Friday, September 26, 2008

The Business Of Vacations

One reason I plan my vacations in September is to take advantage of reduced travel rates. Usually, hotels are cheaper, as well as gas. Of course that didn't happen THIS year thanks to that [insert your favorite expletive] Hurricane Ike. Gas spiked about 50 cents a gallon the week that I was on the road a couple weeks ago.

Wonderful. I assuaged my financial pain somewhat by visiting local brewpubs in the Upper Peninsula. Wendy and I have a pamphlet produced by of all the microbreweries in Michigan and we've made a point of trying to visit as many as we can. Michigan businesses need our support, especially in the Upper Peninsula which relies so much on tourism. That's not going so well with today's economy. I'm doing my part to help.

When we dine and quaff at these establishments, I like to order the sampler tray of fresh brews. I included a couple pictures. Very pretty, yes? The food at these places is usually good too. At the Jasper Ridge Brewing Company in Ishpeming I ordered the Miner Burger, which included a quarter-pound beef patty as well as a quarter pound cudighi patty (yes, Big Dave got bigger on vacation unfortunately).

Didn't even know what a cudighi patty was until afterwards (a type of Italian sausage). But I was able to enjoy something new and now I know what type of burger the miners ate in the Upper Peninsula. I always thought it was a pastie-burger. So I got some education too.

Back to the business of vacations, I like to try to save a few bucks by picking up one of those hotel coupon booklets they stock at the welcome centers. I found a Holiday Inn coupon advertising a $69 room rate for a room that ordinarily runs over $100 a night. When I arrived at the Holiday Inn though, I found the lobby packed. Other people there for business meetings were checking in. Here I'm concentrating on taking care of the business of my vacation while they're there just taking care of business. Doesn't seem right.

So this white-haired nattily dressed may stood next to me trying to check in himself. He had reserved two rooms at the Inn. Or so he thought. The desk clerk could find nothing for him, even though the businessman said his wife had "pre-checked in" that morning before the businessman himself had arrived in town.

But the desk clerk could not find the reservation and the hotel was filling up fast. When I got my room, the clerk said there were only two left in the whole place. The business guy was clearly becoming frustrated.

"You think that a plan is coming together, and this happens," he groused.

The desk clerk checked the spelling of the man's name. Nothing close. Maybe the last name was put in as the first name? Nope. Maybe the wife checked in under her own name? Not that either. Could the man call his wife on her cell phone to verify that she had checked in at this hotel?

"She doesn't have a cell phone," the man sighed. He wore an increasingly pained expression, as did the desk clerk trying to help him. Good thing I didn't get in his line. They had already been trying to check him in for some time. She even tried looking for his credit card number in the reservation system. No luck there either.

As I was leaving, he was riffling through the papers in his briefcase. "I have a confirmation number somewhere," he said. "Let me try to find it. My secretary made the reservation."

Can anyone guess how this ended?

[ADDENDUM: The reservation was under the secretary's name. After the boss mentioned she made the reservation, the front desk clerk made the connection and asked for her name. Sure enough, two rooms under the name of C. Johnson.]

Sunday, September 21, 2008

His Trail, Her Trail

Back from the northcountry. For the past week Wendy and I have been vacationing in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I'm a gotta go, gotta do kinda guy on vacation so lots of walks and hikes. We like to see wildlife on these trips so we were really hoping to find a bear (a friendly one, of course).

Our longest hike took place at Grand Marais along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior. First stop was at the visitor's center there where the sign said, "Closed. See you in May 2009." Oh, well. We didn't need any stinking maps. At nearby Log Slide Overlook, so named because of the logs dumped into Lake Superior here during the lumbering era, we saw a trail that descended to a nearby lighthouse.

Nearby is a relative term. One sign said it was two miles away, another said three. I only told Wendy about the two-mile sign to keep her enthusiasm and confidence up. You can see the lighthouse in the first photo if you click on the photo to enlarge it, Au Sable Point Lighthouse appearing as a speck of white on the distant shoreline. Off we went.

The trail was narrow in spots, with rather thick brush on both sides. Kinda scary. I think we found some bear poop too. See picture. Oh, yes. There would be bears. Or so we were hoping. Then Wendy thought she saw one but it was just a trick of the lighting and some strange growths on a tree. Can you see it in the picture?

Along the way there were some beautiful views of Lake Superior. We were hiking or climbing down the whole time, something that did not go unnoticed by Wendy. When we reached the lighthouse--quite a hike--Wendy said for me to retrieve the car and pick her up. But the only road to the lighthouse was closed. She would have to hike one way to a distant public campground, while I had to climb back up to the cliff overlook to get the car.

I wasn't sure separating and hiking alone in bear country was such a good idea. But what the hea. We did. On the way back, I saw an animal standing on the trail. He had already seen me and was turning to spring back into the forest. I thought surely it was a predator of some type. A small wolf or perhaps a coyote? Or maybe even a bobcat I thought from the way it sprang.

Thought about trying to track it into the woods to get a picture but maybe that wasn't such a good idea. What if it was a young wolf who then returned to his extended family?

"Look mommy who followed me home."


"Oh, oh."

So I hustled on to the top of the trail and got the car. And Wendy was waiting for me at the campground when I drove the five or so miles down the road. She had encountered a snake, but nothing else. I'm glad I just ran across a meat-eating predator. I hate snakes.

Per requests, I posted lots of pictures. It was an adventure and, more importantly, great blog fodder.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Reaching For Goals

What to blog, what to blog? I'm in the middle of packing for our trip to the Upper Peninsula next week so I don't have a lot of time to come up with ideas.

By the way, why did the chicken cross the road? So he would have something to write about in his blog. Ha!.

Speaking of chickens crossing roads, I have a story about perseverence and reaching your goals.

This story starts about seven years ago, when our oldest son Greg was a freshman at Central Michigan University. None of his close buddies went with him to CMU, so his roommate would be a stranger to him. When we arrived at Greg's dormitory room, his roommate-to-be wasn't there. But his stuff was. And Greg was ready to turn around and go home.

Sitting in the closet he shared was a guitar and a cowboy hat. What?! His roommate was a guitar-plucking country type? No way, Greg said. We had to coax him a little to stay. But he did. And surprise of surprises, he became good friends with his new roommate Dave. They roomed together in both dorms and apartments the time they spent at CMU. Greg learned to play the guitar himself, even singing a duet together with Dave for a talent show.

Dave's dream was to make it to Nashville some day. He wrote songs, performed at the local bar, and entered contests here and there. Wendy and I heard him play in Mt. Pleasant once. He sounded like your typical guitar-playing country artist to me. Most of those guys settle for the occasional local gig. Not Dave.

I believe he tried American Idol but didn't get far. There were country-singing contests as well, but I don't think he won anything big, or even came close. That was years ago. He graduated and moved to Florida to take a teaching position. But Greg kept in contact with him after graduation. And, apparently, Dave was still writing and performing. Persevering.

Recently, Dave called with a surprise. He was among four country artists chosen in a contest to become the opening act for Kenny Chesney's Pirates and Poets tour in a large amphitheatre down in Florida. The finals were held at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Dave won.

So the last week in August, Dave was the opening act for one of the largest outdoor music acts in the country. By the time he was finished playing his set of four original songs, there were close to 15,000 fans, he estimated to Greg later. He said he was so nervous his guitar-strumming hand was frozen stiff.

But he made it through his set. Now he says he has opportunities to open for Willie Nelson and to possibly play at halftime during a Miami Dolphins game. And Nashville? He's planning on moving there in the near future. Shows what talent and a little perseverence can do.

I'm going to try to keep up with my blog-surfing and bring my laptop on vacation. But I don't know what wireless capabilities exist in Yooper-land. So it might be a while before you hear from me. I'll try to keep in touch.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Old Dog, Young Dog

Doogie is sitting next to me on the floor of my basement study as I type this (I took this picture of him just now). It’s cooler down here than the mid-80 temperatures upstairs, but there’s another reason he’s staying close by. Storms. We’ve had thunderstorms since late afternoon, the first notable rain we’ve gotten in weeks.

Thunderstorms bother our dog big time. If a roof-rattler hits in the middle of the night, Doogie will stand at the head of our bed and shiver. It’s like lying in one of those vibrating beds you find in hotels, only a malfunctioning one that just shakes your head till you’re dizzy. Eventually he’ll head down to the basement where he feels safer. Smart dog. Good dog. Let us get some sleep.

I think our dog is becoming more neurotic as he ages—he’s past 15 years old now. He pants and paces often. He used to travel okay in the car on longer trips. No more. Wendy and I took Doogie up north to my parents’ cottage in northern Michigan for the long Labor Day weekend. We also took my son’s dog Simon (the rabbit killer). Fun stuff.

While Doogie paced and panted in the back seat, Simon lay still on my wife’s lap while I drove. Simon was lying peacefully, but he was really biding his time. We stopped at a chocolate factory at my request and I went in to see what they had. Mmmmm, chocolate-covered potato chips.

After I went into the store, BOOM, Simon sprang from Wendy’s lap out the open passenger’s side window. My wife immediately got out and called for him to get back in. She didn’t want to chase him as the busy highway was nearby. But the scamp wasn’t in any hurry to return and wandered towards the back of the building. Again, Wendy called for him to come, this time in her sternest voice.

I’ve heard that stern voice. I sure would come if so called. And so did Simon. Doogie stayed in the back seat, pacing and panting. Like I said, fun stuff.

Coming back from Hubbard Lake, we stopped at a rest area. Simon was resting in the backseat with Doogie. Again, he was biding his time. My wife got out first. There was a sudden commotion and I heard Wendy curse. Though I thought I heard something fall out of the car, I figured it must have been Wendy’s coffee cup or something.

Nope, it was Simon again. Somehow he had managed to spring from the backseat to the front, than out Wendy’s door just as she was closing it. It happened so fast I never even saw him. This time Wendy snagged him right away before he could trot off. Doogie was oblivious to this all apparently. Just panted and paced as usual.

My parents say that if we give our dog a little beer, he will calm down and travel better. Maybe that might slow Simon down too. But what if I get pulled over for going a little over the speed limit? And the officer smells beer, lots of it, because of our panting dogs. You think he’ll believe me when I say, “Our dogs shared a cool one before we hit the road, officer. Really.”

“Step out of the car, sir.”

Wendy and I go on vacation in another couple weeks. We’re driving all the way to the Upper Peninsula. And what’s going to make this vacation special? No dogs, not one.