You Can’t Go Home Again

So, I’m in Peoria, Illinois for three weeks on a work project and I’ve been up here before, so rather than travel back and forth on the weekends, I decided to just stay up here the whole time.

Flights to Peoria from DFW can be painful – you can connect through O’Hare (no, thank you!) or to fly back and forth non-stop on a commuter plane, you would lose half of Friday, which as a contractor is a very bad idea ($$$) and you would have to lose half of Sunday coming back. So, what’s the point?

(My flight up here was canceled, so I had to fly to Bloomington-Normal instead, change my rental car, and drive an extra hour to get to the hotel. I was not the only one on the plane who had done so. This may have been a warning.)

Besides, I was up here 20+ years ago on another project and had a good time with happy memories, so what’s not to like in Peoria?

As I sit in my hotel room, waiting for the maids to arrive, so I can vacate and then come back to binge-watch Netflix, I realize how much has changed in the 20+ years.

  • I was single back then, so it really didn’t matter where I was at any given time. I had visitation with my son on first, third and fifth weekends, but that was easy to arrange. I’m married now, so now I actually have a reason to be in Dallas – my dogs and my perpetually injured wife (just kidding, my love!)
  • I was home on the weekends back then. I really never stayed in Peoria over the weekend, so I didn’t have to find something to do. I did go on a river cruise yesterday, which was fabulous, and I might go again today, because everything else is closed.
  • I had someone from Caterpillar to hang out with last time. Mike was always happy to hang in the evenings and there may have been drinking involved. (The drinking may be why I am still blanking on his last name.) I’ve had two drinks this week, and one of them was on the airplane up here.
  • I was staying in a really nice hotel in the middle of downtown that was walking distance from my office. Now, I’m working at a plant so far out of town it doesn’t have an address, just an intersection. I’m in a Quality Inn & Suites (more later) on the outskirts of town which let’s just say is not the level of service to which I have become accustomed on business trips.
  • I was working for a really small company that tended to turn a blind eye to “interesting” expenses (until someone rented a U-Haul to help his girlfriend move.) Now, I’m really concerned about reimbursement and toeing the line (which in many cases has not been defined), which tends to put a damper on fun.
  • I’m older. Let’s just say I’m not as adventurous as I used to be. Back then, I had any number of co-workers to call to help me get out of jail. Now, I would have to call my wife, and she would probably just hang up on me, so she could call her sisters.
  • I picked a very bad weekend to start trying to hang out in Peoria – it’s Memorial Day. You would think that would mean more things to do, but the Peoria Chiefs minor league baseball team is out of town until Tuesday (and out of town next weekend!) and the Caterpillar Museum is closed on Sundays and holidays. There is nothing scheduled at the Civic Center – and that’s 3/4ths of the TripAdvisor top four things to do. The other is a scenic drive, part of which I saw from the boat yesterday.
  • The one great memory I had of Peoria was surviving the Flood of ’93 and flying in from Dallas on a Super-80 that had about eight other people on it. I realized this week that during the Flood of ’93, I was actually in Des Moines.

A Short Story

This is the story of a bonsai plant, so by definition, it is a short story.

Monday, May 7, 2018

My Mom and I have had our differences over the years, but last week was Mother’s Day, and she’s still my mother, so I decided my wife and I should send her a small gift. I dislike flowers, partly because of the markup, partly because it’s so predictable, but mostly because of their short shelf life. So, I decided a plant would be a more lasting gift.

Since everything in the universe is online these days, I just pointed my browser at 1-800-Flowers and looked for their Mother’s Day plant suggestions.

Mom’s in a condo, so there’s not a lot of extra space for gardening, and one of the suggestions was a bonsai azalea. That sounded a bit exotic, nice and small, still very pretty, and within my price range. So, I ordered that for Mom, a doggie bouquet for my wife (from our Chihuahua) and called it done.

I was proud of myself – even with the Mother’s Day rush in full tilt, I had gotten the order placed in time enough where my wife’s gift would arrive Thursday, Mom’s on Friday, both before Mother’s Day with room for error and minimal excess delivery charges. Yea, me!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A flower bouquet arrived at our door. The enclosed card said it was for my wife from our Chihuahua, Rocky, and specifically said it was only from him and not our other dogs. Quite funny, even though that’s the third time I’ve put that on a card. Everybody in my house is happy.

Friday, May 11, 2018

I got a note on a different subject from Mom, replied to her, and in her reply to my reply, she thanked us for the beautiful plant. So, both gifts are delivered, Mother’s Day is coming up, everything is done. Yea, me!

For a normal person, this would be the end of the blog post. Sigh.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother’s Day. My brother was taking Mom out to brunch with some of his friends and their Moms, so we had lunch with my in-laws. Everybody’s covered. Life is good.

After I got home, I received an apology email with a $20 credit from 1-800-Flowers for letting me down. Hmm. As far as I knew, everything was delivered. I actually saw one gift arrive and got a thank you note for the other. So, I figured it was a systems error from the insanity of Mother’s Day at a nationwide florist, and forgot about it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

I got an email notice that my Mom’s gift would be delivered on Tuesday. So, that explains the apology note, since they had completely missed Mother’s Day. Wait. Why did I get a thank you note on Friday? There are a number of medical conditions running in my family, but clairvoyance is not one of them.

Maybe they just sent a placeholder bouquet until the real gift arrived, but they never mentioned that in the note.

I was confused. This is not the first time I have been confused about gifts.

Maybe I should ask my Mom. I sent her a quick, “Hey, I got a really strange email” note.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

(Happy Birthday, Ellie!)

Mom replied to my note. In fact, we had a stream of notes that day. I will attempt to summarize.

She had received a box on Friday with a tray, some pebbles for drainage, care instructions and a six-inch azalea in full bloom. However, there was no bonsai plant.

I started having flashbacks to my first long train ride with my son, when he was six or so. By the time we were an hour out of San Antonio, he had gone through everything I had brought along (snacks, books, coloring books) for the twelve-hour trip. So, I said, “Why not just look out the window at the scenery for a while?” He said, “There isn’t any scenery, just rocks and cows.”

There is no bonsai, just a small flower bush.

So, Mom had called 1-800-Flowers. (Mom and my wife call people. I use chat and email. My wife and I have a long-running debate about which is more effective.)

After a discussion with the (probably off-shore) customer support line, the 1-800-Flowers representative had agreed to send another plant for delivery on Saturday.

Hmm. That would explain the $20 credit.

The plant did not arrive Saturday, so Mom called back – and amazingly got the same customer sales representative (thank you, Evelyn, for helping Mom). They were becoming close. The delivery was assured for Sunday.

Nothing arrived Sunday, so Mom called back. Same customer service representative, who now recognized my Mom’s voice. (You would think they would have CallerID so they could swap repeat customers.) Monday, for sure.

That explained the delivery notice for Monday that I received for a gift that had been delivered Friday.

I was beginning to have visions of a bonsai forest on my Mom’s balcony.

So, I emailed Mom the picture of the bonsai azalea from the website, to show what I had chosen. Surely, that will clear everything up.

To her credit, she only called in the first place because she wanted to receive what I had selected. It never occurred to her that I would actually select a bonsai azalea. I’m not really sure what that says about what she thinks about my taste.

To her further credit, she does not consider a miniature azalea to be a bonsai plant. I checked Wikipedia a while ago, and it says that bonsai is a cultivation method, which means (I believe) that technically any full-size plant could be raised as a bonsai plant, given the time and patience. Speaking of patience, I’m not sure I have the energy to explain to Mom how to update the Wikipedia page to her definition. Maybe she can call Evelyn to have it corrected.

So, Mom now has two bonsai azaleas, whether they are bonsai or not. I have a good name for my next band (“Ladies and gentlemen …. Bonsai Azaleas!”)

I received another apology with another $20 credit from 1-800-Flowers.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Popcorn Factory sent me an email that said they were having a sale on popcorn tins. My grandkids love popcorn. It’s a sale. I like cheap popcorn. So, I was about to hit the order button, when I realized that 1-800-Flowers owns The Popcorn Factory. So, I used one of the apology credits to send my grandkids some really cheap popcorn.

Win-win.

Aftermath

As in, the math after it’s all over. So, I spent $39.99 on a bonsai azalea to attempt to make my Mom happy. Instead, Mom got two bonsai azaleas, a personal quest that kept her busy over the lulls in Mother’s Day weekend, and a new friend in the Philippines. I got $40 in credits. The kids got popcorn. My wife got a flower arrangement from a Chihuahua. I got a really strange blog post, even for me.

I never saw Mother’s Day as an investment opportunity, but so it goes.

I may have to use the other $20 to get my Mom some miniature tools so she can keep her azaleas small. There is nothing more embarrassing than a large bonsai azalea.

Next year, I will just toss a small plant at her and say it is a kamikaze azalea.

Hotel Camping

So, we made the trip North to Ohio, and since we survived, we will repeat it this summer. I still think this drive would be a good RV run, but with rental costs where they are, it’s cheaper to drive and stay in a hotel (which pains me.)

Once you’ve decided not to fly, and discovered you can’t take the train, there are still many routes to Ohio. They all have their quirks. We had done much of the “standard” (various online map-suggested) way (Texas through Arkansas and Tennessee, then north) when we were driving my mother-in-law back and forth to New Jersey years ago (she refused to fly, and my wife refused to drug her.) So, we would take I-30 to I-40 to I-81 to I-78 and onto New Jersey roads from there. To go to Ohio, you just head north in Nashville on I-65, instead of going east past Knoxville to I-81.

We decided to try a new way North – across Arkansas, but then, instead of going west through Tennessee, head north just before the Arkansas-Tennessee border, and avoid the mountains (hills?) of Tennessee.

I wanted to avoid Tennessee because the hills are very pretty, but only when you can see them. Invariably, we went through in fog or torrential rain. Plus, that section of I-40 is very popular with truckers, so you are dodging 18-wheelers in torrential rain or fog.

So, I looked at the map, and I-55 heads north just before the AR-TN line, and puts you on I-69. It turns out I-69 is still in the planning stages in some areas of Kentucky, but the existing parkways that will eventually be upgraded to Interstate are gorgeous, and there’s not much traffic. You do pass through towns instead of around them, but it wasn’t bad. Eventually, you end up on I-65 (where you would have been from Nashville) which takes you to I-75 which takes you to I-70. Cedarville is between Dayton and Columbus, east of I-70. (Dayton and Columbus are your two main choices , if you decide to fly.)

There are probably better (faster) routes through Ohio, but it was getting dark by the time we crossed the border, so we just followed the GPS’ advice.

This turned out to be a very pretty route, through Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky and on into Ohio. We will use this route Southbound next time, so we can visit some distilleries, and possibly sidetrack to see the Ark (not Arkansas, Noah’s Ark).

Heading home, we just drove west on I-70 out of Ohio, through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Oklahoma. This has pretty hills in Missouri (and some interesting stops), and when you enter Texas from Oklahoma, you’re almost home. There’s probably the least amount of different highways, as I-70 takes you to St Louis, and I-44 takes you to Oklahoma. We took a “short cut” in Oklahoma and took one of their toll roads (very nice, and our TollTag from home works in the toll booths) to US-69 (very small) which merges eventually into US-75. US-75 becomes Central Expressway in the northern suburbs before you hit Dallas.

All these routes are mapped on my Texas & New Jersey railroad site, as the extension railroad – the Texas & Ohio. The Northern route home from Ohio is actually part of the last route we took home from New Jersey on one of my mother-in-law’s repositioning cruises. So, we had been past the kids’ house before they were ever there.

The lessons learned were mostly past lessons relearned: don’t drive through major cities during rush hour, driving through towns is quaint, but kills a schedule, arriving after dark on a new route is not always fun, and don’t drive a new way with new things to see when on a strict schedule. Also, on a two-day trip, go beyond halfway the first day, and drive the non-scenic route home (it’s faster.)

We drove from Dallas to Blytheville, AK the first day, which seemed an easy drive. (Your first day should not seem easy.) Blytheville to Cedarville, OH the second day was a bit too long for one day but too short for two, especially since you deal with Louisville and Cincinnati either late afternoon or early evening. We had told the kids we wouldn’t see them that night, which was correct, we got in well after the grandkids’ bedtimes.

Going home, we went from Cedarville to Lebanon, MO, which was not a bad drive, except for missing an exit and touring part of the outskirts of St Louis, and then onto Dallas the second day. The drive home the second day would probably be faster on the Interstates, even though it looks further. You can do 70 on the Interstates, but on the US highways, it’s still 65 or 55 (and slower through the many small towns.) You would miss Muskogee, but now we’ve been there.

Financially, an RV rental would have replaced our hotels (one night up, five nights there, one night back), but we spent just over $1000 on hotels. We would spend significantly less in an RV park. The gas would have been more expensive (as our Escape gets better mileage than an RV), and the food would have been the same. (Also, the hotel is maybe five minutes from our kids, so you also have to factor in convenience. There isn’t an RV Park that close, and I’m not dry-camping in their yard, although they’ve offered.)

So, a $1500 RV rental seems pretty expensive compared to just driving our car and sleeping in hotels for a vacation.

I’m hoping someone can correct my math.