Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Big Road Trip, Part 4: The Field of Dreams

We left G-Fest XXIII, and the Crowne Plaza O'Hare in Rosemont, IL, at 2:20 pm, and worked our way through a maze of highways and roadwork to I-90 west.  After some pleading and arm twisting by my wonderful daughter, Melody, I agreed to make another stop at Mitsuwa Market in Arlington Heights, to get her another Bubble Tea.  She is addicted.

The highway was not very scenic, and the on and off again rain was disappointing, but after passing Rockford and entering western Illinois, the sun came out and the drive became gorgeous!  We stopped at a scenic rest area near Galena and grabbed a few pics.  We also visited with a nice couple from Iowa who had been traveling all over the country on a motorcycle.  We told them about our road trip and asked for recommendations for places to see in Memphis, where the wife used to live.

We continued west and stopped in Galena after seeing signs for President U.S. Grant's home.  Grant had lived in Galena just prior to the Civil War, and returned to a hero's welcome after, receiving the house as a gift from the town.  It was just a few years later that he was elected President, and he spent very little time in Galena.  We arrived too late in the day to visit the house, but we walked around the grounds and took some pictures.

We soon reached the Mississippi River, and we crossed over into Iowa for the first time.  Dubuque was a really nice town, and we found Iowa to be more scenic  than we imagined.  We continued west towards Davenport, heading towards the legendary Field of Dreams movie site.  The GPS took us on an unexpected drive that ended up being more direct than what I had mapped out, but ended up being on dirt roads that stretched forever through corn fields and farm land.

After cresting a small rise, the road went back to asphalt, and there it was:  The Field of Dreams!

There were a couple of guys on motorcycles pulling out of the long driveway to the house as we pulled up, and there was one lone car in the gravel parking lot.  We pulled in and it became clear that the site was closed for the evening.  We parked and quickly took some pictures.  It was so quiet!  You could actually hear the corn swaying in the slight breeze that was blowing.  While Melody really had no reference, since she hadn't seen the movie, I was in awe to be there.  FIELD OF DREAMS is an incredibly impactful movie, and it was just so cool to be there.

We hopped back in the Jeep and headed out.  We didn't disturb anything while there, since I was nervous about being there after their posted hours, and back at the main road, I checked the GPS to see if there was a place we could stop to eat.  We had been driving for 200 miles, and while we vowed to avoid fast food, we wanted to get down the road as far as we could and that meant a quick stop.  We found a Hardees right in Dyersville, and stopped to eat.

We ate quickly and I figured out how far I wanted to drive, knowing how far we had to go tomorrow without wearing ourselves out tonight.  I made a reservation at the Sleep Inn in Charles City, Iowa, figuring another 100 miles or so would allow us to stop by 10 pm or so.

We walked out of the Hardees and saw a sight that haunted us for the remainder of the trip.  It was a lapse of judgment that would never be repeated, but never forgotten.  And it was only through God's grace that it wasn't worse than it was, or could have been, which is either a statement on the town and people of the area we were in, in the heart of America, or God was really looking out for us.  Or it was a combination of both.  And we agreed then and there and that we would never tell a soul what it was that happened.  So there.  That's the end of it.

We jumped back on the highway, watched an amazing sunset, and just kept thanking God for the incredible trip we were on.  US 20 turned into I-380, and we turned northwest near Waterloo onto US 218 all the way to Charles City.  The Sleep Inn was very nice, as was the staff, and we quickly settled in to sleep.  Our mileage for the day was 311.9, and we were at 1112.1 miles for the trip.

To be continued...

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Big Road Trip, Part 3: G-Fest XXIII

G-Fest XXIII, Chicago (Rosemont), Illinois.  G-Fest is the largest regular gathering of Godzilla and Japanese monster fans in the world.  It's a family-oriented convention featuring presentations by fans and actors and crew from Japanese Godzilla films, including topics of interest, contests and gaming, new and classic kaiju  movies, a dealers room, and lots of fun. 

After arriving on Friday and attending the opening ceremonies, introducing all of the guests, daughter Melody and I crashed for the night.  We were excited to be at G-Fest, and we were looking forward to the beginning of our big road trip.

The Crowne Plaza Hotel O'Hare, in Rosemont, is a wonderful venue.  The rooms are very nice, and the views from the higher floors are actually kind of cool, as planes on final approach to O'Hare airport fly right by the windows (and they are appropriately soundproofed, too.  During G-Fest, the hotel airs rare TV shows and movies with a Japanese monster (kaiju)/sci-fi theme on the in-house TV channel, so during our downtime, we enjoyed watching some of the programs we wouldn't have a chance to see otherwise.  The hotel is fairly large, able to handle the needs of the convention (except for the long wait for the elevators), and we like that the convention has a home that we've become comfortable with.

I woke up early on Saturday morning.  I went down to the main level and got some breakfast stuff for us, returning to our room to eat.  I allowed Melody to sleep in, and I went down in time for one of the early sessions with Akira Takarada, star of the original GOJIRA (Godzilla).  Takarada is every bit the big star, and hearing his stories of his time on the sets of movies and working with other actors and directors in Japan, is just so interesting.  I particularly enjoyed his stories about Nick Adams, an American actor who starred with him in INVASION OF THE ASTRO MONSTER (aka, MONSTER ZERO) in the 60s.  He was interviewed by JD Lees, the publisher of G-FAN Magazine, and the organizer of the convention, and was translated by Robert Scott Field, an actor who played professional baseball in Japan and learned the language and lives there now, and is a popular guest at G-Fest every year.

After an hour with Takarada, the next session was with Bin Furuya, the suit-actor who played the original Ultraman, and acted in many other kaiju movies and TV shows.  ULTRAMAN was one of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid growing up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, back in 70s.  I watched the show on Channel 20, which had a wonderful lineup of shows for kids each weekday afternoon, hosted by Captain 20 (Dick Dyszel).  I loved hearing Furuya's stories about the show, and the show he actually acted on (instead of being a suit-actor), ULTRASEVEN.  August Ragone, author of the wonderful book, "Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters," interviewed Furuya, and Field again translated.

Melody joined me during the session with Furuya, and after it ended, we went to the Dealers Room, which has so much great stuff for sale.  Melody got a few t-shirts, and we enjoyed browsing through the merchandise.  We then walked around the convention to see the sites, including the wonderful model and art gallery.

We then went to another session, this time with the wonderful actress, Hiroko Sakurai, who starred in ULTRAMAN, and also its predecessor, ULTRA Q.  This was her first trip to the US, so it was great to see her excitement and humbleness on display as she met with her fans.

We lunched on some leftover Giordano's, then went to see a session with Tony Isabella, prolific writer and comic book historian, as well as the founder of the First Church of Godzilla (see Facebook).  He shared a nice history and slide show about monster kaiju in the comics, and I loved hearing about his love of monster movies.  I've long wanted to see him at a G-Fest, so this was pretty cool.

We went on a drive to one of our favorite places when we come to G-Fest, Mitsuwa Market, in Arlington Heights, where we got some goodies and some Japanese carry-out for dinner.  Melody got some Bubble Tea for the first time, and thus began a new addiction...

Back at the Crowne Plaza, we ate, then went to the Main Event of every G-Fest:  The costume parade.  We got some good seats since we arrived early, and we watched the Final G-Pardy, a trivia game in the same format as the Jeopardy TV game show.  Following that, there were raffle drawings for some neat prizes, with proceeds going to "G-Fans Helping G-Fans," which helps needy folks in the G-Fan family.

This year's costumes were very good, and the parade lasted more than an hour.  There are simple costumes, and some that are very elaborate, and all are inspired by Japanese Kaiju movies and TV shows.  The participants vary in age from young toddlers to the most "experienced" folks in fandom.  It's a fun party, and one of the highlights of every G-Fest.

Following the festivities, we headed back to our room to watch movies on the in-house channel and rest.  Sunday morning, we got room service for breakfast, which was really great, probably our best meal of the trip so far (and definitely our most expensive!).

We checked out after getting ready, then we spent the rest of the morning wandering around the convention and making some last purchases at the dealers room, including meeting "Big In Japan" author Timothy Price, and artist Alan Barnes.  We shared with Timothy that we were taking a big cross-country road trip, and we chatted about our mutual love of roller coasters.

We ate lunch at the hotel's restaurant (the Front Desk gave us a voucher for a free meal when the hotel staff forgot to pick up our room service request for a Saturday breakfast late Friday night), then we hit the road.

It was another fantastic G-Fest!  I feel like we missed out on a lot of stuff this time, given how late we arrived on Friday, and then hitting the road on Sunday afternoon.  But this was one of the best G-Fests with so many wonderful guests, and the sessions were as enjoyable as ever.  But we were also excited to be hitting the road to continue our trip.

Have a great day, everyone!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Big Road Trip, Part 2

The biggest problem with traveling on the road with a teenage daughter is her propensity to crave sleep above the adventure of travel.  I'm the type of person that wants to be on the road at sun-up, but... Let's just say it became a challenge for both of us as the trip wore on.

Day 2 of our trip would take us to our first and only destination:  Chicago, IL, for G-Fest XXIII.  G-Fest is the largest regular gathering of Godzilla and Japanese monster fans in the world.  It's a family-oriented convention featuring presentations by fans and actors and crew from Japanese Godzilla films, including topics of interest, contests and gaming, new and classic kaiju  movies, a dealers room, and lots of fun.  My daughter and I have been going for about 5 years now, and I went to several of the first G-Fests back in the 90s.  It's held each year in mid-July at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare, in Rosemont, IL.

Making the trip to Chicago each year means trying to vary the route a little bit so that is doesn't get old, because it tends to get old.  We've flown, taken the train, and driven the turnpikes.  This time, I decided to take the "southern" route across Ohio and Indiana, and then drive north into Chicagoland.  We left our hotel at 7:35 a.m. and headed west on I-70.  It wasn't long before we hit the mother of all traffic jams.  There was an accident just east of Columbus, OH, and traffic came to a standstill.

The cell phone is a masterful tool, and has changed the face of travel.  With this little device, we can check our route and traffic issues on the spot, find restaurants and pit stops along the way, including making reservations at hotels, and find every roadside attraction in existence, as well as stay in touch with our friends and family through online social media.  Oh, yeah... we can also call and talk to people with it!

Upon hitting this traffic jam, we found out that there was an accident ahead that had completely shut down the interstate.  We quickly found a detour around the incident, and we were able to continue on with a minimal delay.  Just east of Indianapolis, we stopped for gas, ran into a Wal-mart for a few needed supplies, and then had lunch at a Cracker Barrel.  We were back on the road at 1 p.m. and headed towards Chicago.

Unfortunately, it was rush hour on a Friday afternoon.  Traffic was really bad.  We criss-crossed our way through the Chicago suburbs, sticking with highways instead of surface roads, and hitting pockets of stop and go traffic all the way to Rosemont.  We arrived at about 4:30.  Given the itinerary of G-Fest and not wanting to miss any of the afternoon sessions, we decided to go eat dinner first.  As is customary, that meant a stop at the nearby Giordano's, which is some of the best stuffed deep dish pizza I've ever had (yes, even better than Uno's and Lou Malnati's).  We weren't disappointed.

After a delicious meal, we headed over to the Crowne Plaza, checked in, and made our way to the intro session for G-Fest XXIII!  It was fantastic seeing so many big stars from some of my favorite Japanese monster shows and movies, and I received personal greetings from Akira Takarada, Bin Furuya, and Hiroko Sakurai, as they passed us after the session.

We were really excited to be back at G-Fest, and, exhausted from the 463 mile drive, we decided to crash for the night back in our room.

To be continued...

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Big Road Trip, Part 1

It was July 14, 2016.  We were planning to hit the road at around lunch time, but my boss found it necessary to keep me around the office well past noon.  By the time I finished taking care of the things that my boss needed me to do, it was 3 p.m.  I quickly said my goodbyes, wrapped up the office chores, and headed towards home.  I picked up my daughter from the church day camp, and we rushed home to load up our Jeep.  The only good thing all day to that point was that we had packed everything the day before, so it was just a matter of moving it all from our living room and into the back of the Jeep.

At 4:30 p.m., I locked the front door and we pulled out of our neighborhood.  I felt the stress drip away off of my body, and I felt really good for the first time all day.  Daughter Melody said a prayer asking for God's safe hands around us as we traveled, and for good health and happiness along the way.  We were beginning our cross-country adventure, our biggest road trip ever.

We headed out Route 32, dodging traffic and hoping any delays would be short.  Heading west on Interstate 70, we hit a fairly major jam through Frederick, and then stop-and-go traffic all the way to Hagerstown.  Things cleared out and we were at speed to Hancock, where we stopped for dinner.  The Park N' Dine was a favorite of my family's since long before I was born.  Hancock was the halfway point for us when we traveled from home to my grandparent's house in little Hopwood, PA, where my father had grown up from the age of 10 to when he left home after high school to get a Federal Government job at 18.  When we visited my grandparents, we almost always stopped on the way to their place at the Park N' Dine to eat.

We arrived at 6:30, 95 miles from home.  We sat in the front part of the restaurant, which is the original diner section, instead of the main dining room towards the back.  The owners had added on to the original building over the years to expand with its growing popularity, eventually taking over the attached gas station.  Even with the expansion, we always had a long wait for a table when we stopped here to eat over the years.  Its popularity has obviously diminished over time.  The place was not at all busy tonite.  I ordered my favorite dish, the hot turkey sandwich, loaded with gravy and mashed potatoes with dressing.  Melody got chicken tenders and broccoli. It was delicious!  Our young server took great care of us, though it took a while to get our food.  It was 7:30 by the time we pulled out and returned to the road, jumping onto I-68 west.

Our next stop was at the Hill Top Fruit Market in Grantsville, MD.  We spent ten minutes of mad rushing around the little store loading up on snacks for the trip.  They have miniatures of just about every kind of candy currently being made, and Melody got a bag of her favorites.  I got some fruit and nuts, and a few sugar-free items, and we returned to the road.  It was 8:30 p.m.

We continued on US 40, the National Road, through the mountains towards Uniontown, PA.  It was rough going due to it being a 2-lane road, and getting stuck behind cars that had difficulty maintaining the speed limit because of the changing topography kept our speeds down.  We were not making good time.  It was almost dark as we crested the Summit of Chestnut Ridge and headed down the mountain towards Hopwood.  There were heavy, dark clouds all along the horizon, and we ended up hitting rain before we got to the base of the mountain.  As it was already dusk, it got dark very quickly, and the rains came down hard.  I could barely see.  Even though I was very familiar with the area around Uniontown, the road we planned to take, Route 43, was new and I didn't know exactly where the exit ramp was located.  With visibility practically at zero, I missed the exit, so we took the Route 51 exit and stopped at a Sheetz to wait out the storm.  It was a good pit stop for us, and I was able to get a cup of coffee.

I had hoped to get somewhere into mid-Ohio by the time we stopped for the night, but our late departure, the off and on heavy traffic, and now the weather, combined to knocked us off our schedule.  It was time to begin making our plans for the night.  The weather app on my iPhone told us that we would likely exit the immediate storm very soon, but there were bunches more west of us, where we were headed.  I used the Choice Hotels app to see where we might want to stay along our planned route, and I picked out a Quality Inn in Cambridge, Ohio.  It was 9:30 p.m., and the GPS estimated our arrival at around midnight.  It was well short of our plan for Day One of our trip, but that would be my limit for today.

Back on the road, we pulled out of the big storm a few miles down Route 43, but the rain continued in spurts for the remainder of our drive.  We didn't make another stop, having gassed up in Keysers Ridge, MD, just before crossing into PA earlier, and we arrived at our Destination at 11:50 p.m.  It was clean and comfortable, and sleep took over quickly.  We were 315 miles from home.

To be continued...

Have a great evening, everyone!