Switzerland in America: Black Bear Manor & Ouray, CO

Black Bear Manor

Today the road has brought me to Ouray, CO.

Ouray (pronounced you-ray) is nicknamed the Switzerland of America and is a quaint, mountain village nestled in the Rocky Mountains.  I was actually led to this trip by a couple (The Jacksons) whom I met when I visited Racine, WI earlier this year.  They told me I had to visit Ouray as it contained the most beautiful B & B they had ever visited:  Black Bear Manor owned and operated by Tom and Cyndi Elliston.

The inn was actually on my list, but on the farther end as Ouray is nearly 13 hours away from Omaha.  But with the country rapidly reopening and the fact that I hadn’t had a proper vacation in nearly two years, I decided to embark on the biggest road trip I had undertaken.

This was truly a tale of two drives.  The first day of the drive was pretty flat as once you get past Lincoln, the state of Nebraska is pretty flat and sightless.  Around Kearney, the route veered off the interstate and became mostly a highway drive which broke up the monotony as I at least was able to drive through small towns.

Around noon, I found myself in the tiny town of Alma, NE and I decided I could use a lunch break to stretch my legs and stopped into KJ’s Café for a bite to eat.

It was a pretty decent little diner where I enjoyed a Special Hamburger (it’s uniquely seasoned) along with some fries while I continued working through my latest volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches.  After a restful meal, it was back on the road.

The lack of scenery continued to be broken by occasional forays through small towns as I passed from Nebraska into Kansas and eventually into Colorado.

After 7.5 hours, I finally found myself at my stopping point of Limon, CO.  It’s a town of only 1,000 people yet actually has a Holiday Inn.  I was weary and truly grateful for the free upgrade to a suite as I was darn near ready to collapse after the grueling drive.

A couple hours of relaxing did rejuvenate me enough to attend an evening service at Our Lady of Victory.  Most surprising to me was that the service was at 7pm as, historically, most Catholic services tend to be held between 4 to 5:30pm on Saturdays. 

Our Lady of Victory

It was a very nice service as Father shared a great sermon about witnessing and the best way to do it was to tell people about why Jesus was my friend.  After the service I returned to the hotel where I read for a bit before finally answering the calls to the land of Nod.

The next morning, I was out the door by 8am for another long drive.  But the scenery began to change around Colorado Springs when I saw the Rockies looming in the distance.  Soon I was enjoying a picturesque drive through the mountains and forests and I just drank in the scenery as well as watching numerous rafters shoot the rapids.

Around 3pm, I finally arrived in Ouray and felt like I was transported back in time.  The town definitely has the feeling of another era with its older building designs and a Main Street where all the major businesses are located.  And everything is within walking distance.

Soon I found myself at Black Bear Manor which is one of the most interestingly constructed houses I had seen and I suspect the building had been a traditional hotel once upon a time.  Before I could dial the inn’s number, Tom opened the door, introduced me to Cyndi, and gave me the nickel tour of the inn before leading me to lucky number 7, Cliffside King.

The room is small, yet comfortable, with a soft king-sized bed and a private balcony which has a view of the Rockies.  I got settled in, wandered about the inn, and then took a walk through town.

Ouray has a semi-boxed in feeling as it’s surrounded by mountains on all sides and only has two ways in and out.  One from the north and one from the south.  The southern entrance/exit is actually the start of the Million Dollar Highway.  This highway is a 20ish mile stretch of road considered the most beautiful drive in America.  The flip side is that it’s also considered one of the most dangerous with its narrow roads, hairpin turns, and lack of guardrails.  The speed limit never exceeds 25 mph on this road that connects Ouray with Silverton.

Million Dollar Highway

I had a relaxing walk through town (though it is very steep) and stopped in at Ray’s Jerky where I bought some jalapeno jerky for my hikes the next day and snacked on an old-fashioned hot fudge sundae complete with whipped cream, sprinkles, and a cherry at The Yankee Girl Café & Sweets before going back to the inn.

I decompressed for a bit before heading out to dinner at the Ouray Brewery.  Only rooftop dining is currently available, but it was a cool evening and I supped on a Green Chile Cheeseburger while sipping on a Box Canyon Brown (most beer in Ouray is brewed locally or regionally) which was quite flavorful and tasted closer to a black beer without the bitterness.  After a satisfying meal, I returned to the inn and spent some time in the hot tub where the churning water massaged and soothed aching muscles.  I then went back to my room where I forced myself to stay up late to compel my body to adapt to Mountain Time.

Ouray Brewery

The plan worked as I woke up at 6am.  I then lazed about watching some TV and catching up on the news.  At 9am I headed down to breakfast.

Black Bear Manor is unique in that it offers two breakfasts.  At 7am a continental breakfast is laid out and then a hot meal is served at 9am.

The hot breakfast is served buffet style so you can have as much or as little as you please.  The place was packed as the inn was actually sold out (the first I’ve experienced since starting this project back in 2013).  I filled my plate with a smidge of everything so I was able to enjoy a taste of French Toast Souffle, ham, fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, and fruit.  It was such a nice day that I ate outside and enjoyed some conversation before heading off to commune with nature.

A little breakfast buffet

I began my day at Cascade Falls Park and I certainly got my exercise in.  It’s not an extremely difficult trek, but it is steep and one has to take the much higher altitude into consideration so be sure to pace yourself.  Interestingly enough, the trek actually starts at the waterfall and it is an awesome sight, not to mention a quite refreshing one as cool air buffets you from the thundering falls.  I spent nearly two hours hiking around and keeping my strength up with water and jerky.

When I was through with Cascade Falls, I made my way over to Box Canyon Park which included a brief, and I do mean brief, drive on the Million Dollar Highway.  Box Canyon contains two treks.  An easy 500 foot walk to Box Canyon Falls and a difficult trek up to a high bridge overlooking the falls.  With the sun beating down on my head and my protein supply depleted, not to mention the few hours I had just done, I decided to simply visit the falls. 

The roar of the falls in deafening and one wouldn’t even be able to have a shouted conversation.  As I gazed upon this force of nature, I suddenly realized how the battle between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty would have played out in reality.

Box Canyon Falls

I then returned to Black Bear Manor where I organized photos and caught a small nap.  Around 4pm, I took a walk down to Ouray Hot Springs and back and partook of Black Bear Manor’s happy hour where I enjoyed some regionally brewed beer.

About 6pm, I headed over to an Ouray institution, The Outlaw, for dinner.  The restaurant has a rustic feel, but is actually a fine dining establishment.  I entered the restaurant and smiled as I listened to the piano player deal up a bevy of standards and movie tunes.  I was led to a table at the back where I ordered a New York Strip with garlic mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.  I had a side salad added on and the meal came with a small loaf of freshly baked garlic bread.

The Outlaw

In fairness I didn’t think the salad merited the extra $5, but that was countered by the steak which was tender and delicious and seemed a bit bigger than the 10 oz advertised on the menu.  The potatoes were fluffy and light and the vegetables were nice and crisp.

From there it was back to the inn for another session with the hot tub and a quiet, peaceful evening.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of a breakfast casserole, personal quiches, bacon, eggs, and fruit.  I had another round of great conversation with fellow guests before embarking on my day.

As the previous day had been quite active, I decided today would be a relaxing day.  So I decided to visit The Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings.  This is a very unassuming hotel, but hides the incredible vapor baths below.

For $25 per two hours, day guests can enjoy a soaking session in the famed caves.  The mineral water that comes from the springs is a constant 104-108 degrees and is not recirculated.  The water is completely chemical free and is known for its restorative and therapeutic properties.  The cave acts as a natural sauna so you’ll really sweat out the impurities.  Sections of the cave also drip much cooler water which helps to cool down the body after a session in the springs.

From there I returned to Cascade Falls where I just admired the waterfall while engaging in a conversation with my best friend.  Afterwards, I headed down to the riverbank by Black Bear Manor where I pondered life for a little while.

In hindsight, I think I made the day too relaxing.  By mid-afternoon, I was itching for another activity, but some nearby museums had not yet reopened and the local historical museum was about ready to close.  Should I ever find myself this way again, I’ll be sure to visit them as well as schedule a jeep tour, another local highlight.

Instead I took a little walk and then enjoyed the happy hour where Tom serenaded the guests with some solo guitar work and songs.  He even takes requests and I joined him for some two man harmony on Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels)”.

Tom performs for his guests during happy hour.

Then I made my way to The Mineshaft & Tiki Bar.  This completely outdoor restaurant provides a comfortable eating experience under the sun and I enjoyed a Philly Steak for the evening repast before returning to Black Bear Manor for a bit of writing and photo organizing.

The Mineshaft & Tiki Bar

What a way to close the trip! Today I had what is easily one of the best breakfasts I’ve enjoyed since starting this project. This morning I enjoyed Chile Relleno Casserole, breakfast enchilada (with some red and green salsa), country potatoes, and a cinnamon roll that just melted in my mouth. Braced for the long trip, I wrapped up this article and said my good-byes.

If you ever find yourself in Ouray, rest assured you’ll find plenty to do. It’s a popular tourist site with activities for all seasons (famed for ice climbing and skiing in the winter). And if you want some real hospitality, make sure to visit Black Bear Manor. Tom and Cyndi will treat you right and you’ll enjoy comfortable rooms and food that will knock your socks off.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

Christmas in March: Christmas House & Racine, WI

Christmas House Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to Racine, WI.

It was almost exactly a year ago that I enjoyed my last normal B & B run when I visited Astor House of Green Bay, WI.  So it seems apropos that my most normal run since the start of the pandemic would also take place in Wisconsin.  My destination for this journey would be Christmas House Bed & Breakfast owned and operated by Pamela Deskins.

The trip couldn’t have started out any better.  The weather was absolutely perfect and I managed to dodge the rush hours of both Omaha, NE and Des Moines, IA.  I got to enjoy a meal at my favorite hole in the wall, Iowa’s Best Burger Café, listened as the Iowa Hawkeyes delivered an absolute drubbing to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in basketball and arrived early at my first stop, Davenport, IA.

I had booked a junior suite at the Holiday Inn & Suites, but I didn’t know how good of a room it was going to be.

Holiday Inn & Suites of Davenport, IA

This was a very elegant Holiday Inn.  I’d put it at 4 stars.  Thanks to digital check-in, I was able to check-in the day before and merely had to pick up my key at the front desk.  My room was on the top floor where I had a good view of the city and, while I’m not positive, I think I might have been upgraded to a full suite as I had a spacious living room, bathroom with a double sized shower and a separate bedroom with a king-sized bed.

I had a good rest that night. 

I decided to eat in the hotel restaurant, the J Bar, for breakfast.  Even had my diet not been limited by Lent, the breakfast buffet still would have been overpriced at $10 as it only consisted of a few items.  I had some scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and a granola bar.  The server did bring me a wonderful green salsa that added the perfect kick to the eggs and potatoes and the orange juice was mighty smooth.

At 11:15am I checked out, gassed up and continued the jaunt to Racine.  My journey took me on the toll road that has taken me to Algonquin, IL on several occasions, but I was surprised to learn that all of the toll booths were closed.  To pay, you need to go to the Illinois Tollway website and register your plate. Then the Tollway will eventually charge your credit or debit card.

Around the 2pm hour, I got off the interstate and started passing through small towns.  I smiled as the towns seemed a bit more vibrant and enjoyed the vast farmlands and imagined what the leafless trees would look like in full bloom.  Around 3:20pm, I saw the mint-colored Christmas House looming in the distance.

If this is your first time visiting my blog, you should know that I am a Christmas nut.  It’s my favorite holiday and I feature a Christmas B&B review on my website each year.  Thus, Christmas House called out to me with all the subtlety of the ringing of a chow bell.

I was met by Pamela who gave me a tour of the mansion before leading me to the Glam Suite which would be my base of operations.

The Glam Suite offers one plenty of room to stretch out and relax.  The room’s mint-colored walls and off-white carpeting promote a calming effect.  The room contains a small kitchenette with a fridge that contains complimentary water, a pair of comfortable red leather chairs, a large TV and a comfy king-sized bed with what felt like a memory foam mattress.

Once getting settled in, I started a more detailed exploration of the mansion.

Christmas House had been built in 1893 by Emily Baker, the widow of former Racine mayor Robert H. Baker, and one of the original “Big Four” partners of the J.I. Case Company, nowadays known as Case New Holland.  The mansion has been home to some of the most powerful people in Racine’s history and also served as the women’s dorm for the St Luke School of Nursing for 35 years.  It gained its name in 1987 when it began hosting the Christmas House for Cancer benefit which it did until 1995.

The house is actually a blend of two styles.  It is built in the Colonial Revival Style, but follows the plan of a Queen Anne.  It is also mammoth.  This is easily one of the three biggest inns I’ve visited, yet it only contains 4 suites which allows for plenty of privacy.  A Carriage House is also available for rental for even further seclusion.

And, yes, the theme of Christmas is prevalent in the mansion as the first floor contains Christmas trees, knick-knacks, decorations and a life-sized Santa Claus.

When I finished looking around the mansion, I took a constitutional around the neighborhood and soaked in the view of Lake Michigan.  From there I returned to the inn where I relaxed for a bit before picking up some dinner from Red Lobster in nearby Mount Pleasant.  I enjoyed some Salmon New Orleans with mashed potatoes and a Caesar Salad.  After my meal, I spent a quiet evening watching a little TV and organizing photos.

Breakfast was a grand affair the next morning.  An extra leaf was added to the table for social distancing and I met a truly charming couple, the Jacksons, from Bloomington, IL.  We had some incredible conversation and I thank them for pointing me towards my next major B & B outing, Black Bear Manor of Ouray, CO, which I hope to do this summer after I’ve had a poke or two of COVID vaccine.

Pamela whipped up a delicious skillet of sunny side up eggs, sausage and hash browns along with cornbread crumble and Kringle, the famed danish pastry of Wisconsin.  I also learned that Pamela has almost limitless energy and boundless humor.  Pamela is not only extremely knowledgeable about the Racine area, but she is well known for her entrepreneurship and philanthropy.  Aside from owning Christmas House, she is also a realtor and “Big Sister” for Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Kringle, breakfast skillet, and cornbread crumbles

She bought the inn in 2014 after it had been in foreclosure for 7 years and was responsible for over 70% of its restoration into the grand inn it is nowadays.  To give you an idea of its disrepair at the time of Pamela’s purchase, the house literally had no roof.

For the first time in nearly a year, I actually managed to enjoy some local activities.  I began with a long, leisurely walk through Petrifying Springs Park where the gurgling water of the streams provided some succor to the soul.  I also had a phone call with my best friend, Josh, and some childhood memories were triggered as I saw some children enjoying themselves on classic playground equipment of slides, swings and merry-go-rounds.

After my hike, I visited a Kenosha, WI classic:  Mars Cheese Castle.  Admittedly, I originally thought it was a castle made of cheese.  It is actually a store shaped like a castle that sells cheese, meats, clothes and old-fashioned candies and sodas.  It even has a deli, restaurant and bar.

Mars Cheese Castle

From there it was back to Christmas House when I did a little writing and took in an online worship service with Fr. Matt Barone. 

When the service was completed, I was faced with a quandary.  Did I want to have a very early dinner or wait until my normal dinner hour?  Pamela had mentioned a local eatery called Kewpee’s, but it closed at 5pm.  I thought about it and realized I wasn’t in the mood for a regular meal that night, so I went with the extra early dinner.

Kewpee’s is actually a Racine stalwart.  There actually used to be a chain of them, but now only six are left and the Racine location is the only one in Wisconsin and it’s been operating since 1926. 

Kewpee’s Sandwich Shop

The restaurant has the look of a fifties diner and is inspired by the famous kewpie dolls and there is a display case full of them inside.  Being so close to closing time meant that there weren’t a lot of people inside so social distancing was an easy task.  I ordered the double cheeseburger with the works, a side of fries and a Coke. 

Not only does the place look like a fifties diner, it also has portion sizes to match with prices not that far behind.  I personally appreciated the portion sizes as you get a great meal without feeling overstuffed.  These are old fashioned burgers cooked fresh on a flattop grill and the fries are crinkle cut.  Kewpee’s is also noted for its homemade root beer which I’ll make a point of sampling at some future date.

With dinner digesting, I returned to Christmas House for more writing, reading, photo organizing and some classic game shows on BUZZR.

Another great night of sleep led into a new day. Breakfast that day consisted of a pecan Kringle, strawberry waffles with whipped cream and cornbread crumble had sausage and egg added to it for quite the tasty melange. I had another satisfying round of conversation with Pamela and the Jacksons where I was introduced to the dancing skills of Pamela’s dog, Dewey.

Strawberry waffles with whipped cream, cornbread crumble and pecan Kringle

This trip was just what the doctor called for and if you find yourself in Racine, make plans to stay at Christmas House. It’s truly as festive as the name sounds.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

Bitter Fruit

A mother and her genius, but ill-mannered, son relocate to Crested Butte, CO to begin a new life.  Running parallel paths, the mother begins to find happiness once again while the son takes a step towards living life for the very first time.  But an insatiable need to know may tear both of their lives asunder.  This is Wildflower by Lila Rose Kaplan and is currently playing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

While Ms Kaplan’s script is interesting in some respects, it suffers from the flaw of not being a strong narrative.  By that I mean there really isn’t an arc to this play.  It’s really vignettes of the lives of the characters of this show.

Where the writing excels is in the characters themselves.  Not only are the characters fully formed people, but they have distinctive and well developed arcs with plenty of meat in which actors can sink their teeth.  The powerful characters help to cover the fact that the overall story lacks a unifying core.

Lara Marsh is a bit of auteur with this production as she not only directs, but also designed the set and helped to design the sounds.  Her direction is tight and sure.  Each character gets its fair due and chance to shine and Ms Marsh knows how to maximize each climax and resolution in the interrelationships of these characters.  Her staging is admirable with the entire blackbox being utilized and her mastery in crafting emotional moments cannot be argued.  She also gets thoroughly capable performances out of her cast.

Solid supporting performances are supplied by Francisco Franco and Jarod Cernousek.  As Mitchell, Franco plays a former burlesque performer turned hotel owner/chef who dispenses wise advice and has found peace in his life in the most extraordinary way.  Cernousek’s James is a forest ranger with a power complex and the rod up his back has a rod up its back which I’m pretty certain has a rod up its back.

Aaron Sorilla is exceptional in his performance as Randolph.  Randolph is a high functioning autistic and Sorilla does truly wonderful work in communicating the aspects of autism such as his focus on self, rudeness, fixations, and a bit of a sing-song cadence to his speaking patterns.  His timing is excellent and he knows how to elicit a good laugh from a line.  But he also handles the drama side of the role equally well.  There is a real tragedy to his character as he is unable to understand emotion and his literal nature means everything needs to be spelled out to him in excruciating detail.  And that need to know leads him down a treacherous path.

Jocelyn Reed plays Erica, Randolph’s mother.  Ms Reed does a good job of encasing Erica’s core of sadness in a bubbly personality.  The bubblyness is not a put on.  It’s more like if Erica focuses on being happy, then she’ll forget the sadness which is always threatening to rear its ugly face.  This is a person who has had a rough go of things.  It’s implied she was in an emotionally abusive marriage from which she is trying to recover and while she loves her son, Ms Reed’s body language conveys the sense that she sometimes feels chained to him due to his special needs.  Indeed, as a loving mother, she makes sacrifices to her own happiness for the sake of her son.  But her shining moment is when we get to see her exude utter joy when her son forms a special friendship with a girl.  Not only is she happy for him, but she is happy for herself as she sees the possibilities that each of them can live their own life.

Hannah Davis makes her acting debut as Astor and does quite well in her first outing.  There’s a lot of fun to this character.  One is never certain if she is also a high functioning autistic or just very immature due to a combination of an odd upbringing and her own exceptional intelligence.  She comes off as much younger than 16 especially when she’s bossing Erica around in the visitor’s center and engaging in childish arguments with Randolph.  Yet she has startling moments of pseudo-sophistication and clearly has the longings of a young girl coming of age due to her wanting intimacy so she isn’t inexperienced when she shortly heads off to college.  While Ms Davis’ character foundation is rock solid, I think she has the leeway to amp up what’s she’s doing a notch or two.

Lara Marsh has provided a simple, but effective set for the production with a counter full of brochures, seeds, and flowers for the visitor’s center and a rolling counter for Mitchell’s kitchen.  Kendra Newby’s costumes well suit the personalities of the characters from the perfectly pressed forest ranger’s uniform of James to the too big sports coat (it’s his father’s) of Randolph to the childlike clothing of Astor as well as her beautiful sundress as she comes of age.  Riley Campbell and Craig & Lara Marsh team up for some fantastic sounds such as the hotline’s ringing telephone and the blast of fireworks.  Rebecca Roth’s lights are top of the line especially with the stars of the outdoors and the flash and colors of exploding fireworks.

In spite of a missing centrality to the story, this show is a strong showcase in character work aided by surefire direction.  It’ll make you laugh.  It’ll make you wonder.  It’ll even tug at your heartstrings a little.

Wildflower plays in the Weber Fine Arts Building in Room 006 at the University of Nebraska-Omaha through April 28.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets are free.  Due to adult subject matter and language, this show is recommended for mature audiences.  The University of Nebraska-Omaha is located at 6001 Dodge St in Omaha, NE.

Catch a Whiff of this ‘Wildflower’

The University of Nebraska-Omaha Theatre Department Presents:

Wildflower by Lila Rose Kaplan

Directed by Lara Marsh

Synopsis

A woman and her son look to escape their past in Crested Butte, a small town with its share of secrets. They encounter a curious girl, a forest ranger, and an innkeeper. The five collide in a summer of botany and sexual awakening. Wildflower explores the discovery of desire and its consequences.

Cast

Randolph – Aaron Sorilla
Erica – Jocelyn Reed
Astor – Hannah Davis
James-Jarod Cernousek
Mitchell – Francisco Franco
Performance Dates:  April 24-28 (Wed-Sat at 8pm.  Sun at 2pm.)
Location:  University of Nebraska-Omaha (6001 Dodge St in Omaha, NE) Weber Fine Arts Building, Rom 006
Tickets are free.  Due to explicit language and sexual content, this show is for mature audiences.

Return to the Rising Sun, Day 1: Getting There is Half the Fun

It was a journey 4 years in the making.  After the end of our escapades in Japan (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), my friends, Mat O’Donnell and David Sundberg, and I decided we would one day return to experience it anew.  With Mat’s impending wedding in November, it was decided that the adventure would take place in August 2016.

After months of planning and preparation, the day finally arrived to begin our return to the Land of the Rising Sun.

It takes a lot of time to get to Japan and I mean a LOT of time.  On August 16, Dave and I awoke at 2:30am.  Our first flight of the day would leave at 6:20am.

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Dave is bright eyed and bushy tailed for the day ahead.

My good friend, Jeff Bevirt, picked Dave and I from my home and drove us to Eppley Airfield where we met Dave’s niece, Amy Joy, who would also be joining us on the excursion.

We would be using United Airlines.  This was my first time utilizing their services and it was pretty good all the way around.  When we arrived at the nearly empty airport, a friendly desk agent took our passports and quickly checked us in and checked in Dave’s suitcase.  Using the “gussie” system of packing, I would be checking no luggage so I’d have one less thing to worry about.

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Transportation to Japan provided by United Airlines.

United likes to board early and we started getting on board nearly an hour before our flight started.  I happen to think this is a good business practice as if everyone manages to get onboard early, we can leave a little early which is exactly what happened.

After a brief flight, our little group laid over in Denver for an hour, where we scarfed a quick breakfast from McDonald’s (oh, how I hate to rush a meal) and boarded another plane set to take us to Los Angeles.

At LAX, I made my only miscalculation of the trip.  I decided to change my dollars over to yen while I was there.  I got a pretty good deal, but would learn that I should have waited until I reached Narita International Airport in Japan as they give you a much better deal.  My dough would have netted me an extra 15,000 yen had I waited.  So take my advice, if you go to Japan, always exchange your money at Narita.

We waited through a 2.5 hour layover at LAX before finally beginning the long haul of the trip.  I love to fly, but 12 hours is an awfully long time to be on a plane.  They do their best to distract one with a wide variety of entertainment from movies to music to TV shows.  To pass the time, I read a new Sherlock Holmes pastiche, began a new Nero Wolfe novel, watched a little TV as well as the films Money Monster and Insomnia.

There was something profound about this trip, especially as I was taking it in the daytime and could look out the window.  There’s something deep about looking down on the majesty of the Pacific Ocean and seeing nothing but blue as far as the eye can see.  We also went from day to night to day in a flash as we crossed over to the other side of the planet.  And there was something about flying over the edge of Alaska that put a smile on my face as I looked down upon it.

The food wasn’t too bad on the flight.  United prides itself on its 3 course meals and served us a lunch of teriyaki chicken, rice, vegetable medley, and salad with southwestern rice.  For dessert, they served us a wonderful vanilla bean gelato which was some of best ice cream-type food I have ever eaten.  Before touchdown, they served a breakfast of Udon noodles, though Dave had to be a rebel and order the scrambled eggs.

As I said the journey was long and I only napped for about an hour as excitement fueled my body.  Upon arriving at Narita, we waited for Mat who was delayed as everybody on the planet decided to land at Narita at the same time he did.  This slowed down his going through customs and immigration which my little group blew through in about 15 minutes.

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Japan, I have arrived.

We collected our resident expert, then got our J-Rail passes so we could travel through Japan.  Then we hopped on the Narita Express for a 90 minute journey to Shinjuku to arrive at the first house we would stay at through Air BnB where we met Mat’s friend, Mauricio, and his girlfriend, Allison, who would be joining us on a part of the adventure.

Despite being beyond the point of exhaustion our little group went out to dinner at a place called Pronto’s which is a bar/restaurant.  I normally don’t like to eat late, but one thing I appreciate about Japan is that we share a similar size appetite as all servings in Japan are small.  I had some juicy fried chicken with a splash of lemon.  After dinner we stopped at a mini-mart to get some things for breakfast.  I grabbed an orange juice and some of the famed pancakewiches of Japan.

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Pancakewich

I passed out and I mean passed out on my tatami mat to end this day’s adventures.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 3, Day 1: Dope Springs Eternal

It started off as such a lovely day.

The birds were singing.  The sky was sunny.  And there was nary a cloud in the sky.  Yes, it truly was a good day for travel.

Once again I was flying to Arizona.  For my regular readers, you may recall that that the last time I traveled to Arizona, I was working on a deal with the SyFy Network to produce my script, Giraffealanche, as their latest original movie.  Regrettably, I was a bit sidetracked when I was reunited with an unwelcome acquaintance.

In the ensuing months since those escapades, I had ironed out a deal and was now returning to Arizona to watch a rough cut of the film.  This time, I felt certain I would not be bumping into certain individuals who shall remain nameless.

I arrived at the airport and hopped aboard my Southwest Airlines flight.  I found myself seated to a pleasant, elderly gent named John.  He was slightly below average height, had a short crew cut of gray hair, had a stocky build, and dressed very casually.  I found him to be a likable guy and we shot the breeze on many subjects.  I found that also was heading to Arizona to visit family and would be on the same connecting flight as I.

This was one of the smoothest flights I had taken in quite a while.  We left early and made it to Denver, CO in almost precisely an hour.  I had an hour layover between flights so I made a quick visit to Xpress Spa inside the Denver airport for a 20 minute neck and shoulder massage to relieve the tightness in my shoulders and right arm (the unfortunate curse of working at a keyboard all day).

Soon I was flying through the air on another smooth flight and arrived in Phoenix a little early.  As I grabbed my luggage from the carousel, John told me he had a car waiting for him and offered to give me a lift to my hotel.  I readily agreed and we stepped into a waiting limo.

I continued chatting with John as we rode down the interstate.  I happened to glance out the window and I noticed that we were passing Golfland in Mesa, AZ.  I then realized that this route seemed awfully familiar.

“John?” I asked.  “Where are we going?”

Suddenly the driver pressed a button on the dashboard and some distinctive music began to play.  To my mounting horror, John began to sing lyrics with the music.

“He’s Arizona!!  Arizona Mat!!  Arizona!!!  Arizona Mat!!”

The driver removed his hat and shades and turned to look at the both of us, an impish grin playing over his face.  I slowly turned my head to glare at John.  Suppressing my urge to throttle him, I buried my face in my hands and began to weep.  It was Arizona Mat.

For those of you new to this website, I refer you to the archives section for the stories entitled The Arizona Chronicles and The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 2 where I met a supposed explorer named Arizona Mat and his Neanderthal sidekick, Tall Square.  Arizona Mat was so full of himself that I’m surprised he didn’t refer to himself in the third person.  He had a strange love-hate relationship with his lackey, Tall Square.  By that I mean they loved to hate each other.  In fact, the last time I had seen the two of them, Tall Square was chasing Arizona Mat through the Sky Harbor airport.

“There, there,” said Arizona Mat.  “It’s nice to see you again, too.  No need to shed tears of joy.”

Resigning myself to the inevitable, I asked Arizona Mat how he managed to know that I was coming into town.  He explained that Johnny V, indicating John, was an old family friend based out of Omaha, NE.  He had Johnny V keep tabs on me until he knew I would be returning to Arizona.

“Why?” I asked.

“I’m about to make another epic discovery and I need my biographer to document my greatness,” replied Arizona Mat.

I rolled my eyes and asked what had happened to Tall Square.

“As you may recall, that Nordic gorilla was chasing me through the airport.  I tried to duck into a store to escape him, but plowed into some mannequins.  Applying my brilliant brain to the dilemma, I grabbed one of the mannequin arms and persuaded Tall Square to stop.  I told him that I knew he was only upset because he had lost the handshake duel.  I therefore offered him a rematch, but with the caveat that we both have our eyes closed because that allowed one to execute more force.  He agreed and I stuck the mannequin hand into his and made my daring escape.”

“Are you saying. . .” I began.

“Yep,” said Arizona Mat.  “As far as I know, that dummy is still trying to make a dummy submit.”

I rubbed my face and asked why he had “borrowed” me.

“Later, my Boswell.  Later.  Let’s enjoy ourselves for now,” said Arizona Mat.

After settling into his home, Arizona Mat, Johnny V, and myself walked the short distance to the Flaming Kebab for dinner.  I enjoyed a gyro sandwich with a cup of lentil soup and some water.  Arizona Mat feasted on Chicken Kafka, rice, Greek Salad, and iced tea.  Johnny V supped on a gyro platter with rice, Greek Salad, and raspberry tea.  Johnny V, a rather generous sort, paid for our meals.

After the meal we returned to Arizona Mat’s home where we sat around his new fire pit, drinking home brewed root beer, and listening to Arizona Mat regale us with some of his “legendary” adventures.  After finishing up the tale of his rescuing me from a homicidal ex-associate (read The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 2 to find out what really happened), Arizona Mat rubbed his hands with glee and announced it was time to get down to business.

“Have you ever heard of the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!)?” asked Arizona Mat.

“What on earth is the Voodoo Blue Woo Woo?” I asked.

“I didn’t say the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!) Woo woo.  I said the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!)”

“You just did it again.  You keep making this high pitched sound after you say Voodoo Blue.”

“Woo woo!  I’m sorry.  It’s just that I get excited whenever I say or hear the words Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!)  It’s a rare blue diamond that was supposedly forged by a houngan (voodoo priest).  I’ve been researching its history and certain clues have led me to its discovery.  It’s somewhere in Las Vegas, NV.  On Friday, the three of us will drive over there, I’ll discover it, and your masterful writing will make me even more famous than I already am.”

“Have you ever read any of my articles about you?” I asked.

“No.  I’m modest in that way.  But you’re writing about wonderful me, so I’m sure they’re stunning pieces of work.”

“Yes they are,” I said.

So once more I would be joining Arizona Mat on an adventure.  I knew not what the future would bring, but I knew trouble and hilarity probably were not far behind.

The Arizona Chronicles, Day 1–A Journey Begins

The stories you are about to read are true. . .ish.  The events have been embellished where I find humorous.

It’s amazing how a simple event can trigger an adventure.  For instance, it was a wretched day in Omaha.  A horrible cold snap had engulfed the Midwest.  It was Monday morning and the wind chill had made the temperature -25.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t curl up in my nice, warm bed and hit the snooze alarm.

Grumpily, I made my way out to my car.  I stuck the key into the ignition, turned it, and. . .COUGH!!  GURGLE!!  BLURP!! 

Dead battery.

As I prepared to call a tow truck, a voice called out from the darkness.

“Do you need some help?”

I turned around to see a middle aged man, powerfully built, with a mane of red hair, and a Fu Manchu moustache.

“A little,” I admitted.

“I can change this thing in 5 or 10 minutes,” said the stranger.

He had me pop the hood on my car and pulled a set of tools out of his nearby truck.  I’ll be dipped if he didn’t remove my battery in a matter of moments.  We rushed down to the local Wal-Mart to buy a new battery.  That mystical luck that seems to follow me stayed true once more as I got the last battery.  Rushing back to my car, the stranger finished putting in the new battery and my car roared to life after a little coaxing.

As I thanked the stranger, he introduced himself to me as Tall Square.

“Tall Square?  Why do they call you that?”

“I will tell you,” replied Tall Square.  “Because.”

“Because?”

“Because,” he said and nodded solemnly.

I rolled my eyes and invited this peculiar man in for a drink.  He told me that he was the assistant to an explorer known only as Arizona Mat and that he was preparing to meet him in Phoenix for a new exploration.  I told Tall Square that I wrote a blog and asked if Arizona Mat would object to a chronicler.  Tall Square replied that Arizona Mat could use the publicity, so I bought a ticket to Arizona and had Tall Square sack out on my couch that evening.

The next day we headed to the airport to catch a flight on Frontier Airlines.

Yes, I know that I didn’t have too many good things to say about this airline due to their love of fees and not giving any perks unless you purchase directly through them, but they had the best deal and sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet.  In the short time since I had last flown with them, they had added a new fee.  If you want a seat assigned randomly, it’s free.  But if you want to pick where you sit, it’ll cost you $8.  Yet another reason to try to avoid this airline in the future.

As we finished our security check, a call came over the PA system, asking Tall Square to return to the front counter.  I looked at my companion curiously.  He gave me a shrug and said it probably had something to do with the toy lock he used to keep his suitcase shut.  He went away to the counter and I worked on my laptop.  Nearly thirty minutes had passed until my companion returned.  Tall Square looked a little roughed up.  His right eye was discolored, clothes torn, and he spat out a tooth as he sat down.

“What happened?” I asked.

He muttered something about a badly timed bald joke and proceeded to speak no more.  We boarded the plane for the first leg of our flight to Denver, CO and it was a smooth flight and we got to Denver about 20 minutes early.  I do enjoy flying, but I hate the layovers and we had a nearly three hour layover for this trip.  I do admit there are worse things than being stuck in the Denver airport for three hours.  It is a highly regarded airport with a number of shops and restaurants to keep one occupied.

Tall Square had been sitting a couple rows ahead of me, but when I exited the plane he was nowhere in sight.  As I found the connecting gate for our next flight, I received a text from Tall Square who said he was heading to baggage claim.  Immediately I called my befuddled travel mate and told him to come back here as the airline would move our luggage to the plane for us.  I then got a 20 minute chair massage at A Massage to loosen my cramped shoulders and spent some time doing some research online.

At 4:30, we boarded the plane for our final leg of the flight.  The sun was setting as the plane took off and I realized that I hadn’t flown at night since my escapades to Tokyo, Japan nearly a year and a half ago.  There is something indescribable about seeing a huge metropolis lit up at night that adds a certain enjoyment to flying.   90 minutes later, we landed in Phoenix. 

Tall Square texted Arizona Mat to let him know we had arrived.  He received a text back that said, “Who are you?”  Tall Square replied it was him and that he had brought a writer along who would chronicle his adventures for free.  I was about to vociferously protest working pro bono when Tall Square received a terse, impatient text from Arizona Mat that said, “Well, hurry up.”

Soon afterward, I met Arizona Mat.  He was a stoic man, solidly built, with short, red hair, and about average height.  He thanked me for the free publicity.  Before I could argue about my lack of fee, Arizona Mat offered to buy my dinner, which I grudgingly accepted.  He took Tall Square and myself to Café Rio. 

This Mexican restaurant proudly boasts that it makes everything from scratch and it is the truth as they prepare the food in front of you.  I had a carne beef burrito wrapped in a wheat tortilla while Tall Square and Arizona Mat settled for pork and steak nachos respectively.  It was a tasty meal and I definitely would recommend a visit to it.  Be sure to ask for to go boxes as they don’t skimp on the portions at this place.

Arizona Mat offered to house me for the duration of my visit so I decided to take my fee in trade.  After getting me situated,  he began shooting at me with a Nerf dart gun to “test my reflexes” as he said.  I took 4 darts as I was too tired after my long day to be worth anything.

Arizona Mat clicked his tongue at me and said he hoped I’d do better in the Icy Plunge, whatever that may be.  For now, I’m just ready to hit the hay.

 Join me again tomorrow as I begin documenting the (mis)adventures of this impatient explorer and his unlucky sidekick.