Ozark Actors Theatre Announces 2023 Season “ACROSS THE POND”

Rolla, MO–Ozark Actors Theatre has announced its 2023 season. Titled “ACROSS THE POND”, the season features the following productions:

A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER won 4 Tony Awards, 7 Drama Desk Awards, AND it was nominated for a Grammy! This production is a hilarious farce following a young man’s luck at the prospect of inheriting a fortune, but he has 9 relatives ahead of him in the inheritance. This production directed by OAT alum Brittany Proia, will give one actor the opportunity to die 90 times on the OAT stage in this incredible comedy!

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE follows the story of the famous pointillist painter Georges Seurat. A fictional retelling of the painter and his immersive existence in creating a masterpiece. One of only 8 musicals ever to have won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It was also nominated for 10 Tony awards and has had two major Broadway revivals. Directed by Artistic Director, Blane Pressler.

BASKERVILLE A SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY comes from multi-award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig and follows Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson cracking the mystery of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” With an original piano score by Jeff Horger and direction by Suzanne Withem, our intrepid investigators will take the stage at OAT portraying more than 40 characters!

Audition information to be released in December.

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.

Professional Auditions for Great Plains Theatre

Great Plains Theatre Announces Audtions for Season 28: Season of Possibilities

Artistic Director, Mitchell Aiello, will be holding in person auditions as well as accepting video submissions. All shows listed below will be cast by February 2022. Please see the audition details below.

IN PERSON AUDITION

Where: Great Plains Theatre – 215 N. Campbell St, Abilene, KS 67410

When: Saturday, December 11, 2021 – Registration @ 8:00am – Auditions begin @ 8:30am

What: Please prepare one 32-bar cut of a song that showcases you as well as a 60 second monologue. You may be asked to sing something else from your repertoire. A group dance call will be held at 11:00am. Any needed callbacks will be discussed at 11:45am or conducted virtually. Please bring one copy of a current head shot and resume for the Artistic Director to keep. Must sign up below to audition.

Sign up for In Person Audition at https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0d4fabae23a3face9-gptseason

VIRTUAL AUDITION SUBMISSIONS

Where: All audition submissions must be sent to the Artistic Director at mitchell@greatplainstheatre.com

When: Audition Submissions must be received by January 28, 2022 for consideration. All callbacks will be virtual and sent/received between January 31 and February 28.

What: Please submit a current head shot and updated resume. In addition, please send one 32-bar cut of a song that showcases you, a 60-second monologue, and any dance footage. All videos MUST be submitted as a viewable YOUTUBE link. You may be asked to sing something else from your repertoire. You may also submit any musical theatre reels for considerations. 

Thank you and happy auditioning!

Great Plains Theatre’s 28th Season (Main Stage):

Footloose (Rehearsals: May 23-June 2, Performances: June 3-12)

Matilda the Musical (Rehearsals: June 13-23, Performances: June 24-July 3)

Jersey Boys (Rehearsals: July 4-14, Performances: July 15-31)

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery (Rehearsals: August 29-September 8, Performances: September 9-25)

The Christmas Schooner (Rehearsals: November 20-December 1, Performance: December 2-18)

Great Plains Theatre’s 28th Season (Live Literature Series):

The Ugly Duckling (Rehearsals: February 23-March 4, Performances: March 5-12)

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery (Rehearsals: August 29-September 8, Performances: September 9-25)

Questions? Contact Artistic Director, Mitchell Aiello, at mitchell@greatplainstheatre.com

Great Plains Theatre Announces Season 28: Season of Possibilities

Abilene, KS–Great Plains Theatre has announced its 28th season. Dubbed Season of Possibilities, the season will consist of the following productions starting in the summer of 2022:


Footloose
June 3-12

Kick off your Sunday shoes with this classic movie turned musical about inspiring a town through the importance of love and dance while witnessing the powers of wisdom and forgiveness. Gotta cut loose!

Matilda: The Musical
June 24-July 3

Follow the classic Roald Dahl story of an astonishingly witty girl with special powers that teaches us to use our extraordinary imaginations to change our destiny. Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty!

Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
July 15-31

Join us for the international musical phenomenon that takes you behind the story and music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Come be a part of the challenges, the rise, and the ultimate triumph a group’s music that became symbolic of a generation. Oh, what a night!

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
Sept 9-25

The classic literary character of Sherlock Holmes is teamed up once again with John Watson and over 40 other characters to solve a kooky and educational whodunnit. “Elementary, my dear Watson, Elementary.”

The Christmas Schooner
Dec 2-18

This Holiday treat will have you leaving the theatre with warm fuzzies about a story of the Great Lakes voyages of Christmas Tree ships and a family’s positive spirit to share the power of classic inspiration and Christmas miracles. The heartbeat of life is in our stories and our songs!

Season Tickets are on sale now! Early Bird Season Tickets are only $150. This is $10 off per ticket in savings! You can buy your season tickets online or by calling the office. Individual Main Stage tickets will go on sale Monday, January 31. Season Tickets and more information are available at www.greatplainstheatre.com or (785) 263 – 4574.

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.

Yesteryear’s Luxury: Rochester Inn & Sheboygan Falls, WI

DSC02666

Rochester Inn

Today the road has brought me to Sheboygan Falls, WI.

At long last, it was vacation time!  But what a change in plans.  Originally, I had been gearing up for a trip to England which would have begun next week, but that plan had to be put on the back burner.  So if I couldn’t be in England, I decided I would experience a bit of New England in the Midwest with a visit to Rochester Inn owned and operated by Ray and Kelly York.

I was struck by an incredible sense of déjà vu as Green Bay, WI had been the last place I visited before normalcy got upended in March.  And the route to Sheboygan Falls is identical except for the last 45 minutes.

The trip started off rather well.  I had a clear stretch of road.  I enjoyed a meal at my favorite hole in the wall, Iowa’s Best Burger Café, in Kellogg, IA and arrived at the same Hampton Inn in Cedar Rapids that I had stayed at when I visited Green Bay.

Again, I had a very restful night, though I was somewhat disappointed by the breakfast.  During the week, they still serve a hot meal, but during the weekends, they serve a to go bag.  Mine had a banana, a honey bun, and a bottle of water.  One would think that the hot meal would be served during the weekend and the to go bag during the week, but my best friend thought they were catering to business travelers during the week which was an angle I had not considered and could very well be correct.

Saturday was gray, murky, and rainy.  But it was still an enjoyable drive.  I ended up arriving in Sheboygan Falls earlier than planned and was hungry so I stopped at a McDonald’s to eat a sandwich and small fries while I read another mystery in a Sherlock Holmes pastiche I had been reading.  Then I drove around the town for a bit before arriving at Rochester Inn.

Rochester Inn is located in the Cole Historic District and had been built by local businessman and pioneer, Charles Cole, in 1848.  The building had been built in the Greek Revival style and was originally a trading post and general store with the Cole family living on the second floor and the third floor being used as a meeting place for the Midwest’s first temperance society.  It is also believed that the building may have served as the town’s post office as Cole had been the postmaster.

The building had been several other businesses before falling into disrepair.  In 1986, it was restored to its original grandeur and became a bed and breakfast.

The inn is reminiscent of a New England inn at the turn of the century and if you want seclusion and social distancing, this is the B & B for you.

Possessing only 6 suites, Rochester Inn is the first inn I’ve visited that has no common area outside of the entry hall which I suspect is normally used for checking in and out.  The inn is currently utilizing a socially distant self check-in process and I found an envelope containing a welcome letter and inn keys waiting for me when I arrived.  I made my way up the back stairs and reached my room, the William Brian Donlevy suite.

Rochester Inn is famed for its two floor suites and I was hoping this would be the one I would be given.  Without question, this is the most luxurious suite in which I’ve stayed to date.  The first floor features deep blue carpeting adorned with symbols that reminded me of my old Webelos badge along with a leather couch, an elegant coffee table, and two armless easy chairs.  On a table by the door, I found a plate of cookies containing caramel or butterscotch chips (perhaps both) which I munched on while walking upstairs where I found a four poster queen-sized bed, writing desk, vanity area, and bathroom containing a very deep two person jacuzzi tub.  Flat screen TVs are located both upstairs and downstairs with the upstairs one having a DVD player and a DVD library is available in the main hall.

After getting settled, I relaxed for a bit before heading out for a little walk in the historic downtown area and the nearby neighborhoods.

Sheboygan Falls strikes me as a very well to do town due to the quality of homes I saw on my amblings.  It also contains a large number of parks and I spent a bit of time at Sheboygan Falls View Park looking at the town’s namesake falls.

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Dinnertime had arrived and I made the brief journey to Duke of Devon in nearby Sheboygan.  Duke of Devon is an English gastropub that practices pretty good social distancing.  I sipped on a ginger ale while enjoying a cottage pie which is a beef stew with tomatoes, marmite, and a mashed potato topping and it was quite tasty and filling.

After dinner, I returned to Rochester Inn where I spent the evening relaxing before retiring for the night.

I rose quite early the next morning and watched a little TV while I waited for my breakfast to be delivered.

As I stated earlier, there are no common areas in this inn which means no communal dining room.  Breakfast is delivered within a thirty minute window that you mark on a card and hang up on your door.  For those who must leave early, a continental breakfast can be left for you if you need to eat on the go.

At about 8:45, a tray was delivered to my room.  It looked splendid and the food tasted even better.

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Herb infused eggs with ham and cheese, fresh fruit, cinnamon croissant, with apple cinnamon jam, and OJ.

The meal consisted of a glass of orange juice with fruit and a cinnamon croissant that was so good that I literally leaned back on the couch and tapped my toes along with a casserole dish of herb infused eggs with ham and cheese.  There was also a small serving of apple cinnamon jam.  Now I’ve never been a jam fan, but this was so good that I spread it on my croissant to increase the cinnamon goodness.

After breakfast, I drew a bath and decided to try the herbal bath salts.  It smelled like a field of flowers and I don’t know if it helped me to relax, but the perfect temperature of the water certainly did along with the massaging power of the jets.

After the bath, I started visiting the local parks beginning with Falls Park.  I enjoyed gazing at the eight foot high waterfall while watching the red and gold leaves of the trees in the park.  I spoke to my best friend for about an hour before the charge on my phone wore out.  Then I headed to Settlers Park where I saw a pond full of mallards swimming and honking away.

After a morning of exploring, I returned to the inn where I found a new plate of white chocolate chip cookies waiting for me which I enjoyed while doing a little writing and Facebooking.

About a quarter of six, I decided to walk into town and have an early dinner.  My choice was Fat Cow Pub & Eatery.

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Fat Cow Pub & Eatery

Very few people were in there which made distancing even easier and I decided for some local fare with the Cheese Curd Stuffed Cheeseburger.

This was a fantastic choice.  It was served on a garlic aioli bun with lettuce, pickles, onions, bacon, and a bit of BBQ sauce.  Juicy, filling, and just plain delicious.  Feeling contented I returned to Rochester Inn where I organized some photos, watched The Blind Side, and hit the hay.

The next morning found me enjoying another leisurely soak before I got back to writing this article.  A knock at my door at 8:50am brought a tray that consisted of fruit, OJ, little smokies, and Pecan Encrusted Cinnamon French Toast with authentic Wisconsin maple syrup.

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Pecan Encrusted Cinnamon French Toast with fresh fruit, little smokies, and OJ.

And with another satisfying meal tucked away, I was ready to relax for roughly an hour before heading for home.

But if you find yourself near the Sheboygan Falls region, do yourself a favor and spend a night or two at Rochester Inn.  You’ll enjoy some timeless elegance with some splendid meals and you can enjoy a bit of simplicity with the town’s numerous parks.

Until the next time. . .happy travels. Continue reading

On the Road Again, Part I: Thornton House and Lansing, IA

Thornton House

Today the road has brought me to Lansing, IA.

How good it feels to say those words again.  I was badly in need of some downtime and a little research found me the relatively unaffected by COVID county of Allamakee in which lies the town of Lansing which is home to Thornton House Bed & Breakfast owned and operated by Frank Ebersold.

I enjoyed the scenic drive to Lansing, eschewing the interstate as much as I could and making a brief stop in my hometown of Fort Dodge to grab a quick bite to eat at Taco Tico before continuing to my stopping point of Mason City where I had a suite reserved at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites.

For my regular readers, you might remember that when I traveled to Scotland last year, I joined the Hilton Honors program in order to check into my first hotel sooner.  Shortly after returning home, I also joined the IHG loyalty program.  IHG owns a number of hotels, most prominently Holiday Inn, and that loyalty program has already paid dividends. 

With my travel bug neutralized for most of the past 6 months, I have been taking an occasional night to myself at a Holiday Inn.  Thanks to various promotions which have boosted my points and tier score, I have earned enough points for a couple of free nights, achieved Gold Elite status, and am 2 stays away from reaching Platinum status (a status that normally requires 40 nights to earn, but a special promotion is letting me do it in 5).  My stay in Mason City was my first night as a Gold Elite member.  As such I automatically earned 300 points as a gift just for staying and I was warmly welcomed to the hotel with a sign in the lobby.

My room was quite comfortable and spacious, but seems to be following the trend of suites being really big rooms instead of multiple rooms.  A nice soft king sized bed was the centerpiece of the room and led to a full night’s sleep for the first time in a while.

The hotel did offer a breakfast consisting of cereal, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches served cafeteria style.  I had a “bowl” of Apple Jacks and a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich along with some OJ while I watched the news.  I also invoked one of my benefits as a Gold Elite member and took a late checkout of 12:30pm so I could just check right into Thornton House when I arrived in Lansing.

It was a beautiful day for a drive and it seemed to go rather quickly due to the increased concentration needed to get to Lansing as one must navigate a series of back roads to reach the town. As I came closer to Lansing, I was stunned by the sudden transformation of the landscape into a valley as the hills grew in size and were covered by a lush forest.

I arrived in Lansing, a port town on the Mississippi River and also at the base of Mt Hosmer.  The town reminded me of a much smaller version of Eureka Springs, AR due to its incredibly hilly nature.

I found the inn, parked my car, and rang the bell and was greeted by Frank who gave me a socially distant welcome and gave me a little history of the house.

Thornton House is an Italianate Victorian mansion built by Alexander McMichael, a grain shipping magnate, in 1873 during a boom period in the local lumber industry.  Eventually the house passed into the hands of Dr. John H Thornton who, with his son, John W, became known as “the best medical team this side of the Mayo Clinic” and practiced out of the mansion.  For the next 120 years, the house was owned by a Thornton before passing into the hands of Frank.

Frank led me to the Grand Room which would be my headquarters for the next few nights.  The room consists of a bedroom and bathroom separated by a small foyer.  The bathroom contains a jetted tub while the bedroom has a full sized canopy bed with original or period correct furniture and overlooked by portraits of Presidents Pierce and Lincoln.

I made a quick exploration of the house before taking a walk down Main Street where everything and I mean, EVERYTHING, is located.  Gas, groceries, shops, restaurants, medical care, city hall, it’s all located there.

From there I returned to Thornton House where I puttered around for a while before heading back to Main Street and dinner at Milty’s.

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I had been in the mood for a steak, but Milty’s seemed to be operating on a limited menu.  Instead I enjoyed a rather ripping chicken, bacon, and ranch wrap with a side of fries.  With the inner man satisfied, I went back to the inn where I spent a relaxing evening reading, organizing photos, and watching some classic game shows on BUZZR before enjoying a restful night’s sleep.

The next morning, I met Judith and Eric, who were also staying at the inn.  Positioning ourselves on opposite ends of the table and we took turns serving ourselves from dishes Frank had set up in the kitchen.  For myself, I enjoyed a delicious glass of triple berry juice and put together a plate consisting of a croissant, cheesy eggs (seasoned to perfection), sausage patties, and a homemade waffle which was quite light and fluffy.

Frank positioned himself on a nearby couch so we could share in some socially distant conversation which worked out surprisingly well.  With a satisfying breakfast tucked in, I took a drive up Mt Hosmer to the local park where I spent a half hour walking the trails and getting a couple of good shots of the Mississippi River and town.

From there I went back to the inn for a bit before visiting the nearby town of Harper’s Ferry at Frank’s suggestion.  Harper’s Ferry contains a Catholic church called Immaculate Conception which had been founded in 1848 by some Irish priests.  The land is known as Wexford, named after the village where the priests had lived in Ireland and the church, itself, is reportedly a duplicate of the church in Ireland.  A cemetery is also on the land and contains graves dating back to the same date as the founding of the church.  A very interesting visit for lovers of history.

Immaculate Conception-Wexford

After that I returned to the inn to write and rest for the remainder of the afternoon.

About 5:30pm, I walked down to the Main Channel for my dinner.  This is a local bar/restaurant and it would satisfy my craving for a steak as the Saturday night special happened to be a 10 oz sirloin with 3 grilled shrimp along with 2 sides.  As you may have guessed, I did select that.

I had asked for a house salad which proved to be surprisingly simple as it just consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and croutons with a bit of ranch dressing.  The fresh vegetables were a welcome treat and I crunched away while reading a new volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches.

The main entrée of steak and shrimp was quite delicious and it must have been my lucky night as the chef slipped me an extra shrimp.  The steak was prepared just right and a little melted butter and au jus helped to bring out its flavor.  The service wasn’t the best as I was only checked on once at the end of my meal, but as I didn’t need a refill, it came out in the wash.

A little jaunt back to the hotel found me writing a bit more, selecting photos for the article, and enjoying a relaxing bath in my jetted tub.  And from there I read myself to sleep.

Breakfast the next morning was similar to the previous though we had sausage links, blueberry scones, and tomato and cheese omelets added to the menu.  Another satisfying meal and a long round of conversation with Frank made for a fine morning.

So if you find yourself in Lansing when you travel again, you’ll find some nice outdoor activities, a little antiquing, some history spots, and a fine inn and host at Thornton House.

Normally this would be where I sign off, but this escapade isn’t over quite yet.

Full Circle: A Tribute to Doug Marr

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Last night, Omaha lost a talented playwright, a genuine wit, and an all around great human being.

I lost a good friend.

When I think of Doug I think of a genuinely good man with a phenomenal sense of humor and a truly giving and supportive heart.  Doug was responsible for giving my theatre career one of its biggest boosts and for keeping it alive when it was on life support.

I first met Doug back in 2003 when I auditioned for the Circle Theatre’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I had high hopes that I would be able to net the role of Billy Bibbit, but received a surprise when I got a letter notifying me that the whole production was being postponed due to the theatre being unable to fill the key role of Chief Bromden, but Doug hoped to mount the show later that summer.

As summer closed in I asked him if Cuckoo was going to be mounted and he wrote back and said Circle would be doing Our Town and immediately offered me the role of Doc Gibbs.

I was stunned by his generosity as I was relatively an untested talent as I only had 4 small roles under my belt and this would be the first time I had something with a bit of meat.  Though he didn’t direct the production, he was present every day at his trusted post at the light and sound board.  He often regaled the cast with his off the cuff jokes and we would spend quite a bit of time talking about our mutual love for classic rock, Sherlock Holmes, and he would share with me ideas he had for future plays and stories.

I experienced a bit more of his generosity when he handed me a small check at the end of the run.  Doug always believed in paying a tiny stipend to the performers and I’m proud to have had my first paying gig under his watchful eye.

It would be nearly a decade before I crossed paths with Doug again.  At that point, I had been going through a dry spell and then he announced auditions for An Inspector Calls.  After my audition, Doug offered me the choice of either of the two young men.  Now one was a decent, level headed sort close to my real personality and the other was a drunken lout.  I opted for the lout.  Doug agreed to that as he thought that was the better of the two reads.

Doug often said that he wasn’t a director, but I think he underestimated his talents in that realm..  For starters, he was a gifted writer with an instinct for beats so he knew what points in a story needed to be hit to get maximum effect.  More importantly, he had an incredible eye for talent.  Doug intuitively understood a performer’s strengths and weaknesses and not only knew where to slot them, but also trusted their instincts so he’d only have to give slight notes to smooth out the rough edges.

I was always grateful that he let me test my range with Eric Birling and it still ranks as one of my favorite roles.

Shortly after that show, my dry spell became an arid desert.  I had grown so disheartened with the constant rejections that I made the decision to step away from theatre for a while.

Trust Doug to get me back into the swing of things.

Six months into my hiatus, Doug sent word through a mutual friend of ours asking if I would consider doing the Circle’s annual Christmas show.  I was a little hesitant because my confidence had been so battered, but he was a really hard guy to say no to so I agreed.

With his trust and support, I began to remember the things I loved so much about theatre and managed to breathe life into his creation of Gunar, the hippie elf which would become another of my favorite roles.  His kindness gave me the shot in the arm I needed and I would bag my biggest role later that season thanks to him restoring my heart.

Many in our community have shared their stories about Doug.  He was a treasure and he will be missed.  I’ll always remember him for his warmth, his good humor, his gift for wordplay, and his goodness.  Most of all, I’ll remember him for being my friend.

Rest in peace, my friend.

 

The Game is Askew

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are called in to investigate the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and to protect his heir, Henry Baskerville, when he receives an ominous warning to stay away from the moor.  Is there a human hand guiding this evil or is there truth to the curse of the Hound of the Baskervilles?  Find out when you watch Baskerville by Ken Ludwig and currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

I had been looking forward to this show all season.  Hearing the name “Sherlock Holmes” is like ringing the chow bell as I’ve been an avid reader of these mysteries since childhood.  As a result of this, I admit to being a bit biased when it comes to Holmesian entertainment.  But that bias takes the form of having rigorous standards whenever I watch a Holmesian production or read a Holmesian story.  With that being said, I am pleased to say that Ludwig’s take on this classic tale more than meets my standards.  It’s almost completely faithful to the original story and manages to add its own unique flavor with a high dose of farcical humor well executed by a contingent of comedic clowns.

Suzanne Withem is the ringmaster of this circus and she stages it as a classic Vaudeville production with a bare-bones set.  Her direction is sterling as she never allows the energy to wane and she knows how to mine the funny out of the production with a series of well-timed jokes and fourth wall breaking moments.  Ms Withem leads her actors to strong, brilliant performances with a pell mell telling of this mystery.

I salute the superhuman efforts of the 3 actors of the play (Kevin Goshorn, Sara Scheidies, and Guillermo Joseph Rosas) as they rotate between playing nearly 20 different characters requiring complete shifts in costume, body language, accents, and voice to portray the numerous roles.  Some examples of their stellar work are Goshorn’s highly Texan Henry Baskerville, his obnoxiously crude Inspector Lestrade who constantly hocks loogies and scratches his behind, and a hilarious cameo as a charwoman cleaning 221B Baker St; Ms Scheidies’ overwrought Mrs. Barrymore who overgestures and oddly shuffles her feet, her busybodying Mrs. Hudson, or her energetic Cartwright, one of Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars; Rosas shines as the Baskerville butler, Barrymore who has a permanently stooped posture and a wonky back; the giddy naturalist, Stapleton who has an affinity for butterflies, and a proud Castillian concierge of the Northumberland Hotel.

I’d also like to applaud the work of the roustabouts, Kaitlin Maher and Gillian Pearson, who add their own humorous touches as they bring on props, make sound effects, and sometimes are the props.

Catherine Vazquez’s Dr. Watson is the show’s straight man and narrator.  She does a wonderful job exhibiting Watson’s stalwart loyalty to Holmes, his courage under fire, and his own keen intellect, though his powers of observation and deduction are far less pronounced than those of Holmes.  She does need to project a bit more to overcome BLT’s backbox nature.  Unlike the other characters, Watson needs to be the most grounded, which Ms Vazquez certainly was, but I think she still had some leeway to elevate his energy a bit.

Ben Beck is a pitch perfect Sherlock Holmes.  Not only does he well exude Holmes’ rude, unfriendly nature, but he also well communicates Holmes’ manic energy when the thrill of an investigation is on him.  Beck well handles Holmes’ complex dialogue as he often speaks in almost stream of consciousness cadences as he makes his rapid-fire deductions. And I was particularly impressed with how quickly he was able to transition from being Holmes to being the actor playing Holmes when miscues and other errors sprang up to throw off the Vaudeville troupe.

Brendan Greene-Wash has skillfully designed a cheap looking set of cutout woods and boxes that look like they could be packed up and whisked to the next town on a moment’s notice.  Zachary Kloppenborg’s costumes are spot-on and quite elegant from Holmes’ dressing gown, to Watson’s sharp suits, to the Texan garb of Henry Baskerville, the buttling suit of Barrymore, and the raggedy clothes of the Irregulars.  Joshua Mullady’s lights always enhance any production with the eerie ghostly lights used in the story of the curse of the Baskervilles to the shadowy night scenes in Baskerville Hall.

I thought I saw a few blips such as fading or dropped accents and the mixing of pronouns in regards to Watson, but as the show is presented as a troupe doing a production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, I can’t help but wonder if these “blips” were more subtle jokes to tie into the show’s running gag of little things going wrong here and there.  In any case, Baskerville is an extremely satisfying romp that does justice to a classic Holmes mystery while making bellies jiggle with laughter.

Baskerville plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through May 19.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students.  Reservations can be made by calling 402-291-1554 or visiting the web page at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

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

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Thursday, March 7

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 9

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

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

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

How wrong I was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till the next adventure.