OpinionNovember 20, 2006

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2005 Baseball Road Trip Part XII
Detroit and Cincinnati

By Kevin Naughton

August 3rd should have been just like any other day on my road trip. I should have woken up, driven to Detroit, caught a ballgame at Comerica from free seats behind home plate, and spent the night in a house. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as they were planned.
Once I had woken up and gotten myself ready to go, Betsy gave me directions to the Billy Goat Tavern and I headed off to find it on foot. I got lost for a little while in the series of alleys that make up the area beneath Michigan Avenue, but I finally stumbled into the Billy Goat. From the outside, it definitely does not look like the kind of place you’d like to visit at night, and inside wasn’t much different. I was worried at first, but by this point in my trip I’d learned not to judge a place based on first appearances. I ordered a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, which was very good and also very cheap. The grease from the sandwich definitely hit the spot and I was excited to get going for the day.
After finishing my breakfast I headed back to the tower that Betsy lived in and gathered up my stuff. Betsy was nice enough to send me off with some chips and Clif Bars. I left the downtown Chicago area around 11:30 and headed back across Indiana on my way to Detroit. This wasn’t the way that my GPS system had recommended, but I wanted to make a detour to the University of Notre Dame. I would end up regretting that decision by the end of the day.
I got to South Bend in the early afternoon and spent a few minutes driving around the Golden Dome snapping some pictures. I wanted to see Touchdown Jesus as well, but had a hard time finding it. As I was getting ready to leave the campus though, I looked over my shoulder to make sure that it was safe to merge and I saw Touchdown Jesus in the distance. I flipped around as quickly as I could and headed over in my car. After snapping the obligatory picture, I was back on my way to Detroit.
The drive to Detroit was fairly uneventful until I got off the tollway just outside of Toledo, Ohio. Thanks to my detour I had to take a smaller highway to connect back into the interstate so that I could get to Detroit. I was following behind a school bus in the right lane on this highway, when all of a sudden the bus swerved to the left. I saw it run over some sort of debris, but I couldn’t get out of the way because there was a jeep in the lane next to me. When the debris came out from underneath the bus, it flipped up on its side and I drove over the top of it. As soon as I passed it, I knew that my front left tire was flat. Luckily I was running a little bit ahead of time, so I was still in a good mood as I pulled over and jumped out, prepared to change my tire. I walked around the passenger side of my car first to inspect the damage when it hit me that I wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. Not only was my front tire flat, so was my back tire.
This is where I started to freak out. I started doing the math and figured that if I could my tire repaired quickly enough, I would still be able to get to Detroit to catch most, if not all of the game that night. I got on the phone with Triple A and after getting through the necessary information exchange, I was told that a tow truck would be there within an hour, but likely much sooner.
While I was sitting there in front of an old run-down antiques shop, a municipal police officer pulled up behind my car. I headed over and he asked me what had happened. I told him about the debris and he said that a state trooper was on the way to take a crash report. He told me there had apparently been a semi-truck somewhere ahead of me that had lost some of its load and that was what I hit. After the police officer left, I called Triple A again to check on the status of the tow truck because an hour had already passed. They called the dispatcher of the tow company and they said that a truck should be there within fifteen minutes, and if by then I still hadn’t been helped, to call back. Fifteen minutes later, I was still sitting there and called Triple A again. They checked the status for me again and said that any minute now the truck would be there. By this time, I was starting to get upset. Time was running out and the tire shop was going to close at five. The state trooper showed up and took down my information. He gave me a pamphlet with information for a possible insurance claim when I got back to Nevada. Before he left, he asked if I needed a tow truck and I told him that I was supposed to have one on the way.
After a total of two and a half hours, a tow truck finally showed up. It was now well past five and I came to the realization that I wouldn’t make it to the game that night. I also had problems getting the tow truck driver to realize where I wanted to go. My tires and rims were covered by Big O Tires and if I took it back to one of their shops, it would be free to have it repaired. I asked first if he knew of any shops that would be able to get me in that evening and he said that everything had closed at five. I gave him the address of a Big O Tires store about forty miles away. According to Triple A, I was supposed to be able to go 100 miles for free. The driver took a look at my card and told me that he could tow me three miles and then I would be charged per mile. I got into an argument with him over this and he finally asked to see my card again. After looking a bit closer, he said that he’d made a mistake the first time and didn’t realize that I was a “Plus” member and not a “Basic” member. He finally agreed to give me a tow and we were on our way. He apologized for the holdup that afternoon, but said that they had picked up the wrong car the first time and had missed me. This wasn’t making me feel any better and he asked what I was doing in Ohio with my Nevada tags. I explained about the trip and how I had tickets to the game that night. He made a comment, somewhat jokingly I thought, about how he could probably tow me to the stadium and back to the shop and still be under the 100 mile limit. If I had been less sleep-deprived at the time and less upset about the whole thing, I probably would have seen how serious he was about the offer. I should have offered to give him the other ticket and taken it from there, but I just kind of shook it off.
We finally arrived at the Big O store in Marion, Michigan. He unloaded my car and asked if I needed a ride to a hotel or anything. I told him that I’d be alright and figure something out for the night and he apologized again before leaving. I was still ticked off about the whole situation but realized that it wasn’t his fault. I couldn’t be mad at the guy for making an honest mistake after all. It was only about seven o’clock and there was no way I’d be able to sleep with the sun still up. I got on the phone for awhile with my family back home and told them about what had happened. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it did put me up against a clock. I was going to lose an off day in Cincinnati and would be driving everyday for the rest of my trip. I was still pretty mad by the time that I decided to go to sleep and went into a nearby Walgreen’s to get some sleeping aids. I finally dozed off in my driver’s seat and was out for the night.
I woke up the next morning twenty minutes before the Big O opened up, and got myself ready for the rest of the day. As soon as the front door was unlocked I went inside and explained my situation. I showed them my receipts for my tires and rims from back home and the salesman that I talked to said everything should still be under warranty. He walked out and took a look at my car and told me that I would definitely need two new tires and more than likely one, if not two new rims. I told him to do whatever was necessary so that I could get back on the road and they pushed it into the garage. After about twenty minutes they came and got me, and said that they were able to seal up both rims because the damage was only external, and that I would only have to pay a tire recycling fee. I got out of the shop for a little bit over $20.
I left the store happy, but tired and drove to Livonia, Michigan where I was supposed to stay the previous night with Al and Sally Sebastian; who were cousins of one of my mom’s coworkers. I had talked to Sally the night before when I realized that I wouldn’t make it to Detroit and she said that I was still welcome to come the next day. I knocked on the door and Sally invited me in and set me up in a guest bedroom. I fell asleep almost immediately and dozed until one that afternoon. I took my time getting up and took a shower before heading downstairs. I met Al and we discussed the Tigers game that day. He told me that he thought the game had started at one that day and it was now pushing two o’clock. We checked the newspaper and turned on the radio, and sure enough the game was already in the fourth inning. I went into full crisis mode at this point. If I didn’t make the game that day, I’d have to miss seeing one in Detroit and head to Cincinnati. There was a possibility of me making it up after I had finished in Texas, but I wasn’t very keen on the idea of driving all the way back up just to make up one stadium. Al told me that the stadium wasn’t too far away and so long as I didn’t hit bad traffic, I should be able to make it to at least a portion of the game.
I drove as fast as I could to get to the stadium and walked into the stadium in the middle of the seventh inning. I also forgot my camera at the Sebastian’s house, so I was forced to pay $18 for a disposable one. It was more expensive than my ticket. (Important note to any potential road trippers: NEVER forget your camera! You will be ripped off!) I wasn’t very happy about only seeing a couple of innings of baseball, especially in a stadium as great as Comerica, but it would have to do. If I ever get the chance, I definitely want to go back and see an entire game. I don’t really remember the details of the game as I was only there for a short time, but I do remember that the Tigers won. I decided to get my money’s worth and spend some extra time walking around the stadium. I spent about an hour wandering around the outfield pavilion checking out the statues and such before I was kicked out by the ushers. As bummed as I was about not seeing a full game in the ballpark, I told myself that it still counted as a game since I had a ticket stub, bought a pin and took some pictures.
I walked back to my car, which I’d had to park a few blocks away and immediately started to regret not leaving when the large crowd did. As nice as the area around Comerica is, the neighborhood around it, is equally as bad-looking. I didn’t necessarily feel unsafe walking back, but I definitely felt uneasy. I finally made it back to my car and started down the road back towards Livonia. I had noticed on my way to the stadium that my alignment was off and was pulling pretty severely to the right. It was still early enough to get into a Big O for the day to have the alignment corrected, so I did just that. I stopped at a Big O in Livonia and went in with my paperwork in hand. The guy at the counter took one look at the paperwork and said that it wasn’t necessary. He said that this particular Big O was independently owned and operated and that he couldn’t honor any warranties. As you can imagine, I was not very happy about this. After looking around though, it became apparent that this was no ordinary tire shop. There was only one mechanic on duty and the other guy who I had met at the counter. I’m not sure exactly what the counter-man’s job was, because he never touched anything in the garage, but he certainly wasn’t very helpful. I told him that I really needed the car done that day, and he told me that he couldn’t make any guarantees. After explaining to him that that wasn’t good enough, he said that they would get me out of there by six that night.
In the meantime, I called my mom back home in Reno, and asked her to call our local Big O and explain what was going on. No more than five minutes after getting off the phone with her, the phone at the Big O in Livonia started to ring. The manager from my local Big O was on the phone and doing his best to get the guy in Livonia to honor my warranty. I could tell right away that the guy at the counter was ticked. He definitely didn’t expect me to call home to try and right the situation. As soon as he hung up the phone, he called me over and asked what I’d done. I explained to him that I’d simply placed a call back home to see what the deal was and that they must have decided to call him. He started chewing me out and told me that if I wasn’t happy with their service they could just put my car back out in the parking lot. I tried explaining to him that I wasn’t ungrateful, but that I just felt that the warranty should be honored when my cell phone rang. It was the manager from the Big O in Nevada calling to let me know what was happening. He explained to me that he’d tried to tell the guy that he should honor the warranty no matter what the ownership situation was at his store. The guy in Livonia disagreed. He then tried the morality card and said that it would be the right thing to do since I was halfway across the country and couldn’t exactly drive home to get my car fixed. Again, no dice. He finished up his conversation with me by saying that he would do everything he could through the corporate office to fix the situation, but that for now I was stuck. He apologized for the guy in Livonia and wished me luck the rest of the way. Even though I was half a continent away, I was still getting customer service from home.
After about an hour and one failed alignment attempt, my car was finally running smooth again, and I headed back to the Sebastian’s house. When I knocked on the door, Sally had said that they’d fixed me a dinner. I went into the kitchen to find a nice big steak and a baked potato waiting for me. As bad as my day had just been, it immediately started to get better. I hadn’t had a home cooked meal since Florida and it definitely hit the spot. I spent the rest of the night watching TV and talking baseball with Al before heading off to bed.
I woke up somewhat early on the fifth, and took my time getting ready. Sally had made me a sandwich for the road and sent me with some drinks. I definitely appreciated the hospitality that I received at the Sebastian’s home, especially considering all the problems that I had while I was there.
One quick gripe before I get on with the rest of the story: Detroit, in my experience, has by far the worst highways of any major city. They are plagued by huge bumps in the road and look like they are in horrible condition. What good does it do to be called the Motor City when you have no decent roads to drive on?
Anyways, back to my story. I left Livonia that morning and drove to Cincinnati where I would be staying with my Great Aunt and Uncle. I’d only had contact with them through Christmas cards before this, so I was somewhat nervous about finally meeting them. I knocked on the door to their house and was greeted by the outline of an enormous dog. My Great Uncle Alex latched onto it’s collar and pulled it back far enough to let me get inside. Both Alex and my Great Aunt Louise were 92 at the time (currently 93). I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’d never been around anybody that old, but they were great. I went into the kitchen and met Louise who was working on a homemade cherry pie and then Alex offered to give me a tour of the nearby University of Cincinnati campus.
While we were walking across the campus, I got a call from my Aunt back home in Nevada. She was on the phone with the reporter from the Reno Gazette Journal again and he wanted to ask me a few more questions so that he could finish up his story. Alex and I sat down on a bench for awhile so that I could talk to the reporter and by the time I got off the phone it had started to rain a little bit. We hurried back to Alex and Louise’s house just before the rain really started to come down. When we got back, one of Alex and Louise’s sons and his wife had arrived and I was introduced to them. Greg and Pat were very nice and I found out that they lived in Iowa. I’m pretty sure that I’d only heard their names in passing so I was somewhat surprised to meet some more family that I’d never met before. It could have been extremely awkward but everyone was very nice and laid-back.
Greg and I started to talk about baseball and the weather that might affect the game that night. He told me that he’d heard the rainstorm might delay the game but that it wasn’t likely to wash it out. We ate dinner that night and he decided that he’d like to go with me to the game and I was more than happy to have the company. After we had finished the ham and sweet potatoes we ate the homemade cherry pie that Louise was working on when I first went in. It was the second homemade meal for me in two nights and it was just as good as the first.
Greg and I got our stuff for the game and he drove us towards the ballpark. Greg told me all about the Triple A team in his hometown and I started to get jealous. There’s been talk of getting a Triple A team in the Reno area for awhile now, and after hearing about their team, I definitely want one in my hometown.
Greg and I made it to the stadium a little bit before the national anthem started. We settled on seats in the middle of the price range and made our way in. Great American Ballpark was nice but it didn’t really blow me away. It definitely had a lot of the modern amenities that make newer stadiums more fan friendly, but it just didn’t seem to set itself apart in any way. Maybe I was just too tired at this point in my road trip to notice the little stuff, but it seemed kind of bland to me compared to many of the other new parks.
Our seats were just a few rows back in the second deck down the right field line. The best part about the seats was that we had a clear view of the entire field but we didn’t feel too far removed from the field. I was happy to see that Eric Milton would be pitching for the Reds that night because he was pretty much a human pitching machine. He’d given up the most home runs in the big leagues and he wouldn’t buck the trend that night. I wasn’t looking forward to having to see the Marlins play again, but they actually didn’t look as horrible as they had when I’d watched them earlier in the summer.
Milton gave up a couple of home runs and the Marlins never looked back. Their pitcher that night, Jason Vargas, was making just his second start and looked very good. The Marlins bullpen did their best to lose the game, but their four–run lead was enough to hold off the Reds. The Marlins won by a final score of 5-1. After the game Greg and I drove back to Alex and Louise’s house and I went to bed almost immediately. I was still tired from sleeping in my car a couple nights earlier and I would need my sleep for the long drives that I still had to make.
In the next article, I visit Busch Stadium and end my trip in Arlington, Texas. But don’t worry; I can’t let my series end on number 13, so there will be one more article after that, with my stadium rankings and road trip tips.

Kevin Naughton has been home now for more than a year following his road trip. He can be found on the Cafe's forums where he posts as luckygehrig.
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