California/Arizona, March 2006

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Travelogue: California and Arizona
March 2006

By Roger W. Reini

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Prologue - March 9

When I made my last visit to California in September 2004, I caught a cold on the way home and had a miserable return trip on the train.  In two days, I will be taking the train again to the Golden State, and once again, I’ll be suffering from a cold.  I caught this one Monday/Tuesday overnight, so I’ll have had five days to recover.  The trip may still be a bit uncomfortable, but it should be less so than if I’d caught the cold the day of the trip.

On this trip, I’m planning to go to Los Angeles and then Arizona.  My first days there will be in Orange County – Anaheim, to be precise.  I have tickets to two games of the World Baseball Classic (Monday night and Tuesday afternoon), and I am considering visiting Disneyland then.  Might I want to postpone my Disney activities until the following week?  I won’t really know that for a few days.  Now it’s time to continue packing.


Saturday March 11

I woke up slightly after 6 this morning, giving me plenty of time to check e-mail and do my final packing.  Unfortunately, I didn’t give myself enough time to put the season finale of Battlestar Galactica onto DVD (I had recorded it with my TiVo Friday night), meaning I wouldn’t be able to watch it until my return.  Actually, I could buy the episode through iTunes, but it would be sized for viewing on an iPod – in other words, a small image.

By 7 AM, I was in my car pulling out of the driveway.  It was a bit chilly outside, which one would expect for March in Michigan.  There was a hint of fog as I drove down Ford Road to Mercury Drive in Dearborn to reach the train station.  The access roads to the train station had changed somewhat since my last trip there, but nothing major.  I found a parking spot, parked, and went inside the station wheeling my bags.  I stood in the ticket line thinking that I had to check in, but I didn’t.  The line was only for those buying or picking up tickets.  After buying a Pepsi, I went out to the boarding area and stood around with everyone else for quite some time.  The train was half an hour late pulling into the station.  I wasn’t too concerned by this, for I had a three-hour layover in Chicago planned.

The cold that had started Monday was definitely on the decline.  Although it kept me home from work for two days, it seemed to be subsiding more rapidly than usual.  That was perfectly fine with me.  I recalled another time (September 1997) when I caught a cold on vacation, only to have it progress rapidly and go away when I took a trip to San Francisco.  It wasn’t gone yet, but I was feeling much better than I had been a few days ago.

Today’s trip was one that I had taken many times before, but not like this.  On every previous trip out of Dearborn, I rode Coach class.  Today, I took Business Class for the first time.  And what did I get with my $10 premium?  A complimentary drink (I chose root beer), a complimentary newspaper (New York Times), a bit more comfortable seat, and very close access to the café.  In fact, I had to pass through the café to go anyplace else on the train.  I sat on the south side of the train throughout the trip, so as I left, I got to see the TPC golf course, Greenfield Village, the POEE building at work, etc. 

The fog deepened as we passed through Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.  It was cloudy in Jackson, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo.  I passed the time by reading the paper, then by reading the latest issue of QST magazine (for amateur radio; I recently became a licensed amateur, KD8CSE) and the book Beyond Band of Brothers by Dick Winters.  I had to blow my nose a few times due to my cold, but not as much as I had feared.  Still, I had carried several packs of travel Kleenex with me, just in case.

We were traveling at a pretty good clip between Kalamazoo and New Buffalo, reaching over 90 miles an hour.  Amtrak owns this section of the track, so it’s not hindered by freight train traffic.  By the time we got to New Buffalo and northern Indiana, it was noticeably warmer on the train.  I was wishing I had worn a lighter shirt; but if I had, I would have been complaining earlier that I was cold.  As we rolled through Michigan City, Indiana, I noticed a large group of motorcyclists preparing to hit the road.  I don’t think they would have been doing that if it were cold and snowy! 

The train arrived at Union Station 12:20 PM Chicago time.  As soon as I got off the train, I was thinking about lunch.  I ended up going to McDonald’s for a double Filet-O-Fish sandwich.  Interestingly enough, when I made this same trip six years ago, I had a Filet-O-Fish there as well, though it was a single rather than a double.  However, that time, it made me somewhat ill; I did not have a repeat performance today.  Next, I visited the newsstands, debating what to buy.  I didn’t get anything, not right away, because of the baggage I was hauling.  It would have been another bag to carry when I was already overloaded.  Then it was off to the Metropolitan Lounge for sleeping car passengers, where I checked my bags and checked my e-mail.  On my last visit here (September 2004), I couldn’t do this, for I couldn’t connect my cell phone to my Powerbook.  At the time, I wondered if I should get a new cell phone.  Two months later, I did, one with Bluetooth capability, allowing me to connect wirelessly to the Powerbook.  I sent a short note to my sister and to my aunt and uncle describing the trip so far, telling them I was feeling fine, etc.  I then called another aunt and uncle and let them know that I was going on vacation – that I was already ON vacation, in fact!

While in the lounge, I worked on the first part of this entry.  I would frequently get up and go for a drink (note to any Bahá’ís reading this: I was recovering from a cold and thus eligible for exemption from the Fast).  At one point, I left the lounge, Powerbook in hand, and revisited the newsstands, a task more easily performed while not wheeling heavy luggage.  I got an advance copy of the Chicago Tribune and the Saturday Wall Street Journal.  Were I not on vacation, I would have received the Journal at home, but I’d stopped delivery for the duration of the vacation.  At one point, an Amtrak employee (the conductor, perhaps) came around and collected our tickets in an attempt to speed up the process.

Around 2:45, those of us traveling on the Southwest Chief were called for boarding.  I recovered my bags from the storage area, repacked my Powerbook in one of them, then stood around waiting to go to the train.  We were led out to our train; I was on the lower level of car 0330 – room 14.  This was just like the last trip on the Chief, where I’d also had a lower-level berth.  I put my rolling bag in the luggage area and brought my carry-on bag with me to the room and settled in.  At 3:14, we were under way.  The sleeping car attendant introduced himself: Fred Rogers.  He sure didn’t look like Mister Rogers!

Having made several long-distance trips by train over the years, I was very familiar with the standard bedroom on the Superliner.  Two seats that combined to form the lower bed, an upper bed that folded down, a small closet, and toilet and shower down the hall.  I took a picture or two of downtown Chicago shortly after we pulled out.  We passed through familiar railyard regions, then went through the western and southwestern suburbs.  I noticed a Trader Joe’s and a Borders in La Grange; I made note of them for use on a future Chicago visit.  I noticed an Edward Hines Lumber yard in Downers Grove; I found this somewhat amusing because of Edward Hines Drive in western Wayne County (no other relation between them, to my knowledge).  This made my observation of the nearby intersection of Woodward and Warren even more amusing; it’s a major intersection in Detroit, but not in Downers Grove.  The skies had been mostly clear, but by the time we reached Aurora, the skies had clouded up again.
For dinner, I ate early at the 5 o’clock seating.  Unfortunately, I didn’t care that much for the turkey medallions; they seemed a bit dry to me, although I ate all of one and a third of the second.  My dinner companions tonight were a woman returning to Omaha by way of Kansas City and a couple from Chicago.  He was a White Sox fan (his World Champions 2005 t-shirt made that very clear), and that irked me slightly, remembering that the Sox had beat the Astros in the Series.  He did suffer a mishap with his sour cream packet (not that there was any relation between the two): when he opened it, it squirted out in two paths.  One glop flew onto his forehead, and the second went way up and fell on the seat cushion of the table behind him.  As we traveled westward, we could see storms in the distance.  I applied my Skywarn training when observing the sky; fortunately, I saw no signs of an approaching tornado.

Back in my berth, I considered taking a picture of the setting sun, but before I could get set up, the sun had fully set.  I then pulled out my iPod and listened to the first parts of a radio serial, Batman’s Great Mystery from The Adventures of Superman.  Even after nearly 60 years, it was still entertaining.  The train stopped at Fort Madison in Iowa, and it was a designated smoke stop.  Any smoker chomping at the bit for a cigarette but unable to indulge due to the train’s no-smoking policy could get off and light one up on the platform.  I got off, but not to smoke.  No, I just got off for a stretch and for some fresh air.  Once we were under way again, I had my bed prepared, then lay down and read for a bit before finally calling it a night.


Sunday March 12

Although I had to get up a few times during the night to use the restroom (a side effect of some medications I take), I felt that my sleep was better and sounder than on other trips.  Perhaps it had to do with being on the lower level, where the rocking of the train car would be less noticeable.  It still rocked and clacked a bit; that couldn’t be helped.

I woke up for good around 7 AM Central time; the train was west of Garden City, Kansas.  For breakfast, I had an egg/sausage/potato combination along with pancakes; it was all right, though I’ve had better.  I certainly have had better fruit, for the meal came with a fruit bowl, but the only things I cared for in it were the grapes.

The train continued westbound, entering Colorado, passing through the small towns of Holly and Granada.  I continued reading the Dick Winters book.  Just like on my previous trip, we made a lengthy stop in La Junta.  This time, it was long enough for me to leave the immediate area of the train station and take some pictures across the street in the town.  I did pop inside the train station long enough to use the restroom, to get a bottle of Pepsi from the vending machine, and to pick up some tourist literature that might be useful on a future visit – Pike’s Peak, anybody?  We sleeping car passengers were given the Sunday newspaper from Pueblo for our reading enjoyment.  While we were there, an ambulance arrived at the station, and the paramedic went to my car.  Seems an elderly passenger was having some sort of difficulty and had to be taken to the hospital.  Our train was 15 minutes late leaving as a result.

As we traveled westward and southwestward, I saw a prominent snow-capped mountain in the distance.  Could that have been Pike’s Peak?  It was in the right direction, and it did resemble the mountain in the literature I’d picked up.  I didn’t have access to a good map to know for sure.  I tried to take a picture of it but had difficulty doing so; it wasn’t easy to see in the viewfinder, and the bouncing of the train didn’t help.  Around 10:30, we went through Raton Pass (a tunnel) and into New Mexico.  We stopped in Raton long enough for me to get off, get another Pepsi, and take some pictures.  As we chugged southward and westward, I was listening to my iPod while enjoying the scenery.  I finished listening to that Superman serial, then put on some of my favorite music while awaiting the call to lunch.  I didn’t head to the dining car right away when lunch was called, for I wasn’t hungry enough.  When I did go, I had an Angus burger and a chocolate bundt cake that was topped with ice cream for dessert.  That sure filled me up!  Back in my berth, I decided to listen to the Quandary Phase (part 4) of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy.

We reached Albuquerque ahead of schedule, so we had a lengthy stop there.  One could get off the train and walk around.  Like last time, there were some Indian vendors selling their wares on the platform.  Unlike last time, it was possible to leave the platform and go into town, which I did.  I stopped at a Cold Stone Creamery for a banana milkshake, and then I walked a couple of blocks around downtown Albuquerque.  Some of the streets near the station happened to be Route 66, and they were marked as such.  I saw an interesting sign for the NYPD restaurant – in this case, New York Pizza Department.  There was also a Tucano Brazilian Grill near the station, but there was no time to go there.  I went back to the train with plenty of time to spare, checked e-mail and called aunt Marie and uncle Bill.

The sun was bright as we pulled out, so I had to close my curtains for a while.  Once we started traveling westward again, I was no longer looking directly at the sun.  I heard reports that the eastbound train was delayed several hours due to snow in Flagstaff; would we experience the same problems?  I didn’t know and didn’t particularly care, for my time pressures were minimal.  While I waited for the 7:30 seating for dinner, I took more pictures and finished listening to the fourth part of the Hitchhiker’s Guide.  At the 7:30 seating, I shared a table with a mother and daughter from Whitmore Lake (the daughter’s in Wixom now).  They had steak for dinner, while I had the chicken fried steak.  It came as two patties, although one was sufficient for me.  Then I had the cheesecake for dessert; like all of the other desserts, it was good.  While we were eating, we stopped at Gallup.  It turned out we were an hour late.  We could see several hotels and several trading post stores along the main road.  It looked like an interesting place to visit in the future.

We were still running an hour late as we pulled into Winslow; the train didn’t even stay for a minute, and then we were under way again.  I called for the attendant to prepare my bed, and then I went to sleep.


Monday March 13

Once again, I had to get up a couple of times to go to the restroom down the hall.  When I woke up for good, it was around 5:30, and we were arriving at Barstow.  Now we were two hours late.  I knew this because I had a copy of the timetable for the train in my room.  But all of the bad weather was behind us as we tooled into Victorville and San Bernardino.  I had pancakes and sausage this morning, and then I visited the café car for a can of Pepsi and a can of root beer for drinking later on.  Once we got into cellphone range, I tried checking e-mail.  This was not that easy to do, for the train would go into and out of cellphone range.  Naturally, I would lose the connection whenever we went out of range.

At 8:45, we stopped at Fullerton, the final stop before Union Station in L.A.  We arrived there around 9:30 or so, only an hour and a half late, so we made up some time crossing town.  I left the train, visited the restroom, then proceeded to the Budget rental counter.  I would be driving a blue Pontiac Grand Prix for the next week and a half.  The car was in an underground garage, and after spending several minutes connecting my XM radio and my GPS device, I left and headed onto Sunset Blvd., then onto Alameda and the southbound 101.  My general destination was Anaheim, where I would be staying; however, with the assistance of the GPS device, my first destination was the Fry’s in Anaheim.  With my interests, Fry’s is always a good bet for killing time, even if I’m not looking for anything.  I was in the market for power supplies, specifically one suitable for powering an amateur radio transceiver and/or amplifier.  Now it took me quite some time to find the power supplies at Fry’s, and when I did, I found none of them suitable.  Insufficient current, mainly.  Nor did I find anything else among the books, CD’s, software, computer or audio-visual equipment that I desperately wanted, so I left without getting anything.

Next, I navigated to the Ham Radio Outlet in Anaheim via the GPS.  It wasn’t too far from Fry’s.  For a newly licensed ham such as myself, it was a mother lode of gear and books.  I had received one of their catalogs in the mail, and now I could see and play with all the radios I had seen.  I didn’t get any radios today, though I did pick up some magazines.  Now it was time for lunch, and I had a specific place in mind: Souplantation (also known as Sweet Tomatoes in some places, including Chicago).   I didn’t know where the closest one was, but the GPS did, and it plotted my route to the Souplantation in Fullerton.  I’ve been to them on numerous occasions, so I knew what to expect from the salad bar, bread, pasta/soup and dessert bars.  I knew to expect something good, and I was not disappointed.  I thought the tomato soup was very good.  Afterwards, I spent a few minutes in the nearby Barnes & Noble bookstore and in the slightly-less-nearby
 Target.  Now I was considering a new swimsuit, for I’d lost weight and my current one was too loose for comfort (and possibly the law).  Target had some, but I couldn’t be sure what they meant by sizes L and XL, so I passed on them.

The cold that had started a week ago was now almost a memory.  Back in 1997, I caught a cold while in Texas, but as soon as I went to California, it went away.  The same thing appears to have happened this time: go to California, and your cold goes away.  A rather expensive cold remedy, to be sure, but one that’s more fun than taking Nyquil.

Now it was time to check into the hotel.  Once again, GPS to the rescue!  It guided me down the 5 to the Holiday Inn Express on Katella Avenue.  I would be staying on the fourth floor, room 422.  It faced east and west.  To the west, I could see a little portion of the California Adventure park; to the east, the 5 freeway (Santa Ana Freeway) and Angels Stadium (more on that later).  I unpacked, rested for a bit, checked e-mail, and then took a shower.  Feeling refreshed, I took a short walk to review the surrounding neighborhood, as well as check out the location of the Denny’s on Harbor Blvd., for I’d received a card good for a meal discount there.  I never saw the Denny’s, but I did see several TV crews on the corner of Harbor and Katella.  They were in the process of packing up.  I wondered why they were there.  Later, I would learn that across the street from that location was the site of a vicious gang rape a few days earlier.  The victim’s boyfriend had done something to offend the gang members, and this was their revenge.  Disgusting!

My main activity tonight was at Angels Stadium: the World Baseball Classic.  This was one of the games of the second round; tonight, the US team would be playing Korea.  The stadium wasn’t far away; I could see it off in the distance from my hotel room.  It was too far to comfortably walk, though, so I got in the car and drove there.  I had been there once before, in June 1998.  I don’t recall if the two large caps were there at the time.  Walking in, I saw someone draped in the US flag being interviewed by Fox 11.  The gift shop was jammed with people waiting to buy WBC souvenirs; I had to wait in line to get in there.  Once I did, I looked for Team USA stuff, but I didn’t see any.  I saw plenty of Korean caps, white ones with a big K on them.  They seem like ideal strikeout caps to me….  I ended up leaving empty-handed.  Then I found my seat in the lower deck behind home plate, close to the action.  I’d have to be alert for foul balls, for I was not behind the protective netting.  I was sitting right on the aisle, making it easy to scoot out for concessions or a bathroom break.  Four cute young women were sitting a few rows down.  Oh yes, it was also chilly; game-time temperatures were in the 40’s.  Was I glad for my Red Wing jacket!

The game was a good one, even though Korea took an early lead.  Later in the game, that lead had widened.  As I walked out of the seating area during a break in the play, someone noticed my jacket and called out to me.  I gave them a wave.  Even later, I heard the occasional cheer “Let’s Go Red Wings!”, no doubt offered a little sarcastically, more because of frustration with Team USA’s play than any true support of the Detroit Red Wings (I was in Anaheim Mighty Duck country, remember).  Ken Griffey Jr. did hit a blast to right field that kept the US in the game, but it was ultimately not enough.  Team Korea would win.  I didn’t stick around for the end; I was getting quite chilled, and since I was still recovering from my cold, I thought it best to keep warm and not suffer any relapse.  Because I left early, I had no problems leaving the parking lot, unlike my 1998 trip, where I was unable to move for at least 30 minutes.  Back in the hotel room, I turned on the TV and saw the game.  It wasn’t live, though; this was tape delay, and I saw the Korean team jump to its early lead all over again.


Tuesday March 14

I got up around 7:15 this morning and made an e-mail check.  Then it was time to go downstairs for the complimentary breakfast.  It was rather popular, as one might expect.  Good Morning America was on the TV, and featured today were Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman promoting the DVD release of the first season of I Dream Of Jeannie.  The set for this segment had been dressed like the inside of Jeannie’s bottle.

Later on, I decided to walk over to Downtown Disney.  I wasn’t actually going to visit the parks today; that would wait until tomorrow.  But I wanted to know how to get there from my room.  I walked down Katella Avenue to Disneyland Way, then turned north, passing by Disney’s Paradise Pier and Grand Californian resorts.  Before long, I saw the monorail and the signs for Downtown Disney.  This western entrance was about a mile away from the hotel, I figured.  My first view, not counting the House of Blues seen from a distance, was of the World Of Disney, most likely the world’s largest store devoted to Disney memorabilia.  Well, I think the one at Disney World is larger.  I believe Downtown Disney in Florida is larger overall than the one here, although this one is no slouch.  Plenty of shops, plenty of restaurants.  I walked its full length from the entry plaza to the parks to the Disneyland Hotel.  Now I was looking for a hat, having forgotten to bring one along from home.  The World of Disney had several to choose from; I ended up getting two, one of those being a 50th anniversary hat.  As I overheard someone say in the store, the 50th anniversary merchandise won’t be around forever.  I also found a DVD of highlights of Disneyland, then found a Hawaiian shirt with Mickey, Goofy, Donald and Pluto.  And lastly, I bought some candy and snack crackers to send to my sister’s family in Turkey.  They wouldn’t be able to find these over there, that’s for sure!  Nor would I be able to find them anywhere else.

By this time, I was hungry and looking for lunch.  I had several choices, but I chose the ESPN Zone.  I got a burger there, and it was a good one, but it was quite large and I couldn’t finish it.  Then I returned to the hotel, taking the same path I had earlier in the morning.  It wasn’t as comfortable a walk, for my feet were getting sore, and the jacket that was necessary in the morning was a burden at noon.  Back at the hotel, I dropped off my packages and rested for a bit.  I noticed that the room hadn’t been cleaned yet, or had only partially been cleaned.  My dirty towels had been taken but no clean ones left to replace them.  This irritated me, so I complained at the front desk.  They promised to take care of it.

Now what to do?  I decided to drive down to South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.  Just before arriving there, I stopped at a Vons grocery store to get some pop for my room so that I wouldn’t have to pay vending machine prices all of the time.  Besides, I don’t ever remember seeing a vending machine that dispensed Diet Rite Cola.  Unfortunately, I had to cancel my plans, for I had a sudden urge to use the restroom, and I didn’t see any public restrooms in the store.  I knew I could find one at South Coast Plaza, and I found one in the basement of Sears.  It took me a little while to find it, and that was not a comfortable time.  After I had taken care of that unfortunate but quite necessary business, I could wander around in peace and comfort.  Now this was one of the first places I had visited in Orange County back in 1998 (meaning the mall, not the restroom), and I’d been there in 2000 as well.  Much was unchanged (the McDonalds and newsstand by Sears on the upper level, the carousel in the center court, the Back Bay Rowing Company restaurant I’d eaten at in 2000).  Some things were different:  Birraporetti’s restaurant was now a Claim Jumper restaurant, and the Robinsons-May store was closed as a result of merging with Macy’s.  There was also a new bridge that went across to the secondary building, where Borders was located.  I walked that bridge and visited the Borders store, where I picked up the new DVD of Good Night and Good Luck, which dramatized the Ed Murrow and Joe McCarthy conflict, as well as a Thomas Brothers California atlas.  Although the GPS device was very useful and didn’t take up much space, I still wanted something on paper I could refer to.  If I didn’t have the GPS device, I might have gotten the latest versions of the LA area guides.  Next, I visited the Apple Store, which was a large one compared to the Detroit-area ones.  I checked my e-mail there but didn’t buy anything.

On my way back to the hotel, I thought I would stop at Target for some things, but I was in the wrong lane and couldn’t easily turn around.  I ended up stopping at Albertson’s for that Diet Rite pop and a few snack items, along with some bottled water for later in the trip.  I drove up Bristol for several miles and ended up taking the surface streets to the hotel.  I got to see more of Santa Ana and other communities as a result.  For supper, I walked to the nearest IHOP and had a shrimp Caesar salad that wasn’t bad.

What did I not do today?  I did not go back to Anaheim Stadium for the World Baseball Classic.  To be honest, I didn’t really feel like it.  I was most interested in seeing the US play, and I’d done so last night.


Wednesday March 15

The bulb in the lamp next to my bed had burned out, or so I thought.  In the middle of the night, I learned that I had not burned out at all, for it suddenly came on and woke me up.  I turned it off and went back to bed.  When I got up for real and made my e-mail check, I had a note from my cousin Carl.  We, along with his girlfriend, were to meet this afternoon at Disneyland, and this note confirmed our arrangements.  Be near the La Brea Bakery at 2:30, the note said.  I carried my phone with me as I set out on my morning adventure: to drive Mulholland Drive, a famous roadway in the Hollywood Hills.  First, though, I had to get there.  Busy traffic on the 5 Santa Ana Freeway didn’t help.  I eventually got onto the 5 Golden State Freeway, one I’d never been on before, then made my way to the Ventura Freeway.  Here, I passed by the KABC studios and ABC’s studios, and I could see the water tower of the Disney Studios in the distance.  I stopped at a shopping center in Sherman Oaks for a bathroom visit because the drive had been so long, then it was back onto the freeway, then down the 405 (traffic jammed there) to the exit for Mulholland Drive.  It was indeed a twisty, winding road, but it has some magnificent views of the San Fernando Valley.  I pulled off the road several times to take pictures, but the views were not as clear as they could have been due to haze.  I was listening to XM’s Old Time Radio channel, and the programs at this time of day were comedies – Jack Benny, Phil Harris and Alice Faye, Burns and Allen, Arthur Godfrey Time and Vic and Sade.  The last stop on Mulholland had a great view of Hollywood and downtown LA, again tempered by the haze.

By this time, I thought it best to head back to the hotel, for I knew that would be a long drive.  It was.  Once there, I dropped off some things, then walked over to downtown Disney to meet Carl and his girlfriend Sandra.  It turned out I beat them there, so I waited around to hear from them.  A couple of cell phone calls later, there we were, all ready to enter one of the parks.  We could visit one of them today – now which would it be.  Both Carla and Sandra had been to both parks frequently, thanks to their annual passes.  I, on the other hand, had been to Disneyland once, and that was before the California Adventure park had opened.  So to California Adventure we would go! 

You entered either park from a central plaza; the California Adventure park had fewer waiting to enter than did Disneyland.  Once inside, you passed under a model of the Golden Gate Bridge, and you were in the center of the park.  We first went into the Hollywood Pictures lot, a smaller version of the Disney-MGM Studios in Florida.  Plenty of visual opportunities there.  Now none of us were into the thrill rides that Carl called “pukers”, so we concentrated on shows and taking in the whole experience.  We saw the Muppet-Vision show, which was in 3D; you can never go wrong with the Muppets, in my opinion.  In the animation section, there was a photo opportunity with Chicken Little.  I took advantage of that opportunity, and why not?  I was on vacation, after all.  Walking  around towards Paradise Pier, we realized that none of us had had lunch, so what would we do?  We would eat at the pizza parlor there.  It was a rather expensive pizza per slice, but you had to know that going in.  Carl and I had the pizza, while Sandra went with a grilled chicken Caesar salad.  The pizza slices were good, but I don’t think the grilled chicken was that great.  The atmosphere was pure California surf, and that naturally included the music:  Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, the occasional Ventures tune, etc.  Good stuff, but it was getting a bit much by the end.  We walked through Paradise Pier and noted the lack of crowds; this was unusual, according to Carl and Sandra.  We observed the section of the park that looked like Cannery Row and/or Fisherman’s Wharf.  I noted that Disney needed to put in some animatronic sea lions for the full Pier 39 effect,  referring to the sea lions hanging out at the docks in San Francisco.  We tried to get into Soarin’ Over California, but the Fastpasses were all gone for the day, and it was a 75-minute wait to get in.  So we went to see “It’s Tough To Be A Bug” instead, another 3D spectacular that had some interesting effects – including the seats!

Shortly after the bug film ended, I noticed my phone ringing.  It was in my pocket, so I didn’t hear it ring; rather, I felt it ring.  It turned out to be a friend of mine from Illinois, calling for one of our approximately bi-weekly chats.  By this point, I was ready to call it a day at California Adventure, so as we walked to the exit, I said my goodbyes to Carl and Sandra, then walked back to my hotel while talking with my friend.  By leaving the entry plaza to the east, I cut down my walking time significantly and saw parts of the area I hadn’t seen before.  After our conversation, I went back out and visited the 7-11, where I got a Slurpee.  It gave me the occasional brain freeze and gut freeze, as Slurpees and Icees tend to do.  Back at the room, I started packing up for tomorrow’s departure.  I turned on the TV and saw that Michigan and UCLA were playing in women’s softball at UCLA.  It was a bit chilly, the announcers said, and being 30-odd miles away, I agreed with their assessment!  Around 9:30, I could hear the daily fireworks from Disneyland (this was true Monday and Tuesday, too).


Thursday March 16

Today, I left Anaheim for Flagstaff, some 500 miles away.  I got up early (around 6), finished packing, checked out, and was under way by 7.  There was no need for me to go into LA proper; that would have taken me out of my way, in fact!  I took Katella Avenue over to the 57 and up to the 60, and I took that eastbound for a while.  In Covina, I stopped for gas at a 76 station and had breakfast at the Jack In The Box next door.  There was a Mattel Toy Store across the street; it seemed to be an official factory store.  I got back on the 60 and took that over to the 15, where I headed northward.  I got through Cajon Pass and was now in the high desert.  I stopped at Victorville for a drink and Barstow for a bathroom break.  In Barstow, I would turn east onto I-40 (do they call it “the 40” in Barstow?) and head towards Arizona.

Naturally, XM Radio was keeping me company, although I was also monitoring some of the amateur radio repeaters on the work.  Things were quiet there, for the most part.  I stayed on I-40 for most of its length, although I did exit at Essex and follow the Goffs Road section of Route 66.  I had taken a small portion of it in 1994 but had almost immediately turned around and got back onto US 95.  Since my ultimate destination that time was Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and not any place westward, it was the right decision then.  Today’s trip put me back onto that portion of US 95 and I-40.  I stopped for lunch in Needles at the Taco Bell, where I had a Southwest Steak Bowl.  Then it was back onto I-40 for the trip into Arizona.

Things seemed little changed from when I last was in the area, some 11 years earlier.  I did notice gas stations at the Highway 95 exit for Lake Havasu City; back in 1994, there weren’t any.  I continued eastward on I-40.  This stretch had been part of Route 66 in the 1950’s.  Halfway to Kingman, I noticed the geodesic dome house in Yucca, which I remembered from previous trips.  I saw the entrance to Ford’s Arizona Proving Grounds.  I saw Kingman; from the freeway, it looked little different.  I stopped for gas on the other side of Kingman, then continued eastward.

When I saw the sign for Business I-40 in Flagstaff, I exited the freeway.  This was part of Route 66, and I knew it would take me to my hotel in town.  It turned out that I should have turned right instead of left at a key intersection.  If I’d turned right, my hotel was immediately on my left.  By turning left, though, and then attempting to go around the block, I ended up driving through most of the Northern Arizona University campus and found myself at the intersection of I-40 and I-17, or just north of there, actually.  After I got onto northbound Milton and endured the traffic from a construction project, I found myself at the front doors of the Embassy Suites hotel in Flagstaff.  I checked in but had to have my keys reprogrammed because they didn’t work.  My room was 102, a corner unit on the first floor.  Since this was a suite hotel, my room was in fact a one-bedroom suite.  There was a small refrigerator and microwave; the refrigerator was soon stocked with my pop and water from LA.  I turned on the bedroom TV and watched (listened to was more accurate, for I was unpacking) Mexico defeat the US in the World Baseball Classic, thus eliminating the US from the tournament.

For supper, I walked next door to the Mandarin Buffet restaurant, which specialized in Chinese food, as one might expect from the name.  When I went inside and reviewed the buffet lines, I noticed that they had a Mongolian barbecue option, and I decided to try that along with some of the other buffet dishes.  Their Mongolian options were similar to those of BD’s, but there were fewer options here.  Still, it was tasty, though BD’s was better.  Afterwards, I walked to the Barnes and Noble store across the street.  It seemed to be as big as a B&N in larger cities.  I didn’t get anything from there.  Then it was back to the hotel for the night.


Friday March 17

Today was the day I would go up to the Grand Canyon.  This was bound to be one of the highlights of my trip, if not the highlight.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I got up fairly early this morning and had breakfast in the lobby.  This was not a full-fledged restaurant operation, but it was on a higher level than breakfasts at Holiday Inn Express or Hampton Inn.  There was a buffet line with hot items and cold items, but there was also a made-to-order line.  After showing a room key, you could get eggs and omelets, pancakes, etc., prepared however you wanted them.  However, I stayed away from that, and I only had a few things from the buffet.  I didn’t want to be too burdened this morning with frequent visits to the restroom.

Right around 7, I set off for the Grand Canyon.  I took US 180 out of town – a scenic route, I was told.  As I left Flagstaff and headed northwest, I was reminded of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  It must have been all the trees and the snow cover.  That, and Flagstaff’s being a fairly small town, though certainly much larger than Hancock and Houghton.  However, the occasional glimpse of the San Francisco peaks and other mountains in the distance told me in no uncertain terms that this was not the UP.  Before long, the climate and terrain changed, and the resemblance to the UP faded.  At the intersection of US 180 and Highway 64, there was the little town of Valle, and across the street from the Flintstones RV park was a gas station and convenience store.  It was time for a bathroom break, so I stopped.  Inside, there was a machine where one could buy Grand Canyon park passes and save some time at the gate.  I bought a 7-day pass for $20, the going rate.  Then I waited for the men’s room to reopen after cleaning.  Only thing was, it didn’t reopen.  I waited outside for some time, and then the man cleaning it (the store owner, perhaps) noticed me and directed me to use the ladies’ room.  No one else was in the store at the time, and the ladies’ room was unoccupied, so I followed his direction.  I could continue onward in comfort.

Just south of the park, there were a few hotels, restaurants, and an IMAX theater showing a film on the Grand Canyon.  I didn’t stop at any of them, for my goal lay dead ahead: Grand Canyon National Park.  I stopped at the gate, showed my pass, and received the visitor’s guide.  It wasn’t easy getting the guide, for the traffic lane had me pass the guard shack on the passenger side.  There was no way to reach across, but the guard/ranger aimed the guide expertly into the passenger window.  Now I knew where to go and what would be available for me to do.  I looked for a parking place, and the first one that appeared was for Mather Point.  One could only park there for an hour, though.  There were a few cars already there (8:30 AM or shortly thereafter), but I had no problem finding a spot to park.

As I got out of my car, I caught a few glimpses of the canyon, but not until I reached one of the observation ledges at Mather Point did I fully experience the Grand Canyon.  One may have seen it in photos and films many times over the years, but there is nothing like seeing it in person.  Words cannot do the grandeur of the canyon justice.  To gaze out on the wide expanses of colored rock – to look downward and know that the ground below is nearly a mile below you – to marvel at the intricate rock formations carved out the forces of nature or the hand of the Lord, depending on your viewpoint (same thing, really, when you think about it) – one cannot help but feel awed and humbled by the magnificence of the canyon.  There were some humorous touches, notably the close-by rocks that had coins tossed on them, close by yet quite out of reach.  One dare not reach for those coins without secure safety harnesses!  I suspect that the coins are collected periodically and donated to charity, probably the Grand Canyon Association.

There was evidence of recent snow at the canyon; there were icy patches on the observation ledge at Mather Point, making for some awkward navigation at times.  I had to watch my footing as I moved to a point along the rail, where I had my picture taken by the head of a Japanese family, returning the favor I’d done by taking his family’s picture at the same spot.  The view was not crystal clear; there was a bit of haze in the air, but not enough to seriously compromise the view.  I was busy taking pictures and video, as was everyone else out there.

When I felt the need to visit the restroom, I walked over to the visitor’s center.  It was a rather new center, which included a bookstore and links to shuttle bus services.  After visiting the restroom, I visited the bookstore and found a few items of interest, including postcards and an Arizona Highways book and DVD combo package.  The sales clerk at the checkout asked if I wanted to join the Grand Canyon Association; I took a flyer and said I would think about it.  Then it was back to my car, for I had been parked at Mather Point for nearly an hour and would have to move soon.  I put my purchases in the trunk, and I also put the big bag I’d been carrying back into the truck.  My cameras would go into a small camera bag.  One bottle of water could go into my right front jeans pocket.  I wasn’t planning to go deep into the canyon, nor was I planning to venture far from the developed areas, so I figured one bottle was all I needed to carry.

I drove around the park for a bit, looking for a suitable parking area.  I believed I’d found it in area C. which also served as the parking lot for the US Magistrate.  It was indeed reasonably convenient, although one had to cross the railyard and go up a flight or two of steps to reach the lodges and the rim.  I was near the Bright Angel Lodge, and I walked a short distance through the grounds to reach the rim.  The view here was just as grand as at Mather Point.  The Grand Canyon Village area began to be developed in the late 1800’s, and most of the buildings on the grounds today date from the turn of the 20th century.

An aside:  one can’t say “the turn of the century” anymore and automatically assume what time period is meant.  I am writing this travelogue at the turn of the century – the turn of the 2000’s or the turn of the 21st-century, that is.  Still, it may yet be many years before “the turn of the century” will automatically mean this time period, the years from 2000 to 2009.  Now let’s return to the canyon.

Running along the south rim of the canyon was a hiking trail called, naturally enough, the Rim Trail.  I was near the western edge of the paved section, and I started walking that way.  I saw the Lookout Studio and Koch Studio, both built for the benefit of photographers and artists.  I encountered the head of the Bright Angel Trail, which went down into the canyon.  At the shuttle bus point for Hermit’s Rest, which is where the paving for the Rim Trail ended, I turned around.  Back at the Bright Angel Trail head, I decided to walk the trail for a little while, just to say I had been inside the Grand Canyon.  Unfortunately, the first few feet of the trail were quite icy, and I lacked a walking staff or anything to handle ice.  If I slipped over the edge, the only way I would be leaving the canyon would be as an angel, and I didn’t want that, not yet.  So I turned around and went back to the safety of the Rim Trail.  Eastward I went, past the lodges and the El Tovar hotel, past the Hopi House.  My intention was to walk the Rim Trail all the way back to Mather Point, a distance of 2.5 miles from the Bright Angel Lodge.  And that’s what I did.  The trail went up and down, never veering far from the rim of the canyon.  Some of the trail was icy in spots; I tried to avoid those where I could.  Some parts had wheelchair ramps that were free of ice, and I used those when convenient.

The Yavapai Observation Station along the trail was closed for renovation, and the trail detoured into the parking lot in front.  There was a clump of porta-potties for those who needed to use them.  Definitely not scenic, but necessary with the building under renovation.  I continued eastward, taking plenty of pictures along the way.  At one point, a couple passing by while I was at a particularly scenic spot offered to take my picture, and I accepted.  I offered to return the favor, but they declined.  And soon, I was back at Mather Point, where I had started my canyon visit.  Now I was getting hungry, and although I could have walked back along the rim, I preferred to take a shuttle bus back to Grand Canyon Village.  I had to walk over to the Visitor Center to catch the bus, and I didn’t have to wait long for it to arrive. 

There weren’t many on the bus when it left the Visitor Center, but it was nearly full when we arrived at Grand Canyon Village.  The Grand Canyon Railway had just pulled in from Williams; I’d considered taking that train but decided not to, for when taken as a day trip, you get very little time at the canyon, less than four hours in fact.  I wanted more time than that, so I didn’t take that train.  Now where would I eat lunch?  I had several places to consider, but I had my mind set on the El Tovar Hotel.  The dining room was constructed of dark timbers, reminding me of the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.  There were windows with a view of the canyon, obviously.  I decided to have French onion soup for an appetizer, a Navajo taco as an entrée, and chocolate truffle ice cream for dessert, with Barq’s root beer to drink.  Now what is a Navajo taco?  It’s served on Native American flat bread and topped with regular taco toppings, an interesting twist on the Mexican dish.  I don’t know if I would eat it all the time or not.

After lunch, I stayed and walked around near the rim in the vicinity of the lodges.  I went inside the Bright Angel Lodge and into their history room, filled with exhibits from its glorious past – the railroad, the Fred Harvey era, etc.  There was a school group there at the time, and I overheard some of the ranger’s talk.  I noticed the fireplace but was not aware of its significance until later, that it had been built with rocks from the canyon as they were layered in the canyon – the top-most rocks were the top-most rocks in the canyon, and so on.

By this time, it was around 2 PM.  I had been at the canyon for nearly 6 hours, and I had seen all that I felt like seeing around the Grand Canyon Village area.  I was not inclined to hike towards Hermit’s Rest on this trip, but there was a big section that I hadn’t seen, the 20-plus miles of the eastern part of the South Rim, or the Desert View Drive.  That was best seen by wheeled vehicle, either tour bus or private vehicle.  Since I had my own car, I drove off and headed east, stopping at all of the scenic turnouts that I could.  And there were plenty of those.  The strong wind and occasional clouds couldn’t diminish the majestic views of the canyon and occasionally of the river below.

Between stops, I was listening to an episode of the CBS Radio Workshop on XM’s Old Time Radio channel.  It was called “Grief Drives A Black Sedan”, and it involved a man who hit something or someone with his car and drove off, and how he reacted to what he had done.  The star of the program, Lee Vines, was also an announcer on TV.  I remember watching the original version of the game show “Password” when I was 3 or 4, and his was the voice that would always say “The password is…”  Of course, I didn’t know that it was Vines at the time; I didn’t learn that until 2000 or thereabouts.  But I digress….

I arrived at Desert View, the easternmost developed area of the national park.  The main attraction here was the Watchtower, a four-story observation tower commemorating the Indian.  The top story was actually the highest observation point on the canyon rim.  To the northeast, the canyon was noticeably narrower and less deep; clearly, we were near its beginning.  The Painted Desert was visible in the distance, with Cedar Mountain a bit closer.  Finally, it was time to leave the park.  I stopped at the general store and bought a Dr Pepper for the road, then set off on my trip.  Not far outside the park’s boundaries, I found myself back in desert conditions, a dramatic difference from the Grand Canyon Village area.  This was more like the Arizona I was familiar with.  At one point, I saw an animal run across the road; it was probably a coyote.  But I’m not positive about that, for I didn’t see a roadrunner.  Off to my left, I could see hints of the Little Colorado River Gorge.  On the radio, more XM, this time 60’s on 6’s tribute to Indianapolis station WIFE.

Back at the hotel, I planned to take a shower.  Dinner plans were uncertain, though there was a good chance I’d be dining with a former classmate of mine, Kathy Machette Douglas, and her husband Eric.  They were driving up from the Tucson area to meet me.  Just as I was preparing to enter the shower, my cell phone rang.  It was Kathy, calling to say they were just heading out and would not arrive in Flagstaff until late in the evening.  Dinner was out; breakfast tomorrow was a possibility.  I decided to go to Coco’s, a chain similar to Baker’s Square, where I ended up having shrimp scampi over vermicelli (pretty good) and a chocolate sundae for dessert (also pretty good).  Then I stopped at Basha’s grocery store (a major chain in Arizona) for some Diet Rite Cola.  By the time I got back to the hotel, I was pretty tired.  It had been a long and eventful day.  Never again would I see the Grand Canyon for the very first time.


Saturday March 18

I woke up around 6 this morning.  When checking the news, I learned of a shooting at a Denny’s restaurant in Anaheim.  The restaurant was very close to where I had stayed earlier in the week, and this shooting was the third at a Denny’s within the last week.  Slightly unnerving, I must admit.  But I put it aside and went on to other business, such as the downloading of pictures from my camera to my Powerbook.  Since the start of the trip, I had taken 276 pictures, and now they were in iPhoto, where I could begin to identify them.

Not knowing what my plans would be today, I had breakfast in the lobby.  Once again, I didn’t have that much to eat, but what I did eat was good.  Back in the room, the phone rang.  It was Kathy, and we discussed our plans.  When I mentioned that I planned to go to Meteor Crater today, she said that was one place she and her husband had not yet visited.  Perhaps we all could go, she suggested, and I agreed.  An hour later, they pulled up at the hotel, and we set off in their vehicle.  Their daughter attended Northern Arizona University, so they were more familiar with Flagstaff and surroundings than I was.

The weather forecast had mentioned snow, and there were a few flurries, but there was nothing significant as we drove eastward some thirty miles.  I had not purged my camera of the downloaded pictures, so Kathy was able to review them.  She finished just before we came to the exit for Meteor Crater.  There was a slight elevation and jaggedness in terrain to the south of the freeway, which Eric thought was due to the crater; he was right.  The crater was about six miles south of the freeway, surrounded by ranchland.  When we got out of the car, it was very windy.  I had to make sure my Disneyland cap didn’t fly off my head, and I had to watch that the car door didn’t get thrust into the car next to us.

Admission to the crater was $15.  Today, that would not include the opportunity to take a guided tour around a portion of the rim, for those tours were cancelled due to the high winds.  We went inside the visitor center and were greeted by the gift shop on the left, stairs ahead, and a wall exhibit recalling the training visits made by astronauts.  The gift shop was actually two gift shops in one; one focused on rocks and fossils, and the other focused on general merchandise and souvenirs.  I got lucky and found a new winter cap to replace the one I’d lost a few days earlier, the good one I’d bought in November in Windsor, Ontario.  With the strong winds, I was very concerned that the Disneyland cap I was wearing would be torn from my head, no matter how snugly I’d seated it.

Next, we climbed up the steps to rim level.  We waited for the 11 o’clock talk on the history of Meteor Crater, being given by one of the guides in lieu of the cancelled rim tours.  For ten minutes, a small crowd gathered around the largest surviving fragment of the meteor and listened to the guide speak of the meteor impact, its discovery, attempts at mining, and serving as a training ground for the Apollo astronauts.  In the theater, we saw a short film on meteor impacts.  The impact of the meteor that created the crater released the same amount of energy as a 20-megaton nuclear bomb.

Now it was time to go and see the crater for ourselves.  I had my still camera out and around my neck, while my video camera was in the bag on my shoulder.  Eric had his camera on a tripod.  We went through the doors to the observation decks on the rim, and there before us was Meteor Crater.  Two words describe the experience:  big and windy.  From the top of the rim, the crater filled most of your field of vision.  It was difficult to fully grasp how large it was, though a cutout of an astronaut in a space suit in the middle of the crater floor helped.  This and other key points of interest, such as a house-sized rock on the rim, were visible through several labeled telescopes on an observation platform that was on a lower level.  We went out there, and the wind was persistent, strong and chilling.  It blew my lens cap around strongly enough that it would hurt when it hit my hand.  I had to brace myself at times to get good pictures.  Sometimes the winds were too strong for Eric’s tripod.

I got quite winded climbing up from the lower observation level and had to sit down for a bit.  The high altitude of Meteor Crater aggravated that, I’m sure.  After a few minutes, we decided to climb up to the highest observation point on the rim.  The view wasn’t that much different, but the wind was stronger and less obstructed.  I made sure I was braced against the railings when taking pictures.  On one occasion, I saw Kathy blown by a gust into one of the railings.  After a few minutes of what we were sure were hurricane-force winds, we went back down and inside.  We toured a small exhibit hall while we warmed up, and one of the exhibits was a mockup of the crater floor.  Visitors were not permitted to enter the crater itself, so this mockup allowed them to take a picture from the “floor”.  I didn’t take advantage of this.

Now our visit to Meteor Crater was complete, and lunchtime was upon us.  Did we want to eat at the Subway restaurant at the visitor center?  Not really, so we went back to Flagstaff and ate at a Mexican restaurant and bar called San Felipe’s.  It looked to be a popular and jumping nightspot, though it was fairly sedate this afternoon.  Several TV’s had various sporting events on – one had a men’s NCAA basketball game on, one had a women’s tournament on (originating from Tucson, in fact).  We each got a combination plate and enjoyed our food immensely.  In fact, we made a return visit shortly after we left, but it wasn’t for more food and drink; Kathy had left her cap there and was retrieving it.

Our sightseeing wasn’t done, for we now took the scenic Highway 89A out of Flagstaff and towards Sedona.  We passed through the scenic Oak Creek Canyon (several picture opportunities there) before continuing onward to even more scenic opportunities north of Sedona.   Once in Sedona, we walked around in the tourist section for a bit, taking a few pictures and taking care of necessary business.  Then it was up to the airport for a scenic view overlooking the main part of town before we headed back to Flagstaff.  Yes, we’d seen quite a bit today, and we’d thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

After I’d said my thank-yous and goodbyes to Kathy and Eric, I rested up back at the hotel for a bit.  I had a task to perform, and in order to perform it, I had to visit Target.  My sister had asked me to send Easter candy, and I normally went to Target for it.  There was no reason I had to wait until I got home before I got it.  Besides, I’d already gotten some candy and crackers for them at Disneyland, and I didn’t want to haul that to Michigan.  So off to Target I went, filling up my cart with various products that I knew they’d like.  I also got two mailing boxes and some tape.  From there, I went to the nearby Hasting’s store but didn’t find anything there.  By now, I was hungry for dinner, and I drove to the Galaxy Diner on Route 66 not far from the hotel.  Someone was giving swing-dancing lessons tonight, which perked up the atmosphere a bit.  I sat at the bar and had a French dip sandwich, read the local entertainment weekly, and occasionally contemplated the charms of one of the dancers and one of the waitresses.  Then it was back to the hotel to start packing.


Sunday March 19

Today, I would leave Flagstaff and begin my return to California.  I would not actually cross into California today; no, I had made reservations for the Hampton Inn in Lake Havasu City.  That allowed me to concentrate on the Route 66 experience.

I woke up around 7 this morning, checking my e-mail, wrapping up the packing, and loading up the car.  Today was the last day I could take advantage of the made-to-order breakfast at the Embassy Suites, so I did so, ordering pancakes, hash browns and bacon.  It was all right – maybe not top-notch, but it was good enough.  Then it was time for a last minute room check, followed by the checkout.

It was a clear and chilly morning in Flagstaff as I left around 9.  There was some evidence of overnight snow showers on the cars, though not enough to require brushing or scraping.  Since I did not have either a brush or a scraper, I was quite happy with that.  My first destination was the gas station, where I filled up on $2.47 gas; most other stations nearby were at $2.59.  Then it was down to I-40, where I went eastward for a few exits until exit 204.  Here, I could pick up Historic Route 66 and follow it completely through Flagstaff.  The San Francisco Peaks were in the distance, making for a good photo opportunity.  I drove past a Ralston Purina facility (hard to miss the Checkerboard Square on the tower) and passed behind the Flagstaff Mall.  Further on down, there were plenty of motels, both old and new.  Then came downtown Flagstaff and the train station, the turnoffs for the Grand Canyon and Lowell Observatory, and then the Barnes and Noble near the Embassy Suites.  I’d made a big loop, in effect.

I stopped at the B&N to use the restroom, and then I continued onward.  This stretch of 66 merged into I-40.  The weather was still good; the threatened snow held off.  I turned on XM’s MLB Home Plate channel and learned that Japan and Cuba would play on Monday for the World Baseball Classic championship.  I attempted to follow Route 66 near Bellemont, and I think I did for a while.  However, I reached a point where two alternatives lay before me, a dead-end paved road and a dirt road over private land.  Neither seemed like a proper alternative, so I backtracked to I-40 and continued westward to Williams.  Here, 66 was quite easy to follow through the downtown area.  Most of the historic businesses were on the eastbound road, so I made a short loop to review those, take a picture or two, then proceed westward.

I passed through Ash Fork again, noticing a car on top of DeSoto’s.  Was it in fact a DeSoto? Yes, it was.  There wasn’t much else to see there except for the extensive flagstone packing operations.  After a pit stop at the Chevron on the west side of town, it was back onto I-40 until exit 139 and Crookton Road.  Ahead lay the longest extant continuous stretch of Route 66; I wouldn’t see I-40 again until Kingman.  For much of the time, I seemed to be the only driver on the road.  The exhibition game between the Tigers and Astros kept me company.  In Seligman, I stopped at the Snow Cap and ordered a vanilla milkshake for the road.

Between Seligman and Peach Springs, I finally encountered the expected snow.  It was never hard enough to lead to whiteout conditions, but there was enough in one stretch to cover the road.  Naturally, I slowed down, not wanting to chance a wipeout.  In Peach Springs, there was an Indian-run lodge, and I considered stopping there for lunch.  By the time I’d arrived, though, the snow had slacked off, so I continued westward through Hackberry, Valentine, and finally into Kingman.  Here was where I wanted to eat.  Nothing on the east side of town impressed me (getting to it with the road construction would have been tough), so I went through town and saw a place called Mr. D’s.  It had a ‘50s theme with Route 66 touches, so it would have seemed an ideal place to eat.  When I went inside and took a seat, though, it took me several minutes to be waited on, and it wasn’t very busy at all.  Once I was served, I reviewed the menu, only to find that I didn’t care for anything on it, so I left.  Where to now?  There were some opportunities on US 93 north of I-40; I chose the Country Pride restaurant at the TA Travel Center (truck stop).  I didn’t have any problem with service there, but it took me a while to decide what to eat there, as well.  That shake from Seligman must have satisfied any hunger I had.  But that subsided enough to allow me to order a Philly beef sandwich, which was actually pretty good.  It was hot, and I had to be careful in holding it lest my hand be burned by any juices, but it was good.  Then I backtracked into town and back onto 66 and visited the Powerhouse visitor’s center and Route 66 Museum.  It was a good exhibit of the road from Indian trail days and the early settlers’ trails to the creation of Route 66, the Okie migrations of the ‘30s, the traveling spirit of the ‘50s and the road’s preservation and rebirth.  It was a nice way to spend $4 and 45 minutes.

Now I had a choice to make.  Should I take the historic route of 66 through Oatman, or should I follow the later path, the one that became I-40?  The Oatman route went through the Black Mountains via a twisty and curvy road, one that would be very treacherous if icy.  But I didn’t see any precipitation in the distance, and I didn’t know when I would have the opportunity again, so I set off for Oatman.  The first part was long, straight, mostly flat and fast.  However, the second part was narrow and winding.  It climbed up into those Black Mountains, and there was hardly a guardrail to be found.  The westbound lane happened to be the one closest to the edge.  Frankly, that was unnerving.  I would frequently straddle the center line, trying to stay as far away from that edge as possible.  I was also hoping and praying that nobody would approach from the opposite direction and that if they did, they’d be going slowly and be in full control of their vehicle. 

At one point, there was a sign to be on the lookout for wild burros.  Just after I saw that sign, I saw two burros grazing on either side of the road.  The lack of traffic enabled me to come to a halt and take two pictures, one far away and one closeup.  When I revved up to get going again after the second picture, I think I startled one of the burros.  Good thing he was in no mood to act like a donkey and give a good kick to the car!  Eventually, I made my way to the top of Sitgreaves Pass.  There was a turnout there, so I pulled over and admired what I could not admire while I was driving.  After taking a few pictures, I got back into the car for the downhill trip.  Now this was just as twisty and winding of a road, but there were a few more guardrails in place here.  They weren’t 21st-century standard guardrails, but they were better than nothing.

Eventually I found myself in the old mining town of Oatman.  Today, it’s more of a tourist trap, and it was full of them today.  There were plenty of shops to choose from, but I chose none of them.  I wasn’t in the mood to stop, and I didn’t.  I wanted to finish the drive of 66, and I did.  It had been a long day.  There was only one burro in Oatman as I drove through.

It had been over 11 years since I’d last visited Lake Havasu City.  I didn’t remember any gas stations at the intersection of Highway 95 with I-40 back then, but there were two today.  I gassed up at the Chevron station, which was also a Terrible Herbst operation (a legendary brand in Las Vegas and the West).  The drive to LHC was little changed, although there was some additional development in the north part of the city.  There was now a Home Depot in town, and a nearby sign announced the pending arrival of Lowe’s.  I used the GPS device to navigate to the Hampton Inn, which was on London Bridge Drive, a road that doesn’t actually include London Bridge (it’s part of McCullough Boulevard).  This Hampton Inn had a small convenience store section, something I’d not seen at a Hampton Inn before.  Otherwise, it was very similar to other Hampton Inns I’ve visited.  I had room 310, which overlooked the pool and looked out over Lake Havasu.  On the opposite shore was California and an Indian reservation.

I called my aunt Marie and uncle Bill and spoke to them for a while, and then I set off in search of supper.  First, I drove across London Bridge, where there was some construction, and drove past the Island Inn hotel.  I had stayed there four times previously, and I had considered staying there this time for old times’ sake, but I wanted the Hilton HHonors points that came with a Hampton Inn stay.  The hotel looked unchanged on the outside.  Then I drove up to the new Hasting’s store.  I remembered the old location on McCullough Boulevard, but this was a larger location closer to Highway 95.  Its market is the smaller town that probably can’t support a Borders or a Barnes and Noble.  However, the book and magazine selection was pretty good.  I was looking for things to read on my return journey that would begin on Thursday.  They had the latest Texas Monthly, so I got that, and they had a magazine on Sedona, so I picked that up.  Earlier today, the Route 66 Museum had an exhibit that included a chapter from The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck – a chapter describing Route 66, naturally.  I had never read The Grapes Of Wrath before, and I was very impressed by the imagery in that chapter.  So here I was in the bookstore, and I found myself wandering to the literature section, from which I had several editions I could choose.  No matter what edition I selected, the cost would be $15.

Now it was time for supper.  In the phone book, I had seen a listing for the Red Tomato restaurant, which was an all-you-can-eat pizza and pasta buffet.  That appealed to me tonight, so I drove there.  The salad and soup were OK, and the pizza was all right as well.  My main selection was spaghetti with some marinara sauce and a few meatballs.  I may have taken a little too much there, but it was all right.  I washed it down with some root beer, and I made sure to leave some room for dessert.  Then it was back to the hotel, where I noticed that there were some swimmers in the pool.  It was only in the high 50’s outside – must have been a heated pool.


Monday March 20

I had a hard time getting to sleep tonight for some reason.  I went down to the vending machines for a bottle of root beer.  It soothed my thirst, but it didn’t put me to sleep.  So I scanned the radio dial for a bit, then read from the guidebooks on Route 66.  I even worked on this travelogue for a while.  Eventually, I went to sleep and awoke around 7.  The sun was already up by then.

First came breakfast in the lobby.  Hampton Inn’s breakfasts have a mixture of hot and cold items, and the result is satisfying.  Then I worked on the Quad-County Bahá’í Newsletter for a bit, for the deadline had arrived.  Fortunately, I didn’t have many additions to make, and I was able to send a rough draft to my co-editors before I hit the road.  Next, I looked up the hours for the post office in town, for I had a package of candy to mail to Turkey.  It opened at 8, which meant it was already open.  I could go straight there as soon as I checked out of the hotel, and I did just that.  The post office was on McCullough, and I had no problem finding it.  I went inside, filled out the customs form, then took a number for service.  None of the post offices in Michigan I frequent have you take a number.  Eventually, my number was called, and I presented the package and form.  Being somewhat heavy, it was rather expensive, over $30 to mail.  But this was Easter candy, so it had to go.  And at this point, so did I.  I stopped at the Terrible Herbst gas station for a chance to use the restroom and for one of their frozen drinks akin to an Icee or Slurpee.

I had considered returning to LA via I-10 for a change of scenery.  But when I looked at the map last night, I saw that it was a much longer route that way, so I stayed with I-40.  I went back up Highway 95, past the airport and Home Depot and onto westbound I-40.  Not long after crossing into California, there was an agricultural inspection station where all traffic had to stop.  Today, though, passenger cars were not being inspected, so I continued onward and took the next exit, which happened to be for Route 66 heading into Needles.  I passed a street called Spike’s Road, or something like that.  Could this have been named for Spike, the Peanuts character who lives in Needles, I wondered.  I may never know.  But I did know that gas prices in Needles were outrageous.  Right off of I-40, gas was $3.29 a gallon.  It wasn’t much better in town, either.  I drove past the historic El Garces hotel and restaurant, now in the process of being restored to its original glory.  I continued through town, eventually passing by the Taco Bell where I’d had lunch last Thursday, and then hopping on to the freeway again.

Now I had a decision to make.  Would I follow old Route 66, or would I stick with the freeway?  While I might have preferred to travel the old highway, I thought it best to stick close to the services near the freeway, especially the restrooms.  I did travel the old roadway for a stretch between Newberry Springs and Daggett, but I stuck with I-40 for most of the cross-desert run.  By lunchtime, I was in Barstow, and I had a French Dip sandwich at Carrow’s in town.  That sandwich was not particularly easy to eat, for it had been cut in such a way that the meat tended to fall out whenever you dipped it in the au jus container.  Nonetheless, it was good, and so was the key lime pie I had for dessert.  Then I backtracked a little ways and got onto I-15 for the Cajon Pass run into San Bernardino.  Skies looked and weather forecasts sounded unpromising, so I stopped at a Target store to look for an umbrella, but I didn’t see any there.  So I continued onward to my destination, my home for the next three nights, the Hampton Inn in Arcadia.  It happened to be just off of Route 66 (Huntington Drive) and near the 210 freeway.  It was also right behind the Souplantation restaurant where I’d eaten in March 2000.  That was a natural place to have supper tonight, and that’s what I did.  It was actually pretty crowded there by the time I left, but I knew the food was good, and so did everyone else.

After supper, I drove a short distance to the Santa Anita Mall, which was next door to the Santa Anita racetrack.  Interestingly enough, I’d recently heard an episode of the Jack Benny Show on XM that involved the cast going to Santa Anita.  Now getting there was interesting, for Arcadia had a well-developed downtown area along old Route 66.  There were several restaurants and shops that would be worth a visit were there time.  At the racetrack, what had been 66 turned to the right along Colorado Boulevard.  Huntington Boulevard turned to the left, and after passing a hospital, turned right.  And there was the Santa Anita Mall.  There was a clump of new restaurants, and among that clump was a Borders Books/Music/Café.  I parked over by that clump of restaurants and walked in.  I couldn’t help notice the closed Robinsons-May store, another victim of the merger with Macy’s.  How would the developer fill that space?  That wasn’t my concern as I went inside and walked around.  Now the weather was threatening, and I was still looking for an umbrella.  My first thought was a store like Brookstone or The Sharper Image, but before I reached either of those places, I saw The Walking Company and noticed they had umbrellas.  They also had walking sticks.  I sure could have used one at the Grand Canyon, and I was reviewing them for future use.  One problem: transportation home.  I didn’t think the collapsible models would collapse enough to go into my suitcase or bag.  Knowing that there were stores back in Detroit, I held off on the stick but did get the umbrella.  The clerk who helped me was familiar with the Novi store, or at least familiar with “Novi”.  Later, at Borders, I saw a new book by Geoff Emerick, recording engineer for the Beatles.  Very interesting, I thought.  But I resisted the temptation to buy it, for I was concerned about overloading my luggage.

When I left the shopping center, I found my newly acquired umbrella very handy, for it was now raining.  It wasn’t a particularly heavy rain, but it was enough.  And I didn’t really want to get my Red Wings suede leather jacket wet, so up went the umbrella.  I turned on XM and listened to the championship game of the World Baseball Classic, Cuba versus Japan, playing some one hundred miles away at San Diego.  Back at the hotel, I put the game on the TV.  While checking my e-mail and doing some Web surfing, I learned that the movie What The Bleep: Down The Rabbit Hole was playing locally.  It was in fact playing at two somewhat local theaters, one in Encinitas (down by San Diego) and the other at the Beverly Center.  Now I had seen the original What The Bleep Do We Know? on my last visit to San Francisco in September 2004, so I thought it an interesting coincidence that this sequel of sorts (a cross between a re-edit of the original movie and a sequel) was playing while I was in California again.  Naturally, I planned to see it.  The best bets were either tomorrow or Thursday; Wednesday was out because I was planning to visit Disneyland then.


Tuesday March 21

I got up around 6 this morning, took a shower, and had breakfast downstairs in the lobby.  It was a good breakfast, with the same selection available as in Lake Havasu City – or in any other place with a Hampton Inn, for that matter.  Not that one is looking for variety from one Hampton to the next.

Around 9, I set off for my day’s travels and adventures.  One of my first tasks was to gas up the car, and I found a Union 76 station fairly close by.  It was close to an entrance to the 210 freeway, so I got on there and headed west toward Burbank.  I was relying on the GPS to guide me to the Fry’s Electronics in Burbank, and it did.  I found myself on the 5 heading north.  I missed the turnoff the GPS specified because the street it specified for an exit wasn’t what was on the freeway signs.  However, I backtracked and used the GPS’s recalculations to get me back on track.  I wasn’t too far from the Burbank airport, also known as Bob Hope Airport, for I noticed several signs for airport parking.  Soon, I was at Fry’s.  This store had as its theme or motif alien invasions, 1950’s movie style.  Inside, half of the ceiling was occupied by what appeared to be the underside of a flying saucer.  The floor, of course, was occupied by the general assortment of electronic parts, DVD’s and CD’s, computer hardware and software, audio and video gear, and whatever else you find at Fry’s.  This appeared to be an older store, for the floor layout didn’t correspond to that of the newer locations.  I didn’t find anything here today, not even any new videos; perhaps they just hadn’t been put out yet.

My next stop of the day was the nearby Ham Radio Outlet; the GPS guided me there, as well.  What would I have done without that thing?  Carry around big, heavy map books, I bet.  Anyway, I made it there, and I started looking.  Frankly, I was in the mood to buy some gear, and that’s what I did.  I’d been impressed by a new receiver from Alinco, the DR-635T, which had just been reviewed in the leading amateur radio magazine QST.  I also owned a Alinco HT (handy-talky, or hand transceiver) that I’d brought with me on this trip (the DJ-596T) and was thus inclined to stick with the brand, at least for me.  I left the story carrying a receipt for that receiver, a compatible power supply, and a copper J-pole antenna.  Why just the receipt?  There was no way I could carry it all back with me on the train, so I asked for it to be shipped to me.  I’d be home before it arrived.

My next stop was a Best Buy that I’d seen alongside the 5 freeway while driving to Fry’s.  It wasn’t listed in the GPS device; perhaps it was too new.  I worked my way there and went inside.  My main purpose was to check if there was a fullscreen version of the new Chicken Little DVD – not for myself, but for my sister, or really for my nephew.  He must have a small TV where widescreen movies would be too small to view.  It turned out that there was only one version, the widescreen edition.  Good for the integrity of the film, but bad for viewing on small traditional screens.

The first showing of What The Bleep at the Beverly Center was 1 PM.  It was already noon or slightly after, so I thought I should start heading there.  I programmed it into the GPS, and it calculated a route.  I had a little difficulty getting onto the freeway due to some tricky intersections.  Once on the freeway, the GPS guided me to the exit for Los Feliz Boulevard, which took me on an interesting drive through Hollywood.  I drove past one of the entrances for Griffith Park.  I drove past an Orchard Supply Hardware store, also known as OSH, which made me think of Oshman’s, the old Houston sporting goods store.  Then I crept along Santa Monica Boulevard for several miles, making me concerned that I’d be late for the movie.  I got to the Beverly Center right around 1, so I would indeed be late for the movie. The Beverly Center was across the street from the famous Cedars Sinai Hospital, which I learned when I drove around looking for the parking garage entrance.  It took me around 10 minutes to park, go up to store level, find a restroom, then find the theater, get my ticket, and find my seat.  The film was under way, but I don’t think I’d missed too much.

Because I arrived late, I didn’t stop at the concession stand, and thus I missed lunch.  But when you consider that “lunch” would have been popcorn and a soft drink, I didn’t miss that much and may have been better off for doing so.  After the movie ended, I did visit the food court, and I briefly considered the Mongolian barbecue of The Great Khan, but I didn’t eat there.  I did go out on the terrace next to the food court and was greeted with a view to the east, encompassing the Hollywood Hills (the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Park Observatory were visible) and downtown LA.  And straight ahead was CBS Television City.  I wished I had my camera right then.  Back to the meal hunt: I almost ate at the Hard Rock Café, but I didn’t.  I didn’t really feel like a burger (yes, I know that the Hard Rock Café has more than burgers).  To tell the truth, I was beginning to be in the mood for Baja Fresh, a chain specializing in fresh Mexican food.  It seemed like I saw one of their restaurants on every other corner.  And there was one quite close by.  But I knew that rush hour was coming up, that I faced a long drive across town to return to my hotel.  Under those circumstances, I felt I should neither eat nor drink a lot.  So I decided to set off for my hotel room.

I had great difficulty getting onto southbound La Cienega; in fact, after going around various blocks a few times, I never did get there.  Instead, I was on southeastbound San Vicente, driving through parts of LA I’d never been through.  It was an interesting drive through a mainly residential area.  Then I took Fairfax Avenue down to the 10, the Santa Monica Freeway.  That was a frustrating drive, for it was jammed heading eastward.  So was the Harbor Freeway heading northward.  The GPS tried to guide me onto certain routes, but there was no way I could take them.  And I wasn’t sure I wanted to take them, for I knew how I could get to the hotel from where I was.  I ended up staying on the Harbor Freeway until it became the Pasadena Freeway, and because the traffic cleared up once I got past the 5, I stayed on that until its end.  Then I could go eastbound on Colorado Boulevard until I got to the hotel.  But I didn’t stop at the hotel, for I wanted to eat supper at Baja Fresh, and that was only a few blocks away.  Back in Michigan, I go to the Baja Fresh in Northville, and this one was just as good.  Burrito Mexicana and a shrimp taco – yum, yum!


Wednesday March 22

My Disneyland ticket was good for two days, one at each park.  I used the first day last Wednesday at California Adventure, and now I would use the second day today at Disneyland proper.  It would be a little more difficult getting to the park this time, since I wasn’t staying a block or so away.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here….

After waking up for the day, I had another decent breakfast downstairs in the Hampton Inn lobby.  Later on, I took some pictures outside of the hotel, the hills in the distance, and even a few of Huntington Boulevard and the businesses along it.  Remember, it had been Route 66, and there were Route 66 markers every few hundred yards along the roadway.  I believe they were recently posted, not historic actual signs.

I made sure I was prepared for my Disneyland trip – cameras, ticket, hat, sunscreen.  Yep, I was set.  I grabbed a cookie to munch along the way, then set off for Anaheim.  Now I had set the cookie in front of the shift lever in the car.  But when I made a sudden stop, the cookie slid in between the bottom of the instrument panel and the top of the center console.  There was no way I could reach in there from the driver’s seat.  I had to pull into a parking lot, get out, then reach in there for it.  I had to lift up slightly on the instrument panel to get the cookie out, but get it out I did.  When I set off again, the cookie was in the passenger seat.

I got onto the 210 freeway and took that over to the 605, which I took to the 5.  Things weren’t too bad trafficwise until I got to the 5, where there was slow going in both directions.  Not until the freeway widened did things start to move quickly again.  As I neared the exit for Euclid Avenue in Anaheim, I got the idea to visit the Ham Radio Outlet there for copies of the latest magazines.  Two of them, CQ and QST, would most likely be waiting for me when I arrived home, but I was in need of reading material for the train trip home.  I also felt that a visit to the restroom would be prudent, not knowing when my first opportunity at Disneyland would be.  Everything worked out fine, and it was with a profound sense of relief that I drove those few remaining miles to the parking deck for Disneyland.

When I parked at Disneyland before, it was in the Timon parking lot on the southeast corner of the park.  This time, it was the Mickey and Friends parking deck on the northwest corner.  I must confess that I tend to be a little nervous in parking garages in California; the combination of earthquakes and gravity can be bad news.  But there were no earthquakes today as I left my car and walked to the boarding point for the tram, which took us about a half-mile and dropped us off at the west entrance, which also served as an entrance for Downtown Disney.  Once inside, I noticed that the emblem of Mickey below the train station had changed.  In celebration of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary, the emblem had “50” inside, and a statue of Mickey was perched next to it.  I recalled seeing the 45th-anniversary emblem on my last visit.

Passing underneath the railroad tracks and entering Main Street USA, the scenes were quite familiar, as well they should be.  But there was something a little different; the theater that on my previous trip had featured an Animatronic model of Abraham Lincoln was now featuring a short film highlighting 50 years of history and fun at Disneyland.  It was hosted by Steve Martin, who got his start at Disneyland with magic routines in the early 1960’s, and co-hosted by Donald Duck.  I found it to be interesting and enjoyable (“Is that all?” I can hear Donald squawking).  Then it was down Main Street to the center circle, taking in the sights and taking a few pictures.  Next came Fantasyland and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, one of the original rides.  Compared to many of the rides of today, it’s not that wild, but you do spin around a lot.  I tried taking a few pictures inside the ride, but they turned out poorly.  I ended up deleting all but one or two.  Next came the Storybook Gardens ride, a boat cruise passing by miniature recreations of several scenes from Disney films – Pinocchio, Snow White, Aladdin, etc.  I contemplated riding the Matterhorn but decided against it, for I have had back problems in the past.

On to Mickey’s Toontown and a Fastpass for the Roger Rabbit ride.  While I waited for my time to come up, I took a drink from the fountains but missed the comments that they made the last time I visited.  I took pictures of Pluto and Goofy giving autographs to children.  I enjoyed a cup of frozen yogurt that ended up being my lunch.  I took a picture of Minnie Mouse leaving her house, presumably for a visit to the little mouse’s room, then visited Mickey in his house.  This was a photo opportunity for me, and I had one of Mickey’s helpers take a picture with my camera.  Another helper took an official picture, gave me a slip, and directed me to visit the camera shop in 2 hours if I wanted a copy (the picture wasn’t that great, as it turned out, so I passed).  Then it was time to board the Roger Rabbit ride, which turned out to be similar in many ways to the Mr. Toad ride, with lots of weaving and spinning.

Next came Tomorrowland and a visit to Innoventions.  The exhibits here seemed to be less engaging to me compared to Innoventions at Epcot in Florida, though I was not able to see the humanoid robot being demonstrated.  Then I walked over to see Honey I Shrunk The Audience, another 3D film spectacular with additional effects programmed into the audience’s seats.  I won’t mention what they are for the “benefit” of those who haven’t seen it.  Over to New Orleans Square and a visit to the Haunted Mansion, where the wait wasn’t very long at all.  That was one ride I would definitely visit again.  I can’t yet say that about Pirates of the Caribbean, because I was unable to visit it today.  It was closed for remodeling and wouldn’t open until summer – not coincidentally, when the second Pirates film premieres in theaters.  I wandered through the streets of New Orleans Square, wondering how realistic the buildings and street scenes were.  And in some cases, the emphasis would be on “were”, post-Katrina.

Now I found myself in Critter Country.  Splash Mountain was out of commission, so I contented myself with a ride through The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh.  It was rather different from the Pooh ride at Disney World, but it was still enjoyable.  By now, I was getting a bit weary and in need of a rest – and food, for that matter.  Frozen yogurt only went so far as lunch, and I needed a bit more.  I had a desire to eat somewhere in Downtown Disney, and that gave me an excuse to ride the monorail.  Part of the route was closed for construction, so the monorail cars went over and back along the same segment of track, which passed through California Adventure.  There were some nice views of the park along the way, but we were moving too quickly for me to take any good pictures.  The pictures that I did take were quickly deleted.

Now I was at Downtown Disney.  I got my hand stamped in case I wanted to go back to the park, although I doubted I would.  I didn’t want to eat at the ESPN Zone again, and the Rainforest Café didn’t appeal to me today.  House of Blues?  No – but Tortilla Jo’s?  Yes, that’s where I would have supper.  It was sufficiently different from the Baja Fresh I’d visited last night.  I got a combination plate, which included shrimp tacos.  The service was excellent; my waitress kept my drink glasses (one for water, one for pop) full, generally without my asking for refills.

After Tortilla Jo’s, I walked around for a bit, ending up at the bookstore, where I would get a book on The Imagineering Way: Ideas to Ignite Your Creativity.  Perhaps I would read it on the way back home; perhaps I’d pack it away and send it home by mail.  Then it was back on the tram to the parking deck, to my car, and then on the road.  Yes, I ran into more slowdowns on the 5 and the 605 as I returned to my hotel.  Then it was time to begin packing for the trip home.


Thursday March 23

This morning, I would check out of the hotel.  This evening, I would board the train heading for home.  Now, what to do in the meantime?  That was a good question.

After packing up, loading the car and checking out, my first stop of the day was the Arcadia post office.  I had to mail a package to myself containing many of the items I had either brought with me or had acquired out here, items that would no longer fit in my luggage.  I sent it Priority Mail, so there was a good chance it might arrive home just before I did.  With that business handled, I was looking for a place to waste some time.  The Border store at Santa Anita was not yet open, so I ended up visiting a Whole Foods Market on Foothill Boulevard.  After using their facilities, I looked around for a bit but only got a bottle of water, which tasted rather good.  Then it was back to the Borders store just before it opened, and I pondered whether to get more reading material for the trip back.  I may have pondered, but I didn’t get any more.

Suddenly, I realized that I hadn’t yet visited a Tower Records on this trip.  There was something I had been looking for for several months, the new Mobile Fidelity hybrid CD and SACD of the mono version of the Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man.  Its release had been delayed several times, but it was now out, and I was sure that Tower would carry it.  The GPS said the closest Tower was in Pasadena, so I drove there.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have it.  Back to the GPS; it said there was one in Glendale.  But when I drove there, I didn’t see it.  Either it had closed, or the GPS had incorrect information [I would later learn that the Tower Records Website still had the Glendale store listed, so I guess the GPS was incorrect].  Not wanting to dink around any more, I had the GPS direct me to the Tower on Sunset Boulevard, for I knew it was still there and that it would be most likely to have the CD. 

Sunset Boulevard was rather busy, and the poorly timed stoplights didn’t help.  Now I wasn’t in immediate time danger; I still had several hours to go before I had to turn in the car.  But I did need gas, so I stopped at a Shell station at Sunset and the Hollywood Freeway, not far from the KTLA studios.  With the full tank, I could do some more driving and still bring the car back with the proper amount of fuel.  I passed by the sights, noting what had changed and what hadn’t.  I passed by the Guitar Center but didn’t feel like stopping there this time out.  I wasn’t in the market for another guitar.  I was now on the Sunset Strip, and traffic was still heavy.  I almost stopped at Mel’s Drive-In for lunch, but the parking lot was now valet, and I wasn’t sure I could allow valet parking of the rental car.  I finally made it to the Tower Records, and it appeared to have changed little from my last visit.  When I got inside, I was in luck; they did indeed have the CD.  I was a bit surprised at the price, but I remembered it was not a regular CD but a hybrid CD and Super Audio CD.  Now I have a reason to get a Super Audio CD player!

I got back onto Sunset and headed westward.  The Strip ended and Beverly Hills began.  The bad traffic also ended, which pleased me greatly.  I wound my way through Beverly Hills and Bel Air, past the UCLA campus.  Soon, I was at the 405.  Sunset continued westward, but I got onto the northbound 405.  For a while, there wasn’t much traffic.  That changed once I neared Ventura Boulevard and the Ventura Freeway interchange.  The eastbound Ventura Freeway wasn’t exactly wide open, either, but I made my way to the same Sherman Oaks mall I’d visited last week.  I figured I would stop at their food court for lunch, and that’s what I did, visiting Sbarro for two slices of pizza and a drink.  The food court had two levels of seating, and the lower level was so full I had to go upstairs.  The pizza was OK, for pizza bought at a fast food court, that is.  Then I walked around for a little bit to settle my stomach down.  At the Apple Store, I checked my e-mail.  At the Discovery Channel Store, I saw a new DVD set on Route 66, one originally shot in high definition video.  Now I had seen several episodes of a Route 66 series on the INHD channel, so I suspected this was that series.  But given the overloaded state of my baggage, I thought it best to wait until I got home, then go to my local Discovery Channel Store and pick it up [follow-up: I did that, and it was indeed the same series from INHD].

For a change, I took Ventura Boulevard eastward for a couple of miles.  This had to have been old US 101 before the freeway was built.  It was worthy of a drive sometime, but not today, so I got back onto the freeway in Studio City.  It was still busy.  Still needing to kill some time, I had the GPS guide me to a Barnes and Noble store in Burbank, which it did.  In getting there, I passed by the main NBC studios, so I knew I was in “beautiful downtown Burbank” – not to be confused with today’s Downtown Burbank, which was where the Barnes and Noble was located.  This was Burbank’s entertainment and shopping district.  I saw the remnants of a sign for a Virgin Megastore (wouldn’t be going there, obviously) as I looked for a parking spot, which I found in a garage next to the B&N and a CompUSA.  There was an IKEA store across the street; in a few months, the Detroit store would be opening.  I stopped in the CompUSA store briefly, then went down one level to the B&N.  Now they had some interesting books, especially on the local area and Route 66, including several “then and now” type books.  But all I got was the latest issue of New Scientist magazine.  My luggage capacity wouldn’t let me get any more.

By this time, I felt that I should start heading to Union Station to make sure I dropped the rental car off on time.  So I had the GPS guide me one last time.  Down the 5 I went, passing Elysian Park and one of the access roads for Dodger Stadium.  The GPS directed me onto the 110, and I took that.  The ramp leading to the Pasadena Freeway was rather narrow and didn’t have a guardrail.  For some reason, though, the GPS was not directing me to take the exit for Sunset Boulevard, which I knew would take me to the garage for the train station.  I took it anyway, confident in my knowledge.  And sure enough, less than a mile away, there was Union Station and the rental car return area.  I went down into the garage, wrote down the mileage, collected my things including the GPS, then found the stairs up to ground level.  It was difficult ascending those stairs with a heavy bag on your shoulder and a slightly less heavy bag on your arm.  I turned in the keys, confirmed my payment, then went out in the lobby to wait.

The time was between 4 and 4:30.  My train didn’t leave until 6, but the rental car office closed at 5, so I had to arrive early.  I didn’t mind too terribly, for I was in need of a rest.  I also needed to shuck my jacket, for the temperature was in the 70’s.  Fortunately, my suitcase was not so crowded that I couldn’t stick my suede jacket inside.  And so, for the next couple of hours, I sat in the lobby watching the people leaving or catching their trains (Union Station served Metrolink and subway commuters as well as Amtrak customers) and jotting down more notes for the travelogue.  At one point, I checked e-mail by connecting with my cell phone.  It might be slow, but it was usually effective.

I noticed a line forming for boarding the Southwest Chief.  Actually, there were two lines, one for coach customers and one for sleeping car passengers.  The line I saw was for the coach passengers, and I ended up being at the head of the line for the sleeping car passengers.  We waited for a longer time than expected, for boarding was delayed for an unknown reason.  I think we ended up leaving a half-hour late.  Once again, I had a lower level berth, but this time I would be on the south side of the train.  I would have a different view going back than heading out.  Now I recalled from my last trip that the returning view wasn’t was exciting as the departing view.  As we pulled out, though, I was able to see downtown LA lit up.  I tried taking a picture, but I couldn’t get the camera set up properly for it.

There was a short period for dinner tonight, owing to the relatively late start of the trip.  Even if we hadn’t left a half-hour late, the dinner period still would have been shorter than normal.  My table companions this evening were an 18-year-old Northern Arizona University student returning there from a visit to LA and a couple from Devon in England who were touring the States and would also be traveling to Flagstaff for the Grand Canyon.

When I returned to my berth, my bed had already been prepared.  I stayed up for a while, reading the magazines I had recently bought – the ham radio magazines and New Scientist, mainly.  I saw the train pull into San Bernardino, and then I turned in before the train started its run through Cajon Pass.  At one point, I dreamed that the Earth was under attack from aliens, with their weapon making the ground violently shake and jump.  I woke up, only to discover that the shaking and jumping were coming from the train going over rough track.


Friday March 24

When I woke up this morning, I looked out the window and saw trees and patchy snow cover.  We were in northern Arizona now.  The area was rather sparsely populated, so I surmised that we had stopped at Williams Junction (not to be confused with Williams).  I got up, put on my clothes, made a bathroom visit, then went upstairs for the walk to the dining car, where I had French toast for breakfast.  We passed through Flagstaff while I was dining, and I could recognize many of the sites in town.  I recognized the dome at NAU, and I saw the Embassy Suites hotel, where I had stayed last week.  Back in my room, I was reading USA Today and saw that Duke had been upset in the NCAA Tournament last night.  I was down to my last team in the competition, referring to a tournament selection contest run by a friend of mine from high school (no money involved).  I had won it one year, but this year, I was solidly in last place.

Today, I read a lot.  I read several chapters of The Grapes Of Wrath, alternating it with CQ Magazine for amateur radio operators.  Unlike the outbound trip, I took very few pictures today, and I didn’t take any video.  Perhaps I was suffering from vacation fatigue.  Perhaps the scenery on this side of the train wasn’t as compelling as on the other side.

As we approached Albuquerque, I went to the dining car for lunch.  My dining compansions included a father and son from Knoxville and an older woman from Prescott, Arizona.  Father and son were returning from a few days at the Grand Canyon, where they had experienced more snow than I had seen.  They even saw clouds that had formed IN the canyon!  That would be weird to see.  It might also be frustrating for someone whose view of the canyon would be obscured.  I had another Angus burger for lunch; it was a good, safe choice.

Once again, the train stopped in Albuquerque for service, and we could get off the train for a while.  I did step off the train, but I only went as far as the pop machines in the station lobby, where I got two cans, paying less that I would for one can from the café car.  Well, perhaps a little more than one can, but definitely less than two.  No, I didn’t venture into downtown this time.  The train got underway again, and we headed north towards Colorado.  Around dinner time, we were near Raton Pass.  I was in the dining car having dinner as the train passed through the Raton Pass tunnel.  Off in the distance before and after the tunnel, my dining companions and I could see elk congregating and laying around after what must have been a hard day of grazing.  You could say that was a real-life Elks club!

It was dark when we reached La Junta.  Again, I ventured inside the station for a bottle of pop, but the machines didn’t want to take my quarters.  I was rather ticked off by this.  Eventually, I got my drink and reboarded the train, then proceeded to get ready for bed.


Saturday March 25

I woke up a few times during the night to use the restroom.  The skies were clear over Kansas, allowing me to see the stars through my window.  At one point, I saw the rising crescent moon low on the horizon, accompanied by a bright orange-ish “star” that may have been Mars or Venus.  I would have to check sky charts to know for sure; I first thought it was Mars, but it could have been Venus.  Around home, the horizon is normally too cluttered to allow such visibility of anything so close to it.

I woke up for good on the west side of Kansas City but didn’t feel like getting up immediately.  I heard frequent announcements from the dining car steward for Able, party of one, Baker, party of two, etc.  The dining car was quite busy this morning.  Frankly, I wasn’t in the mood for a big breakfast, and when I did get up, I went to the lounge car for two cans of pop, a Nutri-Grain bar and a bag of Doritos.  Not the healthiest of breakfasts, I’ll admit, but this was the last day of my vacation, and soon I would return to my normal habits.

I spent the day alternately reading The Grapes Of Wrath, working on this travelogue, and identifying the pictures I’d taken on my trip.  I took over 400 pictures with my digital camera, so I had a lot of identifying to do.  At least all of the photos had a date and time stamp, which would help in identifying them.  But neither the camera nor iPhoto could know that I’d taken a certain picture at Mather Point at the Grand Canyon.  That work fell to me, the photographer.

As the train reached Galesburg, I noticed that my cell phone was getting a good signal.  That meant I could check e-mail, so I did that.  And once we left Galesburg, the signal stayed strong, even while we were moving.  We continued eastward across the Illinois farmland, then into the western Chicago suburbs.  I saw areas of Chicagoland that I normally didn’t see while driving, for they didn’t happen to fall on my normal paths.  Perhaps I should change my normal paths the next time I drive there.

We pulled into Union Station slightly late, if indeed we were late at all.  Since we were a half-hour late out of LA, we’d clearly made up the time.  Once again, my bags were heavy, although my shoulder bag was slightly less heavy than before, as I’d moved some items from there into the rolling bag.  That helped somewhat, although I wished I could have moved more.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for the next 2 ½ hours while I waited for the train to Michigan.  The Amtrak waiting area was quite busy – at least the south area was; the north area was wide open.  Then I noticed something I hadn’t seen before: storage lockers along the wall.  $3 per hour or fraction thereof, and they locked electronically.  That would allow me to shuck the bags for a while.  Why, I could even go into town!  And that’s what I did.  I selected a lower-level locker, paid for the first hour, put my bags in, and then set off into town.  There was no way I could have considered doing so while pulling heavy bags.

Near the start of my walk, I saw Lou Mitchell’s restaurant, famous as a Route 66 landmark.  But it closed early on Saturdays, so I couldn’t consider it for an early supper.  Farther along, I walked across the bridge for the Dan Ryan Expressway.  Then something started bothering me: where were the tall buildings of downtown?  Surely I should be able to see the Sears Tower from here?!  When I saw the Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants and a sign for Greektown, I suddenly realized I was walking the wrong way, away from the Loop.  At the next street, I turned, then turned again and was now going the right way.  As I walked eastward, I looked for restaurants that I felt like visiting, but nothing struck me.  That, or they were closed on the weekend.  I saw a long line extending out the door of people waiting to enter the Sears Skydeck.  I had been up there many years ago (the first time in 1983) but didn’t feel like going there today.

At State Street, I noticed a fairly new Barnes and Noble store, but I passed it by for now.  When I reached Michigan Avenue, I headed north a block and eventually passed by a Panda Express restaurant, a Chinese food establishment.  That appealed to me, so I stopped there for dinner.  It also gave me an opportunity to cool down, for I had worked up a little bit of a sweat in my suede jacket and heavy shirt.  From my seat, I could see a sign on the street: Begin Historic Route 66.  Now the real beginning was over on Lake Shore Drive, but the historic route markings began right there, right where the sign said.

After I finished my meal, I walked over to the Barnes and Noble, which served the DePaul University community (the downtown campus was nearby).  I visited briefly, then resumed my walk back to the train station.  I was in plenty of time for the train to Detroit.  I went to the lockers and retrieved my luggage, then found a seat in the north area, which was still less busy than the south area.  The TV was airing the local news from channel 7; I could hear it but not see it from where I was sitting.  One of the news items surprised me:  Buck Owens had died today.  He had been a favorite of my parents, and I remembered his old pre-Hee Haw show that used to air on channel 39 in Houston.

There was a long line for boarding the Detroit train.  I had to walk nearly the whole length of the train to reach the business class section.  This second experience convinced me that business class was the way to go in the future on the train to and from Chicago.  I did have some difficulty lifting my bags onto the train and into the overhead rack; they were heavy when I left LA, and they were still heavy.  We left on time and made good time through Chicago, Illinois and Michigan.  We business class travelers were able to get our one free drink from the café before it opened up to everyone else; I chose to get a second drink and a snack, as well.  Once it opened up to everyone in coach, there was a very long line.  I remembered that from my last trip.

There were a number of people who had laptops with them.  Some were watching DVD’s.  One guy had a 12-inch Powerbook just like mine.  At one point, he noticed that I had an Internet connection (I was using my phone again) and asked me about it.  We talked about that and the move to Intel processors by Apple.


Sunday March 26

The train rolled onward through the western Wayne County suburbs, pulling into Dearborn a little bit behind schedule.  The business class passengers, including myself, had to go through the café car in order to leave the train.  It is never easy going down those steps with heavy bags, but I made it.  I carried my rolling suitcase down the steps from the platform rather than take the ramp as I had last time, and then I walked out to my car.  There was no ice or anything on it.  Into the trunk went my bags, and once inside the car, I hooked up the Sirius radio and turned it on.  The drive home was uneventful – no drive should ever be eventful.  I noticed that gas was $2.45 a gallon, much cheaper than the California and Arizona rates I’d become accustomed to.  With the summer driving season approaching, that wouldn’t last.  Around 12:45, I pulled into my garage and took my bags inside.  I was home.



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©2006 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
RevisedApril 20, 2008