It was almost 30 years ago and only for a few days, but Wanda’s name still pops up in conversations I have with my father. Wanda was more than a maid at a Motel 6 in Cincinnati, Ohio. We were there to see the All Star Game at Riverfront Stadium. I won tickets from a contest in the back of Baseball Digest or rather I won the right to buy tickets. My dad highlighted the difference.
But it was still a good deal at 40 bucks a ticket so he popped for the expenses and we took a four day trip to Cincy and called it our summer vacation. I don’t remember much about the game. We were sitting in the upper deck above the bleachers, but in batting practice, Jose Canseco hit balls harder and farther than I’ve ever seen.
We met Wanda when we checked into the motel. She told us about Cincinnati chili having cinnamon in it, the pins Marge Schott wore on her sweaters, The Cincinnati Kid and Steve McQueen. I had never seen the movie, but every time we bumped into Wanda during our stay, she greeted us with “And here’s Steve McQueen and mister H.” My dad’s name is Howard and Wanda never once said “and preparation H.”
I later learned that The Cincinnati Kid was written by Ring Lardner Jr. and Terri Southern. Well, I was kind of blown away because Lardner’s father wrote baseball comedy or satire or whatever and Terri Southern flashed the peace sign at a bird and that seemed like a good idea. I was amazed that Wanda created all of this with one simple greeting. My dad didn’t question my delusion. He knew I had a crush on her.
Wanda was born in Cincinnati and had no plans of ever leaving. She had no husband, no kids, and no interest in any of it; not too many dreams either; just retiring at some point and living up north in a cabin that had been part of her family for three generations. She lived a few blocks from the motel in an apartment and said she had a big beer bottle collection. That struck a chord with me.
Beer bottle collecting was a popular hobby in Milwaukee. Many of my friend’s fathers filled basement walls with way more than 99 bottles of beer. I didn’t talk much back then, but Wanda seen my eyes kind of light up, so she invited us over at the end of the day and so we went.
She had rhythm at work and a rhythm in her 2 bedroom apartment doing the simplest of things like pouring soda in paper cups and placing a new beer bottle on the wall. She didn’t seem happy in a Ronald McDonald sort of way, just focused regardless of what she was doing. I always remembered that, so did my dad. Wanda came to mean “do what you like” in our language.
I think of Wanda whenever the Brewers play in Cincinnati and last night was game 2 of the Reds Brewers series at Great American Ballpark. Wily “with just one l” Peralta shut out the Reds on three hits over 8 innings. He also drove in the only two runs of the game with a double. Peralta was still throwing 96 mph in the eighth inning when he recorded 2 of his 7 strikeouts.
Reds announcer Marty Brennaman said it. “The Reds got a heavy dose of Wily Peralta tonight.” Final score Brewers 2, Reds 0. The Brewers are 21-9.
I listened to The Melvins song 99 bottles of beer after the game. I enjoyed it as part celebration and part ode to Wanda. And then I found an interview with the Melvins done by the incredibly talented girls; Olivia and Connie from the highly acclaimed Ohio show- kids interview bands.