Leaving work early is always slightly stressful for Dana, but it was the only way to ensure that we would be at the airport in time to catch our flight. He had sent out a note to say that we would be closing at 4pm, but as usual, another's bad planning became our crisis. Fortunately, our flight was not until five minutes before six, so walking out of the door at twenty past four was sufficient. Samantha chauffeured us and the dog was getting slightly agitated as he was unsure as to which one, or other, or possibly all, were going to leave him for the weekend.
The lady at the check-in desk was a delight. It is never my intention to wax lyrical in order to advertise, but Delta was superb! Although the representative could not issue our seats, she checked us in and directed us to the security gate, with a smile. My status with the other airline has given me a little silver card which helps us jump the queue at Austin, and we sailed through, having discarded all objects that could possibly cause concern. The gate clerk was every bit as delightful as his counterpart, and issued us with exit row seats, looking up, and up, at my husband. After purchasing our evening meal of a sub sandwich, we boarded for Minneapolis. The flight crew did not let down the side, and we enjoyed our picnic before touching down in Minnesota. Upon our descent, we looked down from clear skies, and renamed the Land of ten thousand lakes, to Puddledom, as all we could see were ponds. It looked beautiful, and we were somewhat curious as to whether we should have made this our final destination, although the site where Dana had booked did not give it as a viable option.
Our 'gate-checked' bags were waiting for us as we alighted, and we checked the screens for our next flight. Having landed in Terminal C, we had to find our way to Terminal D, and ran to avoid being crushed by the closing doors of the shuttle train that was just about to leave. After a short ride, the doors reopened and I was ready to get off. Dana insisted that we were still in Terminal C, and whilst I could see the sign 'D' clearly marked, we could not be sure of the location of our gate. Not entirely convinced by his reasoning, I stood still and waited for the doors to close, and the announcement echoed around the small chamber, 'Next stop will be Terminal C, followed by G'. The young girl next to us was horrified. 'I need E', she announced. I looked at Dana with my 'I told you so', look, and he shrugged his shoulders. A very helpful passenger told me that it really didn't matter, as I could get to the car rental area from the next stop. I thanked her very much, but indicated that our car was in fact awaiting our arrival in Kansas City, and we needed to get another flight. Seeing my external calm and demure demeanor, the frantic young girl tapped me on the shoulder, and said, 'You know what I am going to do....', then proceeded to tell me how she planned to get to her gate on foot. The rest of her plans were relayed, and although my head was nodding in agreement, my ears were not really paying attention. I hoped there would not be a quiz later!
We got off the train, walked back to our original platform and waited for the next monorail. As we exited, again, we entered Terminal D, and seeing our gate directly in front of us, I tried, although not very hard, to hide the smug look that was spreading liberally across my face. We received our boarding passes, boarded the plane, sat in our very comfortable larger seats, and waited for the rest of the passengers to come aboard. After an almost full day at work, and a couple of hours travelling, I was feeling somewhat light headed, and when I saw the lady behind with a cotton bud sticking out of her ear, it was all I could do to keep quiet. 'I wonder if she knows it's there', I said, probably slightly louder than anticipated. Unfortunately, it became one of those things at which I could not stop staring. Each time I turned, stared slightly to the left at the protuding stick, so did the lady, as she was convinced I was looking at the person behind her. Dana was more bothered by the woman's husband as he would not sit down, and each time he jumped up, he managed to bump his generous body into the back of my husband's chair. Eventually he was politely told to take his seat, and our journey continued.
The gentleman at the car rental facility was every bit as delightful as anyone we had encountered all day. He took one look at Dana, decided he would need a 'tin opener' to get into the compact car we had reserved, and gave us an instant upgrade to a luxury model. He was most impressed with the English accent, and so I answered his questions as unabreviated as I could, and received a discount for the extra driver option. As we appeared to be receiving preferential treatment every step of the way, we drove to our hotel with great anticipation.
Spectacularly clean, the reasonably large cupboard that housed our bed for the next three nights, was rather unimpressive. Passing by the bottom of the bed in single file, made the unpacking and hanging process more labourious than necessary. The foot long rail with five hangers was next to the window on one side, with the bed on the other. We had gone from looking through the binoculars from the small lens to the large, to the reverse. Fortunately, we did not intend to spend too long in the room, and the claustrophobia was only a temporary condition. The bed was comfortable enough for me to fall asleep upon and I did so, until the sun shone through the chink in the curtains the following morning.
Breakfast was quite adequate. The waffle machine did not have a queue forming beside it, nor did the toaster, and I enjoyed my cereal, before eating my sweet treat, and blueberry muffin. With an excess of carbs, it seemed somewhat counter-productive to spend the next few hours sitting in the car. However, Iowa awaited, and the clock was ticking. The desk clerk wished us a good morning, and asked if we had any exciting plans for the day. I commented that we were going to drive to Iowa, and she immediately offered to print us a map, letting us know it would take three and a half hours to reach our destination. She did not seem to understand that we did not actually need to reach a particular destination in the state, but merely wanted to cross the border. With variations on the time that it would take to reach various destinations in the Hawkeye state, we left our closet and jumped in the luxury car, which seemed inordinately large in comparison! The Missouri countryside was beautifully herbaceous, and the sky was very blue. We approached the state line in a little over an hour, and I stood just a little in front, shouting to Dana, 'How many states have you been to?' Failing to play the game properly, he shrugged his shoulders, and admitted that he was unsure, although he knew he had lived in Iowa. 'Forty-one!', I answered for him. Rewinding, I asked again, to which he replied, 'Why, I have been to forty one. How many have you been to?' Being delighted that he had read the non-existent rules, I replied that I had, at present, been to forty states, and promptly strode under the large placard, and asked again. 'Forty one', came the answer. 'And how many have I been to?' The reply of 'heck if I know', was not correct, but did not stop me from doing a dance by the curbside, waving my hands in the air, to indicate that I, Mrs England, had finally caught up with my husband, whose claim to fame has often been, 'I have lived in 8 states, and travelled through most'.
Iowa has never really intrigued me, other than the fact that Dana is the only person I know to have actually been there. However, it is full of history. After seeing the sign, 'Jesse James' birthplace', in Missouri, who would have thought that we would have more famous landmarks to visit. The Amish Trading Store did not have the traditional t-shirt, a must purchase for Samantha, and so we drove on, eventually finding the ever faithful sign, 'Walmart', and realised we were slightly more than a stone's throw from the birthplace of another famous cowboy, although this time one who was less infamous. The birthplace of Marion Robert Morrison, later to become John Wayne, was Winterset. There was an entrance fee for the museum, but as explained by the lady who served behind the counter, they were not charging, as it had not yet been built! Slightly disappointed, a middle aged couple who were dressed in traditional western wear, appeared to brighten up when they saw Dana. 'That's some great hair you have, buddy!', was the comment that brought us into conversation. 'Where you folks from?' I was unsure whether they were just friendly, or if they had some ulterior motive! Austin, they agreed, was an amazing city, and they suggested we go for a drink at the Broken Spoke when we returned home, and think of them. I didn't spoil the illusion by commenting that we don't actually, 'go for a drink' anywhere, and whilst the Broken Spoke is a very popular, and apparently renowned, venue, it is not really on our list of must do places. They were on their way to Clearlake, upstate, near the boarder of Minnesota, to see the place where Buddy Holly made his last performance, and view the field which was the site of his fatality. It sounded as fascinating as it did morbid, but the trip would have meant another few hours driving, thus making our trip back to our over sized wardrobe about five hours. After a whooping and hollering by our new acquaintances as they left town, I thought our choice not to follow was the best option, as they may have considered it encouraging! Instead, we turned the car around and I drove back to the 'Show me' State, wondering what we would have been shown had we followed the Holly fans!
As we usually make plans to have a nice dinner on our trips, but rarely follow them, we decided that this time should be different. There were a number of restaurants around Kansas City that looked very appealing. The Brazilian Steakhouse, Em Chamas, was by far the worst choice we had made so far. I do not profess to be a restaurant critic, nor do I wish to use this site for slaying failures, but our experience was less than delectable. Having been put in a side room, the gaucho's were not up to the standard of our favourite Austin haunt, Estancia. Without going into too many boring details, the general set up is to have a small card on the table, one colour for 'I want', and the flip side being, 'no more'. I returned to my seat having selected a plate full of salad, and flipped my card to 'yes please'. The waiter appeared with a skewer of meat, and questioned my actions. 'You haven't eaten your salad', he exclaimed. Not wishing to embarrass the poor lad, I explained that I like to eat my salad with the meat, and could I please have a slice of whatever he was serving. Again, he seemed confused. 'Eat your salad first. Don't you want your salad'. The customer is obviously not always right at this establishment, but I stood my ground. I found an additional plate on a shelf behind my chair, and placed it in front of me. After some deliberation, he responded by slicing a very thin piece of beef off the joint, and was even more offended when I asked for another piece. 'Eat all you can', obviously does not mean 'when you want'. Eventually, another gaucho appeared, and disappeared without stopping, leaving the other patrons wondering if we were cloaked in invisibility. The manager seemed less than bothered when the whole room answered her question, 'How is everything', in a unison of 'SLOW!' We left, tiptoeing over the dropped pieces of left-overs, which were slightly weightier than the portions sliced onto our plates!
A movie and a cup of tea was the perfect end to an interesting day, and although the rooms were not equipped with tea making facilities, the desk clerk was more than willing to get us some hot water so that we could take it back to our bunker. I noticed that a towel had been put over the rail in the bathroom, but the bed had not been made. Curious as to why they had refreshed the bathroom but failed to maintain the rest of the room, I mentioned it to Dana. Sitting directly opposite, I looked him in the eye, and explained that whilst I knew it went against the grain, he must not touch the towels that I had left on the floor, and definitely must not hang them back on the rail. There was a sign in the bathroom that suggested 'in the interest of energy conservation', they would not change the towels unless left on the floor. I wanted the towels changed. He explained that he could not help himself, then nodded sheepishly and said, as a only the polite Texan knows how, 'Yes, ma'am'. I am so blessed that my husband has a sense of humour! However, at 8pm, there was little chance of the room being serviced, and the one good thing about having an undersized, out of the way, room is that it was next to the janitors closet. I took my dirty towels, placed them in the holdall, and picked up a couple of clean replacements, along with a box of tissues, and toilet roll, which seemed to be essential. A little while later, there was a knock on the door; 'Housekeeping'. I explained it was a little late, and the two ladies, one of whom looked like she had no idea what she was doing standing outside my room on a Saturday night, a couple of hours before Sunday, thanked me, and went on their way. It seemed unnecessary for them to come in and pull back the bed covers; the floorspace was too sparse to require a vacuum!
Sunday morning was wet. Lightening sparks were followed by the vibrating crashes of thunder, and the rain fell in biblical proportions. We headed down to the breakfast room and watched the local news channel, in hopes of a break in the storm. It seemed appropriate that the high winds and torrential rain were happening on the day we chose to go into Kansas! We enjoyed breakfast, and I watched another guest take his fill. He refilled his cereal plate six times, and made another six trips to the pastry stand. Ever one to find a story where one does not necessarily exist, I explained to Dana that he was waiting for his wife, who had put him on a strict diet. If she should appear, he would claim it was his first bowl, and only pastry. Dana looked at me, and simply said, 'blog-worthy?' The delay due to the weather did give us the chance to 'check in' for our return trip the following day, although once again, I was unable to secure seats, as for some reason I required 'special handling'. I was beginning to think this was a conspiracy, although airports had become a frequent haunt as of late! The rain did stop, and the sun came out from behind the disappearing clouds. The border was about ten minutes away from the hotel, and I jumped out of the car to make my way across, to acquire state no. 42! Unfortunately, I did not take into consideration the fact that the sign for the Sunflower state was surrounded by earth and grass, all of which had been saturated by the tempest that had now dissipated. As I sunk into the ground, the chances of my making it across the line, disappeared rapidly. The Yellow Brick Road had become a quagmire! Ankle deep in mud, I hauled myself across to the other side, and then back again, with the not so excited shriek of, 'Dana, we are not in Kansas anymore!'
Our trips are usually my husband's way of indulging my whims, (which do not include hanging out with cowboys! I seem to be permanently scarred at what I perceive could have been!) but this time there was a 'place of interest', for him to enjoy. Perhaps, enjoy is not the word that would best describe his delight, as fascination may be more apt. Fort Leavenworth, and the attached Federal Penitentiary were of particular interest to a former Staff Sergeant in the United States Army, and he marvelled at the site as we turned the corner on the road that avoided the toll. After putting my camera away upon seeing the 'no photo' sign, (which presumably means inside rather than out) we drove towards Topeka, via Nebraska. We drove around, through, back into and out of Atchison, the birthplace of Amelia Earhart, and despite going up and down almost every road several times, we managed to completely bypass the house where she was purported to have been born! Upon leaving the small town, we espied a sign that read, 'Texas Longhorns', and did a u-turn to look at the buffalo that was standing quite proudly in the front yard of the ranch. A black truck swerved into the driveway and a tall lady jumped out of the driver's side and ran towards our car. 'Are you lost?', she asked. Being ever the skeptic, I watched as her passenger exited from his side, and began punching his phone with his fingers. Dana responded in the negative, and continued the conversation. I sat in the car watching for the vigilantes, that had been invited by the lady's passenger, to come and hijack us, taking all our wordily possessions, and possibly drag us up to Clearlake (still scarred) for something other than my enjoyment! It appears the lady and her companion were heading to a family reunion, and a funeral, (I was not sure if the two were mutually exclusive!) and were encountering a lot of people who were lost. Dana explained that we had seen the 'Longhorn' sign and had come back to see the spectacular beast that held court in the field. She explained that said animal was, indeed, spectacular, and a little more prolifically flirtatious than expected, as he had managed to seduce more than one female, thus breeding a whole herd of beefalo! She bid us farewell, her passenger returned his phone to his pocket and we turned the car around, again, then drove off before the hoards of rioters came to take us away.
Having driven into Nebraska, and straight out again, when we went to South Dakota, I have always felt somewhat cheated. Entering from the South west, as opposed to the North East tip, felt slightly but not very different. We drove through to a small town, and stopped at a gas station, to make use of the facilities. Not wanting to appear rude, we brought a can of soda and two beef sticks which were at the counter. The lady who was on duty appeared to be totally devoid of emotion in any category, and had a vocabulary of a few numbers, and even fewer words. 'Three dollars', was the first response, then 'Yes' and 'No', to a couple of questions posed. We would find our way back to Kansas without the help of the cornhusker's finest! After all, we had a map! Topeka was bypassed and once again we were in search of Toto. I clicked my heels together three times and as I did not see any ruby red slippers, I knew we were back in Kansas, on our way to the city that is shared by the two states.
Housekeeping had just left our closet as we arrived. Perhaps our room was left until last as it was the smallest, but we had fresh towels, and the sheets on the bed had been pulled back into the correct position. After a quick shower, we once again left the hotel for the casino, which was just back across the border. Now we were really in Oz! The castle-like structure and palatial interior was quite magnificent. The 'Asian themed' buffet that was on offer for Sunday night was just as spectacular. Avoiding the gaming rooms, which were visible by their abundance of smoke, we ate and left quite fulfilled. Unlike the previous night, the wait staff at the Argosy were more than willing to pile our plates with the most delicious repast. Fortunately, the desk clerk back at the hotel was equally as willing to 'put the kettle on', for a final cup of tea before we hit the sack.
Monday morning, and we were in reverse. After breakfast we left for the rental car terminal, handed over the keys to our somewhat extravagant carriage, took the bus to the main airport, and headed for security, after being given our boarding passes. We were flying back American! Our seats were in the main cabin, but they were in the aisle. We seated ourselves and were then given a most spectacular show by the crew members. Although I am sure all was totally unrehearsed, silent cries of 'Oscar' could be imagined throughout the aircraft. 'Get your bag down here, now!' was responded to by a very gentle, 'I can unroll it, and put it under the seat, ma'am'. The stewardess was not amused, and barked more orders at the polite Texan. 'I said get it down here, NOW!' The demure young man replied as only a polite Texan knows how; 'Yes ma'am'. All who were in their seats gave silent prayers of thanks that their bags were properly stowed. The formal verbal acceptance of the passengers seated in the exit row was requested, and the poor unsuspecting gentleman who was behind me did not immediately understand what he was being asked. He told the stewardess that he understood what he had to do. Her voice got louder, and louder, as she shouted down at the cowering soul. 'I am not asking you to do it now! I want to know if I come up to you and say, 'help me get the door open', will you do it! 'Yyyyy' stuttered the respondent. Eventually, after several, 'I can't hear you', he managed to emit the suffix, 'Es'. Once in the air, the announcement came across the speakers from the captain. 'We are so happy to have you aboard. We know you have a choice, so thank you for choosing American.' A slight titter ran around the cabin, but not too loud as we were soon to be offered refreshment, as long as we behaved ourselves! Fortunately for me, I like apple juice, as apart from Orange, that was all that was being offered. If you didn't like it, you went without! It was a far cry from Delta and I made a mental note to write and thank the outgoing airline for their hospitality, ignoring the inbound company for fear of reprisal! However, the trip from Dallas to Austin was far more pleasant, albeit our flight attendant being the model for the Victoria Wood character, Mrs Overall. (I apologise for the comparison to those who are not my contemporaries, but a web query would give a very good likeness!)
Back in Austin, and we had to wait for our ride. Attempting to do us a good turn, Samantha and Edward had tried to find Dana's car keys, so that they could pick us up in two cars, let him take his straight to the office, and then drop me off at home. Unfortunately, Dana had his keys upon his person, and the spare was with me. The thought was there! After spending some time at the range, Samantha and I returned to the pool, and were reflecting on how we had spent our 'Bank Holiday' weekend.
Work started at 8am on Tuesday morning, and our glorious weekend was now memories with a few pictures thrown in. There was a lot to do in the following week, and before the end of the day I was looking forward to my next weekend, albeit slightly shorter with less activity. Samantha wanted me to go with her to some car showrooms. Now that has got to be ............ another story.