Monday, August 30, 2010

California girls

Mrs. Hall stretched and reached for her coffee while Colleen showered. It was nice to take it easy for a change and enjoy breakfast before facing the highways. They only had five hours left til they reached Oakland, CA, and Mrs. Hall was relishing every minute of her morning.
Rain had moved in overnight. The sunny blue skies they had enjoyed were a thing of the past and a cold wind blew the trees about. The National Weather Service was warning that early cold temps were expected and at elevations over 8000 feet they were expecting an inch of snow. Mrs. Hall shuddered and suggested they move on.
The nasty weather not withstanding, Reno and the surrounding Sierra Nevada foothills looked quite inviting to Mrs. H. Lots of services, great shows and beautiful landscapes seemed to call to her and when Mr. Hall called that morning to check on the little voyagers, she insisted he make room in his busy calendar for a trip out for the both of them soon.
Gas prices had been pretty moderate in Syracuse, and nice and cheap in Ohio. Even across Iowa and Wyoming they held steady. But by the time they got to Nevada, the price was up to $3.00 a gallon or higher. Reno took the prize for most expensive petrol so far.
As they climbed higher and higher through the mountains, the pleasure they felt seeing the trees and rock formations was directly proportionate to the amount of terror they experienced sliding along the highway in the rain, fighting the traffic and reading all those scary road signs. "Rock Slide Ahead?!?" Oh, boy, can we go on it? I wanna ride down the rock slide!" exclaimed Colleen. Mrs. Hall just shook her head and watched their progress on the map.
Eventually, the rain gave way to clearer skies. The scenery around 7100 feet was breath-taking. They pulled over to a scenic overlook at Emigrant Gap at the ridge of the Sierra Nevadas to stretch their legs and read the historical plaque. "I finally made it!" cried Colleen. "I'm finally in California. I can't believe we did it." Colleen wiped a tear. "We're not there yet," cautioned Mrs. Hall. "We've still got quite a ways to go. But it won't be long now before we get you settled in."
Though the traffic was moving quite briskly and the ride was mostly downhill from there, it still felt to Colleen as though they were only going 30 mph and dragging their feet. The anticipation was killing her. Finally, as they approached Sacramento, the landscape changed from alpine to a flatter, more tropical feel. "A palm tree! I saw a palm tree, my first palm tree!! Oh boy oh boy oh boy!" Photographic evidence to the left shows palm trees number two and three, as the car was swaying around too wildly for Mrs. Hall to capture the first one. Mrs. Hall had suggested that it would be no time at all before Colleen would be bored of seeing them. Colleen did not hear this amidst all the screaming that occurred when Mrs. H. had to grab the wheel and request that Colleen regain some composure before they ended up wrapped around one of her precious palm trees.
The little black car maneuvered about the city nimbly, assisted by the reassuring voice of Lee, the Australian accented gentleman's voice that came preprogrammed into the GPS. Colleen had been speaking to it as if it was a real person for the last half of the trip. "Lee will get me around town, Mom; don't worry." she would reassure. Occasionally Lee would like to play with them alittle and make them take the long way around. They attributed it to the naturally whimsical nature of down under drivers, and took it all in stride. Racing along I 80 out of the hills, Oakland spread out before them. About 1:30 pm, they rolled into the parking lot of the last hotel they would need for the trip. "Look, beach! The water! We made it!" Colleen was ecstatic. Mrs. Hall was busy looking at the airplane just clearing the runway outside of the window of her room. The hotel was just down the street from the Oakland Airport and apparently right at the end of the runway. She was just contemplating whether or not she was going to get any sleep that night when Colleen said, "What are we waiting for? Let's go find my dorm and the campus of CCA!"
The campus and dorms were located in downtown Oakland in the Chinatown section. Loads of old Art Deco buildings surrounded the area and it was clear the city was involved in protecting and preserving these architectural gems. Traffic was light in the area because it was a Sunday, so luckily, they were able to find a spot to park right in front. How very fortunate that was became even more evident as Mrs. Hall surveyed the building. Originally built to be a Young Womens Christian Association building, it struck her as being very old; as in old enough to be before the era of lots of wide, efficient elevators. "What floor did you say you were on?" asked Mrs. Hall, but Colleen was busy grabbing the lightest and least important bags out of the bundles in her car and heading into the building. After registering with the RAs and receiving her keys, they managed to locate the one, tiny, slow-moving lift in the house. "I'm in room 503. Wanna use the stairs?" she chirped, but Mrs. Hall just scowled at her.
The room was bright and airy- the windows facing Webster St. were open wide and admitted a pleasantly fresh cool breeze. Two bunk beds seemed to fill the room and both the bottom ones had been claimed already. "Looks like you're on top this year." remarked Mrs. Hall, but Colleen was already scampering up the ladder and putting up her calendar on the wall. Her new roomies were experienced campers at the school; both were returning for their second year. "You are now my new best friends!" exclaimed Colleen. And it cheered Mrs. Hall to hear that, for she liked to think she was leaving Colleen in good hands.
After an only slightly unnerving trip back to the hotel, Colleen hugged her mom and turned to go. "I'm going to stay at the dorms tonight, but I'll be back to have breakfast with you tomorrow bright and early." Mrs. Hall hugged her tightly, gave her the usual litany of warnings and admonitions and and sighed as she watched her go down the hall. Next episode: Campus tours and detours. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Setting their own speed record across the salt flats

The waitstaff at the hotel in Rock Springs, WY was handing out water bottles to all the breakfast diners that morning. The weather reports were for intermittent showers, but the desert was still so dry it was important that travellers stay hydrated. Colleen checked the cooler in the car and reported they had six bottles of water on ice and lots of munchies, so after a quick breakfast, the little band hit the road again.
A good night's sleep did a world of good for Colleen and since she was determined to drive the whole way herself, Mrs. Hall took up the role of navigator again. ("I just don't trust that GPS device; it's steered me wrong in the past, and I swear I hear a touch of exasperation in it's voice when we keep stopping to use the facilities.")
Ten hours of driving a day can get pretty tiresome after a while and Colleen decided she was going to make a little time up today. That was all fine and good going downhill, but in a 1991 Honda Civic stuffed clean plum to the gills, going up the mountains became somewhat more of a challenge. Still, she managed to keep up a fairly steady average of about 85 miles per hour, and with the good fortune of clear weather and light traffic, they crossed into Salt Lake City in no time. They stopped briefly to gaze over the Great Salt Lake vista on the west side of the city, and then pressed on.
"This is going to be the most rugged leg of our trip," advised Mrs. Hall. She insisted they fill up yet again before braving the long stretch of desert ahead of them. In the rearview mirror were rocky outcrops and refineries; ahead lay nothing but miles and miles of barren wasteland.
About halfway through the desert, a sculpture punctuated the flatlands. Here and there a pumping station rose out of the dirt. Then, finally, in the distance could be seen a rest stop and a small gathering of fellow pilgrims. "This is great- I thought we were just going to be going around the Bonneville Salt Flats. We can actually get out and go walk on them!" said Mrs. H.
They pulled over and hopped out of the car. It was peculiar to see water pooled in the desert, but there had been some recent rains and the salt bed was somewhat moist in spots. Colleen started gathering the gritty paste and proceeded to sculpt a salt penguin near the puddle. She went to rinse her hands in the water but as soon as the moisture dried in the breeze, a white brine could be seen all over her hands. After a quick trip to the lavatory on the premises, it was time to get back on their way.
The highway carved a swath along the rivers between the mountains, and where it couldn't go around, it went through. A series of distressingly ominous warning signs went by, proclaiming the need to be wary of high winds, low jet blast, frequent wildlife crossings and the particularly alarming caution: "Fog may be icy."
Mrs. Hall read off the names of the mountain ranges as they went by and occasionally they sang a duet along with the music they brought for the trip. Colleen had downloaded several episodes of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" onto her laptop, and that entertained them for quite a number of miles.
Eventually they began to see signs listing the mileage remaining to Reno. The showers that had followed them through the mountains gave way to sunshine and as they came into the valley of the suburb of Sparks outside of Reno, Mrs. H. pointed out the multitude of lenticular clouds formed over the city. The GPS guided them effortlessly through the hustle and bustle of rush hour traffic and once again, they fell exhausted but elated into the cozy hotel beds. Next episode: The last leg. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Continental Undivided attention

"It's a beautiful sunrise! Hurry up so we can eat and get on the way!" Driving across the country in a compact car is essentially an endurance race. So the best way to prepare for such an ordeal, Mrs. Hall explained, is to get lots of rest on a comfy bed and eat properly along the way. To that end, she had insisted that while she would be happy to accompany Colleen for three thousand long miles over dusty bumpy terrain, she would only go if they stayed at Hampton Inns along the way. Known for their luxurious beds and tasty complimentary breakfasts, Colleen was only too happy to accommodate her.
The breakfast bar at the Hampton in Grand Island, NE opened at 6:00 AM and they were there to meet the staff bringing out the food. Twenty minutes later, the little black car, riding low and heavy from being crammed to the rafters with water bottles and fresh fruit, continued its trek to the west.
The original plan was to have a copilot as a handy convenience; while the driver is otherwise occupied with the tasks of maneuvering through speeding 18 wheelers and numerous construction sites, the copilot can direct, feed and otherwise indulge the driver's whimsy. However, all Colleen kept saying the whole way to Wyoming was, "Look at those mountains- take a picture- look over there, isn't that great! Look at the hills; look at the sky; look over there!" "Look at the road!" was all Mrs. Hall could sputter, before grabbing the wheel from her hands. Despite her fear that they would eventually end up in the median strip, Mrs. Hall managed to photographically chronicle the adventure. Green pastures gave way to brown scrub and rocky outcroppings; and finally to craggy mountain passes. The passages between towns became longer and longer.

"Pull over into that truck weigh station!"
"If you drive around the back we can take that little dirt road to the frontage road; I want to get pictures of those wonderful metal whirligigs."
"Slow down- I have to get a picture of that water tank that looks like a coffee pot!"
"See if you can pass that blue car so I can get a picture of those two trains in one shot!"
"Look at all those cows/satellite dishes/rocks/clouds/(insert landmark here)!"
It soon became clear that while Colleen probably thought, when she sat down behind the wheel of the little black car, that she would actually be the one making the driving decisions, that that was not really the case. She dutifully slid across lanes, slowed down, sped up and stopped completely. Deciding that break was in order, they pulled into a mega trading post. "Now take it easy; we've been running at about 5 or 6 thousand feet altitude for the last few hours or so, so don't go doing jumping jacks right away," warned Mrs. Hall. A couple of cowgirl outfits later, they were back on the road again.
They marvelled at the windmills marching across the grassy plains and waved to the horses in the trailers going by. As the overcast rolled in, they could see the rain shafts miles ahead of them. Suddenly as they rounded a corner, Colleen said, "What's that brown stuff?" "Uh-oh," said Mrs. H. "I've seen that before- I know what that is. The gust front ahead of the rain is coming right at us; that's a dust storm." For a few dusty minutes, the little black car was buffeted about and then things settled down.
Mrs. Hall congratulated Colleen on her driving acumen, but the novel combination of the wind pushing them around and the new altitude must have been too much for her. By the time they rolled into Rock Springs, WY, poor Colleen was fairly green around the gills. Mrs. Hall purchased some Dramamine and some clear broth for her and they watched a movie for a while and called it a day. "Get some sleep, big girl, and you'll be good as new tomorrow," she soothed, as she pulled an extra blanket over Colleen. Next episode: Rock Springs to Reno. Stay tuned!

Coast to coast with Colleen

"This is the longest we've been apart since we were married...." sighed Mr. Hall. Mrs. Hall gave him a big hug and tried to reassure him. "The cats will keep you company and the dog will, well.. keep you occupied. Watch over the hall; I'll be home Tuesday afternoon."
Mr. Hall slid into the big black car and streamed out of sight. He was off to the New York State Funeral Directors Association convention in Saratoga while Mrs. H. was left to finish the packing. Colleen had been busy saying goodbye to all her friends for the last three days and was now getting all misty eyed at the realization that in a few short (very short to be sure- they had scheduled to leave at 4 am!) hours she would no longer have Wookie with whom to commiserate.
At 4:15 AM they loaded up the little black car and hit the high roads. Loaded to the absolute gills with bedding, books, school supplies and munchies, the two rolled along through New York. They picked up Route 80 in PA and took that all the way into Illinois. Poor Colleen drove until she could keep her eyes open no longer and Mrs. Hall took over the last leg through Gary and Chicago. They made the trip in record time and that was no surprize; their destination that evening was Rolling Meadows and the home of host and hostess extraordinaire Mr. and Mrs. Leo Pranitis. After a wonderful dinner and lots of catching up, they headed off to bed. Up with the sun they began again, but they weren't fast enough to beat Mrs. Pranitis; they were planning their own excursion for that day and she had prepared a hearty breakfast for everyone already. As the Pranitis' went off to see the tall ships downtown, Colleen and Mrs. H. set out themselves, with full coffee mugs and lots of deli sandwiches. Waving good bye as the little black car rolled out of the driveway, they jumped into the rush hour jam and headed west.
The open road is a wonderful thing. The weather gods were with the little band so all their pictures featured clear skies and beautiful blue backgrounds. Farms whizzed by and truck stops beckoned; it seemed like there was an attraction just waiting to be seen around every corner; but the two had determined to fly like the wind, stopping only to fill the tank and drain the main sumps. Still, there were always things that held them up. In Iowa, there was a long backup because a huge recreational vehicle had just gone off the road and flipped over in the ditch. In Nebraska, they stopped to refill the gas tank and found a stray dog panting in the sun. Its tags said it was registered in Ohio. After giving it some water and turning it over to the gas station's manager who promised to take it in if its owner couldn't be found, they moved on.
Finally, as the sun dipped low on the horizon, Grand Island, NE came into view. It was easy to see that Grand Island was not one of those towns that fell prey to the usual preconceptions that country folk are uncultured bores. In fact, various corners of the town had been decorated with different organizations artistic interpretations of that classic art medium: hay bales. The voice on the GPS system (which Colleen had specifically programmed to have an Australian accent) kept telling them to go another half mile down the strip, but, happily ignoring it, the little black car with the NY plates decided to pull into the Western Store instead. They did eventually check in at the hotel. A quick dip in the pool and it was time to retire. Two days had only made a dent in their itinerary- they still had thousands of miles to go.
Next episode: Across the Western plains. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A good time at Turning Stone is never a gamble

Last Friday, Katie and Erick Hall, coming in from completely different directions, descended on Marcellus together. They were just in time for the monsoon season. Starting Saturday afternoon, the rain began slowly, but by Sunday morning, it was clear ball games and picnics were going to be out of the question. Searching for the perfect diversion, Katie piped up, "How about Turning Stone Casino?"

Taxiing out the big black car, the little band joined the rest of the soggy pilgrims packed bumper to bumper on the NY State Thruway. An hour later, they rolled into the parking garage, shed their rain gear and headed for the nearest ATM. As mentioned in an earlier post, the Turning Stone Casino had recently undergone a facelift, the upside of which appeared to be more $10 minimum bet roulette tables. Scoping out the scene only briefly, they settled at a table and Katie immediately ruled the game. Doubling her investment in the short span of a half hour, they pocketed their winnings and finished a tour of the grounds.
After a delightful repast at the Peach Blossom restaurant, they resumed playing roulette. It was evident (even to the most casual observer) that it must have been the act of moving tables and changing the color of her chips that caused Katie's fortunes to start to slip. She managed to recover, however, and both Erick and Mrs. Hall came away from the games not a little heavier in the folding bills department. As the big black car slipped back home along the highway in the driving rain, the sleepy band all agreed on one thing: Katie's idea for the evening was a winner!

Perhaps this is how it came to be called squash.

Despite the fact that the weather was delightful, albeit occasionally more wet than the Halls would have liked, the poor little fledgling pumpkin out in front of the Hall perished on the vine last week. Photographic evidence shows that an invasion of worms took its toll on the infant. A brief moment of mourning was held over breakfast last Saturday, followed by a dramatic reading of an original writing by Colleen: "Eulogy: Tendrils in the Sunset- ashes to ashes, squash to squash." There wasn't a dry eye in the house when she got to the part about it being cut down in the vine of its life.

So it was with genuine delight that the early Sunday morning light brought the revelation of two new pumpkins in the works. The larger of the two is well on its way to maturity, and since a broad streak of sporting blood flows through the family veins, it is only a matter of time til book is made and odds drawn on the first to achieve full carving status. Stay tuned.

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