Saturday, June 25, 2011

Best-Laid Plans

One of the problems of retirement is that you sometimes have too much time to do things.  Even though we've stayed busy this past Spring auditing Modern Chinese History at the University of Washington, we've had lots of time to plan our Summer bike trip and Fall trip to China.  In fact, this is one of the best-planned, or at least most-planned, trips we've had.  We even got the tandem and the panniers (saddle bags for the bike) down to King Street Station on Monday, a whole 30 hours before our train was set to leave.  That evening as we ate supper we saw the Empire Builder make its daily run past our condo.  "Well, good to know the bike and panniers are on it, and 24 hours from now we'll be on it too."

Granted, it was an hour late. The Empire Builder has been running late for the past week as they catch up with the confusion left behind from a 2-week closure of the line that ended June 16, caused by flooding near Devils Lake ND. We were a little nervous about how late our own train would get into Chicago. Every train since the 16th has been 5 1/2 hours or more late.

Then, at 7:55 pm that Monday night, "oops."  No, make that, BIG OOPS!!  We received a robo-call from Amtrak.  "No train to Chicago.  No alternative arrangement available.  So sorry."

Some panic ensued.

By 9 pm we had a Plan B.  By 11 pm most of it was implemented.  By the next morning the rest of it was in place, but it wasn't until Saturday at 7:55 pm that we were finally able to stop holding part of our breath, as we stood in the St. Louis Amtrak station and watched our tandem and the box with our panniers come out of the baggage car.

The first part of our plan was to fly to Chicago, and Expedia found the last pair of cut-price tickets to the Windy City leaving SeaTac at 2:40 pm on Tuesday, 2 hours earlier than the train would have left. Our tenants Vic and Janice Palmieri had previously volunteered to drive us to King St. Station, and they were happy to extend the offer a few miles further to SeaTac. We also agreed to move up their arrival at the condo by an hour to have an earlier lunch get-together with them. The only other time we've met them face-to-face was a similar meeting a year ago, also over lunch at the condo, just before we took off for last year's trip.

Our plane dropped down to Phoenix for an hour (which the Palmieris left a week ago by car) then headed to Chicago for a midnight arrival at O'Hare.  That's only 10 pm on Seattle time, but when we reached Room 508 of our airport hotel we discovered the bed was unmade.  The front desk blamed it on confusion from a power outage earlier that evening (indeed, there were two small tornados that night not far away), but since it was their very last room, we had to become overly familiar with their lobby until housekeeping could service the room.  It was almost midnight in Seattle and really, really late in Chicago when we finally turned out the lights.

Then came the pluses of Plan B, and they were tremendous ones.  Becky and Sean gave us courage to try the "Name Your Own Price" routine at, and we scored big!  We booked two nights at the Hyatt Regency, a 4-star hotel right on the Chicago River at the start of the Miracle Mile, for less than half what we would have paid with a senior discount. Better yet, we now had a feast of time to visit with Louise's son Brian, his wife Ardy, and our grandson Cedro!!! How cool is that!!!  So to start the photographic side of this year's journey, here are Cedro, Ardy and Louise taking in the view from our room on the 34th floor, and us playing hide and seek with Cedro on the bed and the two of us ducking down below the edge of the bed and popping up elsewhere.  Well, Cedro thinks that's pretty cool, even if we look fairly ridiculous.

The view later that day and again at night were close to awesome:

Brian, Ardy and Cedro are in Chicago, as we explained in our last blog entry, so that Brian can work on David Henry Hwang's new play Chinglish.  We saw his play Golden Child a dozen years ago at the Seattle Rep, and you may know of him from other works, particularly M. Butterfly, which won him the 1988 Tony award for best new play.  Brian would love to be performing on stage in Chinglish, but for now has the more challenging and less rewarding job of being understudy for 3 of the actors, actually 4 roles since one actor handles 2 roles.  And did we mention that more than half his lines are in Mandarin Chinese?  The play is about the problem of being understood in another language, and much of it is spoken in Chinese, with supertitles projected over the actors showing what was actually said in Chinese, as opposed to what the interpreter translates it to.  We saw a few lines performed in a teaser film, and it looks like it will be very, very funny.

We're going to be back in Chicago in 3 weeks, and Jeff's daughter Becky will be there part of the time we're in town, so we decided not to see Chinglish now but to wait to see it fresh with Becky.  However, we did have the opportunity to meet David Henry Hwang while visiting Brian during a break from rehearsals at the Goodman Theatre, and to see yet another of his plays, Yellow Face, which is also running right now in Chicago at another theater.  We'll tell you more about Chinglish after we see it next month.  And who knows, we might yet see Brian on stage.  Backstage the theater has a Hall of Fame for understudies who ended up on stage, listing how much advance notice each one had.  Most had a few hours, some a day or two.  At least one had all of ten minutes.

So for two days we hung out with Ardy and Cedro and had supper together with Brian during his break between rehearsals and the preview performances that have already started.  On the second day, we were joined by Ardy's sister Arlene, who also answers to "Ging."  She came in for a Cedro fix, and was rarely far from her beloved nephew.  She also got a great group photo of the rest of us at lunch that day.

Ardy was also on the spot with her camera, and caught two more shots of Cedro getting a kick out of 'peekaboo' games, the second time with Cedro himself using his dad's hat to 'disappear' and 'appear' again.  The third shot is another nice family shot we couldn't resist posting.

On Friday we took Amtrak to St. Louis, which was our original plan. And how about the bike? Well, just before the train left on Monday, the baggage folks realized either that there was a problem down the tracks, or that there might be, and they held back our boxes with the tandem and the panniers. Whew! Otherwise it would have headed to Havre, Montana and turned around for a ride right back to Seattle, getting back about the time we were in St. Louis.

We reached the baggage room early last Tuesday, and they agreed to put the bike and panniers on a train to Sacramento to transfer to the California Zephyr to Chicago, then to the Texas Eagle to St. Louis.  And, sure enough, at 7:55 pm this warm Saturday evening there it was, coming from the baggage car to the baggage room, where we will be reunited with it tomorrow morning.

We did have one day in St. Louis.  We visited the area near the Gateway Arch (without going up it) in the afternoon, but spent the first 2/3 of the day at the wonderful SLAM, the St. Louis Art Museum.  Here are two paintings that relate to this area:  John Steuart Curry's 1935 The Mississippi, particularly apt since it's flooding (in North Dakota, actually) that caused the big Amtrak interruption this week; and George Caleb Bingham's Raftsmen Playing Cards, painted in 1847.

Two other works that particularly caught our fancy were John McCrady's remarkable 1937 Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and a painting called A Road by the Palisades done by Ernest Lawson in 1911 that we immediately recognized as being of the Hudson Valley from our bike trip along the Hudson last summer.

Well, it's time for us to get on that open road.  We'll write next from somewhere in Illinois.

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