Travelling – like Mark Twain

missouri-david-liu

If you’ve ever noticed the only quote that appears on my blog is “Write what you know.”- Mark Twain.  I like Mark Twain, but not for the classics like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer (collective literary gasp).  What made me like Mark Twain was a short story, A Dog’s Tale.  Even though it’s a sad and tragic tale, it’s written entirely from the prospective of a dog – which I may do from time to time.

I also like Mark Twain because he travelled, and he wrote about his travels.

So, I was excited to get to travel last weekend to Missouri and visit an old Missouri river town, St Charles, where almost everything is named after Mark Twain (a hobby store, the mall, streets…) except the really weird pizza, which I’ll get to in a minute. Also notice I’m now using the term travelling in place of vacation or holiday – it’s really splitting hairs but travelling sounds more like something Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway would have done.

For those of you who have read some of my previous travel calamities there is good news, no hotels were involved or harmed during this trip!  We were lucky enough to stay with friends who recently relocated to the St. Louis area.  It was like staying in the best ever bed and breakfast imaginable.

Day 1 – We started our day with rain.  Lots and lots and lots of rain.  Dave joked that every time we go to St. Louis it rains – he’s not lying, but we’ve only been there one other time.  I was determined to take my kids to the Gateway Arch, rain be damned.  But I didn’t pre-game the Arch very well – or at all.  It was this passing thought I had when we stopped to get gas and McDonald’s in Illinois.  I have been to the Arch two other times in life, once when I was very little and all I remember is weird jerky tram ride to the top.  The second was with my husband in 1997 when we were on our Honeymoon and there was no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks he was going to ride to the top.

As we exited the interstate and you could see the Arch I was surprised to hear Dawson say, “I think I might have to go to the top.”  My son. The one who won’t ride Ferris Wheels and go up in Space Needles because he thinks he might be afraid of heights, maybe kind of sorta – but he isn’t sure.  YAY – parenting win!  Here comes the travel tip portion of visiting the Gateway Arch without a game plan:

  1. Parking is at least three or four blocks away in any direction unless you are in a tour bus. Not great when it’s pouring down rain and the umbrella that used to always be in your car for soccer games has mysteriously disappeared and is probably safe and dry in the garage at home.  But it was only $5 to park, which for city parking isn’t bad.
  2. You have to buy your tickets to enter the Arch from this little kiosk outside the entrance, I’m not sure if this is a permanent thing or just while they are remodeling, but also not fun when you don’t have an umbrella and its pouring. And the lady working in the little kiosk had to ask four times how many tickets we needed, and she still didn’t get it right. Luckily the ticket taker didn’t ask why Dawson and Teagan both had CHILD tickets.
  3. You have to go through security and a metal detector. There is ONE metal detector for each entrance.  It is about a 15-20-minute process to get through security depending on the number of people in front of you and their general ability to empty their pockets and walk through a metal detector – you’d be surprised how many people can’t figure out that they can’t keep their car keys and cell phones in their pocket.  Again, mostly outside in the rain up until the last 5 minutes or so when you get under the Arch.
  4. Congratulations! You are inside the Gateway Arch. You may not get in line for the tram until 5 minutes before your ticket time. Your socks and shoes are sloshy, and you are styling the “wet look.”  20 minutes to go… hey look a gift shop!
  5. THREE of us got in line with our tram tickets. Once again Mr. H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks would not go to the top.  He bought a book about the construction of the Arch and a Diet Dr. Pepper and sat at the bottom and waited.
  6. The tram ride to the top is a huge ordeal and process. You have a tram “conductor” who issues you boarding passes, then you watch a video about the 1960’s (when the construction was complete) that has nothing to do with the Arch.  You take the obligatory green screen picture and get a ticket to purchase an overpriced photoshopped picture of your family in front of the Arch.  You then are escorted to the actual boarding area where you see the metal tram “doors” which are smaller than the windows in my living room.  I think Dawson turned green when he saw the doors.
  7. The 4-minute tram ride to the top really isn’t bad, but it’s a little shaky and there’s a window so you can see the metal supports the entire way up. PS don’t look down!  We rode up with two little girls, Nora and Madison, who were 4 and 8, their mom had to split up all the kids because she had 6 kids and only 5 people can ride in one tram – I wasn’t the only mom who didn’t pre-game!  One was scared, the other wasn’t.  Kind of like my kids – who held hands on the way up. 🙂
  8. The top is cool. You can probably see more on a sunny day, but still cool.  Unless you are uncomfortable being crammed into a space that is about 65 feet long, 7 feet wide and 7 feet tall with 80 other people.  Sardines come to mind.  We stayed just long enough to snap pictures from each side and Dawson was done.  3 minutes down – gravity helps I guess.

st louis arch

We then enjoyed a rainy walk back to the car.  And Dave made me walk on a pedestrian bridge made entirely of metal grating.  I don’t like a) bridges and b) metal grates.  Next time he’s riding the damn tram to the top.

We negotiated rush hour traffic to get to the suburbs where our friends live, and we stopped at Wal-Mart to get dry shoes and socks.  It was important to have dry shoes and socks.  Dave didn’t pack extra shoes or socks.  We also located an Imo’s Pizza, which according to Dave’s EMS Chief who is from St. Louis is one of the best places to get St. Louis style pizza.  Again, we’ll get to the pizza later.

The fun thing about navigation systems is they take you what is the most “direct” route to any location.  Jenny Jeep (Elmo’s navigation system) was already on Dave’s last nerve because she kept alerting us to traffic backups on I-70.  Then Jenny Jeep took us what we later learned was the back way to our friend’s house.  We were doing good until we were told to turn on a “road” which looked more like a single lane driveway that went straight up.  No, I’m not exaggerating it went literally straight up – and at the peak I wasn’t sure there was anything on the other side. That’s why it’s the back way, there is a much flatter and easily travelled road that Jenny Jeep wasn’t aware of using Highway MM.  I’m totally behind naming highways after my favorite candy.

Day 2 consisted of antique shops and St. Charles historic riverfront.  I was in Heaven!  There were so many shops with farmhouse decor and handmade soaps and candles and crafts and OMG the fresh-baked cookies!  And I found an old window that I’ve wanted for some time to replace an 80’s design “feature” in my house.  The old window almost didn’t fit in Elmo.  And there were the rocks.  Everyone kept finding painted rocks – except me.  On the back of the rock was a Facebook logo with a name, so I looked it up.  It’s a group of people who paint rocks and leave them all over St Charles for people to find.  Isn’t that cool?

Ok, it’s time to talk about the pizza.  For dinner we convinced our friends to go to the pizza place we had seen.  When they moved to St. Louis everyone told them the same thing they told us, you must try St. Louis style pizza.  St. Louis style pizza is really all about the cheese even though the crust is also controversial because is thin and they don’t use yeast when they make it.  But the cheese. I had to look it up.  It’s “white processed cheese known as Provel. Provel is a trademark for three cheeses fused to form one (provolone, Swiss, and white Cheddar).” The words fuse and cheese should not be used together ever.  At first it was just “slightly different” and didn’t really taste bad.  To be honest, it doesn’t taste bad at all, it’s the texture that’s impossible to get past.  Its like slicing Velveeta on a pizza.  You should still try it if you go to St. Louis – just fair warning you may not like it.

logo-imos

Day 3 was travelling back home.  Again, in the rain.  What is it with the rain?  We had done so very well this trip without our usual bumps in the road (except our friends had a flat tire).  We found the bump on the way home.  We stopped to eat lunch and everything was going well until the little girl next to us fell off her chair and hit her chin.  It made a horrible crack when she hit and of course she started crying.  What made me jump was the older [than me] gentleman behind us who literally sprung out of his seat and dove toward the little girl bellowing “OH MY GOD IS SHE OK?”  It was a bit of an over reaction especially for a stranger.  That was bad.  What made it worse was that the mom totally under reacted to the situation.  She sighed loudly and asked in a very calm monotone “are you ok?”  Super stranger who had bolted out of his seat was now yelling “SHE’S BLEEDING!!!” Apathetic mom reached for a napkin and was trying to hold the girl steady to wipe the blood while calmly saying, “you have to let me see and wipe the blood away.”  Super stranger was still standing there staring in disbelief at the mom, so she said, “oh she’s ok.  She just had surgery this week that’s why she’s bleeding.”  The man finally went back to his seat where he very loudly relayed the story to his wife including questioning why she had surgery.  I mean his wife had seen and heard the whole incident so I’m not sure why he was telling her the story.  I was amazed Teagan hadn’t started to laugh because she laughs at inappropriate times – it’s a brain injury thing.  The whole thing was just too much, the super overreaction of the man and the completely emotionless and under reacting mom.  And our little happy family was stuck directly in the middle of it all.  I had to go or I was going to be the one laughing at an inappropriate time.

There you have it, a trip with no hotel disasters, only a slight weather problem and one minor people watching bump. It’s our first trip without an epic weather event.  It did snow on April 1st though, but that doesn’t count we were already home.

Finally, for my friend who spent all weekend planning and naming my “shop” to sell all my handicrafts and writings I challenge you to open your own bed and breakfast.  You would be really great at making people feel like home and the place would be incredibly decorated.  Just a thought!

 

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Scratchy blankets and getting sick on orange juice

I always say I love to travel.  I have a fuzzy memory of what was likely my first vacation.  I was about 4 or 5 years old and we took a train to Florida.  It may have even been to Walt Disney World, but I don’t remember anything about it except:  I got sick on orange juice on the train and the blanket I had was scratchy.  I think that explains a lot about me – I was destined to write about the calamities of travel.

I thought long and hard about how to document the latest travel adventure and I even tried writing a few times while still on vacation.  I’m going to start on day one, but in reverse order:

1:45 AM Prattville, AL

We are all exhausted and finally tucked in our cozy beds at the Hampton Inn so you would think all you would hear is “zzzzz” – however what you heard was Dave laughing hysterically.  Like uncontrollable hysterical laughter which triggered all of us to start laughing.  When he could finally talk and explain what had got him started laughing it was an earlier conversation about a fart – not even a recent fart or even a fart that occurred on this trip.  I vaguely remember Teagan saying something about “smells like regret and shame,” before I fell asleep.

1:01 AM Prattville, AL

Finally arrived at the Hampton Inn – the one that I chose ahead of time so that we would avoid not being able to find a hotel due to a convention, or sporting event, or that fact that it’s Spring Break and thousands of people are travelling.  The sliding doors are locked, not a good sign.  Ring the bell.  Someone lets me in.  The first sign that there was a problem should have been the stacks of paper lining the welcome desk.  Amanda (she had a name tag) looked nervous, second sign of a looming problem.  Good news – she did see our reservation.  Bad news – she had one computer tied up running some report and the other was doing a virus scan.  There was a lot of scurrying between computers, a lot of lamenting because she was new and by herself and unsure what to do with the computer.  I have since figured out what the problem was, she had already counted us as a “no show” and the computer had cancelled our room.  She did call someone to help her and somehow she got us our room back (fast forward:  she did not – she just booked and charged us for another room).  Another gentleman came in he smelled like alcohol or maybe he just recently sprayed AXE cologne, not sure. He looked familiar-ish.  As she was waiting for the computer to perform some miracle to get me my room she helped him on the other computer and in 2 minutes he had a room.  He recognized our car from travelling (Elmo stands out a bit), he was from Indiana too and we both commented on the terrible traffic in Kentucky.  I think I went to high school with him, his name was unique and I went to high school with someone with that name.  He went out got his kids and suitcases and went to his room.  I’m still standing at the desk.  I looked him up on Facebook while I waited, still not sure if it’s the guy I went to high school with.  Back to Amanda and the check-in debacle.  Before the maybe my high school alum came in I had swiped my credit card.  She then explained it didn’t go though and she had to run it again.  NEVER let anyone at a hotel convince you to do this.  She ran it again and explained the rate was wrong; $25 higher than the room I booked but she was leaving a post it note for the manager to change the rate in the morning before we checked out.  Great …. At this point I’m about to scoot two of the breakfast area chairs together to make a bed, can I please have a room key?  I was nice.  Don’t laugh …. I was.  Frankly I was too exhausted to be anything but nice.  Although my son insists you can see the complete level of irritation by my facial expression.  And it’s not my fault that Amanda was a nervous wreck before I walked in the door, I’m guessing she had done several other things wrong that night – I mean there was a ream of paper in 4 or 5 alternating stacks with post it notes everywhere all over the front desk.  Yay!  Keys to room #208… Success and it only took 34 minutes.

Midnight-ish, Clanton, AL

Stopped to get gas….. Again.  $20 fill ups – yay!  12.7 gallon gas tank – not so yay!  We pulled into a Chevron, because it was the easiest access off the interstate.  There was a guy in a tan colored SUV sort of blocking the front door.  The BMW guy next to us seemed to be having some issues and started to walk toward the door; about that time Dave swiped his credit card to get gas.  The guy in the tan colored SUV in some form of a security guard uniform stopped the BMW guy from going inside and told him the pumps are down and the store is closed.  So … maybe block the entrance to the gas station and stop people before they swipe their card.  Helpful Hank did direct us to the Love’s truck stop on the other side of the overpass where we met up with BMW guy again.  But because Dave’s card was still “open” on the other gas pump when he tried to get gas at this pump it locked his card.  Yay, we can’t fix that until Monday.  We took a trip back to the Chevron to make sure that the pump wasn’t still “open” – Helpful Hank was gone though.  I mean who else would stop to get gas after midnight in middle of nowhere Alabama?

Unknown Time – Nashville, TN

Traffic was ok, but you still have to pay attention to the signs because in Nashville you can take 5 different interstates in 5 different directions and you really have to pay attention to stay on I65 southbound.

Unknown Time – Bowling Green, KY

We gained an hour as we crossed into Central Standard Time.  Oddly it doesn’t seem like it helped us!  We hit stop and go traffic all the way to Bowling Green, after Bowling Green the highway split into two divided lanes and we got behind someone who thought 50 mph was a great speed.

6:42 pm – Lebanon Junction, KY

Traffic had started to pick up but then stalled again.  We opted to get off and go to the best truck stop McDonalds ever.  No, that’s not sarcastic, it’s a great McDonalds.  At this point I realized that it was too late to call the pre-determined hotel in Alabama and cancel because it’s after 6pm.  We were still 6 hours away.  The time change didn’t factor into my brain at that time.

6:08 pm – Louisville, just north of the airport

Ring – Ring, hi it’s the kennel (aka all-inclusive puppy dog spa and resort) and Princess has cut her foot and will probably need stitches.  OK.  I knew I checked the health care insurance box for a reason.  They texted me pictures, we decided to bandage her up and wait until the morning to avoid the after hour vet fees.

4:48 pm – Indiana/Kentucky state line

Rush hour in Louisville.  There are no words.  Two lane bumper to bumper traffic, then on the other side of the bridge three lane bumper to bumper traffic.  There was the option of the 264/265 circle around the city but it was backed up too because it’s the way to go around the new Toll bridge.  We were going 2 mph. 

2:48 pm – Plainfield, IN

We’re on the road!  Finally!  Only 2 hours and 18 minutes behind schedule.

2:30 pm – Plainfield, IN

Return from the kennel in Snowbelle and she is completely overheated and leaking antifreeze.  Sigh.  Park her in the garage and deal with it when we get back.

1:15pm – Plainfield, IN

Pack 3 dogs in Snowbelle and pick a child to assist you in taking them to the kennel.  Dawson got the short end of the stick.  At the kennel, I gave him Bam and Pickles and they ran him into a post.  Bam snapped at the girl trying to put his ID tag on.  Not sure why she works at a kennel because she’s not a dog person and turned into a complete bitch and made me put his ID tag on and made Dawson take him back and put him in the kennel and made the other girl that was working do all our paperwork.  He only snaps at mean people he doesn’t like…. OK he just doesn’t like people and snaps at pretty much everyone. Snaps not bites. Pickles escaped briefly but he was contained.  I hesitated, but decided to check the box to agree to pay an extra $10 per dog for insurance in case one of them got injured or sick.

12:30 pm – Plainfield, IN

Elmo’s new roof rack and super expensive luggage cross bars are installed and ready to pack.  Start loading suitcases, and bags and snacks.  All packed up and…. Oh yeah there are three dogs staring at us wondering where they are going to ride.  Crap.

12:00 pm – Plainfield, IN

Officially clocked out and ready to go.  Elmo’s new roof rack was not.  It’s complicated.

10:30 am – Plainfield, IN

Dave went to Westgate Jeep/Chrysler to purchase super expensive Jeep brand luggage rack cross bars that fit Elmo because he’s a Jeep…. And they’re unique.  Of course.

9:30 am – Plainfield, IN

The luggage cross bars that Dave has been struggling with since 8:30 will not fit Elmo.  Begin search to find ones that will fit.  Of course the only thing that fit’s is specially made by Jeep.  Translation $$$$$.

8:00 am – Plainfield, IN

Clock in for 4 hours of work.  Dave purchasing cross bars and roof rack to put on top of Elmo.  And Mickey D’s coffee.  He loves me.

7:30 am – Plainfield, IN

Wake up.  Happy day we’re leaving for vacation!!  Plan for the morning:  Dave is going to purchase and install the cross bars and roof rack needed so we can put luggage on top of Elmo, then take the dogs to the kennel (aka all-inclusive puppy dog resort and spa) in Snowbelle (Dawson renamed her but I don’t remember the name he picked – neither does he).  Pack up and be on the road at 12:30pm and drive 8 hours to Prattville, AL.

 

Here’s to scratchy blankets and getting sick on orange juice.  I love to travel.  I’m almost sure I do.