Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Interlude: My Morning

The alarm went off for the 20th time and I was still in bed.
I looked at the dog, who smiled at me, and she licked me on the head.
I jumped up, showered, and got ready just as fast as I could,
Hoping the day should get better, though so far it didn’t look good.

I hopped in the car and sped off, headed to work on the beltway,
But I neglected to secure my cup, and covered my car in OJ.
Traffic was very heavy, and it took longer to get to work,
I examined myself in the mirror; looking back at me was a dork.

I had forgotten to comb my hair, and it was all a mess.
It was obvious, when I got to work, I would have to reassess.
I finally got to the office and took the lift up to floor three.
I couldn’t wait to eat breakfast, as I was really hungry.

I opened up my computer, and logged into my mail,
But before I could do anything else, I saw I was in JAIL.
My morning had not gone well; my day was not a bright star.
But then I remembered before I left, I placed my lunch on top of my car!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Coaster Summer Trip, Part 4: Cedar Point

"What kind of a trip is this?" I can hear you saying.  "It's called 'Coaster Summer', but there haven't been any roller coasters!"  All right, it's time to fix that.  Bring on the coasters!!!  Here we go...

Our next stop on our fantastic Summer vacation was Cedar Point Amusement Park, the "Roller Coaster Capital of the world", in Sandusky, Ohio.  An online search revealed that there are 17 coasters at Cedar Point (their website says 16), but after being there, we concluded that there were 14 "real" coasters (we didn't count the kiddie coasters, Jr. Gemini and Woodstock Express, though Melody rode the latter).  In alphabetical order, they include (with the ones we rode in bold):

Blue Streak
Cedar Creek Mine Ride


Iron Dragon
Magnum XL-200


Mean Streak
Millennium Force

Top Thrill Dragster

Wicked Twister*

It was a stifling hot and humid day, about the worst kind of day for someone with high blood pressure and diabetes, like me, but that didn't seem to diminish the crowds.  It was very crowded!  We decided to purchase Fastlane, which costs an extra $50, to receive a wristband that allowed us to use a shorter line to board the ride.  It proved well worth the cost throughout the day as the lines were extremely long for the best rides, which includes just about every roller coaster.

We started the day off by riding Millennium Force, and I was immediately reminded why it is my #1 favorite roller coaster when I rode ten years ago.  It is a steel "giga" coaster, and when it opened in 2000, it was the tallest and fastest in the world.  I still packs a thrill.  It climbs over 300 feet to its first drop, and it is spectacular!  The ride reaches 93 mph at its fastest.  It continues its smooth ride across the park, rising and falling as it doubles back towards the boarding station.  The speed never seems to let up as it winds its way back to where it started, and lasts 2 minutes and 20 seconds.  I think what makes it such a great ride is that it doesn't do a lot of fancy twists and turns which are so popular with more modern coasters.  It's built for a smooth, fast ride, and that's what makes it so much fun.

After Melody's ride on the Wave Swinger, one of her favorites, we rode Maverick, which is a steel launch coaster.  It features a 95 degree drop, the steepest at the park, and though it isn't the fastest or highest, it does provide a nice, fun ride.

We were starting to think about lunch and noticed they have a Chick-Fil-A at the park.  It was pretty crowded, though, so we went over to one of the older roller coasters at the park, the Cedar Creek Mine Ride, which didn't have much of a line at all.  It is 40-some odd years old, and doesn't have any spectacular drops or inversions, nor does it go very fast.  It has a steel track, with a wooden structure.  It's a nice ride, though.

We rode the antique cars, then decided to eat.  Having a name-brand restaurant at a theme park is something relatively new to me, something we noticed at Kings Dominion last month.  After we ate, we headed out to more coaster riding.

At the back of the park, there's a doozy of coaster called Mean Streak.  It's a wooden coaster that was the tallest and fastest when it was built in 1991.  It was a rough ride, but long and fun!  The wooden coasters always seem to have a rough ride, and this was no exception, but we enjoyed it a lot.

Next we rode Gemini.  Built in 1978, Gemini is a racing roller coaster with a steel track and a wooden structure.  When it was built, it was the tallest, fastest, and steepest roller coaster in the world.  We rode it twice, riding once on each side.  The blue coaster got a late start on the first time through and lost, and the second time through, the blue appeared to have the edge for most of the ride, but the orange caught and passed it on the last turn and finished first.  It's a nice, fun ride.

We went through the Peanuts themed area next and Melody wanted to try to ride the Woodstock Express.  The seats were a bit tight, so I decided not to ride.  Melody said it was okay, but nothing like the other coasters.

It was hot and we were taking a lot of water breaks.  Fortunately, the park has a lot of water fountains and rest rooms.

Our next ride was another one of the top roller coasters at the park:  Magnum XL-200!  Magnum was built in 1989.  It is a hyper coaster that was the highest and fastest in the world when it was built (sound familiar?).  It's a very fun ride, with a great first drop, lots of tunnels, and is fairly long.  Melody thought it was a bit too rough.  I like it, though.

By this time, the heat was getting to me and I needed a break.  The park has very few places with AC, and it was so hot.  We decided to get a caricature done of the two of us on a roller coaster, something we've done in the past.  The young guy who did ours was very good.  He is an art student from Virginia and very familiar with our favorite park, Busch Gardens.  He did a great job with Melody and me riding Millenium Force.

We decided to take the skyride back to the front of the park so we could take our portrait to the car, then come back in and ride a few more coasters.  The walk to the car did me in, however, and we took another long break.  We found a place that sold water and tried our best to cool down.  We rode a unique carousel that is set up as a racetrack.  It's a unique ride and goes much faster than a typical carousel.  It was much more fun that we expected.

I was feeling better, so we decided to ride a few more coasters.  Top Thrill Dragster is the feature coaster at the park, a 400' high towering spectacle.  But it kept breaking down and closing, and the line, which we didn't pay for with our Fastlane wristbands, was excessively long.  So we went to ride the Corkscrew.  Built in 1976, it is a pretty basic coaster that has a slight first drop that goes right into a loop, followed by a double corkscrew loop.  It was pretty fantastic in 1976, and had a twin that I rode about 25 years ago at Busch Gardens in Tampa (though that one is now gone).  Ironically, the coaster trains for the Tampa corkscrew are twins of the trains used for the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA, and when it was dismantled, those cars were brought to BGW as spare parts for Loch Ness.

Next, we rode Iron Dragon.  A steel-suspended coaster, this one also has a link as a twin to the Big Bad Wolf at BGW (and since dismantled), though it has a much different layout.  Nevertheless, Melody, who loved Big Bad Wold, loved Iron Dragon.

We were going to ride Mantis, one of the tallest, fastest, and steepest stand-up roller coasters, but I just wasn't up for that kind of ride.  We decided to run over to the Wicked Twister instead.  This is a unique ride.  It is a "steel inverted impulse coaster".  It shoots out of the station like a rocket, straight and true, then goes straight up while twisting around, then drops back down, shoots backwards through the station and does the same thing on the other end, then it repeats forward and backward before stopping again.  It's actually a whole lot of fun, and one I remembered vividly from ten years ago.  However, it appears that they redesigned the belt system, with the only one of its kind that I've ever seen single belt on the side of the harness system it uses.  When I tried to lock the belt, it just wouldn't close.  A ride attendant came over and tried and finally got it closed, but then said it was too tight, that I had to get off.  I said, "What???  You're kidding?!"  She said, "Nope."  And I had to get off.  Before I could tell Melody what was happening, the ride took off (with Melody on it).  After it was over, she said she enjoyed it, but she didn't know why I had to get off and was pretty scared before the ride took off.  I really had a problem with the whole situation. It's the first and only time I have ever been asked to get off a ride.  I still don't quite understand the point of the belt system.  It's the only one like it I've ever seen.  I'm a big guy, but not THAT big.

We headed over to Raptor next.  It is a steel inverted coaster, the tallest, fastest, and longest when it was built in 1994.  It was a pretty wild ride, very similar to Alpengeist at Busch Gardens.  I don't really like the inverted coasters, as they tend to be a little too "animated" for my tastes.  I never enjoy the ride, especially if you're not in the front seat, since you can't see what's coming.  You're just jerked around in every direction without knowing where you are, and I just don't like that feeling.  However, I did like it better than Alpengeist.

Next was Blue Streak, a nice, classic old wooden coaster.  It opened in 1964 and is currently the oldest running coaster at Cedar Point.  It's a nice, shaky, wild ride typical of an old wooden coaster.

We really wanted to ride the newest coaster, GateKeeper.  The lines were ridiculous all day long, and wasn't included in our Fastlane price.  It is a steel wing coaster, whatever that means.  It looked pretty cool.

It was dark by this time, and we were hungry for dinner.  We ate at the diner at the center of the park and had a couple of good burgers.  Then we went to Millennium Force for one more ride.  The line was long, but with Fastlane, we got to the boarding area in about 20 minutes.  The ride was awesome in the cooler night air, and was a fitting way to end the day.

We headed for the exit, stopping off for a couple of souvenirs before leaving the park for the day.  All in all, Cedar Point had some really awesome coasters, and we had a great day.  It was hot and crowded, not my favorite combination, but we made the best of it and it was memorable.

To be continued....

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Coaster Summer Trip, Part 3: Route 66

G-Fest was over for another year, and we hit the road for our next destination.  I had wanted my daughter to experience at least a little bit of Route 66, which has its genesis in Chicago, but rather than take the time to drive all the way downtown, we decided to hit a few of the highlights of the route.

We stopped at Del Rhea's Chicken Basket, a genuine Route 66 Roadside Attraction, in Willowbrook, IL.  "The Chicken Basket was established in 1946, born out of a gas station next door that sold fried chicken.  It was a Blue Bird bus stop as well as a restaurant and used to have ice skaters on the roof to attract Route 66 travelers.  It became Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket in 1963 when the Rhea family took over and has continuously operated as a restaurant and bar since it opened in 1946."  It has been a long time since I had fried chicken.  Fortunately, they had a boneless chicken breast on the menu.  That's what I ordered, and it came with mashed potatoes with gravy and corn-on-the-cob.  Melody had chicken nuggets.  It was so good!  The chicken was tender and juicy, and the flavor was unique, slightly spicy and light.  For dessert, the very friendly waitress suggested we try the donut holes.  Oh, were they good!  They were very light, though fried, sprinkled with powdered sugar.  They came in a batch of a dozen, though we could only eat two each.  We took the rest with us.

We continued down Route 66 to a museum, but it was closed.  We couldn't tell if it was closed because it was Sunday, or whether it was closed permanently.  Unfortunately, it was now getting late in the afternoon, and our goal was to reach Sandusky, OH, by night fall.  That wasn't going to happen now.  It would be quite late before we reached our destination, and we rolled in to Sandusky at 11:45 p.m.  However, we were able to make a slight detour into Michigan for a few miles to add to Melody's state tally, which is now at 29 states!

The next morning, we jumped into Coaster Summer with both feet, as we went to the world capital of roller coasters, Cedar Point Amusement Park.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Coaster Summer Trip, Part 2: G-Fest XX

"What is G-Fest?" you're probably asking.  According to G-Fan magazine, which sponsors G-Fest:  "G-Fest is the largest regular gathering of Godzilla and Japanese monster fans in the world.  Held each summer, it attracts almost 2000 Japanese science fiction and fantasy film fans.  G-Fest is a family-oriented convention which caters to a wide variety of interests within the kaiju (giant monsters) genre.  G-Fest features presentations and Q & A sessions by actors and crew from the Japanese Godzilla films, fan presentations on topics of interest, contests and gaming, new and classic kaiju movies, the western world's largest kaiju-oriented dealers room, and lots of fun and camaraderie."

G-Fest XX was held at the Crowne Plaza in Rosemont, IL, on July 12-14, 2013.  My daughter and I attended the convention during our Coaster Summer Trip.  This was Melody's fourth year at the convention, and my seventh.  We had a blast!  Among this year's celebrities were J.D. Lees (Publisher of G-Fan Magazine); Robert Scott Field (actor in Japan); Shinichi Wakasa (monster suit maker); Tsutomu Kitagawa (monster suit actor); Cleve Hall (monster suit maker/actor and star of MONSTER MAN on the SyFy Network); and Frank Woodward (director of the documentary, MEN IN SUITS).  We were fortunate to meet all of these individuals and get autographs, as well.

We awoke early on Saturday morning and had breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  It was very good, but very expensive!  We tried to get in to a modeling session for Melody to be able to paint her own Godzilla, but the session was filled.  Instead, we went to a screening of the documentary MEN IN SUITS.  After an introduction by the director, Frank Woodward, we watched the very interesting movie.  It featured interviews with many suit actors in a variety of movies and shows, including some fifties sci-fi movies, modern sci-fi movies, the Muppets, Sid & Marty Krofft, and many more.  We bought the DVD (Mr. Woodward autographed it for us) and a couple of t-shirts, then went to another fun session:  a feature-length Godzilla fan film, WOLFMAN VS. GODZILLA.  The director, who once worked at Toho Studios in Japan, brought 20 minutes of highlights from the film, and it was quite well done.

After lunch and a short break, we went back out and got autographs from all of the guests, then we got some souvenirs and went to dinner at the hotel restaurant.  Dinner was actually cheaper than breakfast!  Then we grabbed front row seats for the big evening program.  We saw the movie by Dojo Studios that we participated in the filming of from last year's convention.  Our big scene, walking across a courtyard, was cut-out of the final film, but we did appear in the running scene twice, though we had to later use the pause button in order to make ourselves out.  This was followed by the highlight of the show:  the costume contest!  There were MANY participants, and some were quite good.  Lots of kids were in costumes, as well.  It was a great time!

We went back to our rooms and crashed, but were up at 8 the next morning.  We got ready and packed up quite a bit.  Then we went to breakfast at our favorite Denny's.  Back at the hotel, we got the rest of our stuff and checked out.  Then we went back to the dealer's room for last-minute souvenirs.  I decided to get a 12-minute "Monster Massage" on my shoulders, neck, and back, which was very nice.  Then we said goodbye to G-Fest XX.  It was a great time, as usual, and it felt particularly good to see so many familiar faces.  We're looking forward to next year's convention!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Stealing My Grief

This post started out as another part of my trip report from our Coaster Summer.  Instead, though, I was reminded tonight of my wife, who passed away nine years ago, and continues to play a major role in my life.  And my grief still hurts.

I was watching FALLING SKIES earlier this evening.  It's a science fiction series that airs on TNT on Sunday nights dealing with an alien invasion on Earth in the near future, with surviving humans fighting the aliens for survival.  It focuses on Tom Mason, played by Noah Wylie, who lost his wife in the initial invasion, and fights against the aliens alongside his three sons and others.  In the most recent episode, he is having a flashback of his life before the alien invasion, and when he finds out he's still in the future and the events of the invasion have occurred, he struggles with remembering his wife and the life he had.  As I watched this, I was overwhelmed.  This happens every once in awhile, usually when I least expect it, and other times when you might expect it, like now.  And it hurts.

My wife's death was sudden, occurring during a walk with our infant daughter, when she collapsed without any warning from a major heart attack.  Though we had said, "I love you," during our walk, I didn't get the chance to say goodbye.  We had been married for less than five years, and our daughter was only five months old.  I've struggled with depression and grief, off and on, during the time since her death, and am currently dealing with a bout of depression.  I've never gotten professional health, except in conversations with pastor friends, but I recognize that I may need to go down that road to pull me through this.  I just hate how this makes me feel.

Depression is such a debilitating illness.  I've watched it affect so many others in my extended family.  When I'm in the midst of a full-blown case, I don't want to do anything.  I'm overwhelmed by everything.  It's all I can do just to get out of bed in the morning.  And even though I have everything in life I could ask for, and God has blessed me so much, I can't shake this oppressive feeling that comes over me and causes me to feel so rotten.  It hurts that my daughter has to go through her life without a mother.  And she has this father who just can't get past this feeling of being overwhelmed.

I'm not looking for sympathy.  In fact, that's the last thing I could want.  There are friends who I won't mention by name who feel like they need to say how sorry they are every time we pass a significant date.  July 24 was our wedding anniversary, and I received two messages from friends who just had to mention it, and it bothered me.  On the anniversary of her death, another friend posted on Facebook how much she missed my wife, and how much it hurt, and how bad she felt for me, and it hurt me that she felt that way.  I wanted the grief to myself and hated that she posted how much it hurt her, when it was MY wife who died, MY best friend who was taken from me.  I realize how selfish that sounds, but that's what depression has done to me.

I loved my wife like I've never loved anyone else.  Our marriage relationship was Christ-centered, and was an almost storybook-like affair.  My marriage was such a wonderful experience that I can't help but want to find another relationship like it.  I have had serious relationships since her death, but they have not been the same.  Nor should they be, really.  Every relationship should be judged on its own, not being compared to others.  I just know that God ultimately will guide me.

I realize that this is a very selfish post for me to write, and though I usually write with an audience in mind, this post is very much for myself.  So I apologize to you, the readers, and I don't blame you for skipping this post completely.  I'm hurting, particularly tonight, and feel like I just need to get this out of my system.

I'm so thankful for my life.  I live only to serve God's will, and to care for my wonderful daughter.  I only want what's best for her, and I pray that God will bring me out of this depressed mess my mind has become.  Your prayers are welcome.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Yes Live and In Concert

We went to our second concert in three days at the Warner Theater last night.  We saw the Monkees on Sunday night, then we saw Yes last night, and they were as awesome as always.  Yes has always exemplified musicianship and incredible music, and they did not disappoint!  Yes features Steve Howe on guitar, Chris Squire on bass, Alan White on drums, Geoff Downs on keyboards, and Jon Davison on vocals.  Yes's music has been termed as progressive rock, and sometimes "art" rock.  It is a very seriously played style of music, with complicated melodies requiring incredible musicianship, and extended solos by the musicians.  Their songs can be up to 15 to 20 minutes long, and some feature multiple movements.  They really are unlike any other band.

Their concert was different this year, as well, since, instead of playing just a bunch of their most popular hits, as they did last August, they instead played three entire albums of their music.  The albums were THE YES ALBUM, CLOSE TO THE EDGE, and GOING FOR THE ONE, which were released in the early and mid seventies.  They were arguably some of their best albums, as well, and featured many of their favorite songs.  Unfortunately, my opinion is that there were too many songs that I didn't care for, but it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the show.  My daughter, who became a Yes fan due to "forced exposure" to their music, also didn't enjoy it as much as she did the Monkees show, but she came away happy.

Yes started the show with CLOSE TO THE EDGE, and the title song was first on the set list.  It also was the longest song of the night, clocking out at almost 20 minutes, and is one of my least favorites.  To say the band started off with a bang was definitely not true.  "And You And I" is a good song, and feature great vocals by Jon Davison, who ably channels Yes's original and distinctive original singer, Jon Anderson, who "retired" from the group a few years ago.  "Siberian Khatru" followed; this song is a rockin' favorite of mine, and the guitar playing of Steve Howe is particularly good.  My only complaint, and this was the case on several of their songs, is that it felt like the songs were dragging slightly, which I believe can be attributed to the age of the band's members (aside from Davison).  I can only imagine that some of the difficult passages of their music are harder to play as they've gotten older, and can't be played as quickly as they were originally.  This is just speculation on my part, though.

The next album for the night was GOING FOR THE ONE, which came out in 1977, I believe, and had a slightly more "modern" sound to my ears.  The title song is a real rocker, with some awesome slide guitar work by Howe.  Next was "Turn of the Century", which was much better than I remembered.  "Parallels" was my favorite song of the night, with a nice mix of guitar and keyboards, and a prominent bass line by Squire.  Davison's vocals duplicated Anderson's perfectly.  Next was "Awaken", which is Yes's best song.  It features some outstanding keyboard playing by Geoffrey Downes, which is not easy given the complexities of the song as played by the original keyboard player, Rick Wakeman, who at the time was one of the best in the world.  "Awaken" was Jon Anderson's favorite, and with the mix of the instruments, it truly is an incredible song.  It also features Chris Squire's "Frankenstein" 3-necked bass, which has to be seen to be believed!

After the intermission, Yes played THE YES ALBUM.  This one seemed the most dated, and was the oldest album of the night.  While the songs are considered some of their best, it also had a few that I just don't care for.  "Yours Is No Disgrace" has been a concert mainstay for a while and is probably the most exciting.  "Clap" is a solo Steve Howe piece and really shows his talents on the guitar.  "Starship Trooper" is another fan favorite, and the band showed why.  The solos were great, and at one point, it seemed like Squire was trying to blow out the speakers.  "I've Seen All Good People" is a radio hit and brought the crowd to their feet.  My daughter knows the words and enjoyed singing along.  Next was another I wasn't as familiar with, "A Venture", but I greatly enjoyed it.  Last was "Perpetual Change", which seemed like an odd song to finish the concert with.  It is not one of my favorites, and it isn't the type of song to bring an audience to its feet, as you might expect.  The band was cheered greatly, though, and went off the stage to a standing ovation.  They returned for the requisite encore and performed one of their best and greatest hits, "Roundabout", to end the night.  It was an appropriate song to end the concert with.

We left feeling very satisfied with the show.  Yes is showing their age, but with Jon Davison, who appears to be younger than me, providing so much energy, the band should be in good shape for many years to come.  The only other note I'll make is that, for whatever reason, the sound system did not provide a nice blend of the instruments.  In fact, it sounded like everything was "turned up" a little too loudly.  In particular, Squire's bass seemed to overpower the other instruments for much of the night.  Notably absent was the playing of drummer Alan White.  While the other instruments seemingly too loud, White's drums were almost too quiet.  We went to the Yes concert last August, also at the Warner Theater, and had a much different experience.  We were down low and closer to the stage last August, while we were in the balcony for last night's show.  It was still great, however.

Long live Yes!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Coaster Summer Trip, Part 1

I picked up my daughter from Grace Adventures Day Camp earlier than usual so that we could hit the road and begin our big summer trip.  Unfortunately, she needed to get a few things back at our house first, so we backtracked, she got what she wanted, and we headed west.

Our first stop was at the Park 'N' Dine in Hancock, MD, an old family favorite.  The Freeds have been stopping here for almost 50 years, with the restaurant the unofficial half-way point between home and "home" (our Maryland home and our Pennsylvania "home").  Dad and his family in PA made the run between the DC area and Uniontown almost every weekend for many of those years.  The Park 'N' Dine is an old diner that has expanded into a fairly large restaurant that serves diner comfort food.  I ordered my favorite, the open face hot turkey sandwich, with stuffing and fries and gravy over everything.  Melody got a hamburger, her recent favorite dinner item.  After eating, she asked if she could have another burger.  Rather than wait, I told her we would stop at Hardee's up the street and get her one there, and that's what we did.  Another stop for coffee and we were off again.

We continued west on I-68 through western Maryland, then jumped on US 40, the National Road, at Keyser's Ridge, and into the Laurel Highlands.  We arrived in Uniontown to all of the familiar sites, but continued on to PA 43.  It was now complete between Uniontown and Brownsville, and we took it up to I-70.  It began to get dark as we headed west out of Pennsylvania and into the northern handle of West Virginia.  We stopped at a rest area for a little break, and I made a hotel reservation for the night in Zanesville, OH, about an hour west.  Unfortunately, we hit stopped traffic.  I turned on our CB to listen to the truckers, who always seem to know what's going on, and we were able to decipher that there was a construction zone about a mile ahead, and traffic cleared out from there.  That's exactly what happened, and we were free and clear all the way to Zanesville.

I have a love-hate relationship with Econo-Lodges.  They always have great rates, but there's always something about them that doesn't work out, and that is where we were staying for the night.  We arrived at midnight, quickly checked in with the overly friendly clerk and his boss, a jolly Indian woman who offered us a couple of cold bottles of water.  We went to our room, got ready for bed, and were about to go to bed when we experienced our first hurdle.  No water.  I went to the front desk and they assured me they didn't know why the water company had turned off the water.  In the meantime, they handed me a half-dozen more bottles of water with assurances they would figure out what was wrong.  I went back to our room and we went to sleep.  I awoke at around 4 a.m. and decided to check the water.  It worked!  But it was brown!  Definitely a broken water main, but at least we had water.  After letting it run for a bit, it cleared up.  I slept for a few more hours, and then we got ready and packed up.  We decided not to eat breakfast at the hotel, and we went to Bob Evans before hitting the road.

It was a long drive.  I had decided to avoid the turnpikes and take the southern route, which would include the Lincoln Highway.  That was fine, but the actual Lincoln Highway was mostly a small 2-lane that would double our time on the road.  Most of what we would be taking was a bypass paralleling the Lincoln with nothing to see.  This was farm country.  There was nothing to see.  After crossing Ohio and Indiana, we entered into the Chicago suburbs.  Traffic immediately got worse.  But our route took us up one of the toll roads that seemed to bypass much of the out-going traffic, and we got to the Crown Plaza in Rosemont, IL, by 6:00.  We quickly checked in and unpacked.  The Crown Plaza, which we had stayed at three times previously, was great, as usual.  We went downstairs to the lobby and got our credentials for G-Fest XX!  We scouted out the dealers room to check out the merchandise, then we went out to get dinner.

Our meal was one that had impressed me the year before:  Giordano's Chicago-style deep-dish stuffed pizza!  Oh, was it great!  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, it could possibly be the best pizza I've ever had.  After making little dent in the pizza, we took our leftovers back to the hotel and we crashed for the night.

To be continued...

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Monkees Live And In Concert!

So much to talk about!  No sooner had my wonderful traveling companion and daughter, Melody, arrived at home than we went right back out on Sunday night to see The Monkees performing live in concert at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC.  It was such a great show, despite the absence of Davey Jones, who passed away about a year and a half ago.  Michael Nesmith had returned to perform with the surviving Monkees for a tour beginning last year, and this was a continuation of there reunion.  Joining Mike were Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork.

The Monkees performed all of their hit songs, and included great classic video footage from their TV show, from their movie, HEAD, and other TV appearances, on a big screen during their songs.  It was great to see when the Monkees were in their prime.  The trio had a full band backing them, including Micky's sister, Coco, on backing vocals, and Mike's son, Christian, who favors him quite a bit, on guitar.

There were plenty of comedy bits between the three stars, mostly rehashing old jokes from their TV show, and making fun of their ages.  There were many highlights, but one of the best was the performance of "Daydream Believer", one of Davey Jones hits, and the Monkees decision to not sing the words, since the song belonged to "all of us", and instead bring a fan up on stage to sing it.  The young lady did an okay job, and at least she knew all of the words.

Another great bit was during the performance of "Daily Nightly", a neat tune written by Mike, which originally featured the very first Moog Synthesizer ever used.  Micky, who sang the song and played the Moog on the original recording, made a big production before the began the song about how Mike had promised to supply a Moog for Micky to play for this show.  Mike said he had tried to find one, but had a lot of trouble since there aren't any around anymore, and that because of their large size, most were converted into cars and other machinery.  But he assured Micky that he had his back, to go ahead and sing it.  They began the song and, sure enough, during the Moog parts, Mike began imitating the goofy sounds that the Moog was capable of making, much to Micky's chagrin.  It was much funnier than I'm able to explain.

One of my favorites was a rousing performance of "Goin' Down", with Micky doing his best James Brown.  The song is so different from many of the Monkee's pop hits, featuring a jazzy walking bass line and fine sax solos.  The show also featured a lot of songs from the movie soundtrack from HEAD, including Micky's singing on "Porpoise Song" and "As We Go Along", which is in 5/4 time, as well as a rockin' "Circle Sky", a Mike Nesmith penned favorite.  The Monkees finished the show with "Listen To The Band", which was Mike's last big contribution to the act back in the 60s, and then an encore featuring the fan favorite, "Pleasant Valley Sunday".

Melody and I really enjoyed the show, more than the performance we saw at Wolf Trap in June, 2011, which was during Davey Jones last tour with the group before his death.  Though Davey brought more showmanship to the Monkees, Mike Nesmith's contributions included many more great songs, and it was great to hear them performed live.

These guys aren't getting any younger, so I would recommend seeing them while you can.  Who's to say how much longer they'll be performing together as the Monkees?

Have a great evening, everyone!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Last Coaster of Vacation

We rode the last roller coaster of our big coaster summer vacation, earlier this evening:  the Comet at Hersheypark!  Our next stop will be home later today.  What a grand and glorious trip this was, which took us from Maryland to Chicago to Sandusky to Cleveland to Pittsburgh to Uniontown to Hershey and back to Maryland!  Lots of trip reports, coaster reviews, and restaurant write ups to come over the next week.  Until then, have a great night, everyone!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sweet Home Chicago....and Pizza!

Posts will be few and far between over the next week because we are on our big road trip -- Coaster Summer!

We are in Chicago enjoying G-Fest XX, the largest gathering of fans of Japan's giant monster movies in North America. I'll share more about the program in a future post. It's a lot of fun!

We went to dinner at Giordano's last night.  I'm not kidding when I say they have the best pizza I've ever had.  It's a deep-dish stuffed pie filled with your choice of toppings layered with cheese and sauce with gooey dough and a nicely toasted crispy crust. Incredibly delicious!

Much more to come! I'll post periodic updates, followed by a full trip report when we arrive home.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Non-Green Thumb

I've been putting it off for a while, but I decided to do some yard work/gardening. While it's nice to have a good looking yard, that's not why I do it.  My motivation comes mainly from our homeowners association, which does annual reviews of everyone's property to make sure everything is "up to code" and looks nice.  It keeps people from allowing their houses and yards to look bad.  After looking over the yard, I decided I needed to mow the lawn, trim the bushes, add mulch, weed, and rake a few miscellaneous leaves.

I hate yard work.  My thumbs are definitely not green.  I don't have any plants in my house because they wouldn't live very long.  I finished all of the work I had to do this afternoon, and now I'm feeling it.  I obviously am not in very good shape.  My back is sore, my shoulder aches, and I am tired all over.  It's times like this that I wish I knew someone who could give me a massage.  I've been tempted to go see a professional, but I'm just not comfortable with the whole thing.  I know it would do me a world of good, given my stress level, but I wouldn't know where to begin.

I've also been tempted to try acupuncture for my shoulder.  It hasn't been the same since I broke it in my fall a few years ago.  (You can read about it here:  http://www.awayfromthethingsofman.com/2013/03/our-faithful-pup-scout.html)  I'm curious as to whether it's real or bunk, but I'm intrigued by acupuncture either way.

I hate that I can't keep my cars clean.  I used to be obsessed with cleaning my cars, and they look so good when their all shined up.  But my parking spaces in front of my house are partially covered by a very large tree that is on common area property, and it's a crab apple tree, to boot.  The birds come to roost every evening and by morning my cars are covered with their messes.  In addition, when the crab apples become ripe, the birds love to eat them and the messes are even worse.  When the crab apples become overly ripe, the birds knock them down and they smash onto my cars.  I've gotten to the point where it's just worthless to try to keep my cars clean since they're just going to get dirty again the next day.

So I'm on my way to bed, much later than planned, which causes me to be too tired in the morning.  I've got to get to bed earlier.

Hope you're all getting lots of rest.  Have a great night, everybody!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Coaster Summer Continues

My daughter and I are soon to depart on what we are calling Coaster Summer.  Our love of roller coasters has led us to search out and ride all coasters we come across, and we've ridden quite a few since my girl was old enough and tall enough to ride them.

The first coaster we ever rode together was the Vapor Trail as Sesame Place, a Sesame Street-themed park located just north of Philadelphia, PA.  This steel coaster was a step up from the standard "kiddie coaster" and provided a nice bit of thrills.  From there, we moved to Knoebel's, in Elysburg, PA, a neat old time amusement park, home to a pair of wooden roller coasters.  The Twister was just as its name implies and contained numerous twists and turns.  I was really surprised Melody wanted to ride it, but she loved it so much, we rode it three more time.  The Phoenix ended up being a bit of a let down, and was nowhere near as thrilling as the Twister.  But my girl was officially hooked!

Busch Gardens, our favorite park, contained the first "big" steel coasters Melody had ever been on, beginning with the Loch Ness Monster, a double-looping coaster that has become one of our all-time favorites.  The Big Bad Wolf was another favorite, but it was gone within two years of her first ride on it, and was dismantled to make way for a new coaster.

Other parks with roller coasters we've ridden include Kings Dominion, Ashland, VA; Dutch Wonderland, in Lancaster, PA; Idlewild, in Ligonier, PA; Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, TN; Busch Gardens, Tampa, FL; Legoland, Winter Haven, FL; SeaWorld, Orlando, FL; and Coney Island's The Cyclone.

The next round of Coaster Summer will include stops at Cedar Point, in Sandusky, OH; Kennywood, in Pittsburgh, PA; and Hershey Park, Hershey, PA.  Combined, the three parks contain 34 coasters!  We hope to ride them all.

Good night, everybody!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Reminiscing About Disney World

I found myself reminiscing today about a time when my daughter was much younger and smaller and I took her to Disney World!  The whole family, including my parents, my in-laws, Aunt Jody, and Melody & me spent several days at the Magic Kingdom and we had a blast!

We went in January thinking the park wouldn't be too crowded.  We were wrong, but it was certainly better than being there in the Summer.  The weather was a bit rainy and warm the first day, and the following day ended up being clear and cold, so there was no consistency.  But the highlight of the trip was having lunch with the Disney princesses!  Melody was in awe as she got the chance to meet all of her favorites, including...

Melody & Belle...

Melody & Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)...

Melody & Jasmine...

Melody & Cinderella...

Melody & Ariel (The Little Mermaid)...

Of course, the highlight for me was meeting Minnie Mouse....

(...and she apparently had the hots for me!  The young lady in the costume asked for date! :-) )

And my idol, Goofy...

Everyone should make a trip to Disney World sometime in their life, except during summer when the crowds are outrageous and Summer weather is horrendous!  Even if one gets a free trip and gets to abandon all of their responsibilities for almost a week!  (You know who you are!)

Have a great night, everyone!