Summer Break and Pop Culture

School’s out for summer, and in my family at the O.K. Chorale, we sing that in a major key. I don’t expect a lot of travel this time because I’m hoping to teach summer school (I’m on deck, next to be called if I’m needed). A jaunt along Rte. 66 is still on my bucket list, though. I enjoy my history and my pop culture.

I hope you enjoy my latest contribution to my national link and their social media branch. It started out being all about historical markers, and it took on a life of its own with the pop culture theme.

Readers, is there pop culture, Americana, or history in your town? Leave a comment. Maybe we’ll visit!



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Dear Amtrak; Customer service is on the wrong track.

Dear Amtrak;

You goofed. You made a mistake, and the resolution was far from satisfactory. In fact, it stunk. We found another way around, but it meant solving the trouble ourselves by… well, let’s start at the beginning.

We made reservations as a disabled person traveling with companion, and we asked for roomettes across from each other. The reservations were rooms 7 & 8. We checked in at the Denver station and confirmed our reservation: car number 632, roomettes 7 and 8.

Luggage checked in, ready to board, we approached the car attendant with our tickets. “We’re in 7 and 8,” we showed him. He looked concerned, almost panicky. “Um, you can have 8, but there’s someone in 7. I’ll have to talk to the conductor.”

Amtrak, we reserved roomettes together to be near our son, who is blind and has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning disorder on the autism spectrum. If he needed help at any time, including at night, he could simply knock on our door (Hence the “companion” role).

We dropped our gear in Amigo’s roomette, number 8, and went to supper. Chuck and I were very upset, and Amigo was beside himself with worry – so much so that he couldn’t eat. Chuck took Amigo back to the car early, and I settled up the bill.

The car attendant and conductor had placed us at the end of the car in one of the larger bedroom units. Maybe they thought the upgrade would mollify us; it didn’t. We needed, really needed, to be near Amigo. The distance between our rooms was not acceptable. Not at all.

We felt like bad parents accepting this poor alternative. We worried about his safety and his state of mind. Would he be able to find us if he needed help? He had his cell phone, but crossing the plains as the route did, phone signals were not guaranteed. Could he find the bathroom on his own? If you’ve ever been on a sleeper car, you know how much alike the corridor appears to a sighted person. Now try it blind.

Chuck bumped into the current resident of room 7 and got his courage up to ask the man if he would be willing to trade rooms for the night. He explained the situation, and the man (grudgingly) said yes. We switched, moving all of our gear to 7 and helping him migrate to the larger bedroom at the end of the hall. We informed the car attendant that we’d traded spaces, and all of us began to settle down for the night.

Amtrak folks, Chuck and I have ridden the rails in the past. We’ve enjoyed our trips and usually had service that ranged from good to excellent. This time, the situation was far below “good” level. There were other issues, too:

  • the dining car kept running out of food.
  • lunch menu was heavily abbreviated
  • coffee in the sleeper car was stale and even smelled burned
  • ice water in the car was empty, and bottled water unavailable.
  • Chuck had to change over our beds in the morning; the car attendant didn’t.
  • We requested a newspaper; Chuck found one for us, since the car attendant didn’t do this, either.
  • I couldn’t access the wifi on board. I gave up. By this time, making an effort was beyond my limits.

All of these smaller irritations might have been easier to handle had we not been overwhelmed by the room problem. Amtrak, what happened? How will you make sure no other family encounters the same problems we did?

The boys in profile, playing cribbage in Roomette #8

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Hotels are getting greener.

We spent last week traveling, enjoying hotel beds, hotel breakfasts, and a variety of other meals cooked by someone else. We traveled by plane, train  (light rail & Amtrak), buses, taxis, and hotel shuttles. We snacked on airplane peanuts and hotel lobby fresh fruit.

Hotel chains have their own mottoes and personalities. And (you probably guessed this was coming) some are more eco-conscious than others. A great example from the Daisy perspective is the ubiquitous hotel disposable coffee cup.

Super 8: yes, the Super 8 has a recycled and biodegradable coffee cup.

Holiday Inn Express was disappointing. They still use foam. So on we go —

waxy cup (biodegradable) and cardboard sleeve

The Hampton made me happier. Wax type cup, cardboard sleeve (recyclable). They made sure we knew they were approaching environmental friendliness by announcing it on the cups, too.

I haven’t looked into the website. Have you?

Anyway, I had the robust coffee from the hotel lobby instead of making it myself. I still appreciate the quest for quality and eco-sensitive choices. Next time I travel, I’ll keep this  information in mind.

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Best and Worst Medal Ceremony

Best shuttle service: A clear gold medal to the Littleton, Colorado Hampton Inn. Shuttle took us anywhere within Littleton, including the school for the blind, restaurants, and location for boarding the light rail to get downtown.

Best beverage: Gold goes to Ted’s Montana Grill for their wild berry lemonade. I had two and a glass of wine. What a great drink to accompany a bison burger! Silver goes to Starbucks in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport for their ice tea lemonade.

Best public transportation: Two gold medals go to light rail in both Minneapolis and the Denver area. In coordination with public transit buses, these light rail systems provided a great means for our family to get where we wanted to go.

Best breakfast: Hotel breakfasts had many options, including the waffle-maker (Colorado) and the pancake machine (Minneapolis). P.S. The coffee was strong and tasty everywhere.

Best lunch: Comfort food from a chain restaurant, Noodles & Company. Me, Daisy, choosing a national chain? This time, yes. We were exhausted, tense from figuring out the train and bus systems, and hot and sweaty in the 90+ degree weather to boot. Seeing “Wisconsin Mac and Cheese” advertised on Denver’s Noodles & Company drew us in. A taste of home away from home: priceless.

Best dinner side dish: Gold: NoNo’s Cajun Grill in LIttleton. We were inspired to look up a recipe for Corn Macque Choux. If we can come even close to this dish, it’ll be delicious.

Best dinner entree: Bison burgers at Ted’s Montana Grill, tied with the shrimp basket cooked to perfection at Ivan’s of East Troy, Wisconsin. Maybe this decision was tainted a little by the relief we felt at arriving safely almost-home and avoiding a  complete meltdown, Amigo style.

Best view: This one isn’t really fair. Which would you rather see, the Mall of America or the Rocky Mountains? Colorado, of course.

Best value: public transportation from Denver International Airport to our hotel. It cost us less than half what a taxi or shared shuttle would have cost, and gave us a chance to see more of the town than we would have otherwise.

Best Save: Chuck, for finding a Best Buy kiosk in the Minneapolis – St. Paul airport when Amigo’s iPhone battery ran low. We’d mistakenly packed his charger in the checked luggage.

Now: the other side of the awards.

Worst access: Holiday Inn Express in MN. The key cards were inconsistent at best, and impossible at worst. Our “good” key card opened the door an average of one time in seven. Sorry, Holiday Inn, that’s not even close to being good enough.

Worst noise level: Union Station in Chicago. Between the heat and the noise, Amigo was beside himself. I can turn off my hearing aids; Amigo, with his super sensitive hearing, cannot.

Worst overall experience: Amtrak. Amtrak, we’ve had good trips and great trips, This one was a huge disappointment. In fact, it’ll take another full post to really make clear all that went wrong. Wait for it.

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Further evidence that NFB-MN is really Hogwarts

So far, you’ve seen the outside of the castle, er, mansion. Then I shared observations of the fireplaces, hidden doors, and lamp-holders. But wait – there’s more. We went into the dungeons, I mean the basement, not for Potions with Snape, but to see the wood shop classroom.

Power tools and Amigo? And no magic allowed?

On the way to the stairs, we saw evidence of Mr. Weasley’s Muggle artifacts collection. Someone tell him it’s not plugged in.

Rotary phones? I prefer my Android, really.

On our way to the Owlery, we opened an ordinary-looking door only to find an old safe.

Secure: Alohamora didn’t open it.

I did say Owlery. If there was any doubt earlier, this bathroom provided convincing evidence that we were visiting Harry’s alma mater.

Where’s Hedwig? Pigwigeon, are you there?

Amigo, pack your wand. And look out for that Malfoy kid; he can’t be trusted.

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Touring Hogwarts with Amigo:

We last left our heroes – no, strike that. Let’s try again.

You saw the outside and the entrance to Minnesota’s answer to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Now lets follow Amigo and his parents (Daisy and Chuck) as they scope out the fascinating place.

Conveniently located for floo powder travel

The director has a huge working fireplace in her office. Many other rooms have fireplaces, but none are this big.

Speaking of rooms, when I asked to use the rest room, they showed me to the hidden door in the wall.

Myrtle? Are you in there?

To get to the second floor, we had to go up the ancient wooden steps. Luckily, these stayed in place; none of that bad habit of changing directions every other Tuesday. Or was it Thursday?

How many staircases are in the Hogwarts castle?

On the second floor we were certain that this was a division of Hogwarts, U.S.A. Could these lampholders exist anywhere else?

Holder of the Light

There’s more to behold – later. For now, the answer to the above question. How many staircases are in the Hogwarts castle? Well?

142, of course. “…wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday…”

Oh, the white thing in the top picture? I honestly don’t remember. Maybe it’s the mansion’s ghost, Mrs. Pillsbury. She’s supposed to be friendly.

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Amigo visits – Hogwarts?

We called a cab to take us from our hotel near all the modern travel amenities (like the airport and the Mall of America) to the NFB Training Center in Minneapolis. Amigo is planning to attend one of the centers, and this one is high on the list. The taxi driver, however, wasn’t so enlightened. He fiddled with his GPS, asked us if we were sure of the address, and called his central office before he could get us on the road. When we got to the destination, I realized why he couldn’t figure it out on his own.

                         A long fence…

We walked along the stone (concrete?) fence and saw —

lions? tigers? bears? dragons?

…these creatures guarding the gates. Then up the steps to the front entrance:

I’m not sure what’s guarding the main door, but it’s big and ornate. Looking more closely, we saw this.

Can you hear it? The door carving is moaning, “Ebenezer…. Ebenezer Scrooge…”

Oops, wrong British novelist. Anyway, the mood was set.

The cabbie must have been a Muggle. The mansion was obviously Minnesota’s answer to Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, bewitched such that ordinary non-magical folk would never know it was there. If he could have seen the mansion, he might have seen this.

                              Never Tickle Sleeping Dragons.

There are too many details to share in just one post. Stay tuned: you’ll enjoy more of the Midwest’s answer to Hogwarts. Just wait. I need another butterbeer to quench my thirst before I continue.

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It’s over; we can laugh. Maybe.

Saturday was a comedy of errors – almost. There were too many errors to call it a true. Maybe with a little distance, we’ll laugh.

On our way to La Petite’s, we were caught in a traffic jam near a construction zone. Amigo: “How do you know it’s a construction zone?” Chuck: “It’s riddled with Schneider eggs.” Amigo: “Oh, Wisconsin’s state flower.” After inching along the highway for what felt like an hour, we saw the problem: a dump truck with a full load of rocks waiting to be towed. How does a dump truck filled with rock get towed? What kind of tow truck can handle that kind of load? We mused on it as we headed for lunch.

You know those little blue signs by the exits, right? Readers, I’ll bet you’ve used those to find a gas station or a quick bite to eat while on the road. We saw a Culver’s listed on the sign and said “Yea! Let’s go!” Not so fast, family. We drove on and on and on with no blue roofed restaurant in sight. We recalibrated, turned around, and peered down the side streets. Still no blue roof with big Culver’s sign. We gave up and dragged our rumbling tummies to Taco Bell instead. La Petite, by the way, thinks the sign is wrong and the Culver’s in East Troy doesn’t exist. She has searched for it as extensively as a one week stay in town would allow.

A fast food lunch on a hot, hot day created a new dilemma. We couldn’t leave the bunnies (en route to La Petite’s) in the hot, hot minivan. We couldn’t take the bunnies into the Taco Bell. We felt it was too hot to eat at the outdoor picnic tables, which was our only option for getting the bunnies out while we ate. We did the very un-ecofriendly thing – eco-unfriendly? – one of us sat in the car with the A/C on while the other two ate. Then we took turns bunny-sitting as all family members used the rest rooms. Deep breath: two challenges met and conquered. Onward!

Next (although it felt like “finally” would do here), we arrived at the apartment complex. Time to get busy and help La Petite move in! We spotted Surfer Dude, the apartment manager, and he asked for the cashier’s check for the deposit. Oops. We had  the money, that wasn’t a problem. We didn’t have a cashier’s check, though, and it was Saturday afternoon. No banks would be open. Our darling daughter couldn’t move in until this was paid, so we offered the credit card. Surfer Dude (nice guy, long blonde hair, sunglasses, Hawaiian shirt) got the go-ahead from his boss to accept our credit card, and away we went.

Then we had a more major emergency: Amigo needed to use the restroom, and La Petite’s apartment had no TP. The cleaning staff had mistakenly emptied the refrigerator of food that she’d brought earlier and tossed anything else they thought had been left behind by former tenants. Amigo used the office restrooms and Surfer Dude donated a roll of the important paper product. Relief – on both counts!

Did I mention that it was a hot day? Oh, yes, I did. We were sweating like Olympians, and the U-Haul seemed to empty oh so slowly. We took many breaks, to stand in front of the A/C unit and drink many fluids. Eventually, what started as this —

Wow. That’s a full, full truck.

— became an empty truck.

And so began our travels.

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Questions, I have travel questions

  • Does my Kindle actually turn off? Not just sleep?
  • Can I read my Kindle on an airplane?
  • How will Amigo’s white cane go through TSA? Last time he flew the security folks were thoroughly dismayed because they had no idea how to handle a blind traveler’s white cane.
  • Should I bring snacks in an attempt to avoid high prices at airports?
  • Should we visit the Mall of America or run, as fast as possible, in the opposite direction?
  • Are there any bloggers in the Twin Cities and/or Denver who would like to have a meet-up? I have two days in each locale.
  • How much money is left on my Starbucks card?
  • When will Amigo stop saying “I don’t know” to every single question I ask? Never mind.
  • Will I escape the deluge of campaign commercials by going to another state? No, don’t answer that. I didn’t think so.
  • Should I reserve hotels near the destinations or near the airports?
  • Will my asthmatic lungs adjust to Denver’s mile high altitude?
  • How about a mile high attitude? No, don’t answer that one, either.


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