The McGuigans Invade Denison

Denison, IA–The McGuigans (Billy, Ryan, & Matthew) are set to bring their amazing Beatles tribute show, Yesterday and Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience, to the Donna Reed Theatre in Denison, IA on Thursday, Sept 29 at 7pm.

If you’ve never attended Yesterday and Today, it’s unlike any performance you’ve ever seen because the show is different every single time because you get to pick the music.

That’s right, Yesterday and Today, is an all request Beatles show where you can pick any and, I stress, ANY Beatles song and the McGuigans and their incredible band will perform it for you.

Are you a casual Beatles fan who only knows classics like “Yesterday” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”? No problem. Maybe you’re a bit more adept in your Beatleness and know “Tell Me Why” and “I Am the Walrus”? They do those, too. And, maybe, you’re that rarefied superfan who wants to separate the Beatles men from the Beatles boys and challenge them with rarities like “Old Brown Shoe” and “Baby, You’re a Rich Man”? They’ve got you covered.

It’s an experience you’ll never forget. Buy a ticket and see America’s finest ode to the Beatles from a band like no other. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Tickets for Yesterday and Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience cost $25 and can be obtained by calling 712-263-3334. The Donna Reed Theatre is located at 1305 Broadway in Denison, IA.

Arcade Nirvana

Jeff enters Galloping Ghost

And now for a travel tale of a different type.

For my regular readers, you know that I was once a serious video gamer and that I’ve occasionally visited retro arcades to revisit that aspect of my childhood.  A few months ago, I read of a place in Brookfield, IL called Galloping Ghost that claimed to be the world’s biggest retro arcade.  I told my old friend, Jeff Bevirt, about it.  Jeff is still a serious gamer and he was intrigued, so we decided to take a weekend road trip to visit this arcade.

It had been a really long time since I had a true buddy road trip.  Having a friend along not only makes the time go faster, but it also helps to have someone with whom to share the driving duties so neither of us gets overly fatigued.

We got an early start, leaving Omaha around 8:30am.  I took the first leg of the drive and took us to Walcott, IA where we took a lunch break at Gramma’s Kitchen at the world’s largest truck stop.

Gramma’s Kitchen

Gramma’s Kitchen serves old-fashioned comfort food (and some not so old-fashioned, as well), includes a gift shop, and just has the feeling of yesteryear with its vintage signs and knickknacks.  Jeff ordered a meat loaf dinner which included a trip to the tiny salad bar where he got some prime rib and mushroom soup.  For myself, I decided to try the Frisco Burger.  My burger was delicious with its crispy bacon, vegetables, Swiss cheese, and toasted sourdough bun.  Should I ever eat here again and get a burger, I’ll be certain to get it medium well, as my choice of medium was just a bit underdone for my tastes, though tasty.  I ate half of my burger and saved the rest for my evening meal and Jeff took over the drive from this point.

A few hours later found us in Chicagoland where I had a premium king suite reserved at Embassy Suites in Naperville, IL. 

This Embassy Suites was a bit different from others in its construction.  Embassy Suites tend to be built in an atrium style, but this one was actually designed like a regular hotel.  Our room wasn’t quite ready when we arrived, but we got it about 10 minutes after our arrival.  We deposited our gear and Jeff ordered some bedding for the hide-a-bed and we left for Galloping Ghost.

About 40 minutes later, we arrived and managed to get a spot in the parking lot.  A few minutes later, we entered a place I can only describe as arcade nirvana.

Galloping Ghost is owned by Doc Mack who co-founded the business back in 2010.  Originally the arcade boasted 130 games, but Mack has multiplied that many times over and, today, the arcade contains over 700 video games and a separate venue contains 75 pinball machines.

For $20 you can play all day and that’s a bargain as you will play an equivalent amount in about an hour or so and you’ll need far more time to truly get a feel for this place.

Jeff and I spent the first half hour just wandering through the rooms admiring the games and marveling at the variety.  Not only did I see games that I see at nearly every retro arcade, but I also saw rare treasures, games imported from Japan, prototypes that never had a formal release, plus some originals.  In the second to last room we explored, we found a roped off area consisting of numerous games being prepped for future release as the arcade features a new release each week.

Interestingly, some of the games actually share a cabinet and a switch is available so you can toggle between them.  From watching various interviews online, I’ve learned that Mack and his crew hope to get each game its own cabinet.  But it’s a painstaking process as they try to get an original cabinet and, failing that, they create a similar one for the game.  Truly these are people who appreciate classic games.

Then it was game time!

I made a point of mostly avoiding games that I have played at other retro arcades to focus on the ones I had never played.  Jeff and I teamed up to defeat Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  Turtles in Time, and Contra:  Evolution (an updated version of Contra released in 2011).  Later Jeff would join me to help me finish off Two-Face in Batman Forever, a prototype game.

Then we split and I wandered about and was stunned to find either limited release or never released sequels to Joust (Joust 2:  Survival of the Fittest) and Mappy (Hopping Mappy).  Then I started playing long missed favorites such as Crime Patrol and Mad Dog II:  The Lost Gold from American Laser Games.  I also enjoyed Biohazard: Code Veronica, an import shoot em up from Japan better known as Resident Evil in America.  I also dabbled in Timber, a spin-off of Tapper where you chop down trees while avoiding obstacles.  I took a crack at Super Burgertime which beat me to a pulp.  I also rescued the children and stopped Mr. Big in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker; played a Dragon’s Lair II cabinet for the first time since a video game convention in 2010; came within 2 Sinibombs of destroying Sinistar; got creamed in Cliff Hanger, a diabolically difficult Dragon’s Lair style game based off two Lupin III movies; experimented with Hologram Time Traveler, but threw in the towel as I had trouble viewing the screen.

But the most interesting game I played was an interactive movie called The Spectre Files:  Deathstalkers.  In this game, you take the role of a private eye searching for a missing heiress in a haunted institution.  Whenever the game stops, you have to make a choice.  Choose correctly and the game continues.  Choose wrong and you will come to a premature end.  I really dug the mash-up of cheesy horror film and choose your own adventure.

Not every game works at peak capacity which is to be expected given the age and rarity of these machines, but that number was shockingly small and most worked like a dream.  The games are also packed tightly together so gaming could get a bit snug when the arcade is super busy.

After 6 ½ hours of gaming, my feet were done in and Jeff was a bit tired so we headed back to Embassy Suites.  Jeff’s bedding hadn’t been delivered so both of us ended up having to call the front desk to finally get some sheets and a blanket for him before finally retiring about midnight.

The next morning, we enjoyed Embassy Suites’ famed cooked to order breakfast before heading back to Omaha, planning to possibly return next year to enjoy Galloping Ghost once more and explore Chicago a bit.

But if you’re in the Chicago area and you are a video gamer, visit Galloping Ghost (9415 Ogden Ave in Brookfield, IL).  Once you visit this retro arcade, you’ll be hard pressed to want to visit another.

The Fourth in Wausau (But First in Class): Stewart Inn & Wausau,WI

Stewart Inn

Today the road has brought me to Wausau, WI.

After 4 months, I was more than ready for a relaxing return to the road.  I’m currently in the midst of my regional play reviewing season, but my Fourth of July weekend was open so I decided it was time to partake in my 70th B & B review.  My choice:  Stewart Inn, owned and operated by Randy and Sara Bangs.

I couldn’t have asked for a better road trip.  I had to deal with a little rain, but also got to enjoy lunch with my best friend, Josh, when I made a brief stop in Fort Dodge, IA.  I had a peaceful layover with a comfortable suite at the Holiday Inn Express in Albert Lea, MN and then took a more scenic and circuitous (by 15 minutes) route to Wausau.

Mid-afternoon on Saturday found me in Wausau and I soon found myself outside the impressive edifice of Stewart Inn.  A quick text to Randy gained me entry into the mansion.  As the first arriving guest, Randy gave me a thorough tour of the inn and its rooms.

Stewart Inn is designed in the Revival style by George Maher, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright.  This is a big house, but it’s very wide as opposed to being tall.  It has the biggest commons area of any inn I’ve visited with a mammoth living room area, a library where one can curl up with a good book while seated in a comfy chair in front of a fire, and a TV room that could seat 6 people. 

Architectually speaking, everything in the house is original:  the wood, the fixtures, the fireplaces.  The furniture is not, though some of it is period.  After showing me around, Randy brought me to the Foster Room which would serve as my home away from home for a few days.

The Foster Room is very intimate with a working fireplace, a cozy chair, a small library, a desk, a queen-sized bed, and a TV mounted in the far wall.  Stewart Inn actually has a pillow menu, but the soft, squishy pillows set on my bed fit the bill just fine. 

Each room of the inn contains two unique amenities:  a steam spa shower and an Amazon Echo Show.  The Echo Show is voice activated with Alexa and you can get weather reports or enjoy some music.  The steam spa shower lets you turn the shower into a steam bath.

It was a perfect day (perfect weekend, for the most part) with very comfortable temperatures and very little humidity.  So I decided to walk to church to worship at Church of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  At least, that was the plan.

When I arrived, I was puzzled that no cars were in the parking lot and I found the doors locked (a fact that saddened me as, once upon a time, churches were unlocked all the time).  Someone connected with the church appeared and asked me if I needed help and I befuddledly answered that I was hoping to attend the 4pm service.  The helpful stranger told me that the 4pm service was at St Michael which I would never make.

As I walked back to the inn, I pulled up the church’s website and there it was:  4pm service.  Then I read the rest of the line “at St Michael”.  It turns out the website was for all the Catholic churches in Wausau and not just Resurrection.

So I enjoyed a leisurely walk around the neighborhood and downtown area before returning to the inn where I worshipped via a streaming service performed by Fr. Jack Sheaffer.

As it happens, Wausau is the hometown of my brother-in-law, Scott, and his mother, Pam, suggested I have a meal at the Pinewood Supper Club. So I made a reservation.

Pinewood Supper Club

If you want to enjoy fine dining, I recommend giving this club a try.  It’s located by Half Moon Lake so you can dine with a view of the water.  It also has a well-stocked bar for those who would like to enjoy a pre-dinner drink.  I was seated by the window where I enjoyed viewing the lake while noshing on a relish tray. 

My dinner consisted of a salad with a dill ranch dressing and a main entrée of Blackened Salmon Oscar served with jasmine rice, fruit salsa, and grilled asparagus.  The salmon was exquisite and I spent over an hour savoring the meal and even indulged in a post-dinner cordial of a grasshopper.

I drove back to the inn and took in another constitutional before retiring to my room for the night.

I awoke from a great night’s sleep and made use of the steam shower (very relaxing) before heading downstairs for some breakfast.

Down in the commons, I met Jodi and Brian with whom I enjoyed some conversation during the meal.  Randy had promised some really great coffee.  Now I don’t drink the stuff, but Jodi does and the self-professed “coffee snob” said it was really great coffee:  very dark and rich.  So consider that a recommendation from a connoisseur. 

Breakfast was served in 3 courses.  The first was a tasty yogurt served with grain-free granola.  The second was fresh strawberries from the Farmer’s Market with homemade whipped cream.  The final was biscuits and gravy.  All of it was wonderful and I truly appreciated the portion sizes as they didn’t leave you feeling stuffed to the gills.

If you’re into nature and outdoor activities, Wausau has a number of parks and is famed for skiing.  Given that it was summer, I decided to visit the Monk Botanical Gardens.

I was somewhat disappointed by the gardens simply because nothing seemed to be in bloom.  However, I did enjoy walking the trails and got to play around with a flower kaleidoscope.

I returned to Stewart Inn where I took a longer walk around the downtown area where I looked at the famed Grand Theater and the 400 Block which is an outside concert venue that plays host to many summertime concerts.

Sweets on 3rd

It started to mist a bit as I walked back towards the inn so I ducked into Sweets on 3rd where I nibbled a cup of Ultimate Oreo ice cream while I waited for the weather to clear up.  Once it did, I returned to the inn where I organized photos and then headed out for a tour of Yawkey House.

Yawkey House Museum

Yawkey House was the home of Cyrus and Lisa Yawkey.  Cyrus was a lumber baron and had the house started in 1899 and it was completed in 1901 at a cost of $35K ($1,000,000 in today’s numbers).  Six years later, Cyrus had the house completely remodeled to keep up with the Joneses due to the popularity of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright whose revolutionary designs made Yawkey House’s original design seem passe. 

Cyrus was part of what was known as the Wausau Group.  They were a group of powerful businessmen who pooled their resources to bring a massive economic boost to Wausau (known as Big Bull Falls at the time).  So massive was Wausau’s growth as a result of their efforts that Wausau nearly took over as the state capital.

Yawkey House is definitely worth a tour, especially at the low cost of $7.  The house has had some restoration, but the woodwork is all original (most of which is no longer commercially available) as is most of the furniture. 

After my tour, I came back to Stewart Inn where I did some prep work on the article until dinnertime.

And my evening meal was eaten at Milwaukee Burger Company.  Now I rarely partake of a truly junky meal, but allowed myself to do so on this night.  I tried a Spicy Curd Burger with a side of chili cheese fries.  Everything about this burger screamed spice.  Aside from the two pieces of spicy curd, the burger also brings the heat with a spicy chipotle spread and jalapeno infused bacon.  The burger was nice and juicy and it definitely had a lingering heat as I very nearly broke out into a sweat.  The service wasn’t quite up to snuff and that’s even making allowances for the Great Resignation.

After dinner it was back to the inn to begin writing and just relaxing for the night.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of a delightful Almond Joy Crustini, cantaloupe, and polenta with chicken sausage. Conversation ran the gamut from music, to pets, to fitness, to employment. As we left the table, Randy gifted us with discount coupons for stays at Inns of Choice (11 best B & Bs in WI), future stays at Stewart Inn, and a last one for any B & B in WI.

A very wonderful and relaxing inn experience and I was sorry to see it end. But if you find yourself, up Wausau’s way, take in a night or two at Stewart Inn. It’s a haven.

Have a fun Fourth and, until the next time. . .happy travels.

The Adventure of the Nameless Corpse

Lovely little nutcracker, isn’t it?  Well, this nutcracker has a very interesting story behind it.  This nutcracker is both a trophy and a reminder of the time I assisted Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in solving a murder at the Victorian Villa in Union City, MI.

I had alluded to this story when I wrote my remembrance of the inn back in 2014, but enough time has passed that it is now safe to share the tale.  Some elements must still remain hidden, so some names may be changed and some details removed and altered, but those that know the truth will understand.

Many believe Holmes and Watson to be fictional characters, but that is a myth perpetuated by Dr. Watson’s literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who published Dr. Watson’s stories under his name.  In truth, they are real and much older than one would believe. 

In his retirement, Holmes had cultivated a royal jelly elixir and ingestion of it had greatly extended his life span and that of Dr. Watson.  Over the years Holmes and Watson had regularly visited the Victorian Villa as its owner, Ron Gibson, is the great-grandson of Senator Neil Gibson referenced in the case known as “The Problem of Thor Bridge”.  Aside from their friendship, Holmes also enjoyed visiting Union City as, in his own words, “it is a hellhole of crime of great depth and brilliance”.

When I learned that Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson would be visiting, I immediately booked a weekend stay to meet the famed detective and his trusted associate.

It was September of 2005 and I was making my second foray out to the Villa.  I was a bit weary as I had mistakenly forgotten to schedule myself as unavailable for Hamlet rehearsals the night before so I had put in a long night of rehearsing before setting off on my drive at 10pm.  By midnight, I was exhausted and collapsed at a Motel 6 in Des Moines, IA before driving another 8 hours to Union City the next morning.  The welcome sight of the gorgeous Victorian mansion served as a salve to my spirits and boosted my energy level as I pulled into the tiny parking lot.

The Victorian Villa

Once more, I was greeted by Ron and his two sons, Zach and Josh, before being led to my room for the weekend:  the Victorian Country Bedchamber.  As I got myself situated, I found a note under my pillow.  It was rather snarky and, I noted, written in a feminine hand.  I put it away before freshening up and reacquainting myself with the Villa.

Around 6pm, Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson arrived at the inn.  I introduced myself to Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson who politely shook my hand.  Holmes was just as Watson had described him with his aloofness and unmistakable air of authority.  Watson was friendly and every bit the gentleman.

I retired to the parlor with Holmes and Watson and the other guests who had come to meet the legendary duo.  Among them were Ted and Rhonda Cowell and their Holmesian scion society, The Stormy Petrels of Maumee Bay; the Mallon family; George Ault; and Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Harbaugh.

We opened up the night with a round of Sherlockian Trivial Pursuit.  We formed into two teams and Mr. Holmes asked diabolically difficult questions relating to the many cases he had investigated.  As the two teams battled back and forth, Mr. Holmes would vacillate between contentedly smoking his pipe and brooding about some vexing problem.  On several occasions he alluded to a case he was working on before returning to the game.

Sherlock Holmes relaxes

By the end of the game, the two teams were locked into a tie, though I ended up stealing a symbolic victory for my side when I answered the question “Who killed Victor Savage?”  After the hard-fought game, we entered the dining room where Mr. Holmes gave us a demonstration on the art of observation and deduction while we dined on one of Ron’s fine meals which consisted of English Cheshire Cheese Soup and roasted loin of boar among other delicacies.  I did note that Ron had brought on some help for the event as a placard on the table said the meal had been partially catered by Maxine Simons.

Upon finishing our meal, we returned to the parlor where Mr. Holmes told us he was investigating a murder that had taken place at the Villa a few days prior.  A man had shown up at the Villa around 11am on the fateful day and asked Ron if he could have a room.  As Ron had no reservations, he rented a room to the man who gave no name, but simply went upstairs to his bedroom with his dressing bag.  A short while later, Ron saw him descend the stairs sans bag and enter the parlor.  Ron left him to his own devices as he had to leave the Villa to run some errands.  When he returned later, he found the man collapsed on the floor, arm outstretched in front of him, and clearly dead.  Ron contacted the police who found no identification on the man nor in his room.  The labels on his clothes had been cut off and the only items found on him were a handkerchief, some cigarettes, and a pen.  Ron had told Mr. Holmes of the baffling death and he agreed to look into it.

Mr. Holmes wanted us to be his eyes and ears and help him investigate.  He asked us to discover the following:

  1. Who was the victim?
  2. How was he killed?
  3. Who killed him?
  4. Find a way to link the killer to the crime and unmask him or her.

Certain rules were set in place for us.  As Mr. Holmes had already investigated the private areas of the mansion, we were not to enter them.  He also told us not to snoop into Ron’s desk as only he would be allowed to investigate it.  Short of that we were free to investigate as we chose. If we managed to discover any evidence, we were only to hold onto it for 10 minutes before returning it exactly where it was found.  Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson bade us good evening and left the Villa promising to return after breakfast in the morning.

Exhaustion had found me again so I retired to my bedroom, vowing to rise early and begin looking into the case.

I arose the next morning feeling refreshed.  After heading to the dining room and enjoying some of Ron’s special scrambled eggs and sausage patties, I began to look into the case. 

From re-reading Ron’s statement, I realized that the victim had not carried his dressing bag back down with him so I immediately went to the second floor and began searching for it, but was unable to find it.  I searched the mansion from top to bottom and then made my way over to the Carriage House.  Up in the Sherlock Holmes Bedchamber, I discovered George Ault and Glenn Harbaugh discussing something and they froze when they saw me.  I asked if I could enter and Glenn said I could.  I quietly closed the door and noted they had the dressing bag.

“So you found it,” I said.

Realizing I had already deduced the clue, George and Glenn opened the bag and we all looked into it.  Among the toiletries, we found a letter addressed to James Fitzsimmons requesting a meeting in the parlor of the Villa to discuss the matter of a deadly toxin that had been developed by the writer of the letter.  Apparently Fitzsimmons had been the letter writer’s boss and had aspirations of selling the toxin to the highest bidder who would likely weaponize it.  The toxin caused almost instantaneous paralysis before shutting down the body’s vital organs.  Death would occur in a matter of minutes.  The writer wanted Fitzsimmons to destroy the toxin and begged for a meeting to convince him of this.  It was simply signed Max, though I recognized the handwriting as being the same as that on the note in my bedroom.

After examining the evidence, I asked the two men if they had found notes as well.  They admitted they had and let me read them.  Red herrings and smart alecky comments.  After reading this, we looked at each other and I suggested pooling our resources to which George and Glenn readily agreed.

“All right, we’re now a team,” I said.

Upon forming our alliance we headed down to the parlor to meet Mr. Holmes who asked if anybody had anything to share.  I casually blurted the bag clue to which Mr. Holmes looked at me and said, “You’re a rather blithe young man, aren’t you?”

After unintentionally giving out the clue, the race was on.  Though we were investigating a crime, it was treated more like a competition and ended up as a three way battle between The Stormy Petrels, the Mallons, and my little triumvirate.  The Petrels played for keeps and were not above providing a few red herrings.  The Mallons were smart and crafty, though I engaged in a little quid pro quo with Mrs. Mallon which I’ll get to in a bit.

Mr. Holmes was always available for private consultation where we could bring our discoveries and theories and he would make comments and subtle suggestions to help light our path.  When we first informed Holmes about the letter we found, Glenn kept referring to the writer as a he, to which Mr. Holmes asked, “Why do you keep saying ‘he?’”.

“What do you mean?” asked Glenn.

“He means how do we know it’s a man,” I replied.

“Precisely,” said Holmes as he clasped my shoulder.

A vital clue, indeed.  While not a guarantee, we did have to open our minds to the possibility that Max, if that was the real name, was a woman.

We continued to investigate.  I realized that no matches or lighter were found on the corpse, though cigarettes had been discovered.  No smoker would ever lack those items and there was no reason for the killer to take them.  Remembering the outstretched arm, I assumed the position of the corpse and found a book of matches under the coal scuttle.

Taking them, I opened up the packet and found a scrawled message which said “Beware TR-70”.  The name of the toxin had been found!!

Outside the parlor, I found a business card book on a stand and began thumbing through it and saw Mrs. Mallon watching me.  When I leafed to the third page, she suddenly coughed.  I looked up and saw her smiling at me, I took a hard look and found the business card for Maxine Simons—Caterer.  However, “caterer” had been written in pen over a blacked out word.  Reversing the card and holding it up to the light, I saw “chemist” written under it.  I had the name of the killer!!  I then shared with Mrs. Mallon the name of the poison out of gratitude.

My team had another consultation with Holmes where Glenn spun an amusing, but outlandish, theory that Ron Gibson was the killer or, at least involved with her.  Mr. Holmes and I shared some glances and after Glenn finished his theory, Holmes simply stated, “I sense you have some misgivings about his theory.”

“One or two,” I replied.

I then finally had a chance to fill in Glenn and George on my discoveries and had a private conversation with Mr. Holmes and Mrs. Mallon while I made my deductions.  When I finished, Mr. Holmes looked to Mrs. Mallon and said, “You know, I have great faith in this young man.  He’s quiet, thoughtful, and observant and everything he says is based soundly on logic.”

Then we took a break and had a reading of one of Watson’s stories followed by a pop quiz.  I ended up winning the quiz contest and surprised Mr. Holmes with one of my answers.

“This number is the square root of the number alluded to by Watson,” said Holmes.

“Sixteen,” I readily answered.

“Sixteen is correct!!” said Holmes with some wonderment.  “Tell me, young man, how did you come up with that answer?”

“Watson mentioned the wait was like the night the two of you faced the Andaman Islander which was a reference to the case known as The Sign of Four,” I said.

Holmes smiled and nodded approvingly.

After the quiz we had afternoon tea where Ron had prepared a whole turkey and we helped ourselves to little sandwiches with a bit of homemade mustard and fixings.

The case was solved, but there was still one last item:  how to unmask Maxine.  There was no real proof tying her to the death and all my deductions wouldn’t hold water in court.  I had a final consultation with Holmes where I told him everything I had learned, but felt I was just one step away from the total truth. 

“Think of the problem of the three Moriartys.  All of them were named James and were identical.  How would one tell them apart?” said Mr. Holmes.

I began to see the light when he gave me one final nudge.

“You have two pieces of vital evidence.  What you need is a third.”

The truth hit me like a thunderbolt.  The letter on my pillow plus the letter in the bag were my pieces of evidence.  What I needed was a way to get a third example of Maxine’s handwriting to connect her with the other two.  Handwriting was how you’d distinguish the Moriarty boys from each other.

Piecing the puzzle together

I expressed this problem to Glenn and George and we threw around ideas until I said, “Maybe we could get a card of some sort.”

“My son is serving over in Iraq.  We could get him a Wish You Were Here card,” said George.

“Yes, and we’ll have everybody in the inn sign it!!” I exclaimed.

The three of us dashed to Mr. Holmes where I laid out the scheme.

“An excellent plan,” said Holmes. 

I shook hands with Holmes and Watson and dashed to the bar area where I found Ron.

“Is there a drug store nearby?” I asked.

“Yes, just a few blocks up on Main Street,” said Ron.

“Thank you,” I said.

Then I speed walked through the front door and vaulted over the steps to the sidewalk.  I then sprinted and I do mean SPRINTED to the drug store where I bought the card and repeated the process back to the Villa where I hurdled the steps once more.  George later said it was the funniest thing he ever saw.

As I walked back in, I heard Mrs. Mallon’s daughter ask if there were a drug store nearby.  I then politely coughed and gently waved the card.  Knowing that the game was up, the Mallons signed the card and Mrs. Mallon’s daughter assisted me with finishing the job by asking Ron if there were any other people in the kitchen as Maxine was also helping to cater tonight’s dinner.  Ron stepped into the kitchen and asked Maxine to step out.  I told her about the card while George showed a picture of his son and Maxine signed the card.

I then led my team back to the parlor where the other guests had gathered. 

“Do you have something to show me, young man?” asked Mr. Holmes.

I presented the card to him and he looked at it.

“Were there any witnesses?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.   Myself, (Mrs. Mallon’s daughter), George, Ron, Zach, and Josh all witnessed this.”

“Very good,” said Mr. Holmes.  “This case has been solved.”

Then we proceeded to have a debate about what to do with the killer.  Her motivations were understandable.  Fitzsimmons would have unleashed a plague of death on the world.  He had committed no crime, but would have had the blood of countless people on his hands had he sold the toxin.  Maxine shouldn’t have killed him, but her act had thwarted a much greater evil so I pleaded for leniency.  Holmes said he would consider the situation.

Glenn gave me a hug and then bought George and myself a drink at the bar.  Mr. Holmes approached me privately and asked me to present the denouement after dinner.

A splendid dinner was served and after we were all satiated, Mr. Holmes signaled for silence, indicated my two partners and then clasped my shoulder acknowledging our victory.  He then presented me with the nutcracker as a trophy for the case.  Then he brought Ron, his two sons, and Maxine into the dining room where I presented my findings.

I walked the group through the maze of the case, casually keeping an eye on Maxine who whitened with every revelation.  When I explained about the card we had purchased and how the killer had sealed her fate by signing it, I calmly looked at Maxine and said, “Isn’t that right, Maxine?”

At that point, Maxine begged for mercy and Holmes gently led her out of the dining room while discussion resumed.  Shortly afterwards, he returned and he and Watson made their final farewells and exited.

And that was how I helped Mr. Holmes solve The Adventure of the Nameless Corpse.  I would later learn that Holmes did show mercy to Maxine, letting her leave the country.  George did send the card to his son with an incredible story.  I had made new friends and had a reminder of the case forever gracing my mantle.  And the next morning, I enjoyed some of Ron’s incredible cream cheese stuffed French Toast.

Little did I know that I would return to the Villa a few years later with my trusted friend, Mat O’Donnell, to engage in a peculiar investigation centering around a crying woman.

But that is a story for another time.

Natural Tranquility: Hidden Serenity & West Bend, WI

Hidden Serenity Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to West Bend, WI.

It’s nice to get back on the road after the winter months.  Though, honestly, I was originally going to take this trip back in January as the Midwest had been experiencing a very mild winter.  However, the night before my trip, the state of Iowa got crippled by a monster blizzard which stopped my excursion cold, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Mercifully, the owners of the inn I planned to visit were gracious enough to let me move my reservation to March so I wouldn’t be out the money plus the good people at Holiday Inn of Cedar Rapids gave me a refund on my nonrefundable rate without my having to ask so it all worked out for the best.  Thus, I finally found myself on the road to Hidden Serenity Bed and Breakfast, owned and operated by Chris and Sally Cochran.

The trip didn’t start off the greatest as I had to listen to my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes make an ignominious first round exit from the NCAA BB tournament due to a combination of ice cold shooting and the refs missing some blatant fouls that would have likely led to us winning in spite of our shooting woes. 

A meal at my favorite hole in the wall, Iowa’s Best Burger Café, and a free upgrade to a king suite at the Holiday Inn at Cedar Rapids helped to improve my mood as well as grant me a satisfactory night of rest.

A grim and rainy day met me the next morning and followed me all the way to West Bend.  Hidden Serenity is located on a secluded acreage outside of West Bend and the bright white house shone like a beacon in the gloom.

I pressed the doorbell which chimed out a charming tune and the door was answered by Sally who showed me around the common areas and, to my delight, offered me a free upgrade to the inn’s honeymoon suite, the Kettle Moraine.  After showing me all the ins and outs of my room, she left me to my own devices.

Hidden Serenity isn’t your typical B & B abode.  The Cochrans built the house in 1997 from wood on their acreage and it was their private home where they raised “four extraordinary children”.  The Cochrans also hosted exchange students for years and have a travel bug that might even exceed mine.  But once the children had grown, they decided to start sharing their home with the public, filling the house with fine furniture and they are currently in the process of renovating the basement area into a spa complete with hot tub, sauna, and massage room (this is currently in use).

The house evoked memories of my visit to Otter Creek Inn in Eau Claire, WI in the sense that the house has more of a lodge feel with its massive great room which includes a pool table guests can actually play. The house is also a unique fusion of rustic and luxury.

The Kettle Moraine has the same blend of swank and hominess possessed by the rest of the house.  A soft king-sized bed is the centerpiece of the room, but it also contains a pair of comfortable leather easy chairs with a beautiful view of the forest.  A faux fireplace graces one of the walls and the mirror above it contains a hidden LCD TV.  The bathroom contains heated tiles, a rainfall shower, and a two person slipper tub.

I didn’t have too long to putter because I had a massage scheduled at 4:40pm.  I met my masseuse, Joann, who led me to the basement and the massage room.  As I readied myself for my massage, I noticed the starlit roof which made me feel like I was in a planetarium.  Soon all thoughts fled my brain as Joann worked the kinks out of shoulders and the aches out of my feet.

Jail House

Feeling good and relaxed, I headed out to get some dinner at the Jail House.  Sally had told me that the place might be jumping and right she was.  Luckily, on Fridays, the Jail House only accepts reservations for parties of 5 or more so people can move in and out more quickly.  I was told I’d have to wait 30-40 minutes which I was fully prepared to do as I had a new volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches to read.  However, I only ended up waiting for about 20 minutes before being seated for dinner.

I opted for a Southwest Salmon served with homemade black bean salsa, a bowl of seafood chowder, and a side of steak fries.  The broth of the chowder was a little thin and could have used a bit more seafood, but had a good taste, especially when enhanced with a bit of pepper.  The salsa and salmon were excellent.  The salmon had a sweet chili glaze and was just slightly blackened which made it incredibly flavorful.

After dinner, I returned back to the inn and I advise caution as there are no street lights, but a path of lanterns does light the way to Hidden Serenity once you get close to the inn.

I started watching Cinderella Man, based on the true story of James J. Braddock, a promising boxer who saw his career derailed by injury and descended into poverty due to the Great Depression.  He staged a miraculous comeback which saw him upset the virtually unstoppable Max Baer for the world heavyweight championship.

Slumber beckoned to me throughout the film, so I stopped it and went to bed.

And sleep I did, not awakening until nearly 8am which is practically unheard of for me.  I spent a little time watching the The Price is Right channel before heading to the dining area for breakfast.

I saw the inn’s other guests being entertained by Chris as I took a seat.  Soon a plate of fruit and a small pot of herbal tea was placed before me.  The tea was an amazing blend of rosemary and peppermint which I contentedly sipped while nibbling on kiwi, oranges, strawberries, and blackberries.

Course number two was Polish sausage with peanut butter cream cheese stuffed French Toast served with the inn’s own maple syrup (also available in a peanut butter variety) and a maple vinaigrette salad.  For dessert, there was a concoction of blue Jell-O and Blue Moon ice cream which was a tasty treat of an exclamation point to the meal.

After breakfast, I headed out to West Bend to Blades Barbershop for a bit more pampering.

Blades Barbershop

Blades updates the traditional barbershop experience for the modern times.  I decided to have a shave and a haircut with Julie Kidder.  I was long overdue for a haircut and felt the relief of having a pound of hair cut away from my head.  But the shave was the real joy.  Julie treated my face with some tonic before lathering me and scraping off my beard with a straight razor.  I truly felt clean shaven afterwards and she mentioned I had an extremely thick set of whiskers (no hyperbole as I can grow a full beard in roughly 2 weeks).

For once, I decided not to book any other activities.  I just wanted to relax so I returned to Hidden Serenity where I walked its trail and then returned to my room to finish Cinderella Man.  With the movie over, I drew a bath and added a bottle of peppermint bath salts and just soaked until the heat left the water. 

St Frances Cabrini

With the bath done, I was ready to head off to worship at St Frances Cabrini.  It was a nice service with Father’s sermon focusing on how the time is now to change your heart as the theme of Lent this year is about conversion.  I also found it apropos as the Catholic church is making a concentrated effort to evangelize and St Frances Cabrini seems to be ahead of the game with literature encouraging their parishioners on how to welcome those curious about this branch of Christianity and not to be afraid to explain the ritual parts of the service to those unfamiliar with them.

After getting my praise on, I needed some dinner.  My first choice, Main Street Café, was closed so I went to Omicron Family Restaurant.  There’s nothing fancy about this place.  It’s just good, old-fashioned comfort food and I enjoyed a Gyro sandwich before returning to Hidden Serenity for a bit of writing and beddy-bye.

I was pleased to wake up to a sunny day which would make for a very pleasant drive home.  I really didn’t want to go home, but reality was calling.  But at least I could enjoy one more nourishing breakfast before I started the drive.

Today’s repast started with a bowl of carrot cake oatmeal. So tasty!! This was followed up by a custom made omelet (I had mine with the works. Ham, bacon, cheese, onions, olives, tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms) with a bit of fruit and asparagus. Last, but not least, was a pair of chocolate cake/fudge bars drizzled with chocolate and (I believe) caramel. A fine, bracing meal to get me on my way.

This was a fine return to the B & B world and I consider Hidden Serenity to be my own personal Walden. So if you want to get away from it all and I mean REALLY get away from it all, book a stay at Hidden Serenity and enjoy some rustic luxury.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

Chanticleer Needs Some Steppers

 Auditions for the final production of the Chanticleer Community Theater 2021 – 2022 season, The 39 Steps, will be held on Sunday, March 13 and Monday, March 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center (1001 South 6th Street, Council Bluffs, IA, 51501).

The 39 Steps is a fast-paced whodunit for anyone who loves the magic of theatre!  This two-time Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning treat is packed with nonstop laughs, adventure and some good old-fashioned romance.

Those auditioning will be asked to do a cold reading from the script. 

There are 4 roles available:  1 male, 1 female (plays multiple parts), 2 any gender (play multiple parts).  

Please bring a list of conflicts from March 14 through May 22. The 39 Steps opens May 13 and runs through May 22, 2022.  

Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2:00 for two weekends. 

“The 39 Steps” will be directed by Roxanne Wach.  

She Pre-Rocks

May be an image of 1 person, playing a musical instrument, standing and outdoors

On an absolutely perfect night at the Davies Amphitheater in Glenwood, IA, the one and only Tara Vaughan delighted the crowd with a spectacular night of song and storytelling dedicated to the women of rock and roll and produced under the auspices of Rave On Productions.

Though it didn’t explicitly have the title, this was a variation of Tara’s She Rocks show (coming soon to the SumTur Amphitheater in Papillion, NE).  Not only is it a revue of some of the classic songs from female rockers, it also serves as a testament to Vaughan’s awesome versatility.  Vaughan covers a slew of songs from a variety of performers ranging from Petula Clark to Amy Winehouse and whacked them all out of the park.

Outside of her insane talent as a singer and keyboardist, what I like best about Tara Vaughan is just her genuineness.  I agree with her manager, who calls her endearing.  She has a sweet, very shy, storytelling style as she talks about growing up, how she sing-narrates her life, and the stories of her friendships that just melt one’s heart like butter. 

But, ultimately, it’s all about the music and Vaughan delivers that and then some with her octane powered alto.  Highlights of Vaughan’s performance included her take on one of my all time favorite songs, Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”; a ripping cover of Linda Ronstadt’s cover of “When Will I Be Loved”; an energetic version of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie”; a spot on performance of Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Love Me”; not to mention a fine performance of her original song “Blame it On My Youth”.

Vaughan is strongly supported by her amazing band which featured Adam Stoltenberg providing the backbeat on drums and Max Meyer heating up the night with sizzling lead guitar solos.  Ejanae Hume not only shines as a backup vocalist, but she also gets her own moments in the spotlight with a take on Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” which made me want to get up and dance with somebody and a splendid cover of The Supremes’ “Keep Me Hangin’ On”.  The Given McGuigans (and I stole that description from Vaughan), Ryan and Matthew, not only serve as Vaughan’s partners in comedic crime, but also soar with Ryan’s acoustic guitar and percussion work and Matthew’s bass playing.  Matthew McGuigan and Tara also have a very sweet duet with Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” which seems to serve as an ode to their own friendship.

If you missed this show, well, too bad for you.  Thanks for reading my review.

Of course, I jest.  If you missed this show, you’ve got another chance to see this divine diva of the ivories when She Rocks plays at SumTur Amphitheater in Papillion, NE from Sept 9-19.  Tickets are $20 for lawn seating and $35 for stadium seating and can be purchased at https://www.theomahaseries.com/sherocks.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 7pm.

If you’re ready for a bevy of hits from a mighty mistress of music, then you’re ready for Tara Vaughan.  She will rock your socks off.

May be an image of one or more people, people standing, people playing musical instruments and outdoors

Buddy Storms the Stage

Jesse White stars as Buddy Holly in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story”

A teenager in Lubbock, TX completely changes the landscape of rock and roll with his unique sound.  This is the story of Buddy Holly.  It’s the show that’s part biopic and part rock musical.  It’s Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story playing this weekend at several venues under the auspices of Rave On Productions.

It must be cosmic coincidence.  Back in 2002, this show was having its preview night at the Omaha Community Playhouse when inclement weather forced a halt to the show, though the audience members were entertained by Buddy in the Playhouse’s basement.  Nearly 19 years later, the first public performance is again halted by bad weather at the height of the climactic Winter Dance Party concert, but the weather was prophetic as the performers were putting on a storm of their own at SumTur Amphitheatre before the festivities had to be stopped.  And for those of you who were at tonight’s show, you’ll be able to watch the whole thing again tomorrow or Sunday by responding to the Eventbrite e-mail you’ll be receiving.

Billy McGuigan steps away from the role he originated to serve as producer, co-director, and co-musical director this time around.  In tandem with Kimberly Faith Hickman, he serves up a rocking good time with a show as their direction is spot on.  It delivers the fun and the music and hits a couple of Buddy’s serious moments well, especially during his early days when he was struggling to make rock and roll in an area dominated by country music.  McGuigan’s personal experience with the role of Buddy is especially noticeable as his lead performer had every jot and tittle of Holly’s mannerisms and personality down cold.

This show truly does rise and fall on the shoulders of its title character and Jesse White was assuredly the man for the job.  White does a marvelous job in the role of Holly with his flawless accent and he captured Holly’s one of a kind singing style right down to the little hiccup Holly liked to throw in and thrilled the audience with a slew of Holly hits such as “Oh Boy”, “Peggy Sue”, “Every Day”, and “That’ll Be the Day”.  White assuredly makes the role his own, making Holly a very polite and respectful young man who is determined to make his music his way and succeeds beyond his wildest dreams.  When I closed my eyes during “True Love Ways”, I forgot where White ended and Buddy began as his vocals were a perfect match right down to the slight vibrato in his voice.  White did some impressive guitar work and some truly dynamite improv as, in character, he directed audience members to spots of safety during the storm.

Some excellent supporting performances were supplied by Jonathan Berger whose rich baritone made him a superb narrator as Hipockets Duncan.  Ryan McGuigan swipes his scenes with his awesome comedic timing as Joe Maudlin.  Eric Perlstein is a delightful prick as a snotty Decca producer trying to bend Buddy to his will and revved up the audience with his turn as the Big Bopper when he performed “Chantilly Lace”.  And Billy McGuigan has a nice turn as the M.C. for the Winter Dance Party in Clear Lake.

The musical direction of Matthew & Billy McGuigan was right on the money with interpretations so accurate you’d swear you had gone back in time to the 1950s.  Bradley Pesarchick’s costumes took us back to another era and I especially enjoyed the dresses he made for the jingle and backup singers as they invoked memories of sock hops of yesteryear.  Craig Marsh’s sound engineering well balanced the voices and instruments.  Craig Lee’s artistry made me feel like I was really at the Surf Ballroom.

There were a few moments where some of the actors needed to be a bit bolder with their performances.  The interpretation was there, but they needed to just cut loose and go for the gusto.  That aside, this cast did have the audience eating out of the palms of their hands and dancing in their seats and is another home run for Rave On Productions’ freshman season of theatre.

Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story runs through the end of the weekend.  On Saturday, it performs at Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield, NE at 7:30pm and closes Sunday at 7pm at Davies Amphitheatre in Glenwood, IA.  Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased at theomahaseries.com/buddyholly

The Music Lives Again with Rave On Productions’ ‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story’

Jesse White stars as Buddy Holly in ‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story’

Omaha, NE–Buddy! The Buddy Holly Story tells the true story of Buddy’s meteoric rise to fame, from the moment in 1957 when ‘That’ll Be The Day’ hit the airwaves until his tragic death less than two years later on “The Day the Music Died”.  The incredible legacy of the young man with glasses, whose musical career spanned an all-too-brief period during the golden days of rock & roll, continues to live on in Buddy.  Seen by over 22 million people around the world, Buddy will have you on your feet and “send you out of the theatre on an unstoppable high” (The Boston Globe).

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is the second show in Rave On Productions’ Omaha Series – a season of rock musicals presented in various venues around the Omaha Metro.  The Omaha Series debuted in February with Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Waiting Room.

Billy McGuigan, known for his portrayal of Buddy Holly in Omaha and across the United States is making his directing debut alongside Kimberly Faith Hickman.  “I remember watching Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story in London when I was in my late 20s and I was completely blown away.  It’s a feeling I’ll never forget,” says Billy McGuigan.  “It’s been a career goal of mine to produce and direct this show and I waited until I knew I could find the perfect person to take on the role of Buddy because it’s a role that’s very personal to me.  As soon as I met Jesse White in our drive-in production of Don’t Stop Me Now last summer, I knew that was my guy.  He was my Buddy.”  

And so Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story starring Jesse White as Buddy will perform a three-show amphitheater tour, July 30th at SumTur Amphitheater (Papillion, NE), July 31st at Soaring Wings Vineyard (Springfield, NE), and August 1st at Davies Amphitheater (Glenwood IA).  All tickets are $35 and are available at TheOmahaSeries.com

Prior to each performance My Boomer Radio will be on site with a live DJ, taking audience requests and audience members can participate in 1950’s dance lessons with Kimberly Faith Hickman and students from the McGuigan Arts Academy.

Photo provided by Rave On Productions

The Con Man’s Band

Con artist Harold Hill decides to fleece the citizens of River City, IA by selling them on the promise (and equipment) of a boys band and then split with the cash.  However, his shenanigans actually begin to spark a bit of life into the staid town and the local librarian/music teacher sparks something in the heart of The Music Man currently playing at Great Plains Theatre.

Meredith Wilson’s story is considered one of the finest musicals ever made and for good reason.  It’s funny, sweet, and serious.  It also teaches valuable lessons about the importance of family, the folly of narrow-mindedness, and the transformative power of love.  In fact, the script’s only weakness is its incredibly abrupt ending.  That being said, this show does have a little something for everyone.  Memorable tunes.  Unforgettable characters.  And some lengthy dance numbers.

Mitchell Aiello provides a worthy piece of direction for the production as well an exemplary piece of choreography.  As director, Aiello demonstrates a strong understanding of the characters and their motivations as he knows what moments to emphasize to maximize the humor or the emotion.  He has also guided his troupe to solid performances and has well shaped the quirky personalities of the characters.

But Aiello truly shines as choreographer as he has assembled some impressive, larger than life dance numbers that utilize the entire theatre.  Some notable moments were the opening “Rock Island” where the actors perfectly emulated the jostling of a train, the theatrical “Seventy-Six Trombones”, and the energetic “Shipoopi”

This particular musical depends on its chorus and featured players more than any others as the two leads are the only fully developed characters and this group comes through in the clutch.  Some truly wonderful performances are supplied by the barbershop quartet of Bear Manescalchi, Brayden Krikke, Billy Eric Robinson, and Joshua Steckelberg who will entertain you with “Lida Rose”, “Sincere”, and “Goodnight”; Kendra Campbell as Eulalie Shin, the mayor’s wife and town’s cultural bastion who also happens to be a raspy voiced, talentless hack; and Susie Jolink as the steadfast matriarch of the Paroo family. 

But I’d like to give special notice to Margaret Campbell and Jacobi Robinson for their performances.  Campbell skillfully vacillates between being an obnoxious brat and a sweetheart as Amaryllis.  Though he has no lines, Robinson gives a master class in how to be present in a scene and he has an absolutely flawless sense of rhythm as his dancing is so precise and on target.

Corbin Eakes is a blast to watch as Marcellus.  His animation could power a city and he milks the role for everything it’s worth.  He is so delightfully high strung as he helps his old partner in his schemes and he throws himself into his dance routines, especially in “Shipoopi” and “The Sadder but Wiser Girl”.

Rachel Weinfeld is a darling Marian.  She perfectly captures Marian’s aloof, somewhat condescending nature at the start of the show complete with the ramrod posture of a very proper librarian.  As she slowly opens up to the world, her body language becomes more fluid and graceful as Hill helps her gain a new lease of life.  And her soprano is heavenly.  She provided some of my favorite musical moments with her soaring and sustained final note in “My White Knight” and her touching take on “Till There Was You”.

Gregory Gore provides a refreshingly original take on the role of Harold Hill.  Gore adeptly underplays the character and gives him a fierce intelligence.  His Hill thinks fast on his feet and seems capable of turning the most impossible situations to his advantage.  With every victory, he gives a knowing and smug smile suggesting that he knows he’s a step faster than these bumpkins.  Gore also has that oily charm that makes his insincerity seems sincere and he makes certain to imbue his Hill with enough positive qualities so his transformation into a decent person is realistic and believable.  Gore also has a well-modulated baritone that shines in “Ya Got Trouble” and “Marian”.

Jim Wohler Restorations has constructed a terrific “less is more” set with the outlines of store fronts, houses, windows, and an excellent footbridge.  Becky Dibben’s costumes invoke memories of the early 1900s with straw hats, classic suits, and billowing dresses.  Kent Buess’ lights make one think of clear, starry nights and also enhance emotional moments with soft colors.

There were a few blips in the evening’s production.  Cue pickups could have been tighter at some points and the pacing needed to be a bit brisker at certain moments.  Some actors really needed to speak up as I lost a few bits of dialogue and there were a few instances of microphone issues.

In the end, it’s a very enjoyable night at the theatre and, to paraphrase one of the show’s songs, you really ought to give The Music Man a try.

The Music Man plays at Great Plains Theatre through July 25.  Showtimes are Wed, Sat-Sun at 2pm and Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm.  Tickets cost $40 ($20 for students) and can be purchased at www.greatplainstheatre.com.  Great Plains Theatre is located at 215 N Campbell St in Abilene, KS.