Tag Archive for peoria

Photo Friday: Rangers Lead the Way

In 2008, Peoria’s airport was renamed General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport. When I dropped my wife off for a trip to visit her folks, I decided to stop and find out who General Downing was.

Rangers Lead the Way

The Downing memorial statue outside the airport

Born in Peoria, Wayne A. Downing was a career Army officer who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War, and he held various roles in the modern war on terror prior to his death in 2007.

I’ve adopted Peoria as my home over the last few years, and I’ve come to enjoy learning more and more about its history and personalities. For example, Theodore Roosevelt once proclaimed Grandview Drive the most beautiful drive in the United States. Peoria also was once the whiskey capital of the US. Today, Peoria is the world headquarters for Caterpillar, even though the Illinois government is doing its best to screw that up.

How many of you live in a small town or city? Or have moved to a new home far from where you grew up? How much do you know about it? When you have a quiet day, get out there and learn something. Maybe your quiet, boring little town will surprise you.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: The Pitch

One strikeout, coming up.

The Pitch

Peoria Chiefs on the way to a 7-2 win

There were a few strikeouts that day, and several home runs sealed the deal. The O’Brien Field fence goes from 310′ at the baselines to 400′ at center field, and a couple balls—fair and foul alike—bounced out onto Adams Street. All in all, it made for an exciting game.

I brought only the 55-250mm lens, and it did the job just fine. One of these days I’d like to get something a little faster, with a large enough aperture to hide that net altogether. Maybe if I sell just a few more copies of Winter Kill and Deadliest of the Species

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Back to the Grind

For the first time all week, it actually felt like Spring Break today. Too bad it’s back to the day gig tomorrow.

Let's go, Chiefs!

Behind home plate at Peoria’s O’Brien Field

A friend and I took our sons to their first minor league baseball game as the Peoria Chiefs hosted the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. I’m not a big baseball fan, but kids under 12 get in free on Sundays and our seats behind home plate were only ten bucks, so it’s tough to complain. The boys were excited because they’ve decided they’re St Louis Cardinals fans, and the Cards are the new owners of the Chiefs. Two Chiefs home runs in the first inning ensured we’d have an exciting game, and in the end the Chiefs beat the Timber Rattlers 7-2. After the game, the boys all got to go out to the field and run the bases.

Every year I find a new reason to like Peoria. I grew up near Chicago, and while I do miss a lot about the Windy City, there’s plenty to do in Peoria and it usually costs less. Cheap sports, a couple museums, some sites to visit, a water park and sports complex the kids love, an annual beer fest… all the benefits of the big city without all the traffic.

If only we could just change the Illinois weather.

It was nice to relax and just hang out all day. It was a refreshing change from all the running around I’ve been doing. Even the zoo trip the other day was part of a specific errand, and we didn’t get to stay long. Too bad it’s the last day of Spring Break.

It’s back to the grind on the writing projects, too. On deck this week: final edits on a work-for-hire project; the edits on Lie with the Dead; revisiting a short story; revisiting the Exit Strategy.

I’ve just realized I haven’t been reading much fiction lately, either. Time to correct that with Chuck Palahniuk’s new Kindle Short, Phoenix. Start short, then dive back into novels. I’ve been drowning in non-fiction lately.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Wrong Lens

I went to a second Peoria Rivermen hockey game last Friday, trusty camera in tow. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my trusty lens.

We sat in the second row behind the glass, so I thought I’d give the 18-55mm kit lens a shot. In theory it should be able to grab photos faster because of its (slightly) larger aperture, but almost all of the photos I shot were garbage. Bummer.

I did manage to capture one of the Rivs’ more exciting goals, though:

Flattened

Now that’s how you score a goal!

The Rivs knocked the Admirals goalie to the ground and put the puck in over his back. The Rivs scored twice within 30 seconds in the first period, but in the third the Admirals woke up and we had a 4-4 tie take us into overtime. Nobody scored during the overtime period, so they went to the shootout, which the Rivs took 2-0 after four shots. Final game score: 5-4 Rivs.

My son and I still had a great time, though, and nobody rammed our heads into a wall, unlike…

Eat Glass

Eat glass!

Despite the occasional clash, there were no fights in this game. That’s probably a good thing, but to me fights also indicate how amped up the players are. While the Rivermen did win, they spent the majority of the time on defense and their goalie, Mike McKenna, really had to stay busy. They would have had an easier time with a little more aggression.

I hope to go back soon. My second son wants to go again, and I’m really starting to enjoy live hockey. I’ll just have to remember the right lens next time.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday Midweek: 2 into 4

I won two tickets to the Peoria Rivermen hockey game last week, and had two of the best seats I’ve ever had at their arena. I get to do it again this Friday.

Down in Front, Ref!

Down in front, ref!

I won the tickets at our favorite local watering hole, and was told, “They’re for tomorrow’s game.” I didn’t check the date, and it wasn’t until I walked in the door that I discovered they were for the following week. I asked to exchange my tickets and they did, and then let me keep the original tickets.

Way cool. I get an extra opportunity to shoot some photos and bring my son to a game, and they get an extra shot at concessions sales. Win-win.

If I could start working the same magic for novels and short stories, I’d be prolific before I knew it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: The Transit of Venus

Equipment failures prevented me from getting decent photos of the Transit of Venus on Tuesday, but the family and I still had fun spotting the shadow of Venus against the orange disc of the sun with the solar shades I picked up.

Watching the Transit

The Squirt watches Venus transiting the sun

Given it would be over a hundred years before the next transit, and the kids were too young to catch it the first time around, I thought it might be a good experience for them. I took a long lunch break from work and rode out to Peoria’s Lakeview Museum and planetarium to pick up solar viewing shades, and borrowed a telescope from the science class at the school I work for.

The telescope was meant to project an image of the sun on some poster board, but I could not get a good image. It turned out the telescope was missing a lens or an eyepiece and had no focus. I improvised with my 55-250mm camera lens, but its results were sketchy at best.

Projection FAIL

That tiny, pale gray spot is Venus. I promise, kids.

At least the solar shades worked out. We expected Venus’s silhouette to be a bit bigger given the illustrations I had seen, but we spotted it. The Squirt noticed it first, in fact, and then the rest of us knew what to look for.

I didn’t know the Lakeview Museum existed until Monday night, and had no idea Peoria had a planetarium. My oldest son found the schedule I picked up, and he wants to go check it out. So, as a bonus, we now have another family event planned for some day in the near future.

Sun Watchers

"That's it?"

All in all it was a fun night, and the kids got to learn something. Given even their own children may not be around for the next Transit, I hope it’s a memory that will stick with them as they get older.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Sad Little Monkeys

It’s Spring Break this week, so in an effort to keep the Rugrats entertained I took them to Peoria’s Glen Oak Zoo. It’s not a huge place and the kids all have their favorite exhibits, so it’s a good way to kill a couple hours in the afternoon. I, of course, brought the camera along.

Take Me Home

"Please take me home with you!"

The tamarins are usually the first exhibit we see when walking in through the gift shop, and I had to snap a photo of this little guy’s sad eyes. His buddies were busy trying to figure out how to open the small door at the back of the cage or bust their way through the mesh ceiling, but he seemed to already understand the futility of those actions.

I only brought my 55-250mm lens, and its aperture makes indoor shooting rough at times. As such, I was happy with the way this one turned out. In fact, it was challenged a few times as many of the animals had moved indoors and I had to shoot through glass.

For example, the mandrills were all behind a large pane of glass:

Sad Mandrill

You'd be bummed if you were stuck in a cage all day, too.

I was able to tweak this a bit in Lightroom, but I think the color would have been more vibrant and the eyes in better focus had this been shot in open daylight.

At least this guy cooperated by reclining in the sunlight:

Dramatic Monkey

"Go, save yourselves! I'll... be fine..."

The kids, of course, insisted he’d croaked and discussed the many impossible ways he might have died, ranging from bullets to swords to ramming the glass head first. Then the monkey moved his left hand and shattered their dark little imaginations.

They come by it honestly.

All in all we had a good day. There are more photos on Flickr, including a few of the male lion who is usually sound asleep when we visit.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Last Week’s Photo Friday: Louder!

I didn’t get a chance to upload the photos for last week’s Photo Friday until this evening. I won tickets to two Peoria Rivermen hockey games, and despite all the action shots, I dig the way this one turned out:

Louder!

Barry the Bear pumps up the crowd

Not that there weren’t more exciting shots, I just liked this one for technical reasons. I used the 55-250mm lens for both games, alternating between Tv and P modes and adjusting as necessary. I love that it’s nice and bright in Carver Arena, and we had great seats both nights.

If you’d like to see more, I’ve posted sets from both Friday’s game and Saturday’s game.

Fight!

Bonus fight photo!

We had a great time at the games. On Friday, we caught a puck and got it signed, and my son got a souvenir cup signed. On Saturday my wife was able to come and we got to hang out with friends, a rare treat for us because it’s tough to find sitters.

Michelle and Melissa

Bonus hot chick photo!

My son’s now begging for season tickets. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I think we need to make the time to hit another game or two this season. It’s a lot of fun and it’s good practice with the camera.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Trias Memorial Workout

Monday was the anniversary of Grand Master Trias’s death, and the Academy of Okinawan Karate dojos held memorial workouts in his honor. This picture was shot after the workout.

Trias Memorial Workout - After

What you can't see is how drenched with sweat our gis are

Standing in the dojo, I couldn’t tell there were two different colors of light coming down on the group. Now it’s obvious: the left half is under yellow/orange light and the right half is under white. Unfortunately I don’t have the Photoshop/Lightroom skills to fix that yet. The photographer (*ahem*) probably should have stepped in to override the group arrangement, too. Ah well. The participants are already anxious to get their hands on the photo.

I chose to shoot without flash because of the distance and distribution of the group. I used the kit lens pulled out to a wide angle and cranked the ISO up to 800 to get a good shutter speed inside, especially with some fidgety little ones in the front row.

The set with the before shots can be found here.

As a side note, I think I’m going to stop using Snapfish/Walmart for my prints. These pics came back, and they clearly altered my exposure in one shot and made the people too dark. I’m going to talk to the folks at Peoria Camera Shop and see how they handle processing during printing. Hell, maybe their classes will help me compensate for the lighting issues I ran into.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Aluminum Overcast

The photos from my trip to see the Aluminum Overcast, a WWII-era B-17 bomber, are finally live.

Aluminum Overcast Closeup

The Aluminum Overcast

I expected a B-17 to be a lot bigger, but it really is a beautiful plane. They did a great job restoring it (it spent some time as a crop duster) and it’s very cool they put all the machine guns back on it. I’m also surprised they let us just wander through it. Five bucks well spent.

Inside the Nose

The nose gunner's position

You hear the plane called the Flying Fortress and see it bristling with machine guns and imagine it as an unstoppable weapon. But then you get a little closer and walk inside, and you see the cramped quarters and the thin hull, and how confined the tail gunner and especially the belly gunner are, and you get a sense of just how vulnerable the Flying Fortress really could be.

Tail Gunner Closeup

The tail gunner

You get a sense of the tough conditions for the crew, and the courage it took to get back into that plane mission after mission. Flying for hours in a cramped position, high up in the thin, cold atmosphere. Flying through swarms of enemy fighters and clouds of anti-aircraft shrapnel. Jesus.

Nose Art

Her nose art

You can check out the rest of the set on Flickr, including more interior and exterior shots and some pictures of the bombs, which are also smaller than I expected. She also has her own Wikipedia page, where you can learn more about her history, and B17.org, where you can find out if she’ll be visiting near you. I highly recommend you check it out if you have the opportunity, because she won’t be around forever.

Photography-wise, no special shooting. I shot in RAW with an external SpeedLite, which I turned off and on at various points around the plane. I did screw up and forget to check my ISO, so some of the pics came out noisier than I expected, but that’s what I get for not checking my gear.

Still, I’m happy with the pics, and if nothing else they’ll be good reminders for the kids and I after our visit.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Wednesday Staycation

I couldn’t commit to an opportunity for a cheap vacation trip Thursday, so instead I took half the day today to do a small staycation to visit a vintage aircraft and the local Harley-Davidson dealership.

When I read a WWII-era B-17 bomber called the Aluminum Overcast was visiting the Peoria International Airport, I knew it would be a great opportunity for the kids and I to check it out. There are only 11 B-17s left in flying condition, and they were offering both tours and flights of the aircraft. Tours were only $5 for anyone over the age of 8, but flights started at $430. D’oh.

I took several pictures, which I’ll have online soon. For now I’ll say the aircraft was smaller than I expected, but still an incredible and humbling sight. The restorers had it loaded up with all 13 machine guns and a set of bombs, and a friend of mine and our kids were all able to walk through the craft and look around. The tail was blocked off and we could see into but not enter the nose gunner position and the cockpit. The belly gunner’s turret was open and we were able to stick our heads in and look around.

One area vet of several B-17 missions visited the plane and took the tour. You can read his story at the Peoria Journal Star. You can also read a separate article about the Aluminum Overcast itself.

Walters Brothers Harley-Davidson is right around the corner from the airport, so we headed that way next. The next thing I’d have bought if I had the cash? This nice Road King we spotted on arrival:

Road King

Some day it shall be mine

I could take or leave the whitewalls and I’d prefer a smaller windshield, but otherwise she’s perfect. I dig the fender, the bags, and the skull on the air cleaner. Black and chrome beauty. The price tag? $17,500. Well out of reach for now. Sad Mike.

I browsed boots, though. The shifter on my Honda’s wearing a hole through the toe box of my hiking boots. Nothing my size in stock, so they’ll be calling me when they get their next shipment. Meanwhile I drooled on some of the H-D work shirts, tried on a jacket, and picked up a Walters Brothers t-shirt.

I have to say, I’m very impressed with the way the ladies at Walters Brothers treated my kids. I see little kids wandering through expensive bikes, I start getting nervous. Especially when they’re my kids. They instead talked to the kids, even helped keep them entertained a bit, and generally made them feel welcome rather than like little bundles of vandalism and destruction. For that alone I’m sure I’ll visit again.

It also helps that the kids came away with free swag:

Captain America swag

Of course Cap rides a Harley!

I like my little Honda cruiser, Lenore. I really do. But man, I’m becoming more and more of a sucker for that Harley marketing. And that Road King is sweet.

I dunno. I guess I should finish Lie with the Dead, get rich, and buy all this cool stuff. (Yeah, just like that.)

Then we picked up my wife from work, bought some lemons, and mixed up some fresh lemon shake-ups. Excellent cap to the day’s staycation. It’s rare that we get to just hang out and chill with friends.

Tomorrow it’s back to the things that have been keeping me offline. No worries, almost through it. Stay tuned for Photo Friday with the bomber pics. Also, keep an eye out for news about a future novella.

 

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Continued Quest for (Proper) Italian Beef

I think Italian beef disintegrates into nothingness after it gets a certain distance from Chicago. After several attempts, I have yet to find a place in Peoria that gets it exactly right. There are places that come close, but there’s always something off.

Case in point: Famous City Bistro. The concept of the place is simple: serve up famous sandwiches from various locales around the country. They have Philly cheesesteaks, Miami Cubans, New Orleans po’ boys, and from Chicago, the infamous Chicago-style hot dog and the illustrious Italian beef.

Famous City's Attempt at Italian Beef

Awww, man...

I’d been waiting for this place to open for a few months now. When opening day finally rolled around this past Tuesday, the rugrats and I stopped by to try it out. I immediately ordered the Italian beef, and the pic above is what I was served.

First, let me say the amount of beef in the picture is deceiving. I asked for it “wet” (the term they’re looking for is “dipped”) and most of the meat sagged through the crease in the bun. They had proper giardiniera, which you have to ask for, and the green peppers come with their recipe. No options for an Italian combo (beef and sausage) or options for mozzarella or marinara. It’s served on a soft hoagie roll instead of a hard Italian roll (which helps soak up the juices, especially when dipped) and the flavoring is not as distinct as what you get at a place like Portillo’s.

Let me be clear: it wasn’t a bad sandwich, but it’s sure not the Italian beef one can get in Chicago.

As for the rest of the place, it’s not bad. They had a kids menu, and my kids enjoyed the cheeseburger and mini corn dogs, but there are no kids’ drinks; they were served adult-size glasses they couldn’t finish. My sandwich was $6.99, and that doesn’t include any sides. The potato salad? $1 extra. At least it was good potato salad. We also ordered chili cheese fries, and the fries were good but the portion looked about half the size of what we get at places like Chili’s. The chili was okay, and probably just heated out of a can. The cheese was your standard “cancer cheese” as I call it: that faux-cheese sauce that you get on movie theater nachos or at ballparks.

The atmosphere is kind of like taking a neighborhood grill-style restaurant and cramming it into a sandwich shop. It’s small, but they have nice tables, leather seats, a full bar, and three flat-screen televisions. The waitresses wear black collared shirts and loosened ties, and your order is taken at a table like any sit-down restaurant. I’m guessing this is why the sandwich prices are higher than I expected, and I’m curious to see how this concept plays in Peoria.

I will go back and try some of the other famous sandwiches and see how they are. Will the Reuben be any good? Will the BBQ sandwiches stand up to places like Hickory River and Famous Dave’s? Time will tell. Meanwhile, the quest for proper Italian beef continues.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.