Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Magical Mystery Date

I’ve dated the same man for thirty two years.  Some would say that’s remarkable for the staying power alone, but it’s not really.  You see, we’ve been married for thirty of those years.  That is the remarkable part. 

Last week at work, an appointment for this past Thursday popped up in my Outlook calendar.  The subject line read “Mystery Date.” The invite was from my husband.  My heart skipped a beat and I hit accept.  

“Mystery date?” I asked that evening over dinner.  He smiled, nodded his head.  “Hmm,” he murmured. The only other information I got out of him was “casual clothing, launch time 9:30 am”.
Our mystery dates have become a highlight in our gallery of dates.  Why still court each other? Because we’re not the same people who were friends for seven years before we began dating.  We’re not the same as when we got married, established our home, or raised our son. 
Over the years, dates have run the gamut from a simple drive around the island when Abe was a baby, to pizza dinners by the river, to author talks, a run through the car wash followed by a trip for ice cream, to classic car shows and to full-blown formal nights out for dinner and a concert.  The constant?  It’s just the two of us.

So what was Thursday’s Mystery Date?  One of the best EVER! We hit the road at 9:30, stopped for breakfast at a local diner and were on our way.  A relaxing hour and a half drive later along the water on Route 5 took us to our destination, the Chautauqua Institution.  You could easily spend a week or more there, but we made the most of our day trip. 

Steve picked out two events I fell in love with.  First, we enjoyed two of the seven finalists in the 18th Chautauqua Piano Competition Finals.   The young woman and gentleman we saw were stellar performers.  Their 25-minute solos provided two completely different styles in the pieces they chose.  We left them to have a bite to eat before heading over to the Hall of Philosophy, a huge outdoor Greek style pavilion to hear author Margaret Atwood speak on The Handmaid’s Tale.  She talked about her writing process and influences on the plot lines.  Topics ranged from the choice of dress for characters to the setting of a totalitarian society.  The couple hundred people gathered were enthralled with her stories and personal experiences.  For this writer (and Atwood fan), it was a huge treat.  

Why bother planning these for each other?  For the simplest of reasons.  It’s wonderful to plan something for the other that caters to an interest (like writing for me or classic cars for Steve).  Dates give us time to reconnect and center attention back on each other, away from jobs, commitments, family and hobbies.   Sometimes they’re just a whole lot of fun and laughter.  

The point is in taking the time to plan, to invite, to participate and appreciate.  Something I look forward to for many dates…and years, to come.  

Friday, June 28, 2013

Route 66 baby ~ “FROM CHICAGO TO LA ~ IT’S A WRAP!” (A blog series of our two week adventure!)

Thursday, 5/16/13

Still smiling two weeks in!
We started the day just a short distance away from the end of the route at the Santa Monica Pier.  The California traffic however makes for a very SLOW travel day.  Throughout the day we hit our first McDonalds that has a TESLA charging station.  I’ve fallen in love with the Tesla on this trip and am excited we are going to a gallery to see one after the trip is over. 

We hit the smog in San Bernardino and looked to have lunch at a famous Route restaurant, Bono’s, in Fontana, CA, but found it to be another closed icon, fairly recent by the looks of it.  Onward and through Rancho Cucamonga where I spot my first “Mexicatessan” – a new word for me! We picked up Foothill Boulevard here and traveled it through the next 10 cities to Pasadena.  It’s very slow going and the traces of the original Route are far and few between the strip malls, chain restaurants and urban sprawl we pass through. 
In Pasadena we followed the Arroyo Seco Parkway to the final section of Rout 66 – Sunset Boulevard.  We turned onto Santa Monica Boulevard at 3:34pm with just a short distance to go through Hollywood, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills before reaching Santa Monica.  And this began our trip in near dead stopped traffic for almost two hours.  Soooooooo close….and yet so far away….

The corner of SM Boulevard and Ocean Avenue
We finally reached the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, at 5:16 pm on a beautiful 65 degree sunny evening, 2,725 miles from our starting point.  After parking the car, we walked to take our final Route 66 pic at the Will Rogers Highway plaque.  Down the road a bit was Palisades Park and the Santa Monica Pier, in full swing.

So this was it.  It was bittersweet to realize we were finished.  Honestly, we could have kept on going.  As vacations go, this was one of our best.  We saw a lot, had some great adventures, met some nice people, a special little smiling French fry and fit in a little unexpected four wheeling!  We ate well, drank copious amounts of coffee and tea, and had some fun with our meals and snacks.  We laughed hard, shared comfortable silences and had awesome conversations.  It was months in the planning and provided more than I ever expected.  It was a journey that provided a bit of history, some truly beautiful landscape and most important, the opportunity to explore it over two leisurely weeks with each other. 
There’s a big shout out thank you to add to the end of this series.  The one aspect of the trip I haven’t written about has been the group of family and friends who came a long for the ride in spirit.  We got sent information on the Route, our friends the Stouters travelled it a month before we did and shared highlights, there have been Facebook “likes”, blog “follows” and great comments in both places as well as on the Facebook picture album.  Sharing the trip has been a pleasure and privilege and we thank you for coming along for the ride and adding to the adventure!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Route 66 baby ~ “FROM SITTING ON A JACKRABBIT TO MEETING WILSON” (A blog series of our two week adventure!)

Tuesday, 5/14/13

A quick stop at McDonald’s after we left the hotel that morning for coffee and tea allowed us to restock the glove compartment with a couple of cookies. The remainder of the morning travels took us through the rest of NM and into AZ.  The scenery was just spectacular.  Red cliffs dotted with green rose high above the horizon to our right before losing their red and green shades and transform to a brown/tan mix. 

No One Else In Sight!
We hit AZ around noon and pulled into the Hilltop CafĂ© in Holbrook for lunch.  Our first clue should have been the singular, beat up old station wagon out front.  Not another car in the parking lot but we went in anyway.  The proprietors (owners of the singular car I’m sure) either didn’t or barely spoke English.  They seemed bemused that we were there but we managed to communicate enough to order a grilled cheese on sourdough and a BLT.  Feeling a sense of responsibility to “stick it out” we stayed to finish lunch (with some misgivings) and luckily, found a Dairy Queen a short ways down the road to help cleanse our pallets!   Ah well, all part of the go local Route 66 experience!

A ways into Arizona, we passed the Wigwam hotel.  They were closed and we couldn’t tell if this was a permanent situation or not.  For the middle of the day, it was pretty deserted, but the grounds seemed to be well kept with the classic cars parked out front of each wigwam.  We hoped it wasn’t another spot that has recently gone by the wayside.

We were pretty stoked about getting to the Jack Rabbit Trading Post, another iconic stop of the Route 66 glory days, just outside of Joseph City, Arizona.  We were a little disappointed with the merchandise inside, but had fun with taking pictures on the large fiberglass jackrabbit out front. 

We went from mediocre to maximum with the Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona (which we know we drove through because we saw the sign, but don’t recall anything about the place even though it’s listed in the song!).  Nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference and more than 550 feet deep, the crater takes your breath away imagining the power of the impact.  The wind is wicked strong at the rim and it took some truly fancy maneuvering for Steve to position the camera (held with the giraffe) to get our picture with the crater behind us. 

Dinner was in Flagstaff, AZ at Mamma Louisa’s Italian restaurant with the strangest bread rolls we’ve ever seen.  They were shaped like huge cinnamon rolls and we again, saved one of those and some of Steve’s Chicken Parm and my Lasagna for a dashboard lunch the next day. 

Wednesday, 5/15/13

We worked our way through the Kaibab National Forest which went much farther than we realized. It was odd to see such an abundance of evergreens after so much flat, brown land, but the dirt road we drove on was just great.  The winds were just wild through this section and we could feel the pull on the Tahoe like mad as well as watching the evergreens bowing low to the force.  Just before Seligman we approached Ash Fork and the beginning of the longest unbroken section of Route 66 that would take us to the California state line.
Right around here we started hitting the Burma Shave Signs.  This use of a series of small signs, each of which bore part of a commercial message, was a successful approach to highway advertising during the early years of highway travel, drawing the attention of passing motorists who were curious to learn the punch line.  One of our favorites: “He tried/To cross/As fast train neared/Death didn’t draft him/He volunteered/Burma-Shave. 


And hello – it’s the Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman, Arizona (home of Wilson!) The Snow Cap is a historic eatery, built in 1953, built mostly from scrap lumber obtained from the nearby Santa Fe Railroad yard. To bring attention to the restaurant, the owner sliced the roof off of a 1936 Chevrolet hardtop, adorned the automobile with paint, horns and various automotive emblems and even an artificial Christmas tree in the rear of the car.  The rear of the property has a collection of old automobiles and kitsch in general.  The current owner is a hoot, has a wonderful camaraderie with regular and new customers, joking and performing sight gags as he takes orders and gets orders started. 
Hello, Wilson!

We ordered a chocolate malt and an order of fries. The fries weren’t worth two dollars, but perched on top of the order when it came was Wilson – a smiley Ore-Ida fry that immediately reminded Steve of Wilson in the Tom Hanks movie, Cast Away.  Wilson became our mascot for the remainder of the trip, sitting shotgun on the dashboard, checking out the sights with us and partaking in the occasional Shock-top tasting.  I’d like to say he photo bombed a couple of shots, but to be honest, they were completely staged! He now resides on the window shelf of our kitchen, watching over our daily life and making the occasional appearance at the dinner table.

Just down the road was Historic Seligman Sundries, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Although it now describe itself as Seligman’s only gourmet coffee bar and gift shop, it’s full of plenty of Route 66 tourist knick-knacks to buy and we picked up some jalapeno popcorn for Abram and a pair of Route 66 boxers for Steve, which were packaged like a bank sponge (a good source of Morgan family jokes) not to mention a good evening’s entertainment when we got home!

Just past Seligman, the landscape changed dramatically to a flat brown. No trees – very few green bushes.  In fact, they weren’t really bushes, more like spiky cactus.  As the temp outside was climbing, it was a good dashboard lunch day. It didn’t take long for our tinfoil dashboard oven to warm our cooler chilled food to a nice warm temp.  We pulled over to enjoy lunch with a nice ShockTop and Wilson standing guard and taking a sip or two on the side. 

Antelope are under the tree!

With temps in the mid 90’s, we approached the Black Mountains and their awesome terrain and were gifted with spotting a herd of antelopes grazing a bit in the shade.   The mountain pass consisted of two very thin lanes with sharp drops on the passenger side of our car and not many guard rails at all.  The wind whipped the outside of the car and I was grateful to have Steve navigating the hairpin turns.  At the top, we stopped to check out the view and found a cemetery with at least 15 graves.  The most recent I saw was one from 2010 – and the wind up here nearly knocked us over! 

Through the mountains, we ranged from an elevation of 2480 feet and 93 degrees to 490 feet and 100 degrees.  We ended the mountains just outside Topock, AZ., and were greeted by palm trees everywhere, which I didn’t expect.  Then, after all that dry desert landscape and heat, a huge amount of water, aptly named, “Catfish Paradise” which is at the southern end of the Topock March along the Colorado River. 

There's where our road ended - with those big boulders
We reached California around 5 pm, just in time to have our most adventurous stretch of road present itself to us.  Our road ended.  So I took a moment and took a picture of the big group of boulders that were in our way.  At this point, with nine days of deciphering our Route 66 maps, we’d often looked at a section of road that wasn’t marked and took it anyway.  So, we didn’t have any trepidation when we headed off the road and onto a dirt path.  We did however remove Wilson from the dashboard and put him into a safety compartment! And good thing, as our dirt path quickly turned into a dry riverbed.  We got out to survey and decided we could make it across the riverbed and back to the “road”.  Steve was fabulous, maneuvering the Tahoe in 4-sheel drive through the deepening sand and dirt, around boulders and bushes to make it to the other side.  Up the riverbed we went and down the dirt pathway a bit and Hurrah! There was the road.  And in front of it was a BIG chain link fence.  So, a three point turn and it was back through the riverbed to where our road had ended.  The Tahoe earned her stripes on that one!  I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but that one picture from the beginning of the adventure is the ONLY one I have of it. The adrenalin was rolling so fast after the run I never even thought to take a picture again.  If you ask either of us what the highlight of the trip was, the riverbed run is in the top two!

Looking for routine to counter the adrenaline, we stopped in Needles, CA., and celebrated our run with a Dairy Queen stop in the 102 degree heat.

The road to Barstow, CA, our planned stopping destination for the evening gifted us with TWO sunsets as we drove.  The changing elevation played with the setting sun on the on the horizon creating a spectacular double show. It was nice consolation for the obvious return to civilization, cities, lights and increasing traffic flow.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Route 66 baby ~ "FROM LAUNDROMATS TO GHOST TOWNS” (A blog series of our two week adventure!)

Sunday, 5/12/13

Mother’s Day found us deep in the heart of Texas and starting the day at the Laundromat.  Poetic justice or just good timing?  Either way, we had fun at the Laundromat with the owner who was involved in every patron’s laundry business in some form or another.  Equipped with clean clothes for the next week, we headed off in search of the Cadillac Ranch. 

We soon found it and yes, it’s in the middle of nowhere.  For a Sunday afternoon it was busy!  10 Caddies, all lined up in a row, just waiting for us to come along and try to leave our mark with spray paint in the dusty wind.  We wrote out a few messages, shared our paint cans with others and then decided to “Spray It Forward” and leave the cans tucked into crevices of the cars for visitors who arrived without any. 

After the ranch, we passed our only cattle yard of the trip – lucky us as it took the next ten miles or so for the car to air out.  I have never seen so many cows in one place and thoughts of Temple Grandin and her breakthrough on cattle behavior and handling definitely came to mind.  I’d be remiss to not point out it was wicked smelly!

Side note on Texas here – they have the most unusual exit and entrance ramps we’ve seen on any thruway.  Cars fly off the thruway at 65 mph and just appear out of nowhere…hyper vigilance necessary for sure!
Shortly after the Ranch, we stopped roadside for a picnic lunch.  We enjoyed our leftover beef from the Big Texan last night with chips and a shared Lemon Shandy Shock Top from the Anheuser Busch tour.  Fudge from the Largest Gift Shop and Candy Store rounded out the meal nicely. 

After lunch we got to Adrian, Texas and the Midway Point Diner, which was closed for Mother’s Day (good for them!).  The landmark is just what it says, the Route 66 the midway point between Chicago and LA.  1139 miles down and 1139 miles to go!

Straddling the Texas and New Mexico border is the ghost town of Glenrio, NM & TX.  Yes, it sits in BOTH states! Once a comforting stop on Route 66, it now only remains home to critters and tumbleweeds.  At its peak, it never had more than approximately thirty residents.  It’s the very last stop in Texas, actually at Exit 0, and leads to a totally dirt road the takes you into New Mexico.  It was one of the coolest stretches we were on, and was far enough removed from the highway which you often ran just parallel with that you were able to really feeling the desolation of the town. 

The second half of the trip didn’t have nearly as many stops as the first, with much of it just the experience of traveling through the desert and mountains.  That being said, when there are not many sites to stop for, you tend to create your own reasons to stop.   First stop was to take a pic of the iconic Blue Swallow Hotel which naturally afforded us the opportunity to stop for coffee/tea and fudge.  A little while down the road came my Mother’s Day call from Abram which meant a coffee/tea and Oreos break.  And alas…Santa Rose was a quick run to dairy Queen before we stopped at the car museum.  Good thing we walked around the museum quite a bit and to our credit, we did walk the mile or so down the road and back to our restaurant that night, Tortilla Flats, for dinner.  The walk also allowed us both to enjoy a nice tall glass of Sangria with our Mexican fair.

Monday, 5/13/13

Surprise, surprise, the next morning found us really feeling a need to stretch our legs, so a little research during breakfast yielded some information on the Dale Balls Trails.  A beautiful sunny day presented a great opportunity for a hike, and the trail served up awesome views of the surrounding Sante Fe area. We started at 7600 feet above sea level and topped out around 7765.  A picnic lunch afterward consisting of biscuits and peanut butter from the hotel breakfast bar and a few McDonald’s glove compartment cookies rounded out our afternoon and fueled us up to walk around the shopping district.  We lucked out parking wise and ended up right in front of the Chuck Jones Gallery which was a delight to browse! 

Back on the road, we started the hunt for the beginning of La Bajada Hill.  The road on La Bajada was Route 66 from 1926 to 1932. It contains more than a dozen hellish switchbacks, and was so steep in spots that automobiles going uphill had to take it in reverse because gravity-feed tanks couldn’t get fuel to the engine. Although you can’t traverse the hill by car anymore (and we didn’t have the day to hike it) we found the old entrance and then traveled the current route 66 and drove a very rough patch of basically dirt road to get to the bottom area of the hill.  Another awesome “off road” run! 

We traveled a long dirt road and got back to the main route where we pulled over for a roadside picnic of last night’s dinner leftovers.

Here’s a photo of La Bajada Hill from 1928:

Pushing through that evening to Grants, NM., we traveled the gamut from smooth blacktop to rough dirt roads.  We were treated however to a herd of gazelles.  Well, okay, there were a handful that we saw, but it was more than a couple, so I’m going with herd!

A very late night dinner from Blake’s Lotaburger complimented our “Morgano-like” Route 66 wine in the hotel room. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Route 66 baby ~ “FROM SOMBER REFLECTION TO BIG & KITSCHY” (A blog series of our two week adventure!)

Friday, 5/10/13 

You certainly can’t drive the “Will Rogers Highway”, aka Route 66, and not stop at his memorial museum in Claremore. We lucked out and got in just before the group of school kicks headed for the front door. I had no idea he was such a colorful character, a major syndicated newspaper columnist; author of six books; star of 71 motion pictures, and America's premier radio commentator. A fascinating man and the museum spurred us to do more research on his career, life and writing. We didn’t linger here because our next iconic stop was waiting for us….

…the Blue Whale, in Catoosa, OK! It was built by Hugh Davis in 1972 as an anniversary gift for his wife who collected whales (another reason to be eternally grateful that I do NOT have any “collections”)! And yes, it was big. It was Blue. And it was one of the best kitschy stops we made.

A quick stop at SONIC for a little afternoon snack and we were on our way down the road to Acadia, OK., home of the Round Barn, another must see Route 66 photo stop. The bottom floor is now a flea market that helps raise money for the upkeep of the barn. The real gem is the second floor where you can see the construction of the walls and the roof. The barn had fallen to disrepair for a few decades and the roof collapsed in 1988, but a restoration project brought it back to its glory using the original building techniques. Truly a work of art!

Before our next stop, Steve got to drive one of the few strips of original Portland cement laid for Route 66 in Davenport, OK... Steve remarked on how cool the road was, but the he would have needed a kidney belt “back in the day”!

By far, the most somber stop of the trip was the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. We got here late in the afternoon. The description from the website reads: The Memorial Museum takes visitors on a chronological, self-guided tour through the story of April 19, 1995, and the days, weeks, months and years that followed the bombing of Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. This is the story of one of the largest terrorist attacks on American soil. The story is told in chapters, and takes visitors through this historical event beginning early morning April 19, 1995, and ending with a message of hope for today.

In MY words, it is one of the most impactful of any of the memorial I have ever seen. Starting with the entrance area that is an outside chalk garden for children to play at.

The memorial is almost beyond words. The design of taking you through what started out as “any ordinary day” and proceeding from there was an immediate hook. Barring the Holocaust Museum, I don’t think I’ve ever been as moved. I felt a sense of vulnerability from the beginning and had to fight back tears the whole way through. The victims and survivors were presented in a dignified yet highly personal way.

It took me a couple days to realize that for me, it was because the tour presents the day from the victims and survivors point of view. There was never a time where I stopped to think about where I was that day – the presentation of the museum kept me completely engrossed in the events of those who were there, the victims and rescue personnel, as well as the 168 people who lost their lives.

After the inside museum, we went out to the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial, a place of quiet reflection that encompasses where the Murrah Building once stood, as well as the surrounding area devastated during the attack. It provided me with an opportunity to decompress after the intensity of the self-guided tour. After walking the grounds, we took a long stroll around the neighborhood and then headed back to the hotel. We were grateful the days’ timeline just happened to end with the museum. A leisurely drive afforded us some more time to decompress.

We picked up a dinner from Cattleman’s Steakhouse, a highly recommended foodie stop, took it to the hotel and enjoyed a quiet evening in the room. Dinners like this were great – we’d buy one meal to share, more than enough food and saved ourselves a bit of money as well!

Saturday, 5/11/13 

Before we wrapped up OK and headed to Texas, we stopped at the Ultimate Car Wash to give the Tahoe a little love. All spiffed up and shiny we drove off route 66 when we got to Weatherford, OK to see the Wind energy Center display. As of 2008, Weatherford was home to the second-largest wind farm in Oklahoma. Honestly, the initial draw was to see an actual blade up close, but we learned a lot while we were there. And the blade? It was even bigger than I ever imagined and had a gorgeous curve to it as well that surprised me.

We stopped in town a quick lunch at a nice looking little place along the main drag called the Downtown Diner. TWO hours later, we headed out, stomach’s full and tied at a dozen or more games of hangman and tie tac toe that we played to pass the time while they made our salad and fried chicken basket!

Oklahoma was wrapped up with two Route 66 museums. The one in Clinton was a bust, but the Elk City one made up for it and was a great representation of the history of Route 66. You’d think that by this time, one Route 66 museum would be pretty much like the other, but each one had their own spin on the route as well as a niche of collectables whether it be cars, food items or just general memorabilia. Elk City’s sported a replica of a drive in movie where we stopped to watch too many trailers of The Creature From the Black Lagoon. We laughed until our sides hurt!

Texas greeted us with our first tumbleweed across land that is a flat as the eye can see with the rare tree or two to break the horizon. We were looking for an ice cream stop and laughed because it was just not in the cards for us to have that treat this afternoon. There wasn’t even one we could find listed on the GPS! In Groom, TX, we found not only the Britten Leaning Water Tower, but a 19 story free standing Cross that can be seen from twenty miles away.

All that “BIGNESS” prepared us for our dinner at the Big Texan in Amarillo that evening. As we checked into the hotel a few miles down the road from the restaurant, Steve saw a card for free limo service to and from the Big Texan, so we dropped our bags in the room and the limo was there in five minutes to pick us up. Our driver’s personality was almost as big as the horns mounted on front of the limo!

We got to stroll around the place for a bit before a table was available – the restaurant itself is a Route 66 legend and everything about it is BIG, from the restaurant that houses the two story dining area, massive open view kitchen, the shooting range, cowboy maze, bar and gift shop to the hotel next door. It’s massive!

We enjoyed a few drinks, great steak dinners and saved a few of our rolls along with some steak for a nice dashboard lunch the next day. There was a young man from Italy who gave the 72 oz free steak deal meal a try and although he made a valiant effort and was a great sport, he just hit the wall about 45 minutes into his hour of allotted time. They average seven attempts a day for the free 72 oz steak deal a day, but VERY few winners!