Beware the Ides of Smarch, Days 7-9: Full Circle

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Thursday, March 7

The Vegas trip had come to an end, but we still needed to hit up my favorite breakfast place on our way out.  That, of course, was the breakfast buffet at the Gold Coast casino.  It is still the best dollar for dollar value buffet in Vegas.  For about $10, you get a lot of wonderful breakfast foods and they were in especially fine form this day.  Their legendary French Toast was in fairly fine fettle and they also had some great chicken fried steak and an excellent corned beef hash as well.

Properly fueled we began the long drive back to Phoenix.  Dave and I once again waged battle in Super Mario Party where he managed to get the duke over me.

We got back into town about 4:30pm and just relaxed until Carolyn came home from work.  Then we went to dinner at Venezia’s Pizzeria which specializes in New York style slices of pizza.  I had never had a proper New York slice before and my Buffalo Chicken slice hit the spot.

When we got back to the house, Dave, Mat, and I took a little walk around the area to work off the meal before settling in to watch the latest episode of The Orville before turning in for the night.

Friday, March 8

This was definitely an easy day for us.  Mat had a doctor’s appointment so Dave and I were left to our devices for an hour or so.  Mat came back with doughnuts from The Hurts Donut Company which are still the greatest doughnuts on the planet and I very much look forward to the branch coming to Omaha.  I savored an Andes Mint doughnut while Mat introduced us to the web series, Cobra Kai, which continues the story of Daniel LaRusso and his rivalry with Johnny Lawrence from the movie The Karate Kid.

It’s actually a very entertaining and interesting series.  The focus is mostly on the character of Johnny Lawrence and it’s nice to see William Zabka get to show some depth with a character as his heyday as an actor in the 80s pretty much had him playing one dimensional bullies.

When we watched half the series, I suggested we go out and play some mini golf to get some exercise and enjoy the weather.

So we hopped into the car and made our way to Golfland Sunsplash were we once again dueled on the links.  In some ways, it was the most entertaining round of mini golf I’ve played as I shot video footage of some of our toughest holes.  In some ways it was the worst round as I shot pathetically average.  In one sign of the apocalypse, I finished last to Dave. . .again.  In another sign of the apocalypse, Dave won the ace award (most holes in one).  This left me in a fog where I muttered over and over, “Dave?  Ace Award?”

We returned to the house and did our own thing for an hour or so until Carolyn came back from work.  For dinner we went to Rubio’s which is famed for its fish tacos.  I had a Wild Alaskan salmon taco with a side of fresh greens and it really hit the spot.

From dinner, we went to the movies to watch Captain Marvel, the latest blockbuster from Marvel.  I found it to be a decent film buoyed by strong performances from Brie Larson as the title character and Ben Mendelsohn as a sympathetic war victim.  I gave it a 7 out of 10 and was especially impressed at how Marvel altered the traditional origin story formula.

But it was back to homestead and bed as we readied ourselves for the final day.

Saturday, March 9

This was it.  The last full day of fun with Mat and Carolyn.

Mat and Carolyn slept in.  I rose at my usual early hour and was surprised to find Dave up and about already as he watched the news on his phone.  I ate a banana and the last 2 pieces of bacon from the batch Mat had prepared the previous Sunday.  After eating, I decided I wanted to go for a long walk and persuaded Dave to join me.

Except for the little nighttime excursion taken a few nights prior, I had never really walked around this neighborhood as I was under the mistaken belief that the area was just a few lanes of houses buttressed up against a business area.

How wrong I was.

Once you cross the street, there are actually quite a large number of houses, schools, and neighborhoods to enjoy.  Dave and I ambled for about an hour before returning to the house.

As each member of our group held a victory in Super Mario Party, we decided to crown a winner.  We played an abbreviated version where Carolyn decimated us.  I mean it wasn’t even close.  But I did finish in second place.

Carolyn left for the afternoon to visit her brother while the three of us finished Cobra Kai and noshed on some sausage sandwiches Mat prepared.  The sausage was tasty, but I could have eaten a sandwich consisting solely of the delectable vegetable concoction prepared by Mat.

About 4pm we headed to Scottsdale where we would close the adventure as it started:  with an escape room.

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We visited Escape Room 101 where our group was joined by Mat’s old friend, Rod, and his new girlfriend, Lisa.  In this room, we would be assuming the role of Baker Street detectives who were contacted by Oliver Byron, son of Lord Byron, the painter.  Oliver Byron had been approached by a cousin who held a will saying that he was the sole heir to Lord Byron’s fortune.  Oliver stated his father would never cut his children from the will and needed us to locate the real will before the reading of the fake.

The puzzles in this room were awesome and really required you to think.  The downside is that some of the devices activated by our solutions didn’t work as they should.  For example, Mat and I solved a symbols puzzles and nothing happened.  Mat unsolved and resolved it later which finally caused a hidden compartment to activate.

This one went down to the wire, but we managed to find the will with about 3 minutes remaining.  I would have combined the two rooms we had done as Blaine’s Basement had better presentation and pageantry while The Baker Street had better puzzles.

After another victory, we visited Carlos O’Brien’s for dinner which was a fusion of Mexican food and Irish pub fare.  I enjoyed a chicken and beef quesadilla while we conversed about various items.

Back at Mat and Carolyn’s we decided to have one final, all out battle at maximum turns on Super Mario Party.  It seemed as if Carolyn would crush us again, but we managed to start mounting a comeback.  However, my two “friends” decided to unfairly target me for purely their own amusement instead of focusing on the greater threat of Carolyn.  Dave stole a star while Mat stole my money to keep me from buying stars.  Due to their chicanery, Dave ended up winning and I vowed eternal warfare on both of them in all future games.

And so the end had finally come.  Having the old team back together added that x factor that made this trip quite a bit more fun.  Sadly, it will be a while before I see Mat and Carolyn again.  I may try a trip this summer or possibly even at Christmas as my family will be celebrating the holiday early.  Mat mentioned the possibility of road tripping to San Diego next time and that is a most intriguing idea indeed.

I see our first flight home has been delayed, so this trip really has come full circle.

Till the next adventure.

Beware the Ides of Smarch, Days 1-2: Every Which Way, But There

“Oooh!  Lousy Smarch weather.”—Homer Simpson

“AAUUUGHHHH!!!!!”-Chris Elston

Boy, it felt good to get that one out of my system.

I intended the title of this series to be simply inspired by The Simpsons, but I truly have had need to be wary of the Ides of Smarch for the start of this trip.

Together with my compadre, David Sundberg, I was returning to Phoenix, AZ to visit my old friend, Mat O’Donnell, and his wife, Carolyn.  Relatively speaking, we threw this trip together on the fly and only about two months out.  We also decided to make it an extra long trip and go out on a Friday and come back 10 days later on a Sunday.

With the multiple whammies of leaving on popular travel days, being out of the statistical sweet spot, leaving during the start of the spring break month for many colleges, and heading to a warm locale, I was unable, for the first time in over 20 years of travel, to find a good deal.  Even my old stalwart, Southwest Airlines, wanted over $700 for a round trip ticket.

I managed to score a passable deal through Orbitz, but even had a challenge with that as I had to go through different airlines coming and going to score any type of a deal.  Still, it was all worth it for another period of adventures with Mat & Carolyn.

Omaha had been blasted by its first real winter in nearly 11 years with over 59 inches of snow dumped on us to date.  But we seemed to have found a respite with a week of clear, if cold, weather.

I awoke to a beautiful day on Friday with nary a cloud in the sky.  It looked like ideal traveling weather so I spent the morning getting in a hard workout, getting my new car registered, picking up Dave and making certain I had all of my gear in order.

My friend, Craig Ristow, had graciously offered to give us a lift to the airport and, as he left to go put air in his spare tire, I happened to check my e-mail and found a message from American Airlines with the subject line “Your flight has been changed.”

“Oh, goody,” mused I.  “We’re delayed.”

I opened the letter and found to my horror and shock that our flight had been canceled.

IMPOSSIBLE!!!

It was a beautiful. . . nay, a perfect day.  How could the flight be canceled?

American Airlines tried to rebook us on Saturday with a flight leaving at 5:33pm and would get us to Phoenix slightly after midnight.  No way, Jose.

They had a list of alternative flights, but none of them were good flights.  Most required 8+ hours of travel.  The best of the worst was a flight leaving at 6:31am which would take us to Charlotte, NC and then back west to Phoenix.

Yep, you read that right.  We had to go east to go west.  However, it would also get us to Phoenix at 2pm so we booked it.

And maybe it worked out for the best as Craig’s spare tire could not hold air and he would have not made it to the airport.  Instead, I guarded the rear of his van as I watched his spare fall to pieces on the road as we drove to Tires Plus for him to get a replacement.

Afterwards the three of us went to lunch at Burger King and had some wonderful conversation while waiting for a new tire to be mounted on Craig’s van.  Dave and I dropped Craig off at the tire store and returned to my home where I called American Airlines to find out why the flight had been canceled and to see if they would endorse our tickets for a direct flight through Southwest on Saturday.

The message suggested that severe weather had canceled the flight, but I have doubts about that as Mat later informed me that ours was the only flight canceled and the plane was coming from Phoenix.  The agent, while friendly, told me airlines no longer endorse tickets for other airlines so Dave and I were set for a convoluted day of flying.

We made a run to the grocery store to get supplies for a late dinner and turned in early as we had to get up at the crack of doom to get to the airport.

I didn’t sleep much and gave up trying to find slumber at 3am.  At 3:30am, Dave woke up and I checked my e-mail to make sure we weren’t delayed or canceled again.  Mercifully, we weren’t.

I drove us down to the airport where we parked at the Budget lot.  The parking spots, understandably, were still laden with snow.  I drove up onto a little patch, uttering a quick prayer that the weather would warm up enough over the next 9 days to melt the patch down to size.

Dave and I checked in and waded through a moderately long security line, but got to our gate in plenty of time for our flight to North Carolina.

This was the smallest plane I had ever flown on.  Not only was the plane small, but each row was only 4 seats across.  We were slightly delayed due to deicing, but a powerful tail wind got us to Charlotte on time.

So there we were in Charlotte, WOO!, North Carolina:  stomping grounds of the famed professional wrestler, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.  Dave and I were hungry, but we had missed the breakfast run and lunch was being served in the restaurants.  I didn’t want a burger that early in the day, so I bought a piece of string cheese while Dave ordered a Double Whopper combo.

Well, that was the idea, anyway.  We had to rush to our concourse for our next flight and Dave found he had been shorted his fries.  For him, “the icing on the crap cake”, as he said was that he was able to purchase a shot glass at a nearby store.

We boarded our flight and I caught my first break of the trip.  The third person in my row on the sold out flight did not show up, so I moved to the aisle seat to enjoy a bit more space.  Also,we will be arriving on time, so there’s still time for adventure on this day.  I needed to eat so I paid $10.99 for a fairly healthy Valencia Chicken sandwich which had chicken, Havarti cheese, pickled veggies, and an almond romesco sauce on a ciabatta bun.  The bun was quite crumbly, but it tasted decent and even included a good chocolate chip cookie.  I also got a full can of Dr. Pepper to sip on while I read a book and worked on this article.

We ended up landing on time where Mat was waiting to greet us and he informed us he had booked an escape room at 4:30pm over at Escape Games AZ.  So we dashed on over to his place, got set up in our rooms, and headed over to begin our escape attempt with friends of Mat and Carolyn.

The room was called Blaine’s Basement and the plot of the room was that the FBI was holding a suspected serial killer named Blaine Everbleed who they think killed 4 people and possibly a fifth.  He could only be held for 24 hours without evidence to charge him and he was now in his 23rd hour.  Desperate, the FBI called in a group of mediums to find the evidence needed to put this psycho away.

I enjoyed this room a lot more than the previous one as it focused on different puzzles and had secret passages and red herrings.  It was another nailbiter, but we managed to escape with slightly over 7 minutes to spare, though the ending was just kind of there.

Afterwards, we all headed to dinner at The Cornish Pasty Company which essentially serves gourmet hot pockets.  So many delicious choices, but I went with a spicy asiago chicken as it sounded healthy and tasty.  Not too bad at all, though it needed more spice.

Lack of sleep and a long day began to tucker me out, but I managed to summon enough juice to battle Mat and Dave in Super Mario Party on the Nintendo Switch, though Mat managed to edge me in a pyrrhic victory.

But, now, to bed and another round of escapades tomorrow.