Archive for Moblog

Galena Whiskey Weekend

When I tallied up the whiskies I tried at the tasting last weekend, I expected 20, maybe 25.

I hit 39.

The Galena Whiskey Weekend was a blast. As soon as I’d heard the guys behind Blaum Bros Distilling were putting it together, I grabbed two tickets for access to the 15-year-old Pappy Van Winkle for a friend and I. It made a good excuse to revisit Galena and see a little more of the historic town, as well as a good time to get away for a weekend with the wife and some friends. The ladies were able to attend the tasting with designated driver tickets.

The doors opened early for the Pappy tasting, so we knocked that out pretty quick and got the lay of the land. There were almost 30 tables laden with some variety of whiskey, but I spotted a tequila and a couple rums hidden here and there. We were able to chat with vendors about their offerings for a bit before the bottles were opened up for tasting.

The Blaum Bros had a table set up, of course, but I was happy to see one of my go-to labels, Four Roses, had one as well.

I generally have one of the Four Roses selections on hand at any given time, but I circled back to their table near the end of the event to try the hot apple cider they’d mixed with one of their bourbons. That’s when I bumped into an older douch—er, gentleman—in a blue blazer and bowtie who chatted me up and called their yellow label “piss.”

I’ll admit it’s better for cocktails and mixing than drinking straight, but piss? Come on. I pointed him to the Four Roses Small Batch, told him it runs a little sweeter and is much better. He tried it, talked about notes of fruit and vanilla, called it “pretty good” and generally made nice. So hey, I didn’t have to punch him.

Another fun part of the show was spotting the spendy bottles. The program book listed the retail and event prices of everything in the room. While the Pappy bourbons were the stars of the show, we enjoyed hunting down expensive bottles we’d probably never taste otherwise.

The Woodford Reserve hid at the Jack Daniel’s table, and they had both the Double Oaked (a favorite of mine) and the Cherry Wood Smoked Barley for tasting. The Cherry Wood runs about $100 a bottle, so yeah, not something I’ll be owning anytime soon. It was quite good.

In contrast, we also tried a sample from a $150 bottle of Midleton Irish whiskey. Meh. The bottle sitting right next to it, The Green Spot, clocked in at less than half the price and had a lot more flavor and character.

Lesson learned: try before you buy.

Another lesson learned: Scotch just isn’t for me. I kinda liked the Monkey Shoulder I’d had in the past, and I remember liking an aged Glenlivet. The peat smoke that permeates most Scotches just isn’t for me, though. I even tried High West’s Campfire, a blend of bourbon, rye, and Scotch, but the peat overpowered it all.

One of the highlights of the show, however, was High West’s A Midwinter Night’s Dram, a rye finished in port barrels. Oh my. Right up there with it? Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye, which is straight-up mixed with port. Fantastic.

I stopped by the Window Jane table, too. The woman behind the table assured me the applewood aging for one of their whiskeys really did make a difference, and she wasn’t wrong. Gave it a nice flavor profile.

The same vendor was hawking Brenne, a single malt out of France. I don’t usually think of France when I think of whiskey, so I gave it a shot. It has enough of a fruit taste that I wonder if it might be a whiskey even my wife could enjoy.

All in all, a great event I would definitely do again. There were a few bourbons I’m glad I hadn’t purchased in the past, and a few more that I wouldn’t turn down but probably wouldn’t go out of the way to pick up. The ryes really impressed, though, and my friend left with a bottle of A Midwinter Night’s Dram and confidence that he’s a rye guy.

I brought home a bottle of rye, too.

The Blaum Bros home-grown bourbon isn’t ready yet, but I like their Knotter Bourbon and Knotter Rye so I was looking forward to trying their new Fever River Rye release. I had a sample at the table and liked it well enough that we hit the distillery afterward for a bottle.

My next step will be to dump all my notes into Evernote so I remember what else I liked and didn’t like. After all, things tended to get a bit fuzzy after that 39th sip.

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.

Distillery Tour: Blaum Bros

I dig distillery tours.

I’ve been on two now, and while they were very similar, I enjoyed seeing their processes and comparing their business plans, as well as sampling their products. If you pay close attention, it’s an educational opportunity, too. There’s a science lesson in the chemistry and physics of the fermentation, distillation, and aging, yet there’s also a strong sense of craftsmanship in the final product. You learn about their marketing and advertising, from the business plan through the branding and the design of the labels. There’s even a bit of career education as you’re touring an actual workplace and seeing the labor involved.

And of course there are souvenirs

A local friend has visited Galena, Illinois several times, and when he heard I was planning a short trip to the area, he told me about the Blaum Bros distillery. My family had no problem indulging my curiosity, so I hit the Blaum Bros website and snapped up some tickets. (Some distillery tours are free, some charge a modest fee. Blaum Bros will set you back $10 per ticket. It’s worth it.)

The distillery’s on the main drag on the way into town from the south, a small building with a white spire reminiscent of an old, rural city hall. You enter into the gift shop, but they have a nice lounge and bar area with some huge leather chairs and a gorgeous bar.

We were a good twenty minutes early, and I’m not exactly known for my patience, so I ordered an Old Fashioned and chatted up the bartender. I watched him closely as he put it together, as I’m still getting a feel for mixing up my own Old Fashioned cocktails. He served it up with fresh-peeled orange zest, something I may have to add to my Old Fashioned game.

Also, he nailed it. I’d only had a few Old Fashioneds at average bars, but his was easily the best I’d tasted so far. That sold me on a bottle right there.

The tour started in the lounge with a brief history of the company, and the guide confirmed some of the things the bartender already told me: the distillery had been there about three-and-a-half years, so their own bourbon was not quite mature enough for release. However, they blended their initial offerings with spirits distilled in Indiana and they dubbed them Knotter Bourbon and Knotter Rye. Say it quick and you’ll hear it as “not our bourbon.” Once their home-grown product is ready to go, it’ll be released as Galena Bourbon. I look forward to trying it.

The still

We moved into main distillery, where we learned they’d imported the still from Germany. This one was much bigger than the other I’d seen, with extra columns for distilling vodka, and they had juniper and coriander on hand for making gin. As with my last distillery tour, they discussed their mash bills and manufacturing process, and we got to see all of their equipment.

I’m not a vodka or gin guy, but I enjoyed learning how they’re made. Those tall columns in the photo above are used for the vodka distilling, where it’s refined down to a much lower proof and then mixed up to its bottle proof. I half expected there to be sacks of potatoes around for the vodka, but it turns out vodka is mostly distilled from wheat and other grains these days.

Next we moved on to their barrel house, which has more of a simple warehouse feel. Barrel houses are not climate controlled, as the seasonal fluctuation in temperature helps with the aging process. Fortunately we were there on a relatively cool day.

Here we also got to see the distillery is working on some experimental barrels and blends in addition to their planned releases.

A Bloody Butcher barrel

They dubbed one of those blends “Bloody Butcher” and stamped the barrels with a small haunted house logo. Bourbon must have at least 50% corn in its mash bill, and for this one the brothers decided to try red Indian corn. I have to admit, I’m curious if it will turn out to taste any different from regular bourbon.

The tour ended back in the bar with samples. They served up three of their products: the Knotter Bourbon, their gin, and their Hellfyre vodka. As I said, I’m not a gin fan, but I could taste and smell the hint of orange in it. The Hellfyre is made with peppers for easy mixing in a Bloody Mary (or, as the tour guide suggested, in hot chocolate), and I picked up a strong taste of jalapeño. This stuff is hot enough that it has its own dedicated machine for bottling to prevent the peppers from contaminating other products.

I would have chosen to try the rye if given an option, but I decided to take my chances and buy a small bottle of rye. I brought home both the Knotter Bourbon and the Knotter Rye, and my first impressions of both are good. I’ll try to write up some separate reviews in the near future. The Knotter Rye neat is excellent.

I found it interesting to compare the Blaum Bros business plan with that of our local East Peoria distiller, JK Williams. Because bourbon must, by law, be aged for at least two years, it takes some time before a new operation has something to sell. If a business is going to pay the bills and keep the lights on, they need product.

JK Williams solved this problem by releasing some unaged product for mixing, as well as some fruited whiskeys. They also released their “Young Buck Bourbon” which is made the same but simply isn’t aged as long and thus isn’t officially bourbon.

Blaum Bros, on the other hand, expanded into vodka and gin in addition to the Knotter Bourbon and Rye made with someone else’s spirits. I thought that was a good approach, as it gives a sense of the taste the brothers might be looking for in their own product.

Overall, it was well worth the hour or so we spent there. Whether you’re a whiskey enthusiast or are just looking for something to do in the area, drop in and check it out.

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: Spi-DERP!

Just look at this dumbass spider:



The little hairs, the eyes looking crossed, the bucktooth-like mandibles, all crack me up. Just the same:


When we flee the state, it probably won’t be to a place where things like this live. If I found one on our walls, I would bust out the 12 gauge.

This tarantula is on exhibit at the St Louis Zoo. My family visited the zoo last week and had a great time despite the temps climbing to 110°F. Admission is free, and though some of the exhibits require paid tickets, they’re very reasonable. For ten bucks a head, you can see just about everything in the zoo. A great deal for families, and a far cry from the insane expense of the Six Flags park just down the highway. We killed about six hours walking around the place, and there were still a few things we missed. That gives us an excuse to go back sometime, probably after they finish revamping the River’s Edge section of the zoo.

I debated hauling my camera bag and extra lenses due to the heat, and I’m glad I toughed it out. With the changes from indoor to outdoor exhibits and the variety of distances in viewing the animals, it was very helpful switching from the 18-55mm kit lens to the 55-250mm zoom. Having a few different camera bags available really pays off.

I took a lot of photos that day, but this one gets the nod. I’ll post the rest when I have time. Right now I have a column and two short stories to finish, and writing trumps screwing around with photos.

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.

Smoke Blog: The Cigar Lounge, Schaumburg

The gift of gab is critical for a successful cigar shop owner, and Tim at Schaumburg’s Cigar Lounge has it down.

After a day of attending to writing business in Chicago, my publisher from Evileye and I stopped off for cigars. The Cigar Lounge is located next to a Jared jewelers on the Woodfield Mall circle, and it’s the biggest brick and mortar store I’ve been in, featuring a huge retail area, a nice lounge with three televisions, and another room with a pool table. I browsed the inventory, and just as I located the La Flor Dominicana Double Ligeros and Airbenders, Tim struck up a conversation and steered me toward their house cigars.

I’m always up for trying local blends. It feels like supporting the little guy, and it’s nice to know it’s something that’s been cared for, not just thrown in a box to wait in a warehouse until it hits a retailer’s order. Tim tells me he works closely with the guy who selects and blends the tobacco leaves for The Cigar Lounge’s sticks, and most of their tobacco is grown in Panama. I took his recommendation to try their #5 cigar, and he cut and lit it for me.

The #5 has been aging since 2005. It’s a good-looking stick with a rich, brown wrapper and a firm feel. It started peppery, but more bold in flavor than just being too hot or too harsh. The pepper mellowed after a few minutes into a strong but pleasant flavor. It produced plenty of smoke, and it boasted a good draw and strong construction that held a nice, insulating ash. It went out on me once, which Tim apologized for, but we spent enough time yakking that I suspect a burnout was inevitable. Overall, it’s a very pleasant smoke I would recommend to anyone looking for a cigar in the medium to full-bodied range.

I enjoyed it well enough, in fact, that I left with four more of his #5s in a thicker ring gauge, some of his #7s, and a pair of his Connecticut Shade-wrapped cigars, all at less than it would have cost me to stock up on some of my other favorite brands. If I remember right he said the #7 is a little more mellow, but I’ll find out for sure when I light one up later this week.

Tim has run the Cigar Lounge for about three weeks now, and he tells us he has big plans for the place, including improved ventilation, some improvements to the lounge side, and lockers for members. He certainly gave us an education on cigars, ranging from how the tobacco is grown and sold to how it’s wrapped and how to care for them. Some of it runs contrary to what we’re all taught about keeping cigars fresh, but I may take a crack at some of it and see how it goes before I share. (I can’t very well have you all chewing me out if we screw it up, can I?)

For anyone looking for a haunt in the Chicagoland area, definitely drop by and check the place out. Talk to Tim (he’ll find you first, I’m sure) and try their house blends. I think you’ll dig 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.

Proof of Life

It’s been a busy and exciting week around here. I visited St Louis this week, spending the days with family and the evenings on writing business. The future is looking brighter and brighter, my friends.

The Gateway Arch

This is starting to become a familiar site for me

More business tomorrow, though this time I’m headed the opposite direction into the Windy City.

Then things should quiet down again for a bit, travel-wise. Instead there will be a lot of keyboard time to fill the gaps. It’s good to be busy.

The Exit Strategy rolls forward.

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 5th Quarter Drops the Ball on Beef

A friend discovered an eatery over in East Peoria had changed hands and become The Fifth Quarter Sports Bar & Pizzeria, and they had Italian Beef on the menu. We’re both Portillo’s fans struggling to find quality Italian beef sandwiches in Peoria, so we jumped on our motorcycles and took a ride out there for lunch today.

The place is a former garage converted into a bar, but it looks like they’ve made some improvements since I was last in there a few years ago. The place used to be Vertucci’s, which also claimed Chicago-style eats but fell short. Where Vertucci’s felt darker and dingier, The Fifth Quarter felt open, cleaner, and more modern. The roll-up garage door dividing the two sections is still there, but it blends in a little better.

The menu offered a good selection, but we jumped straight to the Italian beef sandwiches. They offer the traditional all-beef sandwich, of course, but they had two combos: the standard beef-and-sausage combo and one they called the “Cat Daddy,” consisting of beef and gyro meat. I’d never even thought of such a combo, much less seen one on a menu, so I ordered it with hot peppers and provolone (no mozzarella? tsk).

I should say first I don’t understand the pricing. A gyro is $5.95, but the Italian combo is $7.95. Throw on the provolone cheese and it jumps to $8.90. Okay, extra meat, price goes up, but I then expected a big sandwich and heaping helping of fries. I was kind of disappointed when the waitress served up a short sandwich and a small handful of fries.

Cat Daddy at 5th Quarter

The Fifth Quarter’s “Cat Daddy”

On the plus side, the sandwich was juicy and I was pleased to see actual giardiniera instead of sport peppers. However, the pink hue of the beef and the pre-sliced gyro meat (blasphemy!) set of alarm bells. On tasting, I found the beef gravy far too salty, and the seasoning in the gyro meat overpowering. Both tasted a lot like the pre-packaged meats folks can purchase in a pinch from some Chicago stores, making MSG and/or preservatives responsible for most of the flavor. It didn’t taste bad, and boasted more flavor than some of the other alleged Italian beef in the area, but it’s still a pale imitator of Portillo’s, or even the spicier beef at Al’s.

The menu boasts Devanco Gyros, whoever they are. In Chicago restaurants it’s Kronos or nothing. If it’s not coming off the rotisserie, it’s crap. I’m going to give The Fifth Quarter the benefit of the doubt and assume some vendor came in and told them this prepackaged beef and gyro meat is what everybody else serves up in Chicago. If that is the case, I suggest the owner take a drive up to Shorewood and order the Italian combo at Portillo’s (dipped, hot & mozz) and taste the difference himself. Then, if it’s still there, there’s a good gyro joint with Kronos Gyros just a few blocks off the return trip.

I’ll give The Fifth Quarter big points for the fries, though. It looks like they run an actual potato through a slicer and drop it right in the frier, and they came out  to the table crispy, not too greasy, and not over-salted. They’re the kind of fries the drive-up joints in the Chicago area serve in a brown paper bag with your Vienna Beef (don’t even bother with anything else) hot dog. Excellent.

While I may not buy their beef again, I do intend to go back. We received good service from the waitress, and if the Bud signs on the walls aren’t a lie, they show the UFC fights. I’d still like to try their burgers, and judging by the pictures, their pizza is worth trying if only because it isn’t the Butch’s frozen bullshit most area bars serve.

With luck I’ll have a new, closer, more affordable haunt to catch the fights in.

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.

Warrior Unleashed

I survived the Warrior Dash!

Mike Medal

Mud has never tasted so good

I’ve never been a runner, but I have been running more in an effort to burn off a little of the extra padding I’m carrying around and to complement my weight lifting and karate training. I’ve never run in a race before, so many thought it odd I’d choose one with obstacles.

May as well make it interesting, right?

43268 Reporting for Battle

The before photo, aka “Poor bastard doesn’t know what he’s in for.”

Some friends of mine had run the Warrior Dash before, and they all had a blast, so I turned around and talked a few coworkers into running the Dash as well. We couldn’t all hit the same start times, but I did run with two of my coworkers.

We set out with an easy pace. Steve and Beth had run half marathons before, but they were content to hang back with me for the Dash. Our only goal going in: finish the thing. We had heard mixed stories about the obstacles, and we saw no point in burning out before we got to the last of them.

My Biscuits Are Burning!

“My biscuits are burnin’!”

The obstacles presented a mix of climbing, crawling, jumping, and lots of mud. We had to crawl under barbed wire and across cargo nets. We had to go up mud-slicked climbing walls and down fire poles and slides. We had to crawl, trudge, or swim through creeks and mud pits.

And yes, we jumped over fire.

The obstacles were not as difficult as I expected, and I’m happy to say I went through all of them, no cheats or bypasses. I never stopped, either, with the exception of bottlenecks entering an obstacle or lining up to grab a quick drink of water (they had three water stations to keep competitors hydrated during the hot day). We never stopped to catch our breath or to take a break.

Leisurely Swim

Just a leisurely afternoon swim

My only regret, in fact, is not pushing the running stretches a little harder. There were several hills on the course, not counting the obstacles, and again, I didn’t want to wear myself out and be unable to tackle one of the obstacles. As it turned out, it wouldn’t have been an issue, with the possible exception of one known as the Giant Cliffhanger.

The photos on the website didn’t do this one justice. There’s no bypass around this one, no easy way up. Competitors have to climb a muddy slope, already torn to bits by the several thousand people who climbed it before, using a rope which is wet and caked with mud. Wooden planks lined the top, offering a small foothold every four feet or so, but then the rope ends and we really had to claw our way over the top edge. I managed to leap from foothold to foothold without tumbling back down and taking out the dozen or so people behind me.

Victory Beer

Miller never tasted so good.

They clocked my final time at 1:05:20.40. Less than stellar, but my normal mile pace is on the slow side, so throw in obstacles and less running and it’s not surprising. It’s also far from the end of the pack, so I’m content with that time, if not happy with it. I’m just thrilled to say I finished it.

We had a great time on the Dash. I did tweak my ankle in one of the creaks, but no break or sprain so I’m good. My weight lifting training helped get me over the obstacles, and my only sore spots have been the stabilizer muscles around my ankles. Next year leading up to the Dash, I think I’ll do some more field and trail running to get used to the slopes and uneven surfaces.

And yes, there will be a next year. I was sold before the end of the Dash. If they were taking signups for next year, I’d have registered on the spot.

Now I have a time to beat, too.

They Were Blue

Time to retire these Nikes. They were blue and silver/gray before the race.

St Jude Children’s Research Hospital reported they had a great weekend. 18,911 competitors ran the course, raising $272,073. And that was just the Illinois event! Another Warrior Dash went down simultaneously in Pennsylvania.

Thanks again to those of you who sponsored my run. I’m glad I could bring in even a little bit, and having access to the St Jude tent turned out to be a great benefit.

I donated my shoes to GreenSneakers at the end of the race, too. I retired this pair from the running track a year or so ago and only use them when lifting, so I was happy to throw them onto the pile. If GreenSneakers can clean them up and send them overseas, then more power to them.

All in all we had a great day. My wife hung out with Steve’s family, and though they couldn’t see us running until the very end of the Dash, they enjoyed watching people in costume and listening to the live bands. Just a fun course, a great atmosphere, and a good excuse to get outside and stay active.

If it sounds at all like your kind of thing, then I highly recommend you keep an eye on the Warrior Dash website to see when they’ll be nearby. You won’t regret it!

For more photos, click on over to my Warrior Dash Flickr set.

Bonus video! This must have been shot on Saturday before the storms rolled through and mucked everything up.

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: My Kind of Town

I miss Chicago.

I don’t miss living in the city most of the time, but I do miss being able to get downtown in just a short drive. Having been to LA, Seattle, St Louis, San Francisco, and a few other cities, I still find Chicago is my favorite.


Illinois, US, and Chicago flags

The wife and I spent the weekend of the 9th and 10th in Chicago with friends. It turned into a great mini-vacation, and of course I brought the camera along to do some shooting. Hang out, relax, see the sights… sometimes that’s all you need to recharge the batteries.

The trip started with the Chicago In-Water Boat Show. My friend Tim is a boater, and for him, lusting after bigger boats is the same as when I go lusting after bigger motorcycles. Sure, you’ve got a nice one, but you’re always going to want someone else’s. The Wife and I may not be able to afford a boat, but we’re happy to look and dream and drool, so we had no problem tagging along.

This is the One

The captain explores his future vessel

Many of these boats are like floating RVs. Some are fun little fishing cruisers, others are full-on yachts with all the amenities. I’m told this is Chicago’s first in-water show, where the boats are all floating as opposed to being propped up indoors somewhere like McCormick Place. We saw prices from $149,000 up to $2 million, and the sales folks welcomed anyone aboard to take a look. There were two exceptions to this, neither with a price listed, and boarding was by appointment only. I’m guessing that meant “serious buyers only, after we run your credit.”

We started at the low end of the range, with the Wife and I stunned that the boats cost more than our house. Then we saw the $2million-dollar boats and circled back to the $150K docks and thought “Wow, this is pretty reasonable!” It’s all relative.

Finally One I Can Afford

Ah, here's one I can afford. Does it come in black?

We went out for stuffed pizza after the boat show. No way I’m visiting Chicago without getting some real pizza. There’s one place in the Peoria area that serves up proper stuffed pizza, and unfortunately their sauce is crap and ruins the whole experience. Everyone else’s attempt is fat, greasy dough which is more like what Chicagoans know as pan pizza.

Our friends had been to Gino’s East before and wanted to try somewhere new, so we hit the Bella Bacino’s on Wacker, in walking distance from our hotel. We had a few drinks, pleasant conversation, and some good pizza. Then came the naked bike ride.

Wait, what?

Yes, the Chicago World Naked Bike Ride went down Wacker Saturday night. The waitress came over and told us “4,000 naked people are riding by on bicycles right now.” It’s not something you see every day, much less in a conservative area like ours, so we went and checked it out.

Naked Ride

No flash, wrong lens, so crap pics. Sorry. Well, mostly. In some cases you would have thanked me.

The ride promotes awareness of cyclists and promotes “the freedom from oil and the beauty of people.” Unfortunately we saw a cyclist who got knocked down by a car the following day. That driver must not have gotten the message.

On Sunday we decided to walk through Millennium Park and up and down Michigan Avenue to check out the architecture. This way we didn’t have to move the car and pay for more parking, or sweat paying for cab rides. Driving Michigan doesn’t compare to walking it, either, as there are plenty of little things to see.

The Cloud Gate

The Cloud Gate, aka "The Bean"

The old buildings are so much more beautiful than the new ones. Sure, the new ones are tall and cool and have their own beauty, but they’re all cold metal and glass, where the older, carved concrete buildings have a very organic feel. It’s certainly not the same as walking through the older parts of London or Paris, but it’s nice just the same to see some history and marvel at the things we accomplished with simpler tools and materials.

Trib Entry

You just don't see this anymore.

We settled down for a drink at Timothy O’Toole’s Pub before leaving the city. It’s a nice, faux-Irish pub tucked away in the lower level of one of the buildings at the corner of Fairbanks and Ontario. They were running the soccer games, and we enjoyed watching the soccer players ham up every little kick to the shin or tumble caused by an opposing player. Unfortunately Ireland lost the match to Croatia, and the local patrons were not happy.

The Black and Blue

Tim enjoys a Black and Blue: Guinness and Blue Moon

And yes, we found a time and place for cigars. Chicago may be an anti-smoking city, but what they didn’t know didn’t hurt us.

I took several more photos, all of which can be found in my Chicago set on Flickr.

I would love to have done some writing somewhere in the city, but we had a full weekend and it was more about relaxation and recharging than getting work done. I don’t regret it, and we’re already talking about going back in a few months. Next time maybe we’ll check out Navy Pier or hit the museum campus.


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.

On Busted Thumbs and Heart Attacks

Most of you have met Lenore.

Brick Road

How're YOU doin', beautiful?

I took her to get her chain tightened—and, as it turned out, replaced—today, just as the Illinois weather decided to make up for the early warm weather it gave us by dropping back into the 40s and 50s. Ah, well. That’s what leather and sweatshirts are  for.

Then I learned it’s damn near impossible to manipulate turn signals with a busted thumb. Last night while sparring in karate class, I somehow managed to block my opponent’s knee using only my thumb. My thumb lost, and now the first knuckle doesn’t want to bend and it’s swollen like a sausage on a too-hot grill. My scream of agony every time I manipulated the switch probably did a better job of catching surrounding motorists’ attention than my turn signal did. I thought about switching to hand signals, but these days I’m pretty sure there’s only one hand signal that most drivers recognize, and that one won’t do me any good.

Then I stared death in the face.

I left Lenore in the tender care of the mechanics at Grayboy in the Heights and asked them where I could get breakfast. A big dude runs the service desk, and he pointed out the window to a shabby gray structure two doors down from their main building.

“Go there,” he said. “If you like meat, they’ll give you plenty. You won’t even be able to finish it.”

Challenge accepted.

Understand, I’m standing in a spot two blocks from downtown Peoria Heights with its high-end eateries like French Toast and Noir, and its array of trendy little boutique shops. The Silver Dollar, on the other hand, is a dark little bar in the other direction. On the plus side, chances were it would be more affordable.

I walked in and a friendly woman behind the bar handed me a type-written menu. A quick scan turned up Mikey’s Special: a toasted biscuit topped with a sausage patty, three eggs over easy, and cheese, all smothered in sausage gravy.

It looks like this:

The Mikey Special. Holy shit.

Holy shit.

If my doctor were sitting with me, he’d have punched me square in the face and tripled my cholesterol meds for the next six months. That plate is bigger than my iPad. I took out  a fork and cut into this thing, and it bled bright, golden egg yolk. I could already feel my heart cringing against my spine and begging me not to eat it. My brain reminded me I’m running the Warrior Dash in three weeks, and this wouldn’t help the cause.

My belly said “Pump it in!”

As evil as this thing looks, it tasted even better. The sausage patty was thick like a quality hamburger, and juicy without being greasy. Few places get gravy right, but the Silver Dollar nailed it: thick and peppery without being gummy. And yes, I finished the whole thing. When I returned for Lenore, the service guy was astonished. He advised me to not fall asleep while riding this afternoon.

Now my blood runs like sludge in my veins.

It’s a good thing I have at least two workouts coming today. I’m going to need them.

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: Memorial Day

No matter what’s happening in politics and who is in office, the people in my area always support their veterans and their service to the country. The VFW halls are very active, the towns and schools always observe Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and there are often services and flag ceremonies at parks and cemeteries in most towns.

I decided to take a motorcycle ride and visit a few places and take some photos, but unfortunately I missed most of the ceremonies. I didn’t realize flags are only flown half staff until noon on Memorial Day, so while towns put up extra flags, most had been removed by the time I arrived.

Metamora Memorial

The Honor Roll monument in Metamora, IL

The white crosses lining the path to the Honor Roll monument along Route 116 in Metamora, IL, were still in place, though. I crouched down at the curb to catch this photo. The Honor Roll lists the local soldiers who served in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, and also notes which of those soldiers were killed in action. Some of the names were familiar, most likely related to some of the students who attend the schools I work for.

Next year I’ll have to get moving a little earlier, as there were more flags throughout the park when I first drove by. I should have stopped then, but I was on the way to meet my family for what was already a very late lunch and everyone was starving.

I visited Washington but I didn’t know where they set up their memorials, so I cruised from Metamora to Eureka. Their claim to fame is Eureka College, Ronald Reagan’s alma mater. The Boy Scout troop puts out flags along Main Street during the patriotic holidays, and there was a huge ceremony with a lot of flags int he old cemetery during Veterans Day last year. However, the county courthouse always flies the US Flag, the Illinois flag, and the POW/MIA flag out front near an old anti-aircraft gun display, so I stopped for a photo.

Anti-Aircraft Gun

A reminder of how our freedoms are won.

Though I missed out on the flag ceremonies, it was still a nice day for a ride and I enjoyed taking my own moment to observe the holiday.

Bonus: I learned my BlackRapid strap holds up just fine while riding the motorcycle. Just cowboying up and taking it up to 60mph was probably not the smartest idea, but hey, it’s a tough strap and worked like a champ. My stayed glued to my hip the whole ride.

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 Lookout

I wasn’t happy with the graduation photos I shot on Friday, so I used a photo from our family trip to Tower Park in Peoria Heights on Saturday.

The Lookout

"Some day, this will all be mine."

The Wife and I had been there before, so this time we took the kids to enjoy the view. The Tower is a functioning water tower with a half million gallons inside. An elevator carries visitors to a three-level observation deck two hundred feet up. Little Bird went up on her tiptoes to see over the edge, and I snapped this photo.

I managed to get a fun photo of the family, too, as I was coming down the spiral staircase after them.

The Family

"I'm crushing your head!"

The kids really enjoyed it, and given it was only $7.75 for all of us, it’s not a bad deal. The kids already want to go back.

As a bonus, there are plaques all around the perimeter of the observation deck. Most of them are arrows pointing to cities and their distances, ranging from local cities to more distant places like Los Angeles, Sydney, and even Polaris (the North Star). There are also a few plaques with famous quotations.


Writing books counts, right?

I went up light, just carrying my kit lens. Sometime I would love to get a hold of a really good telephoto lens and see what kinds of things I can spot. Until I’m rich, though, the kit lens will have to do.

More photos from the set here, and the full Photo Friday set for 2012 is here.

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: Corona Ritas and the Scare Bear

Never did get around to posting last week’s Photo Friday entry, so I’ll tack it on to this week’s.

First up, an example of how the real writing work gets done:

Corona Rita

Yes, both glasses are mine. Why do you ask?

This is an improved shot from the night Cullen Bunn and I got together to chat about the writing biz and do some brainstorming. There in the foreground you can see my trusty Moleskine notebook. Nothing fuels a night of brainstorming like a few drinks, a belly full of tacos, and pencil in hand.

The Cerveza Rita, aka Corona Rita, is mighty tasty, by the way. Mix up a margarita, upend a bottle of beer in it, and drink up. As the level of the margarita drops, the beer starts to pour in. It mixes for a bit, until pretty soon you’re just drinking the last of the beer. If you’re the type of person who likes a lime in your Corona, I would suggest asking the bartender to drop it in the bottle before upending the bottle into the margarita glass.

This, by the way, was the small Cerveza Rita. (Hey, we’d just polished off a pitcher of the regular stuff.) They make a regular size with a regular bottle of Corona, and they make a large which is big enough for two bottles of Corona. Drink up!

This week’s photo is once again off the smartphone:

Scare Bear

Scare Bear attack!

Little Bird is so bad ass, she chases bears up tress!

We’ve seen this a statue a few times before, but this is the first I came up with this idea. Once again I’m reminded to carry my Digital Rebel with me more often. Sometime I’ll go back and re-shoot this with the Rebel, but we had fun with this oen and for now it stays in the set.

In other news, another hellacious work week has come to an end. I think I’m finally through the worst of it and I can get some real work (otherwise known as writing) done for a change.

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.