Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Tangled Up in Blue: My Journey With the Blue Devils

Photo cred: Conrad Akier

I groggily slipped out of bed last Tuesday morning after four hours of sleep, the irregular kind where no actual sleep takes place. My phone rang at 6:20 a.m., and I made a mad dash to answer as to not awaken my roommate. "We're still working on the newspaper," said Conrad, and to this I replied, "Yeah you better hurry up. We have to meet the team at 6:45 a.m. to board the bus."

Shuffling out of my residence hall into the early dawn light, I struggled with my annoyingly heavy bag all the way to Kaiser Gym, where I watched Conrad, who hadn't slept in 24 hours, strain with his three enormous bags up the four sets of stairs adjacent to the building.

Walking together to the opposite side of the building, we boarded a charter bus. Not just any charter bus, but one filled with 30 of the most athletic, talented group of soccer players ever to grace Central's campus, more notably known as Blue Devils. The boys were on their way to Oklahoma to challenge the University of Tulsa Wednesday evening in their second NCAA tournament match-up.

The team showed signs of an exuberant post-game high from reigning victorious over Harvard three days prior, when the Crimson put up a tough battle on their home turf until the very last second in their first NCAA match. It was the men's first time in history advancing in the NCAA tournament, and they were doing it in style: a bus ride to the tarmac where their private jet was sitting and ready to take off.

On the bus ride to the airport, Conrad and Head Coach Shaun Green exchanged conversation about our coverage of the team. Conrad handed Green hot-off-the-press pages of the Monmouth and Harvard victories, and Green practically beamed as he looked at them. He repeatedly told Conrad he could win awards with the photos he took of the team.

As the team exited the bus in a single-file line onto the tarmac, they huddled together in a group aside the plane and Conrad took his first photos of the trip. The teammates' pumped their fists in the air, excitedly cheering and goofing off as they hopped up the plane's foldout step stool of a ladder.

"Can we have a coloring book back here for the little boy?" jeered junior Captains David Tyrie of Norwich-Norfolk, England and Yan Klukowski of Wiltshire, England. They were sitting directly behind Conrad and I, and were poking fun of their freshman teammate, Connor Smith of Burnley, England. Being the jesters of the plane, they asked for alcoholic beverages and gave the stewardess quite the time when asked if they were willing to perform the duties necessary to be sitting in the emergency exit row seats. After take off, the plane grew silent as most found the flight to be a perfect opportunity to catch up on lost sleep.

"We will be landing in Dayton, Ohio to refuel," said the stewardess over the intercom an hour or so later. My face lit up like a light bulb; I grew up in Dayton for the first 11 years of my life. As we were landing, the boys looked out the window, making remarks about the flat, brown, desolate fields, calling it 'farm country.' It's not that they were wrong in saying that, it was true. Having lived there, it made me chuckle.

After swiping a copy of the Dayton Daily News and another round of tarmac-picture taking with Conrad, we were on our way to our final destination. I amused myself for the rest of the flight by drawing cartoons of soccer players and handed them to Coach Green who sat in front of me. He passed them around to the rest of the boys and drew his own picture of the team as little stick figures holding the NEC trophy above their heads. After having survived a trail mix food fight and drinking my weight in carbonated soda and water, we touched down in the Sooner state.

Tulsa was a complete change of scenery. As we boarded the bus and drove through downtown, the city seemed to be stuck in the 1960s. Bystanders would wave, highways were large but calm; people seemed to take their time. Once our bus conquered some agitating road construction and orange cones, we settled into the Doubletree Hotel, where they welcomed us with warm freshly baked cookies, which is a tradition the hotel has had for years, apparently.

Conrad and I checked our itinerary, and it was time to 'chillax.' Coach Green lives by this word, and in the itinerary it indicated downtime, so we laid in our king-sized comfortable bed and watched Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United score the final blow to Sporting Lisbon on ESPN. As we boarded the bus for dinner, Ronaldo's victorious goal was the talk of the team. One or two boys asked, "Did you see it?" while others responded in detail of their thoughts on it. It was a mere ounce of insight to their involvement with soccer outside of their own team.

After chowing down on some nice rib eyes and silently giggling at the waiters saying 'pop' instead of soda, we stopped back at the hotel so the guys could pick up their warm-up gear and it was off to practice at University of Tulsa's soccer complex. Riding into campus we noticed their facilities were astonishing. "This is the biggest pitch you guys have ever played on," said Green to his players.

Watching the practice made Conrad and I want to kick a ball around, so whenever the ball came sailing our way, we'd retrieve it and kick it back. "You must be good at soccer," Flavio Simao said as my ball seemed to land perfectly in front of one of the players. "Not really," I said. "I played from first to eighth grade, and that's it."

Simao's job was to warm-up the guys by making them run back and forth across the pitch, making them twist, turn, jump and pounce. Donning orange, blue and yellow jerseys, they also practiced defending, passing and communicating to one another. Christian Benjamin, assistant coach of the Blue Devils, cranked out some shots directed towards Central goalkeeper Paul Armstrong, who blocked them with consistency and ease.

Once we returned back to the hotel for the night, Conrad and I bought a couple rounds of beers and talked with the coaching staff. "Whether or not we win tomorrow night, we'll be celebrating. It's my birthday on Thursday," said Green. "But we will win."

Indeed the next day would be an unforgettable one.

After getting a rousing 10 hours of sleep, I woke up at eight in the morning feeling refreshed. I ate breakfast with the coaches sans Conrad and the entire team, because obviously no one felt like waking up. I took part in a quick hour trip to the mall, where the players ate lunch at the food court and the team's athletic director Elizabeth Kane and I spent money we didn't really have. On the way back, we watched the American football movie Friday Night Lights on the bus, but had to stop it short of the last 10 minutes.

When I returned to room 320, Conrad had finally awoken. We scurried down to the hotel lobby for a pre-game briefing from Coach Green. "They don't know us, we don't know them," said Green to his players. "Tulsa hasn't played since November 18; they've had a rest for 10 days."

Central however, was prepared. They had played Harvard the Saturday prior, and had practiced every day. "These teams have not been through what we've been through," he reminded his team. Having grabbed a hold of some Tulsa game videos the night before, Coach Green had analyzed and recognized some of Tulsa's key players to focus on each of their abilities so his team would know who to watch out for.

"We need to be committed to defending," Green reminded his team. "When they get the ball, we need to keep our block. Don't mistake their possession for dominance. Keeping our shape is crucial to the game."

We had arrived to Tulsa's soccer complex early, and the team was eager to finish the rest of Friday Night Lights. Suspense was building as the Permian Panthers had less than a half a minute on the clock to score, and then, Blue Devils assistant coach Paul Wright abruptly turned off the movie. "Let's go you guys," he said, as he ushered the team off of the bus.

The Central Connecticut Blue Devils began warming up as the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricanes began to arrive at the pitch. Tulsa fans were filing in, and the officials were expecting a crowd of two thousand. When I finally reached my seat alongside the field, the players from each team lined up midfield for the National Anthem. Tulsa reacted to Central as they probably did with the 12 previous teams, but little did they know they were in for a treat.

The first 15 minutes were like a meet and greet; the teams were playing footsie under the table, slowly warming up to each other. The icebreaker came five minutes later when a Golden Hurricane blinded Central goalkeeper Paul Armstrong from saving the ball. Tulsa fans erupted with shrills and screams.

It was time to show Tulsa what they were missing on the East Coast.

Less than two minutes later, Yan Klukowski sank the ball in past Tulsa's 6-foot-4 goalkeeper Dominic Cervi from 16 yards away. The first half ended with a 1-1 tie.

During half-time, Coach Green gave the Blue Devils a pep talk.

"This is for your family, friends and colleagues back home. This is for all the other little state schools!" Green yelled. He pointed out that Tulsa was playing sloppy. "We are playing better than them. Keep it up!"

In the 48th minute of the game, Klukowski set forward Johan Rundquist up for a brilliant header into the goal. A half an hour later, Tulsa's Cervi sauntered his way out of the net. Connor Smith took advantage of the goalie's mistake and beat him to the net with a finger breaking performance, literally. With nine minutes left and a leading 3-1, it was practically gift-wrapped, sent with love and care from the Golden Hurricanes.

Not really. Fans were growling, screaming, calling each and every call against their team blasphemous. Never before had they ever seen their team teeter on the edge of defeat. Tulsa was rewarded a penalty kick with five minutes to spare and succeeded, but did not halt the performance of Central's players, for they persevered till the very last second. The final score of 3-2 shimmered on the Hurricane's giant scoreboard.

Fans grimaced and Tulsa players sat in disbelief, dumbfounded, as the Blue Devils, coaching staff and player's parents rushed the field to hug each other, screaming, "We're in the sweet 16!"

After Conrad photographed the team in front of the scoreboard, players were on their cell-phones, telling relatives and friends of their success. Coach Green yelled, "Thank God for cell-phones and computers!" as he was barraged with one phone call after the next. Overhearing some of the players ask why we hadn't finished Friday Night Lights, assistant coach Paul Wright said, "Because they lose at the end! I didn't want you guys to see that before the game!"

Driving back to the Doubletree, the entire bus rang out in celebration. Teammates joined their voices in stunning renditions of 'Build Me Up, Buttercup' and 'Don't Stop Believing,' as Coach Green and Simao danced standing up in the middle of the bus.

Once we arrived and settled back in, beers and cheers filled the hotel bar. A cowboy hat was given to Green for his birthday, and I had given him a birthday card I had purchased the previous day with the entire teams signatures inside. The best birthday present Green had received, was the victory. "Thank you guys," Green said as he lifted a glass of cabernet in his hand.

As we lifted off the ground from Tulsa the next morning, Conrad and I had the distinct pleasure of sitting behind the jesters again. "Now I know where I'm spending my summer holiday," Tyrie exclaimed sarcastically as he pointed down at one of the cookie cutter houses. "And it starts with a T!"

Mother Nature decided upon an unfortunate time to swallow New England in a blustery chill as the Blue Devils returned to prepare for their next NCAA endeavor against University of Massachusetts, who had overpowered top-seeded Boston College the same day Central had conquered Tulsa.

Amherst, Massachusetts was an unlucky place to be on that fateful Sunday afternoon, as University of Massachusett's Rudd Field was a frozen solid ice rink. Ten minutes into the first half, officials stopped the game due to players slipping and sliding. After discussing all possible solutions the game continued an hour later, and after playing their hearts out, Central simply couldn't stop UMass from triumphing. The Blue Devils' season had ended in a snowy haze.

Seniors Andrew Cooper and Jonathan Agbatar hung their heads, visibly melancholy about the outcome, and that it was their final run-around with their Blue Devil squad. "We're going to miss them," said Coach Green as he spoke highly of his seniors. "It's going to be hard to fill their boots next season."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Matthew Taibbi: Well-Traveled American Journalist

American journalists would be envious of the opportunities that Matthew Taibbi has already experienced in his young adulthood. At the age of 37, Taibbi is currently the contributing editor of Rolling Stone magazine, or as he calls it, a “fancy way of saying I’m someone who contributes without technically being staff.”

A coin would represent Rolling Stone magazine most accurately: one side being politics, the other entertainment. Taibbi focuses on the former, having a natural affinity for dark humor. Being a political correspondent, Taibbi covers electoral politics in campaign years, and when there isn’t a gallop to the White House, he writes about major political events.

Rolling Stone gives Taibbi privileges that most journalists do not receive.

“Most (journalists) do not get seven to eight thousand words to spend on a topic as arcane, convoluted and unsexy as congressional procedures,” he explained.

Taibbi is never censored with his affiliation, either.

“I get to use language that is more colorful and I have a lot more leeway to describe politicians in a way I see fit,” Taibbi said. “There is no pressure to adopt other political tones.”

Hailing from a family of journalists, Taibbi had a broad sense of the field he was out to pursue.

“My father, godfather, stepmother, and almost everyone I grew up with was into journalism; it was like the family business,” he said.

Taibbi initially wanted to be a writer in high school when he immersed himself in books written by Russian comic novelists such as Mikhail Bulgakov and Nikolai Gogol.

“I wanted to be a comic novelist but it didn’t work out so I ended up in the business I knew,” recalled Taibbi.

His appreciation of Russian works set him up for an elaborate decision his senior year of college to transfer to a school in present day St. Petersburg, Russia. It was merely the beginning of a long, unusual path to becoming an established journalist. After graduating, Taibbi stayed in Russia and began freelancing very early in his career.

“I was what was called a stringer,” Taibbi said. “A stringer is a type of freelancer who lives in a remote area and contributes to various news organizations.”

After writing for the Associated Press and newspapers like The Moscow Times, Taibbi veered off onto the surprisingly unexpected path of pro-basketball. While playing for a team in Mongolia, Taibbi contracted a serious case of pneumonia and had to return to Boston. After recovering, he flew straight to Russia and didn’t look back.

With the help of another American journalist living abroad came the controversial English- language, Moscow-based newspaper, The eXile. Produced by Mark Ames and co-edited by Taibbi, the newspaper gave the two writers absolute freedom from American libel law. After writing for The eXile for six years, Taibbi’s reputation had increased exponentially.

“It allowed me to attempt journalism that was not run-of-the-mill. I was overseas; I lived somewhere that wasn’t expensive,” he said. “Even though I wasn’t making much, I was able to survive, and it eliminated the pressures that a lot of Americans have in this country where they can’t just sit around and write in their blogs, because they need to make a lot of money to live. I didn’t have that problem in Russia.”

Just as any journalist isn’t perfect, Matthew Taibbi has encountered ethical problems before.

“If someone never encounters an ethical problem, they’re probably not doing their job very well. A journalist will have to do things that are difficult and sources/bosses can and will sometimes put you in uneasy situations.” he said.

Taibbi recalled a time when he had a source that believed Taibbi had made a promise to him, but for Taibbi, the promise was of a different character.

“I consulted various experts on journalistic ethics, lots of non-profit organizations help in those situations, and I did that before I spoke with my own bosses.”

Taibbi’s advice for young journalists is to always try to work it out themselves before talking to who they work for.

“A boss might do what is in their interest and is not always the right way,” he said.

Every writer always has a favorite, and for Taibbi, one of the pieces he was proud of journeyed into the lives of four high school children who lived in a Russian ghetto. What Taibbi referred to as being like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the story involved the relationships between the teens, and Taibbi followed and checked on them for the next two to three years.

“It was a really fun story,” he said. “It was more like writing a novel.”

Taibbi looks towards the future with an intent on changing the decrease of readership in America.

“One of the things that is sad about modern America is that not many people read, and I think I’m eventually going to try to get into television or film to reach a wider audience,” he said.

Taibbi didn’t seem completely thrilled about the venture into the domain where entertainment reigns dominant.

“From an impact and financial standpoint, all reporters will have to make that move eventually,” he explained. Taibbi plans on resurfacing some old high school dreams as well.

“In the future I will try [my] hand at writing fiction again,” he said, “but I don’t think I can afford to do that yet.”

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Mono at the Middle East

It was a chilly, drizzly night as the newspaper's photographer and I drove through the stop and go traffic induced by the Mass Pike tollbooths. We were venturing two hours away on a Thursday night to see Mono, a band from Tokyo, Japan. While I was almost bursting at the seams with excitement, my friend was travel-worn and fatigued. He had never heard of Mono before, and I began to worry that the trip along with the terrible weather conditions simply wasn't worth the effort.

In the back of my mind, I knew the show would be promising. Two years prior, I had experienced the instrumental delight of Mono in a small American Legion in Connecticut. What was produced was an earth shattering orchestra of guitars, and what is astounding about their performances are the dynamics used; it can go from quiet and melodic to ear pounding and powerful at random surprising points in a song.

As the both us trotted down Mass Avenue with our hoods over our heads, there was a moment of confusion as to where the entrance for the Middle East Underground was. After mistakingly walking through the band entrance, I was reprimanded and sent back into the streets. We finally made our way in past an impatient employee, who seemed to be having a tough night.

To calm our jitters from the pre-concert discombobulation, three rounds of Blue Moons and Octoberfests were ordered and sipped on as we scanned the dimly lit area, full of interestingly clad men and women conversing with one another, waiting for the opening act to begin their night of hearing loss.

Vaguely do I remember the opener, honestly because it was not my cup of tea. All I recall is the singer mentioning, “Hey, we're from Kentucky,” and then exploding into another song full of deep growls and screams that set my ears on fire. It dawned on my friend and I that we were in dire need of some earplugs, but we shrugged it off, figuring we'd be fine.

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, the band Panthers clawed their way onto the stage after the opening act, changing the ferocity from the previous band into upbeat fast-paced straight up rock. The energy inflicted upon the crowd during their half hour set was through the roof, and being a little inebriated, I decided to move my limbs and dance a bit.

The pivotal moment came right as Mono prepared to set up their instruments. I looked over at my friend, and silently hoped he would enjoy the show that he wasted precious diesel fuel to come see (or forced to see, I should say.)

Having read a previous interview with the guitarist Takaakira Goto, I knew the band has been somewhat uneasy about American shows where the audience was loud, talkative, and drunk. I worried this would be the case, since most of the concert-goers had a beer in hand.

Once Mono had taken the stage and began playing my worries melted away; everyone else was just as entranced in the music as I was. Guitarists Goto and Yoda and bassist Tamaki were completely focused on each note played, calmly sitting opposite one another. An example of the dynamic change could be found in the song “Halcyon (Beautiful Days)” The beginning is a delicate trickling of notes with a slow drumbeat, transforming into a blissful rough and tumble blast of wavering gritty chords. During these powerful moments, the three calm musicians play as if they are physically being swept off of their feet.Watching them was mesmerizing, but closing my eyes also allowed me to truly capture the spirit embodied in each 8-10 minute composition.

The overall performance was perfect. Mono's quiet, focused disposition allowed them to play with complete accuracy and precision, something you rarely see in live entertainment. The only setback was the ringing in our ears from the high volume that carried on into the next day.

To my surprise, my friend absolutely loved it, and proceeded over to the merchandise booth afterwards to purchase three of Mono's albums from bassist Tamaki. On the way back to Connecticut, we made the rainy drive more enjoyable by popping in You Are There, and proceeded to mellow out after a vivacious night in the big city of Boston.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Beautiful and Talented Regina Spektor

You’re going to see your favorite artist, and to your dismay, it’s canceled due to Mr./Mrs. Popstar coming down with the sickness (disturbed reference aside). While it could be a real or fake reason, (Is too much partying in the tour bus legitimate?) you’re pissed, your money went down the hole and even worse, the chick/dude you were going to take just isn’t interested anymore. If only you went to a real concert with an amazing musician, this wouldn’t have been a problem.

The beautiful, graceful figure that is Regina Spektor stood before an inspired, awed audience last Wednesday night in the Jorgensen Center at the University of Connecticut. It was not until a half hour into the show that she publicized her sickness, she had come down with a cold. Most probably had not noticed; I hadn’t, I was too busy revelling in her powerful and completely onkey vocals, trademark boom boxing and compelling over-articulation of words that Spektor has become well-known for. To top it off, Spektor was stunning in a cute little ensemble; her curly locks draped over her shoulders. If you were writing an ad-lib for Regina Spektor and needed a noun, vixen and fox are just a few that would have fit perfectly. Every girl in the audience would have killed to be her, let alone meet her, and the bro-dude sitting to the right of me showed more attentiveness to Spektor rather than to his own girlfriend.

Rewinding to the beginning, Spektor began the evening with an a cappella ditty titled “Ain’t No Cover,” about a woman who loves her husband, who is “eight miles high” on drugs, but she loves him regardless. Spektor made a beat by patting her hand on the microphone during this performance, and it was simply unique.

Another non-piano song was “Bobbing For Apples,” to which Spektor adorned a shiny metallic blue guitar. Although it was set to only one chord, the simplicity is what makes her shine in everyone’s eyes. When she sang the line “someone next door is fucking to one of my songs,” the audience laughed heartily.

Regina Spektor’s lyrics can be comedic, adorable and can leave you exclaiming, “I never would have thought to put that in a song.” During “Music Box,” I giggled when she sang about floating bottle caps in dishwater and how it was the “greatest voyage in the history of plastic.” One song I was unfamiliar with was “Baby Jesus,” and while playing the grand piano with a fast vigour and a crazy look in her eye, Spektor rapidly fired off verses about a statue of baby Jesus that was in a window of a 99 cent store.

Spektor played most of her latest album, Fidelity, while mixing it up with a couple oldies from Soviet Kitsch. The best performance of the night was “20 Years Of Snow.” It is by far the most captivating, melodic ballad Spektor has written; she breathes life into this piece when performed.

In a brief intermission between songs, Spektor jokingly requested the school’s podium so that she could feel like a speaker at an important school function. After a remarkable encore of 3-4 songs, to Spektor’s delight, a few good men brought out the UConn podium. Puzzled as of what to do next, she asked the audience, “What happens during one of these things?” The audience replied with the famous “UCONN! HUSKIES!” chant. This moment? Priceless. The opening act, one boy that went by the name Only Son, came out and joined Spektor at the podium. As he beat boxed into the microphone, Spektor sang the final song. The best experience of my life came to a marvellous bittersweet ending.

I tried my hardest to leave nothing out about this concert, of course, that would leave nothing to be experienced. “Caution: Spoiler Alert!” should have been in the first sentence, but like a book with a surprising ending, you can’t take someone else’s word for it; dive in and find out yourself by seeing Regina Spektor the first chance you get.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Forget Elmers, I'm Going To Elis

September 26, 2007

Photo Cred: Conrad Akier

"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza." -Dave Barry

Ice cream parlors love to gloat about carrying 32 flavors of the sweetest, creamiest, best-loved concoction of the junk food world. For beer lovers, what about a bar with a selection of 32 of the most satisfying ales and lagers on tap, rotating constantly? Is it revolutionary? Unrealistic? Of course not; this beer euphoria exists within the walls of Eli Cannons Tap Room in Middletown, Connecticut.

Snugly nestled on 695 Main Street, many would be flabbergasted to know that the Elis building was once Middletown's city morgue in the 1800s. The morgue was renovated into a bar later that century, but it wasn't until 14 years ago that the building got the treatment it so desperately needed to become a success. Proudly stating "Saving the Ales," Eli Cannons is dedicated to customer satisfaction, hot food, nostalgic atmosphere and above all, cold frosty beer.

Before entering Eli Cannons, one stops to marvel at its interesting outward appearance. The "it's not just any bar" feeling is evident in the multi-colored lights that shine brilliantly on the tap room's banner. An over abundance of neon fluorescent beer signs are displayed in every nook and cranny of the windows, and big boisterous flags fly above the entrance.

Stepping inside, people are introduced to not only its friendly bartenders and servers, but also to the Irish/English pub/American trailer park fusion of decor. The term "too much of a good thing" does not apply here, as that is the theme of Eli Cannons. People can sit in antique barber chairs, theater seats and leather couches, or just take a traditional seat at the bar. Hundreds of mugs hang from the ceiling as you catch glimpses of the randomly placed TV screens with everything on from old Japanese films to concerts and sports.

Classic and alternative rock fills the building and keeps everyone's toes tapping. If the weather is permitting, one can visit the Beer Garden of Eden, aka their beautiful, large and spacious back deck/patio, surrounded by tall shrubs, trees and flowers. Got the beer munchies? Help yourself to some popcorn from the old-fashioned popper as you drink your beer and enjoy the fresh air.

But what about the beer, right? How does Eli Cannons carry 32+ beers on tap?

"It's definitely expensive," said Carrie Roberts, Eli Cannons general manager. "They aren't too hard to acquire; microbreweries have grown in popularity and we are widely known for featuring them."

What about the macro brews, like Coors, Budweiser or Miller?

"We do not carry macros," Roberts proudly replied. It's understandable, too. For a place that cherishes individuality, normality would be a sin.

Eli Cannons is so well-known and treasured by microbreweries that they seek out Eli's continually for their support. On Tuesdays and select Thursdays, Eli's holds beer tastings featuring a different brewery every week. People get to enjoy two of the brewery's featured beers on tap as they collect free beer gear, such as t-shirts and key chains.

Special events are a major part of Elis constant effort to keep the public involved and informed of their favorite brews. Every year, Elis holds a Mardi Gras party on Fat Tuesday.

"It's huge, and totally wild," Roberts said with a big grin.

Other events include St. Patrick's Day, the night before Thanksgiving and pig roasts, and people can even book the bar for special parties. What could possibly be better than having a bar to yourself and your friends?

Beer aside, for a bar to have a good rep, it must serve excellent food; Eli's dinners and finger foods are downright exceptional.

"Everything is made fresh here," said Roberts. Eli's boasts the tastiest nachos and has an eclectic menu that is constantly growing. Dishes have unique names like the Zukonions - a plate of the most deliciously fried onions and zucchini that one will ever have the pleasure of experiencing.

Eli's features their own products as well. Displayed near the dining room section is a wall of over 50 different kinds of hot sauces, bottled on the premises or made my other brands. Microbreweries also collaborate with Eli's to make their own trademarked beers. Brooklyn Brewery helped create Eli's Bug Spray Ale, and Harpoon helped with Apache Attack Ale.

This isn't an overexaggeration. Eli Cannons is one of the best bars to experience in Connecticut - perhaps it's number one. It's obvious in Connecticut magazines; Eli Cannons Tap Room has won 10 Hartford Advocate Reader's Choice Awards, three Connecticut Magazine's "Best Of" Awards and The Malt Advocate Magazine's "Best Beer Menu (National)" Award. The public does not lie; once you arrive, you simply do not want to leave.

Eli Cannons is only about a 20-minute drive from CCSU's campus, and the prices won't empty your pockets. So, instead of drinking a disgusting red cup of cheap beer on Thursday nights, go somewhere actually worth enjoying.

Eli's website:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Day As a Parrothead

As steel drums fill the charter bus headed to Gillette Stadium, a woman in her mid-forties with flowered leis and parrot earrings offer me a vivid array of jell-o shots. I grab one, pop it in my mouth and stop to think, what have I gotten myself into?

What I was embarking on was the typical schedule for a Jimmy Buffett concert. Jimmy Buffett fanatics are called 'Parrotheads.' The term Parrothead relates to Jimmy Buffett as Deadhead does to The Grateful Dead. For Parrotheads, Buffett's music and a "laid back" attitude is a lifestyle. His "no shirt, no shoes, no problem" manta is displayed in his songs about boats, beaches and bar drinks. Buffett has made his mark so prominent within the past few decades that when you think of Key West or a margarita, you automatically associate it with good ol' Jimmy and the Coral Reefer Band.

Buffett has created his own genre, combining country, folk and pop music with coastal and tropical lyrical themes, creating a sound some call "gulf and western." Among singing and songwriting, he has written three number one best-selling books, opened his own chain of restaurants aptly named Margaritaville, is involved in charity efforts (most notably for creating the Save The Manatee foundation) and is branching out into film production.

Younger generations, however, do not understand the legacy of James William Buffett. Most mock and criticize him, and the majority know the song "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and nothing more. I, on the other hand, have grown up knowing this man my entire life.

Back when I was just a little girl in Ohio, my family would go on camping trips whenever there was free time. Lake Superior, Lake Erie - you name a Great Lake; we'd been there. My dad would always bring his boom box lakeside while my brother and I played in the water, and I vividly remember my dad playing the album, Off to See the Lizard. In fact, what am I saying? I've heard every single album and know every song there is to know by Buffett. Perhaps I am a Parrothead by default, but I don't know of a bigger fanatic than my mother.

My mother is a member of the Connecticut chapter of the Parrothead Club. There are chapters in cities spanning all over the country. Abiding by their motto, "Party with a Purpose," they hold fundraiser events for different causes. The most popular event held is the Meeting of The Minds in Key West, Florida, which attracts 3,500 Parrotheads annually and includes live music, a "Toys for Tots" drive, blood drives, raffles and other events raising money for charities.

The chapters also organize group trips to - you guessed it - Jimmy's concerts. In the past three decades, Buffett has made more money from his tours rather than his albums. A typical Jimmy Buffett concert will sell out in minutes, and this is all thanks to these devoted fans.

My bus trip was stuck in traffic as the Gillette Stadium came in sight. The bus turned right into a used car dealership, where Parrotheads from all over New England had been allowed to divide and conquer. My mother's friends in the Connecticut chapter started to set up tents, and eventually busted out the food and drinks and started gulping them down like camels in the heat.

My mother and I walked around to other chapters, where there were colorful blow up toys, men and women adorning coconut bras and grass skirts, trivia and drinking contests, an ice luge and much, much more. I ate a cherry that had been soaking in grain alcohol for quite some time and winced. I participated in a sort of Wheel of Fortune, except I got "Take a Jell-O Shot from Someone's Boobs." Luckily they let me just take the jell-o shot.

After five or six hours of tailgating, it was time for the "Bama Breeze '07" tour to commence. We walked across the street to the stadium; slowly shuffled our way in; and spent $7.50 on a Coors Light. Never before this year had Buffett played in the home of the Patriots, and he had no problem filling a football stadium. There was one opening act, but for most fans that just meant bathroom breaks and more pre-gaming. Luckily, our seats were not in the nosebleed section, but we were unfortunately settled in between some heavy marijuana smokers who were probably around the same age as my brother and I. I sipped on the lukewarm Coors Light I had been nursing for over an hour, and finally, for the first time in my life, I watched Jimmy Buffett take the stage.

From our section, Buffett was comparable to an ant, but luckily to each side of the stage there were two giant screens. My mother explained to me that nowadays, Buffett's set list is quite predictable. Upon further research, I've discovered the "The Big 8." The Big 8 are the eight songs that Buffett plays at every show. After their success, "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" and "Why Don't We Get Drunk (And Screw)" were added on, changing it to "The Big 10."

I participated in most of the "Big 10" songs, whether it was screaming "salt!" during "Margaritaville," singing "You better lava me now or lava me not" in "Volcano," yelling the ingredients to a perfect lunch in "Cheeseburger in Paradise," or just feeling generally happy during "Changes In Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes," when Buffett played videos on the giant screens of local Parrotheads tailgating. The best song, however, was "Fins." Preluded by the Jaws theme song to tease and get the crowd pumped up, fans raised their hands in the air in the manner of a dorsal fin, waving them left to right during the lyrics "Fins to the left, Fins to the right, and you're the only bait in town."

Almost 20 songs and two encores later, it was time to shuffle out of the arena. By shuffle, I mean inch our way out; we were like salmon swimming upstream. (Word of advice to smokers: Do not smoke when you're packed together like sardines - I almost got a cigarette in my eye.) When we finally made it back to the bus, we had a few more beers; sleepily boarded the bus; I chugged some Coconut Rum; and everyone went to sleep. (Sidenote: My crowned achievement was that I had started drinking at 9 a.m. and finished with that rum at midnight.) After finally arriving home at 4:30 a.m., I realized that no matter how much I cherished his music growing up, I am simply not cut out to be a true Parrothead.