Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gary, Indiana 5/30


Ok, so my Midwest on $25 trip sort of petered out at the end.  I was supposed to go to Cincinnati last week and I'm supposed to be in Des Moines as we speak.  Why am I writing about Gary?  Well, unfortunately last minute work things came up and I had to let go of my tickets.  But still, I visited 8 cities for less than $25, that's pretty good right.  I went...

Kansas City
Iowa City
St. Louis

Ok, Gary, Indiana.  I came here for two reasons: Michael Jackson's home, and the song from Music Man.  You should do this and then get the hell out: there's nothing to do in Gary.  It's like Detroit junior. It was Murder Capital of the US a few years back, and it deserves the title.   All these facts might incite you to come to Gary, but trust me, there is nothing else to see.  The architecture is crumbling from decades past: particularly the 50's and 60's.  However, if you do go to Gary, check out Indiana Dunes at least.  Only twenty minutes away and quite nice by Indiana standards.
Boyhood home of superstar Michael Jackson

Go ahead, they're out of business anyway

Well, this is it

You have a car?  GET OUT OF GARY!

About stand-up.  There is no comedy club in Gary.  There is no laughter in Gary.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tale of Two Cities: STP/MIN 5/17-18

Hey all,

 Here's the city that I've been aching to go.  Does it live up to the hype?  Yes.  Unfortunately, since I'm at the mercy of $1 tickets, I only had a day and a half to split between two decent sized cities.  But I've been trained to make the best out of very little (hence, $1 trips).  Here we go.
Yes, you can ride it.  And yes, I did.

Famous diner in St. Paul.  It was in Mighty Ducks!

On the side of Wabasha caves.  Fun, huh?

The Landmark in St. Paul

Minneapolis is the bigger (yet younger) brother of the Twin Cities.  It's very modern and filled with great art and interesting neighborhoods.  You must check out the Walker Art Center, home to the famous Spoonbridge and Cherry, the Walker library, Nicolet Mall, Hennepin Ave, and any lake you can find.  Lord knows there's 10,000 of 'em!  Yuck yuck!  Minneapolis is notoriously cold in the wintertime, so much of the buildings downtown are connected by a skyway, these 2nd story lanes connect buildings so you can walk everywhere downtown in the wintertime and never have to step outside.  Genius!  They also have a greenway: a biking network that avoids downtown traffic.  Ingenious.  Minneapolis in the summertime is a treat: great weather, festivals, and beautiful scenery.
Go ahead, figure that shit out.

Dinner party.  Just me and some ladies.

Reunion: I forgot my towel in KC, Nicole brought it back.

The chickens: the black one is named Angela Lansbury.

St. Paul is the older of the two and the capitol is located here.  Not as much to see/do, yet only 30 minutes from Minneapolis so why not?  Check out Wabasha street caves: apparently they have a cave system that has been hollowed out to serve as a restaurant, disco, and now gangster tours.  Unfortunately, the caves weren't open when I went, so I just climbed the mountainside of the cave for excitement.  Looking back, it was pretty dangerous and I don't suggest it to anyone (who's a wimp).  However, neighboring St. Paul we have Bloomington: home to the Mall of America.  I don't care what anyone thinks, I loved this place: roller coasters, unlimited stores, comedy club, and no tax on clothes/shoes.  Definately worth going to if your in either city.  There is a light rail that takes you right there, and if you're crafty, you don't even have to pay.

My company:  I actually stayed with a couchsurfing girl who check into my hostel in Chicago a few months ago.  She had 5 roommates (10 counting the chickens) and she hosted a dinner party where I actually brought a guest too: the same girl I couchsurfed with in Kansas City.  The cycle is complete.

Lastly, (sorry this is long), the comedy scene.  Up and thriving (Mitch Hedberg was a native).  Unfortunately, I just happened to be in Minneapolis the wrong day, and the only open mic I could find was in Lilydale.  It was a rough crowd, but here's the best I got.

Just two more cities to go.  See you soon!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Madison on a bicycle built for two 5/11-13

This was on my bucket list.  Mission accomplished.
What's new?  This week, (7th city, FYI) I went to Madison, WI: the capitol and largest city Wisconsin has to offer.  The twist is I'm not alone: the missus has come along.  I wanted her to come along in Lafayette, but the chains of occupation brought her down.  The Couchsurfing hosts we had were a blast: both doctors; delivering babies at midnight, hubbie played the banjo too, and they showed me how to finish off the Rubik's Cube I've been working on for 3 months.  They also had a tandem bike, unicycle (which I can ride), two turtles, and my lady and I had our own guest room.  Could you really ask for more?

View of Capitol Hill, tailored after DC.

Paul's Bar.  Yes that's a tree.

Beer-Battered Cheese Curds.  If this doesn't say Wisconsin...

Anyway about Madison.  Cute, very cute.  Go there and you'll know what I mean.  Again a college-oriented city (University of Madison-Wisconsin) and the city is very much aimed toward that demographic: bars, sports, shops, art, etc.  Madison is a bit of a rarity because the city is located on an isthmus, which means it is situated between two large lakes.  You are never too far from nature here; you can be in rush hour traffic, say screw it, and take your canoe instead.  What to do and see:  The Capitol (poor man's Washington, DC) take a tour and learn how politics "work".  Modest yet impressive art museums the Chazen and MoMA, and the historical museum of Madison (featured exhibit Odd Wisconsin, very cool).  And you know what's best about all these?   THEY ARE FREE!

The stand-up scene.  The club here is called the Comedy Club on State.  (By the way, what's nice about State Street is that no commercial vehicles are allowed.)  It's a great room and luckily my girlfriend and I both got to perform, and no, we did not do a duo act (though, in retrospect, it might have worked well.)  I got 4 minutes and I gotta say, this might have been the best crowd yet.  Thanks Madison for believing in me!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Meet Me in St. Louis 5/3-5/5

Whoa boy!

I loved St. Louis. Finally back to a big city (with a comedy club) where I had just enough time to get my fill (Phil) of all the attractions.  St. Louis has a lot to offer: I'm going to go ahead and say it's the biggest city in the Midwest with the exception of Chicago.  In fact, be careful when mentioning you are from Chicago: the locals can pretty testy with Chicagoans: just go ahead and say you're a Sox fan anyway and you agree that St. Louis was cream of the crop until Chicago stole all the glory.          

Forest park, where the 1904 World's fair was held.

70's space pod to the Arch.

The belly of Budweiser.

Masha, my wonderful CS host.

Toasted or "T" rav's.

These to do: the Gateway Arch.  Just get it over with so your friends won't be disappointed when they ask why you didn't go.  It's quite fun and the ride up is a treat.  Also, the Anheuser-Busch Brewery is worth the tour.  Frankly, that's because it was free and you get two free beers at the end (three if you're crafty like yours truly).  Take that buzz and get some toasted Ravoli, and please please please go to the City Museum.  It's an adult playground, and to encourage this notion, Friday and Saturday nights are open for adults until 1am.  They serve beer and kill all the lights; you need a flashlight to navigate.  Needless to say, singles line the door for this event.
Cave of wonders. City Museum

Hamster Wheel.  Jump In!

This is a real pencil, #2.

The big comedy club is called Funny Bone, they have a great reputation and they bring in some major names.   I was lucky enough just to perform the open mic:  there were 40 comics competing for 15 slots.  Being a first timer from Chicago combined with shear luck got me in the #5 slot, a good place to be.  Needless to say, their was a healthy crowd and it was wonderful to perform in a real club again.

Lucky me.  I walked into a famous bar there called Blueberry Hill.  Almost immediately I was asked by two girls:
Them: "Are you going to the Social Distortion tonight?"
Me: "Umm...no."
Them: "Do you want to?  We have two extra tickets.  They're free."
Me: "Yes!"
Blueberry Hill.  A celebrity mecca in Del Mar loop.

Am I any luckier?  $2 round trip bus, free accommodation, and free Social Distortion concert.  Coming up: Madison (with the missus) Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and Des Moines.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

La la Lafayette 4/27-28

Ok if you don't know, (I didn't) Lafayette is a city in Indiana that hosts Purdue: one of the Big Ten schools.  Again we are back to a college town, but not necessarily: Lafayette is downtown and West Lafayette (a seperate city) is Purdue.  Pure and simple.  Let's get down to business.

Lafayette is small and unexciting.  What can you expect?  I only spent 24 hours there and got my fill.  The most fun part was the travel: I arrived on the Greyhound Express service (see 1st post for info) and I was THE ONLY PASSENGER ON THE BUS.  I paid $1.  The driver had to pay a toll to Lafayette that was more expensive than the fare.  It blows my mind wondering about how much money Greyhound must have lost at my expense.  Anyway, check out this leather-bound coach all to me.  I could've gotten naked.
By the way, on the way back, I rode solo as well.
So what's to do in Lafayette?  McCord's candie shop.  Very olde-timey.  Visit the courthouse, (which remains the tallest structure in Lafayette), Arnie's, (for Indiana-style pizza, yes there is such a thing) go across the bridge of the Wabash River to West Lafayette,  check out Purdue and this excellent Irish bar/restaurant called Nine Irish Brother's, voted best Guinness pour in the US two years solid.  Check it out.

I really can't think of a caption more clever than this.
Lafayette was a chance to get out of Chicago and relax.  It wasn't part of the original trip, and first I booked another trip to Kansas City, I didn't believe I'd get to go the first time.  So I bought a new ticket to Lafayette, yikes $2 excess, and gave away a free trip to Kansas City, (which no one took up) and couchsurfed with a lovely young couple: David and Anita.  They were wonderful hosts and without them, Lafayette would be "meh"

Last thing: no comedy club in Lafayette.  I went to an open mic at the Lafayette theater and they wouldn't let me perform: just music.  And I didn't bring the banjo.  I ended up giving a private show for my hosts and their friends at their place.  This was the first city I didn't perform in.  Oh well, here's a joke:

In Budapest I saw grafitti on a famous monument.  Mostly band names.  Someone tagged Metallica, another Led Zeppelin, and someone wrote "Early Bon Jovi."  They wanted to specify the era they liked.  None of that "It's my life" bullcrap.  Might as well write, "Def Leppard: with two arms."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Meh"-mphis 4/19-21: The South on $80

Ok Memphis, you win.  I had a hell of a time getting to you: my Megabus engine failed in Effingham, IL and we were stranded 3 hours before the driver had the bright idea to call a mechanic.  Finally back on the road and we get hit with an epic thunderstorm, plus traffic delays because of 3 overturned semi's.  My 10 hour ride turned into 14 hours.  When I finally arrived to you it was 1am and I don't know you too well, Memphis, but I could tell I wasn't in your safest part.  So I got a cab ride, which was $10 AKA 10 times the amount of my bus ticket.  But hey, can I complain?  I got to Memphis for a buck.

You guys know I'm frugal.  Maybe Memphis didn't.  Every museum costs big bucks.  Civil Rights Museum $13, Cotton Museum $9, Graceland $31-70, and Mud Island $12.

This includes a monorail ride, but honestly, save yourself the money, just walk across the bridge and you get in for free.  Mud Island has a 1/2 mile to scale model of the Mississippi River,  which is kind of cool, but not worth $12.
One more disappointment.  Silky O'Sullivans, this bar has mountain goats which drink beer (your beer if you share) and climb a tower: drunk.  Awesome right?  Not since 2 years ago: PETA got wind of it and made them stop.  Thanks PETA!

At least they have trolleys.  The oldest I've ever seen.  Honestly, the fare was a fur pelt.
But I gotta say the BBQ was amazing.  I asked the manager of Blues City, (the supposed best in the world)

Me:  So you have good BBQ eh?  I just came from Oklahoma Joe's in Kansas City and they had the best Pulled Pork sandwich I've ever had.
Manager: (speaking into voicebox) ummmm, Oklahoma Joe's ain't got shit.

Ok, maybe they didn't.  Autotune was right.  The best slab of ribs ever.

Where did I stay in Memphis?  Here's a story for you.  A hippie co-op with at least 10 people coming in and out. I never figured out who was a resident.  Did I mention I was there  April 20th?  I swear I didn't plan this: Couchsufing in a hippie co-op on 4/20.  I'm getting a contact high just writing about it.  Have no fear readers, I did not get high, but super drunk. Drunk enough to mistake my bus for a later time and I ended up missing my bus.  That's right, I missed my 11:15pm, (which I could've sworn was 11:55pm), now I'm stuck downtown Memphis in the middle of the night, again.  Luckily, my girlfriend called and guided me to a solution: I had to get back home, and soon.  I had a film to do in the morning, plus work.  I ended up catching a Greyhound at 12:30am which would bring me back to Chicago's arms at 10:30am.  Oh yeah, it costs $80.  80 times the amount of my original ticket.  I made an $80 mistake.  It's my Midwest on $25 compromised? No, if you're not an idiot like me, you can still travel cheap.  It could be done, but for heaven's sake, remember to catch your bus!
They have a pyramid!
So there is no comedy club in Memphis.  I know, right?  So, the hippies actually were throwing a party on 4/20 and had some bands come over.  I was itching to perform and my host suggested I could do a couple minutes in between band set-up.  Bring it on!

Ok before I go, Memphis had some good things to mention: the blues scene, Beale Street, Elvis Presley, the Peabody ducks, and very friendly people.  It was a departure for me, this isn't the Midwest anymore, welcome to the South!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Iowa City Party Party Fun Time! 4/12-14

Hey gang,

Thanks for sticking with me.  Week 3, we are going to Iowa City: a mere 4 1/2 hours from Chicago.  Iowa City is a college town: that's it.  If you miss the whole college experience, you're eternal black hole of nostalgia will be filled in only two days in Iowa City.  Of course it was very affordable: $1 cover to the hottest spot in town to get that $1 draft beer.  I'm down!  Check out the Ped Mall, Capital Building, and Hamburg Inn. 

Iowa City served as the capitol to Iowa back in 1857.  Now it's the backdrop for cliche college photos.

Mimi, my excellent Couchsurf host in Iowa City.
I did perform in Iowa City as well. 3 for 3 I am doing good.  While there is no actual comedy club in Iowa City, (it's overshadowed by it's big brother 20 miles north, Cedar Rapids), an established bar hosts an open mic every other Wednesday.  Just my luck.

Note:  The Ped (pedestrian) Mall is the main strip in Iowa City.

That's all for now.  Tuesday brings me ten hours away to Memphis.  (with a banjo on my knee)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Up to Date in Kansas City 4/5-7


Made in to Kansas City after a grueling 10 and a half hour bus ride.  I brought vodka in a flask and sleeping pills, needless to say, I didn't wake up until I saw Kansas.  However, still, it's only been $1 each way.  I couchsurfed with a couple of great guys who had a house, yes, a house, minutes away from the Kansas/Missouri border.  For those of you who don't know, no, it's not two different cities: Kansas City is very spread out; half in Missouri, half in Kansas. 
Some highlights: Oklahoma Joe's.  Kansas City is known for it's BBQ, and this is the best BBQ in the world.  Don't take my word, take Anthony Bourdain's.  13 Places to Eat Before You Die .  Also, if you're into lists, check out Flying Saucer, 125 Places to Have a Beer Before You Die.  Last fun fact, Kansas City has more fountains than any other city in the world, with the exception of Rome. 

Since I'm Catholic, this also was a must (free entrance to Nelson-Atkins Musuem)

What you're looking at is the pointer finger of John the Baptist: who was Jesus' cousin.

Lastly, I did of course perform comedy.  Kansas City is not really a great town for comedy: you have two clubs, the constant chain Improv, and Stanford and Sons: the longest running family run comedy club in American history,(with exception of the Shore's out in LA).  Here's a quick highlight.

Well, that just about wraps it up.  If you're just joining me, I work a steady 40 hour job, plus I do voiceover work (which I can do on the road).  This is trip 2 of my epic Midwest on $25 tour.  I am travelling to Midwest cities once a week and not spending more than $1 on each bus ride.  I also am couchsurfing, which means I do not pay for accomodation.  Where does my money go?  Believe me I'm not having bread and water for dinner.  All the money I would be spending on board and travel is used for beer

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Complain when needed: Refund for Indy

How did I forget to mention?  My Megabus to Indy arrived an hour late.  I wanted justice.  Here's an email I sent Megabus with their response.

Dear Megabus,

I unfortunately have to write about a negative experience I had.  Tuesday afternoon, the megabus from Chicago to Indianapolis was due at 1:30pm.  However, no bus arrived until 2:30pm, one hour late.  I had a special appointment which I unfortunately had to miss because we arrived so late.  Not only that, but there is no way to check the status of the bus, it could arrive in 2 minutes or 2 hours, it's anyone's guess.  I love megabus but I wonder if my money is being well spent.  I do have future trips booked on megabus and I am nervous that these one hour delays may appear again.  Anyway I am sorry I chose Megabus to Indy (Greyhound arrives on time) and I hope I/you can do something to insure punctuality in the future.

Their response:

Thank you for your inquiry we apologize for the inconvenience, and we have process your refund. you should see it back on your card with-in five to seven days.

Thank you for your patience.
Megabus.Com Team

I am not shitting you.  They refunded me a $1.50.  Looks like I'm making my money back already. 

Indianapolis 3/29-30

Being from Chicago, Indy isn't seen as a big, exotic, foreign place.  Yet I regret to say that I have never actually visited.  Before you judge a city, you really have to go there to experience it for yourself.  I only gave myself one night in Indy, and to tell the truth, I would've spent one more.  I performed at Cracker's Comedy Club in Broad Ripple (a lively, hip area north of downtown Indy) and couchsurfed with a wonderful girl called Denver. 

About Indy.  It's great.  Cheap beer ($2 pints), it's clean, nice people, great monuments, and doesn't have a chip on it's shoulder like Chicago.  Most everything downtown is accesible by walking, however if you want to get to Broad Ripple, (college-aged part of town), it's a good 4-5 miles north of downtown.  You must check out the soldiers and sailors monument, World War Monument, Cracker's Comedy Club, Easley winery (free tours!), and the Canal Park, which is great for a jog. 

Here's a clip from my set at Cracker's: it's Indy-centric.

Also, some lovely Indy pictures to follow.


First let me say that I am a stand-up comic.  I do not own a car, but I've always wanted to know what it's like to be a road comic.  So, whenever I get to a new city, I hit up their biggest comedy clubs' open mic and let her rip.  Advantages I have are that I am an out of towner, so I usually get a preference over locals, I play a banjo, and Chicago carries some weight.  So, without further ado, the trip:

All leaving from Chicago:
Indianapolis 3/29-30      $2

Kansas City 4/5-7          $2

Iowa City 4/12-14         $2

Memphis 4/19-21           $2

Kansas City 4/26-28       $2   (optional: may go to Columbia, MO instead)

St. Louis 5/3-5               $2

Madison 5/10-12            $2

Minneapolis 5/17-19       $2

Cincinnati 5/24-25          $2

Des Moines 5/31-6/2      $2

So far we are at $20 even, plus the .50 cent reservation fee.  The trick is to book the trips all at once, so you don't pay multiple reservation fees.  Now at this point, I'm satisfied.  I am going on my off days at work (won't miss any work, mind you) I am in the prime spot for open mics, and if I miss a trip due to an emergency, hell, I'm only out $2.  However, Megabus inticed me by adding new routes to Pittsburgh, so here goes!  WARNING: This may bring your budget up, possibly to $30.

Champaign 7/2-3            $2

Detroit 7/15-17               $2

Ann Arbor 7/22-24         $2

Milwaukee 8/20-21         $2

Cleveland 8/26-29           $2

Pittsburgh 8/27-28           $2  (Note:Going from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, then back through Clevand to Chi)

OK.  Now we are up to $32.  Hate to mislead you guys.  However, look at it this way.  Book all your trips, and if you can't make one, sell your ticket for $25 and you'll probably make a profit.

First Post: The Low Down: How to get cheap bus tickets

Hey everyone,

First of all, thanks for checking out this blog.  Here's the jist of it, you can tour the Midwest USA for only $25.  I'm counting travel and board, the rest is up to you.  How am I doing it?  Megabus, Greyhound Express, and Couchsurfing.  Let's begin.

Megabus is owned by Coach USA, who wanted to rival Greyhound low fares and they introduced Megabus, a discount bus line (originated in Chicago) to achieve exactly that.  How it works: Megabus offers the first 10 seats of every trip for only $1 (plus .50 cent reservation fee), so if you're quick, and you book in advance (usually 3-4 weeks early helps) you can buy these cheap seats.  Megabus offers power outlets, free wi-fi, and never oversells seats.  Cons: Can arrive late (with no way to check status of bus), no Megabus station (yes you may wait outside in the snow), and limited travel routes.


Greyhound noticed Megabus stealing their sales so they recently introduced Greyhound Express: offers cheap seats (some for $1, how about that?) to limited locations in the Midwest.  Due to previous negative experiences with Greyhound: lost baggage, horrible customer service, bus failure, oversold bus seats, I tried to avoid booking trips with them.  However, Greyhound travels further and more frequently, has a physical location, reputable (?) name, and usually quite punctual.


Last option is rideshare:  look on Craigslist and you will find this under community.  It's basically organized hitchhiking.  Someone will post: "Hey driving to Detroit tomorrow, anyone want to join me and split gas?"  I haven't explored this option because something tells me I'll spend more than $1 on gas, hence comprising my trip, however, if you're in a bind, this might save you're life.  Cons: It's Craigslist (not the most reliable), might spend more for gas, could be stuck with a weirdo.


Ok, we made it past travel, now board.  There is a wonderful website called couchsurfing.com.  You simply sleep on strangers couches in different parts of the world.  It works almost like a dating site: you make a profile, and then look for a place you want to go, find people there who wouldn't mind having to crash their couch for a few day (free, of course), and then write them a message.  They should respond promptly with a yes or no.  If no, move on to the next couchsurfer to host you.  So, I got places to visit: one dollar fares and free board, what's the itinerary?


Next post,

Phil Biedron