Cruise and Texas, September 2011



Travelogue: Cruise and Texas,
September 2011

By Roger W. Reini

By date:

9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17
18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27

By event:

Cruise day 1 | day 2 | day 3 | day 4
Reunion day 1 | Reunion day 2


This is the story of a trip to Florida and Texas in September 2011, a partial repeat of a trip from a year earlier.  That trip was enjoyable, but it was not as enjoyable as it could have been or should have been because I had a cold and was recovering from it.  Some parts of this trip were be the same as before: planned visits to Weeki Wachee Springs (time permitting) and a cruise to the Bahamas on the Disney Cruise Line.  Other parts were different: the ship was the new Disney Dream instead of last year’s Disney Wonder; and I didn’t visit Key West or the rest of the Florida Keys.  They’re quite a distance away, and they’re worthy of a trip all on their own.  Also different was the Texas trip, which involved not one but two class reunions.

The seeds of this trip were planted last year, shortly after I returned from my first cruise.  Even with the remnants of the cold, I enjoyed my experience, and I wanted a repeat.  In October, I booked a cruise for the week of July 4 and put down a deposit.  After a few months, though, I decided that I didn’t want to cruise during that time and rescheduled it to September.  I planned my trip as a 2-week stay in Florida, with the cruise in the second week.  But then came word of plans for a high school class reunion in the fall, in September or October, timed to coincide with home football games.  It turned out that the September date was better for me, and I advised the organizer accordingly.  And when the September date was chosen, I knew I had to alter my plans.  The week of vacation before the cruise would now become a week and a half of vacation after the cruise. Reservations on the Auto Train based on the original plans were cancelled.

In the weeks and days prior to the trip, I became rather concerned about tropical weather and what it would do to the cruise or the reunion.  Hurricane Irene went through the Bahamas and up the East Coast, cancelling the Auto Train service for several days, and I didn’t want a repeat during my trip.  It also disrupted the Disney Dream’s cruise that week; the trip to Nassau was really rough, I would hear, and the trip to Castaway Cay was cancelled.  Fears that it would be off limits for several weeks proved unfounded, though, as it was in operation again starting with the following cruise.  And plans for my high school reunion were finalized.  And now, I pick up the travelogue starting the Sunday before I left....

(Jump to the first day of the trip, September 9, if you wish)

September 4

A week from now, I will be in Florida, awaiting my chance to board the Disney Dream, then boarding her, then setting sail on her. The packing has begun, at least for the carryon bag.  The serious packing of the clothes will probably begin later in the week.  Two days earlier, I’d bought some small trial/travel size items for the trip: toothpaste, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, etc. I also got a long-handled lotion applicator, allowing me to apply sunscreen to my back (I remembered the sunburn from last year’s snorkeling and didn’t want a repeat) and some sunglasses that also had reading glasses built in; a rather ingenious idea, I thought.  And now I continue to watch the progress of hurricane Katia.  Will it pose a threat to the East Coast?  Models suggest that it will curve out to sea and not threaten the mainland. For now, I still plan to take the Auto Train on Saturday.

September 5

Today is Labor Day, a day off from work for me.  Fortunately for me, but perhaps unfortunately for those involved, it was not a day off for workers at Best Buy.  A camera I had intended to take on the trip had developed a malfunction and could no longer be trusted to operate properly.  It was the Olympus underwater camera I got last year in anticipation of last year’s cruise, and when I tried it again recently, it leaked.  The problems it was now experiencing may be related to that leak.  Add to that its annoying tendency to take the occasional picture that ends up corrupted and irretrievable, and I figured it was time for a new camera. And so up to Best Buy I went, looking for a new model.  A Fuji model seemed interesting, but its replacement battery was not available.  Olympus had newer models than mine, some not quite as capable, but capable enough for what I would be doing.  What’s more, all of the accessories I had from before would work with this camera.  Several minutes later, I was home charging the new camera and hoping I wouldn’t regret the purchase.  I wasn’t too happy about having to get a new camera, but I would have been much less happy had I discovered this on board the ship.

And speaking of the ship, hurricane Katia is forecast to curve out to sea and not threaten the Bahamas or mainland at all; the only thing they’ll see will be choppy seas, which will be past by the time I’m down there.  But there’s a new tropical wave off of the coast of Africa that bears watching.

Back to the camera: it will have to go back to the store for exchange.  A camera capable of operating underwater did the one thing such a camera should never do: it leaked.  It leaked in a sink.  It didn’t leak a lot, but bubbles were coming from places they shouldn’t have been coming.  I returned it and got another; it also bubbles from the same place, a place where there isn’t an actual seal.  Places inside the actual seal (away from the edge of the cover), meaning the battery and memory card, remained dry in both cameras.  Maybe I didn’t need to return the first one.  I should still keep close watch on it, though.

Wednesday September 7

Two days before departure, and I’m still monitoring the tropical weather.  Tropical storm Maria has formed in the Atlantic, and it has the potential to be near the Bahamas during the cruise.  Impact? Too soon to tell. Best case, nothing will happen at all.  Perhaps seas will be a bit too rough to allow some expeditions to take place.  Worst case, there will be a direct hit where we are prevented from pulling into ports and/or have really rough seas.

Yesterday, I decided to get an inexpensive watertight bag to serve as an underwater camera housing for the Olympus camera.  I thought it best to go with the belt-and-suspenders approach, two levels of protection.  Those bubbles from the edge of the cover still concern me.

In the evening, I packed my main suitcase, and then I lowered the back seat backs in my Mariner to get more room for everything.  Only one bag remains to be packed, the carryon bag, and that is halfway packed now.

Thursday September 8

There has been constant light rain in Detroit since yesterday afternoon.  The forecast calls for rain the entire way down to DC this weekend.  It looks like I’ll be driving through some of the remnants of tropical storm Lee, which hit Louisiana and sparked brush fires in Texas.  This part of the country doesn’t need the rain; it’s Texas that really needs it!

I’ll still need to monitor the path of Maria, for it could very well affect the cruise.  Fortunately, it did not appear to be strengthening; it might even be weakening. And my departure to Texas could be affected by whatever Nate does.  If it hits Louisiana or anywhere on the upper Gulf coast as a major hurricane, I’d be driving through the aftermath -- or I’d have to make a major detour north to avoid the aftermath.


Friday September 9

Route from Detroit to Youngstown

Miles today: 232.2
Miles so far: 232.2

I had awakened in the middle of the night, around 3 AM, to use the restroom.  But for some reason, I decided to check my e-mail, which led to a check of Facebook, and I ended up awake for some 45 minutes.  That may have been a mistake, for I attempted to get some sleep but had a hard time nodding back off.  I know I eventually did go back to sleep, for when I awoke again, the clock said 6:15.  I had to scramble to get ready for work.  There wasn’t time to finish packing my last bag; I’d have to return home after work to take care of that and retrieve other important items, such as the Auto Train reservation confirmation, the cruise contract, my medicine, etc.

At the office, I mailed two bills (ugh) that would come due during the cruise.  I checked e-mail that I had not had time to check before leaving for work. One message was from the Detroit News, a regular mailing telling what was in that day’s paper.  Today, I learned, the paper included a special section on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  I had been interviewed for this section about the VCR tape I had unintentionally made of the attacks as they happened (I had been recording the Today show that morning because Tracey Ullman was appearing - I got her appearance as well as a lot more than I bargained for).  I’d been led to believe the section would appear on Saturday, but it appeared today. 

Work proceeded more or less normally, a fairly light day, which was all right by me.  I had a meeting with my boss and another co-worker where we described future training plans as well as who would fill in on some of my duties.  I didn’t bother taking lunch today, using some of that time to look at the results of tests done on warranty part returns.  After backing up my data as I usually do at the end of every week, I went over to another building and brought two warranty return parts, one for my supplier to review and the other to the person who should have received it in the first place; it had come my way by mistake.  With my working through lunch and with time put in yesterday, I had effectively put in my time for the week.  Time to head home for final packing.

When I got home, I retrieved my medicine and finished packing my carryon bag.  Did I have my passport (yes)? Did I have the train ticket confirmation and my signed contract (yes and yes)? Did I set up what I needed to record on TV (yes, I hope)? After calling to activate a replacement credit card, and after switching to a key ring with fewer keys on it, I set off from the house around 2:45.  I stopped at a truck stop near Willow Metropark for some snacks and a final check that I did indeed have my passport and my good camera (yes to both).  The drive down I-275 and I-75 through Monroe and Toledo was uneventful; I spent much of that time listening to the Underground Garage on SiriusXM.  Then I got onto I-280, went over that fancy new bridge near downtown Toledo, and made my way to the Ohio Turnpike for the drive to Youngstown.  I stopped for an early supper (remember, I’d not had lunch) and gas (for the car) at a turnpike service plaza, and then I continued eastward.  There were occasional rain showers, but nothing lasted very long.  Soon I was passing through Lorain and Elyria and the southern part of Cleveland.

Around 7:20, I exited the Turnpike at the last exit in Ohio, paid my toll ($10) and looked for my hotel.  But it wasn’t where I had expected it to be, close to the turnpike.  I drove further north; still no sign of it.  I finally pulled over, hooked up the TomTom GPS, and searched for the hotel.  It was a few miles away, not where I’d expected it to be at all.  It guided me there, and then I checked in.  Up in my room, I hooked up the computer and took out a few things I needed for the night.  It was then I realized that I’d forgotten something at home: a refill for my checkbook, which had only three checks left in it.  And I had more than three upcoming bills to pay during the trip.  There would be no way to realistically get the checks to me, even if someone could go over and find them in my house.  I’d have to stop at a post office on the road and get some money orders.

Would tropical storm Maria be a threat to the cruise? The latest forecast had it heading well east of the Bahamas, so a direct hit seemed unlikely.  But nothing is ever certain with tropical storms.  I would be monitoring the forecast tomorrow and on Sunday morning, for sure!  And what did I do tonight?  Nibbled on some snacks from the hotel vending machine; took a shower; worked on the travelogue; read the PDF version of today’s Detroit News; watched a college football game on ESPN; and started to read the e-edition of the New Scientist magazine on my iPad.


Saturday September 10

Route from Youngstown to Breezewood Route from Breezewood to Lorton

Miles today: 331.3
Miles so far: 563.5

I fell asleep during the second football game on ESPN, then popped awake during the night.  Thanks to the clock in the room being some 10-15 minutes fast, it was only 3:30 when I awoke, not 3:45.  I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I checked e-mail and Facebook, then logged into one of my Macs back home to see if the programs that were supposed to record last night did.  They appeared to record properly.  Now one of them was the final episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day.  I converted it with an eye to retrieving it on the road and watching it later on.  The conversion went quickly, the copying to my iDisk less so.  The copying FROM my iDisk to my laptop went very slowly, so slowly that it would not complete before I had to hit the road, so I cancelled the copy.  I wouldn’t be able to watch it until after the cruise.

When the breakfast area opened at 6, I went down and got my meal, which included a waffle.  The area was so busy, all of the tables were filled; I had to take my meal back to my room to eat.  A little after 6:30, I was on the road.  Waking up so early this morning made it a bit difficult to stay awake at times, but I managed.  It wasn’t as bad as last year on the way back from Florida, but I did stop at the rest area/service plazas along the way.  I passed the Somerset exit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the exit closest to the Flight 93 Memorial site, the site where many good people gave their lives to stop some bad people from killing many more good people in Washington, DC that Tuesday morning 10 years ago tomorrow.  I had visited the site in 2007, when the temporary memorial was in place.  I wouldn’t have time to visit the site today; it was probably just as well, because today was the formal dedication ceremony of the first part of the permanent memorial. Former presidents Bush the younger and Clinton were to speak there today, and the required security presence was not compatible with a casual visit while passing through. 

My route from Breezewood on was identical to last year’s: down I-70 to US 522 through West Virginia and into Virginia, then Highway 37 to I-81 and then I-66.  When the Michigan State football game started at noon, I tuned that in (via Sirius, not WJR) and enjoyed the first half, a bit of a Spartan romp on Florida Atlantic.  When I got closer to DC, I recognized the turnoff for the Fairfax County Parkway and took that down to Highway 123, at which point I relied on a GPS to guide me in the rest of the way to the Auto Train station.

After getting checked in, I went to the small convenience store to get some lunch, which ended up being a turkey panini sandwich.  It was pretty good, but some of the cheese ran and fell on my pants, leaving a stain that Perrier wouldn’t take out.  The store had some seats where people could eat their meal, but they were all taken when I got there.  I started my lunch standing up but was able to sit down later when one man finished with his meal.  Then I visited the restroom and found a seat in the waiting area.  Last year, there was a college football game on the monitors in the station; today, they showed CNN, which was showing Bush 43’s speech at the Flight 93 memorial ceremony.  The station seemed little changed from last year; I didn’t bother taking any pictures as a result.  The train ride might be different, as I was traveling by coach this year.

I checked for the latest forecast on Maria, and it was good news. Maria was becoming very disorganized and probably wouldn’t much of a threat during the cruise.  It was also taking a path well to the east of the Bahamas, which also meant the East Coast would be spared.

At 2:30, I went out to board the train.  My car was 2312, my seat 59.  Initially, I had a seat to myself, but later someone came down and sat next to me.  Our car was not full, though, so he found a seat to himself later on, and I got my seat to myself again.  Around 3:40, we pulled out of the station to await the connection of the car cars, and we were under way before 4.  I recall passing through Quantico and Fredericksburg, Ashland and Richmond.  I read the Washington Post, checked e-mail and Facebook during the ride.

I had selected the second seating for dinner, the 7 PM seating.  My dining companions were from Vero Beach, returning from their summer home in Ashtabula, Ohio.  On the table were flasks of water and what I thought was apple juice.  Only after pouring a glass and taking a sip of that apple juice did I discover it was actually white wine. Oops! Now I no longer drink alcohol because I’m a Bahá’í, and Bahá’u’lláh forbade the consumption of alcohol.  This was the first time I’d drank some alcohol since becoming a Bahá’í in 1994, although this was inadvertent and unintentional.  After that sip, I didn’t touch it again.  It was interesting that my instinct was to identify it as apple juice rather than wine; perhaps I should develop a new instinct, to smell it before assuming anything. I did enjoy the salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables, though, as well as the ice cream for dessert.  Then it was back to my seat.  Rango was playing in the lounge, but I didn’t feel like going there to watch it.  I read from the eBooks on my iPad before attempting to go to sleep for the night.


Sunday September 11

Route from Sanford to Port Canaveral

Miles today: 70 (est.)
Miles so far: 633.5 (est.)

On train rides in the past, I have complained about difficulties getting a good sleep in the sleeper car.  Well, I got better sleep those times than I did overnight in coach.  I couldn’t find a consistently comfortable position in those seats.  I did get some sleep, for I do distinctly remember dreaming about our house in Texas and how it would shake every so often.  In reality, it was the train that was doing the shaking.  By 5:46, I was up for good, and I paid a visit to the restroom, after which I went up to the dining car for breakfast.  Tonight’s light breakfast was Special K, a bagel, a banana, and orange juice.  This was indeed orange juice, not a screwdriver or Harvey Wallbanger.

Our train had made very good time overnight -- too good, in fact; we arrived at the station at 7:30, before the station opened.  We could not leave the train until the car portion had been separated from the passenger portion, and that wouldn’t happen until the station crew came on duty.  And so we sat for more than a half-hour before we could exit. It was over an hour, in fact; not until 8:35 were we able to leave.  As I went inside the new terminal, I made my way to the restroom, and then I found a seat.  The TV’s inside were carrying CNN and Fox News coverage of the 9/11 remembrance ceremony in New York, where both President Obama and former president Bush the younger were present.  While I waited for my Mariner to be unloaded, I saw a spooky sight: while Fox news was showing footage of the South Tower being struck by the plane, I saw a real plane outside on approach to Orlando.  The perspective made it appear that the real plane was heading toward the towers -- very eerie.

AN ASIDE: Clearly, I and every adult here knew the significance of this day in US and world history. I’m sure many were aware of and could remember quite clearly what they were doing 10 years ago this day.  This morning, I was on a train and had just arrived at my destination; back then, I was at work in Dearborn, having just come back from a trip to the ATM, when I heard the first radio reports.  I was back at my desk, trying to learn more, and the network and the news websites had bogged down with heavy traffic from everyone wanting to know what was happening.  But soon we learned about the second plane and then the Pentagon.  Work continued for a while, but then it came to a halt as the news worsened.  People gathered in the halls to watch CNN on monitors.  I went home to get a portable TV thinking I’d return to the office, but once I was home I got word not to bother coming back that day.  There was no way any work could realistically be done, not after what happened.  And I’d unintentionally recorded the whole thing on my VCR.  That evening, I attended a special devotional and prayer gathering called by the Bahá’ís of Canton Township.  This evening, though, I’d be on board the Disney Dream.  END OF ASIDE.

The terminal area emptied as vehicles were delivered and claimed.  So far, mine was not among them.  To be honest, I was not in urgent need of my vehicle.  If this had been noon instead of 9 AM, I would have felt much differently; hurry up and deliver my car, I would have been thinking.  But my number was called around 9:15, and I had plenty of time to make it to Port Canaveral.  I left the station and found my way to Highway 46 where I turned east, but I got confused by the signage in downtown Sanford and had to make a U-turn.  Later, I had to hook up my GPS when I grew concerned I’d missed a turn.  Fortunately, I hadn’t; in fact, I was just about to come up on the turn when I stopped.  I was not lost.

The drive to I-95 was uneventful, and once again, I got the feeling that I was back home in Texas.  The types of trees and bushes, as well as the occasional armadillo that became roadkill, reinforced that connection for me.  Also reinforcing it was the number for the freeway to Port Canaveral, Highway 528; the presence of a “Clearlake Road” off of 528; and the temperature and humidity. Once I reached I-95, I drove down until I reached the turnoff for Highway 528, which I then took east to the port and to Cocoa Beach.  As I drove this morning, I was bouncing around between three programs: A repeat of American Top 40 from September 1971, a special edition of Breakfast with the Beatles that had a peace theme and an American theme, and Fox News coverage of the ceremonies from New York, including Paul Simon’s performance of "The Sounds of Silence."

When I reached the port area, it was too early for me to check in; I couldn’t check in until noon.  So I spent the next 45 minutes at the Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, getting ideas for birthday presents (or Christmas presents) I could give.  In fact, I picked up two items for relatives of mine, and I wasn’t sure if I would give them as Christmas presents or birthday presents (I eventually decided they would be Christmas presents).  When I was finished there, I drove up to the port, where I noticed several sheriff’s deputies along the road, probably because of what today was.  It was busy at the entrance to the parking area, but I had no problem finding a spot in the garage.  I didn’t have much difficulty checking in, and I made sure I checked my suitcase out front rather than force it through the security screening like last year.

There was a short line at the security screening, but it moved quickly.  I’d taken my shoes off and laptop out and put them through, although I was told I didn’t have to, but by then it was too late.  One of the guards asked if I had a knife in my bag, for some reason; no, I replied.  I wondered why they would ask that, then later on, it hit me: the long handled applicator I brought to apply sunscreen to my back might have looked like a knife when x-rayed.  Once through, I took the escalator up to the main level and found the line for Castaway Club members.

Check-in wasn’t difficult, and I learned about a new feature or quirk of my stateroom: my key card must be used to turn on and keep on the room lights and TV. That might take some getting used to.  As soon as I was done, I could board the ship, for my number had been called, but I took a few pictures inside the terminal and out on the observation deck before I boarded.  I didn’t bother getting my picture taken as I boarded, but I did receive a greeting from Pluto and saw Goofy from one deck up (didn’t get their pictures, though).  I made my way to Cabanas on deck 11 for lunch, which was good. I remembered the difficulties I had last year on the Wonder eating at its buffet restaurant while trying to handle a large piece of luggage, and I was glad I didn’t have to contend with that today.  Then I went down to deck 4 and the 687 lounge, which was showing 3 different football games: Pittsburgh at Baltimore, Indianapolis at Houston, and Philadelphia at St. Louis.  I was hoping Detroit at Tampa Bay would have been one of the games, but it wasn’t.  The Texans were leading early, but the Lions were losing.  It would turn out that both the Texans and Lions would win.

I went back to my stateroom (#5538), finished unpacking my carryon bag, and met my stateroom attendant Goodluck, who was from St. Vincent.  He also shared a name with an African president, Goodluck Jonathan (of Nigeria, I think).  There was a bag waiting for me full of goodies.  The bag was given to all Castaway Club members, meaning those who had made at least one Disney Cruise before.  Inside my bag were two water bottles, two pens, two crispy rice treats, a keychain, and possibly something else.  The bag would come in handy on Castaway Cay to hold all of my stuff while on my excursions.  I would take pictures of my stateroom and the view from my verandah, and then I’d go to the topmost decks and wander around, taking some more pictures of the ship and its surroundings.  Those surroundings included the Kennedy Space Center, the other launch pads on Cape Canaveral, and two other cruise vessels, Carnival’s Sensation and Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas.  The RCL ship was closer, and I could see the people on board milling around, getting settled in.

I was in my stateroom when the alarm sounded for the mandatory emergency drill at 4.  I knew what to do, thanks to reading the information on the back of my door, and so I headed down to the Walt Disney Theater on deck 3, the designated lifeboat muster station for my cabin.  The drill went reasonably well, and we were dismissed by 4:15.  Unlike last time, there was no need to wear the lifejacket during the drill.  I had practiced putting it on in the stateroom, for we’d been advised to do so. Back in my room, I saw that my suitcase had finally arrived.  I brought it in with Goodluck’s help and started to unpack, and then I headed up to deck 12 for the Sailing Away party.  It was a sendoff celebration very similar to the one on last year’s cruise.  The captain put in an appearance from the bridge, and of course the Disney characters were there in force.  At 5 on the dot, we started to move; we were under way!  As I shot some movie footage, the low-battery indicator flashed.  Time to swap to a fresh battery, so I went back to my stateroom, swapped out the battery, put the drained battery charging, and took pictures of our departure from my verandah.  Unlike last year, we were the last ship of the three in port to depart.  Both the Royal Caribbean and Carnival vessels were out on the ocean before us.  I took a number of pictures, though perhaps not as many as last year, for I was just taking them from one side of the ship this time, the starboard side. As we set out into open seas, I looked down and could see the occasional jellyfish not far below the surface.

Because my dinner time was the second seating, I would be catching the early performances of the shows at the Walt Disney Theater. Tonight’s show was “The Golden Mickeys,” a mock awards program, which kicked off with a mock red carpet welcoming ceremony.  On stage, just before the performance began, the senior crew was introduced, including Captain Henry and cruise director Rachel Quinn, a rather attractive blonde from somewhere in England.  I found her name to be very “Glee”-ful (two of the main characters on Glee are named Rachel and Quinn).  She said we could call her Julie and told the kids in the audience to ask their parents about that.  Yes, that was her obligatory Love Boat joke. And then the show got under way!

The show wasn’t that long; it was over by 7:20, which gave me enough time to return to my stateroom two decks up, grab my camera, and get some sunset pictures from my verandah.  I tried looking for the green flash that sometimes appears just as the sun sinks below the horizon, and I thought I’d seen it.  But I was looking in the camera viewfinder at the time, so it could have been an artifact from the display and not a true green flash.  The picture I took showed no sign of it, so I don’t know.  What I did know was that I could still see the Carnival and RCL vessels in the distance; the RCL ship was well ahead of us, but the Carnival ship had fallen back.

Earlier, as I was wandering around the upper decks, I had an opportunity to order some bottled water for myself -- specifically, a case of Evian.  That water had now arrived, and I loaded it into the stateroom’s refrigerator.  What didn’t fit went into the closet -- and there was a lot that didn’t fit, for a case contained 24 bottles.

Dinner time was approaching.  Like everyone else, I had been assigned a specific rotation pattern for my dinners.  On the first night, I would go to the Animator’s Palate.  On the second night, I would dine in the Enchanted Garden.  And on the third and fourth nights, I would be eating at the Royal Palace.  My table number was 70.  I would be dining with people I did not know and would not meet until this evening.

Shortly after 8, I went down to the Animator’s Palate restaurant and was taken to table 70.  On my previous cruise, I sat with another solo traveler.  This time, I would sit with five other people: Jeff and Laurie, a married couple from Minneapolis who were on their first cruise, and a mother, daughter, and boyfriend or good friend (I wasn’t quite sure which) from Indianapolis, all of whom had cruised before; unfortunately, I’ve forgotten their names.  The theme of the restaurant, given the name of the restaurant, was animation and the animator’s table.  There was another theme in play, Finding Nemo. It turned out that many of the drawings on the wall were actually screens where characters from Finding Nemo would appear.  Crush the turtle was a major attraction; he would even interact with the diners (he got Jeff to profess his love for his wife in the most romantic language of the sea, whale!).  The school of fish would also form shapes that we’d have to guess.  The Animator’s Palate on the Disney Wonder wasn’t like this! And how was the food? Very good. I had wild mushroom risotto for my appetizer, baked potato soup, and a shrimp penne pasta as a main course, with lemon mousse for dessert.  Once again, I got a great meal on board a Disney ship.

After dinner, I paid my first visit to the onboard shops.  Would there be anything I was interested in?  Of course there would, and there was.  But I wasn’t going to get anything tonight; I was just getting ideas for purchases later in the cruise.  Undoubtedly there would be something I could have the captain sign on the last day of the cruise.  Would it be a model of the ship, something to go along with the model of the Disney Wonder I acquired on my previous cruise?  After seeing the size of the model of the Dream, I crossed it off my list; it was too big for my liking.  There was still plenty of time to decide on something.  Then I went up one deck and took a walk on the promenade, the track that ran the full length of the ship.  In the distance, I could see the lights of at least one other cruise vessel and possibly a second. The full moon was out, and so were a few stars. 

When I went back to my stateroom, I turned on ESPN International to catch the Sunday Night Football broadcast.  I also fired up my Macbook Pro for my first e-mail check at sea.  Of course, my MiFi was useless so far offshore, so I had to buy some time for the shipboard satellite Internet connection.  I figured I would get the maximum possible, 250 minutes for $75; I was pretty sure I could use it all. When I was on, I focused on retrieving and responding to e-mail and checking Facebook.  I made sure to sign out properly, and then I turned my attention back to the game -- until I fell asleep, that is.


Monday September 12

Compared to last night, I had a very sound sleep.  I had fallen asleep during the football game; when I woke up around 5:40, the game was being repeated, and so I got to see the end of it, where the Jets came back to win it.  But since I was on vacation, shouldn’t I have awakened later than 5:40 AM?  It was still dark outside, but the full moon was still out, and it provided some illumination.  According to the info channel, the vessel was still a good distance off from Nassau.  I used the time to check e-mail and to load most of yesterday’s pictures into iPhoto, “most” meaning the pictures I had taken with the Canon.  Those turned out well, for the most part, especially the sunset ones.

When I got up this morning, the left side of my nose was clogged.  It wasn’t a cold; I do tend to get this on occasion.  I took an allergy pill as a defensive measure.  I also took a shower, for I had last showered on Friday night in Ohio.  The shower was a bit constrained in terms of height; if I had made an effort to stand up straight, I would have hit the ceiling.  As it was, I just missed hitting it.  I didn’t need to slouch more than usual, but I had to be careful. Although the stateroom height was fine, the bathroom was elevated by a couple of inches, and the bathtub a couple of inches more.  The same H20+ products that were on last year’s cruise were present this morning, which was just fine by me.  They did a good job.

I went up to Cabanas for breakfast and had quite a mix this morning: scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, three strips of bacon (I was definitely not having a kosher breakfast today), grilled potatoes, a chocolate pancake without syrup, and a toasted bagel.  Topping it all off were two glasses of orange juice!  Not a bad meal at all.  When I finished and was leaving the restaurant, I saw that we were in the process of arriving at Nassau and pulling into our berth.  We were turning around in the harbor and backing in.  As we pulled in, I saw that we were not alone at the port today.  The Carnival Fantasy (not the ship that was in Port Canaveral) was docked, as was a freighter.  The weather was mostly sunny and warm, a far cry from last year’s cloudy and wet.  The Carnival passengers were debarking for their shore expeditions; we’d do so once we were fully berthed.  I wouldn’t be going anywhere; I did not sign up for any shore excursions in Nassau and had no real desire to exit the ship.

Instead of leaving the vessel, I walked around for a while, sat down on deck 13 underneath the radar dome for a while (it’s designed to be sat under), had a croissant at a cafe on deck 4, clipped some toenails on my left foot that were bothering me, submitted a card for a quote on a future cruise (there are financial incentives to booking during a cruise), etc. I wanted to walk around the promenade deck’s jogging track, but part of it was closed off for swabbing, so that was out.  When noon came around, I saw an interesting presentation on the Disney Dream and how it was built.  There were maybe 10 to 15 attendees, most of whom were experienced cruisers.  Then it was time for lunch at Cabana’s again.

After lunch, I went back to my stateroom to rest up for a bit and work on the travelogue, as well as sit out on the verandah for a while.  What did I think about? I’ll keep those to myself.  Then I figured I’d go for a swim in the Quiet Cove pool,  but when I got up there, it was rather busy.  The hot tub wasn’t busy at all, though, so I used that instead.  As I removed most of my clothing, I noticed that there was a window in the deck visible all the way down to the ground or sea.  It was small, nowhere near as large as one in the CN Tower in Chicago.  After I got into the hot tub (which was indeed pretty hot), I thought I saw another window in the bottom of the tub.  I had some swim goggles with me, so I put them on and took an underwater look.  Yes, there was a window in the bottom!  One of the sides was also a window, it turned out.  These were worthy of pictures, I said to myself.  After I finished, I dried off and listened to a guitarist playing in the area, then got a burger and fries as a pre-dinner snack (dinner was late, remember).

Playing in the Buena Vista Theater at 6 this evening was the recent Winnie the Pooh movie.  This was done in the classic 2D animation style and was very evocative of the original Pooh shorts that were made for theaters but that I saw on TV as a young boy (NBC, I want to say).  The opening live-action sequence was similar, as was the use of a British narrator (John Cleese filling in for the late Sebastian Cabot).  All of the character voices were successors to the originals, although some of them had been doing the voices for quite some time.  The classic Pooh theme was sung by Zooey Deschanel, who was reasonably faithful to the original (she also did the closing theme, rather cutely, I might add). For the most part, this was indeed your father’s Pooh Bear, and there was nothing wrong with that.  There weren’t that many people in the theater for the movie, although Goofy paid a brief visit (I’d encountered him on the way to the theater, as well).

Back in my cabin, I turned on the tail end of the Villains Tonight show.  It almost looked like it had been filmed instead of being videoed. It was an interesting show, not so interesting that I regretted not going in person instead of seeing the Pooh movie.  Outside, it was clouding up; I figured it was too cloudy to make for a good sunset, and so I didn’t bother seeking it out this evening.  Time for another e-mail check; the connection seemed to be faster than this afternoon.  With that one exception, the connections seemed be faster overall than on the Wonder, which was just fine with me.

Tonight was dress-up night on board; I had my jacket, of course, but I discovered that I’d forgotten to pack a tie.  It wasn’t mandatory, and so I dispensed with it this evening as I proceeded to the Enchanted Garden on deck 2 to meet up with my tablemates.  The restaurant had a bit of a French feel to the decor.  Tonight’s meal consisted of a lobster ravioli appetizer, cream of asparagus soup with asparagus tips (I only got a single tip, though), and prime rib with twice-baked potato.  I ordered my prime rib medium-well, but no red was visible; that was just fine with me. There was lots of fat, though, but that’s the nature of prime rib.  I think everyone at the table had ordered the prime rib tonight, though not to the same done-ness; I recall one being ordered medium-rare.  My mom would have freaked over that. For dessert, I had the no-sugar-added chocolate mousse.

After dinner, I went out to the upper decks for a walk.  It was warm outside with a bit of a breeze.  The Carnival ship had departed, so we were the only vessel in port and would be remaining here until 2 AM.  Why so late?  I didn’t know for sure, but during the talk about the Dream today, the cast member who gave it suggested that other cast members would be going ashore this evening for some break time.  Back at the room, there was a card waiting for me: my quotes had come through.  I had expressed interest on a 7-night eastern Caribbean cruise on either the Magic or the Fantasy for next fall.  The Fantasy would be the only ship making that particular cruise at that particular time, I learned; the Magic would be doing western Caribbean cruises out of Galveston then.

AN ASIDE: The onboard TV selection was similar to that on the Wonder, but there were a few differences.  The main information channels were the same: a channel for shipboard announcements; the view from the bridge; the infodump channel giving the ship’s position and heading, the weather, etc.; channels for port adventures, shopping opportunities, the Disney Vacation Club, the advantages of booking your next cruise during this cruise; several channels from the Disney family - ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN International, the Disney Channel, ABC Family, and a classic cartoon channel; CNN, CNN International, and Headline News; a music video channel; and the channel for the Walt Disney Theater.  But some channels on the Wonder were not available on the Dream, such as the channels for Disney live-action films, the animated films, the Pixar films, etc.  Actually, they were available via On Demand. END OF ASIDE


Tuesday September 13

I had fallen asleep during the second Monday Night Football game; when I awoke during the night, SportsCenter was on.  I didn’t bother turning off the TV and fell asleep again, only to awaken for good around 4:30.  I lay there for a while, but no, I couldn’t get back to sleep.  I rested, but I didn’t really sleep again. When I decided to get up, I checked e-mail and Facebook.  Later, as it became light outside, it became clear to me that I would be able to see the sunrise from my stateroom.  There were some clouds on the horizon, but they wouldn’t interfere too much with the sunrise.  And so, there I was on my verandah, looking to the east, waiting for the first glimpse of the sun.  I had to contend with condensation on the camera lens, which I wiped off using my lens care “pen”; that vanished once the camera warmed up.  And there it was!  I took a lot of pictures of the rising sun, eventually posting one of those to Facebook.

There was an island ahead, and it was gradually getting larger.  That was Castaway Cay, which we were approaching from the south.  The ship had to position itself properly to back into its slip on the island; and it did so with no perceived difficulties.  I went to Cabana’s and had a lighter breakfast than yesterday, possibly not wanting to feel too full.  In retrospect, this was probably a mistake; more on that later.  After I finished eating, I went back to my room to gather my things, including my Olympus camera.  I went back up to deck 11 to get pictures of the window in the deck, through which one could see whatever was below, be it land or sea.  I also put the camera in the underwater housing bag and put it into the hot tub for a picture of the windows in its floor.  Did the pictures turn out?  I had no way to know, not until I offloaded them.  Then I went down to deck 1 and off the gangway.  I was on Castaway Cay!

It was very sunny outside, and it was already starting to get warm.  I picked up a towel and wandered around briefly, taking a few pictures.  Then I checked in at Marge’s Barges for the snorkeling expedition.  The waiting area was quite crowded, but I found a seat in the shade.  Not everyone was there for snorkeling, as it turned out; some were there for offshore fishing, while others were there for kayaking.  Those of us there for snorkeling didn’t board the catamaran until 9:45.  We pulled out from the slip, and as we did, I took a few pictures of the ship.  Then we noticed one of the lifeboats from the Dream on the water.  No, it wasn’t an emergency; it was most likely a required test cruise or part of standard maintenance.  The lifeboat seemed to be working properly, which was reassuring.  We exited the lagoon and made our way to the west of the island, which is where the reef we would be visiting was located.  Another boat was already in the area of the reef.  At first, I wasn’t sure what it was doing there, but it became clear that it was a glass-bottom boat.

After some maneuvering around to find the prime spot, the boat dropped anchor.  We put on our gear and exited off the ladders at the rear of the boat.  The water was fairly warm as I entered.  I had the camera with me, attached to my wrist by a large orange strap.  As I swam around, I tried taking some pictures.  Well, I took pictures, but I had no way to know how they’d turn out.  I couldn’t see the camera display through the bag.  Also, I didn’t know precisely where the bag surface was compared to the camera lens, and this made (as I would learn later) for some distorted pictures.  But I did see quite a bit of coral and fish on the reef, which lay between 4 and 9 feet deep.  There was a school of yellow fish hanging around at one point, and I tried to get a picture of it.

It wasn’t long before I started feeling hungry.  After that, I became rather low on energy, as though I hadn’t eaten enough or was experiencing low blood sugar.  I ended up leaving the water after 40 minutes of our 60-minute excursion, but I was still satisfied with what I’d seen.  I really had to blow my nose after taking off my gear, but all I could find was the toilet paper in the restroom to use.  I had a drink of water and then a regular Sprite, once everyone was on board.  That Sprite helped perk me up.  As we headed back to the dock, I took the camera out of its bag and took some more pictures of the ship as we approached.  Off in the distance, I could see some parasailing taking place.  Soon, we were back ashore.  One activity down, two to go.

My next stop: the restroom.  Following that, I had lunch at Cookie’s Barbecue, where one could choose from various grilled dishes.  I had a cheeseburger and a hot dog, along with a bag of chips and a Sprite Zero (still labeled as Diet Sprite on the machines here).  The food was good, and I was ready for activity number two: an hour of bike riding.  The bikes were just as I remembered them: Schwinn single-speed cruisers with coaster brakes.  I claimed a helmet, asked how long the bike path was (4 1/2 miles all the way around, the clerk said), and then set off.  There were a number of water stations along the path, which was a very good thing, given how hot it was.  The path made use of the abandoned air strip, circled past the observation tower, and went up the western side of the island.  I had to contend with head winds heading west, but I overcame them with little difficulty.  I ended up riding some 11 miles (estimated), or two times around the full trail, then up to the observation tower and back.  Two activities down, one remaining.

After the bike ride, I looked for the place near Cookie’s that dispensed ice cream, and I got a small dish of banana-strawberry swirl.  That ice cream was cold, and it gave me a minor case of brain freeze.  Now I was ready for activity three, snorkeling in the lagoon.  I went to the rental area, got my gear and a clean towel, then found a spot for my stuff.  I walked to the water’s edge, put on my fins, then walked in as best as I could.  It took a while to get out past the cloudiness near the shore, but there I was, in the lagoon, marveling at the fish hanging around and some of the items that had been sank.  At one point, I noticed a commotion in one area.  I swam over there to see what was going on.  It turned out that it was a sunken Mickey Mouse, a very popular attraction in the lagoon.  I’d wanted to see it last year but missed out on it, and here I’d found it!  Mission accomplished! I took a number of pictures of Mickey, some by himself, some accompanied by fish, and a couple with a Disney cast member who had swam down to grab Mickey.  I tried to swim down, and I did touch Mickey, barely, but I had too much buoyancy to get very far.

Unfortunately, I started to develop cramps in my legs; that was not good.  If I controlled how I moved them, I didn’t experience any pain, but I did have to be careful.  I took that as a sign for me to head back to shore.  Perhaps I’d overworked them with the two snorkel sessions and the bike ride.  Fortunately, I didn’t have any problems making it to shore.  Three activities down, and I was done!  I found where I’d stashed my clothes, dried off and put them on, returned my snorkeling gear, and returned to the ship.  It had been a long and active day, and I was tired.

Back in my cabin, I took a shower to get the salt off of me.  The water felt very hot on me, although the temperature wasn’t that high.  The sunscreen must have worn off or washed off, and I knew I was going to hurt later.  I rinsed off the camera housing, took out the camera and downloaded the pictures, and then I saw how my pictures had turned out: not as well as I’d hoped.  The housing bag had done its job of keeping the camera dry, and it had done so perfectly.  Unfortunately, its other shortcomings made it of questionable value.  I was wishing I would have more opportunity to try to use the housing, or better yet, to have the camera work properly without the housing.  I could see the potential in the camera, how it could take some pretty good pictures.  For some of the pictures did turn out pretty well.

As I dried off, the room began to feel chilly to me.  I turned up the temperature, but it still felt chilly.  Was it a sign I was coming down with something? I hoped not!  I was motivated to go down to the shops, once they opened after we’d pulled out of port, and get a sweatshirt.  I felt more comfortable in the shops, so the chill I felt wasn’t so much me as the temperature of my room.  I wouldn’t need to put on the sweatshirt for overnight, I was sure.  Then I made my way over to the Future Cruise Booking desk, intending to ask for an appointment to discuss the request for quote I’d placed.  The desk was manned, and it turned out that right then was a great time to discuss things.  I had asked for prices on a 7-day eastern Caribbean cruise in the fall of 2012.  I noticed that San Juan, Puerto Rico, was to be added as a port with the cruise of November 3; that intrigued me.  The longer cruise duration and different destinations intrigued me.  And so, I found myself booking a cruise on the new Fantasy for next November.  The dates meant I would be out of the country during the presidential election, so I’d have to cast an absentee ballot.  My cabin would be on deck 5, toward the stern, in an oceanview cabin, no verandah next time.

It was time for tonight’s show in the Walt Disney Theater: Taylor Mason, ventriloquist and comedian.  This was an all-ages show, and there were quite a few moments of audience interaction and participation.  He had a number of dummies with him, including the pigs Paco and Paquito, a sumo wrestler, and Romeo the punk.  I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and I made a note to myself to attend his adult show Wednesday night.

Back in the room, I saw that I had been given a bandanna for Pirates IN the Caribbean. Everyone was encouraged to wear it, but when I tried putting it on, I found it was too small for me.  I ended up using it as a pocket square in my shirt pocket.  And since this was Pirate Night, I was wearing my Hawaiian shirt, planning to repeat my Key West Pirate look from last year with the Jack Sparrow headgear and eyepatch.  And what was my meal for this evening? Pot stickers for the appetizer, jerk chicken salad, and Treasure of the Sea (shrimp, scallops, pasta) for the main course.  I passed on dessert tonight, for I didn’t feel like anything, not even the angel food cake.  To be honest, I was feeling a little worn out after everything today.  I went back to the room, where I was greeted by a towel monkey wearing my sunglasses.  I turned on the TV and flipped through the channels; ESPN International was showing a baseball game -- it might have been regular ESPN.  I lay down, and that was it.  I was out!


Wednesday September 14

I had conked out last night; I was tired!  I missed all of the fireworks!  The fireworks during last year’s cruise were pretty good.  When I awoke, it was 1:15 and all of the lights were still on.  I got up and put an end to that.  However, I did keep ESPN International turned on with the sound down; they were airing a game from the Rugby World Cup live, Tonga versus Canada.  Canada was winning.

When I awoke for good, it was around 6:30.  That was a reasonable time to get up.  Sleep overnight had not helped my sunburns; they were still quite sore, especially the ones on the back of my legs.  And after looking in the mirror, I could tell I had gotten a slight burn on my scalp; it wasn’t painful, though.  I got online, retrieved my e-mail and checked Facebook, then watched CNN International for a bit followed by some classic Disney cartoons (the channel was working again).  Once again, I went to Cabana’s for breakfast, this time bringing my iPad.  I also decided to have a breakfast more like Monday (very filling) than Tuesday (not so filling, and likely insufficient for the day).  I didn’t see asparagus on the buffet line, nor did I see the chocolate pancakes (they did have Mickey Waffles, though), but that didn’t keep me from having a breakfast very similar in content to Monday’s.  It was just as good, I thought.  And whom could I blame if it weren’t?  Only me.

I went back to my room to brush my teeth and to swap my iPad for the Kindle.  It was the first time I used the Kindle during the voyage.  Up on deck 11, the Quiet Cove was very quiet early in the morning, and that’s where I went to lounge on one of the deck chairs and read a recent e-book by Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller fame on why he’s an atheist. The sunglasses with the built-in reading glasses proved very useful with those.  I stayed up there until 10 or so, when I got up to use the restroom and to visit the shops on deck 3.  Now I still had thoughts of getting something for the captain to sign during the signing.  Would it be the model of the ship?  No, it was too large for my liking.  Would it be a piece of art?  Yes, it would be a model of the statue of Donald Duck in the atrium.  But it wouldn’t be signed until 12:15 or so; I still had more time to wait.  So I went out onto deck 4, the promenade deck, found a deck chair and continued reading.  Bumping against the chair hurt due to the sunburns.  I continued reading Penn’s book and taking the occasional picture of the scenes at sea, which included what looked like a cruise vessel tendered at its private island.  There were other people sitting in deck chairs, playing shuffleboard, walking past, etc.  There were also two or three joggers, all women; I definitely noticed when they passed by. While I read, I heard a commotion from down the deck.  It was Mickey Mouse dressed in his captain’s blue blazer making an appearance!  He came up this way, stopping for the occasional picture; I got one of those pictures.  There was a bit of a crowd right in front of me as the kids saw that Mickey was there; he couldn’t stay long, though.

At noon, I went down to deck 3 to await the start of the captain’s autograph session.  I was not the first in line for the session, unlike last year; perhaps having the session start around noon rather than 7 had something to do with it.  I wasn’t too far from the front, though, maybe 10-15 or so, and by 12:30 I had received an autograph on the back of the base of Admiral Donald.  I was in no mood to carry it around the rest of the day, so I brought it back to my room, which had been made up.  The customs declaration form was waiting for me, as were luggage tags for my suitcase and information about debarking tomorrow.  Yes, it was time to start packing; the cruise was almost at an end.  That would wait until later, though; first, lunch.  Back to Cabana’s I went for another filling meal: grilled chicken, one pasta, one gnocchi dish, a bit of macaroni and cheese, some prosciutto, some cheese, a rice dish, and maybe three fries, all washed down with Sprite Zero.  Although I didn’t have any, I saw duck on the serving line.  My goodness!  What would Donald Duck say about that?  If he’d been in the restaurant, it would have been ugly!  I never saw Donald there, but I did see Captain Henry briefly.

After lunch, I went up to deck 13 and wandered around up there and on deck 12, taking a few more pictures.  Back at the room, I encountered room host Goodluck doing his work in the hall; I also saw an envelope on the clip for my room.  The envelope contained the tip receipts, which I was to place in specially marked envelopes for presentation to my stateroom host, my server, assistant server and head server.  I prepared the envelope for Goodluck and presented it to him; he’d done a great job with my room, and I liked his usage of the goggles and glasses on the towel animals.  I stayed in the stateroom to start packing, to take some pictures of ships and offshore facilities that were visible from my verandah, and to watch the matinee of Disney’s Believe via the theater channel on the TV.  I thought I’d seen the show before, but I hadn’t; what I’d seen last year was Disney Dreams, which was very similar but focused on a young girl, while Believe focused on a father.  I also took care of something that had been bugging me for quite some time: the final removal of a skin tag on my right shoulder that I’d used Compound W on last week.  It had shriveled some but was getting irritated by being underneath lots of bag straps.

The Personal Navigator didn’t list any programs for the afternoon that interested me, although I did go to the atrium to see See Ya Real Soon, an extended meet-and-greet session with Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, Chip and Dale, and Goofy.  I didn’t participate except by watching from afar and imagining how young friends and relatives of mine would have reacted.  Some of them are past the age where they’d get really excited by such an event.  Back in my cabin, I worked on the travelogue, transferred and identified pictures, watched a Rugby World Cup game (it was on in the background, at least) and continued packing.  I wouldn’t be able to take all of my water I’d paid for; there was just no room in my luggage for a 12-pack.  I did need to finish packing my suitcase and put it outside before leaving for dinner; it would be collected for claiming at Customs tomorrow morning.  The wind had picked up and was whistling outside. A few more clouds had appeared, as well.  Would I be able to see the moon rise?
Dinner this evening was back in the Royal Palace, and this evening, we all ordered the same beef tenderloin meal, although we ordered it prepared differently.  After the meal, I went to the shopping area, took another look at that book on the making of the Dream, and decided to get it.  I then walked a little bit on the promenade on deck 4, where I noticed that the moon was up.  Jupiter was pretty close to it, too, and a few other stars were visible.  That inspired me to attempt to take a picture of the night scene from my verandah; the essence came through, even if the focus was a little soft.

And how did I cap off the evening and my cruise?  With a visit to Evolution, that’s how.  I had two things I wanted to see, the cruise staff skit of what they would be doing “If I Were Not Upon The Sea”.  It was definitely not for the young ones, although it was more in the nudge-nudge, wink-wink vein.  That was followed by Taylor Mason, the ventriloquist, who also performed a more adult-oriented show.  The room was full; I had to stand, as did many others.  Back in the room, I found one last towel animal on my bed; this time, it was a dinosaur.  After taking a picture of it, I put it on my dresser and went to bed.


Thursday September 15

Route from Port Canaveral to Weeki Wachee

Route from Weeki Wachee to Tallahassee

Miles since leaving the Auto Train: 412.9
Miles to date: 976.4

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the world’s greatest sleep this evening.  During the time when I couldn’t sleep, I watched the USA take on Russia in the Rugby World Cup, live from New Zealand.  Rugby looks like football, but all the players are wearing uniforms that are more like soccer uniforms, and  the game play is “off” in a number of ways.  The play was interesting, and that’s how I’ll leave it.

The ship pulled into port around 6 in the morning, well before sunrise.  There would be a long period of offloading the luggage and getting the ship cleared by Customs before passengers could debark.  That didn’t happen until 7:45 or so.  I used up my satellite Internet minutes, all but a few minutes, and then I switched to MiFi.  That didn’t work well, though; the MiFi spontaneously turned off on several occasions.  Perhaps that was due to poor reception.  The plan called for passengers to have breakfast at the restaurant they had visited last night, then immediately leave the ship.  I was going to do that, but after I saw the line in front of the Royal Palace, I decided to immediately leave the ship.  I had my carryon bag with me, and so I debarked, went down to the lower level, and searched for my bag in the Mickey zone.  I had to go through most of the aisles in the zone, but I found my bag and cleared Customs.  Soon, I was wheeling my luggage over to the parking garage, where I loaded the luggage into the car, transferred my computer back into its own bag, then left.  After paying for four days of parking, I was on Highway 528 on my way to Orlando.

But I wasn’t stopping at Orlando.  Well, I did stop at a service plaza west of Orlando on Florida’s Turnpike, but that was not my main destination.  After visiting the restroom and getting some munchies that would serve as breakfast (I’d eaten some of my second crispy rice treat earlier), I set up the GPS for my main destination: Weeki Wachee Springs.  I enjoyed my two visits there last year, and I wanted to go back.  The GPS took me through some Florida back roads to get to Highway 50, which went across to Weeki Wachee.  Some of the sights and businesses looked familiar to me from last year as I drove.  And shortly after 11, I was pulling into the parking lot of Weeki Wachee Springs.  This being a weekday, it was much less busy than the two previous times I’d visited, a Sunday and a Saturday last year.  I paid my admission fee, got the park map, and went inside.  Now I had arrived too late to see the first mermaid show of the day, which had started at 11.  What to do?  I went over to the spring overlook, which overlooked the spring (naturally).  It turned out that I could actually see some of the mermaids swimming about from the surface.  I could also see some of the behind-the-scenes actions of the performance, such as the prince diving into the spring to represent his falling overboard.  It gave a different perspective on the show, which I remembered from last year.

I didn’t stay to watch the entire show from above; there really wasn’t that much to see, and I wanted to be sure of boarding the first river boat ride of the day, which was at 11:45.  Since everyone else was probably at the mermaid show, I was the first person waiting for the boat.  I wasn’t the first person to board the boat, though.  I found a seat toward the bow on the starboard side.  There were a few Germans on board; perhaps they were part of a tour group.  The tour had us go downstream a few miles, admiring the natural sights such as a turtle sunning himself on a log and an eagle’s nest high up in a tree.  The eagles were nowhere to be seen, though, but we did see some vultures, as well as a few kayakers.  After some 25 minutes, the ride was over; I wish it had been a little longer and had gone a little farther downstream.

It was now after noon, and I had not had a proper breakfast; in other words, I was hungry.  I got a burger and fries at the park grill, and then I walked around for a while, waiting for the second show of the day.  Where were the peacocks, I wondered.  There had been several peacocks on the grounds last year.  They were still here, I just encountered them in different areas of the park than last year.  They made great subjects for photographs, especially with a long lens that didn’t require me to approach too closely.  One peacock was playing with a twig -- no, I saw the twig move under its own power; it was some sort of insect, and it was about to become that peacock’s lunch.  Not long thereafter, the theater opened up for the second show of the day, and I got a front row seat.  I prepared my camera for the show, setting it up to continuously take pictures as long as I held the shutter down; I’d get more pictures in focus that way, and some of them might turn out to be interesting.  At 1:30, the show began. Fish Tales gave a historical overview of the attraction and the mermaid shows, with the mermaids demonstrating how you eat and drink underwater, how you control your buoyancy, and how you dive 175 feet to the bottom of the spring (although the true bottom goes much deeper).

After the show finished, I wandered around for a while, taking some time to visit the gift shop (didn’t see anything I wanted to buy there). The peacocks had gone into hiding during the heat of the day; I sat on a picnic table underneath a tree in order to keep cool until the third and final show of the day, which was a repeat of the first show, The Little Mermaid.  Once again, I found a front row seat.  When the show began, I noticed that the show was not identical to the morning show in terms of the cast.  The Little Mermaid I saw when I arrived in the morning was a brunette, but in the afternoon show, she was a blonde.  Blonde, brunette, redhead, it didn’t matter to me; I’d have still enjoyed the show. Now I might have had a problem if she were bald....

By 3:30, the show was over, and it was time to hit the road.  I programmed the GPS in the car to take me to Tallahassee, and I set off on US 19 heading north.  I stopped for gas, and later on I stopped for supper at Burger King when I felt myself getting tired.  It was a long drive up to Tallahassee, and as I got closer, I encountered a brief, heavy rainstorm that had ended by the time I reached the hotel.  After checking in, I downloaded the photos I’d taken today and charged one of my batteries that had run out on me during one of the shows.  The pictures and video I’d taken turned out pretty well, I thought.  No, they weren’t perfect, but some of them were pretty good. And then, at the end of a long day, I decided to turn in.


Friday September 16

Route from Tallahassee to Lafayette

Miles today: 496.6
Miles to date: 1473.0

After my difficult sleep last night, I was glad to have had a good night’s sleep tonight.  I woke up around 5 and made my usual checks in the morning.  I was in no real hurry to get up and get going, for I didn’t have to be anywhere today.  League City was 709 miles away; that distance could be covered in a day of hard driving, but I wasn’t inclined to push that hard.  Besides, my reservation started tomorrow, not this evening.  And so I would end up staying somewhere in Louisiana overnight; where, I did not yet know.

The Microtel had a small breakfast bar; I had a banana, some cereal, a toasted bagel, and a glass of orange juice, a good and filling start to the day.  The TV in the lobby was airing ESPNU; that may not have been surprising in the home of Florida State University on a home football weekend.  By 7:45, I had checked out and was attempting to get on the road outside of the hotel to head to I-10; it was Tallahassee’s rush hour.  I-10 wasn’t far away, though, so after one well-timed traffic light to stop upstream traffic, I was on the road and on the freeway.  A few miles down the road, I became concerned that I had not packed my checkbook away after using it to pay bills that were becoming due.  A quick stop at the next exit and a check of my bag told me I had packed it away again.  Relieved, I got back on the freeway and continued westward towards Pensacola, Alabama and Mississippi.  I listened to my usual combination of radio stations: lots of Underground Garage, more of 60’s and 70’s, the occasional Old Time Radio and news channels, and so on.  Satellite radio has been a godsend on long cross-country trips.  Today, it even allowed me to hear “If She Knew What She Wants” by the Bangles, which I hadn’t heard in quite a while; I hadn’t heard it for years on any form of radio.

Now before the trip, I had entertained some thoughts of attempting to find and drive the Old Spanish Trail across the south.  This was one of the cross-country road trails popular in the 1910s and ‘20s before the numbering of roads took hold, and the OST was a major east-west trail for the south, running from Florida to California.  It passed through Houston; how else would it have a major street named Old Spanish Trail?  But given the mileage I had to cover, I decided not to attempt to follow the old road segments.  That was a worthy goal, but for another time.  Today, I wanted to make time.

Somewhere in Mississippi, I stopped for lunch at Wendy’s and had what proved to be a messy burger.  I’d brought my laptop in to check e-mail, and it also proved to be a good opportunity to make a hotel reservation for the night.  Given my pace, I figured that Lafayette, Louisiana, would be a good place to stop for the night.  I checked the Hampton Inn reservation page, only to discover that the Hilton in Lafayette had rates that were the same as the Hampton’s.  Why not go for the Hilton, I thought, and that’s what I did.  And so I drove onward, onto I-12 to bypass New Orleans, through Hammond, through rush hour in Baton Rouge, and along the Atchafalaya River Bridge before reaching Lafayette.

The Hilton was not near the freeway; neither was it in a recognizable downtown area. I had to drive a few miles through town to reach it, and its Cajun heritage was visible in some of the street signs that were bilingual French and English.  It wasn’t done as consistently as, say, in Ontario and its bilingual communities.  And it certainly wasn’t anything like Quebec, where the signs are French-only by law.  But there was enough to know you were in a different area.  Soon, I found the Hilton and checked in.  It turned out that my room had been upgraded to one on the executive and concierge floors; I had to use my room key to select that floor in the elevator.  The room was indeed nice; on the 14th floor, it had better be!  I had a good view of some of Lafayette, including the brown Vermilion Bayou below.  The room had a flat-screen TV that had HD programming on it; I’d use it later in watching Boise State take on Toledo on one of the ESPN channels.  Before then, I went up one floor to the executive lounge for their nightly service of snacks and drinks.  With what they had there, one could not bother with supper. Indeed, the chicken fingers, jalapeño poppers, tortilla chips and salsa, cheese and crackers, etc., became my supper that night; I really wasn’t in the mood for anything else, nor did I want to drive anyplace else.

Back in the room, I watched the Boise State-Toledo game, but I also read that week’s edition of New Scientist on my iPad. I also sucked on a Ricola lozenge, for I was feeling a sore spot on the underside of my tongue.  I have noticed that in certain cases, those sore spots were preludes to colds starting two or three weeks later.  I didn’t want that at all.


Saturday September 17

Route from Lafayette to League City

Miles today (to Laredo’s in Seabrook): 209.7
Miles to date: 1682.7

Once again, I had fallen asleep with the TV still on.  The last I remembered, there was a football game on.  When I awoke, it was baseball.  But this was no ordinary game; it was the Tigers facing the A’s, and Detroit was on the verge of clinching the AL Central title.  Thanks to ESPN, I got to see the last few minutes of the Fox Sports Detroit broadcast and got to see the final outs and the start of the celebration.  The Tigers were in the playoffs again after five years!  And this time, it wasn’t as a wild card team, it was as a division winner! I remembered their last division title in 1987; that was just a few days before my sister got married.  I turned off the TV at this point and went back to sleep, but I awoke again a few hours later and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I’d developed a crick in my neck, too, which didn’t help.

Later on, I showered, then went downstairs for the breakfast buffet in the hotel restaurant. The Hilton was a nice hotel, one I definitely wouldn’t mind staying in again in the future.  But my stay today ended at 9:08, when I started the car and found my way to I-10.  I passed by the stadium for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where the tailgaters were already setting up for that afternoon’s game.  I drove past the Microtel where I recalled staying on a previous trip to Texas, and then I got on I-10 westbound.  The drive across Louisiana was uneventful; I tuned around on the radio dial and listened to some Cajun music on AM 960 out of Lafayette.  They did play one non-Cajun song while I was listening: “A Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles.

I made it through Lake Charles and over that tall bridge and made it to the Sabine River.  I was in Texas again!  After a stop at the welcome center and rest area, I continued westward.  Did I want to be different and take US 90 out of Beaumont, thereby going through Liberty, Dayton and Crosby?  No, not really; I stuck to I-10.  As I reached Chambers County, I had a decision to make: where would I go for lunch?  I wanted Mexican food, but should I go to the new Chuy’s in Webster, or should I go to my old favorite, Laredo’s in Seabrook?  The decision would influence the route I took.  Laredo’s won out, and so I took Highway 146 down through Baytown and La Porte.  There was a lot of construction between La Porte and Seabrook; those partial freeway sections were finally being completed.  Before long, I was in the Laredo’s parking lot, getting ready to enjoy lunch.  I considered that my official arrival down home.

Now the last time I had eaten at Laredo’s, I had expressed some disappointment.  Still, I ordered the Deluxe Dinner again.  The dishes I remembered as being good were still good, and although the taste of the beans and the enchiladas was still different from what I remembered, I thought it tasted better this time.  Maybe I was just hungrier this time.  Two TV’s were in operation; one behind me was showing a college football game, while the one I could see was showing the Astro game.  The Astros were having a terrible year, their worst in franchise history.  They were about to lose their 100th game, a milestone they never reached in their early years as an expansion club.  And just six years earlier, they were in the World Series.  Was I glad that the Tigers were doing well!

It was still too early for me to check in at the hotel, so I drove around for a while.  I eventually made my way to the Best Buy in League City, where a copy of the Star Wars saga on Blu-Ray was waiting for me (not officially).  While going through the store, I ended up playing unintentional salesperson to a couple looking for a way to download pictures from their camera to their iPad.  I told them about the iPad Camera Connection adapters, which I had and which I knew were in the store.  By this time, it was after 3. I figured I could check in at that point, and so I headed over to the hotel.  It turned out that nominal check-in time was 4, but I was able to check in once my room was verified as being ready.  There were other people checking in for that evening’s reunion, which was the Baytown Lee class of ’66’s 45th reunion.

My room was on the 10th floor, room 1025. I had stayed here once before, ten years ago for my 20th reunion.  My room then was on the 9th floor and had a balcony (and I wouldn’t have remembered that without my travelogue).  This time, my room on the penthouse floor (not the penthouse itself, just on the same floor) did not have a balcony, but it still had the great view of Clear Lake and points east.  I took my time getting unpacked, but I set up my laptop right away.  Now the hotel promoted free wireless Internet access, but there was a catch: literature in the room suggested that the free access was fairly slow.  Premium access was available for $12.95 a day.  Given that I had my MiFi, I saw no need to use the hotel’s service (nor had I yesterday at the Hilton).  I turned on the TV to watch the Michigan State-Notre Dame game, which I had been listening to in the car.  Things were not going well for the Spartans today; they were behind and would never lead, suffering their first loss of the season.

Now that the game was over, what would I do for supper? Well, one place I did not visit when I was here in March was Joe’s Barbecue in Alvin.  That made the choice very simple.  And so I drove out to Alvin, driving through League City, past the freeway, past Newport and Ross Elementary, past the new high school and Countryside, past Sunmeadow, past the remains of the TV studios for channel 16, past the TV tower for who knows what now (it was channel 8’s, and before that channel 11’s), past all of the Ron Carter dealerships and finally to Joe’s.  It wasn’t terribly busy on a Saturday night.  Naturally, I got a barbecue baked potato, just as big as they always were, and just as good.  I was pretty hungry; even so, I couldn’t finish it all, although I came close. 

Back at the hotel, I started reading the book on the Disney Dream while watching the Oklahoma football game on channel 13 (ABC).  With that game in hand, I flipped over to Fox Sports to see what the late game would be: Oklahome State vs. Tulsa, but it was delayed by bad weather.  Soon, I must have fallen asleep.


Sunday September 18

Yes indeed, I had fallen asleep to the TV again.  When I woke up, the Oklahoma State-Tulsa game had started and was past halftime.  It was also past 1 in the morning!  There had to be some diehard fans in the stands who stayed for the game!  I didn’t stay up until the end; I turned it off and went back to sleep, waking up for good around 7:30.  After doing my regular e-mail and web checks, I went downstairs for breakfast in the Paradise Reef restaurant. I had coupons for a complimentary breakfast buffet for every day I would be staying there, and I used the first one today.  The buffet had a good selection: cold cereal, several fruits and cheeses, scrambled eggs, sausage links, sausage patties, bacon, biscuit gravy, grilled potatoes (a.k.a. home fries), assorted breads and assorted pastries.  The buffet was nowhere near as elaborate as the breakfast buffet at the Dan Panorama hotel in Haifa, Israel, but it was certainly a step up  from, say, the Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express breakfast bar.

That buffet was very filling and very good.  To repent of any dietary sins, I picked up a day pass to the South Shore Harbour Fitness Center, which was separate from the hotel.  I wasn’t going to use it right away, but I thought I would later in the day.  First, though, I would go out for a drive.  I would stop at the Starbucks in downtown League City, not to get a coffee, but to take a picture.  No, I wasn’t taking a picture of the Starbucks; I was doing a modern rendition of a picture of the main intersection in town taken in 1956 or thereabouts.  I placed myself next to the entrance of the Mexican restaurant next door, La Centinela; I had known it as Willis Drug Store. I pointed my camera towards the intersection of Main Street and Highway 3, and I took two versions of the picture.  Even though it was raining lightly, I still got an acceptable picture.

Next, I drove over to Newport and drove by our old house.  An area in the front yard was all dug up and had tape around it; a water main break, perhaps? But the house still appeared to be in good shape.  Some of the other houses were starting to show some signs of their age, I thought; they could have stood a bit of work.  My next destination: Fry’s in Webster.  I could always spend time there just walking up and down the aisles, seeing what they had.  And I saw quite a bit.  But I only got one thing this morning, and that was a 16 GB memory card for my camera.  I had a feeling I’d be taking a lot of pictures this upcoming weekend at the reunions, I figured I could use the extra capacity, and the price seemed right. 

I saw the Rudy’s next door; it was a new outpost of the chain of barbecue-serving gas stations, or should that be fuel-dispensing barbecue joints? I went over there not to eat (I’d eaten at Joe’s last night, remember) but to pick up the Sunday paper.  But they didn’t have any Sunday papers.  They did have a long line of folks waiting for their lunch, however.  I knew they had good stuff; the Rudy’s close to Steiner Ranch in Austin had good stuff, for sure.  Perhaps I’d eat here another time, but not today.  I drove up to the Barnes and Noble on Bay Area; surely they would have the paper.  They did indeed have the paper, both Houston and Galveston (I got both).  They also had a few more things that caught my attention, including a new version of a book on the Disney Cruise Line (it should be useful for my next cruise), one of those Arcadia Publishing history books on Foley’s department store, the latest Doctor Who magazine and a photography magazine.  Yes, Barnes and Noble did well by me today.

Now it was nearly lunchtime.  What did I want to do?  Where did I want to go? I felt like going to Souper Salad in Pasadena, and so I made my way there, which involved taking Bay Area Boulevard to Space Center Boulevard and taking that all the way to Pasadena.  As I drove, I was listening to the Detroit Lions play the Kansas City Chiefs.  It was a home game for Detroit, and I would have been at that game as the guest of an automotive tape supplier had I not been out of town on vacation. But I was here in Texas, and I was heading to lunch.  The Souper Salad experience wasn’t much different from how I had remembered it: a salad bar with all sorts of toppings, with soups, breads, and baked potatoes available as side dishes.  However, today’s visit represented a milestone for me: I received my first senior discount.  I didn’t ask for one, but the young lady at the register had rung one up for me.  No, I didn’t protest and call for it to be reversed.  I’m sure I wasn’t entitled to it.  But the moment passed, and I sat down to eat my salad.  It was a good enough salad, to be sure, but I thought that other chains did a better job with the salad bar concept, notably Souplantation or Sweet Tomatoes, as well as Fresh Choice in the San Francisco area.

After a brief visit to the Pasadena Barnes & Noble (where I didn’t get anything else), I returned back to the hotel, listening to the Lions beat up on the Chiefs.  By the time I had returned to the hotel, they seemed to have the game well in hand (they would eventually win).  The game wasn’t on TV locally; the Bears-Saints game was, though, and the Saints had that game under control, too.  The Texans game would start later on.  In fact, it started while I was over at the Fitness Center.  This was my first time there, and they had some rather elaborate facilities.  The first floor had the weight room and other strength/resistance training equipment.  The second floor had an indoor walking/running track and the cardio balcony (treadmills, bicycles, Stairmasters, ellipticals, etc.).  I put in some time on the bike and then walked around on the outdoor track for a bit before heading back to the hotel.  That was a good distance away, so you could get a little more of a cardio workout on your way over and back.  The walk took me past the marina.

Back at the hotel, I turned on the Texans-Dolphins game and sat down to read the paper, starting with the Galveston paper.  I noticed that one of the columns was from my old friend and next-door neighbor Chris Mallios.  It was a column on various aspects of League City history; this week, it covered the history of Floyd Road on the west side of town. Rather interesting reading, I thought.  The football game ended up being interesting viewing, especially since the Texans were winning.  They ended up winning the game.

Now it was time for supper.  What would I do?  As I thought about my options, one sprang to mind: Genghis Grill.  It was a Mongolian barbecue restaurant that had a location on Bay Area in Webster.  I’d been a fan of Mongolian barbecue ever since BD’s opened in Dearborn in 1998, and I was keen to check out Genghis Grill and compare the two.  And here was my opportunity to do so.  First, I had to make my way there.  When I got my table, I looked over the menu, ordered my drink, and then set off to prepare my meal.  The first major difference with BD’s: no soup and salad bar at Genghis Grill.  The second major difference: no tortillas, and you ordered your rice or other starch at grill time.  The third big difference: no standing around the grill while your order is cooked. You were given a number, which you then put in a little stand at your table, and then a server would come and drop off your order.  I noticed a few minor differences, such as the types of sauces and spices, some differences in the vegetables and meats, and so forth.  As for the end result?  There wasn’t much difference in that at all.  Both places delivered good food.  Thanks to not having a soup/salad bar, I felt like going back for another serving.  Both times, I got the Dr Pepper marinated chicken; that was one flavor I was sure I’d never see at BD’s!  To be honest, I really couldn’t notice a Dr Pepper taste.  Now while I ate, one of the waitresses noticed a significant rainbow outside, one that went across the sky.  I went up to the door, and I saw the two halves of it, but I didn’t see them meet in the middle. As I left after my enjoyable meal, I was sure I’d be returning to Genghis Grill in the future -- probably not on this trip, but on my next trip for sure.  Would I want to see them in Michigan? Well, they’d have to contend with BD’s.

I stopped at Randall’s grocery store in League City to pick up some peanut butter cookies for snacking in the hotel room, and once I got back to the room, I turned on Sunday Night Football.  This was a good way to end my first full day in Texas for this trip.


Monday September 19

I had been mostly on the go for several days in a row, and that meant I was due for a down day or half-day.  This morning would be that half-day.  It didn’t seem that way when I popped awake this morning around 4 o’clock and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I checked e-mail and worked on the travelogue for a while.  Around 5, I noticed that the wind had really picked up outside; storms were coming through.  And yes, it started to rain.  Later on, after 7, I went down to the restaurant for the breakfast buffet.  The restaurant was much less crowded than yesterday; there were fewer items on the buffet, as well.  It was still a good spread, though, and I had a good meal.

Once I returned to the room, I put out the Do Not Disturb sign and took it easy.  I worked on the travelogue in bursts and read over the Passporter cruise guide in bursts.  I also took a few more pictures from my window; thanks to the improved weather, these turned out better than the ones I’d taken Saturday.  The benefits of the real long zoom were very apparent with these pics; I could zoom in real tightly on the Baytown bridge or on the San Jacinto Monument.  Around noon, I figured I had taken it easy for long enough; it was time to go out somewhere.  I turned around the Do Not Disturb sign so that it now read Maid Service Requested, and I went down to the car.  The camera and computer went with me.  First stop of the day: the Dudney Nature Center off of FM 270.  It consisted of paved and unpaved paths through various habitats near Clear Creek, with bird blinds set up to allow for watching birds without frightening them.  At this time of day, I didn’t see much wildlife at all, but the walk was a good one, even if I did get a bit sweaty.  I then drove over to Chuy’s in Webster, a new outpost of the Mexican restaurant chain.  One of their slogans: “If you’ve seen one Chuy’s, you’ve seen one Chuy’s,” meaning that no two restaurants are the same.  I had the Comida Deluxe today, and it tasted very good.  It might have tasted better had I waited another day or so, since I had had Mexican on Saturday afternoon.

My next stop was the Target store in the Victory Lakes area of League City (I-45 and FM 646), where my main goal was to get a pad or notebook for taking notes for tomorrow’s Tech Club meeting.  Yes, I was planning to interrupt my vacation for a half-day to conduct this bi-weekly meeting, and I needed something to record the extensive notes I normally take, which I then use to create the meeting minutes.  I found a spiral notebook for that purpose.  I also got a pair of dedicated exercise shorts, which I would put to use later on at the Fitness Center.  I went to the Fitness Center upon my return to the hotel and put on 5 miles on the exercise bike.  As I walked back to the hotel, I passed through the marina, and I happened to see a live fish swimming close to the surface in one of the boat slips.

Back in the room, I watched the channel 11 news and the CBS news, transferred my pictures from the camera into iPhoto, and worked on the travelogue for a bit.  I lay down for a while, and I’m not sure if I fell asleep or not.  When I awoke, it was 7:15, and I didn’t feel like going anywhere.  The hotel restaurant was closed, but the lounge served a few food items.  And that was where I ended up going this evening, to the lounge.  The remnants of the sunset were visible in the large windows, while The Sing-Off and Monday Night Football were visible in the room’s other large “windows”, meaning the TV’s.  I got a burger for supper, which turned out to be pretty good.  Back in the room, I continued to watch Monday NIght Football while doing some more work on the travelogue.  Later, I’d glance through the latest issue of the Doctor Who magazine before finally calling it a night.


Tuesday September 20

At times, it seems like my body does not want to believe that it’s on vacation.  I woke up today around 4 in the morning, which was 5 AM Eastern time and thus the time I’d normally be waking up.  I did an e-mail and Facebook check, but then I went back to bed and fell asleep again, waking up for good around 7:15.  I went down for breakfast around 8:30 and was back in the room by 9.

Now a few days ago, I had received a notice from Amazon that the Bangles were releasing a new CD next week.  I checked iTunes, but there was no indication that they were carrying it, or at least offering it for pre-order.  So I decided to order it from Amazon, along with a CD set of the BBC audio drama I, Claudius.  I remembered the TV series of it very well and was interested in hearing a new interpretation of it.  Then I pondered my bill situation: I had two bills that were coming due, but I didn’t have enough checks to use for those bills (my refill was back home in Michigan).  My first thought was, I had to go get money orders from the post office to use for my bills, and for one of them (Comcast cable), I didn’t have the billing address.  When I used the web to search for the proper billing address, I saw an option to pay your bill via the web.  I had my account information handy, so that’s exactly what I did.  The need for one money order vanished.  As for the other bill (Consumers Energy for natural gas), it too offered an option to pay your bills via the web.  However, this option was very constrained; no option was available to make a one-time payment via the web.  You had to commit to having all your future bills paid automatically via the means you select (direct transfer, credit card, debit card, etc.).  I wasn’t ready to commit to this, not yet.  And so, I used my final check for the gas bill.

After dropping off the bill in the mail drop slot in the lobby, I set off for Galveston.  First, I drove down Lighthouse Drive to see the South Shore Harbour lighthouse up close (what else?).  The lighthouse is not a working lighthouse, but it has been a fixture on the scene for at least 25 years, so I wanted to see it more closely.  The lighthouse was at the end of the drive; also there was a proposed new gated community.  There were no houses there at the moment, just streets and vacant lots.  The gates were set up, but one was open for people to go in (I did see some joggers).  I drove in and up to the lighthouse, where I got a few pics.  The lighthouse is meant just for show; it’s not possible for the public to go up in it.  Besides, I would have just as good a view from the top floors of the South Shore hotel.  And now that I’d seen the lighthouse up close, I drove off.

I decided to go down to Galveston via Highway 3, the old way down.  Some 60 years ago, that was the only way down from League City; the freeway was still being built.  Many sights were recognizable from when I lived here and when I visited; a few were less familiar because I didn’t normally travel that way, but I didn’t see anything particularly surprising.  And so, a half-hour to 45 minutes later, I was crossing over the causeway and onto the island, turning down 61st Street to reach the seawall.  My first stop: the Wal-Mart.  I had to use the bathroom.  I walked around the Wal-Mart for a time but didn’t see anything I needed to get.  The Bridesmaids DVD or Blu-Ray tempted me for a time, but I set it aside and left empty-handed.

Back under way, I drove westward, past the end of the seawall and onto the West End of the island.  Before long, I saw street names that were familiar to me, but in drastically different contexts: 7 1/2 Mile, 8 Mile, 11 Mile, 13 Mile.  With the exception of 7 1/2 Mile, all of these are major east-west arteries in the Detroit area.  Here, though, they were small side roads.  It turned out that there was access to the beach at the end of 13 Mile; what’s more, this access was free to the public, unlike most of the other access points between there and the seawall (and unlike the Galveston Island State Park that was adjacent to it going the other way).  I turned off here and drove down to the beach, where there weren’t many people around; there were a few fishermen, but that was all.  I got out my camera and looked for ideas for photos.  The seagulls and other birds proved very inspirational; one seagull seemed to pose for me in a modeling session, perched as he or she was on a fence post that marked the boundary of the state park.  Thanks to my zoom lens, I was able to get some very good closeups without scaring it away.  I walked around to change the background from the beach to the sea; it didn’t move.  A different seagull was perched farther back from the beach, but when I zoomed in on it, it flew off.  I think I spent a half-hour to 45 minutes at the beach.

After driving off, I turned down 8 Mile and headed towards the mainland side of the island, where I was able to get a view of the causeway and of the Moody Gardens pyramids in the distance.  The water was much quieter here than on the gulf side (no wave action).  So was the street; the only time that Detroit’s 8 Mile would ever be quieter than Galveston’s is during the middle of the night in a snowstorm, and I’m not even positive about that.  Back on the seawall I went.  Now I was getting hungry, but what to have for lunch?  How about Fish Tales?  That seemed like a good local establishment.  It was located at 25th Street, and it was also right across the street from the former site of the Flagship Hotel.  When I was here in March, it was being demolished.  Now, no trace of it remained except for the pier.  The pier predated the hotel, as it was the home of Pleasure Pier.  Now it would once again become the home of a new Pleasure Pier.  I had a good view of the pier as I sat inside, enjoying the clam chowder and the chef’s special of the day, two tilapia filets with shrimp, rice, avocado and zucchini.  It was a very satisfying and filling meal; in fact, I couldn’t quite finish it.  There weren’t too many people dining inside, but the fullness of the parking lot suggested that some were dining outside, upstairs.  A few days later, I would learn that I just missed seeing a former high school classmate there.  Carrie Pearson Duffy said that she and her family were there at 1:30, but I had left some 10 minutes earlier.

Back in the car, I drove to the far eastern end of the seawall, then turned around and drove back to Broadway for the trip back across to the mainland.  My day in Galveston was done.  But as I drove across the causeway, I did something I’d never done before: I exited at the first exit on the mainland.  This took you to a boat ramp and a saloon at the foot of the causeway, near Virginia Point.  This also allowed me to see two historical markers I’d never seen before (one for Campbell’s Bayou and one detailing Civil War fortifications at Virginia Point) as well as dedication plaques for the various motor vehicle causeways that had been built (not counting the one used for the railroad today; it also carried car and truck traffic in the past).  I drove down to the end of the road; there was a saloon there as well as a public boat ramp.  Having seen all there was to see, I got back on the freeway, but I wouldn’t stay on it long.  I exited at the Texas City Wye for Loop 197, which used to be Highway 146 a long time ago.  This took me right down the middle of the petrochemical facilities, into downtown Texas City, and out again up to current Highway 146, which I took back up to the hotel.

Back at the hotel, I download today’s pictures into iPhoto and identified them; some of them had turned out pretty darn good, in my opinion.  Then I rested for a while, I don’t recall how long.  After my rest, I felt like going over to the Fitness Center, and so I got day passes for today and tomorrow, got changed, then proceeded over there.  I put in five more miles on the exercise bike as well as some walking time on the indoor track, four laps’ worth.  Of course, in getting to and from the Fitness Center, I put in a bit of walking time, too, including a bit of stair climbing to get from marina level to the lobby level of the hotel.  When I got back, there was an e-mail waiting for me from a co-worker at Ford.  The meeting I was supposed to run tomorrow had been cancelled; there hadn’t been enough items on the agenda to support a meeting.  The notebook I’d bought yesterday was now unnecessary.  And I didn’t need to get up early and have breakfast early, either.  I was a little disappointed, but it would have been difficult to switch back into work mode for a few hours.

After identifying some more of the pictures I’d taken today, I noticed that I was getting hungry.  It was suppertime; where to go?  What did I want?  Tonight, I felt like Middle Eastern food.  Using the Urbanspoon app on my iPad, I found the Mediterranean Cafe on Nasa Road 1 in Nassau Bay, close to where the Kings Inn used to be.  In fact, the building it is in may be where the Steak and Egg restaurant was located.  There was only one other customer in the restaurant when I arrived, and he left before I was finished.  Perhaps the restaurant does most of its business during lunchtime.  All I know is that the meal I had last night was very good: some hummus with pita bread, and a kabob plate consisting of shish kabob, shish tawook (chicken kabob) and shish kafta.  It wasn’t a cheap meal, but it was a good meal.  Was it as good as the Middle Eastern restaurants of metro Detroit?  I’d say so.  The shish kabob was my least favorite portion of the meal; I thought it a bit tough.  But the tawook and the kafta more than made up for it.

Back in the room, I turned on the TV to see what sporting events were on.  Nothing caught my attention, so I turned on NASA TV, which was showing coverage of activities on the space station.  It had to have been riveting viewing, for at some point, I fell asleep.


Wednesday September 21

Once again, I’d fallen asleep to something on television.  I awoke around 2 to some video from aboard the space station.  Not being able to immediately return to sleep, I got up to use the restroom, checked e-mail and did a bit of reading from an e-book.  At this point, I tried to go back to sleep again; I succeeded, for the next time I remembered checking the clock, it was around 6:30.  I didn’t need to hurry out of bed and get breakfast because the meeting I was to run at work had been cancelled.  I didn’t go down for breakfast until 8:30.

Now later this afternoon, I would see a longtime friend of the family, Lou Miller.  Until then, what would I do?  I started by driving through the old part of League City for a bit, noticing the historical marker in front of the house on the northwest corner of 2nd Street and Kansas (it had come up during discussions on Facebook), then drove Kansas Street to its end at the cemetery.  I then tried driving on Old Galveston Road in Webster; a small section was paved from Nasa 1 down to a storage facility, with the road beyond being unpaved but signed Authorized Vehicles Only.  Then I drove down Upper Bay Road in Nassau Bay to the park and turned around, picking up Saturn Lane to Bay Area Boulevard for a trip to Baybrook Mall.  It wasn’t too busy at that time of the morning; neither was the Apple Store.  I didn’t get anything there, or anywhere else at the mall for that matter.

Over at the Target across the street and down a ways, I was looking for some barber scissors, for I needed to trim my hair.  It turned out that barber scissors and a comb were just as much as a complete hair trimming kit, so I got that instead.  I had one at home, but it was doing me no good up there.  I also picked up two replacement wiper blades for my Mariner; my current ones were beginning to streak rather badly, which was definitely not a good thing.  Better to be safe than sorry, I figured.  Then it was over to Guitar Center in Webster to pick up some extra strings for the travel guitar in case I broke one.

Now, it was lunchtime.  What did I want, and where did I want to go?  Where did I really want to go on my trip that I hadn’t visited yet?  Tookie’s, that’s where.  The restaurant had just reopened under new ownership a month or so ago and was doing a bang-up business.  So I drove over to Seabrook and found a place to park.  I had to park on the street because all of the regular parking was full; that was a regular occurence, I understood.  There was a 15-minute wait for inside seating but no wait for seating on the deck out back, a new feature of the rebuilt restaurant.  From what I saw of the inside as I walked through it, it looked very much like the old Tookie’s, although the tables seemed darker in color and the big KLIF clock was missing.  The deck got some shade from a big oak tree, so I wasn’t burning up out there.  The deck was not full, but there were a few people having their lunch back there.  The menu was just like before; that was a condition of the sale of the restaurant, in fact.  I ordered a #99, some fries and a Coke Zero (a little caffeine at lunch would be OK, I figured).  It was just as good as I remembered -- and as messy as I had forgotten!  At least the rolls of paper towels were still on the tables. After paying my bill, I drove back to the hotel parking deck to replace my wiper blades, but the attempt didn’t go well.  I needed to swap an adapter on the blade in order to make it fit my Mariner, and I was having trouble with that.  Better to do the swap in my room -- in my cool room with good light.  So the blades were put aside for a while.

My next destination was a short distance away, to a subdivision on Davis Road to visit Lou Miller.  On the way there, I saw a helicopter hovering over the high school; I couldn’t tell if it was a police helicopter or a TV news helicopter.  There had been an incident at Creek earlier; one student had stabbed another student in the neck with a pair of scissors in a fight over a girl.  In my day, that would have been a fist fight, and it wouldn’t have escalated beyond that.  Back to my visit: Lou was a longtime friend of the family, having been my mother’s boss for some 10 years at AER Supply in Seabrook (and my boss, too, for one summer).  I had brought over my MacBook Pro with all of my recent pictures, and I showed her the ones from my recent cruise and from my visit to Uganda in 2009.  That would have been of interest because I was visiting my sister Sharon and her family then, and naturally Lou would want to see those pictures.  I also showed her one from this summer of my nieces Candice and Heather serving as bridesmaids at the wedding of their best friend.  One of Lou’s friends came over while I was showing the Ugandan safari pictures; they both marveled at how well many of them had turned out.

Back at the hotel, I brought the wiper blades up to my room to add the proper attachment for mounting onto my Mariner’s wiper arms.  Then I brought them down to the garage and installed them; it was a little tricky, but I got them on, and I washed the windshield to make sure they were working properly.  They were indeed; no more streaking!  Then it was time to go over to the Fitness Center for another workout.  No bike for me today; instead, I used the treadmill for 20 minutes.  When I went back to the hotel, I took a cool shower and then gave myself a haircut using the new kit I’d bought earlier today.  Well, the only parts of the kit I used were the scissors and the comb.  They did the job.

As part of my e-mail and Facebook checks, I learned (or was reminded) about two Blu-Ray sets of classic cartoons coming out within the next few months, one for Looney Tunes and one for Tom and Jerry.  Did I want to get these?  I sure did, and that’s exactly what I did, ordering them via  I’d receive the Tom & Jerry set in about a month; the Looney Tunes set would follow one month later.

What would I do for supper tonight?  I felt like Italian, or at least pizza.  And that led me to think of Cici’s Pizza.  The closest one to the hotel was in Kemah, so I went to that one.  It had been some time since I’d been to Cici’s, as the one I frequented in Garden City had closed.  It had reopened as American Pie, and it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t Cici’s.  The Cici’s in Kemah was indeed a Cici’s, with all that that implied.  The slices of pizza I had were decent -- not spectacular, just decent.  For the price, the pizza was good enough.


Thursday September 22

When I woke up this morning, it was 5:26 AM.  Time to perform the e-mail check for what came in overnight.  One of the messages was from American Express, and it left me worried.  Apparently, they had not received my most recent bill payment.  I had mailed it from Tallahassee last Friday, so it should have arrived by then.  I’d mailed my phone bill at the same time, and I wondered if it also had gone astray (it turned out it did reach its destination, albeit rather late. So did the Amex check. leading to other problems, but that's another story).  I’d worry about that one later.  But what to do about the Amex bill?  I knew I could pay it with a direct transfer from my bank account, and that’s what I eventually did.  But I had to stop payment on the check in case it showed up, and so I had to contact my credit union.  There was a $30 fee involved; I didn’t care for that, but it was necessary.

After all of that had been handled, it was time for breakfast.  The breakfast bar had the same items on it as it had had every day but Sunday, and I took the same items I usually took.  It was good, as always, but it was getting just a bit monotonous.  Back in the room, I ordered an upgrade to the Bento database program for my MacBook Pro, but I chose to download it at home.  It was a very large program and would have used a significant part of my data quota for the month, and I didn’t need it right away.  Thanks to remote screen programs, it was easy for me to do the download at home.

Now I had arranged to meet Chris Mallios for lunch at Logan’s Roadhouse at noon.  What would I do for the rest of the morning?  For starters, I went over to the JSC Credit Union office to get some money.  Then I drove through old League City, including around what I think was what the old-timers called Dead Man’s Curve.  I suspect it gained that name because you’d end up in the creek if you didn’t curve in time, no matter which way you were going.  There was Heritage Park, and there was the Butler Longhorn Museum, built to honor the cattle breed that was developed and that grazed in League City.  They probably grazed where our house now stands.  I found myself driving down Dickinson Avenue to Dickinson (appropriately enough), where, after a few turns, I was driving past the shopping center that used to have the Sears catalog store for the area.  That store was long gone, as was the Ben Franklin store (succeeded by a Dollar General store -- same type of store). I drove down past Dickinson High School, then turned around and drove all of the way through Dickinson toward the freeway. Could I remember where the old Magliolo Clinic main location was? (I thought so, but no)

Not long thereafter, I was passing by the HEB store at FM 646 and the freeway.  Would there be anything there I was interested in?  There sure would be! I wanted to get some peanuts, but I had a real hard time finding the nuts.  The signs over the aisles were misleading. Did the aisle saying “chips and nuts” have them? No.  What about the other aisle that said “nuts”? Those were nuts for baking, not snacking.  I eventually did find the nuts I wanted, and I got three jars’ worth of HEB peanuts.  One of those jars had a wide mouth that facilitated reaching in with the hand (good for a quick bite behind the wheel).  And of course, I’d have to get something to wash everything down, and so I picked up two bottles of Topo Chico mineral water from Mexico and a bottle of Caffeine Free Diet Dr Pepper.  By the time I’d checked out, it was a bit before 11:30.  It was still too early for lunch, so I went over to the Home Depot for a while.  I didn’t get anything there; I could have, but it would have made more sense to wait until I’d returned home.

Now it was noon, and I was at Logan’s Roadhouse.  Thinking that Chris might be late, I brought in the iPad with me, but it turned out that he was already there.  We had a great lunch, remembering old times, updating each other on our families, griping about the state of politics in Galveston County -- well, it was Chris who was doing the griping, a longtime Democrat bemoaning the shift of the North County to the right -- bewailing the plight of the Astros, on their way to their worst-ever season, and glad that our fathers were not there to see it.  He mentioned that our old house had been up for sale but was now being rented out; if the price were right, he’d seriously consider buying it, moving in there, and letting his daughter live in his old house.  The two oak trees my dad had planted were still doing well in the backyard, he said.  He was a little dismayed to learn that Ford had discontinued the Ranger compact pickup truck, for he liked the one he owned.

At one point during our lunch, Chris had to take a phone call or respond to an e-mail.  I used that opportunity to do a quick e-mail check, and among my latest messages was one from Candy Silcott.  Would I be able to join her for lunch or dinner at the barbecue place on Kirby in Taylor Lake Village today to review the options for food at the KMSC reunion? Lunch seemed unlikely, since I was already having lunch, but dinner was a possibility.  I’d reply later, once lunch was finished.

Back at the hotel, I responded to Candy’s e-mail, then found she had sent me her cell phone number.  I called; it turned out that she and her husband were at the barbecue place right then, and could I come over.  I certainly could come over, and 15 to 20 minutes later, I was at Dave’s Smokehouse and Bay Area Meat Market.  Candy and husband John were in the middle of their lunch.  It smelled pretty good in the restaurant, and if I hadn’t just finished a big lunch at the steakhouse, I’d have ordered some chopped beef, either on a sandwich or as part of a potato.  We discussed how much barbecue to order for the reunion on Saturday; we also had to estimate how many would be attending.  Did we want any side dishes, or did we want to go with simple fare?  I didn’t order a meal, for I’d just had a very filling lunch, but I did get small samplers of the chopped beef and the sausage for later tasting.  Was this barbecue any good?

We went back to the Silcott residence to continue planning for this weekend.  John had other business to take care of, so Candy rode back with me and guided me to their house in the Timber Cove neighborhood.  This was where the Mercury astronauts lived, and we drove by some of their former houses on the way to the house.  Housekeepers were still at work when we arrived, so we went out onto the deck, which overlooked Taylor Lake, to firm up plans and sit and talk.  And that deck was a great place to sit and talk -- and to taste the barbecue, which turned out to be pretty good.  I’d have enjoyed a chopped beef sandwich had I been hungry enough.  We were pretty well set for Saturday.

Now those who have read my other travelogues will know that I have been a customer of satellite radio from its first year of operation. I have raved about it to many folks; more to the point of this travelogue, I had raved about it to Candy on previous visits.  That raving had an effect, for I now learned I had sold her on it; she and John were customers.  They were regular listeners of the ‘60s on 6 channel but weren’t big fans of Cousin Brucie (he is an acquired taste, to be sure) or of DJ’s on the channel, period.  Personally, I don’t have any problems with DJ’s Phlash Phelps or Terry “Motormouth” Young, holdovers from XM days.

Later on, daughter Laine came out with her 7 month old daughter Aviana.  She was proving to be a monkey in the making, scrambling around on the hammock.  I got the feeling I should have said that a cute baby would be present at the reunion; attendance would go up significantly!

AN ASIDE: Now why was there going to be a KMSC reunion on Saturday?  For that matter, what was the KMSC?  It consisted of those members or would-be members of the Clear Creek class of 1981 that attended Webster Intermediate School and had had Candy as an English teacher anytime during that time.  Some of us had her for the entire 6th grade year, but others came later as part of a literary appreciation class called Getting Into Books (I was one of those).  This group was the core of the KMSC. Most of us from that group continued as a class into 7th grade, a class I would characterize as a premium or honors English class.  We didn’t continue as a class into 8th grade, for Candy had left WIS to spend some time in Europe. However, some of us got her again halfway through the year after our instructor left for reasons unknown to me and she was persuaded to return and take over those classes. We all considered her very influential in our lives in one way or another.  And some of us would have children that went through the WAVE program for gifted and talented students, a program that she founded and headed until her retirement this year

But why the name “KMSC”, and what does “KMSC” stand for? Well, it stands for “Kill Meany Sullivan Club”, with Sullivan being Candy’s maiden name.  This was the mid-1970’s, a more innocent time when such a name would not be understood or taken literally by anyone.  It sprang from the frustrations of two classmates left off of the choir for an important event due to a less-than-satisfactory conduct grade given by Guess Who. What prompted the poor conduct grade has been lost to time. They repented and were eventually reinstated to the choir for that event. END OF ASIDE

Back to today:  Not long after I returned to the hotel, I finished off the barbecue sampler. It had already sat around long enough, I had no way to reheat it, and I wasn’t going to eat it cold. But it was still good, and I was actually hungry enough to really enjoy it by now.  But it was still just the remnants of a sampler, not a full meal. A few hours later, I was hungry again, and so I went over to a nearby McDonald’s to bring back a salad to the room.  I was hoping they would have the Asian salad, which had been for sale at Michigan restaurants, but no, they didn’t have it.  The bacon ranch salad wasn’t too bad, though, and that’s what I had for my late supper as I watched North Carolina State play Cincinnati in football.  I had one of the bottles of Topo Chico mineral water with the salad; it was probably better for me than the Diet Coke or regular Sprite I might otherwise have gotten.


Friday September 23

Today was the start of reunion weekend.  Well, not quite; the reunion activities wouldn’t begin until this evening.  What would I do until then? Well, first I would have breakfast in the restaurant.  Next, I would firm up arrangements to see longtime family friend Linda Coney in the afternoon.  But that would be a few hours away.  How to pass the time until then? Well, when I went to the HEB store yesterday, I saw they carried wasabi-coated peas.  But I didn’t get any, because they were different from the wasabi peas that I first grew to like.  Those came from the Central Market.  But for a while, the Central Market peas had changed; they had a slightly different taste.  Had they changed back?  There was only one way to find out, and that was to go there.  And so, I started heading into town around 9 AM.

Traffic wasn’t too bad until I got close to the Loop.  I had been thinking about how I would get to the Central Market; the traffic told me I should take the South Loop.  Things didn’t look that different from when I’d last been there in March.  I got off at Stella Link and took that northward, not knowing where I’d have to turn to get to the store.  It turned out I didn’t have to make another turn except into the store parking lot, for Stella Link became Weslayan, and I knew the store was at Westheimer and Weslayan.  After paying a visit to the restroom, I went through the store, seeing what there was to see, buying two packs of green chile flavored tortilla chips (not before sampling them), and finally checking the wasabi peas.  Yes, they tasted like they used to!  I got around a pound’s worth in two containers.

Now I needed to head to Alvin, for that was where I’d be meeting Linda.  I took Westheimer over to the West Loop, which became the South Loop.  I drove down 288, the South Freeway, to Highway 6 and took that over to Alvin.  It was still before noon, too early to meet, so I went to the Wal-Mart.  I didn’t get anything there; I just needed to kill some time before heading over to Alvin Community College.  That was where Linda was -- specifically, the pottery studio in J Building. Once I arrived there, I called her and she invited me inside to see the studio, meet some of the students and meet the instructor.  It was lunchtime, so we went over to the Barbed Rose in downtown Alvin, east of the intersection of Gordon and Sealy. The restaurant was fairly new, and it had two parts, the restaurant proper and a covered outdoor burger bar.  We ate in the restaurant proper, and it was a good meal.  I had a buffalo burger, while Linda had a Cobb salad.  My parents would have enjoyed eating there, were they still living and were they still living in Texas.

Now I had tried arranging a meeting with Linda and husband Steve earlier in the week, but Steve had taken ill and was still recovering.  I wouldn’t be seeing him this time, but I would see their son David, for after our meal, we drove over to his office in Friendswood (he’s a stockbroker for Edward T. Jones) and spent some time with him.  Then it was back to the pottery studio, where Linda showed me her recent pieces and invited me to select one of the cups as a gift.  Then it was back to the hotel for me until the evening.

I made sure I was prepared for this evening.  The camera batteries were charged, but the iPod touch’s batteries weren’t; I needed to charge it before setting off.  The camera had a large-capacity memory card in place.  It was warm, so I didn’t need a jacket, and I had my Creek cap in the car.  Yes, I was prepared.  I set off for the stadium shortly after 6; it wasn’t far away at all, but I wanted to be sure of getting a good parking spot.  The main parking lot was already fairly full some 45 minutes before kickoff, but I got a decent enough spot.  I took a few pictures outside the stadium before buying my ticket and heading inside.  I bought a hot dog and a bottle of water; that would be my supper tonight.  And then I found my way to the seating area where we’d agreed to meet, 10 rows up on the east side of the press box.  It turned out I was the first member of the class there, giving me opportunity to eat my hot dog.  Soon, other class members started to arrive.  Bill Porter and his wife arrived next, followed not long after by Stacie Barnett Bemis and Janet Bergeron Vidrine, who’d just arrived from Baton Rouge. Janet didn’t graduate with us, having moved away after freshman year, but she was still one of us. Then the arrivals became too difficult to track.  Here’s whom I remember seeing at the game: Rob and Amy Ellison Wohrer were there, along with Amy’s son Angus, who tried to read a book (he wasn’t feeling well, I would later learn).  Greg Laurence and David Zabalaoui came later. Kelly Griffith and Helen Rickards Foreman were there, as were Cyndi Miller Dean, David Williams, Laurie Gay Vaughn, Lynn Covington, Mark Wilkinson, Kathy Matchette Douglas, Frederic Lambert (he also had moved away after 9th grade), David Bealmear, Dale Fortenberry, Mike Scanlon and Liz Hoober Scanlon, Clan Beeth and wife Stefanie, Lupe Ramirez, Kathleen Ling Amyx, Frances Owens Yeaney and husband Jeff, who else? Oh yes, a pre-haircut Shawn Merrell.  In support of his job-hunting efforts, he was going to get his hair cut tomorrow by Robert Balderas, who now ran the hair salon started by his mother.  She cut my hair a few times during high school.  There were more, I’m sure.

How was the game?  Well, it started out poorly, with Creek giving up a safety after the punter stepped out of the end zone.  Dickinson kept pouring it on so that by halftime, it was 22-7 in favor of the Gators.  It didn’t look good for the Wildcats.  But they didn’t give up. They clawed their way back to go ahead by one point, 23-22.  And that was how the game ended: Clear Creek won, 23-22!  It wasn’t the official Homecoming game (that had been two weeks earlier), but it was our Homecoming, you could say, and we could celebrate with a win!  Some had bailed out for T-Bone Tom’s earlier; they’d missed the comeback.  Now the rest of us were on our way there.

T-Bone Tom’s in Kemah was already pretty busy when I arrived there.  Rob Wohrer was welcoming everyone up by the bar.  I got a Sierra Mist (I needed something without caffeine) and went out to the patio area.  The Ezra Charles band was playing; their notable feature was an all-female brass section. The area where we had gathered was right in front of one of the band’s PA system, making for a loud evening.  I had a hard time hearing people speak, and I found myself speaking loudly (if not shouting) in order to be heard.  That was tiring, and I didn’t feel like hanging around too long under those conditions.  The bandleader did acknowledge our reunion during his set.

Who did I see on the patio that I hadn’t seen at the football game? I recall seeing Laura Cook Velie, Ann McMahon Russo, Kenneth (Kent) Wood and his wife Susan (they were absolutely raving about their slightly used Mustang Cobra). I also saw Laurie Scarcella Delesandri and Kathy Malone in the distance but didn’t get to speak to them. Chris Cartwright was there, and I spoke to him briefly. I saw Connie Churchill Foster but didn’t get to speak to her.

Kenneth and Susan had driven down from east Texas that evening and were calling it an early night, but before they left, they had me come out and look at their Cobra.  They also asked for help in getting the owner’s manual, which the previous owner had neglected to leave in the car.  I promised to look for copies once I returned to the office; I knew I could get electronic versions.

I popped in the bar area for a brief visit to see good night to Rob; he had remained up there.  David Zabalaoui and Greg Laurence were there; so were Melissa Mayo Snell and husband Willy, who had said they would not be at the game but would be at Tom’s.  Then I hear someone calling my name from behind me. I turned toward the bar, and I saw who called to me.  It took me a moment to register who it was; it was Cory Coldwell, whom I hadn’t seen in 25 years, not since the 5-year reunion. I might have had a harder time recognizing her had I not seen recent pictures of her on Facebook (that was true with a lot of folks!); her longer hair would have thrown me off, for remembered her with shorter hair.  I wanted to talk more, but I was still tired.  Had I spent the evening up by the bar, I might not have been as tired.  But I said my goodbyes and headed back to the hotel.

I was indeed tired, but I wasn’t so tired that I couldn’t offload the pictures and video from my camera and put some of them on Facebook.  Mine were among the first; they would by no means be the last.  Then I called it an evening.


Saturday September 24

Unfortunately, I had to wake up a couple of times during the night to use the restroom, thanks to that large Sierra Mist.  But if I’d had the same size Diet Coke, I might have been awake all night, which would have been worse or have felt worse.  I wish they’d had caffeine-free Diet Coke.  When I woke up for good, I took a look outside.  There was the crescent moon rising over the Bay Area.  That was worthy of a picture, I thought, and I took one.  Later on, I saw the sun rising; that, too, was worthy of a picture.  I posted those to my Facebook account.  But as I checked other things on Facebook, I saw a message from David Horrigan: due to a last-minute speaking engagement, he would be unable to make it to Houston for the reunions.  The engagement was in Chicago, where he would be filling in for his boss.  Apparently, he tried and tried but could not find a way to be able to go from Boston to Houston to Chicago.  I knew he was looking forward to the event, and I know we all wanted to see him. 

After I took a shower, I went downstairs for breakfast and got the usual breakfast bar, which by now had become the same ol’ same ol’ -- admittedly, a very good same ol’ same ol’.  Halfway through my meal, Dale Fortenberry and David Bealmear came in for their breakfast.  I moved over to eat with them.  We talked about a number of items relating to the reunion and who we saw last night, who had changed the most and least, ideas for the 50th birthday celebration that we were considering for next year or the year following, etc.  Either Dale or David made the following statement: the ones who seem to enjoy the reunions the most tend to be the ones from out of town.  The locals tend to see their classmates on a regular basis and so don’t get all that excited about reunion events; why pay to go when they see them every day for free? That wasn’t true for every local, to be sure.  There was some truth in that, I thought. As we discussed this, Melissa Mayo Snell and husband Willy came in for their breakfast.  They couldn’t sit with us because our table was full (more precisely, we had an empty spot, but two spots were needed).  Then Duncan Allred stopped by to say hello; he’d been elsewhere in the restaurant.  We were having a mini-reunion right there!

Dale, David and I were finished, so we let Melissa and Willy get to their breakfast. Dale and David went into Houston to check on Dale’s booth at the Houston Wine Festival (he offers tours of Texas wineries). As for me, my morning was empty. I didn’t have anything scheduled until the KMSC reunion in the afternoon and the Creek reunion in the evening.  So I decided to drive around for a while. I got some gas, and then I drove over to Newport and went up and down all of the original streets -- Sunset Ct. N and S, Fairfield Ct. N and S, Williamsburg Ct. N and S, Savanna Ct. N and S.  This was a drive down Memory Lane. How many of the original residents were still in their houses, I wondered. As I drove past our street on the way out of the subdivision, I thought about my late parents. Then I went over to Clear Creek Village and did something similar; I even went down Aggie Lane!  What’s more, there was a Longhorn banner flying from a house on Aggie Lane! Well, it was a divided banner; both UT and A&M were represented. Then I drove over to see the new high school for the west side of League City, Clear Springs High School.  If I had been growing up in Newport now, I would have been going to Clear Springs, not Clear Creek.  From the outside, it looked like a decent enough facility. But it would never be my school.

After my drive down Memory Lane, I turned on the Michigan State football game on Sirius and drove up to Fry’s for another look-around.  It remained a look-around, though; I didn’t get anything.  I listened to the game on the way back to the hotel.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t put it on TV; Michigan State versus Central Michigan wasn’t a popular matchup in southeast Texas. But MSU was doing quite well, so I turned on another game and kept up with the score that way.  I also got out my suitcase and my overnight bag and started to pack.  I could do some packing now, but a lot would need to wait until morning, for I had to pack my jacket away.  I needed it for the reunion tonight.

It was 2 o’clock.  The lunch at Tookie’s was starting.  Many of my classmates were gathering there for lunch before the reunion.  We’d done something similar before the 25-year reunion, and I’d been part of that this time.  But because the lunch was starting so late in order to avoid the crowds, it would overlap with the KMSC reunion.  This was a slight dilemma, but I knew it could not be avoided.  Had the lunch been at 11, then there would have been little if any conflict.  But I did not control the schedule for the lunch.  This was one reason why I went there earlier in the week: my attendance on Saturday was doubtful.  From the pictures I saw posted, everyone was having a great time out on the back deck.  During the event, though, a serious accident happened right in front of the restaurant. Rob Wohrer, a Seabrook firefighter, bounded over the railing on the deck to render aid, according to those who were there.

The remainder of this entry is still being written.


Sunday September 25

Route from League City to Jackson

Miles driven during the week in League City: 482.2
Miles today: 505.3
Miles for this segment of the trip: 505.3

No, I was not going to get a good night’s sleep tonight.  I popped awake around 4:30; when I couldn’t immediately get back to sleep, I checked my e-mail, and then I tried to go back to sleep again.  I’m not sure that I did; I rested, but I don’t think I slept.  When I noticed it starting to get light outside, I got up and started to pack.  Yes, it was time for me to start heading back to Michigan.  The suitcase couldn’t really be packed until now, for my jacket had to go in there, and I was wearing it last night.  Thanks to putting my laundry in a separate bag, the suitcase wasn’t as full as it had been at the start of the trip.

For my last visit to the breakfast bar, I noticed that the selection had expanded again to include the cheeses, the sausage patties, the additional pastries, etc., that were there last Sunday.  I didn’t see any of my classmates in the restaurant; they were probably still asleep. I couldn’t afford to be, though, for I had to hit the road pretty soon.  After breakfast, I loaded up the car, then went to check out.  It was 8:25, and I was about to set out for home.

I drove out of the parking garage, up the ramp, and down to FM 2094, where I made my way through League City and over to the freeway.  By going that way, I had decided I would not take the southern Louisiana route.  Instead, I’d be going up into town, then onto US 59 into East Texas.  As I drove through Houston and up the Eastex Freeway, I was doing my customary bouncing around the satellites -- satellite radio channels, that is.  A little bit of Breakfast with the Beatles, a lot of vintage American Top 40; that’s what kept me company as I drove out of Harris County and into east Texas.  The drive was uneventful as I went through (well, near, when you count the bypasses) Cleveland, Livingston, Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Carthage, and a lot of smaller towns.

By the time I reached Marshall, the Mariner needed a refueling.  I filled it up there, and then I did something I had never done before: I took I-20 eastward towards Shreveport.  It was now early afternoon, and the NFL football games had started.  I was listening to Detroit play Minnesota, and the game was starting rather badly for the Lions. I stopped for lunch at a Wendy’s on the west side of Shreveport; one of the TV’s in there was carrying the NFL Network and its running summary of all the games in progress.  While I ate, I made hotel reservations for Jackson, Mississippi, which I was sure I could easily make before nightfall.  I was able to use some of my HHonors points to get a discount at the Hilton Garden Inn in Pearl.  Back in the car, I drove eastward on I-20, through Shreveport and Bossier City, on to Monroe and then through Vicksburg.  I heard the Lions come from behind to win their game, but the Texans lost to the Saints.

The Hilton Garden Inn in Pearl was right on I-20, and that was almost literally true: the freeway ran some 20-25 feet away from my room.  I feared road noise would keep me awake during the night.  There were steakhouses within walking distance on either side of the hotel, but I wasn’t that hungry.  After checking my e-mail and seeing all the post-reunion activity on Facebook, I turned on the Sunday Night Football pre-game show and lay down on the bed.

I never did have supper that night, nor do I remember anything about the football game.  When I lay down, I must have fallen asleep right away, not waking up until 5 hours later with all the lights in the room still on and the TV showing Entertainment Tonight.  I needed that sleep.


Monday September 26

Route from Jackson to Horse Cave, KY

Miles today: 517.3
Miles for the return trip: 1023.3

After waking up from my early shuteye, I turned off the TV and turned down the bed, but I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I read for a bit before I got tired again.  I had to use the restroom, but when I did, I got a rude surprise: the toilet wouldn’t flush!  The chain had come undone from the flush lever, and I couldn’t attach it.  I could pull it by hand, though.  I would have to report that when I checked out in the morning.

I got up for good around 5:30, got dressed and then went down to the lobby for breakfast.  Breakfast was not complimentary here.  I had their buffet, which included items cooked to order; I chose to order chocolate chip pancakes, sausage patties, grilled potatoes (a.k.a. home fries), some pineapple pieces and a muffin.  Very good, but very filling; I couldn’t quite finish everything.

By 8 o’clock, I was on the road -- to the gas station for a fill-up.  Not long after, I was really on the road, continuing eastward on I-20 toward Meridian and Birmingham.  The drive to Birmingham was uneventful, but once I started heading north on I-65 out of Birmingham, the rain started.  South of the town of Cullman, the rain started pouring down so heavily that I pulled off at a rest area until it subsided.  I used my iPad to check the weather radar; if I continued going north, I would eventually clear the rain.  I waited until the rain slacked before I set off again, and the weather did improve.

The drive through Nashville was uneventful, and I stopped at the first rest area in Kentucky.  Where would I stay that night?  Would I be able to make it to Louisville?  I didn’t think so.  How about Elizabethtown?  Yes, I could make it there, but when I checked the Hilton website, I found a better hotel deal between Elizabethtown and Bowling Green, one with the same deal as last night: $40 plus HHonors points.  And so I made a reservation for the Hampton Inn in Horse Cave.  Thanks to the large breakfast, I didn’t stop for lunch today, although I did nibble on some of those Central Market green chile tortilla chips.  But I did make sure to have supper tonight.  It wasn’t a fancy supper; I had a burger at McDonald’s at the Love’s truck stop across the freeway from the hotel.  The setting seemed familiar to me; it was quite possible that I had stopped there before, most likely in March on my previous trip to Texas.  Once I checked in to the hotel, I did some work on my photos, some Facebook work, some e-mail checking, etc.  Then I turned on Monday Night Football and watched that game to its conclusion.  Then it was time for bed.


Tuesday September 27

Route from Kentucky to Detroit

Miles today: 439.4
Miles for the return trip: 1462.7

I had a dream overnight that ended rather disturbingly.  I was in some sort of collegiate setting, and I’d found a lightweight radio chassis that could have been gutted to put another radio inside.  The disturbing part: I was walking and saw evidence of things that had been demolished, and I reached my destination only to find that my favorite Rickenbacker 12-string had been smashed to bits, as though Pete Townshend in his guitar-smashing days had gotten hold of it.  I didn’t get to react very long, though, for that was when I woke up.  It was 5:50 AM, I was in Kentucky, and my favorite Rickenbacker 12-string was back in Michigan.  By the end of the day, I would be as well.

After doing my e-mail and web checks, I went downstairs to have breakfast at the breakfast bar.  It was the normal Hampton Inn breakfast bar, and today I had a dish of Special K, a muffin and some yogurt.  I did not have any scrambled eggs; I’d had enough of those at South Shore for the last week.  I brushed my teeth back at the room, gathered my stuff, checked out, and got under way shortly after 7 o’clock.  Make that 8 o’clock Eastern time, for I was about to cross over into Eastern time and had to regain that mindset.  I listened to the Underground Garage for the most part as I drove up I-65 toward Louisville, although I bounced around a lot during that drive and during the day.  I did find it oddly appropriate to be driving through Oldham County in Kentucky as I listened to the Andrew Oldham program on the Underground Garage.

The weather was definitely changing as I drove northward on this trip.  It was in the 60’s this morning; I eventually had to put on a jacket.  There was fog on I-65, and it was cloudy for the entire trip to Detroit.  I even encountered a few raindrops along the way, although it was not nearly as bad as yesterday in Alabama.  I stopped for gas along I-71 between Louisville and Cincinnati, then continued onward.  Traffic got rather heavy in Cincy, as it usually does; it lightened slightly between Cincinnati and Dayton; got heavy in Dayton again, thanks to its perpetual construction along I-75; then lightened again until Toledo.

Thanks to the nibbles I had in my car, I didn’t have to stop for lunch right away, although I did eventually stop at a truck stop in North Baltimore (I was stopping for gas at the same time).  Now I was well-positioned for the final homeward push.  One final stop at the first rest area in Michigan for a bathroom break, and then reasonably smooth driving up I-75 and I-275 up to metro Detroit.  Gas prices had come down a bit since my departure, but they were nowhere near as low as in Ohio or Texas.  And by 4:05, I was pulling into my garage in Westland; I was home.  Time to unload the car; time to unpack the suitcase; time to do a load of laundry; time to upload photos from the two reunions to Facebook; time to watch the first episode of New Girl and to start catching up on the Doctor Who I’d missed; time to get ready for work.  And so, my vacation came to an end.




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©2011 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
Revised October 7, 2011