Author: mike

Why Fort Wayne? Here’s Why!

Of the numerous road trips that we’ve been on, the one that got the most confused reactions by far, when I told people where we were going, was our recent visit to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“Fort Wayne?? Why Fort Wayne?!”

Man, even my family was skeptical, initially. However, despite it not being a traditional weekend getaway destination, I had a hunch that this place might be a hidden gem. After spending four days there,  courtesy of the generosity of my friends at Visit Fort Wayne, I can now say that my hunch was right.

So why Fort Wayne? There’s plenty of reasons actually.

LOCATION

The key to any weekend road trip with the family is travel time. In our case, with multiple stops, it was about a seven hour drive, which was fine. The kids watched a bunch of movies, which meant no boredom complaints. Plus, even though it is a bit of a trek, it’s the type of drive where you can leave in the morning, get there in the afternoon, and still have time to do stuff that day.  As well, it’s not all that far from large cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Chicago.

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT….AND ANOTHER RIVER….AND ANOTHER RIVER

Fort Wayne is built on three rivers, which is really unique. Plus, with over 80 parks, over 50 playgrounds, and over 100 miles of trails, it’s a place for anyone who loves the outdoors

Fort Wayne Outfitters hooked my family up with some bikes, so we went for a family bike ride along the riverfront. In theory, this should have been awesome. In reality, my daughter was a grump, and refused to ride, so she and I (because I couldn’t ride slow enough to match her stomping, sulking pace) went for bike walks. At least it was scenic.

Also, never trust a one year old with directions.

 

FORT WAYNE CHILDREN’S ZOO

Speaking of the outdoors, checking out the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo was a must on our list, and should be on yours, too. Even though my kids all loved it, don’t get it twisted; it’s not just a children’s zoo. I saw a lot of childless people there, which I am sure is the norm.  Ranked as one of the top zoos in the US, it’s  really well laid out, clean and interactive. The animals all looked healthy, and seemed to be in their more natural-looking habitats. We were able to get a nice view of almost all of them (instead of them hiding and/or being out of site, as is the case sometimes). It’s a decent sized zoo, but I didn’t feel winded after we strolled through it, and B and J didn’t whine once about being tired, either. There were also a bunch of rides, too, that were very reasonably priced and enjoyable.

Fake surfing wasn’t a ride, FYI. Just a photo op!

THE VIBE

While touring around the city, I noticed that there were a lot of places of worship. I later learned that Fort Wayne has been called ‘the city of churches’, because it has over 360 of them.  There are also reports which indicate that Fort Wayne has one of the lower costs of living, in the USA.  It seemed like the city was pretty spread out, too, with some pockets being better than others, like you’d expect from any big city. We were graciously given accommodations at the Hilton Fort Wayne At The Grand Wayne Convention Center.  This hotel is located downtown, which is one of the nicer parts of the area, and is within walking distance to several attractions.  When out and about, I never felt unsafe. I even walked around downtown basically in isolation one Sunday evening, as many businesses closed by 5pm.

A view from our hotel room. That rainbow, though!

All in all, my takeaway of Fort Wayne is that it’s a laid-back, down to earth city that’s family-friendly.

FALL FUN ON THE FARM!

One of the best things about travelling is when an experience completely blows away your expectations. Such was the case when we checked out Kuehnert Dairy Farm’s Fall Festival. We’ve been to events on farms before, but this was easily the best. It was well organized, and had a ton of stuff for the kids to do. Hay rides, corn pits, corn mazes, playgrounds, games, farm tours, jump pad, bonfires and ninja warrior courses, just to name a few. For me, the best part was the Mouse Trap, their famous grilled cheese sandwich.

The only bad thing was that the weather sucked, and the rain shortened our visit. Otherwise, we could have easily stayed there for the whole afternoon!

 

CULTURE (NO, NOT THE MIGOS ALBUM)

Besides the outdoorsy activities, Fort Wayne also has some nice indoor attractions, which are very sophistimicated and edumucational. Science Central is the only science center in the region, and it’s multi-level, with 200+ exhibits. The kids got their learn on, while playing and exploring the surroundings.

It also hosts events throughout the year. When we were there, a sci-fi convention was going on. Ohhhhh Chewy!

That’s a person in a costume, believe it or not.

 

Debrand Fine Chocolates is the only chocolate store that I’ve been to where I felt like I needed to wear a suit and bow tie when entering it. You don’t need to dress up, of course, but the decor and ambience give it a very fancy feeling. We did a tour of the headquarters (highly recommended, plus tasty!), and the attention to detail that they put into each of their chocolates to ensure that they are of the finest quality is really impressive.

J and I hit up the Fort Wayne Museum Of Art. I will wholeheartedly admit to being  clueless, in terms of being an art connoisseur. The people there all seemed to be enjoying silently taking in the artwork, though. I thought the Chuck Sperry exhibit was pretty wild. J really liked the kids area, where little ones can create their own masterpieces.

Also, time didn’t permit us to visit it, but the Botanical Conservatory looks very expansive, and beautiful.

GAME ON

Now, two things that Fort Wayne doesn’t have going for it are a major league sports team, and an amusement park. However, it does have minor league teams (sidenote: we only drove by, but Parkview Field looked like a cool place to watch a Tincaps baseball game!). In addition, it has Crazy Pinz, a 50,000 square foot entertainment complex, which features bowling, a rope course, laser tag, mini-golf, rock climbing, bar, restaurant and an arcade/prize store.

 

Do you see what I mean, now? Despite initial doubts, we ended up having an awesome little trip.

So, why Fort Wayne?

That’s why!

Until the next one, peace!

 

Disclosure: Visit Fort Wayne provided us with accommodations and passes to the attractions mentioned. Opinions expressed are my own.

 

 

Top 7 Cruising Songs (According to a One Year Old)

One of the big developments in the ol’ Daddy Realness household these last few months has been the ever improving vocabulary of little KJ. Between the indecipherable baby babble is the odd word or two that you can actually understand. And not only that, but he will use his words to communicate what he wants sometimes, too.

Take music, for example. Before, we would just play whatever, no questions asked. He’s probably heard more random sports talk radio and 1990s hip hop while riding with me than any one year old would care to admit (if they could even admit it).  Nowadays, though, he’ll demand to hear his favorite jams.

Like, loudly demand.

Like loudly, repeatedly demand, to the point that I have to stop listening to Nas’ Illmatic album, or Steve Philips talking about Jacob deGrom’s chances of winning the Cy Young Award, and put on what he wants.

So what does he like, you ask? Well, let me go Ryan Seacrest-mode on you, and count down the hits!

7. Johny Johny Yes Papa (Parents Version) by Cocomelon a.k.a. HA-HA-HA

 

Coming in at number seven is this song from Cocomelon. Basically, the parents keep getting up in the middle of the night to eat junk food, and then lie about it to each other, even after they’re caught. Eventually, their kids wake up and catch them, so they lie to them, too. They all keep laughing about the dishonesty for some reason. Deception is so hilarious? Anyway,  when KJ starts asking for “HA-HA-HA”, it’s time to press play on this song.

6. Roar By Katy Perry a.k.a Ra-Ra

 

Sliding in at number six is this anthem from Katy Perry. J loves this one, and I legit think that KJ only asks me to play it because it reminds him of his sister. I get that, unlike what’s next, at number five.

5. Baby??

Not gonna lie, KJ will frequently request to hear ‘Baby’, but I have no clue what the heck he wants. I end up random shuffling a Spotify playlist, stopping at songs with ‘baby’ in the title. ‘Baby’ by Justin Bieber, ‘Baby Got Back’ by Sir Mix-A-Lot, ‘Baby One More Time’ by Britney Spears etc. Not surprisingly, KJ will continually say no to everything, until he gives up, and asks for something else. Let’s just leave this one here, and keep on keepin’ on up the charts!

 

 

4. Basketball by Lil Bow Wow a.k.a. Ba-ball

Number four is this classic jam (no pun intended) from the artist formerly known as Lil Bow Wow.  Last week, KJ not only wanted to hear it on repeat all the way to daycare, but when I picked him up later, he wanted to hear it on repeat on the way home, too. But really, can you blame him? What one year old child doesn’t love early 2000s NBA references? Oh, nevermind. Let’s see what comes in at number three.

3. Baby Shark by Cocomelon a.k.a. Baby Do-do-do

 

Now this one is a certified banger!  Despite there being a way more viral version of this song, KJ likes this particular one, and this one only. It automatically came on after another Cocomelon video ended, and he was immediately hooked. Truth be told, I had no idea how big a phenomenom Baby Shark was until last week, when I saw Ellen talking about it, on the Ellen Show. Y’all have been doing the goofy shark dance for months now, but no one bothered to fill me in. Thanks, friends. Speaking of viral sensations………

 

In My Feelings By Drake aka Kiki!

Why in the world does a one year old like this Drizzy hit, you ask? I’m guessing it’s because he can say the first lyric (Kiki). Or maybe he just needs a black card and a code to the safe. Maybe he wants me to upload a video of him doing the In My Feelings Challenge. Regardless, this is the one joint here that I don’t mind listening to constantly (clean, radio edited version, of course).   Unlike the number one song on the list.

1. Wheels On the Bus By Cocomelon a.k.a. Bus! Bus!

 

When KJ starts screaming for ‘Bus! Bus!’ then you know it’s about to go down. Cocomelon must have some audio baby hypnosis going on, because he only likes their version of this timeless nursery rhyme, too.  The appeal here are the visuals. Besides a monkey’s naked butt, the video has easy to mimic actions, which KJ does in my car. He’ll give me a big, hokey thumbs up when it comes on, he’ll tell an invisible baby to shush, and so on. No doubt this one is a crowd-pleaser; especially if that crowd doesn’t include me. Nonetheless, its place at the top of the charts is firmly cemented on my drives with KJ.

Until the next countdown, Seacrest…out!

 

 

A Beginner’s Guide To Disney Doorables

Disclaimer: My good friends at Imports Dragon recently sent me a complimentary package of Disney Doorables, to review. All thoughts expressed are my own.

 

The holiday season is fast approaching! So, today, I’m going to tell you about some hot new toys that I think are going to be on many a wish list, Disney Doorables. Let’s go, FAQ-style!

You just made me spit out my pumpkin spice latte! It’s too early to be talking about Christmas. What’s wrong with you?

Uh, that wasn’t exactly the kind of question that I had in mind for this.

I don’t even know what Disney Doorables are. How can I frequently ask questions about something that I’ve never heard of?

I think that you’re missing the point here.

Fine. What the heck are Disney Doorables?

Basically, they are Disney’s entree into the mini collectibles and blind bag game.  Think Shopkins, but on a Disney tip, with a door theme.

A door theme?

Yeah. The motto is “behind every door, a surprise is in store!”  Basically, the packaging that they come in is a blind box, with an opening that looks like a door. Cracking them open reveals which character (or characters) you got.  The element of surprise is what makes it fun!

So what does Disney have to do with them?

Each character is from a Disney property of some sort, which so far includes: Mickey and Friends, Tangled, Lilo and Stitch, Moana, Beauty And The Beast, Zootopia, Peter Pan, Frozen, Monsters, Inc, Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio and Winnie The Pooh.

Go on.

Uhh.  So we’re talking lots of iconic and memorable characters. Ya dig?  Besides being tiny, what sets them apart from other mini collectibles are their sparkling, glittery eyes. For real, they’re pretty cute. Adoorable even. Haha. You won’t be able to handle them. Hoho. Your kids won’t be board playing with them. Hehe.

 

If you keep making terrible door puns, I’m going to pun-ch you.

Whoa sorry. I’l knock it off. Let’s move on.

That’s better. So how many Disney Doorables are there?

As of this writing, about 80. Like all things collectible, they vary in availability. According to the check list, they are categorized as common, rare, ultra rare, special edition, and limited edition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you say limited edition? That sounds valuable. You’re hoarding a fortune’s worth, aren’t you? Pass ’em over, Mikey boy!

In the shipment that I got from Imports Dragon, I didn’t get any limited edition figures.  I’m not sure how valuable they are yet, either.

What ages are these things for? Can I leave them with my baby in their crib and walk away?

Nope. Despite being cute and shiny-eyed, they are really small. Like an inch high, that small.  Manufacturer recommended for children 5+.

That’s good, because I don’t have a baby?

Then why did you ask –

Are there just the figurines available? Or is there more stuff?

  Actually, there is more stuff. Each group of Disney properties also has an appropriately themed mini playset, available seperately. An island for Moana, the Beast’s chateau from Beauty And The Beast, a closet from the factory scare floor in Monsters, Inc, etc. The playsets come with Doorables and little accessories, too. The cool thing is that they are connectible and stackable, so you can mix them to make your own little Disney universe.

 

Can my kids connect them with other toys? Like Thomas The Train tracks, or a Breaking Bad lab playset?

Um, no to both, especially the second one. Stick to connecting the Disney Doorables sets only.

Got it. Disney. Hey, isn’t The View owned by Disney? When will we see a Whoopi Goldberg Doorable?

I’m guessing….never?

Well, if they do, shut up and take my money! I’ll buy them all. Speaking of which, where can I buy Disney Doorables?

Keep an eye out for them in the coming months at a retailer near you. Maybe they are already there. Otherwise, the usual suspects online, like Walmart, Amazon, Toys R Us (Canada), and Target all seem to be carrying them, presently.

Thanks for the information, but I kinda don’t trust you or your opinion.

For what it’s worth, my daughter, who really likes Shopkins, really likes these. Does that help?

I guess so. Anything else?

Nah, that’s all that I got. Happy Holiday shopping!

I hate you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Inverted Awkardness Conundrum

I’ve started to observe something with lil KJ.

Something very troubling, that I never experienced with my other kids.

He’s flipping the script on awkwardness!

As he has grown out of babyhood, and is heading towards the terrible twos, he has a knack with putting me in less than ideal situations with strangers.

What?

It’s a real problem, people! Here, lemme give you some examples:

  • Once,  KJ wandered over to a dad and just stared at him for a while, until I took him away. The dad was clearly super uncomfortable, too, and I don’t blame him. It’s like KJ had an awkward radar, and he picked out the person in the room who would get the most squirmy.
  • Sometimes, the radar is off. The person he’s randomly staring at will be OK with it, and then try to make him laugh. Instead of cracking a smile, KJ will continue to glare at them with a cold, hard gaze. Watching a grown person acting goofy, while a toddler looks on at them with the demeanour of a British guard, is as weird as it sounds. I will then have to start chuckling like an idiot, to ease the mood.
  • Speaking of chuckling, KJ has also walked up to strangers, pointed at them, and started laughing. What’s so funny? No clue. He lacks the vocabulary to explain.  All I know is that if I walked up to you, pointed, and laughed in your face, you’d  be justified in breaking my pointy finger and punching me in the face.
  • Speaking of violence, while walking through a park, we saw a father hide behind a statue, jump out, and scare his son, who looked to be about seven or eight years old. The boy proceeded to scream and lose his dang mind. Pure meltdown mode. Having been in public situations involving bad tantrums before, the worst part is when people stop to enjoy the show. You can almost feel them judging you as a parent. Thus, I tried to shoo KJ along and allow the dad to soothe his son in peace. KJ stopped to look, of course, and wouldn’t move. He’ll probably grow up to be the type who slows down to gawk at car wrecks on the highway. Anyway, the boy was holding a balloon during this meltdown. He accidentally lost the grip on it, though, sending it high into the sky.  The dad then noticed us noticing him, so he tried to laugh things off, but the kid went into sicko mode (word to Travis Scott). He yelled that he hated his dad. He hit him hard over and over, like he was trying to knock him out like a light (like a light). To distract KJ and move on from the ugly dispute, I pointed out the flying balloon, which got him to continue on walking. On last glance, the boy stopped hitting the guy, then stormed off in the opposite direction of us.
  • While at one of J’s baseball games, some kid had to use the portable toilet. KJ noticed this, so he went………and sat down outside of it. Worse, he tried to insist that I sit down beside him. He got mad when I picked him up, to take him away. Not sure what his intentions were here. He’s not even potty trained. Maybe he wanted to give them a standing ovation when they came out. Regardless, pretty sure most folks don’t want to see a seated audience when they emerge from a public washroom of any kind.

  • Long story, but I had to take KJ to the emergency room at the hospital recently. He’s fine, don’t worry. While there, however, his energy level somehow changed from lethargic to lit! So lit that he wanted to play Ring Around The Rosey. He’s too small to Fortnite dance, and he doesn’t like most songs, so this is his jam. I can only imagine what the staff there must have thought, listening to us going round and falling down. I’m surprised that they didn’t drug test me. Or escort us out of the building.
  • He took my hat off one time, ran off, and tried to give it away twice, to two different random men. Either he was trying to make some new adult friends by impressing them with his dope, stolen headgear, or he thought these guys had bad hair and needed to cover it up. Not sure. Doesn’t matter.  Anyway, the first dude at least politely declined. The second guy looked like he was considering keeping it, which meant that I had to intervene (awkwardly, of course). It was a nice hat, what can I say.

I could go on, but I think that you get the idea. Until KJ becomes a bit more socially refined, this is my life now. I apologize in advance for any awkward encounters that we may have.

 

Later, y’all.

 

 

 

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

 

Do you remember when I made a joke about becoming a Pentatonix fan?  Yeah, turns out that I wasn’t joking.  Even better, that lovable a cappella singing quintet was part of a milestone – our first family concert was to see them live!

How’d the concert go, you ask?

Well…..

First off, I should say that finding a musical act who we all could enjoy and who wasn’t inappropriate was surprisingly hard. Whereas I like Drake, I could never bring my eight, six, and almost two year old to his concert, for example. Pentatonix hit the sweet spot, though. Their music is pretty tame, plus they do a lot of cover versions of  popular, current songs.  Since K really likes them, B and J like the songs they cover, KJ has no choice as he has to go wherever we go, and I don’t hate them, we figured we would see them live.

The venue was Budweiser Stage, in Toronto. Our tickets were cheapo lawn seats. Having never been before, I had to do some research.  Reviews online, in general, said that the place was great for watching concerts, but food was expensive, and the parking sucked. Strollers and high lawn chairs were prohibited, but blankets were allowed. Taking the Go Train was recommended, but because of the kids/lack of stroller, it was a bit too much of a walk for us, so we had to drive. I figured we would go early-ish, to get a decent parking and lawn spot.

I’m telling you now, the reviews don’t do Budweiser Stage justice. The parking is atrocious. All lots near the premises were full by the time that we got there, but because of the limited entrances, it’s impossible to know they’re full until you get close to them. So picture a long lineup of cars, all being denied by attendants only as they approached them.  One open entrance clearly pointed to parking, so a lot of cars, including us, lined up to go into it. However, once you got in and drove up the lane, we discovered that it just led to a roundabout that went back down to the street, no parking. It was basically the equivalent of the escalator to nowhere on The Simpsons.

After waiting for a good half hour in line, one of the attendants finally advised us where the nearest parking lot was.  That lot was basically a million miles away, which, again, wasn’t ideal for our family. Now late for the concert, I decided to loop back, drop K and the kids off by the front gate, so they could at least enjoy the show, find a parking spot, then run to meet up with them after. After dropping the fam off, I headed over to the million mile lot. Believe it or not, it was full, too. I then tried a couple of other lots nearby. Also rammed. Who knew Pentatonix were so popular?

After driving around beautiful downtown Toronto aimlessly, I eventually found some open street parking two million miles away from Budweiser Stage. Yo, beggars can’t be choosy. I pulled over, and went to see the rates. After 9pm, it was free, but I was there a bit after 8pm, so it was only $2.

Score!

Reading more, it looked like the only way to pay was by mobile, via an app which had to be downloaded. The app required paying $20 upfront, to make an account balance, which could be used at any of the company’s parking spots in Toronto. You know, a city which I don’t live in.

Dang it!

Not wanting to miss more of the concert, but being about a marathon’s walk away, I paid the $20, then ordered a Lyft, to give me a ride back. On the way, the Lyft driver told me that people were waiting for an hour for their Ubers, taxis and Lyfts after another concert, the prior night at Budweiser Stage. He advised me to either leave the show early, or walk up the street when it was over and get a ride off-site, to avoid the long wait. Leaving early was the best solution. You know, to go with me being already late.

Finally, I arrived.  First stop was to the concessions.  I saw people ordering “bottomless” popcorn, so I asked for one of those. I was subsequently told by the cashier that there wasn’t any, and to try the other concession stand, on the other side of the place…..even though people were clearly buying popcorn near me.

Next, I had to seek out my family.  The place was jammed packed, and seating areas were limited. I found them in the very, very back, with a large pole blocking the view. Not only that, but despite the venue stating regular-sized lawn chairs were prohibited,  some people had come after my family had set up shop, and placed their regular-sized lawn chairs in front of our blanket,  which also impeded our view.

Fortunately, I hadn’t missed Pentatonix, as the opening act, Echosmith, was still performing.  All I could do was make the best of the less than ideal situation, and enjoy the evening.

Some random guy came up to us, looking for four people to switch seats. Since there was five of us, we declined. I saw him walking around for a bit, but then he came back over. Turns out, he was the promoter. No lie, he said that we could have his dead-centre box seats, no strings attached! #upgraded

We quickly relocated to his seats (which even had a velvet rope entrance to it)  just as Pentatonix hit the stage. They put on a really good show, I can’t hate. They had the whole crowd (mainly tweens with their parents, and people in their early to mid twenties) eating out of the palms of their hands. Err, almost the whole crowd. At one point, Kevin in the group did an amazing beatboxing solo while playing the cello. B was confused, though, as to why he was being such a buzz kill. In his words, it reminded him of the feeling when you lose your dog, so you walk around sad with your head down (note: we’ve never had a dog).

Alas, time flew, and I had to bizounce before the show ended, to get a ride to our car (facepalm), so we could get home in decent time. Don’t fret, though, my pets. Afterwards,  K made sure to tell me that I only missed out on the best parts – some hip-hop themed beatboxing medleys which apparently were amazing (double facepalm).

And there you have it. Our first family concert. In theory, it was a good idea, but, man, Budweiser Stage was not the right venue at all for us. Like, I doubt I’ll ever take my kids to a concert there again, unless they are much older.  Despite that, Pentatonix were great, we lucked out on the box seats, and the kids had a good time, so it wasn’t a bad night overall.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go to Toronto now, and find somewhere to burn up the $18 on my parking app.

Later.

This Is Awesome! WWE Smackdown LIVE in Toronto!

 

 

Note: The good folks at WWE hooked me up with tickets to the show. Opinions and thoughts expressed are 100% mine.

There really is nothing like watching wrestling live, especially when it’s a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) show. Having been to a few cards in my life, I can honestly say that they put on a good show, and the events that transpire during them are always interesting, to say the least.

Such was the case of the most recent one that we went to, Smackdown Live, at the recently renamed Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. In a bit of a swerve, my guests for the night were B and one of his friends, who’s a hardcore fan. My perspective on the WWE obviously differs from theirs (mine probably leans more to the “smark” side), so I was curious to see what their reactions would be like.

B has gone to houseshows before, but not to a TV taping. The main differences are the lighting (much brighter) and the breaks in the action (much more frequent, due to commercials).  During the breaks, videos were shown, though, to keep the crowd into things. Not that the crowd needed much help staying involved. The atmosphere was very energetic and loud, which was contagious. It’s hard not to scream “Yes!” and point along with Daniel Bryan, when 15,000 or so people are doing the same thing!

Among my group, the boys were most excited to see the New Day (B), and Randy Orton and AJ Styles (his friend) in action. While the New Day started off the show, Orton and Styles were saved for the non-televised main event, which didn’t happen until after another show took place, 205 Live. In all honesty, if the kids hadn’t been looking forward to the main event (Orton and Samoa Joe versus AJ Styles and Jeff Hardy), I probably would have left after Smackdown finished, as I’m not that into 205 Live (I can only watch so much wrestling in a week). However, I’m glad that we stayed, as 205 Live was great. The boys thought Hideo Itami beating up a local enhancement talent was hilarious. While we all were initially meh about the Kalisto/Buddy Murphy match that followed, the two tore the roof off and had an incredible encounter! By the end, all three of us were chanting “This Is Awesome!” with everyone else there.

The main event also didn’t disappoint, as the four stars did all of their greatest hits (or signature and finishers moves, as my video game playing young guests called them). The good guys won, too, and celebrated with the fans for a long time after, to send the crowd home happy.

Speaking of that, by far the most popular wrestler that night…..was a bad guy. Becky Lynch had ‘turned heel’ a few weeks before, by turning on her best friend, Charlotte Flair. The problem (I think) is that Becky was pretty justified in being mad, in the minds of many of the WWE fans. So instead of hating her, people seem to be liking her more and rallying behind her. I don’t think this is what the WWE intended with this story. At the end of Smackdown, after Charlotte retained her championships in a match with Carmella, Becky ran out and attacked her. Normally this results in boos from the crowd. On this night, though, the place went bananas. The “pop” or reaction or whatever was huge, and the chants for Becky were deafening.  B and his friend were a bit confused by this, and I legit had trouble explaining why the person who is supposed to be hated had the arena going crazy for them. Like I said, it’s always an interesting time when you see a show live!

This was the apparent overwhelming sentiment.

Three more observations then I’ll wrap this up. 1) Our seats were behind former WWE referee Jimmy Korderas.  Really nice guy, and was cool to the steady stream of people who came up to him. 2) The merchandise available wasn’t that impressive. There was a lot of stuff for Raw superstars who weren’t even there. Also, t-shirts were $35, but they kept showing promos during breaks that said you could buy shirts online that night for $10. Needless to say, we didn’t buy any merchandise. 3) In terms of kid demographics, besides the New Day, Styles, and Orton, as mentioned, B and his buddy were most into Samoa Joe (so good at being bad that he’s hard not to cheer for, if that makes sense), Daniel Bryan, and R-Truth.

All in all, it was a phenomenal night. Two solid hours of Smackdown Live, followed by an entertaining 205 Live, and a crowd-pleasing main event.  The boys that I was with weren’t the only kids that I saw there who left with big smiles on their faces!

 

 

On The Set Of Bajillionaires And Why It Might Be Your Kids’ Soon To Be Favorite TV Show

It’s 11:30AM on a picturesque morning in July, and I find myself staring at Drake.

Wait. Let’s back track a bit.

Now, it goes without saying that there is a lot of content available to watch, and lots of ways to consume it. However, quantity doesn’t always equal quality. Some of the content kind of sucks, for real.  J, for example, bless her six year old heart, will start down the YouTube rabbit hole of toy unboxing videos, yet somehow end up watching inappropriately profane Barbie and Ken videos. As a parent, you have no choice but to monitor your childrens’ screens more carefully. And, because I like to go the extra mile for y’all sometimes, I decided do some first-hand monitoring. I went behind the scenes to check out some content being made that I hope will be top notch quality for our children.

I’m sitting in the lobby of DHX Studios, a production company in Toronto, awaiting to meet Joanna, DHX’s communication manager. The popular Degrassi TV franchise is filmed here. Pictures of its well-known alumni are displayed prominently throughout the building, including those of a certain Aubrey Graham in his pre-Drake days, which immediately catch my eye. DHX is clearly very proud of the success of Degrassi,  and I’m sure that they are hoping to repeat that success with its newest series aimed for kids, Bajillionaires.

Bajillionaires is a single camera comedy series about Max Graham (newcomer Ricardo Ortiz) and the start-up, invention-based company that he runs in his parents’ garage with his friends. It’s an intriguing premise, to the point that it compelled two networks, Universal Kids and Family Channel, to pick up the show already, for 20 episodes, starting to air later this year.  It’s also being filmed at DHX Studios, hence my Drake-gazing that July day.

Eventually, Joanna arrives. She has a very friendly, approachable demeanor, and interacts easily with everyone we encounter that day.  As we walk outside towards the set of Bajillionaires, we pass the school set of Degrassi.  Even though the show was on hiatus, Drake’s presence still looms large, as he had filmed a video there recently, for his song I’m Upset. We then come up on a road lined with houses and stores, where we are joined by Adrienne. She has the same kind of demeanor as Joanna, and is there that day to help her out.

Having never been on a scripted TV show set before, I was surprised to learn that even though the street looked real, it wasn’t. The houses and stores are all part of the set. The attention to detail is what makes it work, an aspect which goes unnoticed by the casual viewer, but can’t be stressed enough during the production process.

To wit, Joanna and Adrienne lead me down the street, and to a house with a garage, where filming is taking place. There’s a large number of people on site, mostly cast and crew (while not all were present, over 200 people are involved with the making of the show), along with a plethora of film equipment in use. I duck into the ‘video village’, an almost space station-like area, with TV monitors, computers and soundboards set up in it. The director calls for action on a scene. It only involves a close shot of a laptop being opened up, but three takes are needed, to get it just right.

There’s a break in the filming, so Joanna takes the time to introduce me to the main cast of kids who the show is based around. Sitting around a table inside of Munchies (a coffee shop in the Bajillionaires universe), there’s a playfulness and sense of camaraderie amongst the young leads. As the conversation touches on topics like flossing and Fortnite,  I feel as if I’ve come across a group of friends who are just hanging out. This isn’t a mall or somone’s basement, though; it’s a TV show with some significant, expensive stakes put into it. These kids are professional actors who can work a pretty demanding schedule.  The silliness that you’d probably expect among a group of youngsters isn’t apparent (well, mostly, anyway. Jadian Toros, who plays the Chief Financial Officer Zeke, is a quick-witted ball of energy who lightens the mood with his jokes and funny comments. Not surprisingly, he’s also the youngest member of the cast).  Questions posed are met with honest, thoughtful answers, which is refreshing.  I guess the best thing that I can say is that they carry themselves like stars; Ricardo in particular has a leading-man vibe to him.

There’s a sincere earnestness about the show which is contagious. When Mya Singh, who plays Kaylyn, the head of marketing, tells me that kids will find the characters relatable, I believe it. When her and Arista Arhin (who plays Alicia Windsor) explain the risk taking element of the show, and how it’s nice to see kid characters ‘going for it’, I dig that, too. There’s also an educational aspect, in terms of the designs and concepts of the inventions that get concocted. Joanna shows me one of them later, and it was pretty wild.  The components of a quality show are all apparent here. It really is just a matter of what the finished product ends up looking like,  I think.

Lingering in the background at all times are the cast members’ parents. This probably also partially explains the well-mannered politeness on display. Being underage on a set like this requires parental supervision in close proximity at all times.  Really, the role of a stage parent here is a huge commitment. Having to up and leave your life for weeks at a time, to watch long days of filming, can’t be easy.

One thing that does make the days more palatable, for the palate, is taking a break for lunch. On the way to the lunchroom, we pass the living room set for  the Graham family. Again, I’m drawn to the attention to details, like the family pictures on the walls, and the decor used, to add to the authenticness.  After much hype by Joanna and Adrienne, the food did not disappoint. I join them in partaking in a delicious spread of pastas, chicken, and salads, along with desserts.  The cast all sit together at a table, with their parents dutifully situated at tables nearby. I notice that a couple of the child actors are decked out in  ridiculously over-sized novelty shirts. These are to protect their outfits underneath from possible food stains (unrelated, but I wonder if A-listers like Brad Pitt rock these during meals, when they’re filming stuff).  The mood in the room is upbeat.   At one point, Mya and Arista jump up to lead us in a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday to Jadian.

After lunch, it’s back to work for everyone on set. Joanna takes me up to the wardrobe area. There’s a ton of clothes and props there, including ones from Degrassi. To the hardcore fans, no, I did not see Drake/Jimmy’s wheelchair.  Finally, it’s time for yours truly to bid adieu to the lights, cameras and action. As Joanna walks with me back towards the lobby, past the Degrassi set, past the photos of the famous alumni, I wonder if I’ve come across the next Degrassi-like success story. Bajillionaires sounds like it’s going to be a cool, high quality show. I know me and my fam are going to peep it now, when it’s on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dad’s Night Out – Toronto’s Festival Of Beer

(Disclaimer: I received complimentary media passes, to come and check out the event. All opinions expressed are my own).

Despite how the saying goes, you can have too much a good thing. Take, for example, Toronto’s Festival Of Beer (TFOB).

Now, in theory, a festival dedicated to all things brewed sounds pretty freakin’ glorious. And make no mistake about, the TFOB is pretty sweet, especially as an option for a dad/mom night out sans kids.  Taking place at Bandshell Park at Exhibition Place, this sprawling festival featured over 90 breweries setting up shop and offering over 400 beers. Not surprisingly, it also featured thousands of people looking to party.

Upon arrival, you’re given a mug, which is the most important piece of equipment that you’ll need for the duration of your stay, because the breweries will only serve you beer in it. You need to buy tokens, too (I went with 20 tokens for $20).  Depending on the brewery, one token usually got you half a pour; two tokens got you a full mug.  Some places required more tokens, though. And this is where the problem of having too much of a good thing starts. With so many options, ranging from the big names, to less popular craft brews, to even non malt-based drinks, coming up with a game plan if you want to sample as much as possible isn’t easy. Shoot, even if you assume just sticking to the two-token half pours is a good idea, since a premium priced product should be superior, this isn’t even true. One of those that I tried was decidedly mediocre, and left me wondering what the fuss was about. To each their own though, especially when it comes to hops.

Complicating things is that TFOB isn’t just about drinking. There was also a nice selection of food choices, to satisfy many appetites. Not only that, but the music was banging, as well. On the night that I attended, the headliner on the OLG Bandshell Stage was Ludacris! I kind of forgot how many hits that guy has, but this didn’t seem lost on the 11000 or so other people in attendance that night, who showed Luda a lot of love and created a dope atmosphere.

 

In addition, there was even non alcohol/food/music stuff to enjoy. I ended up lining up at an OLG truck for a while, to get my picture taken, and to receive a free prize (lottery tickets), for example. Fireside Cannabis also had a big area set up, where you could toast smores over a fire pit. So, of course I hung out there for a bit, toasting smores over a fire pit.

Basically, between the myriad of options of things to do, eat and drink, plus the fact that I staked out a spot in the middle of the crowd to watch Ludacris (negating my ability to go back and forth to grab drinks), I can honestly say that I left TFOB disappointed. Disappointed in a good way, though. It was a ton of fun, and I only wish that I indulged and took advantage more.  And really, for kid-free night out, what more could you possibly you want?

See you at next year’s fest!

 

 

 

Wings And Things – A Minor League Baseball Story

(Disclaimer: I received complimentary tickets from the Buffalo Bisons in exchange for writing a post about the game. Opinions expressed are all mine, as usual).

Recently, I found myself doing something that I never would have dreamed of – cheering on a team of chicken wings.

Let’s set the scene.  The date in question was Father’s Day.  I had decided to celebrate by doing two of my favorite things – hanging out with the fam, and taking in a baseball game.  As a Toronto area guy, the obvious option would have been to go see the Toronto Blue Jays. In all honesty, though, that option was a pretty big meh for me. I love the Jays, but it costs a pretty penny to go a game. Which I get, don’t get it twisted. Big league product with the best players means you pay a premium to enjoy it. However, when you’re talking about an outing with a family of five, it ain’t a cheap afternoon. As well, the Jays just haven’t been all that good this year. I  really wasn’t feeling it, so I came up with a different idea – we’d go to Buffalo instead!

Buffalo is home to the Bisons, an AAA minor league team, who is a Blue Jays’ affiliate. While not major league quality, it’s not that far off, plus there are a bunch of recognizable names on the roster.  They were playing that day against the Rochester Red Wings.  I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I really do like the experience of attending a minor league game. For one, it’s more affordable. Not just the tickets, but also the concessions, too. As well, the teams usually do more for the fans, to make things more enjoyable, For example, the Father’s Day game also happened to be ‘Logo Baseball Giveaway Day’, and you were allowed to play catch on the field afterwards. Between innings also had lots of freebies and giveways, too. The manager of the Red Wings even took the time to walk over and throw B a ball! Little stuff like that really does go a long way.

The Bisons play their games in Coca Coca Field. If you’ve never been to Buffalo, the downtown area is fairly nondescript, but smack dab in the heart of it is this beautiful stadium.  And really, it was night and day watching a game there, versus the Rogers Centre, where the Jays play. The atmosphere is just so much better in a ‘real’ ballpark, for lack of a better term.

Ok, now let’s talk about the wings. The Bisons and Red Wings decided to re-name themselves the Buffalo Wings and the Rochester Plates, respectively, for that weekend, both named after popular local food fares. Their logos and uniforms were rebranded, too, accordingly.  I gots love for Rochester, but Buffalo has more of a soft spot for me, from the Jays connection. And so, for one day only, I found myself sitting at a ball diamond, cheering on a team of chicken wings.

I even got to take a picture with a giant celery!

All in all, it was a pretty unique Father’s Day, and an awesome time at the park.

 

Tips For Attending Toronto’s Festival Of Beer

It’s party time, people. Toronto’s Festival of Beer presented by the Beer Store is this weekend! For those that don’t know, the festival takes place July 26-29 at Bandshell Park, Exhibition Place, featuring over 400 (!!!) beers from about 100 brewers. I went for the first time last year, and it was such a boozy, kid-free blast, that I’m going again this year (this time, though, as invited media). It’s almost sold out now, too. With that said, if you are planning on attending, lemme give you some quick pointers, so you don’t make the same rookie mistakes that I did.

IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT BEER

The festival also features some stellar musical acts, too, performing on the OLG Bandshell Stage! Last year, my buddy and I copped tickets super early (like January early) to save a few bucks. We picked them for Saturday, without realizing that each day would have different headlining performers. It turned out that Canadian rock legends Sloan were the main act that Saturday. While cool, the headliners on the Friday, Method Man and Redman, were more up my alley, musically, and I was kicking myself for selecting Saturday tickets. Oh well. Live and learn. Here’s this year’s lineup (I’ll be there Friday):

Thursday, July 26:

  • Broken Social Scene
  • The Rural Alberta Advantage
  • The Darcys

Friday, July 27

  • Ludacris

Saturday, July 28

  • Dwayne Gretzky

Sunday, July 29

  • Finger Eleven
  • I Mother Earth

 

BRING CASH

It’s all about tokens at the festival, as that’s the currency. You buy them at booths (credit cards are accepted there), or from people are walking around selling them.  There were ATMs on site, but these usually had lineups at them. So, to maximize your drinking time (and save on the ATM fees), be sure to bring money, because it’s easier.

THEM MUG SHOTS, THOUGH

With your ticket comes a little commemorative mug, which you use to get your drank on. In general, one token costs a buck, which should get you about half a mug’s worth of beer. Some places will charge more for a pour, though, so keep an eye out for each place’s rates.

EAT, SUCKA

I pity the fool (word to Mr. T) that tries to booze it up on an empty stomach. While you can’t bring outside food, the festival is promoting its “culinary experience” this year. Some of Toronto’s most popular restaurants will be there, to happily take your money, so you can get your grub on, including La Palma, Campagnolo, Fidel Gastro’s, Tiny Tom Donuts, Queen Margherita Pizza, Smoke’s Poutinerie, South St. Burger, Jerk Brothers, Ted’s World Famous BBQ, Ted’s Beer Dogs, Heirloom Toronto, ONO Poké Bar, Melt Grilled Cheese, Ontario Corn Roasters, Oyster Boy, Hot Bunzz Street Cuizine, and Brando’s Fried Chicken.

ENJOY SOME NON-ALCOHOLIC, FREE REFRESHING H20

You can’t bring your own water, but luckily, a lot places had cold bottled water available. Be sure to take advantage.  Even better, you don’t have to sing like Justin Bieber on a Major Lazer track to get it for free!

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE BEST SERVED COLD

I totally screwed up that cliche, but you get the idea. Like I said, the festival is sold out, so there’s going to be a lot of people. Last year, we went pretty early on the Saturday, and, while the line to get in moved decently enough…..it was still a really long line. I can only imagine what is was like later in the day. So chill, Bill.  Expect lines for everything, but try to make the best of it. We’re all in the same boat.

SLOW YOUR ROLL, HOMEY

I know, I know. The natural inclination, as soon as you enter the festival, is to blow all your tokens at the first few booths you see. And to that I say, slow down, son.  Pace yourself.  You paid good money for your ticket, so there’s no need to get escorted out by the cops for being a drunken idiot an hour after you get there. The festival covers a lot of area. Take your time and explore. You never know what might find, that will tickle your fancy.

Have fun and be merry this weekend. Cheers!

 

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