An Independent Man in Independence, MO: The Silver Heart Inn

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It was a scorching summer’s day to start another of my little road trips.  But a little AC and some tunes made for a very quick and pleasant drive.

I was off to Independence, MO where I would be staying at the Silver Heart Inn, owned and operated by Perry and Melanie Johnson, as well as reviewing The Crucible for the Barn Players.

I only made one miscalculation for the trip.  With only an overnight stay planned, I had to be selective in the activities I chose to do.  I decided to visit the Truman Presidential Museum and Library and figured an hour would be enough time to get through it.

It was not enough time.

I did manage to get through Truman’s presidential years, but did not make it through the section detailing his personal life.  Rest assured, I will rectify this error if and when my travels bring me through this area again.

Truman was a very interesting President.  He was a common man who came from a period where you didn’t have to be wealthy to run for the Presidency.  He was a simple farmer who had deep ties to labor.  He wasn’t a good speaker.  He was put into power by a political machine, yet he was a incredibly honest man who vowed to get things done the right way.  Despite holding the prejudices of his time and place, Truman helped launch the Civil Rights movement after observing the horrible treatment of black people after World War II.  He made the decision to drop the atomic bomb.  Truman also had the biggest upset in political history when he was reelected to the Presidency in his own right when it was believed he would be crushed by his opponent, Thomas Dewey.  This was due to his Whistlestop Campaign where he rode a train through numerous communities to share his message, sometimes speaking at a dozen stops a day.

What I found most interesting about Truman was that he seemed to have no aspirations to be President.  It was his everyman quality (especially his ties to farming and labor) that secured his nomination for the Vice Presidency.  In reality, the Democrats were really looking for the next President as it was obvious FDR would not be long for the world.  In fact, he died shortly after he was reelected to his fourth term.

I also had great respect for Truman’s decency.  When his term of office expired, he was not a wealthy man and could have earned fat fees doing public speaking tours, but he refused to trade on the office of President.  Instead, he founded the Presidential Library which was the first in our country and I look forward to completing my tour of the museum some future day.

About 3pm, I headed to Silver Heart Inn to check in.  I pulled into the parking area, sidestepped a few chickens wandering about the property, and headed to the back door entrance where I was quickly greeted and led to my room.

I had been expecting to stay in the Roy Gamble Room, but was upgraded to the Napolian Stone Room instead.  It was one of the smaller rooms I had stayed in, but I enjoyed the rich brown of the walls, the soft and comfortable queen bed, and the gas fireplace.  I made my normal explorations and then killed a couple of hours reading Face to Face by Ellery Queen and brushing up on Silver Heart Inn’s history.

The Silver Heart Inn was built 1856 by local businessman, Napolian Stone.  The house used to be twice its original size and originally built in a T formation.  That changed when Judge George Jennings, the house’s owner in 1923 had the house split in half and moved to the same side of the street.  This was done as Jennings recognized that Noland Street (where the home is located) was becoming Independence’s main thoroughfare.  The inn, itself, was the back wing of the house.  The front wing fell into disrepair and was destroyed in the 1960s.

At 5pm, I headed off for an early dinner.  I once again dined at Corner Café, which you may remember from my trip to Liberty, MO about a year ago.

The restaurant was packed so I took advantage of my solo status to dine at the counter.  I ordered the Turkey Melt, one of the house specials, with a side of loaded French Fries.  Within five minutes of my hour, a plate of piping hot food appeared which I relished as I continued to read my novel.

Once fed, I drove to Mission, KS to enjoy another stellar production by the Barn Players.  It was one of the finest dramas I had ever watched and I could not wait to get back to the inn to start writing.  You can read the review here.

After I finished writing, I curled up in my bed for a restful night’s slumber.

When I awoke the next morning, I drew a hot bath and enjoyed a long soak before wandering downstairs in search of breakfast.

Breakfast was a rather pleasant, if quiet, affair.  I continued reading my mystery as I enjoyed a dish of yogurt, blueberries, granola, and cream for an appetizer followed by the main entrée of turkey sausage (I think) and an Eggs Benedict omelet served with goblets of water and orange juice.  After this tasty affair, I settled up my bill and headed off to worship services at St Mark’s before heading for home.

I definitely would recommend a stay at Silver Heart Inn if you find yourself in the Independence area.  It’s quiet and comfortable and you’ll get yourself a tasty meal (and some other perks offered by the inn if you’re so inclined).  You’ll just be minutes away from the Truman Museum and can’t pick up a little history if you wish.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Two Plays & a Place to Stay: Macon, MO & Phillips Place Bed and Breakfast

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Summer has arrived which means it was time to answer the call of the road once more.

This time my journeys took me to the small town of Macon, MO where I would be reviewing a pair of shows for the Maples Repertory Theatre and staying at Phillips Place Bed & Breakfast.  And, no, to those of you who may be remembering my misadventures in Arlington, TX, I had no difficulty finding the theatre.  Everything I needed was within walking distance.

I enjoyed a rather pleasant drive through Missouri.  Traffic was light and the foliage was lush.  I pulled off the road in the little burg of Cameron for a bite of lunch at Wendy’s.  I ate a Spicy Chicken sandwich while Ellery Queen puzzled over the murder of Abigail Doorn in The Dutch Shoe Mystery, my latest novel.  After my lunch I noticed a machine that dispensed lottery tickets at the rest stop and bought tickets for Powerball and Mega Millions.  Then I looked for my change and found that the machine did not dispense change.  I then proceeded to buy 2 Monopoly scratch-offs and a Win It All scratch-off.  I won enough money off one of the Monopoly games to offset my forced expenditures.

About 4pm, I arrived in Macon and easily found my way to Phillips Place, owned and operated by Carol Phillips.  I met Carol’s assistant, Michael, and his feisty dog who led me to me to the Turner Suite, my temporary home.

Phillips Place is a rather large Classical Revival home that only has 2 rooms for rent (Turner and Rubey Suites), but they are large and comfortable.  In fact, I consider the Turner Suite to be the most comfortable room I have enjoyed as my three room suite contained a bedroom with a very soft bed, a spacious bathroom, and a rather quaint sitting room.

After I took a quick turn about the place, I met Carol Phillips who brought me a glass of iced tea with a slice of lemon.  Like myself, she was a big theatre buff and would also be attending the production of Of Mice and Men that I was reviewing.  The next day she and a friend, Chuck Koopmann (also a theatre buff and treasurer of Maples Repertory Theatre) were going to head to the Amana Colonies to watch a performance of Million Dollar Quartet featuring some past Maples Rep performers.

After the tea and talk, I took a constitutional around the neighborhood and downtown area to find the theatre and Immaculate Conception Church where I would be attending worship services the next night.  When I returned to the inn, I met Chuck who invited me to share dinner with himself and Carol.

I enjoyed a fine dinner of BBQ ribs, potatoes, salad, and some green beans.  It was a lovely meal with the conversation equally so as we talked theatre, the history of Maples Rep, and my various adventures in travel and theatre.

Upon dinner’s completion, I spruced myself up for the night’s entertainment.  Maples Repertory Theatre is a well hidden jewel in Missouri.  It attracts theatrical talent from all over the country and they put on one terrific production.  You can read my review of the show here.

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On opening night, Maples Rep hosts an event called Afterglow where they serve drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and have a little cabaret production.  I watched a little of the cabaret and had a conversation with Brandon McShaffrey who directed the play.  Then I returned to the inn to write the review and sleep soundly through the night.

The next morning, I had breakfast with Carol and Chuck where I enjoyed biscuits basted with butter and sprinkled with brown sugar with sausage gravy, bacon, cheesy eggs, fried potatoes, milk, and orange juice and another great conversation.  Afterwards I returned to my room to do a little work and grab a quick catnap as my sleep the previous night had been sound, but not long due to my being up late to write.

At noon, I settled my bill with Carol due to her leaving for the Amana colonies and I took another walk around the area.  I stopped at a Rexall’s Drugstore which actually had an old-fashioned soda fountain.  I ordered a vanilla ice cream soda which was delicious and then returned to the inn to get out of the heat.  I spent the afternoon writing up this article and watching Lt. Columbo capturing killers.

In the late afternoon, I got dolled up for church and the show.  I attended evening services at Immaculate Conception Church where the service was said by Father Kevin Gormley, a lovable Irishman, now retired, who subs for priests all over the state.  As he says, now he is truly a “Roaming” Catholic.

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Immaculate Conception Church

After worship had ended, I walked a few blocks up the road to the Apple Basket Café for dinner.  It’s a quaint little diner and I was very tempted to indulge in the Saturday night special of a 12 oz ribeye steak.  But, with the show starting in less than an hour, I opted for something that could be prepared and eaten a little more quickly.  I had a turkey club sandwich on sourdough with a side of fries and a cup of chili.  It filled the cavity nicely.

Feeling satiated, I returned to Maples Rep for another fantastic production.  You can read my review for Ring of Fire:  The Music of Johnny Cash here.

During intermission, I met Todd Davison, the artistic director for Maples Rep.  I was quite shocked to learn that I was the first critic in the theatre’s 14 year history.  That morning, Chuck had asked for permission to send my first review to the town’s local newspaper, so I hope my words drum up some business.  This theatre is such a fine little jewel that I may send them an audition for next season.

At the show’s end I returned to Phillips Place where I wrote up the review and conked out for the night.

Breakfast was a more subdued, quiet affair this morning.  Carol had prepared a frittata with cheese, eggs, spinach, and yellow peppers along with milk, orange juice, a lemon puff, and a croissant.  Michael had heated up my meal and I ate a quicker meal than normal for me.

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And that wraps up this article.  Macon is truly a nice, friendly little town.  It’s the type of town where everybody knows everybody.  You’ll enter a stranger and leave as a friend.  And I would make it a strong recommendation to visit this little town.  You won’t find a better inn than Phillips Place in terms of comfort and hospitality and you’ll do yourself a favor by taking in a night at Maples Repertory.  I guarantee it.

A Holiday Excursion, Days 2-3: Mushing and Slushing to Dug Road Inn

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It was a gray and blustery day.

I’m still in shock that I am able to tell you this story.  The winter storm caught up to me with a seething ferocity.  The snow blew so hard that it was nearly a complete whiteout.  Then it happened.  Some nut in a red Corvette came roaring by in the other lane like a bat out of heck.  The unknown driver cut me off and clipped the front end of my car.  My car careened off the road and rolled over 4 times.  I have a vague realization of my seat belt coming loose and being thrown from my vehicle.

I awoke in a hospital somewhere around Dows, IA.  Both of my arms were broken and the nurse to whom I’m now dictating this story informed me that my gas line had ruptured and my car had exploded.  Its burning carcass was seen through the snowy haze by motorists who summoned help and I was found thirty feet from the smoldering remains of my Focus.

Wow!  That’s a great start to a fiction story.

But what really happened was that the drive was not too bad.  Des Moines was the worst of it so I took things very slowly until I reached I-35.  There wasn’t a lot of snow, but it was blowing around quite a bit due to the strong wind and would get whipped around pretty good when semi trucks drove by.  I kept things well under the speed limit to be extra safe unless I was on completely clear stretches of road.  I was aided by the fact that the roads were virtually empty and what few motorists were on the road also drove quite safely with one or two exceptions.

Due to my safety measures, an extra 90 minutes were tacked onto my drive, but I wasn’t in a rush in the first place.  About 2pm, I found myself in the Norwegian community of Decorah, IA.  Thankfully, the owner of my next inn, Dug Road Inn, had given me a call to check to see if I were still coming and he let me check in an hour early due to the weather.

Dug Road Inn is an Italianate style home originally built by Lt Colonel William T Baker back in the 1860s.  Its current owners are Doug and Shirleen Sturtz and the inn is touted as an eco-friendly B & B famed for its 3 course organic breakfasts.

I was greeted in the driveway by Doug who helped me get my luggage into the house.  He led me to the Duncan Room which would serve as my headquarters for the next 2 days.  After getting my stuff settled, I returned to the living room where Doug brought me a glass of wine and we spent a little time conversing about my project and Iowa football.

After our conversation, I returned to my room where I continued reading a new Nero Wolfe novel before the exhaustion of my long drive caused me to doze off for a brief nap.

When I awoke, I glanced out the window and was met by a night and day difference.  The storm had reached its peak and snow was falling steadily and the wind was howling.  I really did not want to go outside, but I needed to eat.  Luckily, the main drag was only 2 blocks away, so I donned my coat, hat, and gloves and headed outside.  I decided not to press my luck and just eat at the first available place I could find.

That would end up being the Old Armory BBQ which is one of the top 10 BBQ restaurants in Iowa.  When I entered the place, it seemed as if they were closing up and that fact was confirmed a few moments later by one of the employees.  They still had some food left out and said they could prepare something for me.

I settled for a hamburger with homemade pickles which was pretty good, though I couldn’t linger over it as I didn’t want to keep these people in here longer than necessary.  I’m grateful that Old Armory kept me from going hungry that night so I left a good tip for the sandwich before trudging back to Dug Road Inn.

I drew a hot bath after I returned to my room though the jets on the Jacuzzi tub didn’t seem to be working.  But I enjoyed the bath as it was just the right temperature.  Afterwards, I read myself to sleep with Rex Stout’s brilliant, if slothful, detective.

The next morning, I met Doug’s wife, Shirleen, who had prepared my breakfast.  The first course was a dish of mixed fruit (apples, grapes, and, I believe, pomegranate) in a dish of cream.  The second course was baked bacon with a small salad of greens and tomatoes, scrambled eggs with mushrooms, and a wonderful food item that I could best describe as a stuffed pancake.  The third course was a dessert course consisting of chocolate gelato and lefse.  This meal I did do justice to as I blissfully enjoyed every bite.  Regrettably, I had forgotten my camera upstairs so you’ll have to use your imaginations for this meal.

I wanted some exercise so I got into my winter accessories and wandered around the downtown area to work off the meal.  Downtown Decorah reminds me very much of my grandparents’ old hometown of Storm Lake, IA as it is mostly locally owned businesses.  There is even a small J.C. Penney on one of the corners just like the one in Storm Lake.

My meanderings brought me to GamesXP.  If you’re a vintage video game connoisseur like I am, then this is the store for you.  I was amazed by the classic games and systems this store had.  Odyssey, Intellivision, Atari, Super Famicom, this place had it all.  I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to continue building my Sega CD library as their selection was limited and didn’t have anything I wanted, but this is a store that I will surely visit again if my journeys bring me back.

I returned to the inn where I found Doug scraping the ice from my vehicle, a personal touch of hospitality which I very much appreciated.  I read a few more chapters before getting into my car and seeing what there was to see.

I had hoped to visit the Ice Cave, but when I reached the road leading to it, I found it covered with snow.  Remembering my misadventure back in Greenfield, I opted to turn back.  However, I did find Dunnings’ Spring which has a 200 foot waterfall.  I hiked up the steep hill through the new fallen snow and managed to grab some good pics of this natural beauty.

Afterwards, I drove back to the inn where I read for a while and dried out my clothes.  Around 4:30, I decided to take another hot bath to get the chill out of bones.  After soaking for nearly an hour, I headed back downtown in search of supper.

I ended up at Restauration in the famed Hotel Winneshiek.  This is a small fine dining establishment that is well worth a visit.  My meal began with a mixed green salad with a homemade ranch dressing with some homemade bread.  The main course was an Iowa specialty, pork chop, with garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables (broccoli, carrots, and red onions).

The salad was excellent, though I had hoped for hot bread.  The presentation of the main course was superior, especially the grill marks on the Iowa chop which was, mmm, cooked to perfection.  The vegetables were fresh and crisp, but the potatoes needed some more garlic.

After the satisfying meal, I went back to Dug Road Inn and called it a night.

I really didn’t want to get out of my comfortable bed the next morning, but the smell of fine cooking galvanized me to make the attempt.  The Inn’s regular chef was able to make it in today and the meal once again began with mixed fruit (orange, grapes, pomegranate) with cream and granola.  The main entrée was a tiny dish of cherry tomatoes in a dressing with Eggs Florentine cooked with parmesan cheese and spinach.  Also included were fried potatoes with feta cheese, oregano, and chili powder and sausage.  Each bite was heavenly.  For dessert was apple-cranberry crisp with whipped cream that melted in my mouth.

I was disappointed when my meal ended for I knew that my stay had come to a close.  Dug Road Inn is certainly well worth a visit and Decorah is a fine little city, though probably best visited in the warmer months when there is more to see and do.  If your travels brings you to Decorah, get a room at Dug Road Inn where you’ll enter as strangers and leave as friends.

A Holiday Excursion, Day 1: Bravo, Butler House

003Well, it was my first time back on the road since September and I was in for several post-Christmas surprises.  I always try to schedule a review or two around the Christmas season because I enjoy seeing how the inns decorate for the holidays.  However, since I operate out of the Midwest, I’ve always got to keep an eye on the weather because I never quite know what’s going to happen.

Nebraska had actually been enjoying a rather tepid December and I was rather looking forward to a pleasant drive through Iowa and that’s exactly what I got on Sunday.  It was a little cold, but the sky was clear and the drive was smooth.  Monday may be a different story, however.

A winter storm is set to pummel Nebraska and do a number on Iowa.  Fortunately, my good luck seems to be with me as the storm is set to strike Nebraska first and move its way slowly to Iowa.  As I’m already in Des Moines, I’m actually a few hours ahead of the storm and it will have just started by the time I hit the road so I should manage to stay just ahead of it.  I’ll just be playing things by ear and possibly moving quite slowly.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here.

A brief two hour drive brought me to Des Moines, IA and Butler House on Grand owned and operated by Clark Smith and Lauren Kernen Smith.  Butler House on Grand is a 6100 square foot Tudor mansion nestled close to the downtown area and the artistic center of the city as the Des Moines Playhouse and Arts Center are a hop, skip, and jump away.

I was greeted by Clark who led me to the Dynasty Suite which would serve as my home away from home for at least one night.

The Dynasty Suite is probably one of the biggest rooms I’ve enjoyed since I started this project.  The suite is quite roomy and is highlighted by an en suite Jacuzzi and writing desk.  The mansion, itself, has a very pleasant feel to it and I was quite impressed with the Christmas decorations, especially in the living room which featured a real Christmas tree, Christmas village, and various Christmas knickknacks.

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The Dynasty Suite

I took it easy in my room for a few hours as I kept my eye on the weather reports.  After a few hours, I decided it was time for dinner and decided to enjoy a nice meal at Taki Japanese Steakhouse.

I’m quite partial to teppanyaki cooking, but I can’t say that I would recommend Taki.  The restaurant seemed a mite understaffed as I had to wait nearly an hour for a table.  Mind you, I don’t put all of the blame for the wait on the restaurant.  I did not have a reservation so I did expect to wait, but the teppanyaki room was not very full which suggests a lack of wait staff and/or chefs for the evening.  I did get a free Guinness for my long wait and I was able to pass the time with another adventure of Nero Wolfe, the armchair detective whose genius is matched only by his laziness.

I ended up sharing a tale with a group of high school girls and it was rather amusing to hear their views on college as at least one seemed to think that partying was going to take priority over studying.  Ah, youth.

The meal was simply OK and definitely not worth the long wait.  It took quite a while for our drinks, soup, and salads to arrive.  As a gesture of goodwill, I was not charged for my soda.  The clear soup wasn’t very hot and needed a bit more salt.  The salad was quite good with the ginger vinaigrette dressing being right on the money.

My steak, chicken, and shrimp were cooked well, but needed more seasoning.  When all is said and done, I give Taki a thumbs slightly down.

After dinner, I returned to the inn where I grabbed a can of soda from the fridge as I looked forward to a long soak and shave.  When I entered my room, I was pleasantly surprised that my bed had been turned down with a caramel waiting on my pillows.  After a relaxing bath, I tuned in to the weather reports to find that the winter storm warning now engulfed the entire state of Iowa as opposed to just the south & central portions.  As I said earlier, snow was not due to hit the Des Moines area until 6am which meant it will have barely started before I hit the road to my next stop.  Luckily it will be moving slowly northward which means I should keep on its outskirts for most, if not all, of the drive.

The queen bed was quite comfortable with a thick blanket that was so cozy that I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  I finally forced myself to just so I could see what the weather was doing.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw it wasn’t too terrible.  A fine, powdery snow was falling and the weather report now said the Des Moines area was only expected to get 6 to 8 inches with little to no ice accumulation and it was the northwestern and southeastern parts of Iowa that were expected to be hazardous.  Now knowing my drive would be safer, if slower, I went downstairs for a bracing breakfast.

There’s nothing quite like a hot meal on a cold day to start your day off right and Clark and Lauren provided a terrific breakfast.  The meal started with hot ginger snap pears served with goblets of water, milk, and orange juice.  The main course consisted of a cinnamon roll, fried rosemary potatoes, cheese soufflé with salsa, and sausage patties.  I engaged in some conversation with Clark, Lauren, and another couple before returning to my room to polish up this article and begin my snowy trek.

Butler House on Grand is a fine little oasis in the city of Des Moines and the hospitality and cooking of Clark and Lauren will make your stay grand, indeed.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 3, Days 2 & 3: Lazy Days and Betrayals

One strange thing I’ve noticed about Arizona Mat. . .OK, one of the many strange things I’ve noticed about Arizona Mat is that he always takes the day before an exploration to do absolutely nothing.  He calls it getting into a state of “exploring zen”.  I’m not sure if I believe it or not, but I’m certainly glad he does this because I need that 24 hours to readjust my body clock to the new time zone.

I spent my morning eating a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch, taking a long bath, rescheduling my viewing of Giraffealanche, and organizing my belongings while Arizona Mat made plans with Johnny V.  Arizona Mat’s behavior around Johnny V was truly astonishing.  In past chronicles, I have presented Arizona Mat as an arrogant, pushy, egocentric boor.  And believe me, that’s an apt description.  However, Johnny V seemed to bring out Arizona Mat’s better qualities.  He treated Johnny V like his father.  He was respectful, jokey. . . almost likable.

After a morning of puttering around, we took a walk to Jack in the Box for a bit of lunch.  Johnny V settled for a soda.  Arizona Mat enjoyed two Southwest tacos and a cinnamon-sugar doughnut.  I enjoyed a Bacon Sriracha Burger.  Afterwards I asked to stop at an FYE store so I could peruse their DVD selection.  Arizona Mat decided he would head for home while Johnny V offered to keep me company.

FYE didn’t have much of a selection so Johnny V and I left the store and walked to Fry’s to pick up some pumpkin ale and chips.  As we walked, Johnny V told me how he had been a friend of Arizona Mat’s father for many years and that he considered Arizona Mat a son.  I was really touched by this story and found myself really liking Johnny V.

Upon buying the liquor, we returned to the house.  Arizona Mat and Johnny V caught up on old times while I went to rest in my room for a couple of hours.  Afterwards, Arizona Mat introduced me to an anime series called Attack on Titan while Johnny V went for a swim in the pool.

Eventually, Arizona Mat wanted to go out on the town.  So we piled into his car and went bowling.  Arizona Mat was on a roll as he broke 200 again.  In fact, he surpassed the game he had bowled during my last visit.  I started off very strong, slipped in my next two games, readjusted my style, and finished strong.  Johnny V had a rather unique bowling style.  Yet it seemed to work, as he usually had good rolls.  In fact, he had the roll of the night when he picked up a 6-7 split.  It was really a fun night and I felt loose and relaxed.

The next morning, we found ourselves on the road at about 8:30am.  Johnny V had requested that Arizona Mat make a stop in Kingman, AZ so he could visit an old friend.  Arizona Mat agreed to the request and we made good time, arriving in Kingman shortly before noon.

We pulled into the driveway of a trailer home and Johnny V told us to make ourselves at home while he went to find his friend.

“OK, Chris.  Once we get into Vegas, we’ll start looking for the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!) right away,” said Arizona Mat.

“And then, you’ll be giving it right to me,” said a voice.

Arizona Mat and I looked up and saw an elderly man wearing a cap with a closely cropped beard.  Arizona Mat’s eyes narrowed as he said, “You!” huskily.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“This is my best enemy,” said Arizona Mat.  “His name is Robert Schulte (pronounced Ro-bear Shull-tay).  And he’s the leader of Le Gang De La Farine D’avoine.”

“The Oatmeal Gang???” I said disbelievingly.

“Don’t let the moniker throw you.  They’re a deadly gang of elderly adventurers who specialize in stealing rare artifacts.  We’ve met on several occasions,” said Arizona Mat.

“And once more, something you have discovered will belong to me,” said Schulte with a sinister smile.

“I don’t think so, Robert,” said Arizona Mat with a chuckle.  “The odds are slightly against you.  Three to one.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that, Arizona,” said Johnny V, reappearing in the room with a Luger leveled at us.

“Johnny??” said a stunned Arizona Mat.

“Johnny has been one of my most trusted operatives for years,” said Robert Schulte smugly.

“A double agent!” I said.

“Very good,” said Johnny V.

“But what about all that stuff about Arizona Mat being like a second son?” I asked.

“Oh, that was all true.  But this is about money,” said Johnny V.

“Do you have any friends who don’t try to stab you in the back?” I asked Arizona Mat.

“Just you,” said Arizona Mat.

“I’m more of an acquaintance than a friend and I don’t like you that much.”

“Eh.  I take what I can get,” said Arizona Mat, as he reached a hand into his jacket.

In a blur of motion, Arizona Mat withdrew a foam noodle and slapped the gun out of Johnny V’s hands.  I threw a chair into the path of the two men and Arizona Mat and I bolted through the door.  We dove into his car while Arizona Mat revved the engine and burned rubber out of there.

So there we were.  Making a desperate rush to Las Vegas to keep the Voodoo Blue out of the hands of a dangerous gang who had no qualms about eliminating the two of us.  My blood froze as I began to realize the stakes of this particular bet.

I’ve Gotta Get Back Inn Time

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After a busy month, I was more than ready to answer the call of the road again.  So it was that I found myself traveling the highways and byways of our great country to the little town of Greenfield, IA and the Back Inn Time.

Before I entered Greenfield, I made a stop about 15 miles outside of town so I could take a look at the famed Freedom Rock.  The Freedom Rock is a massive boulder that is painted with new patriotic messages every year by its owner, a local farmer.  It really is a very patriotic and inspiring piece of Americana.

The Freedom Rock

The Freedom Rock

Looking at this rock reminded me of how great this country of ours is and deepened my appreciation of the grand gift of freedom that we share.  With my good mood further bolstered by looking at the Freedom Rock, I got back into my car and drove into the town of Greenfield.

I don’t know why, but I liked Greenfield from the moment my car rolled into town.  It just had a peaceful quality that’s hard to describe.  I almost felt as if I had gone back in time to a simpler point in the past.  I drove around town and made my way to the town square so I could do a little exploring.

Greenfield is known for having a few historical buildings.  As I walked around the square I got to enjoy the architecture of the Adair County Courthouse, the Warren Cultural Center (formerly an opera house!!), and the Hotel Greenfield, an actual 5 star hotel that is back in business after having been completely restored several years ago.  If architecture isn’t your thing, there is also an antique car museum in the square.

Adair County Courthouse

Adair County Courthouse

Hotel Greenfield

Hotel Greenfield

After wandering around, I decided to grab a sandwich and head on over to some walking trails so I could commune with nature, read, and relax away the afternoon.  My directions told me to turn on this road called S Town Line, so I did and the road was your typical country road until I got about a quarter of the way down the hill.  At that point, the hill became a squishy mass of mud.  By the time my car reached it, I had no room to turn around, couldn’t go in reverse, and couldn’t go forward.  I was, in a word, stuck.

I carefully exited my car and hiked back into town.  I went to the first home I came across and rang the doorbell.  I was greeted by a friendly elderly woman and I explained my situation, so she gave me the phone number of a guy who could tow me out, warning me that he’d charge me an arm and a leg (this will be important later).  She then said her husband might be able to help me, but he was out feeding the horses and wouldn’t be back for 45 minutes.  I left her my cell number, hiked back to my car, ate my sandwich, read, and told myself that it could have been a lot worse.  It was a nice day at the very least.

Forty five minutes later, I got the call and I told the elderly woman where I was on the hill.  When they learned my location, the husband said he didn’t think his pickup would be much use in extricating me from the glop.  I thanked them for their time and called the tow guy, Alvin.

Alvin said he would get a chain and a tractor and that it would cost $85 plus tax to yank me out.  I began to hike into town to find an ATM so I could get enough cash to pay him, but ended up running into Alvin as I was walking into town.  I suddenly remembered that I did have my checkbook on me and asked if he took checks.  He said he did and I breathed a sigh of relief.  I climbed onto the tractor and he gave me a lift back to me car.

Alvin hooked the chains to my car and I started it up and put it into neutral.  Slowly, agonizingly, the tractor slowly pulled my car back to the main road.  I started rummaging around for an ink pen, but I didn’t have one and, unfortunately, neither did Alvin.  I was just about to offer Alvin my laptop as collateral so I could hike back to the person who originally helped me so I could borrow a pen to write a check when a miracle took place.

Alvin took a look at me and said, “You know something, buddy.  This is your day.  I’m not going to charge you.”  I was stunned!  I pulled out my wallet and insisted that he take something for his time.  He shook his head, shook my hand, and went on his way.  So I just want to take a moment and thank Alvin for the good turn he did me.  And if you need a tow in Greenfield, give Alvin’s Towing a call.  He will treat you right.

Well, my car looked like it had been through a mud wrestling match, but seemed none the worse for wear.  I returned to the town square where I spent an hour reading the adventures of Ellery Queen, then I made my way to the Back Inn Time.

I was greeted by the delightful owners, Ruth and Wayne Henderson, who utterly encapsulate the words “hospitable” and “friendly”.  Ruth showed me around the home and led me to the Fern Room, my temporary home away from home.  The soft green paint of the walls combined with the sleep number mattress (meaning I could make it firmer or softer at the click of a button) guaranteed a good night’s sleep.

I liked this inn at first sight.  It had quite a bit of character, surrounded by two lush gardens, and had a beautiful back deck with a koi pond.  Now this was a good, old fashioned bed and breakfast.  The house was sprawling, had unique rooms, and a shared bathroom. It also had that distinct feeling of pure Americana, like Grandma’s house.

The Fern Room

The Fern Room

The Antiques Room

The Antiques Room

The Lincoln Room

The Lincoln Room

After relaxing for a bit, I made my to a worship service at St John’s Catholic Church and followed it up with dinner at the Olive Branch in the town square.  The hospitality of the citizenry of Greenfield continued to amaze me as an elderly lady whom I had noticed at church came over to my table and welcomed me to the town, telling me that it was good to have me at church.  I replied that it had been good to be there.

For my supper I enjoyed a gyro dinner which included the gyro meat, bread, and sauce along with fresh vegetables and salad.  After savoring every tasty bite for over an hour, I returned to Back Inn Time where I had a lovely conversation with Ruth and Wayne about our travels.  They enjoyed my talking about the House on the Rock so much that they’ve now decided to go to the Wisconsin Dells next week to visit it themselves.

After two hours of talk, I retired to my room where I sunk myself into the old fashioned clawfoot tub for a long hot bath.  Afterwards, I collapsed onto the electronically softened mattress in my room where I had a peaceful night’s rest.

Breakfast today was an absolute delight as I continued my conversations with Wayne and Ruth over pineapple juice, water, sausage, and waffles topped with cream, cinnamon, and fruit.  Another two hours later, I reluctantly said my good-byes, promising I would stay there again if I happened to be in the neighborhood.

In fact you should stay there too, if you find yourself around Greenfield.  It’s a friendly town with friendly people like Ruth and Wayne.  They’ll make you feel like one of the family and you’ll feel at home.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 1: Unwelcome Reunions

Have you ever had one of those days when you wake up with the feeling of impending doom?

I had a day like that yesterday.  When I woke up in the morning, I would almost swear that the Sword of Damocles was hanging over my head.

I didn’t know why I felt this way.  It was a pleasant day, after all.  The sun was shining.  The birds were chirping.  And the clouds were looking especially fluffy.

Maybe it was just nerves.  I was getting ready to fly down to Phoenix, AZ for a meeting with a representative from the SyFy Network to discuss optioning my story, Giraffealanche, for their latest SyFy Original Movie.  Now, now, I know what you’re thinking.  “Chris, your writing is so clever, sharp, and witty,” says you.  “Why would you waste your great talent writing such schlock?”  To which I reply, “Because the money is really good.”

I shook off this feeling of dread as best as I could and prepared for my journey.  I arrived at the airport, checked my luggage, and flew through security.  Armed with my new Kindle Paperwhite, I sat down at my gate and read the latest Adrian Monk mystery while I slowly sipped a Dr. Pepper.  Still the heebie jeebies remained within me.

My flight was slightly delayed, but that was no cause for concern as my meeting was scheduled for the following day.  Normally, I prefer window seats when I fly, but, this time, I took a middle seat right in the front of plane.  For some reason, I just felt that I needed to get off of that plane as soon as possible.

It was the smoothest flight I’d been on in years.  There was nary a trace of turbulence to disturb me as I read my novel cover to cover.  Upon landing, I grabbed my laptop and bolted out of the plane.  As I walked down the hall, I remembered a very similar walk I had taken roughly six months prior.  Before my mind could seize the memory, I became aware of a powerful, fetid stench that filled my nostrils.  Then all went black!

The next thing I remember was an airport employee waving some smelling salts under my nose to revive me.

“Hey, pal, are you OK?” asked the employee.

“Yeah, I think so.  What happened?” I asked.

“You passed out.”

“I remember smelling some foul odor,” I said.

“Oh!  That’s probably from our local attraction,” said the employee.

“A skunk farm?” I queried.

“Nah,” said the employee with a chuckle.  “I’ll show you.”

The employee led me down the hall and that chill down my spine began to grow sharper and colder.  I now had a hunch of what I was about to see, though it defied belief.  Just past security, I saw a crowd of people around two men and I wanted to weep.

It was Arizona Mat and Tall Square.

For those of you who are new visitors to my blog, I refer you to the archive section under the series entitled “The Arizona Chronicles” in which an odd set of circumstances thrust me into meeting Arizona Mat, a so called explorer, and Tall Square, his goofy sidekick.

They were exactly as I had left them back then.  Each still had the other’s hand locked in a death grip of a handshake.  They had lost a considerable amount of weight and were using their free hand to hold up their pants.  Feeding tubes had been inserted in their noses and IVs pumped water into their bodies. You could almost see the B.O. wafting from their bodies.  The crowd was taking bets as to which man would finally yield and break the handshake.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I said.

“Nope,” said the employee.  “These guys have been doing this for six months now.  It’s been really good for business for the stores around here, if somewhat stinky.”

Now, I suppose I could have slipped quietly away, checked into a nice hotel, and avoided what was to come.  But I made my first mistake.  I said hello.

“Uh, hi, guys,” I said.

Tall Square looked at me, then let go of Arizona Mat’s hand to wave at me.  Time seemed to stop.

A stunned silence fell over the crowd.  Finally the duel had ended.  A maniacal light gleamed in Arizona Mat’s eyes.  A huge smile split his lips.

“You lose!!  You lose!!” crowed Arizona Mat.  “I’m the winner!  You’re the loser!  Winner!  Loser!!  Loser!!  Winner!!  I am such a winner!!  You are such a loser!!  I am such a winner!!  You are such a loser!!”

Arizona Mat had broken into a conga dance, shaking his butt in Tall Square’s face.  I could tell Tall Square was about to explode and the following seemed to occur in slow motion.

Tall Square cocked back his fist for a mighty punch and had just begun the follow through when a people mover ran into him from behind.  I watched in horror as the upper half of his body bent backwards in a 90 degree angle.  His body flipped up and over the people mover, sailing through the air.  I covered my eyes as I braced myself for the sickening crack of his body hitting the ground.  Instead, I heard a thump.

I peeked through my fingers and saw that Tall Square’s body had somehow landed on a luggage mover going down the opposite direction.  I turned to look at Arizona Mat who had fallen to the ground due to weakness, yet he still had that cheesy grin on his face and he was pumping his arms up, chanting, “Winner!  Winner!  Winner!”

I pursued the luggage mover, but the unusually high level of people in the airport slowed me down and I was unable to catch up with it.  I looked through the window and watched as Tall Square was blithely loaded with the luggage onto a plane bound for Nome, AK.  Poor Tall Square.

I returned to Arizona Mat, still pumping his arms on the ground.  I could have walked away at this point, but then I made my second mistake.  I decided to do my Christian duty and help.

I loaded Arizona Mat onto a wheelchair, picked up my suitcase, and hailed a cab.  Once we had gotten to Arizona Mat’s home, I tucked the poor sot into bed and decided to head for a hotel and then I made my third mistake.  I got cheap.

I realized that I could stay here for free and save myself on a hotel bill.  So I sent the cab away and made myself at home in the guest room.  I was hungry so I walked down the street to the Flaming Kabob when I enjoyed some delicious hummus, chicken lemon rice soup, and chicken gallaya.  Bringing the leftovers with me for lunch the next day, I proceeded to jump into Arizona Mat’s pool which was much more enjoyable now as opposed to the icy plunge he forced me to take six months earlier.

As I swam, I realized I was probably in for another series of hijinks and misadventures, but I heaved a mighty sigh and decided I would try to make the best of things.

To be continued. . .