Monday, August 19, 2002

Roadtrip Report. Chicago will never be the same...

Oh my...

In a nutshell, it was from here to Chicago and back in 9 days, a station wagon, a little boy with ADD, my period in the middle of the zoo (ugh), pillows left at a seedy motel in Ontario, and the strong temptation at times to throw myself in front of a train or off the edge into Niagara Falls, and I've survived.

It was a great vacation.

Don't get me wrong by that little paragraph of whining. I had a great time. But I'm feeling that I don't want to be in a car for long stretches of time anytime soon.

We left on Saturday after I got out of bed early and worked on Professor MF's website for three and a half hours. I was making amazing strides, but there was work to be done. I had everything packed, Doug took Jack to the kennel for boarding, I did the dishes, we watered the garden, and we hit the road by 12:30. We got to the homestead at around 1am, and spent Saturday, Sunday and Monday at Doug's parents.

We made two trips to the mall to get Geoff's glasses fixed, the lens keeps popping out and we can't get it to stay. It happened again in Canada and we just didn't bother going to find a lenscrafters. I think I have to go buy an new pair.

Anyway, we bought toys at the mall... including a very cool air pump plane which gave us hours of entertainment. We also got to hang out with Doug's sister and her husband and their little girl who is about 17 months old I guess. She's a doll.

My boys get ready to play...
After the maiden voyage
The neighbor's garage... not the best place to have your plane land!
Elyse. She looks like her daddy.

There was an amazing thunderstorm on Monday afternoon that shook the house and caused great sheets of rain to fall, first rain since before July 4th I guess. The lawns were all dried straw and gardens were in death throes. It made me long for my lovely green yard and ripening tomatoes and big full hydrangea bushes.

We left western PA and had breakfast with Doug's grandmother in Eastern Ohio. She was tickled to see us. She gets such a kick out of the kids, and gave them their Christmas presents early that way she doesn't have to ship them. I think she thinks she's going to die. I hugged her and told her I would see her soon, and she started crying. "I don't know if I'll be around long enough to see you again, you are so far away." Guilt. Sadness. Reality.

I hugged her and kissed her on the top of her head (she's pretty short) and told her to hang tough, that I'd see her again. I mean really... way to break my heart grandma. We left there around 1pm and made it to Chicago by 9pm their time. A little lost and wandering, we called from a payphone in the pouring rain because I'd left the directions home. The GPS got us within a mile of the house, but put us way up north of their house on their street. They live in the 3600 block, and we were in the 6700 block. Eventually though we found ourselves in Down Town Scottsville and hanging with the Man, the Myth, the Legend himself.

Good God. I'm in CHICAGO!!! Jebus! It amazed me. Their apartment is so nice, three bedrooms, dining room, huge bathroom... beautiful built in hutch and fireplace and bookshelves... I had apartment envy. It's a gorgeous building, and so close to cool stuff in the city. Drool. Drool. Envy. Scott and S were lovely hosts to us, and we simply loved visiting. I can't believe I don't see that guy every day anymore. It hasn't been years since the days where we hung out all the time, but it feels like it was just a few months ago. My heart was silently breaking as I walked around Niagara Falls a few days later and I pined for him.

Oh yes, I pined.

Anyway, our first full day there we went to the Brookfield Zoo. Scott gets the official "surrogate uncle of the year award" for actually putting up with my kids and spending 6 ungodly hours at a zoo. When he could have been doing anything else on earth. So he wins. All you other surrogate uncles out there -- you've got nothing.

We got a real kick out of the baboon island... if Geoff had been more compliant we could have spent all day there. We were trying to figure out whether or not baboon's asses hurt (they sure do look like they do!) and the baboons were having turf wars on baboon island... there were four of them who were obviously paired off as teams and they were having these screeching biting fights which caused all the females to run and hide.

Scott and I had fun doing crazy stuff in the kids play area, we pretended to be animal doctors in a MASH kind of unit, Scott pretending to be the Vet from the Simpsons. We got some kids going and acting all crazy. Including my kids. See below.

The kid's play area of the zoo was the best ever. I put on a lemur suit (a vest with a lemur tail) and went into the pretend to be a lemur area. The kids there didn't think I was right, but they eventually warmed up. On my way out I tried to hand my lemur suit to another mom and said "wanna be a lemur?" and she gave me "the look" which said "what are you fucking out of your fat mind?!" and said "uh, no."

Loosen up lady. Be a lemur. Unfortunately Doug didn't get a picture of me lemuring. It was funny as all hell. He laughed and laughed at me. I don't get that kind of reaction from him too often, where he isn't mocking me. He laughed towards me instead of at me.

Facepainting, she asked for a bear paw. Best I could do.
Scott is amazed at Geoff's care for the plants in the botany room.
Geoff was diligent... he squirt bottle watered every single plant in the room. Most of the kids ran around squirting each other. He took good care. Will make a great gardener some day...
Jessie with one of the millions of large polar bears around the zoo. There was a red, white and blue one. She liked this sea creature themed one.
Geoff the Junior Zookeeper. Those were nice shirts. He looks the role...
Yup. The box says "Poop." In the junior zookeeper area, there were many boxes, with fake food for the fake animals. And fake poop to clean up with the broom.
Dr. Geoff carefully inserts body parts back into an alligator.
"Let's see here.... is this his heart or his spleen?"
"Ah, yes. Ms. Tiger. All the lady tigers are getting lypo these days. Here, let me take a little unsightly patch of fat off your shoulder..."
The real thing. The lion exhibit has a cubby with a glass wall where you can see the lion up very VERY close. He was snoozing.

Anyway, right after that I got my period... talk about a buzzkill. It was five days early, I was so unprepared for such an event, and all that walking around and pretending to swing from vines must have brought it on. I got really crampy and tired that night, and slept like crap.

Which made the next day a challenge.

We went down to the Shedd Aquarium on Thursday, where Geoff was a holy horror and Jessica gleefully wandered off and did her marine biology thing. She's incredibly into sea creatures and could spend a thousand billion hours in an aquarium.

On the way into town, we noticed jet planes zooming in and out of the city, between the buildings, all over the place. Scott recalled that the air and water show was running that weekend upcoming, and it being a couple days away the jet planes were practicing. We got to the aquarium, and you wouldn't even hear the damn things and they'd be right on top of you, zooming right over your head close enough to see the friggin pilots in the cockpits. I tried to take a good picture... but they were so damn fast. This was the best I could do.

I was already a nervy mess from getting my period, but seeing jet fighter planes zooming around a city sort of put me ill at ease. I was scared for the first time in months. I rode in the back seat watching for them, and thinking that if I didn't have someone in the car with me who knew what was going on, I'd probably be bricking.

Scott and I talked about how living in the city makes him sort of nervous. I told him that I'd be sick to my stomach daily.

Jessica was pissed because we didn't go downstairs to the Oceanarium area, but we knew we wouldn't have enough time to see everything, and we'd spent 8 hours at the zoo the day before and we were non-humanoid creatured out. The benefit of going down to the lower level is, of course, to sit and look at the view of Chicago, which you can get by walking around on the cement boardwalk behind the building... Doug and I didn't really mind skipping the beluga whales, but her nose was out of joint. Geoff, as I mentioned, was a complete nightmare. He fought with Doug, screamed, tried to bite us... it was scary. Eventually he got in control, but it was not so a good time. That's when throwing myself in front of a train was looking mighty tasty.

Scott, Jessie, Doug and Geoff walking along Lake Michigan towards the Aquarium from the Planetarium.
Us in front of a nice view of the windy apple.

We went out for Thai food that night, to hook up with Doug's friend Lee from High School, only he was in one restaurant and we were in another.


So I didn't get to see him and meet the fiancée. I haven't seen him since about 1995 or 1996, when we lived in Lynn, before we moved up here. That was his last visit to the Boston Area. He's getting married in October, and we're not sure if just Doug will go or we'll both go -- how will we swing it? Who can we ditch the kids on? Hmmm... that's a topic for another day.

We went to the Sears Tower Skydeck after breakfast on the last day we were there. It was a beautiful view, an overcast day, but that meant no squinting and no blinding glares. Chicago is such a beautiful city. I could live there. Totally. The traffic sucked, but honestly, where doesn't it?

Scott getting hammy
Don't fall out the window, kids!
We were down there yesterday! Right there, at that round thingie
A view looking north...
From the ground, a quick shot that didn't betray me being a tourist.
Jessie is all urban and hip.

The funniest thing about the Sears tower was the ridiculous crap 10 minute movie they made us watch before we went up. We waited in line to buy tickets, then waited in line to be shuttled like cows into a boxcar theatre where they showed this 10 minute infomercial of how Chicago used to be all farms and stuff, then trains came and it changed everything... then some guys played blues music and a big building or two got built.

Scott and I both were thinking we were getting put in a room to be euthanized.

Actually, the movie was so boring I was thinking that maybe it was the precursor to the mass drowning or gassing that we were going to suffer through, we'd all be stunned and sedated from the boring movie so fighting the actual method of death wouldn't happen. It would have been a relief...

I mean seriously, I don't want to be infomercialed everywhere I go, damnit! I want to go up to the top of the damn building and look out a window here, people! Why put me in this room and "entertain" me with this crap when I could be talking to my friend in line and READING about the architecture and looking at cool assed old pictures?

It took us forever to get up there, then we had to wait in line to come down.

Doug had a great theory -- they should make it so that admission is FREE if you walk all the way up and all the way down. Your calves would hurt, but you wouldn't have to pay to stand in a room with a million other sweaty, tired tourists watching a movie.

The views at the top were splendid... and it was funny to hear all the different people talking about the city. Australians were in the house in droves. They were a riot.

We left Down Town Scottsville and headed east, driving to Port Huron, MI. We got there in less than 7 hours. The middle of Michigan is kind of flat and boring... I had hoped it would be all woodsy and thick, like from the pictures I had in my mind from the Hemingway biographies I'd read. But that's up north in Horton Bay (I called it Horton's Bay once and Ms. Shelley corrected my geographically challenged ass right quick like).

We chose to go to Port Huron because Detroit is the bigger city and the more popular crossing point. We spent the night at a decent motel with a pool filled with chlorine and a little water, and slept very fitfully with the AC cranked to 50 degrees. There was frost on the doorknob when I opened the door in the morning.

And we left two brand spanking new pillows at that hotel (the ones I bought a couple weeks ago when Doug's folks came to visit because we didn't have guest pillows. We decided to bring our own pillows traveling this time because it's always such a hassle to get the surly hotel front desk jerk to give you a second wafer thin pillow. As if the one damn crappy cotton ball they give you is enough to support a tired head and neck, and you asking makes you the friggin' princess and the pea.

So we just now realized we left the two yellow pillow case covered pillows in Port Huron. We're mentally defective.

I had totally stressed before leaving the house, insisting that we had to have our proper IDs or we would be screwed trying to enter Canada. It was a breeze. We got right in without any eye contact from the border guard. Okay... that was odd and I was sort of disappointed.

We made reservations to stay in Niagara Falls from the road in central Ontario, around London. Good thing we did too. The place was mobbed when we got there. The guy at the Info Centre (spelled it Canadian like, eh?) said that the past 9 nights every single room in town has been booked. He wasn't kidding. I've never seen that many people there. The hotel was a cheap and sleazy place called the Marco Polo, but it had an outdoor pool with little or no chemicals in it. The used some organic stuff, and it was much easier on the eyes. Geoff was a fiend in the water -- he swam for hours that night and the next morning.

This hotel also now owns three of our pillows. Two with matching white and brown cases and one with my favorite flannel case.

What the hell is wrong with us that we forget pillows when we travel?

Someone shoot me.

Anyway, back to our story. We spent that first afternoon looking at the falls and walking along the very crowded viewing area... and walking through an unbelievably crowded Clifton Hill. Niagara Falls is a great place to people watch. Every one from all over the planet comes there. It's somewhat affordable, the view is amazing. There's something for everyone... so it brings out the entire Indian family from Bombay and the Mennonite honeymooners from New Wilmington, PA.

The next morning we did the boardwalk down low after the falls but before the whirlpool. We'd never gone down there before. It was amazingly beautiful and scared the shit out of me at times. That water is so fast... I couldn't imagine falling in. Or my kids falling in. Meh. Nightmares.

My family, note the boy has to make a goofy face in pictures lately...
Doug has a tight grip on him...
There were a TON of these Mennonite girls and guys running around. They were all dressed EXACTLY the same, no variation. I told Doug that it must be the team uniform.
Jessie is silly. And not a Mennonite
Me, looking sunburned and quite tired.
Me and my new boyfriend, My baby's daddy. The alien from my encounter.
A motorcycle went by and Geoff didn't like it.
Again, Jessie is silly.
And it never fails. Everywhere I go. Something reminds me of CAL. A harmless tiny triceratops in a box filled with dinosaurs. And this one was all the way off by itself, away from the others. And all I could do was think of him.
Jessica leans over the railing at the boardwalk along the river...
A nice shot of the girl under the Whirlpool Bridge.
Daddy and Jessie examining the river...
Proof positive that once in a while my daughter is kind to my son. She held his hand and they walked together for all of a block.
Danger boy by the Danger sign...
My turn to be subjected to picture taking...

The best part about Canada is this:

Yes, that sign on that bus bench says "Dial A Beer."

My kinda country! Jessica spotted this and laughed, and I agreed. Dialing a beer delivery is damn funny. So I had to get a picture of it.

The WORST thing about where we stayed was the TV coverage. They claimed to have cable. We think they HAD a cable in a box, and that was the cable they had. There were 13 stations on the TV, most of which were like FRENCH, and we weren't even in the Frenchy part of Canada, so that baffled us. Luckily for my cranky self Doug took the kids out to get icecream and I got cleaned up and this was on TV:

That's right ladies and gentlemen, That's Tom Brady. They were showing the Patriots Pre-Season game. So I got to thoroughly enjoy some football while splathering myself with cucumber and ginseng body lotion and relaxing sans children. The Patriots sucked majorly, but at least it wasn't French TV.

We spent the afternoon goofing off, and on our way out of town to cross back into the USA we went to see the humongous floral clock at the far end of Niagara Falls.

What a gyp.

They touted this floral clock as being so cool. It was dumb. We thought so at least. We were punchy and silly at that point, so it really could have been wicked cool but we were up to mocking something.

Doug yelled out "I don't appreciate your ruse!" from "Clerks" (Kevin Smith fans will get the reference) and we laughed and laughed at ourselves. The stupid thing is a million miles away from anything else remotely interesting. I pity the poor bastard who stays on Clifton Hill and rides a bike out there in the 90 degree heat just to see that stupid thing.

We crossed over into the USA again without being asked to show ID, but the customs guy made eye contact with both of us. Doug almost wanted to kill me for giving one wiseass answer to one of his questions:

Customs Dude: "What is your nationality?"
Doug: "American."

Customs Dude: "And you?" [looking at me]

Me: "American."
Customs Dude: [eyes the children in the back] "What are you bringing back with you?"
Doug: "A couple of t-shirts."
Me: "Memories."
Customs Dude: "
Uh, you, smart asses pull over we're SO searching the CAR!" [radios for drug and bomb sniffing dogs].

But that last thing didn't happen. The guy didn't look amused though. It just kind of popped out. Sometimes I just can't help myself. Stupid things that I think are funny fly out of my face. I'm an ass.

We stopped at Virginia's house in upstate NY and met her husband and kids. It was a lovely visit. It is so funny to visit with someone you haven't laid eyes on since 1987 and feel like you saw them just last week. It was great to meet her husband (Doug was sort of embarrassed that I told him I think he looks like H.I. McDonough, if you know the reference...) and the kids had a blast playing together. Geoff and Andrew hit it off instantaneously, playing Toy Story with Andrew's Buzz Lightyear laser hand. Geoff talked about him for an hour after we left the house, and then passed out and slept all the way to Utica.
Heather smiling behind the suckie.
Jessie and Heather got along great. It was fun seeing Jessie play with a little one.
Andrew gives mamma Virginia a big hug in front of the blue house...
The two kindergarteners!

Virginia confessed to me that she owns a jogging stroller, mostly because her husband is so tall and those strollers work better for taller folk. Let me just say that I don't hate ALL people who own jogging strollers, my point was that this particular woman, using that particular item of yuppiedom was pissing me off fiercely in my last entry (return to it to read my bitchfest). I love Virginia... I doubt her husband would be a blonde jogging bimbo with a cell phone who doesn't look both ways when crossing the street. That woman did though and she incurred my wrath for that day.

We stopped for dinner and guestimated that it would take us at least another 4 hours to get home, it was already 8:30pm. We were tired. We were at a really nice restaurant called Jack Appleseeds, and they had Saranac IPA on draught. The food was delicious and filling. Before we knew it, we were checking into the Motel 6 across the street.

We moseyed home today after a fitful night's sleep and a morning of cartoons and reading in bed. We had a million pieces of mail. 957 email, of which 800 were offers to make Doug's penis bigger because I want it to be bigger and I'll leave him (according to the emails...) so I deleted them so as not to give him some sort of complex.

Our garden is beat to shit. Well, at least everything except the tomatoes. I guess it didn't rain once the whole time we were gone. I meant to tell Pete upstairs to water the flowers if he thought of it. The morning glories are growing up along the deck but the buds aren't opening. None of the sunflowers are open, but one is about 8 feet tall. The cherry tomatoes and the others are bursting out all over the garden. The squash and zucchini are dead. And the blue hydrangea? All but dead. I watered it liberally this evening and then let Geoff water himself liberally. I hope it rebounds. It was so pretty when we left.

Now it's nose to the grindstone to finish Professor MF's stuff and finish the two projects I have for Professor CM. We need a trip to the market and a trip to Walmart to get new pillows (cue Chris Farley pounding his forehead with the palm of his hand screaming "Stupid Stupid! STUPID!!!!!") Geoff has kindergarten open house on the 22nd. Jessica starts school a week from tomorrow. Then it is Labor Day. I wonder what we're doing that weekend???? Where's the summer gone?

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