Eric dropped Dave off at the airport at 5:00AM (thanks, Eric) and we met him for breakfast at 8AM. He was the worse for wear, at 12:30AM, the floor fire alarm went off, scaring the heck out of us. The worst is the mechanical voice stating. “We are investigating”. You just lay there and hope you don’t die, and listen to the fire trucks come. The you go back to sleep. Turns out Dave went downstairs, and it was some control system that wasn’t right. Eric couldn’t sleep anyway, and being waken up by an alarm is not good.

After breakfast, we headed off to Jasper. Of course, we have to make it thru the traffic on 97 St and 1, which was so backed up with construction it took us an extra half hour to get out of Edmonton. After the escape, we made good time all the way to Jasper, stooping for gas once in Niton Junction. We stopped at the gate to Jasper National Park and a pleasant woman asked our plans and charged us for two days in Jasper and Banff. (35CAD)

On the way, we discussed attractions. We wanted to be frugal, but heck, we were on vacation and wanted to see everything. Tina had recommended the Maligne Lake tour in Jasper, and based on the pictures on the Web, I wanted in. We called on the way – no reservations on the phone, and only two slots each in the two cruises remaining in our arrival timeframe.

POINT: From Edmonton, go directly to the lake – they sell tickets there too.

We stayed at the Athabasca Hotel in Jasper, centrally located and loaded with personality. It looked like an old Western hotel, and Eric’s room certainly did with a single washstand, and bed – and that’s it. He had a common washroom, which saved money but was not going to work for Bette.

We went to the visitor center first, looking for the Maligne Lake tour. They directed us to the Brewster center down XXX street, but we had trouble finding it. We managed to walk down most of the streets downtown – it is small and very manageable, and eventually found the office, and signed up for the 3PM tour. We first stopped at the hotel, found our rooms not ready, and headed out to the Maligne Lake road, a bit XXX of Jasper. Well, the road is, but you drive at least a half hour to get to the lake from the main road.

We of course missed the big “P” sign and had to U-Turn to get into the parking lot. Ran into the ticket office, exchanged our vouchers for boarding passes and went into the visitor center / gift shop / snack shop to try to eat a bit.

Chicago Day 2013

No traffic. What is wrong? Off to The Antique Lady for selling some pictures. Not good enough, no pedigree. We ended up donating them.

Lunch at the Little Market Brasserie in the Talbott hotel. The last time, it was a different place. Got to sit outside in the lovely weather. Chellie had the chopped salad, Bette had the Lobster roll, I had the Big Baby burger. Good. Damn parking in the Gold Coast garage cost more than lunch.

Drop Bette off at her Tri Delta event at the Women’s Athletic Club. Lots nicer than the Body Club at home. Even had an elevator operator. And bathrooms — surprise! — Men’s rooms are kinda hard to find.

Raced to make the boat at 3:30P. Chellie and I paid at the kiosk, jumped on and seconds later were off on the Wendella Architecture boat tour. Lots of fun. Good guide. Never saw the buildings from that angle. Want to take the Chicago Architecture Fdn one to compare.

Then we head to Gage on S Michigan where we got Moscow Mules, the new hot drink from the 40’s. We waited for Bette in the bar, who was waiting for us at the boat – she finally called and we called her in. We had a Mule waiting, so it was all good. After supper – some roasted bone marrow, and split beet salads. And some good draft beers.

Then it’s off to The Book Of Mormon at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W Monroe. If you like South Park, you’ll love it. Then pay another gob of parking money, drop Chellie off at her apartment, and off to the 1.25 hour drive home.

Note: if you park for a show, try to show up within 5 hours of the show. We got there earlier and were charged the full standard rate, not the discounted rate specified on the ticket.

Lodge Seconds

For those traveling to Florida or other points, make sure to stop in the Lodge factory store in Sevierville TN. The traffic and construction made it a bit tough, but it was worth it.

We got a 12″ Carbon Steel Skillet for $40, a blemished cast iron 10″ skillet (absolutely perfect for corn bread) for only $12, and a blemished cast iron two-burner (e.g. pancake) griddle for only $40. The blemished items are completely don’t care – as far as I can tell, they are perfect.

Worth the trip. You are there anyway!

Second City Weekend

Some buds at work (props to Eddie, John and Danny, all whom since have left the company…) gave me a birthday gift card for The Second City, Chicago’s influential comedy-improv troupe. I booked the tickets along with a Dinner+Show package, including a prix-fixe dinner at Bistrot Margot on Wells.

We set off Sunday morning, stopping in St Charles, to see Grace in Wheaton, and Oakbrook to perform various returns and shopping items not demanding a special trip. REI took back the sock I ripped with my thumb – hey, none of the Smartwool ones ever did that.

An easy trip in on I290, and we made a quick stop to pick up 250 lbs of dumbbells in the West Loop from Nic from Craigslist. He had us back the car into the Public Storage garage, brought down the weights on a roll cart, and help load them. Good guy, and weights for about .88 a pound. A bargain. After I sell the dupes, my cost goes down even more.

Then we headed into the city, and fought Michigan Ave traffic all the way to the Intercontinental, at 505 N. Michigan. The valet stand out front was packed and we waited to get in. There was a line at the registration desk, and our stuff was delivered to the room quickly. The room was nice, but not spectacular. We got a good deal – only $160 for the AAA rate. Parking was almost more.

We dressed and headed down to get a cab. I thought we should not catch a cab on Boul Mich, as traffic was crawling, so we crossed the street, stopped at Walgreens for some Tic Tacs, and walked toward the Trump. You can always find a cab near a nice hotel, and we did before we even got to the hotel. He took off north, and cut at least 10 minutes off our trip.

We we dropped off several blocks short of the Bistrot as there was a street fair on Wells. We avoided paying the entrance donation (cheap.) and found the restaurant. It was a nice place, with outside seating, but the sun was beating on the tables and it was real loud with the bands and all. We sat at a little table in the front, where we were shaded, private, got a little A/C, and could see out the opened “front garage door” and watch the people.

Our server was personable and laid back, never rushing us. Our salads were a greens salad, with the best crispy big bacon chunks I have ever had on a salad. Bette had a wonderful pork tenderloin. I had the Steak Frites, butt steak with fries. The topping was good, but I liked the pork better. Dessert came along, Bette had an excellent bread pudding (not the best, but good) and I had Profiteroles, basically cream puffs, split, with ice cream between. More like ice milk, kind of grainy. They were good, but three is too many. I just ate the ice cream.

We left and headed north two blocks to Piper’s Alley. There was already a line outside the door, as seating is first come first seated at 6:10. We moved inside and stood on the stairs lined with big posters of Second City alums.

A good reason to get the “dinner+show” combo is you also get preferred seating, nice tables up front. We were there early – GET THERE EARLY – and we seated on the aisle in the third row.

We saw “Who do they think they are?”, the 100th Revue from the troupe. It was very good, and we sat behind kind of a ild dude that pushed the performers’ buttons a bit. The gentleman of color in the cast did a dynamite Barack Obama – SNL should hire him just for the election season. Everyone in the cast was great. I had one of the North Avenue Martinis, a blue thing with Vanilla Vodka. Yum. They also had a green thing called the Chicago River-I did not try one. We could not hang out for the customary post-show improv session as it was a holiday and there was a second show. Boo. But the gift card covered half the drinks, and we left and caught a cab back to the hotel.

In the morning, we went for a walk along the river toward the lake, and found “The Yolk” a fun looking breakfast place. We hoofed back to the hotel, got coffee at the hotel Starbucks, showered (in a highly-variable-pressure shower), met Chellie, and went upstairs to “The Continental” restaurant where we were in line in a crowded room–and the doorman had warned us about the $27 buffet. We decided to try The Yolk, but could see the line from three blocks away. Question: if the address is 355 E Ohio, why is it at the corner of Grand & McClurg? We turned back to succumb to the hotel, and stumbled across Mary’s Cafe, which looked empty, but was actually somewhat crowded. Reminded me of Mary Lou’s in Carbondale… and kind of the same food. I had the Italian sausage skillet. Good and large portions. Too large – burp.

Bid Chellie adieu, and checked out. They let us out underground so we didn’t have to fight Michigan Ave again. Easy trip home, and now, settling in for a new work week!

InterContinental Chicago, 505 North Michigan Avenue
Bistrot Margot, 1437 N Wells Street
The Second City, 1616 North Wells Street
The Yolk, 355 E Ohio Street (corner of Grand & McClurg)
Mary’s Cafe, 215 E Grand Ave

Prius Road Test

We rented a Prius at CLT for Sara’s wedding from National Car Rental. We showed up, the dude said “pick any car”, just like in the commercial. Took us 15 minutes and reading the manual to figure out that you have to press the brake BEFORE pressing the Power button. Or else you get an error message that does NOT explain the problem. Aargh. Here are some other notes.

Zippy. Powerful enough. Some issues up hills. We did many fast starts to beat people around turns to change lanes with no problem.

Cheap interior. Leaning on the console while rearranging your body causes alarming cracking noises. From the console, not the body. Not sure if it was broken or normal.

Fully equipped with audio aux jack and 12V plug in the console. Too bad I forgot the audio cable for the MP3 player. Lots of cup holders. Seats comfortable, normal three hour pains. Kinda low for folks with hip issues like me but doable.

We sat in traffic on the way from Charleston back to CLT for two extra hours and filled it up on $8 of gas. And that lasted enough to look full where we turned in the car, 50 miles later.

Controls sometimes confusing. Why is Reverse to the front, and Drive to the rear? Not intuitive to me. Hard to see miles till empty – small numbers, and a symbol, not letters.

Very loud – the car, not the motor. Love the shark sneakup. Hate the road noise.

Summary: If you drive a lot it, especially stop and go, and don’t care about loud – do it. I wish they would be a little clearer on the 5 year-$10K battery packs.

LA Burritos, circa 1985

Back in the dark ages, circa 1985 or so, I worked for Richard Spielman Precision Electronics, on the north side of Chicago. The owner, Richard Spielman, was a great guy, an atheist, an entrepreneur, and a foodie before his time, as trips to restaurants were part of our all-night construction binges. (He has also disappeared from the face of the earth.) We made light-beam devices for counting linen, and one of our installations was at ALS ? (Associated Laundry Services? Systems?) in Los Angeles.

So when install time came, we shipped 30 boxes via UPS, checked a box of tools and an oscilloscope, and the 386 PC that ran the thing, 100 floppy disks (3 sets of backups because something always went wrong) and flew to Los Angeles.

Commercial laundries are generally very industrial, but this place was forbidding. Even the hotel parking lot was behind barbed wire, and you had to push a button to open the gate. Not a good neighborhood.

But that didn’t stop us from venturing out in search of food. Richie found this burrito place, and I was wondering about it the other day. I can’t remember what happened ten minutes ago, how will I remember this?

So google “Los Angeles Burritos”. They flip up. I find Rick’s, a longtime favorite of Steve Dahl. Ten pages later, click off to Yelp. Same search. On page 11, “El Rey Tacos“. I remember Tacos El Rey. Boy that whacks a brain cell. Read the 2nd review. “I wasn’t brave enough to try the GARBAGE BURRITO.” I think this is it…

King Blvd and Normandie (again with Normandie…) Bad neighborhood. So far everything fits. Check Google Street View. Could be. As the Magic 8-Ball says, “Answer Hazy”.

AFAIK, this is it. One piece of history, complete.

Twins vs Seattle

On our trip to Minneapolis, Sam got some free (to us – $62 to the season ticket holder) tickets for the Twins vs Seattle at the new Target Field. We were to go Saturday night. Of course, his plant melted down the day before and he needed to go in Saturday to relieve the chief troubleshooter, and Bette bailed, so Lou and I went. Karin dropped us off on the triangle outside the park, and we mooshed in with the herd of humanity.

The park is nice, new. Crowded. We had seats in Section 111, Row 24, on the right side behind home plate up at the top of the lower section. I could sit on the top of the chair to change positions. Nice. 85 degrees, no wind. A bit warm. I got a Summit ale and peanuts – all the food counters were packed. Supposedly the food was good. Maybe later.

The first inning was the game – Twins scored three runs, and that was it. Some nice plays. We got up in the 3rd inning and walked around to see the park from the different vantage points. You could only see the Jumbotron from the side where our seats were. THey have the same electronic displays we saw at United Center displaying ads and scores the whole game. Lots of ads, everywhere. Ick. I took a picture for a guy and his dad. I bought a $1.50 peach from the lonely farm stand.

Twins win in just over 2 hours, coming to within 1/2 game of the White Sox, currently in first place. We pushed our way out, called for a pickup, and the girls were in the car already on the way back from Plymouth. In ten minutes we saw them at the light and hopped in.

A nice afternoon at the park.

Wednesday 30 June – Eye, Abbey, Harrods – London 2010

Got up late. Too much Extreme Engineering on the telly. Race around and walk down Victoria St. Nice walk, lots and lots of people. Nobody seems to move out of the way unless you are swinging a mace. Lots of dodging. Past Westminster Abbey, and cross the bridge to the county building to the London Eye.

The London Eye

We arrived at the flight area at 0940. Checked in at the Flight desk. We bought our tickets online in the States, but not much line at the time. We even bought the line insurance, didn’t really need it. There were bottles and flights of champagne there to purchase while flying. We decided it was a little too early. We got our picture books with points of interest to see when on top. On the way out I saw a card on a desk – 440 quid for a private flight. Sounds like a good idea for a little too much.

Walked out to the flight area, checked the backpack – “do you have a knife?” Not sure, really, but I guess not since I checked this very bag thru security Stateside. I thought I might have my golf penknife. Got thru anyway.

In line, a couple enquired about the picture cards. We said we had gotten them with our tickets, and offered to let them use one if we were in the same car. Two lines, with gates to let you on, just like Disney. So the egg comes from the left, and as it moves across the floor, slowly, each gate is opened and you jump across – “Mind the Gap” comes to mind here – into the egg, an elliptical clear plastic bubble. Everyone hops on, they seal the doors, and we are off.

Up Up Up. We matched the close stuff, it was a bit hazy for the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, but you can see all the government buildings and lots of ships on the Thames. Then Down Down Down.

Announcement:  “Stand in the front”. This was for the souvenir photo. Flash. The pictures were bad. I looked at the wrong camera, and in that, I was blocked by another woman. No sale.

Westminster Abbey

Take the guided tour. You see stuff that the general public cannot see. I think you can book ahead of time. Do so.


At the abbey tried to find a bus stop for more info. Asked a driver – he said tap your card (to pay – Oyster card is a miracle), and stand there – in the aisle behind the driver. We did so for three stops. Then he called us over, said to get off and catch the C1 to Knightsbridge. A woman in line tried to sell us on a bus to Sloane Square and transferring. She got on a bus and we didn’t; the C1 pulled up. We went. Traffic was really bad, so as we approached the Knightsbridge stop, we bailed out and walked. Much faster.

Turned the corner left on Brompton and wondered where Harrod’s was. Just about to pull out the map when we see a note on white paper “Harrod’s 300m” with an arrow.

Harrod’s was busy and overwhelming. Neiman Marcus. Big deal. Bette did find a nice purse. I considered a golf ball marker. Too thick. The elevator area with the Egyptian motif is cool. We were told, “You must have lunch there.” Fancy food court, completely mobbed, expensive, and no where to sit. I pulled out Sara’s tour cards and located a pub a few blocks away.

We had to walk down a long alleyish street, but found the Grenadier Pub, charming and uncrowded. Outside seating was filled, so we sat inside with several regulars. Unfortunately, lunch service ended 15 minutes before but the helpful barman supplied pints and sausages with spicy mustard to tide us over. Beats Harrod’s any day.

Sainsbury’s for shopping

Sara makes dinner