Saturday, April 25, 2009

No Sleep 'til Texas

It is usually not worth noting in travel-related materials that I am very pious person and, out of respect for other peoples' beliefs, I tend to keep my own to myself. It is only proper, however, that I start this post by sincerely thanking God for watching over me and my six cats and bringing us in safely on our non-stop journey from Virginia to Texas.

This trip was, in short, a 1,580-mile trek that I made straight through in 26 1/2 hours, moving at an average speed of 60 mph and stopping only to refuel, use the restroom, and buy more coffee, caffeinated soda, and energy drinks.

Under normal conditions, I would say that it was unnecessary and maybe even a little foolhardy to try to cover so much ground without a backup driver, at least one overnight stay, or both. The purpose of the trip, however, was to relocate our six cats and to get them out of the house the night before the packers came to our house. My original plan was to have a co-pilot and to spend one overnight in Memphis, just past the halfway point. My travelling companion dropped out at the last minute, however, citing a "miscommunication" and leaving me without enough time to create an alternate plan. To say that I set off from Virginia with at least a little sense of doom hanging over me would not be inaccurate.


As I added to this post my third night in the house, I was still physically exhausted. That old saying that “The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long” would seem to apply to micro-instances and not just whole lifetimes; for just over the span of a day I burned as brightly as I ever have but it took a toll on me, to be sure. As I wrote this over a strong cup on green tea, I had been up only a little more than 12 hours and was struggling to stay awake and focused. I was not able to keep going much longer then in any event and, after writing a few paragraphs for a handful of other projects, read a few more pages on The Knight and Knave of Swords, a book I have deferred reading for almost two decades, and then passed out for awhile.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Charlotte Has Free Wi-Fi

It is always a pleasant surprise to discover an airport with free Wi-Fi, and to the short list of those that do I am pleased to add Charlotte-Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. (That was not the case at Austin-Bergstrom International in Austin, Texas, where I started my trip this morning, and where a connection for the half-hour I wanted to spend online would have cost me $7.95 -- the balance of the 24 hours I would have paid for being extraneous).

(Name: CLTNET/Charlotte Douglas International Aiport Wireless Internet Public Access Network)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pho is a Phull Meal

If you've ever had pho -- a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup that is one of my favorite foods in the whole world -- then odds are you either love it or hate it (very few people tend to have middling views on the stuff). And if you have never tried it, it is a treat that I recommend you try at least twice (assuming you aren't addicted to it after the first bowl).

About half the time I take someone out for their first bowl of pho, they completely blow me off when I tell them that it is a full meal. Even knowing that I tend to have a good appetite, they quite often assume that somehow it isn't going to be enough for them, and order a plate of spring rolls, a spicy beef salad, etc. I have never seen someone do that and then be able to eat both meals.

Pho is, in fact, very filling, and a large bowl -- which, typically at just 50 cents more than a small bowl, is the way to go -- is more than enough for just about anyone, most people being hard-pressed to finish even that.

My brother-in-law Dean Minnick and I are currently on the road and staying overnight in Austin, Texas, where we were lucky enough to discover Hai Ky, a little pho shop just down the street from our hotel. I enjoyed my large #1 bowl of pho very much, and I think Dean would have enjoyed his small #13, his first bowl of the stuff, if he had taken my advice and not also ordered that huge plate of vermicelli and roast pork! But, like I said, they don't always like to listen ...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Kansas Travel Advisory, etc.

WICHITA, KANSAS -- Perhaps if I spent some time in Kansas I would be a bigger fan of the state ... to date, however, my experience with it has pretty much been confined to long, dreary drives across it east and west on I-70 and my current long, dreary drive south on I-35. As things stand now, I can only wonder that Dorothy Gale expressed apprehension rather than relief at realizing she was somewhere else.

My brother-in-law, Dean Minnick, and I are currently holed up for the night in the La Quinta on Kellogg Drive in Wichita. It is nice only in comparison to the Budget Inn Dean had allowed his GPS to guide us to, where we most assuredly would have had our throats slit during the night. Pros and cons to our current digs follow:

* Young woman at the front desk was very friendly and professional and, after we mentioned some of the cons that follow, offered to switch our room for us.
* Our room was right off the lobby and has a back door directly into a very pleasant atrium pool area.
* Received a military discount of about $10.
* Room and public areas, while somewhat worn, were clean (with the exception of the perintent "con" listed below).

* Hot tub in the pool area, which I would have gladly availed myself of after our long day's drive down from Minnesota, was busted. (The hotel in general has seen better days and shows signs of wear everywhere; I would be surprised if it was not torn down in two years.)
* Light switch in our room was broken, so we could not use the three lights on one side of the room.
* Frames of both beds in the room have an ankle-level metal flange sticking out of them that can cause a painful bag to the leg for anyone not being careful.
* Coffee maker was set up in a spot without an outlet and had to either be perched in the bathroom or set on the floor to use.
* Washcloth in the bathroom had one corner neatly turned back to display ... an imbedded pubic hair. Yuck.

In short, nearly $100 was a lot to pay for what we got. There are other places east of this one -- going west will take you into increasingly-seedy downtown Wichita -- and you should probably just stay at one of them instead. Either way you go on many of the main drags through town, the roads are under construction -- a perpetual condition typical in towns with a traditional mob influence.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thanks to the MPS AFSC

I would normally avoid using so many acronyms in the title of a story but, because of its relation to the military, thought it was appropriate in this case ... In short, I am posting from the Armed Forces Service Center at Minneapolis - St. Paul International Airport, where I am laid over for about three hours, and wanted to thank the ladies that run it for doing such a wonderful job. For anyone eligible to use USO/AFSC facilities when they are travelling, I strongly recommend it.

The one I am at right now is especially nice and graciously provides food, free Internet access, and a quiet place to work and relax (and even bunk facilities for people delayed overnight). It is an independent facility that was founded in the early 1970s by a woman whose son was killed in Vietnam and is operated completely by volunteers and private funds.

Sprawling MPS is not a bad airport in itself and, according to a press release by its management, "has been recognized as the 3rd Best Airport in the World among airports serving 25 to 40 million passengers a year. MSP also ranks as the Best Airport in North America in that size category. The recognition is based on traveler surveys conducted through Airports Council International's 2008 Airport Service Quality Awards program."