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On Monday I’m hopping in my Mazdaspeed Protege, pointing west, and making an incredible journey to San Francisco via Route 66. AAA couldn’t provide a continuous map via digiweb, so my boo and I are going old school and finding tee pee motels, giant blue whales of the open plains, and the real Cadillac Ranch using some type of paper guide that folds in the most disgusting fashion. During this dangerous trip we’ll need some good thinking music and I couldn’t think of a better album to copilot than Yo La Tengo’s Fakebook. Its pining vocals and floating guitars scream open roads and unreconciled Midwestern emotion.

See, I’m leaving Cincinnati for good. I’ve lived here for 20 years and have a lot of stored-up memories. Over the four or five days we’ll spend driving across this great country my mind will roll the footage of a life spent cradled in the Midwest’s overly-warm bosom. I’m hoping that Fakebook will enhance the picture clarity and contrast of these toasty times, both good and bad, as they flicker across my Brain-O-Vision.

I can’t afford LCD.

Here’s a list of the 15 things, in no particular order, that I’ll be missing most from in and around the Queen City.

1. Penn Station

Yes, Penn Station is an East Coast Sub shop founded in Cincinnati. And yes, my favorite sub is a Philly Cheesesteak. But there’s something about Penn Station that’s just SO freakin’ good. I’ll take mushrooms, onions, banana peppers, mayo AND pizza sauce over the real deal cheese whiz sammich any day.

*Make sure you get it wrapped up to go so the meaty juices fully saturate the criminally addictive french bread. MMMM.

2. Contemporary Arts Center

The CAC is the coolest 6 floors I’ll ever climb.  It plays host to internationally-acclaimed contemporary art in a city known for little more than a now-forgotten show called WKRP In Cincinnati. The curators also change the exhibits in a timely pace so the work never gets old. AND THE BUILDING IS JUST SO FUCKING COOL.

*The top floor is all interactive art. It’s meant for kids but hey, I’m a grown-ass man and no 3rd-grader is going to remove me from the rocking trailer against my will.

1st Floor at the CAC

CAC, on the corner of 6th and Walnut

3. Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal

One of the best Art Deco buildings in the entire nation. It was originally a train station built in the 30s and almost demolished during the 70s but now plays host to three attractions: the Cincinnati History Museum with its very cool scale model of WWII-era Cincy, the Museum of Natural History has a spooky man-made cave with a strange, musty smell I’ll never forget, and the OMNIMAX Theater uses an encapsulating dome screen to keep moviegoers on the verge of puking.

*Check it out on a Saturday and get the free Rotunda Tour. This will take you through the President’s Office, which is a circular Art Deco dream of inlaid wood and stainless steel.

The Rotunda: The world’s largest half dome filled with absolutely incredible mosaics of the American Dream.

I want to live in this room.

4. Cyclones Hockey Games

Cincinnati has two major league sports teams, but the most exciting sporting organization is a Minor League Hockey Team. The Cyclones have won the ECHL’s Kelly Cup two out of the three past seasons, which also makes them the most successful professional sports team in Cincinnati. The games and the fans are always raucous. If you’re lucky, like I once was, you’ll get picked to play musical chairs out on the ice between periods.

*Cyclones games are always the most lively on Big Beer or Dollar Beer Nights. You can imagine why.

#1 Fan

5. The Southgate House

The best mansion-cum-music venue in Cincinnati is right across the river in Newport, Kentucky. The Southgate House has three stages: a big ballroom (which features the best sound system within 300 miles) complete with wraparound balcony, a large music parlour upstairs with all sorts of creepy paintings from knock-off old world masters, and Junie’s Lounge featuring open mic acts, local flavors and portraits of dead presidents. The whole place oozes character.

*The Southgate House is a great place during the summer to catch a drink because of its large porch, which rocks older country-western/folk music and affords patrons a limited view of Great American Ballpark.

Birthplace of the Thompson Submachine Gun, aka “Tommy Gun”

6. Lenhardt’s and Christy’s Goetta Grilled Cheese

Goetta is a Cincinnati delicacy that’s somewhat like breakfast sausage and all about preparation. I’ve tried so many times to recreate Christy’s Goetta Grilled Cheese at home but just can’t. Even the multiple variations I’ve tried at Goettafest don’t come close. You have to try Christy’s heavenly toasted treat at least once.

*Visit Christy’s in the summertime during the day to avoid a crowd and enjoy your Goetta Grilled Cheese with a cold Franziskaner Hefeweizen and a free round of bocceball on their outdoor biergarten. You can also enjoy their wood-slathered rathskeller (basement bar) in the winter.

Better than it looks.

7. Quatman Cafe

One of the most unassuming little joints you’ll ever visit has some the best burgers around. No fancy toppings, just a big slab of onion and thin slices of sweet pickles. Most times I’ve been there they’ve taken money off the bill at checkout for no reason other then they’re nice people. It’s the perfect example of what Midwestern dining should be: no nonsense deliciousness blended with honest-to-goodness hospitality.

*Don’t miss out on Hudepohl Beer on tap with frosty mugs.

Minus the can.

8. Cincinnati’s Surprisingly Good Vinyl Shops

Not one, not two, not three, but four good vinyl shops in Cincinnati. There are a few other small players as well. But be sure to check out Everybody’s Records, Shake-It Records, Moles CD & Record Exchange, and Another Part Of The Forest.

*You can find links to all of these fine vinyl establishments at the bottom of this page.

Mole’s small but succulent front room collection.

9. Oktoberfest Zinzinnati

Munich’s sister city throws one hell of an Oktoberfest with over 1,000,000 visitors each year. Stick to the pork schnitzel and a refillable stein for one killer weekend. Just make sure you’re careful when the Chicken Dance kicks in.

*Sometimes things can get pretty crazy at this rowdy beer festival. Click here to see what I mean.

10. Mother’s Day Steamboat Cruises On The Ohio River

The best way to take your beautiful mom out for a view of Cincinnati’s beautiful skyline is on the Belle of Cincinnati, an honest-to-god pirate steamboat.  The river is nice (as long as you’re not swimming in it) but the best part is the piano-playing dude in a straw boater hat who performs on the Belle. He’ll sing the hokey-pokey while a bunch of drunk middle-aged women shake their goods on a floating dance floor. If you’re lucky, and the weather’s nice, you’ll get to hear this Ragtime Rambler jam on the calliope poised upon the top deck.

*The following video is of the Delta Queen’s calliope in action, not the Belle of Cincinnati , but it’s the same deal.

11. Mainstrasse and Its Many Festivals

I used to live off of Mainstrasse in Covington, KY, which is immediately across the river from Cincinnati and walking distance to Paul Brown Stadium. It’s the perfect place for those who love hoofin’ it to their social rendezvous. There are over 20 bars and restaurants within 5 minutes walking distance and each establishment plays host to a kaleidoscope of folks.

Plus, Mainstrasse is home to a whole slew of festivals throughout the year. This includes Maifest, Oktoberfest, Goettafest, The World’s Longest Garage Sale and also hosts a farmers’ market every Saturday throughout the summer. Good times.

*Check out Village Pub and get their Russian beer special. It’s $3 for a 25 oz. bottle of 9% alcohol beer from St.Petersburg. It’s like a Soviet Four Loko, but tasty.

It’s really long.

12. Bitching About The Bengals

Every year Bengals fans say, “This is going to be the year. Carson’s knee hasn’t rejected the alpaca knee joint transplant. Ochocinco’s cut down his mirror collection from 2,000 to 1,000 units. Anthony Muñoz has a bitchin’ new Furniture Fair commercial.” And every year the Bengals take a dump in our hearts.

Yet, somehow, we always stick with them even though we’ve viciously sworn them off. It’s not because we really think they have a chance of winning a new season. It’s because we love having our dreams crushed. We want the Bengals to be just good enough to muster dreams of the playoffs so they can lose in a hilariously inept fashion.

After all, Cincinnatians are sports masochists by heart.

>>>Click here for some vintage Bengals tunes.

13. Red River Gorge in Daniel Boone National Forest

Combine some of the oldest woods in the world, miles upon miles of challenging trails and rock climbing paths, unique geological structures like rock houses and natural bridges with a hands-off approach to park policing and you get one of the best camping areas in the Eastern United States.

*There are all sorts of hidden campsites in the Gorge. The best are located under the ampitheatre-like rock houses and rock walls. Many have big stone bonfire pits and stone seats where you can relax and investigate the weird cave wildlife overhead. These sites are technically off limits for camping but enforcement is relaxed.

God’s Country. Not the vengeful one.

14. Fall

I’m excited to leave behind the sticky summers and indecisive winters but will definitely miss fall. I love the changing of the leaves, getting pumpkins from the patch and mixing fresh cider with spiced rum. But I think I’ll miss the smell of fall more than anything…the smell of burning foliage emanating from the mysterious woodland house near my parents’ place.

Yes, I’m going to miss that smell. And the smell of gunpowder from that mystery homeowner as he shoots his shotgun into a pile of chopped wood during a whiskey bender.

15. Jack Atherton’s Bedroom Eyes

Bonjour, mon cheri.

>>>Click here download Yo La Tengo’s Fakebook, the album that made these memories possible, at 320 kbps

Tracklist

1 Can’t Forget 2:13
2 Griselda 1:54
Written By – Antonia Apodeca
3 Here Comes My Baby 2:26
Written By – Cat Stevens
4 Barnaby, Hardly Working 4:12
5 Yellow Sarong 1:37
Written By – Scene Is Now, The
6 You Tore Me Down 2:48
Written By – Chris Wilson , Cyril Jordan
7 Emulsified 2:46
Vocals – Pussywillows, The
Written By – Rex Garvin
8 Speeding Motorcycle 3:16
Guitar – Georgia Hubley
Written By – Daniel Johnston
9 Tried So Hard 2:13
Written By – Michael Clarke
10 The Summer 2:40
Bass – Gene Holder
11 Oklahoma, U.S.A. 2:18
Organ – Georgia Hubley
Written By – Ray Davies
12 What Comes Next 3:11
13 The One To Cry 1:47
Double Bass [Fiddle], Vocals – Peter Sampfel
Written By – Escorts, The
14 Andalucia 3:33
Organ – Georgia Hubley
Written By – John Cale
15 Did I Tell You 3:21
16 What Can I Say 2:03
Written By – Joey Spampinato