I Never Promised You a Victorian Rose Garden: Algonquin, IL and Victorian Rose Garden B & B

013

Today the road has brought me to Algonquin, IL.

A trip to this region had been steadily growing in my mind for the past few months.  I had actually been in this area back in 2015 when I stopped in the village of West Dundee, IL en route to a review of Cotton Patch Gospel at the Howmet Playhouse in Whitehall, MI.

I had been talking about the locale with a friend and started to reminisce about the fun I had in West Dundee.  The vintage arcade.  The lovely meal at The Village Squire.  The awesome elegance of The Mansion.  I began to get the itch to revisit the place.

I tried to convince several of my friends to go, but one had just got back from a trip while another was getting ready to take a small family trip and the other simply wasn’t interested in going.  I really didn’t want to go alone. . .unless I could stay at a B & B.

I contacted The Mansion to find out if they had any available rooms towards the end of August, but was out of luck.  Acting on an idle thought, I did a search on B & Bs around the West Dundee area and found one for the Victorian Rose Garden in Algonquin.  Then I checked to see how far Algonquin was from West Dundee.  Hmm, only 4 miles.  Did they have any rooms available?  Yes, they did.  I immediately booked the Presidential Chamber for what I would dub the Decompression Trip.

After the end of a hard month which included beginning rehearsals for my first full scale production in almost 6 years, I was ready for a trip.

Unlike my other trips where I take a day off to make the drive, I actually began this one after work on Friday.  The plan was to drive to the Iowa City region where I would stop to rest for the night before finishing the journey the next day.

I had thought to drive just slightly past Iowa City and find a decent place outside the hubbub of a major city, but fate decided to call my bluff as I had difficulty finding any inn, let alone a decent one.  I ended up driving nearly an hour longer than I planned and ultimately stopped in Walcott, IA, home of the world’s largest truck stop.

As I hoped the world’s largest truck stop held a pair of hotels, one of which was a Comfort Inn (bada book bada boom!).  It was a tiny hotel (only 3 floors), but I got a room on the top floor which I prefer on the rare occasions I stay at a hotel.  For an extra $5, I was able to get a king bed and I heaved a contented sigh as my eyes alighted on a small, but comfortable room.

I still needed to eat, but, as the hour was late, I stopped at a nearby Arby’s for a sandwich before returning to the hotel for a bath and a good night’s sleep.

And it truly was a good night’s sleep.  I awoke truly well rested and even had the benefit of having a hot breakfast at the hotel where I enjoyed a pair of sausage links with a biscuit and gravy and some apple juice before heading off on the road again.

Driving the extra hour ended up being a good decision as it not only got me closer to my destination, but helped me stay on my schedule as this route was still doing construction as they were back in 2015 which slowed me down a bit.

About 1pm, I had arrived in West Dundee and immediately made a beeline for the Underground Retrocade.  For those of you reading my blog for the first time, the Underground Retrocade is a vintage arcade where you pay $15 and get unlimited play for the day.   Some new games had been added since I had last visited including. . .a Dragon’s Lair cabinet!!

008.jpg

Dragon’s Lair. The greatest video game of all time.

Dragon’s Lair is my all time favorite video game and revolutionized the industry when it came out in 1983.  It was the first interactive animated movie and told the tale of a brave, if slightly clumsy, knight named Dirk the Daring trying to rescue Princess Daphne from the clutches of the dragon, Singe.  Make the right move at the right time and you get one step closer to the dragon’s lair.  Make the wrong move and Dirk meets an untimely demise.

This was not the original game.  Rather, it was the officially licensed 2002 Limited Edition reproduction of which only 400 discs were made.  This version included the deleted opening scene on the drawbridge as well as some slightly different timing and moves.  The cabinet also included the original prototype version which has a slew of deleted scenes as well as the games Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair II:  Timewarp.  I didn’t reach the lair, but had fun playing.

I more than got my money’s worth as I played pinball versions of Ghostbusters and Doctor Who.  I also served drinks in Tapper, fought Bluto and the Sea Hag in Popeye, and conquered Dragon’s Lair II:  Timewarp, Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja, and Altered Beast as well as dabbled with Crystal Castles, Rampage World Tour, Fix it Felix, Jr., and Track & Field.

About 3:30pm I headed for the village of Algonquin.  As I arrived, I was shocked to see the massive amount of construction being done in the little village, but easily worked my way around it until I found the Victorian Rose Garden, owned and operated by Sherry Brewer.

I rang the doorbell of the inn and glanced around the neighborhood.  As I turned back to the door, Sherry’s smiling face had suddenly materialized in the window and the surprise nearly gave me a heart attack.

While my pumper reset itself, Sherry let me into the inn, led me to the Presidential Chamber, and gave me the nickel tour.  I put my normal explorations on hold as I headed for worship at St Margaret Mary.  This was a very nice and quaint church which holds a Polish service at the second Saturday night service.

It was a moving event which brought back memories of going to church back home in Fort Dodge as we sang hymns that I haven’t sung since my childhood.

After worship, I headed to the Colonial Café and I was starved.

014

Colonial Cafe

I actually felt the need for a small appetizer so I opened the meal with a small cup of cheddar cheese chowder which had an interesting, but tasty, flavor especially with a dash of pepper.  My main course was a Smokehouse BBQ burger which was hearty and juicy and really hit the spot.  While I ate, I read The House of Brass by Ellery Queen and met an elderly gentleman who liked the fact that I was reading a book as opposed to being glued to a cell phone.

After dinner I headed back to the inn, where I had some chocolate chocolate chip cookies and a cold glass of milk.

With that dessert, Sherry turned down my bed and left me to my devices.  I went around the inn taking pictures (the last set I will take with this camera as it’s falling apart).  The house has an understated elegance not unlike visiting Grandma’s house with a music room, gorgeous dining room, and a living room that is almost like stepping back in time.  It contains an old-fashioned barber’s chair along with a cupboard of shaving mugs, an old-fashioned gumball machine loaded with marbles, and a rocking horse.

The Presidential Chamber, where I stayed, boasts a very comfy king sized bed as well as some nice easy chairs, a fireplace, a mounted flatscreen TV, and a bathroom with a clawfoot tub and shower and even a bidet.  After a long day of driving and activities, I was more than content to simply put my feet up for the night and write and post pictures before drifting off to the land of Nod.

I slept all the way through the night.  When I woke up, I got a shower and a shave and was ready for a good meal.

And that is exactly what I got along with some lovely company in the form of Mike and Sue of Ohio and Tone and Yvonne of Stockholm, Sweden.  For breakfast there was water, orange juice, and coffee along with an appetizer of fresh fruit, cinnamon scones, and banana nut bread.  The main entrée was French Toast croissants with Granny Smith apples, scrambled eggs with home-grown vegetables, and thick slices of bacon along with a heaping side of conversation which Sherry joined in on.

All too soon the conversation and the meal had to come to an end.  In hindsight, I wish I had another day to spend here for there are still activities to partake of, but I suspect I will be back again, hopefully with friends to really expand on the fun.

But if you’re in the Algonquin region, spend a night with Sherry at Victorian Rose Garden B & B.  It’s a inn as pretty as it sounds with fabulous food and company and quite a bit to do in the region as well as being a hop, skip, and a jump from Chicago.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Advertisements

Off to the Cotton Patch, Days 4 & 5: A Journey to Squiers Manor

When I awoke on Sunday, I knew it was going to be a looong day of driving.  But first, it was time to feed the spirit with worship.

I attended the early morning service at St James Catholic Church.  It was a quaint, welcoming church and I rather liked it.  It was a good service which ran a little longer than normal due to the baptism of twin children.  I was particularly moved by Father’s sermon.  He connected the story of God restoring Elijah in the desert with a hearth cake and water to Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John.  God restored Elijah with physical food, but Jesus restores with spiritual food (Eucharist and His Word).

To be honest, all of this talk about food was stirring my appetite so I dashed back to the White Swan where Cathy had breakfast waiting.  Today it was cantaloupe, cappuccino muffins, multigrain waffles, and some small sausage links.  Cathy proved to a most gracious host as she shared conversation with me while I ate.

Sausage and multigrain waffles

Sausage and multigrain waffles

Once breakfast was done, I settled my bill and stepped out to the car.  I felt a little blue.  I really liked this little town.  Hopefully the stars will align so, one day, I may be able to return.  But if you’re in Whitehall, get a room at the White Swan.  Cathy will make you feel like family.

Today’s drive was much more pleasant than it had been on Friday.  Traffic was at a much lower volume so I was able to speed quickly through Indiana and the construction slowdowns were kept to the bare minimum.  Then came my rematch with Chicagoland traffic.

I mentally cracked my knuckles and dove into the fray.  The speed limit was still a suggestion, so I fought fire with fire and raised my own speed limit to somewhat keep pace with the traffic.  The other cars were still moving faster, but I didn’t feel like a sitting duck.  I managed to quickly slip past Chicagoland and the rest of the drive was a snap after that.

After 6 hours, I was ready for a break, so I was grateful that I had arrived at my stopping point of Maquoketa, IA on schedule.

Squiers Manor

Squiers Manor

My final stop for this journey was Squiers Manor owned by Kathy and Virl Banowetz.  Let me say that this is the finest inn that I have stayed at in Iowa and makes my top 5 list for the B & B project.  The house is a beautiful 1882 Queen Anne and the manor and its land take up a block.  The interior and grounds are immaculately kept and the manor is still the same as when it was originally built.  Kathy and Virl also deal in antiques and many items in the inn are for sale.  They also deliver.

Originally I was to have stayed in the Maid’s Chamber, but Kathy graciously upgraded me to the J.E. Squiers Room at no additional charge.  This is easily one of my favorite rooms that I have stayed in.  It almost has a Victorian feel.  The queen bed is very comfortable and I’m quite taken with the soft, forest green carpet.

The J.E. Squiers Room

The J.E. Squiers Room

004006

Front hall

Front hall

Upstairs hall

Upstairs hall

Kathy suggested several restaurants and I decided to have a little Mexican food at La Casa de Pancho.  Once more, Mapquest tried to bamboozle me with ridiculous directions that would have sent me into the middle of nowhere, but Kathy had given me better directions and I easily found the restaurant.

Kathy had told me the portions were ginormous and, if anything, it was an understatement.  I ordered the burrito chicken fajita with rice and olla beans (they’re cholesterol free).  My eyes bulged when the plate came out.  It would have taken 3 of me to finish the meal.  I’ve got an issue with wasting food, but I had little choice since I had no way to preserve the food until I got home.  So, note to myself, bring a cooler for future trips.  My note to you, plan on sharing a plate with your date or friends.  The portions are that large.

With a full (luckily not overly so) stomach I returned to Squiers Manor to begin writing today’s article.  After I had written as much as I could, I went down to the guest area to have a piece of Kathy’s chocolate mousse cake.  It was moist and delicious and, being chilled in the refrigerator, was the perfect dessert for a hot night.

When I had finished my cake, I drew a hot bath in the Jacuzzi tub and nearly fell asleep in the swirling water.  I managed to drag myself out of the bathtub and over to the bed where I fell into a peaceful slumber.

I really didn’t want to get out of bed when I awoke the next day because the bed was so comfortable, but it was time to start organizing to leave.  But first, it was time for breakfast.

Kathy had promised me a taste adventure from her garden and this meal filled the bill.  Along with glasses of orange juice and water I enjoyed cantaloupe, cinnamon encrusted coffee cake, raw fried potatoes and squash, and an omelet with broccoli, onions, cheese, and possibly more because I lost track of the ingredients.  It was a foodie’s delight.  The meal also came with a little bratwurst, but I was stuffed so Kathy kindly wrapped it up for me to take home.

Fruit and cinnamon encrusted coffee cake

Fruit and cinnamon encrusted coffee cake

A vegetarian omelet, raw fried potatoes and squash, and bratwurst

A vegetarian omelet, raw fried potatoes and squash, and bratwurst

So ends another journey for me, but I insist you arrange for a stay at Squiers Manor if you find yourself in the Quad Cities area of Iowa.  As Kathy’s sign says, “Enter as strangers. . .leave as friends.”

Off to the Cotton Patch, Days 2 & 3: A Journey of Ups, Downs, & Mistaken Identity

After that bracing breakfast, I hit the road.  Little did I know that this was going to be one long, agonizing drive.

West Dundee is only 34 miles away from Chicago and I made the astonishing discovery that Chicago area drivers are apparently training for NASCAR.  Illinois is doing a ton of construction on the interstate and the speed limit was only supposed to be 55 miles an hour.  Based on my observations, I came to the conclusion that the speed limit was apparently just a suggestion because I was the only person who seemed to be obeying the limit.  Every other car was just blitzing by me.

To say I was nervous was an understatement.  The combination of the heavy construction, massive traffic, and battalion of speedsters actually caused me to feel knuckle whitening, heart palpitating, panic.  I had to take a couple of deep breaths to actually bring my nerves back under control.  This may be the norm for big city drivers, but this was my first experience driving through a really big metro area and it was a bit of a shock.

My frustrations were further fueled by the fact that I had to watch out for the toll booths.  I accidentally missed my first toll booth on Halsted Street.  The signs had said to keep to the right so I did.  Right before the booth, the road opened up even further to the right.  It happened so suddenly that I wasn’t able to change lanes and soared right through the I-Pass.  Fortunately, I was able to go online later that night and pay the fee I missed.

After I got out of the Chicago area, the traffic slowed to more normal speeds, but the speed limit stayed at 55 miles an hour.  Even worse, when I finally crossed the border into Indiana, I found that they were still doing the construction being done when I last passed through in 2008.  Traffic was so congested that it ground to a halt and I plodded along at a rate that had snails making fun of me.

It took 3.5 hours to make the journey from West Dundee to the Michigan border where I finally was able to resume the normal speed limit of 70 miles an hour.  The drive became a lot more pleasant after that. . .until I reached Holland, MI.

Traffic was going along pretty well and I saw a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the distance.  I needed a few toiletries and decided I’d just get them now.  After buying my supplies, I got back on the road and traffic ground to a halt again!  Apparently the road I was on was the main thoroughfare for a few cities and it was now rush hour.

What should have been a four hour journey ended up being a 6.5 hour drudgery and I arrived in Whitehall, MI much, much later than intended.  I was tired, frazzled, and starved when I finally pulled up to the White Swan Bed and Breakfast.

Then things began looking up.

The first break I caught that day was that the Howmet Playhouse where I would watch and review Cotton Patch Gospel was literally right across the street from the bed and breakfast.  The second break was that I met Cathy Russell, the sweet and kindly owner of the White Swan.

The White Swan

The White Swan

Cathy showed me to my home away from home, the Jasmine Room.  The soft white of the room and the plush looking bed seemed to scream comfort and I felt myself begin to loosen up.  I think Cathy noticed my weariness as she asked if I had eaten and I told her that my journey woes prevented me from having anything since breakfast.  She prepared a plate of Michigan blueberries, cheese, and sweet potato Triscuits along with a glass of white wine.  I stepped onto the screened in porch and began to read and munch.  I felt better almost all at once.

The Jasmine Room

The Jasmine Room

003004005

Living Room

Living Room

010

After getting some much needed food into my stomach I began my explorations.  The White Swan is a circa 1884 Queen Anne house.  It’s very homey and has a pleasant lived-in quality well suited to an inn.  After I finished taking pictures, I freshened up and walked across the street to enjoy Cotton Patch Gospel.

Howmet Playhouse

Howmet Playhouse

And enjoy it, I did.  In fact, you can read the review right here.

After the show, I returned to the inn and darn near collapsed into bed and didn’t wake until the next day.

***

When I awoke today, I was ravenous and ready for a rousing meal.  Cathy served up a dish of mixed fruit and cream, a vegetable quiche, homemade sausage, and orange juice.  With my stomach full, I was ready to begin exploring the area.

Mixed fruit and cream

Mixed fruit and cream

Vegetable quiche and homemade sausage

Vegetable quiche and homemade sausage

My first stop of the day was at the Country Dairy.  This family owned dairy farm has been in the Van Gunst family for 5 generations and it credits their great dairy products to their happy cows.  No, that isn’t a joke.  The Van Gunsts take pride that their 1,400 head of cattle have great lives.  Their lives consist of milking, birthing, sleeping, and eating 100 pounds of food a day which is the secret to great milk.

The Country Dairy

The Country Dairy

Happy cows happily eating lunch to produce happy milk

Happy cows happily eating lunch to produce happy milk

It was a very interesting tour as I watched how milk goes from the cow to the carton, went into a cheese locker, visited a bovine maternity ward, and saw a group of newborn calves (even petted a few).  I even learned about the value of good breeding.  The number one rated polled Hereford was born at Country Dairy and he and another cow sold for a combined $1.2 million dollars.

Inside the calf barn

Inside the calf barn

When the tour ended, we were treated to free samples of cheddar cheese (the best I’ve ever tasted) and chocolate milk.  This milk is farm fresh which means no fat has been skimmed from it.  Whole milk has got nothing on farm fresh milk.  This moo juice was so tasty and rich that I actually bought a pint for myself.

The dairy also boasts a small restaurant which feeds more people than any other eatery in the region.  Trucks come three times a week to restock the food items not produced by the dairy itself.

After my tour, I drove around a bit to see what there was to see.  After viewing a few sights, I returned to the inn and took a long walk around the area and stopped to enjoy a vanilla shake at Dairy Treat (supplied by Country Dairy products).  I then returned to my room to relax for a little bit.

I had intended to attend worship services at St James Catholic Church, but my travel woes returned when Mapquest epically failed me.  The directions I got brought me to downtown Muskegon where I found no church.  I went to a nearby hotel where the desk clerk informed me that the church was actually in Montague.  Another clerk informed me there was another church three blocks up the road.  I dashed off to it, but found they did not hold Saturday night services.

I returned to the White Swan and found that St James was a mere two miles from the inn.  I could have walked there and back several times in the time I spent driving to and from Muskegon.  Thankfully, they have an 8:30am service tomorrow so I can worship in the morning, have breakfast, and hit the road.

I decided to go Montague and have dinner at the Old Channel Inn.  This restaurant is very popular and was jammed to capacity when I arrived.  After a short wait, I was led to a table when I decided to have the charbroiled Alaskan salmon with a side of Creole corn and salad.  Now I was wearing a suit which is crucial to the story.

Old Channel Inn

Old Channel Inn

I took off my coat so I could prepare a salad for myself.  When I returned to my table, I said grace and started eating.  A few minutes later a gentleman came over to my table and said, “I have an embarrassing question to ask you.  Are you a priest?”

“No,” I replied, somewhat baffled.

“I’ll tell you why I asked that in a moment,” said the man as he walked away.

He returned a few minutes later and said, “You’re probably wondering why I asked if you were a priest.”

“Was it because you saw me praying?”

“No.  I’m the owner of this place and there was a woman who saw you, asked for me and said, ‘I saw that young man cross himself.  I think he’s a priest and I want to buy his meal.”

A gentle poke would have felled me at that point.  This is where my suit comes into play.  I was wearing a black dress shirt under my sport coat and my arms would have been blocking my yellow tie while I prayed.  The generous stranger mistook my dress shirt for clerical garb.

I don’t even know what this mysterious woman looks like, but I’d certainly like to thank her for paying for my supper.  It made the rough day I’d had yesterday and my travel woes today vanish in the breeze.

I returned to the White Swan to sip a 7-Up while I wrote this story.  Now it’s about time to hit the hay before I hit the road tomorrow.

Cotton Patch is Fun, but Flawed

It’s the Gospel of Matthew told Southern style.  This is Cotton Patch Gospel by Tom Key & Russel Treyz with music by Harry Chapin and inspired by a novel from Clarence Jordan.  This musical will have your feet tapping, your hands clapping, and your fingers snapping throughout the night and is currently playing at the Howmet Playhouse.

This musical has long been a personal favorite of mine, though I imagine many have not heard of it.  It was a big hit when it first came out in 1982 and even netted a Los Angeles Dramalogue nomination for Best Actor for Tom Key (who also co-wrote the script).  From an epic score by Harry Chapin to the vibrant, colorful characters created by Key and Treyz, Cotton Patch Gospel has all of the elements for a hit show.  I had long hoped for the opportunity to see this play and when I discovered it would be produced at the Howmet Playhouse, I drove 16 ½ hours to see it live.

No, that was not a misprint.

I drove 16 ½ hours to watch this show and it was well worth the drive.  Backed by a powerful quartet of musicians, the 5 person cast, under the direction of Debra Freeberg, provided a very entertaining night of theatre.  Ms Freeburg is to be complimented for some very creative and inventive directing, though there were beats that could have been delved into more deeply.  She also coached solid to excellent performances from her cast.  I was also intrigued by the use of a small cast.  Tom Key wrote the play so it could be performed as a one man show or a full scale production, but this is the first time I have seen a small cast used and that decision worked very well indeed.

Steven Barre was one of the two standout performers of the night.  Barre has a good sense of body language and voice as he easily switched between the humble, but harried, Joe (Jesus’ stepfather), the arrogant and dangerous, Governor Herod, and the conflicted Jud, who ultimately betrays Jesus.  Barre is a very animated actor and his energy and enthusiasm added greatly to his work which was a treat for the eyes and ears.  My only criticism is that Barre’s take on John the Baptizer was too restrained and he needs to let loose and go full force with the zealous preacher.

Barre also has a wonderful 2nd tenor singing voice which was capable of subtle and rich nuances.  From the cold-blooded gloating of Herod’s arranging the murder of innocent children (I Did It) to the sad Joe wondering why Jesus won’t see him (You Are Still My Boy) to a jubilant Apostle (Jubilation), Barre proved himself to be a well rounded performer and a great asset for the show.

Brianna June Clark was the other standout performer of the night.  Ms June Clark had a beautiful, clear soprano singing voice and she knows how to find the emotional beats of a song.  From a soulful, haunting number from a mother who cannot accept the death of her child (Mama is Here) to a wistful dream that Jesus wasn’t dead (One More Tomorrow), Ms June Clark knocked one musical pitch after another out of the park.

She was also just as adept on the acting side of things.  Ms June Clark has an incredible presence and excellent facial expressions along with a good sense of improv.  Whether she was the slightly befuddled Andy, the menacing Governor Pilate, or the Virgin Mary, Ms June Clark was, quite simply, an utter delight.  She also had the funniest moment of the night with her audible nausea at the sight of the victim when Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.

I wish the show had more than a one weekend run as I sensed a great deal of potential in the performances of Alex Cooke and Annie Bulthuis which could be realized with a longer run.  Both gave solid performances, but they needed a bit of fine tuning.

Both (and the rest of the cast at various points) needed to project more and talk louder to overcome the nearly black box nature of the theatre’s acoustics.  They also need to slow down their delivery a bit and focus a bit more on the beats and nuances of their dialogue.  A lot of humorous lines and dramatic moments didn’t get the emphasis they needed due to their rushing the lines.  I understand that the entire rehearsal process only lasted two weeks which isn’t enough time to get into the grit and gristle of a script.  So they deserve kudos for the solid foundation they developed with their limited preparation time.

Ms Bulthuis has a skillful alto voice which she put to good use in numbers such as “Love the Lord Your God” and “We Gotta Get Organized”.  She also has one of the most expressive faces I have ever seen.  With a slight cock of her eyebrow or a tiny purse of her lips, I was able to follow the thoughts of Ms Bulthuis’ characters without her uttering a single word.  I also thought her interpretation of Rock as slightly less than intelligent to be a very fine and funny bit of acting.

Cooke’s 2nd tenor voice also demonstrated a knack for subtle shades of emotion.  His primary role was that of Jesus and his portrayal of Jesus’ fears and sadness at his imminent lynching in “Goin’ to Atlanta” was not only spot on, but had me shedding a few tears as well.

Though he has no lines, Tim Todd does have a good grasp of pantomime which allowed him to tell his own story and kept him involved in each moment of the show.

There were a few technical flaws during the night.  There was some wicked feedback coming from a speaker at a few points and the actors’ microphones were either failing or their volume was constantly adjusted throughout the show.

Musical Director, Karen Burek, and her Band (Josh Bourdon, Alex Johnson, David Russell, and Lare Williams) do superior work with their stellar musicianship and flawless playing.  Tom Klonowski’s light design was award worthy and Jessica Reilly’s bare bones set was a thing of beauty.

In spite of a few flaws which I believe could be easily overcome with a longer run, Cotton Patch Gospel was an inspiring, moving, and entertaining night of theatre and I want to thank the cast and crew of this show for making my epic journey to see it a worthwhile one.

Cotton Patch Gospel has one final performance on Saturday, August 8 at 7:30pm.  Tickets range from $16 to $20 and can be obtained in person at the Box Office or by calling them at 231-894-2540 one hour before showtime.  They can also be obtained at their website, www.howmetplayhouse.org.  The Howmet Playhouse is located at 304 S Mears Ave in Whitehall, MI.

Off to the Cotton Patch, Day 1: A Journey to Luxury

015

It is with a sense of utter glee and joy that I share this series of articles with you, dear readers.  I never thought it would happen, but I have embarked on an adventure that is merging all facets of my blog into one.

In one of my earliest theatre tales, I mentioned that one of my favorite plays is Cotton Patch Gospel.  While not a well known play, it was a big hit when it first appeared back in 1982.  A few years ago, I started keeping my eyes on a fansite for the show that marked where it was playing in the United States.  Given the subject matter of the show, it usually plays in the South, but I always hoped it would one day get to Omaha or close enough so that I could see it in person.  A few months ago, I saw that the show was going to be produced at the Howmet Playhouse in Whitehall, MI.  It was a long drive at slightly over 10 hours, but definitely doable.  When I found that Whitehall contained some B & Bs as well, I decided to buy a ticket to the show and break up the drive so I could review a few inns along the way.

So it was that I found myself on the road again on a spring-like summer’s day making the long journey to Whitehall.  For the first day, I would travel as far as West Dundee, IL, a village that is a mere 34 miles from Chicago.  I once wrote that Mapquest directions seem to assume that a person is driving 10 miles under the speed limit as I always seemed to arrive at my destination a good hour before the directions said I would actually arrive.  This time proved to be a different tale.

Just past Des Moines, IA, I stopped at a rest area to stretch my legs a bit and once I got back on the road, traffic immediately ground to a halt.  It turns out the state was repainting the lines on I-80, so I spent 45 minutes plodding along like a turtle while I listened to the comical rants of Lewis Black to pass the time.  Mind you, there was no warning about the painting. . .at least not up front.  As soon as I got past the painting vehicles, there was a massive digital sign blaring the warning, ROADS BEING PAINTED.  EXPECT DELAYS.  “Oh!  Is that what was happening?” I flippantly thought to myself.  State of Iowa, in the words of Jeff Foxworthy, here’s your sign.

The drive progressed pretty smoothly for a while, until I crossed the border from Iowa to Illinois.  At that point, things slowed to a snail’s crawl again because Illinois was performing heaping amounts of construction on the interstate.  To make a long story less long, I ended up arriving in West Dundee nearly two hours later than planned.

But it was well worth the drive.  I think I just may retire to West Dundee.  This is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.  There are so many historical homes here that I would have exhausted my camera’s memory card trying to take pictures of them all.  And I was going to get to stay in one!!

I found my way to The Mansion and my jaw dropped.  This inn, owned by Steve Fang & Eda Tomasone, is rivaled only by the Inn on Crescent Lake in terms of luxury and grandeur.  I was greeted by Steve who informed me that I had been upgraded to the best room in the house at no additional charge.  He said I would have room to spread out and that was understating things quite a bit.

I stayed in the Terrace Room which boasted a master bedroom, a sitting room, a private terrace, and a Jacuzzi bathtub and shower. I quickly settled in, dug out my camera, and began my explorations of The Mansion and the town of West Dundee.  The long walk felt good for my legs and worked up my appetite for dinner.

The master bedroom of the Terrace Suite.

The master bedroom of the Terrace Suite.

My private terrace

My private terrace

Jacuzzi tub and shower

Jacuzzi tub and shower

Sitting Room

Sitting Room

006

Dinner was at the Village Squire, a nice bistro in the town that boasts live entertainment.  As soon as I stepped inside, the singer/guitar player began singing the classic Beatles tune You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away and I knew I was going to be in for an enjoyable meal.  I tipped the singer for playing music from my favorite band and sat down to enjoy a Chicken Caprese Panini with a side of steak fries.  I lingered over a tasty meal while listening to live classic soft rock and enjoying the escapades of the obsessive-compulsive detective, Adrian Monk.

After dinner, I made my way to Main Street where I went to the Underground Retrocade.  For a good portion of my youth, I was an avid video gamer and this place offered me a chance to relive a bit of my childhood.  It’s two floors of classic arcade and pinball machines.  All you have to do is pay a $15 cover charge and you can play to your heart’s content and, believe me, I more than went through the cover charge in the 2.5 hours I was there.  I felt just like a kid again as I battled the Sea Hag and Brutus in Popeye, dueled with Donkey Kong, served drinks in Tapper, and chased down criminals in A.P.B.

Underground Retrocade

Underground Retrocade

019018

It was still a pleasant night as I walked back to The Mansion.  Once I returned, I took a long soak in my Jacuzzi tub and then sank into the mattress of my bed.  My lights were out until the morning.

I awoke, fully rejuvenated and ready for a great breakfast.  Breakfast consisted of orange juice, scrambled eggs (with a splash of sriracha sauce), sausage links, and pancakes.  I savored my meal and ended up having a terrific conversation with Steve who shares my interests in music and theatre.  After 90 minutes, I returned to my home to finish today’s story.

001

Shortly, I begin the 4 hour trek to Whitehall where the White Swan B & B and Cotton Patch Gospel await.  But if you find your way to West Dundee, get a room at The Mansion.  You’ll be glad you did.