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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Home again again.

More reflections coming up. I want to make sure I cover packing and activities and plans for future trips, but let’s return to accommodations for a moment. Last time I listed all the good hotels. Now it’s time for the losers.

Days Inn, which wouldn’t recognize its Veterans’ Discount. UPDATE: Days Inn Headquarters overruled Joanne and promised she would be counseled. They sent us a check. Good job!

Super 8, which wanted us to sign our lives away in case our dogs made noise, but wouldn’t control wild children and nasty parents. UPDATE: The manager there wrote us a letter full of excuses. Not good enough. They still stink.

Ramada Limited, where the physical plant was so decrepit I broke my arm. UPDATE: They refunded our entire stay. Chances are good I won't sue. I'm looking into it, but it may not even be worth the trouble. But I would never stay in one of those again!

Quality and Comfort Inn, where not one pool out of three was both clean and the right temperature. In each of these locations, the staff told one lie or another, and I only mentioned their worst problems here. Their other failings are detailed in earlier blogs, and on hotel review sites. No response from them. Bad hotels. Do not stay there. Last June, coincidentally, I stayed at one of these little complexes near the Philly airport. I don't know the area and needed to get in and out of South Jersey fast. It also stunk. It was a little group of the "Clarion/Sleep/Quality" places and they were just all terrible. Broken things, dirty places, rude, apathetic management. Avoid.

America’s Best Value Inn was in a category of its own. A mom and pop operation, we felt despite the problems, they were really trying to do their best. So we give them a pass. But please, a few hangers and a little cream cheese wouldn’t break the bank. I mean, just collect a few dry cleaning hangers. Or you can get twelve for a dollar at the Dollar Store. Just sayin’.

Also, here’s a word on restaurants. Most of them were good. Really. The food was good, the wait staff was decent. The only restaurant issue we really had was places where there was little or no choice around the hotel, such as Wall and Custer, and the ones that allowed smoking, which we left. The four bad restaurants in a row in Mankato had to be some sort of bizarre coincidence, and we didn’t actually eat in them, anyway. The only bad meals were delivery to our rooms. This is one thing we will try really hard to avoid. The exception to this: Jimmy John’s in the Midwest. Best damned subs ever. And in the Upper Midwest, if there’s game on the menu, and you can eat it, don’t miss it. It will be their specialty and it’s excellent.

Okay, now about attractions. It really depends what you like. We like history and animals and parks. Natural phenomena, primarily. Some of the kooky things in Wisconsin Dells were not the best, but they have their own charm. The best thing we did has to be the helicopter ride in the Black Hills, and all the close-up wildlife in the state and national parks. So do what makes you happy. The Harry Truman home made me happy, too. Many might find it a musty old house, and that’s all it is to them, whereas for me, it's a step back into another time. I love caves and Joyce, eh, not so much. So just do your homework, is my advice.

Packing is an interesting exercise. We had to pack for ourselves and three dogs for seven weeks. Dogs have a lot of gear. I think they had two bags, plus their cages and all the poop bags we collected for the last six months. We had to pack for when we would be doing our own cooking, and for when we might have a microwave and refrigerator, and for when we had none of the above. We had to pack for various anticipated activities, not all of which came to pass, but you never know. As senior citizens, we have a lot of medications, as well as first aid items. And we were going to be in a lot of climates, so that meant everything from bathing suits to lined jackets.

We have a 92 Toyota Previa, and while it has a big interior, it’s not an RV or anything. We fold the back seats up to make room for the cages, and the coolers go behind the front seat on the floor. The bags we will not use every day go further in and down. The ones we will need every night are closer to the doors. We both tried to pack for two or three days at a time so we could leave certain bags in the car. One of us was better at this than the other, who frequently packed extra items in the laundry bag. And then there are souvenirs and other miscellaneous items, like guns and ammo, which have to be locked up. Having made over 20 separate stops, we will make an even greater effort in the future to get all our personal stuff in one bag each, to leave the souvenirs in the van overnight as much as possible and so on. The little cooler is heavy, but it always has to go in, in case there’s no fridge. We managed also to eliminate dragging one cage. The two little dogs can share the plastic cage, and Nick gets a nice pillow in the bathroom when we’re out of the room.

Oh, that’s right! Travel with dogs. I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s a lot cheaper than boarding them, and a lot happier for us to have them along. We don’t doubt for a minute that they would rather have spent the seven weeks at home, but they would rather go with us than board. And they did have some fun, smelling bison poop and the like. Here, look at all the fun they had!











The worst is having to walk them at night in the rain. Joyce can manage them all at once, but I have to take them one at a time so I can see who goes, and what, and where. And then there’s the picking up. It simply has to be done, or pets and their people will become less welcome than they already are. If you are reading this, and you don’t pick up, you aren’t even doing yourselves a favor. If you can change a diaper, you can pick up poop. You don’t even have to touch it if you do it right. In fact, you shouldn’t touch it, but carry hand sanitizer because it will make you feel better. Carry enough of their own food, don’t overdo the treats, make sure they have familiar bedding and toys, and if you rent a cabin, bring old sheets to cover the furniture. Yes, you have to do all these things, or you’re a slob. And enough people ARE slobs, or we wouldn’t keep encountering bad attitudes about dogs.

Finally, the future. We already booked the next trip, but it’s not blogable. We often rent a house on St George Island up in the Panhandle, and we’re going there for ten days in December, coming home for the holidays. All we will do there is vegetate. It’s very quiet. Very few other people will be there. There will be long walks on the beach, kayaking, lunch at the Blue Parrot, jigsaw puzzles, old movies and napping.

As to next summer, we will either go to the Galapagos or take another road trip. We’re leaning toward the desert Southwest; out on I-10, back on I-20, no more than six weeks, with a stop in Kanab, Utah, at Dogtown. When we decide we’ll post it here.
Thanks for joining us on our trip. Now it’s your turn!

Reflections: strangers on a stranger journey.

There sure is a lot to reflect on here, maybe enough for two entries. I’ll just try to go in some sort of logical progression about things we learned, and things we would do differently, and where we might go next.

The most obvious things are stuff like route, time and accommodations. Although our route was boring on occasion, we (well, mostly I) selected it, and parts of it, for particular reasons. There were people or places we wanted to see, so we went there. What I learned about the upper and central Midwest is, except for certain individual locations, which may be very spread out, there’s not a lot to see or do of the kinds of things we like. We did the Ingalls-Wilder stops because we were up that way anyhow. I doubt I would make that sort of trip again because now we have seen it and now we know. We’re really glad we saw the thirteen states we went through, because we just hadn’t seen some of them at all, and now we have, and we wanted to know what was out there. Joyce has five states left to see, which will largely determine where we go next.

We certainly did the right thing by avoiding cities. We only went into Memphis and Chattanooga, and Memphis wasn’t worth it. We are not interested in “nightlife” or “entertainment” or drinking ourselves into oblivion. We hate traffic, noise, dirt and crowds. These things don’t excite us a bit. Except for airports and necessary evils like finding the VA, I doubt we’ll ever deliberately tour a city again, at least, not in North America. Europe is an entirely different story, but it is so easy to travel there, we will probably delay returning there until our late 70s, because anyone can do Europe. We’ll save what’s left of our youth and strength for the more adventurous kinds of travel we prefer at the moment.

As to the time spent, seven weeks is too much, at least of that type of travel. We’ve decided to limit ourselves to six next time, and see how that goes. A lot of the strain of travel had to do with accommodations, and now we have learned a lot more about those. You know, we’ve been traveling for decades, but that doesn’t mean we know it all, because many things have changed in recent years that make road tripping harder than it used to be, and one of them is mean people. So we now know some things to do to avoid them.

Regarding accommodations, we would pay more for a better quality of service. We would scrupulously avoid certain chains, and deliberately seek out others. We wanted to use La Quinta as exclusively as possible, but they aren’t in all the places we wanted to be. So we learned which chains to avoid, and which are a suitable substitute. The best for traveling with animals is La Quinta. Americinn is the most quiet and probably the most attractive. Holiday Inn Express is the most luxurious. And Belmont is second in all categories. We’re sending them all letters of appreciation with a few suggestions on how to become ideal.

That’s enough for one entry. Watch for another one soon.

Macon for home

Here’s the most exciting thing about Macon: Steak ‘n Shake. It was the first place we ever went to one. We have stayed there, at the La Quinta, several times, because it’s just about a day from Tampa the way we drive. And while it’s not all that far from Chattanooga, because you have to go around Atlanta, it can be quite time-consuming, which is why we only ever drive around Atlanta on a weekend. We never actually drive into it; it’s a city, and we don’t like cities. I do like Chattanooga a lot, as far as cities go. If I had to live IN a city, that would be it, but I would prefer rural Tennessee. I also like the Black Hills a lot. Living near Cedar Rapids would be great, except the cold would kill Joyce and the cottonwoods would kill me. Another great thing about heading south from Illinois was we ran out of cottonwoods, thank God! We were both on huge doses of antihistamines because of them.

First we had to drive to the kennel, and then around Atlanta, which Joyce dreads even under ideal conditions. So I decided I was well enough to drive and just before Atlanta’s ring road, we switched, and I took us all the way down to Macon after that, which was good, because Joyce can never remember there’s a way to avoid downtown Macon, too.

At the kennel, the dogs were beside themselves, and the little ones seemed to have lost weight overnight. A bit of a trauma for them, although we have left them with Dora as long as three weeks and they never seem to mind that. But once we got them, they recovered and probably slept all the way to Macon except to pee. They eat and drink remarkably little while driving, and we have to wet their muzzles to get any water into them at all.

Did I mention it was hot? Hot as hell? Joyce had seen the weather and discovered a high over Georgia that was just trapping incredible heat there, so hot we had to carry the dogs to grass rather than let them walk on hot pavement. Little ones, especially, can get heatstroke very quickly. It was cooler in Miami and South Carolina than it was in Georgia. And it had been raining, and made not the slightest improvement; probably made it even worse.

So we were ready for a swim by the time we arrived, and thank God, this La Quinta has an indoor pool which is NOT hot. And a spa that is. We stayed in that pool about two hours, I think, while we did more laundry. Joyce doesn’t like to come home with a lot of dirty laundry. Some fetish of hers, but I agree with her. It just irks us.

And of course we went to Steak ‘n Shake for dinner, after which we completed our nightly ritual for when we travel with perishables in a cooler. We had to start this when we left Wisconsin, and we picked up again when we left the Big Crappie. The ritual goes like this: Drive to a place that sells ice. Joyce goes in to buy ice, while Liz moves everything from behind the front seats to allow the cooler to slide out. Drain valve is already toward door. Perch cooler over step and release plug. Cooler drains, or as one passing drunk put it, “takes a leak.” Feet get sprayed with cold water, very nice on a hot day. Joyce returns with ice bag, removes all insulating items from cooler and slams new bag in. Cooler is plugged, shoved back in, and has auxiliary baggage piled on top to hold it closed. Repeat every evening until arriving home.

And that’s how you get the refrigerated groceries home safely.

Monday, June 29, 2009

See Rock City

Perhaps you’ve seen these signs. They’re everywhere on the way to Chattanooga, like South of the Border and Wall Drug. But we had no idea what it was, and concluded it was a rock shop on top of Lookout Mountain. Okay, color us too lazy to do homework on it, but we had other things on our agenda.

Such as my trip to the local VA. When I called them, I got the place I was trying to find the previous day, and they told me to come back there. That would have been a 200 mile round trip! I said, “Uh-uh. Please get me in here.” So after some dialing around, they arranged a local visit and we went there. Joyce dropped me off and took the dogs to a local kennel. By the time she came back, I was done. Why? Well, it was 11 AM and they couldn’t see me until 4 PM. Laden with pills as I already am, I consulted with a nurse and he said if I could stand it, I’d be better off going home to Tampa, and I should drive there now.

When I got done laughing at that concept and explaining both how we drive, and that no one in their right mind drives around Atlanta on a Friday, he still thought it would be better to go home, even if it took two days. So I bade him a fond farewell and we went to see Rock City.

Consulting our schedule and location, we decided to let the kids stay overnight at the vet, and drove up Lookout Mountain, which as luck had it, was right by our hotel anyway. And on Lookout Mountain, part of which is in Georgia, there are three attractions: Rock City, the funicular, and Ruby Falls.

Did I say it was hot as hell? Well, consider it said and repeated ad infinitum. So when we got to the Ruby Falls visitor center, even Joyce was willing to go into a cave, because they’re cool. If you remember, she backed out of Wind Cave and I went by myself. And again, people problems. Joyce goes up to buy tickets, and an older man is explaining her options. Up comes another man, and the clerk (same age as other visitor) assumes he is speaking for Joyce, cancels her order and ignores her to talk to the man who pushed in.

She went ballistic. I thought she was going to rip his throat out. The fool behind the counter made a sexist, stereotypical assumption because the other visitor rudely pushed in next to Joyce instead of waiting in line. Guess who’s getting a letter when we get home. So after she refused the apology and left, we sat outside for a while, and then I went back in and got different tickets from another clerk.

And eventually we got down into the cave, still in a very bad mood, but Lauren, the guide, was sweet and funny, and it was wonderfully cool and absolutely beautiful. The Falls themselves are among the most beautiful things I have ever seen. You must go. Seriously.

A link to get you started: http://www.rubyfalls.com/

And a few pictures.





The second one was the best I could do in a cave with water spraying all over. But Lauren told us if you google "Ruby Falls" you can find really great shots of every formation in there.

We were down there about an hour in a group of 60, including Boy Scouts from Texas, and while you might expect this to have been torture, they were really funny. In fact, Joyce, who had been so royally pissed off, and rightfully so, ended up shopping for souvenirs! We agreed that we hadn’t seen anything this good since the Black Hills.


And here's a couple more:





But that was only the first half of our experience, because we had also bought tickets to Rock City, and even at that point, we weren’t sure what it was. We thought now it might be a city made out of rocks, like Madurodam in Amsterdam, which is made out of Legos, or something. But we got back in the car and drove up there because we wanted to see the view from the top of Lookout Mountain, and Rock City was at the very tippy top, whatever it was. So back into the car and up the mountain, and into Georgia, to our surprise, and soon we were here:

http://www.seerockcity.com/

Somebody thought it would be fun to enhance Parent Nature, and they did a decent job. It really didn’t need much enhancement, but in order to make it accessible, they may have fooled around with it a bit more than we would if we discovered such a phenomenon today. It’s private, so of course they can do as they please with it. Did I mention it was hot that day? Well, this was the place to be, because when you get down in these crevices and caves, it’s delightful.










There was also homemade lemonade and Dippin’ Dots and other cold things to ingest. Let’s just call it a gigantic rock garden on top of a mountain with some waterfalls thrown in for good measure. We were very pleasantly surprised by the whole thing, and selfishly glad we put the kids in the kennel or else we could not have seen it.

The pools were still unusable when we returned. The “Quality” Inn people shrugged when we complained the pool was still dirty, and the “Comfort” Inn people lied and said those were the legally required temperatures for their pool (hot) and spa (cold). And the reason their lobby is full of flies is that they serve rotten eggs for breakfast. So they went on our shit list, and we went to dinner. Did you know Hardee’s makes a Creamsicle milkshake? Try it soon; it’s seasonal.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Choo-chooing along to Chattanooga

So finally, either a day late or two days early, we set off for Chattanooga. Although, as I said, we had no internet at the Big Crappie, I was able to get a cell phone signal, so we got our subsequent reservations changed to accommodate our new situation.

Again, from the Kentucky border to Chattanooga isn’t that far, but there are a lot of route changes, and again, Joyce drove while I navigated. Driving out of Kentucky into Tennessee we went through some really beautiful scenery, and we were sorry we hadn’t been able to see more of it. So we will go back, but this time, from the Tennessee side. Only got a little lost in Clarksville, and then decided as long as it was on the way, we’d stop at the Murfreesboro VA hospital.

But the fates had other ideas. We followed the one sign we saw to get off the interstate and then there weren’t any more. And we asked directions several times, and either they had no idea or sent us off on a wild goose chase. I have no idea if we ever got anywhere near it or not, but after an hour, we were sick of it and decided to try the VA in Chattanooga when we got there.

Joyce was right about that long steep hill, and it really unnerved her, and I couldn’t drive. Last time she drove it was in an ice storm, so this was a little better. A lot of trucks, but it was clear and hot. Boy, was it hot! A huge change in temperatures once we got out of Illinois, and it stayed hot all the way home. And all the way to Chattanooga, the scenery was just fantastic, and reminded us why we wish we lived in Tennessee. Who knows, maybe someday, if the housing market ever recovers.

Crossed back into Eastern time just before Chattanooga, so we lost an hour, but easily found the hotel. And holy Toledo, what a dump! But as I said below, if it’s a day or two, you’re inclined to endure it, and anyway, it wasn’t so bad on the surface, at least to start. As Joyce registered, I could see the pool and kids were in it, but it looked pretty good to me all the same. We were burning up.
Skedaddled off to our room to unpack and change and went to the pool. Kids gone, pool hot. Moreover, pool dirty, like they don’t clean their filters. They also had an indoor pool, but it was down for maintenance. When we complained, they sent us next door to the “Comfort” Inn, which also had an indoor pool and reciprocal privileges. We went there. Pool hot! Spa cold! We sat in the spa. At least it was clean.

When we left, we told the desk people perhaps they had their temperature controls reversed. We saw that once before, a hot pool and a cold spa, in Tifton, Georgia. So they said they would fix it, and went to change and eat. We were in there for two nights to allow me time at the VA, and we figured we’d check it out again the next day.

And that was pretty much our day. Oh, except the wifi didn’t work and I had to use the hotel’s computer station to catch up, and that’s how I discovered the lobby was full of flies. We wondered why that was, but we found out the next day. And so will you!

Rain rain go away so I can get my dislocated elbow fixed

So, we were at the Resort-Marina for four days when we decided we’d had enough days. Started packing up. Joyce went and told them we’d be leaving early the next morning, and we’d forfeit our payment. As I said, we had TV, and as the weather had been so bad for the whole trip, we decided we’d better keep an eye on it. All day as we packed, it rained on and off. And all around us, there was bad weather, including tornados.

Got up in the morning to finish packing and leave, and Tennessee was just pouring rain and tornados from one end of the state to the other, and our route would take us through all of it. Of course it was sunny right where we were. But with my arm, Joyce would have had to drive the whole way in bad weather, and she knew there was a long steep downhill stretch outside of Chattanooga. We opted to stay put and Joyce went and told the management. Then we went back to bed, and when I got up, since we were all packed, I spent the day blogging (but not on-line) and watching the revolution in Iran).

At that point, my arm still felt “just” dislocated to me, but I did want to get to a doctor. However, I was able to move it more with less pain every day, so one more day wasn’t going to make a lot of difference. As it turned out, of course, it was broken! But I didn’t find that out until I got home, and it still didn’t make any difference.

A note on cabin rentals

We have found two categories of places that take pets, and, as the old joke goes, one is swell and the other is lousy.

We have been spoiled by places like Collins Rentals on St George Island, where the rental homes are immaculate.

http://www.sgirentals.com/index.cfm

Likewise Bend of the River Cabins in Georgia. Pets are allowed in a good number of units and they sparkle.

http://www.bendoftheriver.net/

As far as chains go, we are sold on La Quinta. 99% of their properties allow pets. (I counted!) and they are sparkling clean and good quality. Holiday Inn Express, Belmont and Americinn are all good quality when they allow pets, but not all of them do. Depending on the location, they may also have absurd restrictions like, the dogs can’t be left in the room, so you can’t go out.

Then there is the flip side of the coin. They allow pets, and they’re dives: Super/“Stupor” 8, “Quality” Inn, “Comfort” Inn, Days/“Daze” Inn, Ramada Limited. These are all very poorly maintained and managed. In addition to being noisy, they are often dirty. They have bugs, wet paint, slimy pools and dirty breakfast areas. The staff is poorly-trained and/or indifferent. And it’s all a crapshoot. I know there are hotel review sites, but I checked the one for one Super 8 and everyone loved it. It was a hellhole. And you can look at pictures, but they won’t show dirt or bad attitudes.

Even when you arrive in a dive, and you know it, you are usually too tired to start hunting for someplace else, and if it’s only a night, you tolerate it and complain in person and on-line, but that’s not fun. This is why I want to contact the good chains I mentioned above with my list of requirements for the ideal, pet-loving motel. They all have a lot of the things we want already. Just a couple of tweaks and they could gather ALL the pet family business and wipe the others out.

Finally, the issue of rental cabins. Many of these are mom and pop enterprises and it’s an extremely tiring business. Think of your own house and multiply by ten or so. All these people are in your face for their needs, and they mess it up, and they break things. The weather doesn’t always cooperate. Your hired staff, if any, are not necessarily rocket scientists or ethics professors. If you can’t personally clean every unit, there will be problems. You don’t always make enough money to fix or replace everything, and you have to make choices. So you add on new decks and let the raggedy towels go till next year, when, of course, the water heaters explode.

Bottom line: just clean them, and a cracked plate or torn window shade won’t bother me. But then the whole thing is run down and dirty, I won’t be back, and I’ll tell my friends.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fireflies at the “Resort and Marina”

Now, this could have been a beautiful setting. We even saw fireflies every night! But it looked like a survivalist camp. The “Resort and Marina” consists of seven “lodges” or “cabins” for rent. Then there’s a separate location for RVs. In a third area, there are some kind of permanent RVs that seem to be privately owned and don’t go anywhere. The owners of the property must have some sort of mutual easement with other homeowners there because the cabins are cheek by jowl with large private homes and contraptions built out of connected sheds and immobilized RVs and cinder-block buildings. Everyone has one or more golf carts. And it’s mostly gravel, and all day long good old boys and cracker-women and muddy kids ride back and forth hauling stuff all over. Although our dogs had to be leashed, theirs didn’t. Although we pick up after our dogs, most other people don’t.

All this is on the shore of Kentucky Lake, right on the Tennessee border, and you can see the Land Between the Lakes from it. Oh, and the marina itself. This is a collection of covered docks and open slips that all but obscures any decent view of the lake, so you kind of have to hunch down and bend over to see it.



From this marina they rent out pontoon boats and we really considered renting one, except guess what happened. Yup. On day three, it rained. Rained on and off for two days, and we decided we were just sick of being trapped in Big Crappie, and we quit. We were also thinking of trying to get my arm looked at, which we couldn’t seem to do in Kentucky, but would have to move on to Tennessee, or else backtrack a long way. But more about that failed odyssey later.

Finally, I want to describe the Big Crappie “Lodge” as it says on the oar, pictured in the entry below. It’s a shack, okay?



It has a screened porch, a TV, air conditioning and furniture, but it’s a shack. Everything in it is worn out. The bathroom floor had a rotten spot I was nervous about stepping on. I know they have internet access because that’s how we found them and got in touch, but it must be dial-up. I managed to get on (off someone else’s wifi, perhaps) and post one blog from there, but that was all. Given the isolation, the weather and the decrepitude of the place, we thought it best to move on. And as soon as the tornados in Tennessee stopped, that’s what we did.

The Big Crappie Cabin

Next day we went to a big box store I am too ashamed to name and stocked up for our week at Land Between the Lakes. Then we had to find our way to New Concord, Kentucky, which, in case you didn’t know it, is in Tennessee. Well, almost. And finding our way to the cabin after that, not so easy, either. But we only made one wrong turn, because we stopped so often to review the directions and the map (forget MapQuest. They told us not to use it).

Fairly early in the afternoon we pulled into the Resort and Marina which shall remain nameless unless someone asks me for it privately. The same applies to the resort we stayed at in Wisconsin, and I’m going to devote a blog to these places to explain why. We checked into our cabin, which we selected because of its size, its screen porch, and because dogs are allowed. And the name of it actually IS “Big Crappie” because that’s a fish. See the fish here:



You'll have to click to enlarge, then scroll sideways. I am not much of a photoshopper, so please forgive my lack of skill. Other cabins had other fish names, like bass and trout. Joyce complained all the way down that it was an omen. Well, we’ll see.

After a few cold beers on the porch, we decided to swim in the lake. Even though children were present, because it was hot. And here’s a note on the weather: it was COLD all the way from the Black Hills to Paducah, with only a few exceptions. So when we got to Paducah, and could wear shorts again, we were mighty pleased.

Anyway, we got into our suits and pulled out our beach towels and went down to the stretch of sand that was probably carted in, because as anyone who has swum in a lake knows, they’re slimy and have no beaches unless you make one. You mostly swim off a dock or something and keep your feet off the bottom. That’s the nature of lakes.

That should set the scene for our next little misadventure. There’s a floating dock about thirty yards out and I swam straight out there and climbed up the ladder. Yes, broken arm and all because I didn’t know. Got on top and I see something floating, and I think it’s a dead fish. I caution Joyce to keep away from it, and she splashes at it. It comes nearer to me and I see it’s a decomposing dead turtle. Great. No matter what we did or where we swam, it kept following us. So Joyce decided we must get rid of it for good.

Along the shore, the aforementioned kids were trying to catch fish with nets, under the watchful eyes of mothers on cell phones who wouldn’t let them venture in above their knees. Joyce asked to borrow a net, which she then turned over to me to go and collect the turtle and dispose of it. You can tell who’s the butch and who isn’t.

Well, I didn’t want to do it, but the thing was just too disgusting to swim around. So I waded in and swam after it and hooked it. Dragging it at arm’s length, I brought it back so I could stand on the beach and heave it into some reeds where I hoped it would catch. In case you haven’t seen me in a bathing suit, just use your imagination. I’m fat, but I have no body issues whatsoever. If you don’t like it, don’t look, I say.



Hey! I told you not to look!

Anyhow, I loudly caution everyone in hearing that I am about to fling this carcass as hard as I can, and everyone should look out. I used to play lacrosse, and I planned to use the net as a cross. Or if you prefer, as a jai alai cesta.

Let’s just say the turtle had other plans. The poor thing, its claws caught in the net and it went all of two feet, right into the water in front of me. Well, it was just too hilarious. I about fell over laughing. Everyone was in hysterics, and I couldn’t even move, I was so doubled up. Finally I picked it up again with the net and flipped it into the reeds. I handed the net back to the kid and she was still laughing too hard to speak.

Anyway, after that, we had no more dead turtles, just cigarette butts from the inconsiderate boaters using the marina. More on this vacation hideaway next time!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The five sisters invade Paducah

We didn’t drive too terribly far to get to Paducah. It looked longer on the map because we had to get off the interstates for a while. You’d think in a state as heavily populated and central as Illinois, the interstates would all go from here to there. But they don’t. Take a look at an atlas. I wonder how much pork was involved in misdirecting all the highways.

Anyway, it wasn’t our intent to visit Paducah per se, just to get to a city of reasonable size so we could stock up before heading to our cabin on Kentucky Lake. It was the first time we stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, and compared to most of the rest, this place was like heaven. People still slam the doors and kids still try to rule the pool, but the facilities are very high end for a place called “Express.” We thought it would be like Ramada “Limited.” We were very pleasantly surprised.

People and dogs are not the only ones staying there. In the lighted sign at one end of the building is a whole family of birds’ nests, each one in the cutout of a letter.




Be sure to enlarge these so you can see! They're so cute!

When we went to the pool, we found five elderly ladies all in the spa, with a whole lot of other people all around. These turned out to be the five sisters from nearby Bardwell. Every three months or so, they abandon the men in their families and spend the weekend at the hotel. Sometimes daughters and granddaughters come along. They have made up a calendar of themselves very much like in the movie Calendar Girls, except none of them are naked, although they have a whole bunch of funny settings. Apparently this is a private production. I tried to find them on line and couldn’t. They were hilarious and we enjoyed their company. They have one brother, and in the pictures, he looks like a deer caught in headlights. I guess they’ve devoted themselves to making his life pure miserable. Funny as hell.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lincoln logs, marble and other building materials

So we came to Springfield because Joyce had never seen all the Lincoln things, and I felt it would make her a better person. Also, there is no clear-cut way to go from Wisconsin Dells to Land Between the Lakes, and this was as good a way as any. Besides, there’s nothing else to see in all that distance. Honestly, I looked and looked.

So the first thing out of our room, I fell and broke my arm, but cleverly, I had no clue this had happened. I tripped on a covered drain under the (lumpy) carpet in the hotel corridor, and thought I had just given myself a good whack. Well, I had. But not being much of a crybaby, I got up and we went on about our sightseeing business. Incidentally, the weather? Just sucked! Cold and raining yet again. Only good thing was, when it’s like that, the dogs can safely be left in a properly-ventilated car.

First stop was New Salem, or a reproduction of it, where Lincoln lived as a young man after he left home. It was, you know, one of those historical recreations, like a lot of the Ingalls-Wilder stuff.




Next stop was the tomb, because we were running late and that’s the most important thing. It was my third visit, and I doubt I’ll go again, but I felt very moved, as usual. I think he was smart and funny and a basically good, decent man. I doubt we’d have a union today without him. I mean, for a politician he was good. If you have any sense of history, and have not visited Lincoln’s tomb, go.







And his wife, Mary Todd, poor crazy thing, losing all those children. Like the Ingalls, there are no living Lincoln descendants. It makes you wonder how many families have totally died out.




Just go. Even if you visit no other Lincoln sites, go there. It is a very moving and dignified and appropriate resting place for the Ancient, as his staff used to call him. And read Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, too, if you haven’t already.

We went downtown next, to where they are recreating a chunk of Springfield as it was when he lived there, before he became president. Very pretty.




We didn’t go in; Joyce has had it with old houses, I think, and I’d already been twice. We walked around and looked at all the markers, though, and then went hunting for souvenirs. How can it be in all of downtown, historic, recreated Springfield, there is exactly ONE souvenir store? And it’s crappy. I got my keychain, though.

Then we went back to the hotel and I nursed my arm and became convinced it was dislocated. But there were no VA hospitals in range, so we decided to go on. After all, I reasoned, when the swelling went down, it would likely pop back into place. And I had plenty of pain pills, so we went to Cracker Barrel, because it’s consistent, and then we packed up for the next day on the road to Kentucky.

Trivia question: In which state was Lincoln born? You can go look it up.

Last Day in Wisconsin

Jim left right after breakfast, and the weather was sort of okay, so we took the dogs to a local state park where there were lots of mosquitoes. It was cool and sometimes the sun came out a little, but that’s all, so we were able to play miniature golf while the kids napped in the car. Then we made that second trip to Culver’s, and then we went back to pack.

This was another party night on the property with lots of people from the area, door prizes, cornhole, volleyball and a beer truck. We just dodged the whole thing as much as possible. It’s a small area, though, and you could hear each and every person and activity. So we just left them to their boogying in the rain, and packed up our gear.

Honestly, it’s funny when you think of all the stuff we crammed into a week up there, and the weather sucked most of the time, and a lot of the things we did weren’t what we really planned to do.

On the road the next day, it was just like our arrival: pretty much a dead deer every mile until we hit Illinois. Both Joyce and I have lived in Illinois, and I visited there a lot, and we knew there wasn’t much to see, so we just drove straight to Springfield and because Illinois is flat and pretty dull, there’s not a whole lot more to say about it.

Next, the Land of Lincoln.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Still More Dells



First we went to this odd location, which . . . well, I don’t know what we thought it was, but it was decidedly odd. We laughed a lot. Sort of a political funhouse? I don’t know. Check out their site.

http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/19063

After that, it still wasn’t pouring down rain, so we went here:

http://www.wisdeerpark.com/

Honestly, Jim says this is better for the deer. There is no safe place for deer in Wisconsin. Either they are hit by cars or hunted. It’s the only chance a deer has for anything like a natural life in Wisconsin, and we’re all for that. They are well-fed, it’s a beautiful park, and of course, they get medical care! And the deer are very dear. We met several who are just like our dogs: they head-butt for treats. They are small and tame, the ones wandering loose. The big ones are kept beyond fences in their own preserves, and the fawns run away. So we are guessing the deer who mingle are 1-3 years old or so. And they have deer from all over the world, along with other . . .ungulates, I guess. It was very peaceful, except who knew that deer thrive on rock music? We didn’t take our own pictures due to threat of rain, and also, our hands were full of deer food. Quite tasty; I tried it. A lot like baby biscuits, only better tasting.

Our final stop was a custard stand called Culver’s, famous in the Midwest. Gee, I wish they had it everywhere! Frozen custard is better than ice cream, seriously. Maybe it’s just as well they don’t have it here, because we went twice in two days.

One more thing: that night we went to a great Italian restaurant called Sarento's, which reminds me of this odd thing at the Dells where they try to recreate various cultures from all over the world in hotels and theme parks. Our movie theatre was in Morocco. There were hotels claiming to be in Greece, Rome, Venice, Las Vegas, Florida, Japan, Ireland and on and on. It was like an even tackier EPCOT, but more endearing.



They also try to recreate different time periods, like WW II and the 1950s. And then they are all jammed side by side with attractions that seem to have little to do with anything, let alone each other. The Travel Channel calls the Dells a best-kept vacation secret. If you live up that way, or mean to travel there, it's definitely worth a stop. Despite the rain, we saw and did a whole lot of stuff we are unlikely to have done anywhere else.

Jim visits us at the Dells

Sunday our friend Jim drove over from Milwaukee. We hadn’t actually seen him in about ten years although we e-mail several times a week. He’s a musician and writer, and he had to come during the week because gigs fill up his weekends. He arrived early in the afternoon, and because it wasn’t pouring down buckets of cold rain right then, we decided to go out and do something.

Off to the Wisconsin Ducks. We have seen or heard of these in Boston, San Diego and eventually, Chattanooga, too, but this was our first ride. Not Jim’s; he went as a kid. We just wanted to see the pretty stone formations on the Dells, which are actually lakes. Even in less-than-ideal weather, it was nice. We enjoyed it.






That evening Jim and I went to see the new Star Trek movie. Other than the fact that they stood canon in its head, it was pretty entertaining, and I’m glad someone has taken over the franchise in the spirit of Gene Roddenberry. I’m looking forward to more from them.

What else is there to do in this town? Dells continued.

There’s a lot to do in the Dells; it exists for things to do. For one thing, it’s the waterpark capital of the world. Or the US, at least. So, although we didn’t plan to go to one, we couldn’t help but see them all over the place, and despite the weather, there were plenty of people in them, many in wet suits. There are also indoor parks, but, owing to the presence of children, we weren’t about to subject ourselves to those. Instead, we had thought of going kayaking, but the weather was awful. Even when the sun was out, it was cold. We also planned to go on the Ducks, but not when it was pouring. So when, on the third day, which I think was Friday, the sun came out for real, we were at a loss because we had no reservations, and we did have the dogs. Lucky for us, our little old resort had a couple of pedalboats. And because they weren’t the enormous fat-wheeled tricycle kind, Joyce was willing to try them.

So we crawled into one and set out. Luckily there wasn’t much wind, and we were able to get out into the middle of the lake and see more than from the shore. We had a few slight disagreements about steering and such, but it was mostly fun. And, while we were out there, it got so hot we decided we could go swimming in the heated pool. So after limping back to shore and falling into the lake to get out of the boat, we did that, and the temperature was perfect. Having the sun out and warm weather made a lot of difference in how we felt about the whole place.

However, the very next day, the rain and cold were back. This, we felt, was our opportunity to experience Sundara. Lucky for us, they had some late afternoon slots, but once signed up, we could go over there any time. However, with the dogs, we don’t like to keep them caged more than four hours at a time, so that was all the time we could spend.

Sundara is a yoga-oriented resort and spa. Here it is:

http://www.sundaraspa.com/services/services.html

We both did the cleansing bath ritual and a Swedish massage. There was an outdoor heated pool and spa and I used them even though it was raining. Most people did, but not Joyce. She stayed in the nice quiet meditation and reading room where they served beverages and yoga trail mix. Anyway, the perfect way to spend a cold, rainy afternoon and NO CHILDREN.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Exploring Wisconsin Dells, or What the hell is wrong with these people?

In the Dells, we stayed at a very old resort which is in a nice setting on Lake Delton, which, even as we were there, was celebrating its return.



In case you were unaware, Lake Delton took an unexpected journey through its dam and into the Wisconsin River last year. Imagine that! But they managed to go get it and put it back where it belongs. Read this article for details.

http://www.weau.com/home/headlines/19667219.html

And so the whole town was just bursting with pride, and anticipation, and rain, and freezing cold! Our cabin had a little screened porch we couldn’t sit on, and a heater we used a lot, and a fireplace which may or may not have worked. I tried it, and it didn’t do anything, and I left it at that. We kind of needed the space in front of it to pile up dog cages and stuff.

The day after we arrived, we went to a local 50s-themed diner, and then to get groceries at a big box store I am too ashamed to name, and I got a haircut while Joyce shopped. Honestly, I’d rather have a root canal than go shopping. So I had the unusual experience of sitting around in a hair store listening to straight women discussing . . . well, mainly stuff I couldn’t care less about. But it was still better than shopping, and I bet I, and the guy who came in after me, were the easiest customers they had all day. Short hair made shorter, the end.

Now, guess what was going on back at the resort. A pre-party for the return of the lake. It seemed to be made up mainly of people the owners knew, and, like, relatives. No guests were staying there but us, and we were invited, but it was freezing. Anyway, it was just as if we did go, because they held this party basically right on top of us. Somebody brought a speedboat and everyone went out riding in it, and water skiing, in the rain and cold. We couldn’t even sit on the damned porch wearing sweatshirts and jeans, and those people are barbecuing and playing cornhole in the rain. And they made quite a to-do over all this, with beer, screaming children and barking dogs running loose. Once in a while they’d all disappear and then we’d run the dogs out for a quick walk. I don’t know if they went to church or a sex shop or what.

Then at night they’d shriek and whoop around the firepit, in the rain. The firepit was conveniently located about 40 feet from our front door, amid the playground equipment, which the kids used, also in the rain. It wasn’t like they were keeping us from using it, and as I said, we were invited, but come on! It looked mostly like an invitation to catch a bad cold. So we declined.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wisconsin Dells, or “Why are we here?” Oh, deer!

Guess what happens every mile or so in Wisconsin. Someone kills a deer. It was so regular, and so continuous, it looked deliberate. Jim says it isn’t. It's a big deer hunting state, but they don't go that far. Apparently deer are just very foolish and seeing it happen doesn't prevent others from doing it. These deer were apparently very unlike those we saw in South Dakota, who look both ways before crossing. But we didn’t go there to learn that. We could have lived without seeing it at all. In fact, it’s kind of odd how we did end up there, because it didn’t originally have anything to do with Laura Ingalls; that came later.

Originally, we were going to South Dakota and back, but there were no stipulations about the “and back” part, except Joyce wanted to see some states she'd never been to before. Joyce left the rest up to me, and I decided it would be fun to visit our friend Jim in Wisconsin. And then, there’s the simple fact that, no matter which way you go back to Florida from South Dakota, there’s a lot of miles of not very spectacular farmland to cover and we would already have seen it.

So I asked Jim about the most interesting things to see in Wisconsin, and cities don’t count. We do everything we can to avoid those. He said either Wisconsin Dells or Door County, and the Dells seemed more accessible. Besides I’d been there about half a century ago with my mom. I looked it up, it seemed like fun, AND I found a cabin for rent that allowed dogs.

Joyce had never been to Wisconsin and knew nothing about it. She was agreeable to seeing Jim, too, so we decided to meet there, and Jim could sleep on the pull-out sofa! It was only after we decided to go to Wisconsin Dells that someone in my royalty group mentioned we would be near a lot of Laura Ingalls sites. I had read the books as a kid, but Joyce hadn’t, and she hated the TV show. I talked her into trying the books and got them, and we read them all before we left, learning there were lots more books by other people. So we decided to visit the sites and get more books. That’s what decided some of our daily routes and day trips.

Did I mention how much it’s been raining on this trip? Well, it has been, and in the upper Midwest, it’s been cold besides, so our arrival in Wisconsin Dells was greeted by cold rain. At that point, we didn’t much care. We decided to just settle in for the night and stay put the next day. There’s never a bad time on a long trip for a day off.

Hastings-on-Vermillion

Another why are we here? location. It’s on the way to Wisconsin Dells by way of another Laura Ingalls Wilder site. It was either that, or see more of the same interstate again. So we got (way) off the beaten path to get here. And it’s not at all bad, either!

It took us almost no time to get over here from Mankato, and it was a beautiful day, so we took the kids to a park with a waterfall.







We had a nice walk, went back to the hotel, and had a lovely swim, followed by a nice dinner in a restaurant close enough to walk to. Next day was our planned day-trip to Pepin, Wisconsin, right across the Mississippi River. (The Vermillion is a tributary.)

So that’s what we did the next day, and it was right along the Mississippi on a secondary road that is also some sort of historic steamboat trail with lots of pullouts and scenery, and weird little artist colonies.





It’s all very pretty, but deceptive. That far north, they only have four months of livable weather. Lots of cute little vacation cottages that you can’t leave for eight frozen months a year. But we were there during that little window, so we enjoyed it.

What I didn’t know was that Joyce was having trouble saying awake. At this point, we’d been on the road over a month, and we were both starting to get worn out. Even with the extra days off built into our schedule, or forced upon us by nature, we were running out of energy. But we still had a good time visiting the official birthplace and getting more books and looking at views of the river. It was a really nice day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Slow slog to Mankato and the Restaurant Gauntlet

But we couldn’t dilly-dally around the Corn Palace for long, because Mankato, Minnesota, beckoned. Well, not so much Mankato, but Walnut Grove, where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived on the banks of Plum Creek. It took us so long to get there on the back roads that we really only had time to snap a few pics and buy a few books. If not for this site, there would be pretty much no town at all.





She didn’t live IN the town anyway, but in a dugout a couple of miles from it and there’s nothing left of that. From this location, they were driven out by locusts and had to move to Burr Oak, Iowa, to recover, a stop not on their original itinerary, or ours.

We continued to Mankato and got in late which did not make Joyce at all happy. Too long a day. Ordered delivery food, almost always a mistake. Swam after brief discussion with desk clerk. Adult hours begin at 10 PM, kids still in pool, and not quiet kids, either. They complained they had just arrived. Too bad. Adults get two hours, they get 14. Arrive earlier. Enough already with the child-worship.

Mankato was where I got the nerve pinch in my hand. Luckily we had an extra day so we stayed there while I worked that out. Late in the afternoon, or early evening, we decided to go out to eat. Mankato is a college town with a lot of little eateries, and we were just off-campus, so we thought this would be easy enough.

We shouldn’t think. That’s all there is to it. We first drove to a Green Mill restaurant where the host was on the phone when we walked in, and ignored us completely. When a server came up front for something, we asked him about being seated, and he said we’d have to wait because they were understaffed. All right in front of this other guy. So we left. Obviously they weren’t interested in us, so we quickly lost interest in them. We drove to a row of other restaurants and parked, and immediately we saw two dogs in a black car with the windows all the way up, and the sun was out! A dog can fry in less than five minutes in a locked car.

I pulled out my cell phone, but I had no service, so we ran into the closest restaurant to call the police from there. It was a Thai place where you give your order at the counter and they call your number. We asked the woman ahead of us in line to call the police, and right there in front of her daughter, she dithered and couldn’t bring herself to make a decision. She didn’t know the right thing to do, and how to do it, and she demonstrated that to her child. This is why kids don’t learn how to act responsibly and appropriately: their parents have no clue, either.

We then asked the counter-worker to do it, and that was when the man at the front of the line admitted the dogs were his. So we surrounded him and told him to get out and unlock that car or we would call the police or we would put a rock through his window. He argued and she kept trying to get his order but we just kept at him until he went out. And he kept protesting it wasn’t hot and we said we’d see if the police had a thermometer. Anyway, he got the windows down and we waited until he went back for his order and drove away.

That was very difficult for us, and very upsetting, and because the Thai restaurant worker wouldn’t do the right thing, we walked to another place, but it was also do-it-yourself and we were no longer interested. We wanted to sit down someplace decent, so we got back in the car and started driving until we found a Mexican place that turned out to be real nice.

So beware. Joyce may not stand up for her own rights, but she will defend a dog to the death. And if you see animals in distress, stand up and help them. Rescue them, unless you can live with killing apathy.

Mitchell: The Corn Palace

Off to the Corn Palace! What could be more thrilling? You just haven’t lived until you have seen this, clearly an overlooked wonder of the Western world. I mean it must be, because so many people make the 16 mile round-trip detour from the interstate. When you arrive at this magnificent edifice, you are surrounded by at least half a dozen other people, all in awe of corn art.



As the signs say, “You will be a-maized at this incredible ear-chitecture!” The only thing is, it’s not quite as advertised. It’s not ALL corn, and there’s an unrelated building squished right up against it so it only has three sides. Liar liar pants on fire! And guess what! From the minute they create the annual mural, birds start eating it.



Nonetheless, it was still pretty interesting. If you look at it from a certain angle, you can see all the pieces of corn sticking out.



The current design includes the Space Needle, the Space Shuttle, Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore, in a sort of angular, modern style in sepia tones. The theme is "America's Destinations," and here’s the site.

http://www.cornpalace.com/index.php

If you ever find yourself in the area, go see it. They work hard to stay ahead of the birds. And if you are in Mitchell, South Dakota, there’s not a lot else to do anyway.

Some people should not be in "hospitality"

Name changed to avoid lawsuits!

Some people just shouldn’t be in the hospitality industry, and one woman, at Days Inn Oacoma, is one of them. Normally I wouldn’t even bother mentioning a person who shows so little aptitude for her profession. I would consign her to oblivion where she belongs. But both she and Days Inn should be exposed for what frauds they are. I’ll use this very same information to make my official complaints, and that way I don’t have to do it twice.

UPDATE: Days Inn corporate has rectified the problem. They made good on the discount themselves, and PROMISED that the offender has beeen duly counseled. Please keep that in mind as you read the rest of the entry. Problem solved!

While we were in Custer, planning our way back Joyce came across a coupon for the Oacoma Days Inn in some little throw-away tourist rag that offered a 20% discount to veterans. So we saved it, and on arrival, there was also a sign outside thanking us for our service. Great! Super!

Not so fast. That woman first informed us we had reserved TWO rooms. Turned out to be a computer problem, but until Hotels.com corporate cleared it, she was going to charge us for both rooms. She said if we didn’t get it straightened out by that night, she would penalize us, so we had to spend considerable time on the phone and online fixing it. And to top it off, she also refused the veteran’s discount because we had booked through hotels.com. She told us we shouldn’t book through them! She wouldn’t give us her supervisor’s name and refused to contact him. We later got this information from another employee, and we saved the coupon and photographed the sign.



That woman seems to think her job is to collect as much money from people as possible at all costs. She has no idea that the way to get more money for a business is to create and maintain a good reputation through good customer service. In all likelihood all the other people she cheats have just written it off because very few people will stay in Chamberlain to pursue it, or return there. She may believe it’s her mission to squeeze all their money out of them in the short time they are in ”her” Days Inn. She has no idea all this information about her and her hotel will go to Days Inn, onto the internet and to hotels.com. And she probably thinks that because nothing has happened yet, nothing ever will. But when I get home and have the time to make all this information available and follow up, she will learn that some people just don’t back down. You don’t offer discounts to veterans and then renege. There’s a lot of crap you can get away with, but not that. Not in this hyper-patriotic, extremely paranoid culture in which the military is perpetually valorized. Usually I find this kind of lock-step group-think quite annoying and/or funny. But will I use it to my advantage? In a heartbeat.

UPDATE: Because of the fine cutomer service we received from Days Inn on this matter, we will definitely give them another chance. Good job!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Backward to Chamberlain

Mad Dash to Al’s Oasis

Yet another “included” breakfast missed, we drove up to Subway, where they make it until 11 AM; the only place in town where you can carry your breakfast away and eat it outside. Once finished, we declared we wouldn’t stop until Wall, and promptly pulled over two minutes later to photograph our last painted bison, which we had missed on our bison hunts on previous days.



Here are a few more. I think there must have been two dozen, including the one up at the Crazy Horse Museum, which is in an earlier entry.





This is my favorite:



And then we really did drive all the way to Wall, which for us is a prodigious feat. I mean, with the three dogs and the coffee and the soda and wanting to look at everything? The only reason we went so far without stopping is that we were retracing a previous route. Mostly. Because we had actually come into Custer the back way, and now we were going out the front, but with all the sightseeing we did, we’d seen a lot of that already, too.

So we went to Wall for a couple of reasons. First, we know how few chances there are to eat going across the state, so we had to get some lunch at yet another Subway. Second, I wanted a couple of bags of magnetite, one for me and one for my friend Jim. The plan was, if I didn’t get it someplace else, I’d stop into Wall Drug on the way back. Well, no rock shop we went to had it, so I went back, and while I was there, I got a bunch of stocking stuffers, too.

It was too early to actually eat lunch so we took it along and ate it in a rest stop where no dogs were supposed to be allowed at the picnic tables. But we put their cages in the shade with us and no one said anything. Of course, no one was there. No one much is anywhere in the middle of South Dakota.

And that’s one more example of how good dogs are treated like pariahs while children, no matter how badly behaved, are treated like celebrities. At the moment, I’m writing in Kentucky about other places and other times, but subsequent blogs will fill in the blanks. The point is, no matter who you are or how much money you have, if you have pets, you aren’t welcome in more places than any and every screaming, violent child. I may be mistaken, but I think in many cases, the laws prevent businesses from refusing to accommodate children, but they CAN refuse pets. Naturally, we take our business elsewhere; we have to. But given a choice, if you favor bratty kids over my dogs, you will not see one red cent of my money.

Our goal for that day was Chamberlain, on the banks of the Missouri River, a really beautiful little spot with a nice restaurant and one truly lousy motel. We saw it on our way out, and thought it was about as far as we could comfortably go in one day. If only we had gone farther! But we’ll deal with that next time.

Here you can see how pretty Chamberlain is, first from east of the river, and then from the west: