Journey to Gurnee or Sealed with a Chris

Time for a travel tale of a different sort and you can get twice the bang for your buck as you can read my brother’s take on this story at his blog.

I have three brothers (Brian, Dan, and Jeff) and six weeks or so ago, my brother, Dan, texted out of the blue with a suggestion that the four of us take a road trip together.  He had suggested Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH, but that was a bit far for a weekend trip for 3 of us and would be tough to coordinate as we each live in different states and the nearest major airport to Sandusky was over an hour away.

Add that to the fact that timing would be delicate.  Most amusement parks close after Labor Day or have greatly reduced hours.  Add that to the fact that Jeff and I will be out of the country for most of September and that essentially left August unless tabled for another year.

Jeff’s husband, Scott, suggested a visit to Six Flags Great America in much closer Gurnee, IL might be a more viable option.  It took a bit of doing, but the 4 of us managed to clear our schedules at the end of August to make this trip.

Sadly, Dan had to bow out at the 11th hour due to illness, but he encouraged the three of us to continue the trip and kept in regular contact via text to enjoy things somewhat vicariously.

My older brother and I live almost equidistant from Gurnee, but he was kind enough to drive to Omaha so we could make the trip together.  He even agreed to my plan to take a more roundabout route as the initial route seemed to go through Chicago proper and I had little desire to battle that maniacal traffic or pay a series of potentially usurious tolls.  Furthermore, I wanted to split the trip down over 2 days so we wouldn’t be overly worn out for doing things after arriving in the Gurnee area.

Thursday night found us heading out on the road after a quick meal at Chick Fil A.  Animated conversation made the time go quickly and we pulled over shortly after midnight at a Sleep Inn in North Liberty, IA.

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Brian photobombs my photo of Sleep Inn in North Liberty, IA.

I was wired and didn’t drift off to sleep until after 1am and slept rather fitfully.  Brian and I rose early and had breakfast in the hotel dining room.  It was adequate with the sausage links being tasty, but the biscuits were a little tough and needed a knife and fork to cut.  Brian ate 4 mini cinnamon rolls for his breakfast.

Shortly afterwards, we were back on the road.  My roundabout route took us through quite a few lovely small towns which I rather enjoyed.  We actually passed through Galena and I got to show Brian the B & B I had stayed at there, the former Bernadine’s Stillman Inn.

I actually made some notes of locales to visit for future journeys, but Brian got slightly annoyed due to a neverending stream of construction we went though in these small towns that slowed us down.

Eventually, we reached our destination, Springhill Suites in Waukegan, IL, but found that the exits leading to the hotel were blocked by more construction and it took nearly 30 minutes for Google Maps to suss out a route that finally allowed us to reach the hotel.

 

 

Springhill Suites was a pretty modern hotel and the rooms were quite nice, but not exactly suites in the strictest sense of the word.  They were actually expanded rooms, but did grant quite a bit of space.

We puttered around for a bit.  Brian and Jeff engaged in a pair of cribbage games while I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  After Brian took Jeff in 2 straight games, we headed out to dinner and tried nearby Anastasia’s, a sports lounge.

You get pretty good value for your money as you get a good sized meal for your cash.  Jeff had a meatball sandwich while Brian supped on blackened cod and I had a gyro sandwich which really hit the spot.

After dinner, we engaged in one of my favorite activities:  mini golf!!  We visited Lighthouse Miniature Golf which was a little family owned course.  The grounds were lovingly maintained though a little refurbishment could be used here and there.  The course had a ton of character and very fun and challenging holes.

 

 

I ended up finishing in third, being unable to find my groove until closer to the end.  But I did manage to win the Ace Award with a pair of holes in one on the last two holes.  The hole in one on the 18th hole netted me a free game which I will be glad to use when I’m back in the area.  Someone mistook my calm poise and skill for ridiculous sloppy luck on that last hole, but what the hey.

With the links putted, we went back to the hotel and hooked up Brian’s Wii where we played a few rounds of Mario Party 9 before getting some shuteye to attack the park the next day.

Fortunately, all three of us are early risers, so we were able to get up and get some breakfast in the hotel dining room.  Again, the food was just so so.  The turkey sausage patties were pretty good and the biscuits and gravy were actually even tougher than the ones I had in Iowa and again needed a knife and fork to eat them.

As the park didn’t open until 10:30am, we even had time to squeeze in a round of Phase 10.  Now my brothers often curse my unbelievable luck in the game.  I do admit that I seem to have a penchant for obtaining wild cards, but I attribute it to the universe being nice to me because I’m pure of heart.  However, my brothers have actually labeled various winning hands as “Chrises” depending on the number of wilds in it. All the way from a regular Chris for three wilds to an Omega Chris if a winning hand ever has all 8 wilds.  Once again, I won the game and sealed it with a Chris.

 

 

It was a perfect day for parking as the weather was a glorious spring day without a whit of humidity.  Six Flags Great America is coaster crazy with a whopping 16 roller coasters to try.  The park wasn’t overly full and we usually didn’t have to wait very long for rides. Some of the rides even had single rider lines which we used to get on rides in a matter of minutes.  Highlights included American Eagle, a classic wooden coaster that has the herky jerky movement and the body rattling jolts of an old fashioned coaster; X-Flight, an inverted wing coaster that has some impressive barrel rolls and a 180 degree swoop through a narrow chasm; The Joker Crazy Coaster, a unique coaster that climbs 12 stories and flips you over several times; The Goliath, the world’s fastest and tallest wooden coaster with an initial job of 180 feet and inversions that were nearly loop the loops.  This was easily one of the best coasters I’ve ever ridden and was the only ride we hit twice.  Our final ride was Superman:  Ultimate Flight and the one we waited the longest for at 95 minutes due to its being a signature ride.  This is an inverted coaster, but the seats actually pull up and lock into place so the riders face parallel to the ground to simulate flying like Superman.  I freely admit that right before the first drop, I held up my arms in flying pose and said, “I’ve waited all my life to say this.  Up, up and awayyy!!!!”

What better way to close the night than with more mini-golf.  So we were off to Aloha Falls in nearby Libertyville.

 

 

Aloha Falls was the course I had originally wanted to play, but we were stunned to learn that it is only open on the weekends and only until about 8pm.  The course’s signature Waterfall Course is listed as the 8th toughest in the USA and the clubhouse holds some classic board games and video game systems to play.

This is one of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever played with extremely lovely and difficult holes.  It lives up to its rep as a tough course, but I played one of the best games of my life ending 3 under par on the front nine which allowed me to race toward a fairly easy victory for the night.  Though this is very much a quality course, all 3 of us liked Lighthouse more due to its character.

We were starving after the game as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast so we stopped at a Chili’s near the hotel for dinner.  I packed away one of the biggest meals in recent memory with a Chili’s chili burger and I also scarfed a fair number of the chips and salsa Jeff got as a free appetizer.

With full stomachs, we returned to the hotel where we played a last round of Mario Party in which fate stole my victory at the last moment.  Then it was to bed as Brian wanted to leave very early in the morning to get back home.

At 7:40am, Brian and I bade good-bye to Jeff and headed back home.  Brian wanted to take the most direct route so it was all interstate for us.  Truthfully, it would not have been so bad using this route on the way to Waukegan as it skirted around Chicago, but it did take us through 5 tolls so my route did save us a bit of dough.

Though we were short a Musketeer, it was still an enjoyable trip and it was nice to bond with my most of my siblings.  If the stars align, maybe Cedar Point can be done next year.

Until the next time, happy travels!!

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 4, Days 2-3: In the House of the Rising Dumb & A Day of Fighting Fun

Day 2

My first sensations were a gust of cool air blowing gently upon me.  My eyelids fluttered as my vision swam back into focus.

“Where am I?” I wondered.

I raised myself with my elbows, noting that a blanket had been placed over me.  I gazed around the room, trying to get my bearings.  The room had a familiar feel to it, but it had stuff.  Lots of stuff.  It almost looked like an office.  I tried to stand, but my legs felt wobbly.  I staggered to the door and leaned against the frame, trying to summon up some strength.  I heard grunts coming from beyond the door.  Feebly, I opened the door and used the wall to drag myself to the living room and then I saw. . .him.

It was Tall Square and he was doing push-ups.  I tried to call his name, but it came out like a choked gurgle and I fell to my knees.  Tall Square heard my squeaks and helped lay me on the couch.

Tall Square doing his morning workout.

Tall Square doing his morning workout.

“He’s awake,” said Tall Square.

Entering from the dining room was Arizona Mat.

“Ah!  My Boswell.  You don’t seem to have suffered too much from the curare.”

A surge of energy rushed through my body as my anger flared up.  I leapt upon Arizona Mat and attempted to give him a larynx massage until Tall Square pulled me off.

“Well, that’s a fine hello,” said Arizona Mat, rubbing his throat.

“Curare is a deadly poison, you fool!” I shouted.

“Not in the hands of trained experts,” countered Arizona Mat.

“Why would you drug me?  How did you even know I was coming to town?”

“Tall Square has been tailing you for months.”

“Weren’t the two of you enemies?”

“We had our differences, I admit,” said Arizona Mat.

“And what’s with this place?  You always lived kind of simply.  There’s stuff here now.  And there’s food in the fridge.”

“The difference is that I have made the greatest discovery of all.  I have found true love.”

“True love?”

“True love,” said Arizona Mat.  “Thanks to that discovery, I have become a kindler, gentler, humbler explorer.  I have made amends with Tall Square who is my sidekick once again.”

“I have a business meeting to get to,” I said.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Tall Square.  “I found the business card of your SyFy rep and posed as your administrative assistant.  I told him you were suffering from the Swahilian Flu and that you needed to reschedule.”

I sighed and accepted the inevitable.  “So who’s your new love?”

“Dr. Carolyn Langlois.  Reknowned Alzheimer’s Disease researcher.”

“Mm hmm.  And where is she?”

“Nicaragua.”

“I see.  And do you have a photo?”

“Not at the present.”

“I see.”

I decided to be gracious since I was familiar with Arizona Mat’s tendency to skew reality and not broach the matter of his “girlfriend”.

Being weakened from the curare, I spent the day resting up.  I played a few rounds of Garfield with Tall Square and Arizona Mat with Tall Square taking 2 games and I took one.  To Arizona Mat’s credit, though his teeth ground a bit, he managed to keep his ego in check.  I suspected this evened things up a bit between after their handshake battles.

Arizona Mat took Tall Square and I to Lolo’s Chicken & Waffles for lunch.  It’s a very nice place and serves some excellent soul food.  They serve the beverages in mason jars and serve some of the best catfish beignets I’ve ever tasted.  Arizona Mat also ordered some stupid fries which are fries smothered with cheese, gravy, and chicken.  Arizona Mat and Tall Square each ate Betty’s Boob (a waffle and chicken breast) while I had some chicken tenders.

I caught a quick nap in the afternoon and then Arizona Mat took Tall Square and myself to Phoenix Rock Gym.  It’s a rock climbing gym and a good place for a natural workout.  After learning the finer points of belaying and climbing, I did five climbs up the walls while Arizona Mat accomplished six.  Tall Square, who suffers from a fear of heights, did several, but was chided by Arizona Mat for his reluctance to do more.  I imagined “Carolyn” had been responsible for the peace treaty between them, but cracks were definitely beginning to appear in the cessation of hostilities.

After the gym, we went to Four Peaks Brewery when I had a bowl of beer cheese soup and an Oatmeal stout.  Arizona Mat had chicken wings and pumpkin porter.  Tall Square ate a blackened salmon BLT and sipped a mixed concoction.

The minor jet lag, curare shot, and workout had wearied me so I collapsed on the couch in “Carolyn’s” office and slept through the night.

Day 3

The next morning I walked to Fry’s grocery store to get some cash and, for reasons that now elude me, bought Arizona Mat breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s while Tall Square refused my generosity and got his own breakfast.  Afterwards Arizona Mat announced that we were going to Castles N Coasters for a gentleman’s game of mini golf.

Before the hostilities.

Before the hostilities.

For me it was a feast or famine day.  I sunk 8 holes in one, but could not accomplish squat on the other holes.  The battle was clearly going to be between Arizona Mat and Tall Square who began to snipe at each other more and more as the day wore on. Arizona Mat sunk one shot where he used his putter as a pool cue and Tall Square insisted I give him a one stroke penalty for improper use of club.

“I’ll show you an improper use of club,” said Arizona Mat under his breath.

It was a tight game until the final 18 where Arizona Mat managed to dump his opponent once and for all.

“Yes!” cried Arizona Mat.  “Once again I prove myself your superior in every way.”

Arizona Mat gloats while Tall Square prepares to brain him.

Arizona Mat gloats while Tall Square prepares to brain him.

That was a mistake.

Wielding his putter like an axe, Tall Square swung with all his might.  Arizona Mat dodged out of the way at the last second and bolted for the go-karts with Tall Square right behind him.  Arizona Mat barged in front of a line of kids and roared off in a go-kart, breaking through a gate and driving through the park.  Tall Square hopped in another and continued the pursuit.   I jumped in a third, train wreck curiosity compelling me to see this through to the very end.

Arizona Mat sped towards the bumper boats and dove into the water, swimming valiantly into a boat before zooming off.  Tall Square was hot on his heels and absconded with a boat of his own.  The sight of the two of them ramming each other whilst shouting profanities at each other is a vision that will forever be seared on my brain.

Tall Square finally managed to hit Arizona Mat with enough force to capsize him, but Arizona Mat swam under the water and pulled himself out, heading to the log flume.  Panicked, Arizona Mat quickly got into a moving flume to get away from Tall Square.  Tall Square got into the flume behind, shaking his fist angrily.  Why he didn’t wait until the ride got back around like I did, I’ll never know.

Arizona Mat dives into a log flume to escape an irate Tall Square.

Arizona Mat dives into a log flume to escape an irate Tall Square.

“I’ll get you, Arizona Mat!” snarls Tall Square.

Arizona Mat prepares to take the plunge.

Arizona Mat prepares to take the plunge.

I decided the two had expended enough energy and I got between the two after the ride.

“I thought you were a kindler, gentler, humbler Arizona Mat,” I stated.

“I am,” said Arizona Mat.

“And aren’t you his trusted sidekick?” I asked Tall Square.

“Yes,” said Tall Square.

“Then shake hands and call it a day,” I said.

The two of them looked at each other for a long moment, then shook hands, though, for a moment, it seemed like another handshake duel was about to occur.

After the fun park, Arizona Mat took us to the Gila River Arena where we watched a hockey game between the Minnesota Wild and the Arizona Coyotes.  Needless to say, Arizona Mat was pulling for the Coyotes.  Tall Square, out of pure spite, pulled for Minnesota.

Early on the game looked like it was going to be a slaughter as Minnesota slapped goal after goal into the net.  Tall Square smirked with glee as Minnesota hammered Arizona.

Arizona began to show signs of life in the 2nd period and then caught on fire in the 3rd pulling to within one.  A desperate scramble at the end to force overtime failed and Minnesota won by a score of 4 to 3.

“Eat it, Arizona!” crowed Tall Square as he mooned Arizona Mat.

“At least, I know how to putt!” Arizona Mat snapped back.

Tall Square’s face flushed red as he charged Arizona Mat.  Arizona Mat dodged and scrambled over the wall to the ice.  Slipping and sliding, he skid to a zamboni and yanked the driver from his perch.  Taking control of the wheel, Arizona Mat slowly escaped from the arena.  Not to be outdone, Tall Square slid to the other zamboni, politely asked the driver to get off as he cracked his knuckles by clenching his fist, and then continued to chase Arizona Mat.

I hailed a cab to return to Arizona Mat’s house and watched the two zambonis chase each other at 5 miles a hour into the night as I passed them.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 5: Catastrophe at the Castle (N Coasters)

It’s amazing how nearly dying truly opens up the mind.  As I sailed through the air, I saw the whole truth of the mystery for a brief flash, but it faded as I blacked out.  

I survived thanks to dumb luck.  While Arizona Mat’s lawn was the last thing I saw before fading into oblivion, the trajectory of the blast actually put me onto the roof of his house making my fall only a few feet.  I was slightly banged up and bruised, but none the worst for wear.  Later we found the remains of a bomb in Arizona Mat’s pool.

“Great!!  Now they’re after you,” said Arizona Mat.

“No, they’re not,” I replied.

“Did you hit your head when you hit my roof?”

“Think about it.  What do you normally do at night?”

“I take a swim.”

“Right.  The assailant was expecting you to be in the pool that night.  It was just coincidence that I happened to be in there.”

“I can’t take this anymore.  I’m scared!!” cried Arizona Mat as he ran to his bedroom and hid under the covers.

I paced around Arizona Mat’s living room, trying to think through this mystery.  I desperately tried to regain the momentary flash I’d had as I flew through the air.  I sat down on the couch for a moment and saw that Arizona Mat had left his phone unlocked.  I idly grabbed it and noticed it was on his FB page and there made an amazing discovery.  I was now certain as to the identity of the culprit, but knew I needed to give it an acid test.

After arranging the stage, I knocked on Arizona Mat’s door.

“Go away, Mr. Killer,” said Arizona Mat.

“It’s me.  I think we need to get out for a while.  I read about this place called Castles N Coasters.  Why don’t we stop there?”

“Are you sure it’s safe?” asked Arizona Mat.

“So far, the attacks have been focused solely on you and the attacker has tried to avoid Mongrel and myself.  If we’re in a place where there’s a lot of people, I think you’ll be all right.  You can even wear your disguise.”

There was silence for a moment.  Then Arizona Mat opened his door a crack.

“OK.”

Castles N Coasters is a small fun center/amusement park in the downtown Phoenix area.  It boasts 4 miniature golf courses, a decent arcade which includes a section for classic games, and a little amusement park area with 2 roller coasters, a log flume, bumper cars, and other such rides.

Despite 2 of the courses being closed, we actually had a grand day and Arizona Mat began to loosen up a bit.  He managed to defeat me at mini golf as a couple of bad holes at the end finished me off.  We enjoyed playing classic games such as Tron, Killer Instinct 2, Joust, Donkey Kong, and various pinball machines.

At 5pm the rides section opened up and I crushed Arizona Mat in a Go Kart race, rode the log flume multiple times, enjoyed a spin on the roller coaster, and dueled Arizona Mat on the bumper cars.  As we got ready to leave the park, I persuaded Arizona Mat to do the obstacle course at the front of the park.  We got hooked up as if we were going to go ziplining and had some fun walking balance beams, rickety rope bridges, and walking high wires.

“This was actually a good idea,” said Arizona Mat as he walked the rope wires on the third level.

Suddenly a shot rang out severing the rope Arizona Mat had been holding.

“This was a terrible idea,” said Arizona Mat.

After the first shot, I unbuckled myself from my harness.  I grabbed the severed rope and swung for all I was worth.  Using my feet, I gave Arizona Mat a mighty shove and pushed him to the far edge of the platform where he would have some cover under the pylons by the stairs.  A second swing brought me over to his position.

“How did he find me?” blubbered Arizona Mat.

“Because I used your phone to post that we would be at Castles N Coasters,” I replied.

“Why would you do such a thing?!!!!”

“Because I needed to confirm a theory and now I’ve done that.  Why do you think I suggested doing the obstacle course?  I knew it was the best time for the assailant to make another go at you.”

“Are you insane??????”

“Relax.  I took precautions.  See, there’s the police coming now.”

“I truly admire your bravery in the face of my danger,” said Arizona Mat.

“Don’t mention it.”

With the wail of the sirens, I was able to get a visual of the shooter.  She or he was too far away to see, but the person immediately got into a nearby car and burned rubber getting out of the lot.  The police were in hot pursuit and I prayed that they were able to catch the attacker.

They didn’t.

“I’m going to die!!!” squealed Arizona Mat.

“You’re not going to die,” I said.  “In fact, if the officers are willing to come back to your place, I’m ready to reveal who’s behind this whole scenario.”

To be continued. . .