Saturday, June 18, 2005

Ray's Place: Another One Tank(ed) Trip

**Action Id News Alert! The Cleveland Indians have just swept the Arizona Diamondbacks, winning their 9th game in a row. Somebody go find Eddie Murray and talk him OFF THE LEDGE... (Action Id News: "Honest. Fair. Out of clean underwear!")**

I made the executive decision that Saturday was going to be a day of rest. Even though there was a lot going on this weekend, I was thoroughly spent. I rewarded myself with some Blue Moon Belgian Ale - after all, I earned it for my "Cleveland coverage" ...because "putting Ziggy up on a pedestal" all week is thirsty work!

The day started out innocently - and uneventful - enough. I was busy doing spring cleaning (uh, in mid-June) in my modest townhome apartment. Tiger Woods playing in The U.S. Open was on the TV. The Foo Fighters latest - In Your Honor - was playing at an above-modest tone. I had my fave group - The Fighters of Foo - playing over the stench of local radio as to not stumble upon another tiresome "American Idol" update (even though the season finale ended approximately 35 days ago - I'm sure the local stations would still be swooning over their 24/7 coverage of some adorable slack-jawed ragamuffin with the voice of a nightengale.) But, hey, I'm probably just jealous about their exposure and talent - and. um, the utter lack of mine.

And I was enjoying several slices of Rascal House pizza secured from the downtown location - after having to fight off Cleveland panhandlers (either down-on-their luck hobos, or liberal arts graduates from Cleveland State, I'll never be sure) in the process. Downtown Rascal House pizza is worth the trip because the outlet stores always seem to botch the original Wonka secret recipe. Ooops, should I have not said that? Will my advertisers pull their endorsements in a heated fit of rage??? Oh, wait, that's right - I have no sponsors!

It was then and there I noticed a startling development: My autographed Ben Broussard ball was tilted slightly off-kilter on the top-shelf of my display case, exposing the "Ben" and "B-r-o-u" - but at just the wrong angle, the "s-a-r-d" was eclipsed behind my Jango Fett action figure and that simply would never do. So I began the slow climb up the creaky step-ladder to fix this problem that would be ignored by lesser men...

And that's when IT happened: Either a cosmic twist of fate or just a convenient story-arc to appease all the M.A.D.D. mothers out there, the ladder gave way as I stretched just a wee-bit too far and I came tumbling down like a proverbial house of cards. That last thing I remember before blacking out was the bottle of Blue Moon clunking me on the McCranium...

The Parallax Pub at The Crossroads of the Universe?

Whether it was playing on a nearby jukebox - or just in my head - the soothing sounds of "Africa" by Toto washes over me like a wave washing up dead carp onto the scenic shores of Lake Erie...

Upon "awakening" I find myself in a gazebo aligned along a cobble-stoned street. The bricks of this road ain't yellow and there's certainly no Elton John theme song of the same name playing in the background, so it's safe to assume I'm not in Kansas anymore. Although I'm obviously "Lost" there seems to be no signs of wreckage from Oceanic Flight 815, no scattered bodies of emotionally-scarred survivors, no polar bears, nor rampaging island monsters invisible to the untrained eye and the such. And as I stand onto my own two still-shaky feet, it is apparent this eerily quiet downtown street - although reminiscent of the show "Ed" - is quite Stuckeybowl-free.

So, guys, where AM I?

The sign-post up ahead reads "Franklin Avenue" but the overall aura of the area shouts: "No place you've ever been before, sailor!" As I hazily stumble across the crimson-bricked road, I come upon a house - no, wait, a hotel located in the center of the street. A hotel turned haven - a pub where cold brew is pouring - named: "Ray's Place."

As I swing open the massive front door with the remaining energy I have left, I enter a small wooden "holding area" that resembles some kind of ancient air lock on a spaceshift. Ahead of me are two large wooden doors worn with history and ravished by time, with only two small glass windows - possibly serving as windows into another dimension. Taking a deep browth, I swing open one of the doors, accepting the fact that if The Black Monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey" is awaiting me on the other side, I'm pretty much screwed.

But this Place called "Ray's" is anything but frightening. As far as hotels turned sports bars go, it's more warm and inviting (hey, that rhymed - somebody buy me a beer!). The patrons are an eclectic mix of "townies" and college kids resembling nothing of the clientele at the Star Wars cantina.

I hastily make my way down a side hallway past a cigarette machine where I'm sure - if moved - lies a secret portal into the land of Narnia. Adorned along the walls are newspaper clippings of various "moments" in Ray's Place history like snipets and tears in the space-time continuum. I trace my finger along them - carefully reading each one - like I'm Indiana Jones translating hieroglyphics while searching for the lost ark.

"You know, W.C. Fields once stayed here years ago," a voice from a phantom-like-figure named "John Haymaker" informs me. "Back when this was The Old Central Hotel and Fields was down on his luck and just passing through town."

"Kind of like the celebrity crossroads of the universe, huh?" I inquire, spinning around, only to find this Haymaker fellow has vanished into thin air.

Startled by this stunning turn-of-events, I conveniently decide I need a drink to calm my frazzled nerves. I quickly move my carcass into the main dining room area, without a compass to find my "true north," using only my wits - and, uh, the giant, stuffed moosehead with beer can earrings (and matching black squirrel) hanging over the bar - as my only guide.

As I slide onto the safety of my barstool, I notice a bumper sticker stating "All talk, more action" pasted on one of the barely post-civil war beer coolers. All "Trading Spaces" knowledge aside, I'm assuming it fits in nicely with the authentic Woolworth's cash register and the jar on the counter that proclaims: ".75 cent nuts - ask a server."

As I nervously tap on the bar in anticipation of my mug of cold, liquid courage, I overhear one of the bartenders named Chris telling patrons about his adventures as a back-up musician with Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band many moons ago: "I toured with Bruce back in the day. But after awhile, you see one two many hotel rooms, and enough is enough. I wanted to spend more time with my family."

As I patiently wait for a break in this story, to quiz this E. Streeter from another era, a second bartender named "Spence" asks me for my drink order. Journalistic investigations will have to wait, I decide, as the love of a good beer becomes my top priority and NEVER takes a back seat to any story, big or small.

With more than 150 bottled beers available, and over forty (count 'em, FORTY!) beers on tap, I find myself salivating like Homer Simpson on holiday. Call it karma, Kramer, but after ordering a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale and a double Atomic Cheeseburger with vinegar-soaked fries - I find I am finally as one with the universe.

While I wait, one of the "regulars" takes a seat next to me at the bar. After giving him a poke to make sure he's real, I find to his annoyance, that he is indeed not a spook - just a lunch patron named Jim in need of a spirit. Jim, who has spent equal time working and studying in this Area 51 of fun, knows the local lore of Ray's Place as well as anyone. "Drew Carey has come in on several occassions over the years," he enlightens me. "It's not uncommon for Drew to throw his credit card down on the bar and buy the rounds for everybody the whole night."

Huh, another cosmic connection, I muse. As I look around this mystical house of hops, a wave of sudden realization washes over me: When I die, would it be too much to ask to bury me under the floorboards here at Ray's...?

"How's everything?" a young lady asks from behind the bar. "The burger good?"

"It's great," I respond like a ravenous wolverine. "And this Bigfoot Ale is damn tasty!"

And then, the kind-hearted barmaid moved in for the kill: "If you want, you can take some home with you. We can put it in a brown paper bag."

And then, in a "Field of Dreams" fashion, I ask: "Is this heaven...?"

"No," the server from Ray's Place responds with a likeable laugh. "It's Kent, Ohio."

** The 12th Annual Ray's/Loft Golf Outing**
When: Sunday, July 31st (12:00 p.m. tee time)
Where: Oak Nnolls EAST Golf Course
What: Four-person scramble (You must sign up as a complete foursome).
Cost: $300/foursome ($75.00/person)
Includes: 18 holes of golf/a cart/FREE BEER/lunch/MORE FREE BEER/A steak dinner/prizes
CALL Ray's Place at (330) 673-2233 for more information.


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