Nevada -> California

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

We were able to sleep in a little, but because our bodies were still on east coast time, it wasn’t too late when we got up. We were just planning to spend one day in town.

We texted some friends who’d moved to Las Vegas during the summer to see if they were free for lunch. We also wanted to visit the Mob Museum and see a show. I’d been to Vegas back in March with some girlfriends and we’d done the museum and seen the Cirque du Soleil show Love, based on Beatles’ music. It was really good, and I knew David would enjoy it, so I booked the tickets.

IMG_0849I worked for a couple of hours and then we took an Uber to meet Larry and Bertha for lunch. We didn’t want to hassle with parking and the lunch place was walking distance to the Mob Museum. We had a great lunch and a great time catching up with friends. Dave and I shared the Smashed Cubano sandwich at the Smashed Pig GastroPub. I keep a list in my phone of interesting restaurants I hear about, either on TV shows like Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, or in the AAA Via Magazine. I often forget to consult those notes, but that’s a different matter. Occasionally, I find when I go back and read them, that I accidentally visited a place and that’s what happened with the Smashed Pig. A few days later, I opened the Restaurant Notes to add something, glanced through the Vegas list and there was the Smashed Pig! I’m glad someone had recommended it and even gladder Larry suggested it!

We had one moment of panic when Jeff, the other driver/tour guide we’d taken over from called David because the hotel had called him to say, “Hey, you checked out, but your trailer is still here. What’s up?” Long story short, Jeff and Katia had reserved our room. When we checked in, we thought they’d reserved two nights for us, but they hadn’t. And when I called the hotel to say we needed a second night, the clerk said they were full and couldn’t accommodate us. I really did panic. We were twenty minutes away, by Uber. We weren’t packed. I’d left my laptop out. But the clerk was implacable. I asked to speak to someone else. He said they’d tell us the same thing. There was nothing he could do, they were overbooked, and we had to leave. Finally, he put me on hold and someone else picked up. I explained the situation and this guy was all, “Sure, no problem. Yeah, we’re overbooked, but there will be no shows.” Whew! After my heart rate returned to normal, we resumed our lovely visit and lunch.

After lunch, we walked the few blocks to the museum. We spent several hours and didn’t IMG_0681see it all. They have many fascinating displays, starting with a lineup you can go into. There’s a timeline of organized crime in this country, beginning with immigrants who brought it (and feuds) from their countries of origin. The picture to the right is from a flow chart/mind mapping kind of display showing all the “industries” organized crime touches and in what ways. I took this picture of the section showing drugs, since that’s what we’re interested in just now. By 4:45, we knew we’d have to make a second visit some other day to see the rest of the museum.

We took an Uber back to our hotel, had a quick bite at their free Happy Hour of drinks and snacks, then Ubered to the Mirage for our show. It was as great as I remembered, except for the woman sitting to my right. She kept taking her phone out and texting. The light was distracting me and I kept having to put a hand up to my face to block her. Other than that, we had a great time. We Ubered back to the hotel and were able to get to sleep at a decent hour.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

California, here we come! We weren’t in a huge hurry to leave since we were only headed to Bakersfield, about four and a half hours away. We had an event scheduled in Monterey for Friday, so we planned to take two days to get there.

At breakfast at the hotel, there was a women’s sports team also there. Given their ages, and uniforms, I deduced they were the Air Force Academy Women’s Tennis team. Since one of our granddaughters has expressed an interest in attending there, I asked some of the young women if they had any advice I could pass on. They said just to be a well-rounded student. There’s a summer program she can apply to for the summer of her junior year. They were very nice and encouraging.

Then we packed up and prepared to hit the road. As we hooked everything up, David noticed that the plug from the trailer to the truck that connects the lights was all worn away on one side. It had fallen out of the truck and been dragged on the roadway. But he got it to fit back into the receptacle, so we headed out.

Two of the random things we saw: A limo with suitcases bulging from its trunk on the freeway in Vegas and goats in the back of a pick-up, just inside California.

Getting out of Las Vegas itself turned out to be a bit tricky. The streets would merge without warning and we’d find ourself in the wrong lane. We can’t exactly sneak into a small space between cars. At a red light, we were waiting a ways back in our (wrong) lane, with the turning indicator on, when a very sweet woman in a white SUV in the lane next to us motioned us to come ahead. We did and rolled down the window. She said the roads were really confusing and she’d wait for us to go in front of her. Thank God for her, because in another block, she pulled up on the other side, rolled her window down and said if we were wanting the freeway, we’d need to be in the other lane in one more block and she’d hang back for us again. She was a definite answer to a prayer we didn’t know we needed to pray.

The rest of the drive was uneventful. Although it was no fun when we made our first California stop for gas! Ouch!

We made it to Bakersfield at about 5:00. I’d arranged, through the kindness of our niece (picking up the accumulated mail at our house) and Taryn (driving it to Bakersfield) to get our mail and as a bonus we got to see our daughter and granddaughter. We went to dinner at In ‘n Out, had a good visit, and then swapped bags. I took the thirty pounds of mail and gave her the ten pounds of various papers, souvenirs, magnets, and stuff that I didn’t want to cart around the west coast.

All in all, a good day!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

At breakfast, as I checked email, we got a message that our event in Monterey for tomorrow had fallen through. Which gave us a dilemma … to be continued.

 

North Carolina -> South Carolina-> Georgia -> Florida -> Nevada

Friday, Oct. 18, 2019

We got up early and told Sheana goodbye in Durham, then drove to the hotel in Hillsborough, NC, where we’d left the trailer. We had lunch plans in Columbia, South Carolina. Our niece, Betsy, lives there with her husband and their four children. Betsy serves in the US Army and is stationed in Columbia. We hadn’t met her two youngest children, and since Columbia wasn’t too far out of our way to Florida, we were able to meet up.

 

It was wonderful to see Betsy and her family, even if it was only for a short time. Her two older children have grown up a lot since we last saw them, although they said they remembered us.

After lunch, we were back on the road to Savannah, our stop for the night on our way to Orlando, where we’d leave the truck and trailer and fly to Las Vegas.

It about killed me to be in Savannah and not see any of the historic sites there. We didn’t go to any Civil War landmarks. We didn’t visit any architectural buildings of note. We didn’t see any museums. So I was determined that we would at least eat a great dinner. But after a long day of driving, I also knew IMG_0711 2 copyDave wouldn’t be up for going downtown and dealing with traffic in the big Ford truck, and an Uber from our location in the ‘burbs wasn’t feasible. So I found a restaurant on a river, with good reviews, about fifteen minutes from our hotel. We found it fairly easily (only one wrong turn!). Then we were seated at a table without much of a view. We asked to move, telling the waitress we were only there for the one night, we’d likely never be back. She seemed a little put out at the loss of a tip, but said, “Sure.” So we got the last table on the lower level and were able to enjoy the river view and sunset. This was a true low country menu. We shared fried pickles and gator bites for appetizers, then we also shared a low country boil dinner. It had sausage, shrimp, corn, potatoes, and hushpuppies. The seasoning was spicy, but not overwhelming. We had plenty of everything left over for more meals over the next couple of days.

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Even though we didn’t even get a glimpse of historic Savannah, the taste we got makes us want to go back.

Saturday, October 20

Tropical Storm Nestor had come across the south, and lucky us, we got to follow his tail down Georgia and into Florida. It poured on us for the first couple hours of the trip. That along with the strong winds, made for a stressful morning. It rained all the way to IMG_0983 copyJacksonville.

Our destination was Orlando, which we made around 4 pm. Our first stop was a Jiffy Lube. Dave had been tasked with getting the oil changed in both the truck and the generator we use to power the trailer’s lights and air conditioning units.

I’d found two Jiffy Lubes that looked not too far from our hotel. One of them, from the satellite view, we could tell, no way would it accommodate the trailer, so I plugged in the address of the other one. Except, sigh, somehow, I mixed them up, and we arrived at the place with no room to enter or turn around. Which we realized as we approached, so we didn’t bother trying to turn in. All we lost was some time. I don’t make navigating mistakes often, considering I’m plugging in multiple venues and figuring routes all day long.

We made our way to the other location and were able to pull in. But they couldn’t change the oil in the generator. Something about not being able to account for the disposing of it, I think. So we unhooked, they changed the oil in the truck, we hooked back up, and drove to our hotel. Which was fully booked with a couple of conferences for the weekend. We ended up parking along the side of the parking lot, with an assurance from the manager that most of the cars would be gone in the morning and we’d be able to park in front of the office and even be able to leave the truck and trailer there after we left. Our coworkers could fly down and pick it up for the Florida events. Nice! It had been a long day and we were glad to check-in and have our nightly glass of wine before bed.

Sunday, October 21

We had essentially a day and a half in Orlando. My suitcase was literally falling apart. The zippers were no longer … well, let’s say I didn’t feel confident all my belongings wouldn’t be scattered across the runway. So one of our tasks in Orlando was to buy a new suitcase.

We mapped out a route around town and set out. First to a car wash to leave a bright and shiny truck for the next driver/guides. Then to Home Depot for, of course, more trailer and truck supplies. I don’t even know what he bought this time. Then to Target for a suitcase.

We ended up having a quiet afternoon at the hotel. Dave’s stomach was bothering him, so I ordered Door Dash from Cracker Barrel and just got him a baked potato for dinner.

Monday, October 22

We had a mid-afternoon flight, never a good thing, from Orlando to Vegas. The later in the day, the more likely to be delayed. And sure enough, we were. The Orlando airport was wild and loud and crazy with families heading home from the Orlando amusement parks. And we learned we probably won’t fly on Frontier again. The seats were too uncomfortable for Dave and his long legs. And I’m sorry, but paying for water is just wrong.

It turned out to be about a two and a half to three hour delay. At least we were going east to west so even though it would be a long day for us, it would still be fairly early in Nevada. We were supposed to get in at 5 pm. We ended up landing around 8 pm. The couple we were taking the trailer over from had an event until 8, so they got to the hotel before we did.

We had a short debrief meeting with them, then said good-night. This is Jeff and Katia, the couple we trained in Colorado and left there. We took over that same trailer.

And finally, we were in the same time zone as our kids and grandkids and the rest of the family!

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Swans in the lobby of our hotel in Las Vegas. Because, why  not? They were named Elvis and Priscilla.

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Illinois –> Indiana –> Ohio –> Kentucky

When we arrived in Illinois, we thought we’d have some events in Kentucky and West Virginia, then we’d end up in Florida and fly home. Well, we’re learning to be flexible. No events had materialized in Kentucky or West Virginia. The first Florida event wasn’t for a couple of weeks. Then we were asked if we’d be okay with flying west and taking over the other trailer in Las Vegas and doing events in California, Oregon, and Washington. Sure! We had a about a week to get the east coast trailer to Florida, where we’d leave it, and then fly to Nevada.

So we plotted out a route that enabled us to see friends and family and visit a tourist site that Dave had wanted to see the last time we were in Indiana.

Saturday, Oct 12 — Our beautiful granddaughter, Ellinor, turned a year old!

We left Sparta and our smoked pork steak and headed for Evansville, Indiana, our stop for the night.  Next to our hotel was a gas station with a very nice gift shop/tourist souvenirs. I bought socks for all the grandkids there. USC was playing Notre Dame, so our goal was to get checked in, in time to watch the game. We made it, but were unable to root USC on to victory. Dave talked to some of the other hotel guests. There were hunters with teams of dogs they kept outside in trailers. And truck drivers driving modified Midget racing cars to races.

We called Ellinor to tell her happy birthday, but she was asleep and her mommy was sick. She woke up later and they called us back, so we did get to see her on her birthday.

Evansville is also where we began requesting rooms on high floors. I think some of the hunters were right above us and they clomped around getting ready to leave at 4:30 AM. We heard every step, every door slam, until they left.

Sunday, Oct. 13 — We left Evansville and Indiana and headed for Cincinnati. We were IMG_0124actually staying in Bellevue, Kentucky, but were meeting a writer friend of mine, Kimberly Duffy, and her family in Cincinnati at Graeter’s, a local place deservedly famous for their hand-crafted, French-style, ice-cream.

Kimberly and I had a great time catching up, since we’d last seen each in Charleston in May, and the men enjoyed talking about food and drink. The Duffys gave us some suggestions for dinner, but also mentioned a local market we should check out. Jungle Jims.

Oh. my.

Imagine a combination Trader Joe’s/Whole Foods/World Market, the size of one and a half Costcos. And it greets you in the parking lot with jungle noises, like Disney’s Jungle Cruise ride. Inside are restaurants (we had gyros for dinner), and the groceries are arranged by country of origin. So if you were making a Moroccan dish, you’d head to the Morocco aisle. We saw products in the Ireland and England aisles that we hadn’t seen outside of those countries. There’s an olive bar. The cheese department is as big as the Ranchos Market back home. Yes, the cheese department is as big as the whole Ranchos Market store. We spent two hours there and didn’t see it all. The cigar humidor had a sign that read No shopping carts inside, which impressed Dave with both its size and prices. No California tobacco taxes.

Who knew foodie heaven was in Cincinnati?

Monday, Oct. 14

We left the trailer at our hotel and drove half an hour south in Kentucky to the Ark Encounter. It’s a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark, built to the dimensions and details given in the Bible. It’s quite amazing and well worth seeing. It’s huge and visiting it really makes the immensity of Noah’s task come alive. Which is the purpose of the whole encounter.

It’s very well done, if a bit “Disney-esque.” The designers put a lot of thought into crowd control and movement. The displays are well done. They’re upfront about what is true, taken from Scripture, and what they’ve taken license with (clothing, what Noah and his

family looked like), and what they believe is correct even though it’s not found in the Bible (how feeding and watering the animals was handled, as well as dealing with their waste).

IMG_1870 2Wherever you fall on the faith spectrum and on the creation vs. evolution debate, the Ark Encounter is worth a visit. They have their definite views and they aren’t shy about promoting it (or dismissing those who disagree or have a differing view). I’m one who doesn’t share their views on everything, but I still found the experience valuable. I’d take my kids and grandkids, but we’d have lots of discussions before, during, and after our visit.

Five and a half hours (and a buffet lunch) later, we headed the half hour back to our hotel and a quiet evening in with Monday Night Football.

Tuesday, Oct. 15

This was a long day of travel. We wanted to spend a couple of days in North Carolina visiting friends there. In order to make that and the Ark Encounter happen, and get to Orlando on time, we had an eight and half hour drive, according to Google Maps. Which would be closer to ten in reality with the trailer. Maybe longer if we ran into weather. So we got an early start. It was a beautiful drive through Kentucky and West Virginia and Virginia. We stopped for an hour in Beckley, WV for lunch and Dave called his usual Tuesday cigar/accountability friends and they did their thing remotely for a while.

The wind was indeed a factor and it was indeed a long day of driving by the time we pulled into Hillsborough, outside of Raleigh. We were too tired to even go find dinner. I had a bag of microwave popcorn in my suitcase from one of our previous hotels, so I called that dinner, with a few other snacks Dave keeps in his backpack for him.

Wednesday, Oct. 16

I spent a couple of hours working, then we checked out and made our way to our friends’, the Carpenters, home. We had permission to leave the trailer at the hotel which made life much easier for the next couple of days. The weather was gray and rainy and chilly, but that didn’t stop us from having a great time.

IMG_1538 2Dave went to high school with both Mike and Vicky and we went to church with them for years in Fresno, until they moved to North Carolina, in 2011. We had a great time seeing their home and business, having lunch, and catching up. They haven’t changed a bit and we picked up like we’d seen them last week.

After saying goodbye to Mike and Vicky, we made our way to Durham and to Bill and Sheana’s home. We went to church with Bill and Sheana in Southern California back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We’ve known them since our girls were little and before they had kids. This was also a great visit! They’ve recently moved into a new home that they designed and the thought and care they put into it is very obvious. They fed us a delicious dinner of authentic Carolina barbecue and we played CatchPhrase after, guys against the gals. We started out strong, but they made an impressive comeback and we ended up tied.

Thursday Oct. 17

After the rain yesterday, today was clear and sunny. We decided to visit the gardens at Duke University and the chapel. The gardens are amazing and lovely. Parts of them reminded me of the gardens at Kylemore Abbey in Ireland, in their layout and beauty.

The chapel is gothic in design, but was built in the early 20th century, even though it appears much older. Inside, it’s lined with stained glass windows depicting Biblical vignettes. We happened to arrive in time to listen to an organist rehearse for a few minutes. Dave talked to the chapel’s … doorkeeper? docent? (he wasn’t giving tours, although there was a tour going on …). Anyway, Dave said playing the organ is turning into a lost art, since churches are moving away organs. He said actually, the manufacturers and tuners are very busy, because there’s a huge demand for organs in stadiums! Which makes sense. They like something loud, to get the crowd energized.

After the visit and the walk, we were ready for lunch. We headed to a local Mediterranean spot Bill and Sheana like. It was absolutely delicious, and we’re kind of picky about our Mediterranean/Armenian food, coming from an area where much of it is excellent and readily available and it’s not uncommon for our Armenian friends to argue about which place makes the better fatoush or pilaf or lahmajun.

Back at the house, Bill and Dave transplanted a few trees, while I did some work and Sheana played the piano. Then we fixed dinner, fish tacos. Sheana asked me what we wanted for a side dish, black beans or corn on the cob. I said beans, and she asked if Dave was okay with beans, given his dietary restrictions. I said yes. What I didn’t say is that beans are more okay than corn. He can never have corn, but he does have beans occasionally. Of course, when we passed the beans at the table, he said, “No, thanks, those will tear me up!” Sigh.

The next morning we had to hit the road early. We had a trailer to pick up and a niece and her family to visit in South Carolina.

To be continued…

Thanks, as always for reading!

Goodbye, Chicago. Hello, Southern Illinois

Wednesday, Oct 9

We checked out of the hotel and drove about an hour to Sandwich, Illinois where we had IMG_5638an event at the local high school, sponsored by Rep. Tom Demmer. He came by, took a tour and spent more than a few minutes with a constituent who showed up specifically to discuss an issue with him. He gave her his full attention for quite a while.

The chief of police stopped by, as did a canine officer. Dave usually does the tours with peace officers and they all enjoy the experience. The canine officer gave us some restaurant suggestions for when we got to Springfield.

We set up in the parking lot and got to listen to the band practice their half time show.

This wasn’t a large attendance event, but we had a few people come through.

We wrapped it up in the early evening, hugged our photographer, Ty, goodbye since this was his last event with us, and headed for Springfield. We had stayed in Springfield back in July when we moved the trailer from Indiana to Minnesota. We’d planned to visit the Lincoln Museum, but had a problem with the trailer that had to be fixed and didn’t have enough time. I planned to rectify that on this visit.

We drove about three hours from Sandwich to Springfield and stayed in the same Staybridge Suites we’d stayed at before.

Thursday, Oct. 10

Our event today is at a Senior Center in Taylorville, about half an hour from Springfield. We had to be there at 9 am, to get set up for our 10 am start time. The senior center was having a health fair inside, like our event in south Chicago earlier in the week. The people were as interested and engaged. One woman shared that her granddaughter’s mother is an addict and has lost custody of her children.

Several people called other friends to come down to the center to see the trailer and take the tour. Taylorville is a small town, obviously impacted by the economic downturn of the last decade. A few of the woman commented that drug abuse has increased as the community has gotten more depressed.

We were supposed to stay until noon, but the seniors were eating lunch at 11:30 and the health fair inside packed up around 11:40, so we followed suit since no one else was going to come for a tour.

We told Heidi goodbye, as she was headed home to Missouri for her daughters’ volleyball games that afternoon. She’s a great colleague and did a fabulous job coordinating our events and helping us with the set up and tear down.

We got permission to leave the trailer in the senior center parking lot, so we unhooked, and headed back to Springfield. We stopped at a Steak ‘n Shake for a quick lunch (a horseshoe, the Springfield specialty of Texas toast/hamburger/fries/cheese sauce that we shared the last time we were there, though this one was much smaller and we finished it), and then I put Lincoln Museum into Google maps.

It started raining on the way and by the time we found the museum, and found parking several blocks away, it was pouring. But we had umbrellas, and shoes, and we don’t melt, so we headed out. We followed signs and passed the old Springfield Courthouse, and stopped to read some historical signs and markers.

Inside the museum, we stowed our dripping umbrellas in the provided plastic bags, paid our entrance fee, got a map/brochure and headed in. Almost. Dave got called back by security. His umbrella was too long and “dangerous,” so he had to check it. Mine was small and compact and safe, so I was deemed not a threat. Finally, we made it inside. We asked a docent for her recommendations of what to see first. She explained the layout. There’s a “log cabin,” you enter and that has displays about Lincoln’s boyhood and life until he was elected to the White House. Then there’s a “White House,” with exhibits about the Civil War, his presidency, assassination, and family. There are also two movies that play every half hour. The movies use very 21st century theatrics and technology and are worth the price of admission. I won’t say any more because I don’t want to give anything away. But … be prepared to go to the Civil War and be transported.

The whole museum is fantastic! I can’t overstate it. It’s high tech without being cold. It’s low tech without being hokey. It makes clear that much of what we know about President Lincoln is colored by his martyrdom at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. That President Lincoln has become a saint to many, instead of a real man with foibles and faults.

In the exhibit that duplicates Lincoln’s body lying in state in Springfield, I didn’t take a picture of the whole display, but a text arrayed around the top began with, “Washington Our Father” (of our Country) and ended with “Lincoln Our Savior” (also of our Country). It’s very moving. There’s a clock with the hands stopped at 7:22, when he died, the morning after he was shot.

We spent several hours in the museum and feel like we saw most everything. Including a man with a long, pointy umbrella. We’re not sure why he got to bring his in … Anyway,  we then dashed across the street to the Lincoln Library. It’s mostly for researchers and academicians, but there is some artwork on the walls and portraits of recipients of the Lincoln Medal.

We walked back to the truck and plugged in Westwoods Lodge Pub & Grill, one of the recommendations of the Sandwich canine officer. He said they had elk and ‘gator and other game meats on the menu and lots of taxidermied animals as decor. Of course, that has “Dave” written all over it, so there was never any question where we were going for dinner.

It was everything we expected and more. Dave took a menu (styled as a newspaper) for a souvenir. We shared an appetizer of fish cakes, made from a non-native invasive Asian carp (their motto: If you can’t beat it, eat it). I had a normal salad, and Dave had deep fried clams and green beans and coleslaw. Everything was very good. He took lots of pictures, talked to the wait staff as well as other diners nearby. The horseshoe there is called the Yeti and is served in a tackle box.

We finally had to leave. Our next event was in Troy, Illinois, a little over an hour away, but we had to stop and get the trailer in Taylorville, making the whole trip closer to two hours. The rain was continuing and once we left Taylorville, it wasn’t too bad. We were on county roads for the first half hour or so, but after we got on the interstate, the rain poured and the winds started howling. It was not a fun hour into Troy. We were both exhausted by the time we got there, about 9 PM. We unloaded quickly and ran inside, but were still more wet than not. But we were there and safe. Which is really all that mattered.

Friday Oct. 11

Our hotel was in Troy but our event was in Collinsville, at a church and we didn’t have to leave Troy until 2, so after we ate breakfast, Dave went to the front desk to ask for a late check-out. I could hear the exchange. He barely got the words out, and the clerk said, “No, that’s not possible.” “Ummm … we’re … Platinum Members. That’s supposed to be one of our perks.” “Subject to availability. We don’t have the availability.” Case closed, end of discussion.

All right then. We went back to our room and took advantage of every minute until the noon check-out time. At noon, we moved to front lobby. I set up my computer and worked for another hour and a half. Dave read, wandered around, loaded our bags into the truck. People came and checked in. Early. Apparently there was availability for early check-ins but not late check-outs.

Finally at 2:00, we left the hotel and made our way to the church where our new Midwest contact, Tony, was waiting. We set up quickly and got ready. It was bitterly cold. I had on layers and a fake down vest under my warmest jacket and still froze. Tony is from Sioux Falls, SD and had left literal freezing temperatures, so he said he hadn’t even brought his cold weather coat. Show off.

We didn’t have a lot of people come through, but as usual, those who did were very impressed. Our last tour of the day was two couples. One of the women is a local mover and shaker who is interested in having us come back for a larger event in the future.

At the appointed time (not even a minute early, I think, although my brain and fingers were frozen, so I might be mistaken), we packed up and hit the road for Sparta, Illinois. It was about an hour away, maybe a bit more, mostly on county highways.

But what a difference from Troy! The desk clerk in Sparta was … effusive is not over the top. She was welcoming but not cloying. There are a few IHG hotels that stick in our heads. Sparta is one. I don’t remember the name of the gal who worked the front desk, but she was great.

We needed dinner, so I looked online for something walkable. A Chinese restaurant, Rice Fries, popped up. We asked the woman at the front desk about it. She pointed out the door and across the parking lot to a strip mall, checked online quickly (because she wasn’t sure if they’d still be open), and assured us we’d get an adequate meal there.

Well. Again. It was. Amazing. Chinese is not my favorite cuisine. And I like buffets even less. As we walked in, I saw the sign: Take all you can eat, but please, eat all you take. So I knew it was a buffet. I pointed out the sign to David, but we were already inside and more or less committed. So we allowed ourselves to be seated, then agreed to take a look at the buffet. If we didn’t like the looks, we’d leave.

It looked okay, so we stayed. Well. Again. And Again. I posted on Facebook that I’m not a Chinese food fan. I mean, I like it fine, but my preferred go-tos are Mexican or Italian. What can I say? I like cheese and fat. And those are available in abundance in both California-style Mexican and Italian. Not so much in Chinese. But the buffet looked fresh, and we were tired (a resounding recommendation, I know) so we stayed.

Good thing. As I said above. Ah. May. Zing. The best Chinese buffet I’ve ever had. And the best Chinese food I’ve had in a very, very long time. Maybe since we moved away from Pasadena and the original Panda Inn (birthplace of Panda Express). So Illinois blog readers!! Listen up! If you’re ever near Sparta, Illinois, please, please go eat at Rice Fries and support this restaurant and its chef. I don’t know who s/he is, but they are very good and deserve any love you can give them.

Saturday, Oct. 12

Our event is in the morning, at a Housing Authority Office. Like all the best local contacts, Tony has been there early, talking to people and figuring out where we need to be. He texts me about where to pull in. He talked to the CEO of the Housing Authority. It just so happens that her son is Chief of Police. So we have permission to park in the street (blocking the street). Yay!

We arrive in plenty of time, get set up, and are ready. A few Housing Authority people come through. Then a few nursing CEU students. Then some neighborhood kids arrive for the free water bottles Tony is giving out.

Overall, it’s a good day! The Housing Authority staff are very enthusiastic about having us. The local legislator arrived and spends some time. It’s warmer than yesterday in Collinsville, so that’s a plus. We can setup on the street, although people are having to walk over damp grass and track the grass into the trailer. I make a mental note to be sure and sweep really, really well before the next event. There’s going to be dried grass all through the trailer. 

Tony and I have a few minutes to chat. Because this is a family event, we talk about family. He says he has 100 first cousins. Yes. Not a typo. One hundred. First Cousins. He says his parents were 1 of 11 or 12 siblings. I ask the first thing that comes to my mind. “Were they Mormon? Or Catholic?” He chuckles. “Catholic. Irish Catholic.”

We chat some more. He received a Traeger smoker for Father’s Day in June. I asked about favorite things he’s smoked so far. (Meatballs!) Hmmm … [I haven’t talked about the PINK PIG yet, have I?? Or did I? In posts about the Iowa State Fair? Note to self: Look up Iowa State Fair posts and blog about the pink pig ASAP]

After we finished up at the Housing Authority, we headed to lunch at a restaurant Dave had looked up/researched earlier. He also asked a police officer who stopped by, about it. A BBQ place, of course. Not too far out of our way, for heading out of Illinois.

Yes. Southside Ribs. It lived up to its reputation. Down home. Good food. I knew

something was different right away. It didn’t take me long to notice one difference right away. There were monitors along the walls, but most of them were set to a rerun of Barnaby Jones, PI, a series from the 1980s. We shared the entree the restaurant is known for: it’s pork steak. We think it’s a cut from the shoulder. Regardless, it was tender and juicy and thoroughly delicious and we enjoyed every bite.

As we headed out of town, I turned on CoPilot and it promptly took us to a new opportunity to scrap off something (like an AC unit) from the top of the trailer. CoPilot: Strike 3. 

On the way, we passed the World’s Largest Ketchup Bottle. It took me a few minutes of navigating to get around the low bridge, but we did make it out of town and scurrying along county highways. We were done in Illinois, but not quite sure what was next …

Stay tuned for … the rest of the story …

 

 

 

Chicago! Chicago!

Our first Chicago event was in a small suburban town called Monee. I asked our hotel desk clerk how to pronounce the name of the town. Money? Moany? Mownae? She wasn’t sure, so that was no help. Our event was early evening so we had most of the day to unpack and settle in to the hotel and get our bearings. We went to Target and stocked up on snacks and water for the truck.

I had a couple of hours to work in the afternoon, then we headed to Money. Moany?

We were still using Google for highways, but using the trucker app for towns and cities. Because remember our “adventure” in Indianapolis and the low bridge?? So I had the trucker app open with the Monee address. We were rolling along, lalalalalala … and it told us to turn on to a road that was barricaded. Permanently. No entrance. This was the Indianapolis low bridge situation, but in reverse.

We were able to go past the blocked off road and turn around (no small feat with a 32′ trailer). I closed the trucker app and turned to Google. We were only a few minutes late. Our consultant, Heidi, was waiting for us at the venue. A community center. We knew Heidi from Iowa so that was a quick “Hi-good-to-see-you,” and we set up quickly.

All of the Illinois events were set up in cooperation with local/state/national legislators. This was our first event in several weeks. But we quickly regained our rhythm. I only forgot one drug hiding place on my first tour. But … as we learned in Indiana and Colorado … the local people don’t know exactly what we offer. They don’t know how to publicize the trailer. We had a fairly low turnout, but those who came through were enthusiastic. I had a village trustee and another local official who took the tour. They stopped after the first five minutes so they could tweet/post on social media in an effort to get more people out.

We were about to pack up as a few more people trickled in. I took a small group through at few minutes before the official end. As I was wrapping up at the end of the trailer, David started a new tour at the front. We have a policy of never turning away anyone, but it was already past our official end time. Oh well. We have a mindset that God knows who needs to see this and it’s not our trailer, it’s His. So if David was giving a tour, then the person on the tour needed to be there.

Heidi and I packed up the outside accoutrements. The sun set. We paced. We chatted. David and the woman were still inside the trailer. Heidi and I talked about the Iowa State Fair, where we’d seen each other last. We caught up on all the personal tidbits we knew about each other (her mom loves the outdoor furniture she bought at the fair, by the way).

The woman Dave was giving the tour to finally poked her head out of the door. Whew! But no. She was just checking on her kids in the car. Because we don’t allow anyone under 21 years old to take the tour, she’d left her kids in the car. With supervision, of course. And she checked on them regularly.

By the time she stalked out of the trailer, David was smothering laughter and she was seething. He told Heidi and I later that she’d opened her home to a couple who needed a place to live. They were drug addicts and homeless, but had promised to stay clean while in her home. They didn’t keep their end of the bargain on several issues so she and her husband were forced to ask them to leave.

After the couple left, as she was cleaning out their room, she saw stuff. She didn’t think much about it. As Dave gave her the tour, she’d see something and say, “No! Are you kidding me?” He’d say, “No. This is real.” She’d respond with a story or anecdote of what similar evidence she found when she cleaned up after this couple moved out of her home. It matched what we were showing nearly exactly. It was comical and sad and all too true.

We finished the close-up quickly, told Heidi good-bye and headed back to Countryside. In the meantime, we’d given tours to the local police chief and two of his officers, a village trustee, one of the village employees (Parks & Rec?), and a few parents. All of them were amazed and impressed at what they learned.

All in all, this first event in Monee (Mawnee!) was (in my opinion) successful, even if we didn’t have a large turnout. And even if the local legislator who helped set it up didn’t show up for the event. We talked to people, we educated people, we connected to people.

And that’s what it’s about.

Thanks for reading!

Back to the Excellent Adventure

When we came home for the Alaska cruise, we expected to go back to the Code 3 drug education trailer a couple of days after we got home from the cruise, probably September 17. That changed to September 29, which turned out to be God’s plan all along, since we didn’t make it home until September 21.

We’d been home from the cruise two days, just about caught up on laundry, when we got a call Monday afternoon: could we leave Wednesday or Thursday, the 25th or 26th? I drew a big sigh, revised my to-do list and said we could leave Thursday. Which meant actually leaving Wednesday because for this trip we were flying out of San Francisco, which meant renting a car in Fresno and driving to SF, staying in a hotel near the airport the night before.

The cat had just started speaking to us again. I apologized profusely to him and promised him lots of shrimp or chicken or whatever he wanted when we got back in November. He was not impressed.

I changed our rental car reservation and looked for a hotel near the airport. Well. That did not go well. Everything was super expensive. I think because it was last minute. We’ve stayed near the airport before and not paid anything near those rates. I finally got something through Priceline for double our usual budget. Except while we were on our way to pick up the rental car in Fresno Wednesday afternoon, I got an email that the hotel was reneging and would not be able to accommodate us. So back to searching. I finally surrendered and paid triple our usual rate for a Holiday Inn Express with a shuttle that would take us to the airport at 5 am.

We had an uneventful drive into the city, dropped off the rental car, rode the light rail into the airport, caught the shuttle to the hotel, and checked in. We had to leave before breakfast the next morning, so the front desk staff offered to have a breakfast to-go bag ready for us. We accepted, then went to sleep in our very expensive room which was not worth it since the hotel was being renovated and we were in the midst of a construction zone. 

Everything went smoothly the next day, except the to-go breakfast bag was a myth. We left SFO on time and arrived in Newark where we were transferring to a connecting flight to Portland, Maine. We grabbed a quick bite and had just enough time to find the adjunct terminal and our gate with a row of gates for the smaller, commuter flights. We chatted with a young man going to Jacksonville, Florida. He had left Italy and was eager to get home. We were all watching scrolling announcements that due to high winds in Newark, the FAA was restricting arrivals and that was impacting departures. Which didn’t bode well, since we were supposed to be boarding and there was no action at our gate.

Sure enough, the announcement came a few minutes later. Our crew was on a delayed arrival. We’d be delayed at least 45 minutes to an hour. What to do? Find a place to sit and have something to drink. We ended up next to two men who were also on the Portland flight. One was a very loud talker so we had no choice but to eavesdrop. He traveled a lot for business and was headed home to a town outside of Portland. The other man was younger, from Boston, and headed to Portland for a wedding that weekend.

Our Code 3 assignment in Portland was to pick up the trailer where it had been parked a couple of weeks previously, and drive it to the Chicago area. We had an event scheduled for Sunday, September 29th, so we had two days to drive about 1000 miles. Since we had done that a week ago, Bellingham to Fresno, we sort of knew what that was like. But now we’d be pulling a 32′ trailer. Although, we were back to the original trailer that handles so poorly in the wind.

Our personal goal in Portland was to have some lobster. Our flight was scheduled to land at about 7:15 pm, so I’d looked up a couple of restaurants close to the airport that had good reviews and we were ready. But with every announcement, our lobster dinner window was getting smaller.

We finally were called to board. Whew! We got on a bus that carried us out to our plane. David asked another passenger for a dinner recommendation, but he hadn’t lived in Portland for about 30 years, he said, so he was no help. I noticed his luggage tag was his business card and it said Harper Collins. I was just about to ask him what imprint or what he did for them, but didn’t have a chance. The flight was short and we were soon in Portland. The truck had been left for us in the parking garage and the key was taped to the back bumper. It didn’t take us long to find the truck or the key, but the key had been wrapped in 32,000 layers of duct tape (only a very slight exaggeration). It took longer to unwrap the thing than it took to find it. Then, the remote wouldn’t unlock the door. Dave had to open the door with the key, which set off the alarm, until he turned on the ignition. That seems weird to me. If you have the key, why would the alarm go off? Anyway, we were finally in Portland and looking for lobster. I found a restaurant that had great reviews in downtown Portland that was still open, (it was about 9:30 by now) so we headed there. The area was super cute and looked like it would be fun to browse in the daytime.

After wrestling the truck into a parking spot, calling our boss to ask about the key fob (turn the ignition on within 10 seconds of unlocking the door and the alarm won’t go off)  and we were finally ready for our lobster dinner.

IMG_8420Only to find that they sold lobster rolls. Not lobster dinners or lobster tails. Well, beggars and choosiness, yada yada. We had lobster rolls and they were great! The lobster was sweet and tender and delicious. Our personal goal accomplished, we headed to our hotel.

The next morning we drove the twenty minutes to where the trailer had been parked, hooked it up and pulled out. We planned to make it to Buffalo that night, about 8 1/2 hours of driving. We debated trying to fit in a stop at Niagara Falls, but we just had too many miles and not enough hours to get to Chicago. Until Friday afternoon, when we got news that the event in Chicago Sunday had fallen through! All of a sudden, we had an extra day to get to Chicago. Which meant we were going to Niagara Falls! Of course, it’s our nature to never be satisfied, because now we were trying to figure out a way to fit in a visit to Hamilton, NY where Dave’s father was from and where Dave’s cousin lives. But that was too far off our route, by the time we got the news.

Saturday morning, we left the trailer at our hotel and drove to the US side of Niagara Falls, a NY state park. We spent a couple of hours walking through the park, along the river and to the tops of the three main falls, Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridalveil Falls.

It was fabulous, and I’m so glad and grateful we got to do that. I’m just sorry we didn’t have our passports to see the falls from the Canada side. But that seems greedy, since we had no idea we’d even be able to stop.

It was after 1:00 by the time we made it back to Buffalo, hooked up the trailer and hit the road again. We made a quick stop at New Era Field to take a picture in front of the Buffalo Bills field.

Now we were headed to Toledo, Ohio, about four hours away. After the eight hours yesterday, that was pretty easy, and left us with only about four more hours for Sunday to get to Chicago. We don’t get a lot of notice about locations and times for our events, but Friday I’d gotten a loose schedule and was able to find a suburban hotel about half an hour from most of the events. And it had a huge parking lot, which is a plus with the trailer. It worked out great. We stayed there a week and a half total.

Starting tomorrow, our Chicago events! As always, thanks for reading!

 

Alaska!

Monday, September 9 – Tuesday, September 10, 2019

We woke to beautiful views as we pulled in to the dock in Juneau, Alaska, Monday, September 9th.

We stood on our balcony a few minutes and saw a bald eagle perched on a walkway as we were pulling into the docks.

We used to see bald eagles in Madera County, up by Hensley Dam/Hidden Lake, but not in a few years. (Side note: I’m writing and posting this while we’re on the road with the Code 3/RALI drug education trailer in the Chicago area. Yesterday, we saw a bald eagle circling above us in suburban Chicago. No. Big. Deal. Like, we didn’t travel 1600+ miles to see this one bald eagle in Alaska. Although, I did see one more later, sticking its bald head up from a tree, but this is definitely the best view of the one we both saw.)

Our excursion was to a salmon hatchery, Mendenhall Glacier National Park, and a salmon bake (“all you can eat”). We also had reservations for dinner with my folks for dinner at one of the ships specialty restaurants, one of our perks from our awesome travel agent, Cheryl at Hey Wanna Go. (Thanks, Cheryl!)

All of the “older” generation had decided this excursion involved too much walking, so it was just the four of us. Lee and Karie disembarked a little early to see some of Juneau. Dave and I took our time, then met up with Lee and Karie, boarded a bus and headed to the salmon hatchery.

It was very interesting to learn about the salmon industry in Alaska. We’ve watched Deadliest Catch about crab and some of the other reality fishing shows about tuna and salmon, etc. The salmon industry in Alaska makes sure that it is sustainable for future generations. David bought some salmon jerky to enjoy later.

After the hatchery, we loaded back onto the bus, and headed to Mendenhall Glacier National Park. It’s very well organized, as far as letting off bus passengers. We walked a fair amount (good thing the parents decided to cancel this excursion since it did entail some walking–much of it uphill, too). From the Visitor’s Center, we had a great view of the glacier itself, as well as displays to read. There was a film to watch, also. I was trying to record a wolf’s cry for a certain grand-daughter who is currently enamored with wolves, and I missed the film. Dave, Lee, and Karie were able to see the film though.

We then walked down one of the trails for a slightly closer view of the glacier.

When we hear that the glaciers are receding at so many feet per year, I, absolutely, feel a responsibility about global warming. But then I read a bit more. The glaciers have been receding for hundreds of years. Since long before humankind had anything to do with air pollution, emissions, and so on. Because let’s be real. The Grand Canyon was cut by glaciers. There were very few humans around then. Their effect on the glaciers receding through the Grand Canyon was negligible, at best. The Alaska glaciers have been receding for several hundred years. Since long before we arrived. I don’t minimize the effect we have on our environment, but I also don’t think we humans are to blame for everything the natural world is experiencing. Some of it is just a natural cycle of events.

After Mendenhall Glacier, our bus took us to a salmon feed. But we had dinner reservations at a restaurant on the ship. I had made them for later in the evening, to allow for extra time if we were late returning. Good thing! We got to the salmon bake and were told we could take as long as we wanted there. And there were buses ready to take us back to the docks whenever we were ready.

We stood in line for a portion of salmon each, but we knew we had a full dinner waiting for us back on the ship. ** The salmon at the salmon bake was … mmmm … how to put this?? Ah. May. Zing!! Fresh. Tender. Succulent. There was a buffet with salads and scalloped potatoes, then you went to the grill where the chef gave you a piece of salmon and offered you some glaze. I accepted a small piece of fish and the glaze, which they were selling (of course 😉 ) in their gift shop. But it was delicious! As it cooled, it started to congeal and harden a bit, but it really was amazing. Sweet, but not overpowering. I would have bought some, but I knew we were going to be bumping up against space and weight limits for the flights home. Of course, I didn’t know what awaited us as far as “flights” home. Stay tuned for more about that.

After David and gobbled down a few bites of salmon, we said bye to Lee and Karie and jumped on a bus back to the dock, and got ready for our dinner at the Pinnacle Grill restaurant with my folks.

Another amazing experience! The service was awesome! It was like they wanted to find a reason to shower us with love and attention. They kept asking if there was an occasion to celebrate. A birthday? Anniversary? It finally occurred to me–we had our 42nd anniversary a few days after the end of the cruise. I mentioned that and the staff exhaled a collective sigh of relief. Whew! They had a reason to be extra attentive, I guess?

I ordered the “Clothesline” appetizer. Candied bacon hanging from a line. Mom and I had a tenderloin steak that was wonderful. Even though we said we were too full for dessert, because we were celebrating an “occasion,” we were brought a dessert. It was delicious, but we were truly full, so we asked that it be packaged up and we took it back to our room’s mini-fridge for later.

Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Skagway, Alaska

We had booked an excursion from the docks in Skagway, taking a train into the Yukon, then a bus back into Alaska. Or it might be the opposite. You don’t know until you’re there. It’s at the tour’s discretion which way you go. Up by train and back by bus, or up by bus and back by train. But this was one tour we were assured was very easy and suitable for all ages and abilities.

Lee and Karie disembarked a little early to explore Skagway, then texted me. They heard that a train had broken down on the tracks and all tours for the day were canceled. Could we find out if that included ours?? We zipped up to the Excursions desk, but no one was there. Apparently, on shore days, they’re all on shore, booking tours, guiding people, etc.

As David and I disembarked, we ran into a woman he’d chatted with in his cigar smoking area. She had been in the train that had broken down. Yep. It was our train.

We continued on to where we were supposed to board and got the scoop. Yes. A train had broken an axle on the tracks. We had a couple of options. We could take a bus up and back. And possibly get a partial refund. We decided to go ahead and do that. We waited a little bit and boarded a bus for the ride up to the boarding point for the White Pass Yukon Rail. The driver takes his time. We stop many times for photo ops of glaciers and rugged mountainsides.

As we’re on the bus, we get word that the broken train had been moved off the track and we would be able to ride the train back to Skagway.

Because part of the bus and train route moved from Alaska into the Yukon (Canada), we were required to bring our passports. We had to show them twice. Once in the bus, on the way up. We had to get out the passport, hold it near our face, look straight ahead, “don’t make a joke,” etc. The Canadian Immigration official who boarded the bus to inspect us made a joke about how serious we all were. We had no response. “Ummm … we were told to be boring?”

The train followed a route built in 1898 for the Yukon Gold Rush. I really wanted to see several things while in Alaska. A bear. The Northern Lights. A moose. During the ride, our guide announced that a bear was on the right side of train. We were on the right side of the train and I was on window side, so I leaned over to look and there s/he was! It was very quick, but I saw a brown bear in Alaska! I didn’t see the Northern Lights since it was still bit early. And no moose. But I saw a bear! I think I’m the only one of our group of eight who saw the bear.

Coming back to the US, the immigration process was about the same as going into Canada. “Hold your passport in your left hand, near your face, don’t make jokes.” We were in the train at this point, with a few passengers from other buses, so it took a little bit longer. But we got the same response from the U.S. Customs & Border Protection officer. “Hey, did you all have a good time in the Yukon?” Ummm … no!! We were told we have to tell you we had a horrible time. We hate Canada! We want to come home to the US!! (Which is not true. Canada is lovely.)

Our excursion included a trip to a gold camp with a snack and gold panning. But because of the delays, after we arrived back in Skagway, (after passing through Customs & Immigration twice–once into Canada and once out) we decided to skip the gold camp and head back to the ship for dinner.

IMG_4323One of the fun elements of the cruise was during dinner, our stewards, Hri and/or Sri, would come in and turn down the bed and leave information about the next day’s stops. And there was always a cute towel sculpture on the bed.

We all made it back to the ship and had a lovely dinner in the dining room.

Then we ended the evening in the BB King lounge, listening to some great music, watching passenger’s dancing, talking with friends, and even (a little) dancing.