from our home in Cleveland at the time got one. Steve and Barry's was becoming an exciting chain of stores-thank goodness!

I love novelty t-shirts, and I found a bunch of great ones at Steve and Barry's. My favorites include the orange prison number shirt. "Rehab is for quitters" is a classic too. Fictitious sports team shirts are always good. I will not discuss the rude innuendo type stuff, but my dad and cousin always got one on the holidays.

Maybe 6 months to a year ago I realized a couple of Steve and Barry's shops were folding. I didn't think much about it at first. No big deal. That happens.

Then I slowly realized, they were all closing. Who could supply me with my novelty t-shirts now?

I guess I just now noticed that they are all gone. All of them.

This is, in a very urban way of thinking, sad. I know in Florence, there is the vacant Steve and Barry's. The sign is still up. It might be for some time.

I know in Owensboro, at least last time I was there, the old Keuster's store still had their signs up, though it has been closed for several years.

There are a lot of traces of former chains and old stores from the past. Every city I have been to recently has an abandoned, almost spooky looking former Circuit City. There are 2 within a few miles from my home.

I walked past one in Memphis recently, it was at night. Peeking in to their big windows and seeing nothing was sad. People were once employed there. Just a few years ago, in some cases, just a few months, these were lively, busy businesses in the community.

"This American Life" recently did a great show about Circuit City closing, and they played short interviews with people after losing their jobs at Circuit City stores. Former employees talked about jacking prices back up before they started their "going out of business" sales. They talked about the last item sold in a store, and even how everything was for sale, including bathroom items. It was a great show, I am sure you can download it somewhere on the internet.

A web site I like to check ever so often is It talks about, well, dead malls. If you travel, or if you move around a lot, malls often become very familiar. For professional reasons I spent a lot of time in malls around Cleveland. I noticed that some of those malls have, after struggling, closed for good. Turfland Mall in Lexington JUST closed up for good. I spent a lot of time there in college.

Don't get me wrong, I will take a nice wooded park any day of the week over a mall. But, as many others in my generation, I have grown up in malls. I have spent a lot of time in big box stores. I feel some nostalgia connected to malls and stores.

I know Steve & Barry's is gone now. A lot of malls and other places are no more. Even though I was probably in a Steve and Barry's in the last year, walking in to one again now would be pleasant. It just seems like the chain hit the scene a few years ago, and already it is no more.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Miamitown Ghost Tours

I really enjoy each season. I love the anticipation each of the four. I love drinking hot chocolate in winter, road trips with the windows down in summer.

In my own mind, I like to break the year down to two simpler seasons too. Around January I start to look forward to baseball season. In August I look forward to Halloween.

Autumn and Halloween are the best. Flannel shirts are appropriate. I don't want to sound like a cliche, but I could look at colorful leaves on trees all day long. I love scary movies, and I love a little bit of a chill in the air.

I love spookiness. I enjoy hearing scary stories, and feeling a connection to things that are a little scary.

Jenn and I like to travel a lot, obviously. We enjoy making "haunted" stops on our trips.

I will probably write about some of our previous trips later, probably closer to Halloween, but we have visited Salem Massachusetts several times. We've been to the Lizzie Borden House. We have spent time in several supposedly haunted B&Bs. I have lost count of how many "ghost walks" we have taken. Alcatraz, Seattle Underground, The Winchester Mystery Mansion... we've been there. I could go on and on.

I thought now would be a great time to mention our favorite ghost walk again, Miamitown Ghost Tours, since their new book (their SECOND book) is coming out in early June.

The Morris brothers have been doing their ghost walk in Miamitown since 2006. Jeff and Michael are friendly, and excited about their tour. They also seem a little odd themselves. They are eerily casual and calm. Think Lurch from the Adams Family, or the Tall Man from Phantasm. It truly adds to the experience. These guys are all ghost hunting.

They charge $10 a person, BUT there is a $2 off coupon on their website! A group of 4 of us took their tour before Halloween last year, and used the coupon. The Morris brothers spent a solid 2 hours with us on a full and fascinating tour. Not only that, but we asked if they could change the start time a bit because of travel issues, and they were accommodating. It was an off night too, so no one else joined our tour. Our tour was very personal.

I'm not going to do the math here (you can do it in your head if you want) but Jeff and Michael obviously didn't make a ton of money off of my group that night. They stuck around to answer our questions too, and to discuss ghost hunting. This was a very affordable adventure for us (we each used a coupon!) but I am certain Jeff and Michael did not compromise on the quality of our tour.

I am sure that the town where the brothers do their tour is charming during the day, but at night it is a little creepy. I say that in a nice way, it is a cool little town but it just feels strange anyway. I think, even without a ghost tour, this town would feel a bit odd.

I would not want to give anything away about the tour, but there is a bridge and a school (among other stops). The stories told about each were strange, spooky, and dark. Many of their tales involved sad and creepy true crime events.

Of all the tours I have been on, this was the one that felt the most real. As our guide told us about the school (his back was to the school) I was certain I saw something go past a window inside of the building. Our group started to walk to the next stop on the tour. I was about to say something when my friend Fako said that she had seen something go by the same window! Our stories matched.

And the bridge is not your usual "crybaby bridge." There story was researched and frightening. You have to hear them tell about the red truck.

I enjoy every "haunted" tour I take. I can honestly say that I have never been on a bad one. I really enjoy the more bizarre stories that you will not get on the regular bus tour of an area.

Theirs has a very authentically dark feel. 2 guys talking about the town they have researched. No hocus-pocus strings attached gimmicks here. They don't get too excited about specks of dust caught on film.

The thing I appreciate most about Miamitown Ghost Tours, and what separates them from other tours, is that it is a couple of guys running the show. It is not a franchised tour. They are keeping it going year round, not just in September and October. These guys enjoy doing this. Sure, you can take a ghost tour any night of the week in Gatlinburg, New York, or San Francisco. Many towns have one ran around Halloween. This one is ran in a small town all year long!

Check out their website. They have a lot going on right now, with Halloween still many months away. I can't wait to see what they have planned in October!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hell Michigan

It just hit me that I still have a few things to write about concerning my last trip to Michigan!

After many suggestions to do so, we did make it to Hell. Its a bit of a novelty, and there isn't much going on in Hell, but they sure know how to have a fun time with a cool name.

There are 3 business buildings in Hell, all right next to each other. They are small. One is a post office/grocery store/lunch place. It is a very understocked grocery store. They do have Hell postmarks though. Also, I was told that it is the only post office in the US that can actually print "Hell" on their postmark! Another thing, they can singe your mail!

Next to the post office is the novelty shop/ice cream place. Most novelties that you might want from Hell (t-shirts, post cards, patches, etc.) are here. They have one of my favorites, a smashed penny machine. They have ice cream, and you can actually use their topping bar which is inside of a real (and USED) coffin. The lady running the shop had a great time using the name of the town every chance she could. Each use was witty.

Next door is a bar. We didn't make it there though.

Hell is out of the way. We had to drive about 10 miles there and back off of the main road. It's worth it though for the novelties, the one of a kind postmark, or just to say you've been to Hell.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dinosaurs Alive at Union Terminal Museum Center Cincinnati, OH

I was talking to some friends in the Akron area recently. We were talking about how, as we have gotten older, we have developed a love of traveling, and taking road trips. We love doing this sort of thing. We love finding a fun place to go and explore, researching it, mostly on the internet, and then getting in our cars to go!

My friend Tim and I talked about how often, you hear about a place. It sounds great. You do some research. You find the web site for the place, and it just doesn't do the actual place justice. One of my favorite places not linked to Kentucky at all is Sedona Arizona. I have yet to see a web site that translates how fantastic that place is.

Tim brought up the Museum Center at Union Terminal in Cincinnati. I had checked on the place before. I had always heard good stuff about it in the past. I thought that I had googled it before, but I didn't really find anything out about it that made me want to go there immediately.

Tim said he recently went down there and the place was amazing.

Actually, places like Union Terminal are exactly why I wanted to start blogging. Over the last several years I seem to keep discovering places that are great, but there is just not enough information about them out there. Great places should have at least a colorful official web site!

I am surely not going to knock the museum web sites associated with Cincinnati. They are fine, slick, and professional. Most people will get all of the information they need from the sites. You can find hours, gift shop and exhibit info, etc.

The actual physical locations are so spectacular though. Their official web representations don't do them justice!

We recently travelled to the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal to check out their "Dinosaurs Alive" exhibit. After 2 recent trips I have already mentioned (involving museums in Indianapolis and Ann Arbor) I am on a dinosaur kick!

Cincinnati is such an interesting city. It has endless history. My buddy Nate who lives there is always bringing up something cool and historical that I didn't know. Its like the area guards its history. I almost feel like the area doesn't want the rest of the world to share in its fascinating past.

I have passed by the Terminal building many times. It almost seems strange now that I've never stopped there. The building reminds me of the Hall of Justice form the old Super Friends cartoon- actually, I just looked up the Hall of Justice on Wikipedia and it says that the Hall WAS based on the Terminal! If I would have known that I would have stopped by long ago.

So, we get to Union Terminal and buy a pass for the "Dinosaurs Alive!" movie and "Dinosaurs Unearthed" exhibit.

The Terminal is huge and spectacular. There are several other museums here, including a history museum, a children's museum, and a museum of natural history and science. I think that, at the moment, you can buy a day pass for those museums.

The movie was good. The theater has a planetarium feel to it. It is projected on the 5 story screen, and takes up your entire field of vision.

The movie and exhibit both talk a lot about new discoveries concerning dinosaurs. Feathers are the big thing at the moment. Also, most in science now feel that dinosaurs are technically not extinct, classifying birds as dinosaurs.

The movie talked a lot about dig sites, research, etc. I must admit, I was hoping the 5 story screen would be utilized to showcase some 5 story CGI dinos. There was some of that, but not as much as I had hoped for. The movie was fun and informative, but it would have been just as enjoyable on a smaller screen, or even on a TV screen.

The animatronic dinosaurs in the exhibit were like life sized toys. In fact, most had control pads where you could push a button to hear and see them roar. They looked scary, and surely will give many children nightmares.

There were many skulls, skeletons and other fossils on display. There were some very cool fossils showing feathers.