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A Date in Lansing

Oldsmobile Stadium and Lansing SkylineI was given two tickets to see the Lansing Lugnuts minor-league baseball team Friday night. Brian and I have never been to a game, although we did go to the stadium once to see Bonnie Raitt perform (her concert was wonderful).

I’m not at all a sports fan, I don’t really understand competition where you hope someone strikes out so you can get ahead… not my thing at all. But… This stadium was built about three blocks from the State Capitol of Lansing about 7 years ago. All the media and government people predicted it would turn the city around (that stretch of street leading to the capitol had become a bit run down). And I was sure this was a ridiculous thing, and all the hype was certainly just that. (Picture inside stadium with Lansing Skyline in background. Notice on the top left, a smokestack with a “Lugnut” sculpture mounted at the top… not my favorite work, but they were able to raise money through private funds to put it up so a whole bunch of people must disagree with me.)

Guess what? I was wrong, and gloriously wrong. The stadium and its team has transformed my city. Now people go downtown after work (it used to be a ghost town after 5:00 pm, and actually maybe 5 or 6 blocks away it still is, but not on Michigan Avenue). Families go, you see strollers being pushed down the street after dark. It’s just wonderful.

In addition, now there are a good number of eateries within walking distance of the stadium. There are old establishments, the oldest of which is probably The Knight Cap which was here in the early 1960’s I think, when my family first moved here. It’s considered perhaps the best place for a steak dinner in town, or at least the best place to take a date for steak dinner if you are over age 50. I’ve never liked steak even before I gave up eating red meat, but I am curious about this place I’ve never eaten… we may go sometime just to check it out.

There are semi-old places like Omar’s “A gentleman’s club” which means some of the ladies in the establishment wear little or no clothing, but it’s somehow laa-dee-dah anyway. There are new places that have sprung up specifically to serve baseball patrons, the most obvious of which is The Nut House (remember, our team is called the Lansing Lugnuts because they play in Oldsmobile Stadium and we make a LOT of cars in this city… more than any other city in the US).

There are other spots springing up because of the traffic, a two-story bar called Rum Runners (I understand they have a live piano player at least some nights), a very new and very chi-chi place which is named for the street address where it is but I can’t remember the number… it has a martini list, which seems the cool thing of the year at expensive restaurants. It does nothing for me, but I wouldn’t go there anyway.

And then there is the Turkey Man corner spot. I’m told it’s sort of a barbecue thing, with Turkey drumsticks as the big draw (I haven’t been there so Lansing folks correct me if I’m wrong). I love this idea, a sort of everyman’s restaurant. I haven’t eaten there… although I do eat poultry, I’m not big on big pieces of meat… but I love that he’s there and seems to be doing OK. He may have catered before but I think he started with a booth at the Oldsmobile Stadium. “Jes’ folks,” doing a real business for real people. I like that idea, although perhaps that is my inner idealist talking.

Big Lug doing Tequila danceAnyway, so Friday Brian and I had a date and went to the Lugnuts game. It was much more interesting than I expected. I’ve been to the Detroit Tigers twice (both times to the old Tiger Stadium, once in the 60s and once about 8 years ago when a friend sang the National Anthem). For one thing, a smaller stadium is definitely more intimate and you can see things better. For another, they really kept the crowd going at any slow moment, such as between innings. They would have silly contests like running a race with swimming flippers on your feet (they picked two guys out of the audience for this). They sometimes threw things into the audience, such as baseballs… and they had “guns” for shooting t-shirts and *hot dogs* of all things, where folks could catch them. Folks were scrambling like crazy, let me tell you, to get those free things!!!

Sometimes they would do a dance, like the silly chicken dance we sometimes do at parties. Once they did movements to the “YMCA” song. Once they did some odd movements to the song that has one word… “Tequila!” (Second photo shows the mascot “Big Lug” wearing a grass skirt and dancing to the Teqila song.) One time there was a contest, two guys connected by bungie cords going opposite ways to try to put three different hula hoops over a blown-up “beer bottle.” Very odd but it did keep the audience captivated.

It was “Jimmy Buffett Beach Party” night so there were lots of folks wearing fake-flower leis and hawaiian-type shirts. The area’s own “Parrothead” club (fans of Jimmy Buffett) was there. Pretty fun. And there were a heck of a lot more people than I expected. Almost all of the box seats were full and a good number of the better seats in the stadium were also taken. It was definitely a scene, and a good one.

Kids Playing in Fountain after GameThe crowd sort of mills about afterward and walks to the local establishments. Some groups rent buses to come in and watch the games, and they all congregate out front. There is a ground-level fountain in front of the stadium, and the kids sure were having a wonderful time splashing and standing on top of the water spouts. (I hope you can see the photo I took in the dark with a little flash… If I lighten it up any more it loses all the detail).

We talked a bit and decided to continue our date by going out for a late dinner. It was 9:45, about the time we would eat dinner at home anyway. After surveying the possible restaurants, we decided to go to Clara’s, which is a restaurant housed in what was once the train station. We have been there before and I can usually find something to eat that basically fits my dietary restrictions.

We were seated in the train car that is pulled up on the track right next to the depot. I had never been in that seating area before. It was lovely. My father really loved trains, and I couldn’t help but think of him while we sat there in the beautiful wood-paneled car. (Photo is Brian checking out the menu in the luxurious dining car.)

Apparently they got swamped by a bunch of Lugnut customers all at once perhaps, because our poor waiter seemed overbooked although very friendly and knowledgeable. I had a salad from the quite nice salad bar (except they didn’t have a single drop of olive oil in the place, which is what I usually eat for salad dressing). Brian had a side salad with his meal which looked fine. Funny, I can’t remember what he finally ordered as a main course but he got mashed potatoes and gravy which looked real with some skins whipped in, and some vegetable side which had lots of what looked like alfredo sauce on it.

Brian in the dining car at Clara's RestaurantI got orange roughy without any sauce and the waiter was with it enough to realize after all my questions about what was on thir or that, to bring me steamed broccoli as my vegetable rather than the veggies in sauce that Brian got, for which I was grateful. I also got a side of fresh fruit which had watermelon and pineapple and grapes (I guess it usually has canteloupe too but I can’t have that so they accommodated that as well). It was pretty decent all in all.

We walked back to our car and people were still strolling along, still dancing at the bars and such. As we walked on the block where Rum Runners is (music piped out to the sidewalk), I could pretend for a second that we were in a big city like Toronto.

It was a wonderful night. Not only was the weather perfect, but I had the company of Brian for many hours. And my city was looking as good as it ever has. I was grateful.

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