Oregon –> Washington –> Home!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

We needed to be in Tacoma by the end of the day, and it’s less than a three-hour drive from Hillsboro, Oregon. Our next event was in Olympia the next day. Since it was our last day in Oregon and our (okay, my) last chance to do some tax-free shopping, I took some time this morning to start my Christmas shopping. I worked for a couple of hours, then Ubered to a shopping center, to Barnes & Noble. By the time I got back, David had done our laundry. A win/win for me!

We had a quick lunch, then checked out, loaded up, and headed north. We stopped for gas again at our casino/gas station and continued on our way. When we made the reservation at Tacoma, since this was our third time at this hotel, we knew the layout. We’d been on the freeway side each time and been bothered by the traffic noise, so I’d emailed and asked for a room away from the freeway. I stressed that we wanted a quiet room.

As we checked in, we reiterated, “Away from the freeway, we want quiet. We need quiet. We’re old. We’re working hard and long days. We need our sleep. Not to mention, we’re half-deaf, so if the traffic is waking us up, it must be really, really loud.”

We were assured our room was quiet and we were being “upgraded” to a suite. That all sounds nice, and the suite was … nice, but it was still on the freeway side. Argh. Of course, this hotel is surrounded by either freeway, an exit ramp, or busy commercial streets. So there’s not a truly “quiet” side, but still, we were specific: away from the freeway.

We had dinner at the hotel restaurant. There was a young girl at a table nearby, with books, coloring books, games, and puzzles spread out. Her father would pop out of the kitchen every so often to check on her. We found out her name is Asia and David struck up a conversation with her. Pretty soon we were playing Tic Tac Toe and Go Fish, to the amusement of the other guests. Asia is quite the young card shark and very good at Tic Tac Toe. I think all of our games except one ended in a tie. (I won that one. 🙂 ) After about fifteen minutes, Asia’s caregiver (she was quick to say she was not Asia’s mother) came and picked her up.

We said goodbye to Asia, thanked her for playing with us and letting us get a pseudo-grandchild visit, then headed back to our suite. 😉

Thursday, November 21, 2019

IMG_4002The next morning, we needed to make an early start for our half hour drive to Olympia and the state Capitol. But David took a few minutes to ask the front desk staff what we could do to ensure a quiet room next time. I usually book a room with one king bed. He learned that the rooms away from the freeway are doubles. Although our upgraded suite had two doubles and was on the freeway side. So ?? But anyway, they said book a double and after making the reservation through the app, call the hotel directly and talk to someone. So we’ll try that next time.

We ordered breakfast, but a collegiate girls’ volleyball team beat us to the ordering counter and we ended up having to take ours to go.

We got to Olympia a few minutes late, but found our appointed spot without a problem, and got set up. This time we were able to keep the truck hooked up which helped with staying warm. Because it was really cold. In fact, after we set up, David got an Uber to a nearby Target and bought some hand and foot warmers for us. They helped …

We were a bit off the beaten track at the Capitol, so we didn’t get any legislators come through. The video team and photographers were at a loss and wanted to make sure the company got their moneys worth, so I gave them the tour multiple times so they could get different angled shots of the props and me and/or my hands pointing or holding things.

A couple of PhRMA lobbyists came through whom we had met in Chicago. That was fun! They remembered us and the trailer and were excited to have us in their home state. IMG_4003They did send a few coworkers by. And two people came through who are employed by a large pharmaceutical company. They both took the tour, but declined to be on camera, furthering the video team’s dilemma. A member of the state police came through and the video team did get to spend some time with her, giving me a chance to warm up in the truck, walk to the Capitol for the restroom, and pop into the gift shop there for postcards.

We had permission to leave the truck and trailer for a few hours after the event, which was wonderful, because we got to have dinner with longtime friends Kurt and Anna who live in Olympia. They came and picked up us and drove us to dinner.

IMG_4020We went to Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill. Anthony’s is a local chain, and the Hearthfire Grill is on the sound. I’m sure the views are amazing, but we didn’t have the right weather (or daylight) to properly enjoy them. We had their dinner specials, which were delicious! Four courses for a flat price. We had shrimp cocktails and Caesar salads. I had prawns for my main course, and they were fabulous, with enough leftover for another meal. Then “Burnt Cream” (Creme Brulee) for dessert.

We hadn’t seen Kurt and Anna in probably 25 years. Maybe more. We keep in touch with Christmas cards and Facebook, so we picked up like we’d chatted last month. It was so wonderful to catch up and hear about their kids and their lives. That has been one of the biggest blessings of this adventure: the opportunity to visit family and friends across the country that we’d otherwise not be seeing.

After dinner, Kurt and Anna drove us back to the trailer and truck. We said goodbye and hopes that we don’t go another 25 years (yikes! We’d be reallllly old by then!), and headed back to Tacoma and our freeway-side hotel room.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Our event is right in Tacoma, at the Tacoma campus of the University of Washington. We had a bit of a sticky situation getting in position. We were told space numbers in a parking lot, so we pulled into the long and narrow lot only to discover that our spaces were on the street in front of the lot. If we’d known that coming in, that would have helped. At one point, I was in the driver’s seat while David was directing me to turn and back up, until the trailer was situated to where he could pull it out of the lot.

It was another cold day, but we still had hand and foot warmers. Our day was scheduled to be from 9 AM to 4 PM. It was Orientation Day for the next semester’s incoming students. We had a fair amount of foot traffic and did a surprising number of tours, over 30.

The campus is really beautiful, considering it’s essentially in downtown Tacoma. At least I think it is. It’s definitely in urban Tacoma. It’s full of old brick buildings that were once commercially used and many of them still have their old, original names on them.

 

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David walked to a nearby restaurant and brought back hot dogs from Hot Rod Dog for lunch for us and Ana, our local consultant. They were good, with a very crisp snap to them.

By about 3:15 we were frozen and Ana said we were done. Foot traffic had dwindled. So we loaded up. But of course … earlier, two teachers had come by. They were very interested in a tour, but were on their way to a meeting. They said they’d be back. So just as we were almost all loaded up, they arrived. David gave them a brief tour with some highlights, while Ana and I finished the outside tear down. Then we walked around and huddled near the generator, trying to stay warm. Once the final final tour of 2019 was done, we finished loading up, said goodbye to Ana, and headed back to our hotel, all of 15 minutes away, which was a lovely change of pace.

At the hotel, we had our leftovers from Anthony’s Hearthfire in Olympia, enjoyed a brief soak in the hotel spa, and began packing, ready for an early departure tomorrow.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

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We are headed home! Our first stop is Yreka tonight. We want to get there in time for dinner at the Mexican restaurant we ate at the first time we came through, coming home from the Alaska cruise with my folks, Casa Ramos.

We have an uneventful day, and have a delicious dinner. We Facetime with Taryn’s family and get a good night’s sleep.

 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Home is the goal today! It’s a beautiful clear, crisp morning in Yreka. IMG_4035We skip church in favor of hitting the road and getting by 4 PM. Friends Lee and Karie bring over dinner, a delicious stew and rolls.

It’s been a long five and half months. A lot has happened. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves, and each other. About our country. About traveling. About people.

In the next few weeks, I plan to share some of the lessons we learned.

The trailer received funding for another year. We’ve been offered our jobs again and we’ve accepted. We’re tentatively planning to leave around January 15, 2020. I’ll keep you posted about that, too.

Thank you so much for reading! I know these last posts have been looooong. I’ll try to stay more current in 2020.

Oregon –> California –> Oregon

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Our event this day is at the Oregon State High School Cross Country Championships at a community college in Eugene. We had to be there at 8 AM, to set up by 9. We met our Oregon consultants, Rebecca and Sophie, for the first time. It was really, really cold out that day.

After we were set up and ready, I gave Rebecca and a campus security officer a tour while David went in search of coffee. This turned out to be a fairly slow day. The parents, grandparents, and spectators were there to watch their runners and not really to chat or take tours. The campus security team was very interested though, and I think all their officers on duty that day came through at one time or another.

This was the first day that we took turns sitting in the truck for a few minutes to warm up. I also got a bit of an upset stomach (too much coffee, I think, trying to get warm) and had to find the restroom. It was off a student lounge area, so I took a few extra minutes there.

The RALI consultants had a hard time giving away the tote bags and water bottles. People just didn’t want to stop and chat. It was cold and they had a place to be and things to do and people to watch.

We packed up just before the last race of the day. We know when we’re beat.

RALI usually sends a photographer to each event and today’s photographer gave us some restaurant suggestions for dinner. I also looked around online and found a place that had been on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, that was known for its seafood.

We were planning/hoping to leave the trailer at our Eugene hotel for the next five days, so we unhooked at the hotel and drove ourselves to dinner instead of using Uber. The Fisherman’s Market is indeed a dive, but what a dive! As we walked up, an employee was boiling crab out front. David stopped to talk to him and asked if those would be available to order inside. The answer was an unequivocal, “Maybe.” David also asked how to tell if crab is fresh. The last couple of years, the crab we’ve gotten locally just hasn’t been that good. We had great crab in Alaska and he’d had really good crab in Monterey. I don’t know if he got a clear answer or not, (I think it came down to smell and appearance), but we headed inside and ordered at the counter. The cashier also didn’t know if the crab cooking outside would be available, but the cook stuck his head in and said, yes, David could order one, it would be ready soon. I looked at their specialties and what Guy Fieri had eaten on DDD and I ordered the Cajun Crawdad pie. It was like a chicken pot pie, but with miniature shrimp/crawdads. It was really good, although very rich. I took more than half of it to-go, and ate it for another two meals.

Sunday, November 10 – Thursday, November 14, 2019

We had a week off with no events, so we’d decided to park the trailer and drive to Crescent City, California to visit longtime friends who’d recently moved there. Great plan, but the hotel refused to let us leave the trailer there. We’d never had a problem before, but for some reason … Anyway, we found another hotel in town that had a huge lot, so we canceled our reservation for when we would return to Eugene Thursday, made a new reservation, hooked up again, and drove three miles north.

After unhooking, we headed south again. It’s about a four-hour drive to Crescent City. From Grants Pass, we headed south and west through some beautiful country.

We met up with Steve and Abbie and had dinner at the Good Harvest Cafe. I thought it was good, although Abbie said she’d had better there.

We’d never been to Crescent City before, but since Abbie grew up there, we’d heard a lot about it. How it was always gray and rainy. And far away from shopping and entertainment options.

Well. Monday morning was gorgeous, sunny and clear and bright. In fact, it wasn’t until IMG_2977 copyWednesday that we got a taste of the “normal,” overcast and gray Crescent City weather.

We had a great few days there. Steve and Abbie gave us a tour of IMG_9347 copythe area, including their new home and the area where Abbie grew up. We saw the coastal redwoods, and even got an impromptu tour of the local lighthouse.

 

We walked out to the lighthouse as two men on Gator/golf cart vehicles were moving sacks of concrete up to the lighthouse. The posted “Open” hours for tours were over, so we knew we were just there to look around the outside of the building and read the markers. David stopped to chat and started helping them unload the sacks. I wasthisclose to hollering at him to 1) Stay out of their way, 2) Not IMG_0561 copyinjure himself helping strangers, and 3) Come look at these amazing views. But of course, he (and God) had other plans. After a few minutes talking to the two men, he learned they are both volunteer lighthouse keepers. One was stationed there that month with his wife. Well, sure enough, the keeper invited us in. We got a history of the lighthouse, its lens, its decommissioning and its current status as county property, maintained by volunteers. We also got to climb into the lens “house” at the top. It was a lovely serendipity. We learned that the lighthouse (and its keepers) are cut off from the mainland by the tides for a large portion of every day. Some volunteers find that too isolating and don’t want to return after their first rotation. The keeper that month and his wife don’t mind it, and the tides that day were late enough that they were planning dinner in town and they’d be able to be back to the lighthouse before the tide came back in. It was all fascinating. 

IMG_9493 copyAlso, while in town those few days, we got to meet Abbie’s sister and see her sister’s home and see their brother and his family again. We did some shopping in some really fun and unique gift shops.

We ate in some great restaurants, both in Crescent City and in Brookings, Oregon. The Chart Room had the best fish & chips. Seaquake Brewing had lots of delicious food, including fried cheese curds, burgers, and thick, creamy clam chowder. In Brookings, we had surf and turf at O’Hollerans Steakhouse. And our last evening, we had amazing food at Oxenfre, also in Brookings.

Thursday morning we headed back to Eugene, but we decided to take the more scenic coastal route.

We drove north along the Oregon coast, stopping for lunch in Coos Bay, at the Blue Heron Cafe. The website said they offered “Classic German Cuisine,” and the menu looked interesting. Somehow we both ended up ordering oysters. David got them breaded and pan-fried with mashed potatoes and coleslaw, while I ordered the bacon and oyster sandwich. We’ve never been big oyster fans, so I don’t know why or how we ended up ordering this way. I guess we thought we were in oyster and seafood country and that’s what you should order when you’re there. I’m sure they were good, but it did reinforce that we just don’t really care for oysters that much. Unless they’re small and broiled with lots of cheese. 🙂

From Coos Bay, we continued north to Florence, then turned east to Eugene. We stopped at Sarver Winery for a tasting. The wines were good, the views vast and they even had small plates available, so we didn’t need dinner that night. As we chatted with the young woman pouring the tastes, the winemaker was nearby. David expressed his opinion about California pinot noirs (that they’re too fruit-forward and most wine drinkers think that’s how they’re supposed to be and don’t appreciate the more delicate and true pinot characteristics). The winemaker, also named David, slapped his hand on the bar and exclaimed, “Thank you!” So of course they were off and running. Winemaker David had an accent and it took me a few minutes to place it, but I finally figured out he was a Kiwi from New Zealand. While the two Davids discussed wine, I wandered over to enjoy the views and our snack. It was too damp and chilly to be outside, but it was still a gorgeous vista.

In Eugene, we found our new hotel where we’d left the trailer, and avoided an accident when someone decided to stop in the middle of the street and turn around right in front of us. It was a narrow street and they had to make a nine-point turn. Fun times!

Tomorrow, we head back to the Portland area. Thanks for reading!

 

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 …

 

 

 

Finishing up in Chicago

After my last post about Chicago, I thought I would be right back to finish up the rest of the Chicago adventure, but life and travel and work conspired to keep me busy. But I’m back.

Friday, Oct. 4

IMG_5369
Senator Kimberly Lightford and our RALICares colleague Jenna

An event in Hillside, Illinois, sponsored by Illinois State Senator Kimberly Lightford. She was a pleasure to meet and her staff were wonderful to work with. It was a small event, in the parking lot of her office. The property manager wouldn’t let us set up where we were visible from the road, so there were few to no walkup visitors. But the visitors we had who sought us out were fabulous. We had an officer who’s the school liaison, and the mayor of a neighboring township, as well as the senator. The officer had a tattoo of his daughter’s name on his arm–Amber. (Some of you know where Dave has his daughters’ names tattooed.)

In personal news from home, we got some great news and some bad. My mom was rear-ended and got stitches on her forehead. The pictures were very bloody and I’ll spare you those. She’s recovered well, though the same can’t be said of the car: it was totaled.

Returning to our hotel, the CoPilot app took us on a crazy route through residential areas that we had no business going in. CoPilot: Strike 2. But on the upside, we passed an Irish

pub that looked good, so once we changed from CoPilot to Google maps and found our hotel, we dropped off the trailer and went to Irish Times for dinner. It was as real an Irish pub as we’ve found in the U.S. It even smelled right, like a peat fire. I don’t know how they did that. Our waitress said the owner is Irish and he and one of the waitresses were in Ireland just then, getting married that weekend. Dave had corned beef and cabbage (which apparently is not actually eaten by the Irish in Ireland, according to our Irish family), and I had fish and chips. Both were excellent. 

Saturday, Oct. 5

Our event today was at the Way Back Inn, a half-way house in Maywood, Illinois, sponsored by State Rep. Emmanuel “Chris” Welch. I was privileged to give him a tour and he was impressed with the trailer and the information he learned. We talked privately for a few minutes after. A friend of his had taken the tour with him, and the young man’s mother is an addict. He said it was good for his friend to see this and be educated about what to watch for. We talked about the toll addiction takes on a family. I got a little teary myself then, knowing the toll my own family has paid and he expressed his condolences.

This event was small in scope, also, but still, those who came through were impacted. One of the men I gave a quick tour to was a resident of the home, a former addict. We educated each other. He gave me an idea for one more item that could be in the trash (he said it was how his parents knew he was dealing), and I showed him a hiding place he’d never used. He was fun to chat with.

After our great Irish pub experience last night, I’d been thinking: what other cuisine is IMG_4035Chicago known for? Duh! Chicago deep-dish pizza! Thanks to my trusty Google, I found a highly rated local chain with a restaurant not far from our hotel. We dropped off the trailer at the hotel as it started to rain. By the time we got to the restaurant, it was pouring. We were there early enough on a Saturday that we didn’t have to wait for a table, though we did have to wait for the deep-dish pizza. It takes about 35-40 minutes to bake. So we started with some deep-fried cheese curds to tide us over while we waited. And it was worth the wait! I don’t know that I’d have it all the time, instead of the pizza I grew up with, but it is definitely worth having occasionally.

Sunday Oct. 6

Today, we were up early for our event at Willow Brook High School in Villa Park. In the elevator as headed out, we saw a groomsman from a wedding at the hotel last night. Dave asked him about the wedding, and he said it was awesome, everyone had a great time, in fact he was just heading to bed. As he got off the elevator, he said, “Go, Bears!” We chuckled, and Dave muttered, “Go, Raiders.” I remarked that he was just going to catch a nap before the Bears’ game. We didn’t realize the Bears and the Raiders were playing that day.

We found out also that our event was scheduled for a Sunday morning (over our local contact’s protest that people would be in church and we’d have a low turnout) because the Bears’ game was in the afternoon and definitely no one would come during the game. So we found the school parking lot and set up. The local legislator, State Rep. Deb Conroy, and one of her staff members came, as well as a few school administrators. I had one woman, probably in her seventies, who told me she left her husband at home getting the grandkids ready for church, but she wanted to take the tour and learn all she could from the trailer.

As great as most everyone is, we do run into an occasional jerk. And we had one today. I think he was on a local council of some sort, and he was eyeing a higher office. He monopolized conversations with the representative. I offered him a tour and he said, “Yeah, I’ll be right with you,” and proceeded to keep talking, sitting on our tables, and taking up everyone’s time and attention. Half an hour later, he joined a tour, then after five minutes, looked at his watch, said, “Oops, I’ve got to go to a meeting.” He left, then stood outside talking for another twenty minutes. It was very obvious why he was there and it had nothing to do with caring about raising awareness about the opioid crisis in America.

The nice thing about an early event is we were done, packed up, and back at the hotel by 12:30. David even got to watch some of the Bears/Raiders game. We stayed at the hotel for the rest of the day, ate some of our leftovers for dinner, and visited the hotel pool for the first time.

Monday, Oct. 7

We had an evening event, so I worked most of the day while Dave did laundry and read. We went to Waukegan High School and set up. We were basically on the sidewalk, next to a door into the school. They were having a workshop on getting financial aid, and how to fill out the FAFSA, sponsored by two legislators. Both of them stopped by and took tours, a very enthusiastic school security officer came through, and several parents as well. State Rep. Rita Mayfield, came through for a tour. Congressman Brad Schneider was a co-sponsor of the event also. Some of his staffers came through, as well.

There is usually a freelance photographer at our events, hired by PhRMA, to take pictures of all the events, of the legislators, of the people on the tours. Sometimes a video team is there as well. For all our Chicago events, we had the same photographer, Ty. He’s the guy who called his wife to come be a person we could talk to at the soccer fields when we got zero people to come to our display. He’s a really nice guy and we enjoyed getting to know him. We had a few more days with him, but now feels like a good time to mention him. Because …

Tuesday, Oct. 8

We were up and out early, by 7 am, and headed to the south side of Chicago, for a health fair at a community park. Inside they offered flu shots, bone density tests, blood pressure readings, and lots of information. Elgie Simms Nick Smith

Getting there at all was a bit of an adventure. I’m now in the habit of mostly using Google Maps, but I cross-check the route with CoPilot. Heidi, our local contact (I call her “local,” but she’s actually from Missouri, so maybe I should say she’s our Midwest contact), Screen Shot 2019-11-03 at 3.31.36 PMtexted to say what street we should approach from to get the best angle to bring the trailer into the driveway. I put that into Google, and two blocks from the park, we came to a low train trestle and there was no way we we’d make it under there. Luckily, there was a wide dirt area where we could tell we weren’t the first one to use it to turn around. CoPilot found an alternate route with a higher trestle that we sailed under just fine and then we were back on track. 

South Chicago has a certain reputation, and I don’t know that I’d want to visit after dark, but I felt fine there during the day. There is apparent poverty and crime, but there are also lovely neighborhoods where the residents are obviously working hard to keep their homes safe attractive.

We were fairly busy this day. Everyone who came through the trailer was amazed at what they learned. I remember one woman in particular was blown away by everything I showed her. I realized I had formed an opinion that “everyone” on the south side of Chicago knew all about drug use and would be aware of everything already. No. These were mothers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, fathers, grandfathers who wanted to educate themselves and keep their families safe.

Ty and I chatted about the importance of various health screenings and somehow we got on the subject of colonoscopies. He said his mom had scheduled one because her doctor’s office told her she needed it. Well, English is not her first language, (I think he’s Filipino), so when it came time for the prep, he explained to her what exactly she had to do for the prep and what the test involved. She immediately canceled the procedure. 🙂

Tomorrow, we leave Countryside, Illinois and the hotel that’s been our home for the last ten days.

 

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!

 

Iowa –> Nebraska –> Colorado

We left Des Moines around 2:00 Monday afternoon. Dave did some errands for the trailer that morning while I worked and then went for a pedicure. I needed some self-care. 😉 We said a last goodbye to Bryan and Cuda at Farm Boy Garage, also breaking down their booth at the fairgrounds. Then we hooked up the trailer and put Des Moines in our rearview mirror. 

We knew we had an event in Julesburg, Colorado on Wednesday, August 21, but that’s all we knew. I emailed the one contact I had for info, we crossed our fingers and headed out for Lincoln, Nebraska, our stop for the night. We’d planned to stop at a trailer/RV place just outside of town that had exhibited at the fair. For more–you guessed it–trailer supplies. By then it was nearly 4:00 so we looked for a place to eat. Kue'dWe hadn’t had lunch yet, so we called it a late lunch/early dinner. I found a place called Kue’d that looked good. It was a bit out of our way, but we weren’t in a hurry.

We shared a salad with burnt ends and it was amazing! The brisket ends were tender and smoky and the salad was very welcome after the 9 days of fried foods at the fair.

So it was almost 5:00 by the time we were truly on the road and headed for Lincoln, Nebraska. We had about two and a half hours to go. This was our first time pulling this new trailer in a new truck. We weren’t sure what to expect. The new trailer’s hitch seemed to be sitting quite a bit lower than the other trailer.

Well.

This trailer pulls much more smoothly. No major swaying, no being buffeted around by the wind, or by trucks passing. It’s a huge difference. I don’t feel my heart in my throat and grip the armrest whenever a vehicle approaches on the left. Dave’s going to see what adjustments he can make to the other trailer when we take that one over again in September.

IMG_2760We arrived in Lincoln about 8:00 and stopped for runzas at a restaurant called Runza’s. I did a little reading on the way and discovered Nebraska’s claim to culinary fame is the runza, which is very similar to what we in the Central Valley call bierocks. They’re a kind of savory meat pie/turnover. I liked it, but Dave didn’t care for the spices in the meat.

We got checked into our hotel just after 8:00, which was unfortunate, because we discovered we’d missed their complimentary Happy Hour of snacks and wine. Someone took pity on our forlorn and bedraggled appearance and gave us a plastic cup of red wine, but the snacks were gone.

Tuesday morning, we had a bit more information about the Colorado schedule for the week, so I made some hotel reservations in Denver since we finally knew where we needed to be when. There are no hotels in Julesburg to speak of, so I made a reservation in Ogallala, Nebraska. That’s about three hours from Lincoln, but half an hour from Julesburg. We took our time again in Lincoln Tuesday morning before heading to Ogallala.

 

The scenery in Iowa and Nebraska is beautiful. Lots of corn. We crossed the Platte River many times. Several different forks of it, I think. According to our atlas, I-80 roughly follows the Oregon National Historic Trail, the California National Historic Trail, the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, and the Pony Express National Historic Trail. Do you see the theme there?

The details of our event in Julesburg were pretty fuzzy. We were told Colorado’s US Senator Cory Gardner would be visiting the trailer between 1:45 and 3, and the trailer would be open until 5. But we weren’t given a beginning time. When I asked, I was told, “umm, maybe, 11?” So we planned to get there around 10:30. We were given cross streets to set up at, but that was it.

When we arrived, we scoped out where we thought would be a good place of the four corners. Then two men joined us. Whew! Someone who knew what was going on. Except where they wanted us to park, there were vehicles in the way. So we compromised and ended up in front of the town hall, which worked just fine.

We got to work unloading the trailer and setting it up, then I walked to the local diner, had a quick lunch and brought a sandwich back for Dave. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it on the menu: A Rocky Mountain Oyster sandwich. I knew he would love it. And he did. I did not take a picture of it. You’re welcome.

Our RALI Cares consultants showed up then and took over the set up of the outside display tables and giveaways. A few people came by and we gave tours. Then the senator and his entourage arrived. I started their tour with my usual intro and showed the first few items. Then I started getting the hurry up signals. What!?!? I just got started. But I talked faster. Then I got another signal. Fine. I talked faster and skipped things. Then someone told the senator he had just a few more minutes. So then I was skipping lots of things and giving the highlights. But whew! I guess I finished in time, because then he stood around outside taking pictures, accepting a plaque, and then they left. On the dot of 3:00.

We gave a few more tours. I think we showed the trailer to about 20-some people total. Julesburg is a very small town of around 1200 people. We stayed until 5:00, then packed up. 

The building across from us is the home of the Sedgwick County Economic Development Agency. Several of us were given a tour by the director who has been restoring the building which used to be a bank. Now it houses his offices, as well as some other businesses and offers meeting spaces to local groups and houses a military collection. It’s a really beautiful and amazing old building.

 

When we were done, we were still three hours from Denver. Our new colleagues were arriving the next day around 11:20. We had reservations at a hotel about an hour and a half away. I thought that was a good compromise, rather than driving three hours after IMG_2771an event, or three hours the next morning. So we drove to Fort Morgan, Colorado, to a Comfort Inn, took a quick dip in their pool, and went to bed.

We were up early Thursday morning, and on the road to Denver. We have an event in Greenwood Village on Sunday and two events at the Capitol Monday and Tuesday, although we’re leaving on Monday. So I wanted a hotel midway between those events, and convenient to the airport, since we were picking up our replacements and leaving ourselves.

We got to the hotel in Thornton about 10:30, found a place in their lot to drop off the trailer and then hurried to the airport. We made it just in time to meet our new colleagues, Jeff and Katia. We’re training them today and tomorrow in the trailer, on setting it up, giving tours, hooking it up and unhooking it, as well as driving it. We’ll do Sunday’s event together, then we’ll set up Monday at the Capitol together. We’ll take a bus and a train to the airport and fly home and the trailer will be all theirs.

The adventure continues! Thank you for reading!!

Final Thoughts on the Iowa State Fair

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

We were ex.haus.ted by Sunday evening after the Iowa State Fair.

But there are some thoughts/people/experiences I want to share.

The booth across from us. Farm Boy Garage. Super nice people over there. I’ve posted IMG_2680pictures of their dog, Cuda. She was just a love sponge. One day I was giving a tour and she sauntered into the trailer, looking for someone, or wanting some attention. The garage owner, Bryan, is a super-nice guy, as are his employees. He shared some stories with several of us that show his big heart, his work ethic, and his love of muscle cars. I also posted a couple of videos. Every so often Bryan would get into one of the cars he had on display, fire up the ignition and rev the engine. The sound was deafening. I’m not exaggerating. Many of you know I have a severe hearing loss in my right ear and my doctor has cautioned me to protect the hearing I have left in that ear and all my hearing in my left ear. So whenever Bryan fired up an engine, I’d stick my fingers in my ears, apologize to anyone I was giving a tour to, and wait it out. After about a minute, Bryan would turn off the engine. It was interesting to watch though. Whenever he did that, people would flock to his tents from all around us. It was like bugs to a bug light. (Also … Bryan shared with one of our team … a family member is going through a health crisis, and … it’s not going to end well. In fact, the end, is imminent and Bryan can’t bring himself to talk about it. So, my praying readers, please pray for Bryan.)

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Mid-Westerners: I’m a 2nd generation native Californian. Dave’s at least a 3rd generation. We know California missions. Yosemite. Giant Sequoias. The beach. But there’s much in this country we’re clueless about. And we don’t try to hide that. More than once we’ve tilted our heads and said, “Ummm … what?”

 

 

The Butter Cow. And the Sesame Street Characters made of butter. I do love butter. But not enough to sculpt with it. Or craft with it. And apparently they reuse the butter, so the cow is 19 years old.

Humidity. Californians don’t know humidity. Trust me. We only think we do.

Thunder. Until it wakes you from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, you haven’t

IMG_2717heard it. We watched the weather forecast every evening so we’d know how to leave the trailer and its accoutrement. If rain was forecast, everything went inside the trailer. If the forecast was clear, some things could be left outside. That worked well, until our last night … we left some popup shelters out, and some plastic bins and cardboard boxes. The bins and boxes held some of the drug deactivation kits the RALI Cares people give away as well as the tote bags. Well … thunder woke us up about 4:00 Sunday morning. We knew that was not a good thing. When we got to the fair grounds, our co-worker/consultant, Heidi, was already there. One of the popup shelters was a twisted, mangled mess. Several boxes of supplies were soaked. The only good thing was that we weren’t the only ones to suffer losses. Several other exhibitors nearby also had twisted popups. I guess, in addition to the rain, a weird wind swept through our alley of booths, leaving a path of twisted aluminum tents and poles.  

IMG_2696Scooters. We’ve seen lots of electric scooters taking people to see exhibits and booths. And this picture … The man is driving an electric scooter … towing his wife in a wheelchair. He rigged up a tow line with PVC pipe. Talk about ingenuity …

I work in the agriculture industry. But even my eyes widened when I walked past a huge piece of equipment with a sign that proclaimed Fair Special! $10,000 off Regular Price!!  Ummm …. How much is the regular price if the sale price is ten THOUSAND dollars off?? Dave thinks it’s about a half-million dollars piece of equipment and it’s something that contract harvesters buy and use. Not your average farmer/rancher.

Tomorrow … Nebraska and Colorado!

 

 

 

 

 

Fair Fare!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Finally, I got my food pictures from my phone to my laptop. I forgot to take pictures of a few things, but we have nine days of fair food to share and talk about!

The choices were overwhelming, truly. The fair website has a subsection devoted to the food only. Then there are pages listing what foods are new to the fair that year, as well as healthy fare, and food on a stick. Because of course.

We shared most of our meals and we walked a lot, which is why our clothes don’t feel any tighter. There was a preponderance of fried options, so every couple of days we needed something green and would track down a salad.

Our first fair lunch we wandered to one of the food thoroughfares and just took it in.

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Dave left it up to me to choose and I had literally no idea. Until I saw:

I’ve seen poutine on television, and even had it once, several years ago, but needed to try it again. It seemed like a safe choice for a first meal. I forgot to take a picture of the actual poutine, but for the uninitiated, it’s french fries and cheese curds with gravy on top. This poutine stand offered toppings on the fries, like garlic parmesan, bacon, pulled pork, sour cream, sriracha, or pork belly. We stuck with the original on the premise that you have to know what the original tastes like before you experiment.

There’s also a brochure that lists all the some info from the website, so for dinner Dave listed some of new to the fair choices. He thought it sounded weird, but I wanted to try the pickledawg. It’s a hollowed out pickle filled with a hotdog, then dipped in corndog batter and deep fried. It does sound weird, but also intriguing.

He went on the hunt and returned with the pickledawg and deep fried deviled eggs for a starter. The eggs were good, but the sauce to the left was really good. It was almost a tartar sauce, but with a kick of mustard that made it special. I enjoyed the pickledawg and even Dave said it was better than he expected. The salty tang of the pickle stood up nicely to the sweetness of the corn batter and the hotdog wasn’t lost in the corn.

Since I have 9 days to cover, I’m going to post the pictures with captions and only talk about the highlights. Hover your mouse or click on the pics below to read the captions.

I neglected to get a picture of one of our favorites. I’m ticked at myself, because it was amazing! It was called a Berkshire Bacon Ball. It had a cheese ball center, surrounded by seasoned ground pork and bacon, wrapped in bacon, smoked, dipped in BBQ sauce. It was wonderful! So many layers of flavor, sweet, smoky, savory in every bite.

Aha! Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I found a picture of it in the fair’s new food brochure: IMG_2753

Another food I neglected to take a picture of was a piece of pecan pie on a stick. Yes, pie on a stick. It had a really thick crust. Dave can’t eat nuts. I can’t eat much sugar. So he had a bite of crust and gooey sauce. I had a couple of bites. We gave Steve a bite, then we threw out the rest. It was fine, but we’d rather use our calories for meat, cheese, and more meat and more cheese.

Also undocumented but delicious: deep fried garlic cheese curds, crab fritters, and fried mac & cheese bites. The fried cheese curds were a perfect combo of creamy and crunchy with the added bite of garlic. Same for the mac & cheese bites, but without the garlic. The crab fritters were like a crabcake, but in a ball. Really really yummy and the sauce was amazing. A remoulade, not a tartar sauce.

Okay, back to my own pictures and captions.

I should note here that Iowans are very, very proud of their pork. Lots of people walking around the fair wore shirts proclaiming them to be proud pig farmers. And truly, the pork was the best we’ve ever had. The pulled pork sandwich above and the pork belly on a stick below were from the Iowa Pork Producers building/booth/take-out/restaurant.

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The pork belly on a stick is just what the sign behind it says. Brown sugar. Yumm. Pork belly (basically thick cut bacon) on a stick. What’s not to like love?

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Burnt ends on fried onions. A definite highlight. I thought they were delicious! They were $13, so definitely on the pricey side. And when the server handed it to David, he told her to put more meat on. The serving was pretty skimpy for the price. But with the “enhanced,” portion, we felt full. He said she kind of glared at him, but she did as he asked.

Final pictures are of the random people Dave chased down to ask what they were eating.

I know Iowa is also very proud of their corn, but besides nuts, Dave can’t eat corn, so we didn’t partake of any sweet corn or popcorn. We also didn’t get a funnel cake although we intended to since Steve wanted one, but didn’t want a whole one by himself. What can I say? 9 days at the Iowa State Fair just isn’t enough to try all their offerings.

We’re now in Ogallala, Nebraska. We have an event in Julesburg, Colorado tomorrow. I hope to blog again tomorrow evening about my final impressions of the Iowa State Fair, the people we met and talked to, and whatever other random things occur to me.

Then I’ll catch us up to current days. Thanks, as always, for reading!