Farewell Fair Lady Memories of the Blue Gray show
Normally this time of year I would be getting ready for arguably one of America's two best beer cans shows, The 2015 Blue Gray show, only 6 weeks away as I write this. I would be upgrading my totes and updating my want list. I would go through my shelf cans and the books to refresh in my memory what cans I have and the ones I would be looking for. The anticipation was always daunting and I would count down the days before lift-off. But not this year, It comes with great sadness that I won't be going because of the deplorable conditions at the hotel. My Streak of seventeen years straight has come to an end.
For the 2 Rusty Bunchers that never made it to this show, here's the skinny...the layout of the show was great, 2 buildings with a couple hundred rooms, filled with beer cans and collectors and beer. There was the L-shaped main building that had the inside dealer rooms and also outside rooms in the back. We had the run of the place. The whole hotel was booked out to collectors and classified as a private party. That way we could traipse around the whole property with beer in hand. There was a fairly large lobby area which could accommodate a hundred or so tables. The hotel even had an operating restaurant and bar in those days. Although I only went into the bar, Mugsy's, once or twice, I do remember it like being the bar scene from Stars Wars. What made this an extraordinary show was the amount of killer and rare cans and breweriana. Also the amount of great rust made it second to none in that arena. One never knew what would show up. Let's not forget the "New England cove", a little cubby hole of an area next to the swimming pool. That's where Keith, Woody, Ron, Dave Lang and later Paul would hang out. Remember Don Santora? That name is a blast from the past! As far as rust was concerned, that cove was a close second to Dwight and Andys' Rust Headquarters(more on those guys later)! Then there was the hospitality room which always had 2 or 3 kegs of craft beer flowing at all times, coffee and donuts in the morning and pizza on Friday night, all for a $15 registration fee!.....Las Vegas show...are you listening???. The icing on the cake was a Hooters next door and a Waffle house down the street! Woo Hoo !!life is good!
I remember my first Blue Gray show where I roomed with one of the Lewondowski brothers and Tom Chegash aka Candog. It was a last minute decision so all I got was floor space. Those were the days when every room was sold out including the "purgatory" rooms on the back of the 2nd building. But, hey, I was glad to have the floor space. Kind of like a standing room only ticket to the Superbowl, not great but at least you are in! It was the best show for room to rooming, 200+ rooms open all hours with all kinds of beer cans and brewery advertising spread out across the room. What got me hooked was the great deal of excitement and energy! Meeting and greeting buddies I would only see once a year was a highlight. I would always fly into BWI airport and have to "run the gauntlet" of I-95 south through Washington DC and then something the locals called the Spaghetti Bowl in Springfield, Virginia, that's where 3 or 4 freeways all merged together. Although it was only 86 miles, sometimes I got there within an hour and a half and sometimes it would take up to 4 hours depending on what time I got in. Landing before 2pm, not so bad, after 4pm, forget it, I was doomed. A couple years ago, I gave up the gauntlet run and started flying into Richmond to avoid the traffic woes.
After that first show, it was a must-go every year and I was able to secure my own room. It was in the 2nd building but right next to the walkway which connected the 2 buildings on the 2nd floor so as far as the 2nd building goes, it was a prime spot. But it got even better, next door was Rust headquarters, Andy and Dwight's room. They usually didn't show up until Thursday or Friday. Collectors were always waiting for those guys to show up with their pickup truck full of rust. Since I was their "neighbor", I was always around when they arrived. Looking back at some of the good cans I got from those guys were the likes of Neuweillers Bock, New Yorker, Valley Forge Bock OIs and Schaefer big goat bock just to name a few. My longtime roomie was Paul King. I remember Paul's first BG, the first night he had a great time, the second day, not so much, he was so hung-over, he stayed in his rental car for most of the day. The next year Paul brought his best friend and dumping partner, Rod, to the show and he repeated Paul's act from the previous year, good times! Back in the day, my neighbors on the other side of me, were Dave Launt and McGuire.
One of my best early Blue Gray shows was 1997. I had work in the area so I was there on Tuesday instead of my usual Wednesday afternoon arrival. So Wednesday morning , I started checking out rooms and see 4 or 5 totes of rusty cans on a bed. I was the first in that room. This collector had decided to purge his shelves at home of rusty cans. He was only going to collect on-grade cans now. So I start pulling out a few I need like a Waldorf Sampson Ale, Genesee Light ale OI, 1930's Ballantine Bock series can , Autocrat!.what an Autocrat? Are you kidding me ? One of the rarest cans in the hobby? I pull all these cans out to make a trade but the guy wants to get his morning run in. I say run later , lets trade now! He came to my room and picked out a few cans but what he really wanted was a 1930s St Claire ale. I didn't have one in my tote but would gladly send him my shelf can. I typically never trade out of the collection but when something like an Autocrat comes your way, you do what you got to do. We made the trade , he was happy , I was happy , and my brother was extremely happy because the Autocrat is a Chicago can and that is what he collects so I gave it to him, wow what a brother huh? As it turned up , this was an unknown variant of the Autocrat with no brewer mandatory , just Consolidated Foods New Orleans, Louisiana.
I remember the year when Ron Greenblatt decided to part ways with his collection. Ron had a very advanced collection and many rarities from when he lived and dumped in New York State. It was a last minute decision and nothing was priced. That was to be done during the first day of the show. Ron was using Dave Launt's room, my neighbor to the other side of me! Location, Location, Location ! Ron had 3 or 4 guys helping him go through his collection and price his cans. That was all fine and dandy until the power went off around 4pm. Now they were trying to do it in the dark. Collectors kept mulling around Ron's closed door wanting to get inside to the promised-land. But nothing doing, not until everything was priced. My brother secured entrance into the room because he had a flashlight. Although he wasn't able to purchase anything then, he did get the inside track of the cans that were in there. The highlight can of Ron's collection was a Jacob Ruppert ,Ruppiner, OI I had never seen one before and not another since. Ed had given the Lewodowski a heads up on that can and they were able to secure it but it wasn't cheap, although in todays market it would go 5 figures. Another can I remember that Ron had was a decent indoor Golden Rod ale flat top, a can with few examples known and virtually only seen in books. At some point the power got back on and the pricing was finished and the doors were open. The feeding frenzy that occurred was epic. Imagine a disturbed bee hive and all the bees flying around but instead of bees, picture rust dust. There were at least 20 people in the room and another 10 or so waiting to get in. I remember that room being full the whole evening. What is even more incredible, after all those collectors and all the purchases that were made that evening, Andy Caldwell goes in the next morning to look over the dregs and spies an indoor Lion OI, not the rarest can in the world but priced right at $75. When he shows me the can, it was then he noticed it was WITHDRAWN FREE, unknown to exist until that time.
With the show on Presidents weekend in Mid-February one never knew what the weather would be. Some years one could room to room with a t-shirt on and some years you would need a parka. Then there were the snowstorms. The first big one was around 6 or 7 years ago which dropped 18 inches of snow Saturday night. I had an 8am flight out of BWI that next morning. That year I was rooming with Ed and Dale and they were driving me to the airport. We got there just in time for them to tell us the airport was closed. We ended up snowed in at a hotel outside the airport for the next 3 days. Another time, 2 or 3 years later, a storm hit the Monday before the show, not a problem getting there but the problem was all the melting snow on the leaky roof and I was getting reports before I got there that it was raining inside! Then 2 years ago, I got delayed, for one day, going out there because of the weather, which wasn't so bad because no one else could make it there either until that Thursday as it crammed a 4 day show into 3. Last year, I had a flight that flew into Richmond and my plane was the last one that was able to land that evening (around 6pm), again because of the snowy weather. Although Richmond was only less than an hour away it took me 4 hours of white knuckle driving to go 60 miles that evening on I-95 north. I believe part of the adventure of this show was just getting there!
Then there were the characters that made the show and I mean that in a good way. I remember in the early days ,Neil Kaneztke would set up like 25 totes of rust just below landing ,next to the stairs, from the hospitality room. Neil had his change counter ,visor and an apron to hold his money and he was hawking rusty cans like a big city newspaper boy. He took a hiatus for a while but he came back last year and it was nice to see him again. Or Uncle Dave with his going out of business banner, he looked like he belonged in a soup line from the depression!? Who could forget Otto the ironworker from the Cleveland area. One year he cooked hot peppers on a Bar-b-que in his room and almost started a fire. Then he later got banned from the whole DC area after some secret service agents overheard him bad-mouthing the President Clinton. I hadn't seen him since. Or the time Rick Natter, after a night of drinking remarked to me, "people in the hospital feel better than he does!" Or the first time I met Steve Gordon and he had this freash indoor can find from Kansas and he's like selling grade one Muelebach cones for $40 (he even threw in the box) and mint IRTP Storz cans for $20!
Let's not forget the Lewondowski twins (aka canhogs or cananimals and other choice names) who were ahead of their time. They brought walkie-talkies so they could communicate with each other while room to rooming, remember this was the days of no cell phones! Can't forget Tom Chegash with his German Oktoberfest hat with the feathers! (all he needed was a tuba!)
Then one year my roomie Paul couldn't make it so Rick Chavez of El Paso took his bed. Boy that was a mistake. He showed up at the show looking like a Japanese tourist. He had 5 or 6 shoulder bags, 1970s porn-star type sunglasses (all he was missing was the mustache), 3 cameras with huge lenses around his neck and his baseball cap turned around like a baseball catcher. He had every flat surface in the room filled with his stuff, including my bed, I didn't have anywhere to put my stuff. Then he told me he's ready for the big poker game that night which started around 9pm. He got back to the room around 4am so I'm thinking if he played that long, he probably won or at least held his own. He told me he was in the game all night. What I found out later, he lost all his money early on and then stayed and became the dealer for the rest of the game!
I remember Kelly Thomle's first Blue Gray As a specialist of beer and baseball advertising , he cleaned house that year and brought home at least a dozen new pieces. And my other Arizona buddies , Todd Barnes and Brian Cooley, we arranged to arrive within 30 minutes of each other and rented a van and for the first time was able to use the carpool lane through DC, that was a huge time saver. I once met a DC policeman who caught wind of the show and came down to drink beer. He was amazed a few hundred people could drink beer and have a good time without any fights or anyone being shot or stabbed!
But those times have come to an end because of the condition of the hotel. An end of an era. The owners never put any money back into it to maintain it. It changed owners multiple times going from a Holiday Inn to a Ramada and now a Howard Johnsons. The restaurant got shut down probably 5 years ago and never reopened. They did take care of the black mold that was on the windows next to the swimming pool. I'm surprised the pool is still functioning but we were joking last year about the slime layer. Everyone knew it was a craphole of a hotel but we overlooked that for the good times until people started getting ill after attending that show. Maybe it had something to do with the indoor gutter system??!! Last year I came down with an upper respiratory infection which turned into pneumonia and that was the final straw for me.
Long story short...Last year at the banquet, Ray Johnson said he was retiring from hosting the show. Angry Gary and his crew found a new location for the show and had everything set to go but then Ray jumped back in months later saying the Blue Gray show was now on. Not wanting to have 2 competing shows on the same weekend, Gary's group bowed out. So there still is going to be at least one
more Blue Gray show but you won't see me there. Instead I'll be going to the Spring Thaw show in Mechanicsburg PA on weekend of April 11th. The collectors that do go to Ray's show will be like the band playing on the Titanic as the ship is sinking, loyal to the end.
The Rusty Bunch has moved its spring meeting to the Spring Thaw show. I want to thank Ray Johnson for the 17 great years of beer can fun I was there.
The cans I added to my shelf from this show is ridiculous...I have found a "holy-grail" pre-war Bankers ale, grade one Finer Flavor beer OI from Columbia brewing in Washington, 2 different Tru Blu ales, Arrow Ale, Ballantine bock OI, Sampson ale, Black Dallas OI, Pilgrim ales , Eigenbrots ale and beer , Golden Rod shield can, Leibmanns XXX ale, Mule Head beer and ales,1938 Schlitz flat top, Old Tap ale and beer cones, Windsor OI , Bay State beers and ales, Dawson playing card beer cone, Stegmaier ale cone (before the big find , that was near impossible), Star Banner ale cone, Roger Williams ale , Poths beer, Gunther beer OI and probably the best can ever from this show was the unique unknown variant of the Autocrat OI. What needs to happen to the hotel in Fredericksburg is it needs to be demolished. That horse has been rode hard, and she should have been shot and made dog food years ago! This Fair Lady has served us well. There comes a time when all good things must end. The Queen is dead, long live the Queen !